Almost done with this one — just one more chapter after this one. 😉
The Resurrection of Evil
EPISODE SEVEN: The Turn Of a Friendly Card
“There are unsmiling faces in fetters and chains
On a wheel in perpetual motion
Who belong to all races and answer all names
With no show of an outward emotion
“And they think it will make their lives easier
But the doorway before them is barred
And the game never ends when your whole world depends
On the turn of a friendly card”
–“The Turn Of a Friendly Card (Part 2),” the Alan Parsons Project
“Okay, got it.”
The voice penetrated through the blackness as Methos groped blindly for an exit. It shattered the silence so perfectly he could almost feel it. He paused a moment to listen.
There was a metallic ring, then the harsh scraping of metal on metal. The sound stopped. After a few seconds there was a click. A soft hum penetrated the darkness.
“Hey Freddie, sound check!”
Suddenly Methos knew that he was hearing the real world again. Somehow he had won that much back. He wondered if the Master knew.
Methos listened to the sound check, gradually becoming aware that he was in the Turn Of a Friendly Card again. Which meant that the Master had returned there to carry out the next stage in his plan.
“Hey friend,” said a voice. Methos did not recognize it, but he knew that it was louder and probably addressing him. “Ace of Swords is here. They wanna know if we’re still opening early.”
A feline chuckle ran across the emptiness and Methos heard his own voice answer. “Of course,” it said. “And Michael?”
“Give them the power. They’ll need it tonight.”
Somehow Methos knew exactly what that meant. He shivered in the darkness. It was not what he had expected.
The north side of the Mall of America was less full than Terri had expected. –Then again, she reminded herself, –it is Monday. Even at four in the afternoon it’s still a weekday.
She walked east along the second floor, the Doctor following several paces behind. Every now and again, he’d peer intensely into the eyes of passersby. Terri had found this embarassing and was walking well ahead of him.
The problems of the past day were still haunting her mind and she thought about them as she threaded her way through strollers and young couples. The Master had taken possession of one of her only friends. Perhaps worse, he had murdered an alien surveyor for his ship and later murdered poor Nora to keep the ship to himself. Worst of all, he was feeding an addictive drug to the young people of the Twin Cities for no better reason than that he seemed to enjoy it.
But of all of these things, she worried the most about her friend Methos. –How in the world are we going to save him?
No matter how hard she tried to ignore the thought, her mind kept coming back to it.
The sound of a laser blast jolted Terri back to consciousness. She whirled around but saw nothing out of the ordinary. “What the hell was that?” she said.
The Doctor grinned at her. He pointed to her left.
Terri turned to look. They were at Starlog, the science-fiction magazine’s store. The television in the front display was playing “The Empire Strikes Back.” Luke Skywalker was shooting it out with the Stormtroopers in Cloud City. Terri grinned with relief.
“I am getting jumpy,” she said. “And it’s your fault, Doctor.”
He put a hand to his chest with an expression of wounded innocence. But before he could speak, two young men smashed into him from behind. All three fell to the ground.
“Doctor! Are you okay?”
“Yes,” he said as the two men rolled away. He stood and offered one of the young men his hand. “Here, I’ll help you up.”
The man did not take the Doctor’s hand. He pushed himself up, humming quietly. Terri offered to help the other, but he too ignored her.
“Power,” said the first. “Dance it,” said the other.
“White Lightning!” they said in unison and collapsed laughing in each others arms.
Terri noticed that they did not smile when they laughed. She looked across the two men at the Doctor. There was a very worried expression on his face. “Doctor,” she said. “I don’t think I like this.”
He met her eyes. “Nor do I.” He paused a moment, then took one of the men by the shoulders and spun him away from the other. There was no resistance.
“Look into my eyes,” he told the man. “Relax. Gently relax.” The man’s incessant swaying from side to side gradually slowed and then stopped. The other man kept swaying, but remained silent. “Now. What’s this about White Lightning?”
“It’s the power,” he said. “Tonight. If we follow the Master we follow the power, if we follow the power we follow the way.”
