“YOU CAN’T be serious.”
Ori stared at the Rani, who stared back with blazing, arrogant eyes. Though the ginger hair that framed her narrow face was a tangle and her lips bore a gamesome smile, there could be no doubt that the renegade Time Lady was, indeed, serious. Her fingers played coyly at the edge of the central console. The genie had been released from her bottle, and it wasn’t going to be easy to put her back in.
“Doctor!” Ori protested, a pained expression coming upon her ornately patterned face. “This is the mad woman whose poisoned Earth’s history. Yes? She poisoned history! The Romano-Egyptian Dominion? She enslaved an entire population just to get her hands on a console like that—” She reached over the brass rail and jabbed a finger at the six-sided structure at the centre of the control room. Its screens and dials were pulsing softly with muted colours, unresponsive to the power struggle that was unfolding around it. “Are you going to stand there and tell me that you’re seriously thinking of giving her the keys to your time machine?”
The Doctor looked on her with the face of a man who has hit bottom. The pulsing yellow light cast by the glass column above the console made his pale face look waxy and stiff. Seeing it, Ori’s frustration gave way to a mounting fear. “Doctor,” she pleaded in a desperate whisper. “Please. Think about this.”
At last he nodded, slowly. “I am, Ori. Believe me, I am.”
Ever the opportunist, the Master did not fail to capitalize on this moment of decision. “The Doctor has a choice,” he said, his voice brimming with a typical self-confidence. He circled the central console to stand beside the Rani. “He can accept his fate and the death of free will and bow to the whims of the ancient and despotic Time Lords of Gallifrey, or he can do what he has always done. He can damn caution and embrace defiance and throw in his lot with the runaway Time Lords, the renegade Time Lords, the rebel Time Lords. When you think about it, my friend, it’s not so difficult to choose, now is it?”
At this, the Doctor became more animated, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow. “Friend?”
The Master bowed slightly. “I have always been at your side.”
The Doctor considered this a moment and then nodded, his lips tight. “Yes. You were at my side. In the Howling Halls, and at the Arkheon Threshold, and on Vortis, on the shore of the Sea of Lodos. It’s very cold, the Sea of Lodos, isn’t it?”
His voice soured with each new locale and it became clear to Ori that he was listing betrayals, not triumphs. When the Master next spoke, his voice had changed as well, turning to acid in his mouth. “We have done what we needed to survive. What will you do to survive, Doctor? The time for your philosophizing and your inane moralizing has come and gone, and what are you left with? A council of Time Lords driven mad with power and the history of your beloved human race tearing itself to pieces.”
The Rani joined in. “And all the while the Divinity prevail.”
The Doctor turned away from the two of them, his eyes searching the depths of the cavernous chamber. Ori reached up to put a hand on his arm. “The Divinity are evil, I know…”
“You don’t know,” the Doctor snapped. “You can’t. You have seen a Divinity, Ori. Do you understand? A Divinity, Fraser’s Atlantean. Now imagine a dozen of them. A hundred. Imagine them descending by cathedral ship upon Adrilia. Your people, the Emahni—imagine the lot of them enthralled by these ghouls, their very souls warped beyond anything that you recognize. Imagine those that you love, bowing before them, worshipping their image and their name.”
The cold, commanding sound of the Master’s voice startled Ori from behind. “We can end it. We can end them.”
“On the planet Dellah,” the Rani added, “in the year 2596, when the mouldering religions of Earth’s empire begin to falter and fight. That is where the Divinity wait for you. We know this. It has been foretold.”
“The Time Lords would never allow us to go there,” the Master insisted, offering a response to the Rani’s call, the voices of these two charismatic renegades assuming a hypnotic rhythm. “They have seized control of your TARDIS—robbed you of your freedom—to prevent this very event from taking place. You must resist.”
Slowly, the Doctor turned to look upon the two of them: the deranged scientist and the treacherous manservant. His angular countenance was still impassive, but his dark eyes were no longer lost. In his stare was the burning starfire of determination.
“You’re a lucky man,” the Rani said, sauntering to the brass rail to reach out and caress the Doctor’s pale cheek. “Cometh the hour, cometh the woman! With my expertise in, shall we say, irresponsible physics—”
“—and the recursive navigational circuits that I have already programmed—”
“—you have the unparalleled genius that you’ll need to overcome the control exerted over you from Gallifrey. It will take two inventive, inspired, utterly uninhibited minds, but we can offer just what you need. The TARDIS, on Dellah, in 2596.”
“The end of the Divinity,” the Master growled.
“Shall we?” the Rani asked, her smile dangerous.
She turned and gestured rather casually to the console.
Without meeting their greedy stares or Ori’s pleading gaze, the Doctor slowly climbed the steps to approach the flashing controls. As he took up a position at one of the six panels, he pulled up the collar of his emerald cape. No one could see his face as he began to flip toggles and jab at various keys. Ori sighed, weak now that the argument had run its course and reached its ominous and inevitable conclusion. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to drop me off someplace nice?” she said, only half joking.
The Doctor’s answer was to throw back a large, heavy lever in a gesture that carried some degree of finality. With a flourish of his cape, he stepped away from the controls of his beloved TARDIS. When next he looked upon the Rani there was a strange, mischievous look on his face. “Do be careful with the old girl,” he said, his voice quiet but also imposing. “We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”