The Master, Annie Cartwright, and Gene Hunt were shut in a small room together, sitting on the floor. The Master looked at his watch. Only about seven minutes left until two o'clock. Annie looked from one to the other.
"Are we gonna die now?" she asked.
The Master and Gene both gave her fatalistic looks. "No," said Gene. "I reckon we could take him. I'll jump on him, you take his gun and Cartwright can jump up and down on his knackers. Free the hostages, get down to the pub, no problem."
The Master couldn't help but smile at the pointless ramblings of a doomed man who did not want to show his fear. Sarcasm, he observed, was a fascinating evolutionary defense mechanism for the ever so emotional human race to develop. "Well, that's a relief," the Master said, responding to yet another one of the Guv's brilliant thoughts. "For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble." Annie and Gene laughed, both attempting to fight against the fear raging inside them, to forget that there was little chance of being saved.
"When you die," said Annie. "There's supposed to be this tunnel of light and you get to relive all your very best and most wonderful moments."
"Go on then, Cartwright," said Gene. "Give us an example."
She thought about it for a moment. "Graduation day," she began. "Jumping off a twenty foot bridge into a weir, with a bottle of Mateus Rose in one hand-"
"Go on..." said the Master. He had died so many times before; he never saw anything. But it was a nice thought, and he wanted to hear it. He found himself becoming more and more sentimental in his old age.
"With a bottle of wine in one hand, and me bra in the other," she continued. The Master grinned.
"I think that's just become one of my dying memories," said Gene.
"And you, Sam?" she asked.
"Er..." said the Master. He hadn't exactly had the greatest life, lives, ever. But there was something about the feeling he got when a real good plan came together, even if it would later be ruined by a certain meddling Time Lord. The moment when everything seemed to just fall into place, as though it had always happened, since the beginning of time itself. Probably, his best day was the day he became Prime Minister; after all, he had the Doctor's TARDIS, a loyal wife, and an ingenious plan to destroy the universe. But he couldn't say that. "I suppose," he said. "The day I was made a DCI."
"Is that the same day I became King of Egypt?" said Gene.
"Oh, yeah, sorry, yeah, yeah," said the Master, quickly back-tracking. Sometimes these titles could get a bit confusing to sort out, and he was still somewhat new to this position. "The day I was made DI."
"You can't have it related to work," said Annie. "Is that the best you can do?"
The Master thought harder. "Um... Birthday." Yes, that's good. "My... my last birthday." Annie gave him a look. "No, no, actually, it wasn't my last, what I mean is..." He wasn't usually this slow; perhaps his mind was going a bit soft? "My... my fourth birthday." Yes, that's better. "My dad was away a lot. Salesman. And I woke up that morning, and I remember thinking, 'Is he gonna be here, is he gonna be downstairs?'"
"And was he?" Annie asked.
It was true that his own father used to travel a lot, for his work with the High Council. He remembered the day he once went with him. As a child, he had been so excited; it was the farthest he had ever yet been from home... He remembered seeing the stars burning bright across in the sky. They were so many, so... majestic. He felt so small. But then his father turned to him and said, 'Son, we are masters of the universe. One day, the very stars themselves will bow to you.' It was then that the Master understood his place in the world. He wanted to savor that feeling forever. No one else ever understood, especially not the Doctor. But he spent the rest of his life trying to regain that moment, no matter the cost.
"And I went down," he continued. "And my mum was waiting in the living room. And she said, 'I'm so sorry, Sammie. He couldn't make it back in time.' I was gutted. And I just stood there... and then I heard this whistling." What do people whistle? "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow. And he came into the room. I didn't turn round, 'cause I just wanted to... savor... that moment. Knowing that he was there."
"I don't think about my past," said Gene, somberly.
"Come on," said the Master. "There must be some... juicy bit of Gene Hunt heroism buried in there somewhere."
"What," he said, spitefully. "You think this job's heroic? We clean out the gutters, that's what we do. It's a thankless task."
"Don't tell me you don't feel good about what you do," said the Master. Doing a thankless task was precisely why he never wanted to be a hero; that's just what heroes did. It's always the villains, like himself, who wanted to carve their name into the sky. But people, like Gene, like the Doctor, never needed recognition. They would do the job, always.
"Ask Jackie Queen if she thinks we're heroic," said Gene.
"What is it with her?" asked the Master. "She wrote a piece about you..."
