Tap Tap Tap Tap...
The Master drummed his fingers on the console, mimicking the rhythm of drums in his head.
Tap Tap Tap Tap...
"Do that one more time and I will cut off your fingers," came a rather irritated voice from the other side of the TARDIS. She seemed to have lost her patience finally. The Master withdrew his hand and tried to make up for it with a small smirk. The thing was nevertheless (about her threat) he wouldn't actually put it past her.
"Someone's feeling anxious," he smiled. The Rani looked up from her work and gave him a look that could have frozen magma.
"You're imagining things," she responded. "I'm feeling fine."
"You're not," he said. "You always get snappy when you're anxious. That's one of your qualities that has lasted through all your regenerations." The Rani's blue eyes flashed menacingly, but he ignored them. In a way, the pair of them had always tried to get the better of each other and to see if they could provoke reaction out of each other, ever since they were kids at the Academy. But the sad truth was their petty little arguments may actually be the only thing that was keeping them from tearing each other to pieces in this War. The Master watched her work: a cold and almost emotionless scientist. She hid her emotions well, but not well enough. He could tell she was worried, and to be honest, he couldn't blame her. He watched her for a minute, the silence eating away at the pair of them. Eventually it was the Rani that broke the silence hanging over them.
"You know why they sent us here don't you?" she said. The Master leant against the console.
"Haven't a clue," he muttered in a slightly sarcastic tone. "Perhaps you could remind me."
"This mission is suicide," she said, looking up at them. "They wouldn't have sent us if it wasn't. The lovely Madam President would not allow anyone valuable to get hurt, would she?"
"They could have sent anyone, but they didn't. They've sent us over to the Crucible."
"You're worried aren't you?" asked the Master, giving her a sideways glance. The Rani snorted.
"Who said I was worried?"
"Your attitude gives it away, Rani," said the Master. "You're trying to hide it, but like me, you're not ready to die yet. Neither of us want to die."
"I've died before; as have you."
"Yes, but you've regenerated. This would be beyond-coming-back death. And I know you. You're not ready for that."
"Look who's talking," hissed the Rani. "Thirteen regenerations, a Trakenite body and a human body. Now you've just been given back another chance at life in a Time Lord body. I don't think you want to die either." The Master crossed the console room in order to speak to her more clearly.
"True," he said. "I'm not too keen on the idea of dying. All my lives were wasted before."
"Your fault; not mine," she responded in a tone that made it clear that she wanted to end the conversation now, but the Master wasn't giving up on it yet. He laughed as she went back to the screen on the console.
"Therefore you are scared."
"You'd be a fool not to be," she said stiffly. "But I, unlike others, intend not to show it."
"I understand. You think it's weak."
"You don't understand anything," she snapped.
"Getting tetchy again?"
"Just leave me alone and keep out of my way for a change," she yelled, finally losing patience and aiming a misjudged slap at his face but he backed away before she could hit him. He laughed, having forced a reaction out of her.
"I was right. You are terrified. You get like this when you're trying to hide that fact."
"Explain to me why I am fighting this goddamn Time War again," snapped the Rani. "I hate my race; I had my own planet, which I ruled; and having been exiled, I was 'someone else's problem'. Why did they have to bring me back home? I hate it and them, and they know it."
"I'm guessing they brought you back for the same reason I was," said the Master.
"But I wasn't dead. They made a big fuss over you, Ultimate Weapon. I never wasted my times with schemes of mastery. I'm not a soldier. Why couldn't they just leave me alone? Do you think I would be part of their race if I had a choice?"
"No, I don't think you would," replied the Master. "But they clearly recognised you as a genius, and genius always has potential."
The Rani looked up at him, eyes narrowed.
"Flattery will get you nowhere, Koschei," she hissed, at him. The Master smiled, but she ignored him and carried on working.
"When are you just going to admit you like it really?"
"How about "never"? Does that work for you?" asked the Rani.
"So you do?"
"I didn't say that."
"But you meant it."
"No, I did not."
"I am not going to bring myself down to your level of 'did too', 'did not' argument. I am not a child." The Master laughed at her stubbornness.
"You never change," he smiled, sounding as though he was thinking out loud rather than intending her to hear.
"Neither do you," she replied. "Which could be considered a pity. You could have been a relatively nice person."
"Me? Nice? You know me better than that, Rani." The Rani looked thoughtful.
"Yes, you're right. Ridiculous thought." She looked back at the screen, trying to look indifferent. Master walked over to her and looked over her shoulder.
