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by Mark Simpson


The Master ran. Something felt different, something was wrong, but there was no time to stop and analyse. Fire, dust and bodies filled the corridor and the distant sound of explosions promised more of the same. Running was now the only option, aside from hope of a way out of this chaos before death snuffed out existence forever.

***

'Is this how it ends?' the Master wondered.

He stared down the barrel of the ancient, primitive weapon. 'He probably got it from the old man,' the Master thought, watching as the Doctor's hand shook slightly. But not enough so that the bullet fired from the combustion chamber would miss its target. Him.

Behind the Doctor, Rassilon was urging him on. When the Master had fled the Time War and gone into hiding at the end of the universe in human guise, the idea of resurrecting Gallifrey's greatest ever leader was still just that, an idea being suggested by a desperate High Council, running out of options against a determined and unstoppable foe. He recalled that the Doctor had strongly opposed the suggestion, probably more strongly because he had had no say in the Master's own resurrection as a tool of the Time Lords in their war against the Daleks.

The Doctor's face was grim and his hand was steady now. That determined look that the Master had seen so many times when he faced his old friend/nemesis was there, the one that appeared just before the Doctor defeated him. Well, there was only one way the Doctor was going to do that today. The Master braced himself, determined to face his final, absolute death with dignity.

“Get out of the way!”

He was stunned for a moment by the Doctor's words, ground out through gritted teeth. But realisation quickly dawned. This was why he never could beat the Doctor. The other Time Lord always found an alternative, even when the odds were stacked completely against him.

Stepping aside quickly, the Master still thought he felt the heat of the bullet's passage as it streaked by him and exploded into the control console, shattering the shining white stone at its centre, the one single object that had, without his knowledge, been controlling him almost his whole life. From the moment he had starred into the open wound of the Untempered Schism the rhythm of four, the drums as he would come to call them, had beat out against the inside of his head.

“The link is broken. Back into the Time War, Rassilon. Back into hell.”

He barely heard the Doctor's words. For the first time in more years than he could count, there was no noise inside his head. That terrible, hypnotic pulsing had ceased forever. And it was the Doctor who had finally freed him of its influence.

“You'll die with me, Doctor,” Rassilon shouted above the howling wind that had sprung up in the room. The Time Lords, with the Lord President Eternal at their head, were being pulled back into the no-time from which they had appeared, their link to Earth severed.

“I know,” the Doctor replied calmly. The old gun had dropped from his hand and he seemed more than willing to accept his fate now. He had ended the Time War again, banished the Time Lords and their corrupt ideas back behind the time-lock that kept the War from spilling out into the universe of space/time. 

Rassilon, barely able to keep his feet, raised his metal gloved hand towards the Doctor, intent on one last act of revenge before he met the fate he was destined for. But he had reckoned without the other player in the room. One who owed the Doctor a debt, for the peace he had brought to a troubled mind. The Master's sanity had long since been compromised, but at least he could enjoy a few moments of relative calm before he too returned to the War.

“Get out of the way.”

This time it was the Doctor's turn to be startled into momentary immobility. But he too quickly got the idea and moved back, allowing the Master to raise his own hand. The strange energy that had coursed through his body ever since his recent and only partially successful resurrection shot forth, catching Rassilon square in the chest.

“You did this to me!” the Master yelled. Raising his other hand, another blast shot forward, again finding its target. “All of my life!” A third blast. “You made me!” A fourth. “One! Two! Three! Four!” 

Rassilon was on his back now, gasping and struggling to bring his gauntlet to bare. But the Master was standing over him and kicked the hand hard. The metal glove dislodged and flew through the air, landing feet away. Underneath was a skeletal hand, just bone clawing at the air.

Drawing a deep breath, the Master pushing both his arms downwards. Twin beams of energy hit Rassilon hard. His features blurred and twisted, his face becoming darker skinned for a moment, before returning to a lighter colouring. A beard and moustache briefly appeared and vanished again. He was being forced back along his own timeline by the bombardment from the Master's hands.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just seconds, the body of the greatest Time Lord who ever lived was a pile of dust at the Master's feet. The beams of energy stopped, depleted, and the renegade looked up and around him for the first time in long minutes. 

Joshua Naismith's house had gone, replaced by the stark lines and circular patterning of the Inner Council's chamber in the heart of the Capitol on Gallifrey. While the Master had been dealing with Rassilon, his aides had scattered, afraid they would be next. Just one figure remained, a woman standing in the doorway. The Master's eyes locked with hers for the briefest of moments before she stepped out through the doorway and was gone.

The Master doubled over in sudden pain. It lasted for long seconds before he was able to straighten again, drawing a deep and shuddering breath.

Catching sight of his right hand, the Master paused to study it. A faint golden glow had surrounded it, a familiar glow. Bringing his left hand up alongside the right, he saw that it too was glowing. Then the pain hit him again, driving him to his knees.

