Chapter 1: Men and Their Coats
The lab was blissfully quiet as the man continued his work, slowly shuffling beakers, drawing a sample from one and then another, scribbling haphazard notes, and rewriting a frustrating formula over and over again. For years this project had consumed his waking hours, mentally if not physically. He only paid half attention to work these days; his mind was still measuring and analyzing and anticipating that night’s results.
Why he spent so much time in the lab was a question that fascinated new recruits. The more experienced of his employees had learned to leave him alone when he got like this, obsessed and determined and slightly mad. New recruits were more curious. They dared each other to break into his lab to examine his project. He’d retconned and fired all who’d tried. After all, this was his idea, and when he finally succeeded, then he would have the adoration and affections of anyone and everyone.
Fame and glory alone was not the only thing that made him devote hours every day to his experiments. Sometimes it was just the idea of escaping from the constant swirl of past and present and future and possibilities swirling around. It was enough to drive anyone around the bend, and he was supposed to be in charge of it all.
And then there was the escape from the new recruits. Chemicals didn’t talk back to him or try to seduce him when he was trying to work, then turn around and mutter things behind his back. As if they, young and silly as they were, knew more about time and physics and life than he did! What was the Agency teaching these days?
He dwelled on his simmering anger as he cleared up for the night. Another exhausting day at the office, followed by a few grueling hours working on his experiments. Now he had time for maybe five hours’ sleep before he had to start the whole frustrating thing over again. He cleaned the test tubes, turned off the myriad of machines, and carefully inspected his petri dishes.
When he came to the last petri dish at the end of the line, he froze in mid-yawn. Where last night there had been nothing, today there was a golden speck.
Exhilaration shot through him as his mouth exploded into a rare grin. He checked the dish’s label, and copied its formula to his notes. His fingers tingled as they formed the letters, quivering with the realization of his discovery. Night after night of headaches, tears of frustrations as he pressed on with his experiments, fueled by little food or sleep but ample ambition – all were finally paying off. He’d done it! He really had!
He scooped the petri dish up in his hand and spun around the room in excitement, caressing his specimen like it was his child. In a way, it was. He even allowed himself to laugh, a gravelly cry that was so seldom used his new recruits would have been shocked to hear it.
Take that, the man thought venomously of the stupid new recruits who mocked him. He’d done it!
That was when the voice started. As the man danced around the room, the voice seeped into his mind with every syllable, echoing his joy and vengefulness and infusing a streak of its own curiosity.
The man stopped dancing and peered at the petri dish in his hand. That was….strange. He had succeeded, right? A surge of vengefulness replaced his doubt almost immediately. Of course he was fine. He was fine, and he was having the last laugh. Ha, with this, he’d be able to retire tomorrow! Retire before age 45, no less!
His joy dimmed slightly when he realised his publisher or anyone else he might have told of his discovery was asleep. No matter. A few hours and the fame, the adoration, the fortune, the early retirement – all would be his by this time tomorrow!
By the next night, the man was dead.
Fortuna’s chips, Rose thought as she licked the grease from her lips, were nearly as tasty as Earth’s. Although its chip shops, she decided as she glanced around the stained linoleum walls of the diner, left something to be desired.
“So what have you been up to then, Jackie-boy?” asked the Doctor, lounging back in the booth they occupied.
Jack leaned back in the opposite side of the booth, hands behind his head. “Let’s see….In summary, looked for a version of you that corresponded with my timeline. Died a couple times. Looked for you. Joined Torchwood. Looked for you. Died some more. Looked for you. Avoided London during the Blitz. Had lots of fun keeping Torchwood away from you during the 70s….”
“Erm, thank you?”
“Looked for you, died some more. Watched Rose grow up. You were an adorable five-year-old, by the way.”
“You spied on me?” Rose said indignantly, swatting the Doctor’s hand as he tried to take one of her chips.
“Only saw you twice, is that a crime?” Jack complained before ticking off on his fingers a few more items. “Died a few more times. Looked for you…died some more. And then I had a field day when all three of us landed in Cardiff. Honestly, all three of us, practically on Torchwood Three’s doorstep, with that bloke of Rose’s, going after Blon the Slitheen, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Rose, words muffled as she shoved another chip into her mouth.