"So you know about the atmosphere then?" The Rani's eyes snapped up from her work and straight at his face.
"Did you know about this before?" she demanded. "You knew?" The Master shrugged.
"Yes, something the Lady President may have mentioned about the dalek warfare over here..."
"And you didn't think to tell me?"
"I assumed you knew."
"Don't lie to me! Why didn't you say? I could have done something!"
"Like what? Wipe the air clean of toxin?"
"No. An emotional inhibitor would have done."
"Like that would have made a difference on you anyway," muttered the Master.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," he muttered. "I was just saying that there's no way in this universe I am getting emotionally inhibited before I die. I, unlike you, am fond of my emotions."
"Yes. It hurts twice as much when you fail," smiled the Rani.
"Your past exploits aren't exactly bathed in glory themselves," he muttered.
"But at least I know when to stop," she muttered.
"I was right all those years ago. You do have no pride."
"I'm a scientist. Pride means nothing," she replied. "I told you that too. STOP TAPPING!!!" The Master suddenly realised he'd started drumming his fingers on the console again and stopped. The Rani smiled slightly as though some kind of evil thought had just slid into her mind. "Dalek warfare..." she muttered. "They are not affected by it as they had no emotions to start with. It messes with your head, your emotions, making you become crazed. Any tiny emotion is magnified, and as we get closer to the Crucible the effects will become even stronger. It's psychological, which means... How are the Drums?" she asked. The Master shot her an irritated look.
"Since when did you ever care?" he asked.
"Since now," she replied, still smiling. "It must be giving you such a headache, driving you crazier than you already are."
"Shut up." She appeared to have touched a nerve, but the Rani had hooked her fish, now she was reeling it in.
"Louder and louder, closer and closer. Here come... the Drums." SMACK! She staggered, shocked and bleeding. The Master brought back his fist looking equally as surprised as he was angry. She was mainly surprised, but anger was rising quickly.
She aimed another blow back at him, but, expecting it, he grabbed her arm and twisted it. The Rani let out a small cry of pain, which she quickly hid behind a scream of rage, twisting out of his grip, and trying to throw him off her. The Master brought up his free arm and found her throat. She choked. He brought his second hand up and slammed her against the wall of the TARDIS and held both hands to her throat.
"You're hurting me," she choked. The Master grinned.
"I know," he smiled evilly.
"You know what this is, don't you?" she said. The Master nodded.
"Of course," he said. "Those toxins in the air. They're making me want to kill you... so much."
"And yet you're still not letting go of me."
"I know that too."
"I said, 'Let go'," she demanded, and brought her knee up, hard.
The Master let go of her and completely collapsed. The Rani laughed sadistically as the Master groaned in pain.
"Sorry, dear. Did that hurt?"
"You... have no... idea," he gasped. The Rani laughed again.
"You really should listen when I tell you to do something next time," she said. "I thought you would have learnt by now."
"Good," she smiled. "Now maybe you will do as you're told."
"It's at times like this I wonder why I even bother," he muttered, straightening back up, but still looking pained. The Rani gave him a sideways look.
"Bother with what?" she asked. The Master laughed slightly.
"Trying to get along with you."
"You should have gathered that that is not going to happen. It hasn't since we were children. Why do you think I avoid you?"
"If this is still to do with having accidentally blown up..."
"No, it's not," she snarled. "However, I am still not impressed with that."
"It was an accident."
"Not the point. I still hate to be around you. We just don't work well together."
She turned away from him again.
"Won't make a difference either way. We're both on a suicide mission."
"Are you sure about that?" he asked slyly. She looked at him.
"Don't tell me. You have a way out?"
"Kind of," he said. "It depends."
"What have you got?" He leant back against the console next to her and raised his right hand so that she could see what he had taken out of his pocket. Two fob watches hung from chains wound around his fingers. The Rani gave a hollow laugh.
"Yes, as if that would work. There's a time lock on this War."
"But if we could break it..."
"'If'. That's the important word, Master: 'if'."
"So you're just prepared to die then."
"No. I'm not," snapped the Rani; then her voice became calmer. "I'm not," she repeated in a quieter voice. The Master put a hand on her shoulder, and (to her own surprise as well as his) did not shake it off.
"Could be worse," he said. She laughed dryly.
"I may not have been here." The Rani sighed.
"I'm not sure which hell I'd prefer," she groaned. The Master gave her a look of mock-offence.
"You really make me feel unappreciated," he said. "Hell would be a very dull place without me." A slight smile curled the corners of the Rani's mouth, but she did not reply. "Just say you'd miss me," he teased.