The Doctor’s brows knit. “The way where?”
“To the White Lightning!” The man doubled up with laughter. Terri shivered. There was no emotion in his face. The other man suddenly burst out laughing as well. He caught his friend’s hand and they ran off down the corridor, dancing the whole way.
Terri stared after them. She jumped when the Doctor put a hand on her shoulder. “Yaah!” she said. She took a deep breath and turned to face him. “Jeez . . . what on earth is going on?”
The Doctor shook his head. “I don’t know. But I’ve got some nasty suspicions.”
“What do you mean?”
The Doctor started walking again. Terri hurried to catch up. “It was too easy to hypnotize him. I’m afraid the drug has something to do with it.”
“You mean . . . .”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, staring up at the skylight as they walked. “The drug opens their minds, makes them suggestible.” He stopped. “The question is why.”
Terri pressed her lips together. “I think it’s time we found out, Doctor.”
The Turn Of a Friendly Card was already open. The Doctor lead the way into the neon haze, Terri following behind. The band was getting ready to play and already the place was filled almost to capacity.
As Terri watched, dozens of small white packets made their way from hand to hand through the crowd. Everyone was on Lightning. Everyone except her and the Doctor.
She tugged at the Doctor’s sleeve and he stopped, still scanning the dense crowd. “I don’t like this,” she said.
The Doctor smiled down at her. “Brave heart,” he whispered. He gave her shoulder a quick reassuring squeeze and turned back to the crowd.
His shoulders stiffened. Terri couldn’t see, but she assumed he’d spotted the Master. She pushed up to his side.
The familiar shape of Methos stood there, with an unfamiliar smile on his face. He was dressed all in black silk, with a silver pin at his throat. His eyes gleamed.
“So, Doctor,” said the Master, “You’ve arrived at last!”
Terri bit her lip. It was all she could do to restrain herself from flinging herself hopelessly at him. She repeated the word “bastard” over and over in her mind as a descant to the action before her.
“You can’t do it, Master.” The Doctor spoke gently. “Whatever it is, I won’t let you get away with it.”
The Master laughed. All resemblence to Methos fell away. Terri added a few more words to the refrain in her mind. “Come now, Doctor, that’s quite uncharitable of you. And you don’t even know what I’m planning!”
“Well, why don’t you tell me?”
The Master smiled. “Patience, Doctor!” Terri became aware of two large men wearing “Turn Of a Friendly Card” t-shirts standing to either side of them. She wondered where they’d come from. The Master noticed her watching them. “Just wait here, and you’ll see what I’m planning. I wouldn’t want you to miss the party!”
He laughed one more time, then spun away into the crowd.
The Doctor moved to go after him, but one of the bouncers put a hand on his shoulder. The man shook his head silently. “It’s all right,” said the Doctor. “I understand. We’re not going anywhere.” The two men waited a moment, staring at the Doctor. Then they faded quietly into the crowd.
“Well,” said Terri. She rubbed her upper arms.
“Cold?” asked the Doctor.
“No,” she said. “But I’m worried.”
The sounds came and went in the blackness but for the most part Methos ignored them. If he concentrated, the darkness resolved itself into the hazy atmosphere of the Turn Of a Friendly Card.
He wondered about the club’s name for a moment. From his captor’s mind came a lost fragment:
Everything is a gamble, but some things more so. Survival matters over all, and it is a game that all must play. But it never ends when your whole world depends on the turn of a friendly card. Once you’ve started to gamble it is very hard to stop, because you’ve bet your life that your next plot will succeed.
In a mad rush, a thousand near deaths flew past his mind. He caught at a few and listened. Death within a collapsing geometry, saved by the wild chance of a flaw in the mathematical construct. Death by fire, saved by phenomenal luck and a freak pneumismiton flow. Death within a tame black hole, saved by the turn of a friendly Quickening.
Intrigued, Methos pulled the last memory closer.