“Do you realise the strings I had to pull to make sure I neither met myself or you and nobody arrested you right there on the spot?”
“I am forever in your debt, Captain Harkness,” the Doctor said melodramatically, stealing one of Rose’s chips.
“Oh, really?” Jack leaned forward, mouth widening in sheer delight.
The Doctor, realizing his horrible mistake, quickly babbled, “Forever meaning not really, debt meaning you can have a favor that does not involve any physical contact with me. Or Rose.” He thought. “Or the TARDIS.”
Rose stifled a snort with another chip.
“You’re no fun at all,” Jack complained. He clasped his fingers together behind his head and leaned back again, pondering. “I want….my coat.”
“Your coat,” the Doctor repeated guardedly, searching for innuendos.
“I have this World War II coat back in my Torchwood office. It’s comfy, warm, and makes me look even more dashing and heroic then I already am.”
“Isn’t there a World War II coat in the wardrobe?” Rose asked idly.
Jack shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I want my coat.”
“Men and their coats,” she sighed.
“Hey, don’t knock the coat. You don’t knock the Doctor’s coat – ”
“Janis Joplin gave me this coat!”
“ – You didn’t knock his leather jacket. What happened to that thing, anyway?”
“I’m not really sure,” replied the Doctor, fishing out another one of Rose’s chips and popping it in his mouth. “I hung it back up in the wardrobe room, and it just disappeared one day.”
Rose blushed heavily, and stuffed more chips into her mouth to hide the scarlet colour spreading through her cheeks. Within seconds, she had finished the whole lot.
“You done?” Jack smirked knowingly. Cheeks fading back to their original colour, Rose nodded.
“Allons-y, then!” declared the Doctor. He stood and rummaged through his pockets, extracting an assortment of change. “Let’s see….I hope they accept Freytusian money. Think this is enough to buy….well, one chip.” He plonked the heavy coin on the table, took Rose’s hand, and hustled for the door. Jack winked at the waitress before scooting after them.
One quick TARDIS trip later, Jack popped in and out of Torchwood Three, returning with a large rucksack and dressed in his beloved WWII coat. He slung the coat off and draped it over the Doctor’s on a coral strut.
“So what’s in the rucksack, then?” asked Rose in a singsong.
“Jaaaack…” the Doctor eyed the rucksack suspiciously. “You just said your coat.”
“Trust me, you’ll want it,” Jack grinned. With a flourish, he opened the flap of the rucksack and pulled out….
“You found his hand?!” Rose exclaimed.
The Doctor gawked at the hand bubbling in the jar, then at Jack. His voice rose to an indignant high pitch. “You found my hand and decided to pickle it?!”
“Would you have rather let it decompose?” Jack said, exasperated. “Do you want it or not?”
“I want it,” the Doctor decided, taking it and bending to shove it underneath the console. “Might come in handy sometime, right? Handy, eh?” Rose and Jack rolled their eyes. “Oh, well….” He straightened and twirled a lever. “I know! We’ll have a thank-you trip. Just for you, Jack.”
“Do I get an elaborate apology, too?” asked Jack, looking like a child at Christmas.
The Doctor solemnly saluted. “Thank you, Captain Jack Harkness, for valiantly keeping Torchwood from doing nasty things to me while I was exiled to the tiny planet you lot call home.”
“Exiled?” Rose wondered as the time rotor kick-started.
“Waaay back, hundreds of years back, got executed—”
“—and exiled to Earth in the 1970s,” explained the Doctor, flicking some switches on the console and twirling a gear. “Joined up with UNIT, the Brigadier—have you met him yet, Rose? Put it on my to-do list—and Sarah Jane, you’ve met her! Blimey, that was all ages ago—”
“Oh, I remember that one,” reminisced Jack fondly, “Frilly dandy, wasn’t it?”
“Frilly?” commented Rose, picturing the Doctor before her in lacy frills and arching an eyebrow.
“Ha!” Jack smirked, “That’s not the only crazy thing he’s worn—”
“Have you been stalking me?” accused the Doctor.
“Maybe….” said Jack, shrugging. “Never actually got to meet any of you. Saw the pictures, though—frilly dandy, curls and scarf, short with a brolly, clown trousers. And I already knew about big ears and leather.”