"No," she replied, trying now to violently stifle any hint of emotion, but the toxins in the air were becoming too overpowering. It was getting the better of her, and (even worse) he knew it. The Master laughed and the Rani tried valiantly to give him her usual disapproving stare. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" she said.
"Watching you try to claw back some self-control? Of course I'm loving it!" The Rani lowered her gaze again. But she didn't say anything. The Master looked back over her shoulder, to see the computer. "Is there any point in setting off early, even if they'd let us?" he asked her. The Rani shook her head and walked off without looking at him. "Oh, come on," he said. "That's not fair. You're not playing by the rules."
"What rules?" she asked.
"The rules that say you stay," he added. "It's no fun without company."
"Then I'm leaving."
"Oh, you really know how to hurt my feelings, don't you?" he smiled at her. The Rani turned to look back at him and then immediately regretted it. With her usually-rational mind beginning to slip out of her control, she now knew as well as he did that in the moment she had turned around, she was now playing the rules of whatever demented game he had devised in his head. That was not good, whatever it was. The Master smirked at her. "Better," he said. "Now, there's no point in leaving is there? In fact it's probably better for you to stay here."
"And why would that be?" she asked.
"Because you are not alone," he smiled at her. She paused and then spoke again.
"Same question..." He laughed and came back up to her, raising a hand to her cheek. She shivered slightly at the contact but either the Master did not notice or he pretended not to. There was something in his eyes that she did not like.
"Interestingly enough," he said, running his fingers along her cheek. "You yourself said that we're both going to die, yet neither of us want too." He brought his lips up to her ear. "And if I know you even the tiniest amount, I know you're not going to sit back and just let that happen. No, you'll try and think of a way out. You won't just lie down and let death come. You will be dragged out, kicking, screaming and trying to carry out some marvellous solution... Can you think of a better way than mine?" She shook her head.
"I won't sink low enough to turn myself human," she said.
"So what would you do?" he asked her. There was a very expectant pause.
"I don't know," she replied eventually. The Master let out a short but loud laugh.
"The first time I have ever heard you say that," he laughed. "'I don't know.' Go on, Ushas. Say it again. It makes me feel happy."
"Shut up," hissed the Rani, pressing her face right up against his. "I hate you so much."
"Almost convincing too." The Master looked vaguely amused. "The thing is though, Rani, on top of your fear you are more like me than you care to admit."
"I'm not like..."
"Let me finish," he snapped. "You're more like me than you know, and we're not that different. You both hate me and love me and do you know what the best bit is?" He brought his lips right up to her ear and almost breathed the last words. "You know that I'm right... and that hurts, doesn't it?"
The Rani clenched her teeth.
"Leave... me... alone," she hissed menacingly, leaving frighteningly long gaps between each word, allowing every word to hang with venom in the air. He ignored her and slipped his hand down to her neck. She grabbed his fingers with a snarl and threw him off. Surprisingly, he didn't seem the slightest taken-aback by her actions. That made her feel uneasy. Why was he playing with her like this? The Master's blue-grey eyes shone in a menacing way.
"And what if I don't want to?" he asked, sounding playfully aggressive. "What would you do?" The Rani froze. Now what? He knew as well as she did that he was beginning to win. Her emotions were starting to get the better of her; and yet it was having no effect on him. He smiled at her. "Feeling better?" he asked in a creepy way. She snapped and rounded on him.
"Why is it not affecting you?" she demanded.
"Who said it's not?" he smirked. "Trust me it is; and it feels so much better," he grinned. "It's made me feel properly alive again. I haven't felt like that for centuries. Just wait a few minutes and it'll feel so good." The Rani gave him a look. What was he doing? It was worrying in a way but still there was something niggling at the back of her mind. Was he...?
"What are you trying to do?" she asked suspiciously. The Master looked vaguely amused.
"You would, wouldn't you?" he said.
"Still trying to fight it."
"Don't tell me that there isn't even the tiniest flicker of fondness in your hearts for me."
"There isn't," she replied woodenly. "Used to be. Then I grew up." The Master gave her an unfathomable look.
"Sweet," he said. "Rather touching. You see it is not beyond you."
"Can you just leave me be now?"
"I wasn't planning on doing," he said, reaching out with both his hands, and taking her head in them. "What's the point?" He brought her head up to him and rested her forehead on his. "There isn't one."
"Stop it," she muttered, feeling a faint drumbeat from inside his head echo within hers. "I don't want to hear those Drums. Get off me!" She pulled away from him (less easily than she had thought) and turned away. The Master sighed.