The blackness inside the non-space of the Eye of Harmony was populated very sparsely; only the Chronovores traversed its emptiness. They fed upon his essence, but found it bitter to the taste. Then the fire came. The TARDIS materialized in the middle of a Quickening. It reached through the upper dimensional space within and manifested as a burning bush of artron energy. He followed it to its source and found himself within the head of Edward Chevalier.
The memory ended.
–Lucky indeed, he thought to himself. –But how does it help? I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to warn the Doctor.
He concentrated, bringing the real world into focus again. There had to be a way to come into contact with it. There had to be. –I haven’t lived 5,000 years just to die now.
The crowd inside the Turn Of a Friendly Card was so dense the Doctor doubted they could leave if they wanted. When he moved to peer out the windowed front of the club, he saw an equally dense crowd filling the promenade outside. The neighboring clubs were trying desperately to attract the people. But the people didn’t listen; they were waiting for Ace of Swords and the New Music.
It wouldn’t be long now. The band members were settling into their places on the tiny stage. Colored lights played across their faces as they tuned their instruments and flexed their fingers.
Terri was sitting at a table near the dance floor. It took the Doctor several minutes to worm his way back to their place. No one had infringed upon the table. The Master had announced that only Terri and the Doctor should sit there; the mad dancers had been perfectly happy with this, although they were pressed against the windows in their eagerness to enter the club.
The Doctor sat down next to Terri.
“So,” she said. “What’s the plan?”
“For what?” She threw her hands up in the air.
The Doctor sighed internally. He didn’t want her to be afraid, so he smiled on the outside. “For the Master to make a mistake. It won’t be long.”
Terri raised an eyebrow at him, but did not challenge him.
A voice came across the loudspeakers. The Master.
“Welcome, friends!” The crowd let out a giddy roar. There was a single spotlight focused on him. “Do you have the power?” The crowd roared again. “Do you want to feel it?” A roar. “Do you want to dance it?” Roar. “Then you can be it!” People were jumping up and down now, screaming their assent. The Doctor set his teeth. This was wrong, although he could not say why.
The Master raised his arms above his head. “Then hear the New Music! I give you Ace of Swords!”
Colored light burst all around the Master, illuminating the band. The guitarist shouted out, the sound carrying even through the howling crowd. “Alright, Ace of Swords instrumental! One, two, three, four . . . .”
And the music began. The crowd, all on White Lightning, began to dance. It reminded the Doctor of the old Earth stories about fairy music and the way it forced people to dance as long as the music went on. But the young people around him seemed truly to be enjoying themselves. It was almost as though they had forgotten themselves.
Forgotten themselves . . . .
The Doctor’s eyes went wide. “Oh, no,” he breathed. Terri leaned across the table and put a hand on his shoulder. She said something to him, but the words were lost in the noise.
He stood suddenly, knocking over his chair. Startled, Terri stood too, but he ignored her. He had a horrible feeling that the Master was planning to create some kind of gestalt.
As if answering his fears, the air became thick with telepathic activity. Like a great lumbering beast awakened for the first time, a dull sentience was stirring in the air. He looked up to the stage. The Master was still standing there, waiting.
–But waiting for what?
The band segued into a song.
Don’t let me down now”
The Doctor stared up at the Master. The Master was looking straight at him, meeting his gaze with a smirk.
Take me to heaven
Don’t let me down tonight”
And then he saw it.
Supernatural lines of force were drawing the synthetic mist into sweeping forms, converging on the Master. He was laughing and drinking it all in. Terri could see it too, although she probably did not understand it. She gaped at the mist as it bent, curled, and shifted into a massive psychic funnel.
Through the White Lightning, a gestalt had formed. And the Master was drinking it in.
“No!” shouted the Doctor, and he ran at the stage. The crowd parted unconsciously before him and he met no resistence until he was within a few feet of the Master.
Lightning exploded within his mind. He jammed his hands against his temples, but it did nothing to ease the pain. He looked up through a haze of sensation at the Master.