"An armed blag at a post office," said Gene. "This bloke had a gun and was running towards the crowd."
"It wasn't a gun, though, was it?" came Jackie's voice, her silhouette suddenly appearing behind the doorway. "It was a stick. He was unarmed."
"Jackie," said the Master. "What- what's happening?"
"I'm going to the loo," she explained. "Reg is counting. When he gets to fifty, he shoots George. Again." She paused. "He was a wee kid with a wooden stick, Gene. You shot him in the back."
The Master stopped paying full attention to their conversation, and instead thought about his own situation. He didn't care about Gene's mistakes. Gene would have to live with his regrets; not even a Time Lord could fix his own past.
He watched as Gene stood up and went over to the door, fury in his voice. "Well, let me tell you for the record, I am not the villain of the piece. I'm not like Litton, Jackie; I don't need to see myself on the front page. I don't deserve to be shown supping with the devil! Why are you here? Is that what you came over for?"
"No," she said quietly. She puts a cigarette under the door. "He's reached forty. I've got to go."
Gene took the cigarette and put it behind his ear. He went and sat down on the floor again, sighing. The Master looked at his watch again. It was ticking very loudly. Then, it was no longer coming from the watch. The Master closed his eyes and there was a flash. He could hear them; the drums coming closer and closer. He opened his eyes again.
"Hey..." said Annie, soothingly. She took his hand in both of hers, sensing that something was wrong.
The door suddenly unlocked and they all looked up as Reginald Cole came in. "The van's arrived for the typesetters," he said. "We're ready to go to press."
"Reg," said the Master. "I know you wanna be a hero. I saw what you wrote in your flat. Brecht. 'Unhappy the land that has no heroes.'"
"That's half the quote," answered Reg. "'Unhappy the land that has no heroes. No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.'"
"I don't understand," said the Master.
"If you fail to be a hero," Reg explained. "Be content to be a villain."
"And that's the point of all this?" asked the Master. It always came down to heroes and villains, good and evil- but if the Master had learned anything along his travels, it was that the universe is drawn in shades of gray.
"Yes," he said. "I tried to be a heroic nobody. Didn't work. So now I'm a famous villain."
"If you kill us," said Gene. "They will come in here and they will kill you."
"I die famous. You die coppers." He pointed the gun at them. The Master looked up, ears full of beating drums.
– – –
One minute to two. The Master knelt on the floor with Reg's gun to his head.
"I don't think you really wanna be a villain, Reg. I think it's fear that's made you do this."
"No point in you trying to be a hero," said Reg. "No one to save. Not even yourself."
The Master shook his head. "Not trying to be a hero." I just... don't want to be the villain here, either.
"You're deluded, Sam," he said. "You're breathing, your heart's beating, but it's an illusion of life. You're dead already."
The Master's eyes fill with tears. He didn't want to die again. Not after all this.
"Time to put you out of your misery," said Reg.
Was it misery, though? From the moment his father had shown him the stars, he knew he wanted to be master of all. But... he had sacrificed so much of himself in order to do so. He focused his attention to the cool metal of the pistol against his temple. What was the point anymore?
The Master looked at Annie, who was also crying. He thought about the Doctor crying over his dying body. But Annie's tears were different. The Doctor cried for himself, for his own loneliness and loss. The Master could have been any other Time Lord, and the Doctor would have reacted the same. Annie cried for him.
"Bye, Annie," he said.
Gene's eyes, which had been resting on the clock, flicked over to the Master."When you're done with him," he said to Reg. "You'd better turn on me quick, Cole, or I'll kill you."
The Master closed his eyes tightly.
"Two o'clock," he heard Reg repeat anxiously. "Two o'clock." He sounded scared. His gun shook in his hand. Perhaps Reg would waver at the last moment? It was an innately human feature to have a conscience.
The Master began to smile. This was it, no use in fooling himself. Shot again. At least this time it wasn't a woman. And there's a countdown even, how fitting. His mind focused on the melody created by the ticking clock on the wall and the beat of the drums in his head. The Master laughed through his tears. This was how it would end; a lifetime of hate and corruption, of pain and defeat, of loss and death.
Then, as if materializing out of nowhere, Litton and his team and Ray and Chris burst in, guns blazing, shooting at the ceiling, which ended up distracting Reg.
"It's over, Cole!" cried Litton. "You've met your match!"
The Master opened his eyes. The drums had stopped; and he knew that no one would die that day.