"They're not my fault..."
"Yes, I know, I know," snapped the Rani. "I've heard this story before. I wasn't sympathetic the first time. What makes you think that on every subsequent occasion you go through it, I'm going to have changed my opinion?"
"Always worth a try," he shrugged. The Rani smirked, her dark hair masking her expression from him. She wondered about how to reply but then decided against it. He wasn't worth it.
The Master put his hand on her shoulder.
"I know how you feel," he said to her, sounding uncharacteristically empathetic. "I know because you're right. I am scared too. I'm so scared. I don't want to die and neither do you: two of a kind."
"I'm not..." started the Rani in a whisper. She'd meant to say that she wasn't scared as much as him; that they were nothing alike; but for some reason the words died in her throat. She swallowed. She couldn't deny anymore that she was scared, and for the first time in her lives she felt weak, helpless. And it wasn't a good feeling. It really sank in at that moment. She was going to die. There was no certain way out of this. She had once thought that she could do anything. She was one of the most accomplished chemists that Gallifrey had ever produced (despite how much it pained them to admit it). But now she had realised. There was no way out. Either she lived for who-knows-how-long inside a human body (she may even die human) or end her life here, fighting a War for people she hated. She lost either way. Almost without thinking she raised her hand to the one on her shoulder, and brushed her fingers against his. "What can we do?" she asked. "Either way we're not going to be us anymore."
"Oh?" came the Master's triumphant tone. "Do you mean that I've come up with an idea better than yours? Say it."
"No," the Rani replied, turning around to face him. "I don't mean that. I mean that if (and I only said 'if') we get out of the time lock and if we can use a chameleon circuit, we're effectively killing ourselves."
"No one would know. Even we wouldn't. Could you live like that?" The Master shrugged.
"I don't think I'd bother too much. I'd miss you though." He traced the fingers of his left hand up her neck. Caught off guard, the Rani didn't make an attempt to resist this time. She sighed as he ran his fingers up to her chin and touched her lips, then realised what he was doing.
"No," she whispered slightly; and then, realising how she'd sounded, shook her head, trying to sound serious. "Get off," she said aggressively and he slowly lowered his hand with a smile. He knew by now he was beginning to get to her, just as well as she did. That was annoying! "Either way we'll die," she snapped. "We'll cease to exist."
"I know," he said, now sounding mildly irritated. "I'm about as enthusiastic as you are to become human, but at least it's a way out."
"Yes," she agreed. "But it doesn't stop me being afraid."
"Or me," he said. "But it does make me feel a little better that I'm not alone." He reached up and swept a lock of dark hair out of her eyes. She looked up at him.
"Koschei..." she started, not having a clue what she was going to follow it up with; but he silenced her by placing a finger over her lips.
"Shh," he whispered, sliding his finger away from her lips. Then he leant in and kissed her, and she let him.
She wasn't sure why, but he had had a point. He was there, making her feel slightly better about herself. She still hadn't changed her opinion though. He was unbalanced and he was obsessed with universal-domination schemes that were frankly a waste of energy... still... he made her feel better. Maybe it was that toxin in the air, she didn't know, but she knew now she was feeling something for him that she hadn't felt for centuries. He pulled his lips away slightly so they were hovering barely a few millimetres from each other.
"Feels better having me around, doesn't it," he whispered to her, as though having read her mind. The Rani took a deep breath in and then replied.
"Why?" she asked. "Why am I letting you do this?"
"Because it keeps your mind away from other things," he replied. "Things you don't want to think about; and you know I'm a better alternative."
"Don't flatter yourself," she sneered back at him, but he was still smiling. He knew now as well as she did that he'd won.
"Now we both know you don't mean that," he smiled maliciously. God, she hated it when he made her feel like this. She felt small and weak and wrong. She didn't like it in any way at all. The worst thing was though, he was right. He had said it before. She hated him, but she did love him: something she fiercely denied with both her hearts. The problem arose in this circumstance however, that in her current mind-state, with the toxins in the air affecting her rational thought, anything could happen. He knew that too, and had done for a while; and the look in his eye made her feel irritated with herself that he had been able to drag it out of her.
How she hated him...
Still, there was nothing left for her to lose: not anymore. She had already lost anything that could have meant something to her. She kissed him back, hearing the vibrations of the Drums through her own head.
Tap Tap Tap Tap... Tap Tap Tap Tap... Tap Tap Tap Tap...
Here it comes: the Sound of Drums.
Here come the Drums
Here come the Drums...