*You never learn, do you, Doctor?*
The voice was the Master’s. The voice of the Master as the Doctor had first known him, before the long chain of stolen bodies. The cultured, feline voice of the thirteenth incarnation of the Master. He was speaking in the Doctor’s mind, rather than through Methos’ lips.
Rallying his strength, the Doctor replied. *I learn what it takes to defeat you, Master!*
Laughter. The dancing bodies faded away from the Doctor’s perception as he focused all his mental energies on the Master. *Fight all you want, Doctor, the battle is mine!*
*Never!* He threw himself against the Master’s mental force, driving against the evil Time Lord with all the strength he could muster. But his charge slammed into a brick wall as the gestalt force slammed down around the Master.
*I have the Power, Doctor! More power than these pitiful Immortals ever dreamed of, but a power to which they could aspire if only they could see past their ridiculous Game.*
The Doctor gasped with pain and tried to regroup. *You played that Game yourself, Master.*
*As an amusement, my dear Doctor, as an amusement!*
*Only you would kill for amusement.*
*Thank you!* A blue haze began to appear around the Doctor’s vision. *But you I will kill for the novelty. Pity. I’m going to miss our little battles.*
A terrific stabbing pain drove into the Doctor’s skull and he screamed.
*Die, my dear Doctor, die! Die by the power of these wretched humans you like so much. What could be more appropriate?*
The blue haze turned orange, then red, then faded to black.
The colors rushing through the blackness dazzled Methos. Somehow he knew that this was what the Master had been planning: the drawing of mental energy from hundreds of humans on White Lightning.
Gradually the pressure of oblivion was lifting from his mind. He listened to the music, to the shouting, to the laughter, and to a horrible scream.
He concentrated until he could see again. There was an eldritch glow in the air. After a moment he recognized it as stage lighting. But the strange, twisting patterns in the mist could not be explained. They seemed to be focused on him.
He looked down and saw Terri bending over the Doctor. He was kneeling before the stage, doubled over in pain. It was he that was screaming.
–Oh, no, he thought. –I’m too late.
Frantically he pushed up through the layers of wakefulness, punching through each membrane while the Master focused instead on the Doctor.
After a time, he could hear voices inside his head. Hundreds of voices, but one was louder than the others. *You will die, Doctor!*
It was almost over. He could feel the Doctor’s mind within the gestalt, beginning to crumple under the massive pressure from above.
“No!” shouted Methos.
And he burst through the last layer.
“No!” shouted the Master.
Terri stared up at the stage as she knelt with one hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. The Master cried out, then collapsed in a heap. A shudder went through the Doctor and she looked back down at the Time Lord.
“No . . . no . . . no . . . ,” mumbled the Doctor, shaking his head weakly. He was covered with sweat. Terri could feel it even through his coat.
There was a snarl from the stage. Terri looked back to see the Master stand again. But the lines in the mist had changed. They no longer pointed at the Master, or indeed in any one direction.
His eyes widened. The mist came together and coalesced. The dancers were swaying in perfect unison and the band had fallen from Alan Parsons into a perpetual rhythm.
The mist hung above the dancers for a moment, then fell screaming down on the stage. Even afterwards, Terri was convinced that it had screamed; no one else remembered this part, so she never discovered if it was true or if her mind had invented the predatory howl.
The Master looked up at the mist as it came rushing down on him. He barely had time to throw his hands over his head before it enveloped him completely.
There was an audible snap, then silence.
The temperature fell by several degrees. The band dropped their instruments. The dancers stopped swaying. The mist gradually dispersed.
Someone turned the main lights on. Terri looked around at a widening circle of sweaty, confused dancers. Some were scratching their heads, others mumbled questions.
The Master . . . Methos . . . lay unmoving on the stage. At her feet lay the Doctor, curled into a ball. Sweat rolled off the Doctor’s curly hair, evaporating in the suddenly cool air.
Terri rolled the Doctor onto his back and put her hand over his mouth.
“Oh God,” she said. “He’s not breathing.”