Prologue

The Master was a slight, sleek man with smoothly combed hair and carefully trimmed beard. Dressed in a neck-scarf, dressing gown and slippers, he sat in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, quietly reading a book—the picture of civilised repose. And yet there lingered something dangerous about him. Maybe it was the arch of his eyebrows or the set of his mouth. Or maybe it was the nature of his cell—sheet metal riveted over concrete walls, reinforced steel door and thick bars over a window that would have been too small for a child to get through.

Noises from outside filtered through—the clanging of gates and the double clunk of heavy locks being unlocked and relocked. The Master sat reading, unperturbed, undisturbed. He was expecting a visitor, perhaps even two, and everything was ready. As the triple-bolt locks on the steel door of his cell were loudly opened, he marked his page, closed his book and laid it to one side.

The door opened and the visitor stepped in—a tall man with broad shoulders and white, windblown hair. He stood in a long cape, driving gloves in one hand, watching the Master as the steel door behind him was closed and relocked. The Master rose and offered his hand.

'Why, Doctor!' he said. 'How gratifying to see you.'

The Doctor gave a polite nod, but did not shake his hand. 'Hello, old chap,' he said. 'How are you?'

'As well as can be expected,' said the Master. 'Miss Grant not with you?'

'Not today. She sends her regards.'

'How kind.'

The Doctor looked around and saw the chessboard upon a small table, the pieces in their starting positions.

'Expecting me?' said the Doctor.

The Master smiled. 'You know, I must thank you, Doctor, for introducing me to this fascinating Earth game.'

'Yes. I did notice the book on chess strategy.'

'So many possibilities! I mean, we had logic games on Gallifrey, but I really find chess to be superior. Maybe it's the game's intrinsic simplicity.'

'Or maybe it's because you keep thrashing me.'

'Oh come, Doctor! It not all that bad.'

'Eleven games to nil, not all that bad?'

'Twelve, actually.'

The Master waved his hand as though it were vulgar to continue this line of conversation.

'Come on, Doctor,' he said. 'I'm sure today you will get your revenge!'

The Doctor hesitated and then took off his cape, putting the driving gloves into a pocket. He drew a chair up to the small table. The Master already stood before it, holding out two clenched fists. The Doctor pointed at one of them. The Master opened his hand to reveal a white pawn.

'How appropriate,' he said, placing the pawns in position.

The Doctor gave him a sardonic look as he sat down. He rubbed the side of his nose as he studied the board. Then he moved a pawn to open the game.

Two games later, the score was nearing fourteen-nil. The Doctor hadn't officially lost the second game yet, but it was only a matter of time. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the board to see if he was missing something. The Doctor was no mean chess player himself and he enjoyed a challenge as much as the next man, but this was beginning to feel humiliating. The Master played a methodical game so skilful in its logic that you didn't notice the jaws closing in on you until it was too late. Like now, thought the Doctor. He reached out and pushed his king over.

"All right, you win,' said the Doctor. 'You are officially unbeatable.'

'If that were true, Doctor, it wouldn't be me in this prison cell, would it?'

'I'm not exactly a free agent myself, old chap.' The Doctor looked around. 'But I take your point.'

'One last game?'

The Doctor gave a cursory wave and the Master began to reset the pieces. Face in his hand, the Doctor watched his opponent at work. Every piece was placed at the precise centre its square, no exceptions. The setting of the pieces was methodical too—first king, then queen, then pieces and finally the pawns. Logic, method, precision. Interesting, thought the Doctor.

Once again, the Doctor played white. He opened the game and there was an exchange of pawns. Both players developed their pieces, the Doctor castled on the king's side, the Master did the same, the Doctor moved a rook to threaten a pawn and the Master moved a knight to defend it.

Finger lightly rubbing his chin, the Doctor studied the board. At present, neither player had an obvious advantage. Pieces were well placed and well defended on both sides. Pawn formations were unambitious, but solid. It was anybody's game except … that's how it always felt, thought the Doctor. Every move he made was a logical response to the Master's moves and yet the Master always won. The Doctor frowned, gave his chin one last, little tap and made his move:

Rook takes Pawn.

When a child learns chess, they are taught that a rook is worth five pawns. To lose a rook for one pawn was considered disastrous. But to deliberately exchange a rook for one pawn was downright insanity.

The Master stared down at the board. It was clear by the look on his face that he didn't quite believe the Doctor had just done it. It was their custom never to speak during a game, but the look the Master gave the Doctor could not have been plainer: 'Are you sure you want to do that?'

The Doctor sat back in his chair as though to confirm that he did. Still, the Master hesitated. It was only when the Doctor breathed on his pinkie ring and began polishing it on the lapel of his smoking jacket did the Master realise that the Doctor was not going to take back the move.

The Master looked at the board. He looked at it for a long time, but there were no traps, no hidden pieces, nothing that he could see. The white rook was undefended. The only question was should he take it with a pawn or the knight? Eventually, he picked up the piece of his choice.

Still shaking his head, the Master took the Doctor's rook off the board…