He could feel the process beginning. Just before it took him fully he heard a voice. An angel? No, it was coming from the console at the side of the room. A communication.

“This is a report for the Inner Council. The Sky Trenches are failing. Repeat, the Sky Trenches are failing. Gallifrey is about to fall.”

But the only person in the room to hear was the Master. And he had other things on his mind.

***

The glow finally faded and the Master sat bolt upright. At that moment an explosion nearby caused the room to rock and part of the ceiling to collapse.

No time to lose. The Master was up now, heading for the door as more of the ceiling fell in, just missing the moving figure.

The Master ran. Something felt different, something was wrong, but there was no time to stop and analyse. Fire, dust and bodies filled the corridor and the distant sound of explosions promised more of the same. Running was now the only option, aside from hope of a way out of this chaos before death snuffed out existence forever.

A door hung off its hinges, showing a darkened passage beyond, leading downwards. Instinct gripped the Master, changing direction to dash through the doorway and down the steps into the embracing darkness.

And instinct was right. At the bottom of the stairs was the outer chamber that led through to the TARDIS cradles. One chance to escape certain death.

The dust covered running figure emerged into the cradle bays, just as the biggest explosion yet rocked the Capitol. Much more of this and the Daleks would breach the Eye of Harmony, cracking the planet open like an egg. Much as the Master had once planned to do, many lifetimes ago.

No time. No time for memories, no time for choices. Pushing open the door of the nearest TT capsule, the Master disappeared inside.

The interior lighting was dim, but brightened noticeably when it registered Gallifreyan life signs. The hum of barely suppressed power filled the air. This Ship was ready for flight.

The Master stood over the console, hands flashing across buttons, switches and levers. A momentary pause though, to study the back of the right hand. Something about that hand was wrong.

Shaking the feeling, the renegade continued working. Time for introspection later. Of course the hand was different. Everything was different after a regeneration. Survival was the only thing that mattered now.

The central console lurched into life, rising and falling in time with the noise of building power that initiated take-off. And not a moment too soon, as the exterior scanner showed the roof of the cradle chamber falling in just as this TARDIS entered the vortex.

Drawing in a relieved sigh, the Master moved a control that adjusted the scanner setting. There was Gallifrey, surrounded by Dalek warships firing from every angle. The end could not be far away.

Then a flash of blue sped past, heading in towards the planet. Surely the Doctor wasn't making a suicide run?

Of course not, the Doctor had survived. The Master had just left him. So was that the Doctor that had just defied Rassilon, throwing his life away after the Master had just saved it? Wouldn't that be typical of the man, making such a futile gesture against impossible odds.

At that moment the screen went completely white. The Master threw up a shielding arm against the glare, which slowly faded.

Gallifrey was gone. The Dalek ships were also gone. And no sign of that ridiculous flying police box either. Was the Master now the last of the Time Lords?

***

The adrenalin fuelled rush of escape now over, the Master slumped down over the console of the stolen TARDIS. Again though, that feeling of discomfort. The feeling that something was 'wrong', or at least 'different'. Standing again, the Time Lord set the craft for random flight and headed through the inner door, in search of a mirror to view this new incarnation at least.

There was a wardrobe room behind the third door on the left in the right branching corridor from the passage that left the console room. Racks of clothing disappeared into the distance, and conveniently mirrors we placed at intervals along the walls.

Moving to the nearest one, the Master looked at the new form granted by the regeneration. It was not easy to glean much about the new body under the shapeless black hoody and jeans but the hips seemed a little wider, while the waist felt narrower. Something was wrong around the chest area but before that could be investigated further, the Master caught sight of the new face.

Stunned into momentary paralysis, it was more than a minute before the Master was able to move. And even then it was just an arm and hand, reaching out to the strange yet familiar reflection. Thin fingers met the surface of the mirror, caressing the cold image of new cheekbones. There had been a number of different faces over the centuries, but nothing had ever been this different before.

The Master had regenerated into a woman.

As the realisation sank in, his (no, her) first thought was to try and trigger another regeneration, to reverse this...this...

How would he (she!) gain the respect and fear of other races now? What would the Doctor say next time his (her!) plans drew the attention of his (her!) Time Lord nemesis?

But then, slowly at first, the Master started to see advantage in this new form. As she turned to admire the new body more closely in the mirror, she thought back to those times when the Doctor had been old, or young, or short, and how he had turned those perceived failings to his gain when adversaries underestimated him. So it would be with the new Master.

“No, no,” she said, speaking for the first time in the new voice. There was a hint of an accent. Earth? Welsh? Something like that. “No,” she continued, talking only to herself, “I can't keep calling myself the Master, not in this form. I shall be....the Mistress!”

Delighted by this thought, the Mistress giggled, then went off to look for some suitably female attire deeper in the wardrobe room.