“Oh, very flattering, that is. Were those the pictures Torchwood had then?”
“And this you. Big hair and bigger mouth. What order do those go in, by the way?”
“Forget that; what’d you get exiled for?” asked Rose, already plotting to ask Jack for the pictures.
“Oh, this should be good, never did figure this one out,” said Jack excitedly.
“Er…” the Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. “Nicking the TARDIS, saving the universe, not being a good little Time Lord, that sort of thing.”
“You stole the TARDIS?!” cried Jack and Rose simultaneously.
The TARDIS landed with a crash, throwing them all to the ground, but the Doctor was up and ushering them towards the doors within seconds.
“Here you go, Jack, Aloria, lovely planet, 51st century, just in time for the Festival of Peace and Love!” He pushed the doors open and waved them outside with a flourish.
Questions about the Doctor’s crimes vanished as Rose and Jack took in the scene before them. They’d landed in a bustling bazaar, teeming with vendors loudly hawking their goods under tents made of leaves. In the narrow passageways between tents, Alorians jostled past each other. They were a humanoid people, a bit more solidly built and a tinge greener than the average human. Most overwhelming about the whole scene, however, was the smell. Scents of exotic fruits, sizzling meat, and fresh flowers hung so thick in the air they were practically tastable.
“Perfumes and teas!” cried the nearest vendor, an old woman missing half her teeth. She squirted a bottle of perfume right underneath Jack’s nose as they passed. “Fall in love! Make others fall in love with you!”
“Trust me, he doesn’t need any of that!” declared the Doctor, shoving Jack past the toothless woman.
“But…” Jack’s face hosted a dreamy expression.
“Please don’t tell me there was aphrodisiac in that,” the Doctor groaned.
Jack sneezed, then shook his head to clear it. “Whatever that stuff was, it stings. My head’s all fuzzy now….”
“Funny word, fuzzy,” mused the Doctor, tasting the word in his mouth, “Fuzzy, fuh-ZEE, fuzzzzzz…ee. ”
“So, Festival of Peace and Love?” Rose laughed as Alorians around them gave them strange looks.
“Yes!” the Doctor beamed as they continued past the hawking vendors into the centre square. “Fourth day of spring on Aloria—well, what you’d call spring—they throw a huge festival, with fireworks, and flowers, and delicious food. And there tends to be a lot of….love.”
Jack grinned. “Sounds great.”
“Mind you,” the Doctor continued, glancing around in puzzlement, “Not that this isn’t a crowd, but there really ought to be more people here, more diversity, for such a big festival. It’s a huge tourist attraction…They usually have bigger tents…And I don’t see any other humans, do you?” He tapped the shoulder of a nearby Alorian, a paunchy middle-aged man. “Excuse me, how are you enjoying the festival?”
“Festival?” the man looked confused. “What festival?”
“The festival,” prompted the Doctor, “Festival of Peace and Love?” The man remained puzzled. “The festival your planet throws every year? Fireworks, flowers, food, love? You’re not recalling any of this at all?”
“Oh that festival?” chuckled the Alorian in recognition, “We haven’t celebrated that since I was nine!”
The Doctor paused. “Nine? How old are you now, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Nearing twenty-one now,” he boasted, “And still got quite a bit to go, I’m quite a wealthy man after all!” His eyes widened. “Oh, you’re human!” He beamed wildly, snatching the Doctor’s hand and shaking it vigorously.
“Actually, I’m not—” the Doctor started, but the man had already moved on to Rose, who looked quite bemused.
“Can’t tell you how wonderful this is!” he continued, moving on to Jack. The captain grinned warmly, eager for much more than a handshake, but before he could say anything more the Alorian had cried, “Oh this is wonderful!” And dashed off.
“Twenty-one?!” the Doctor objected. “That can’t be right!”
“And lookin’ good,” remarked Jack, grinning wolfishly.
“Nice man, but looks a bit old for twenty-one, doesn’t he?” Rose commented.
“Actually, Jack’s sort of right,” said the Doctor, running his hand through his hair in bewilderment. “Mayflies of the Hollin Galaxy, the Alorians. They’re fully grown by age two and live until about ten. And their year’s about half the length of Earth’s, so that works out to an average lifespan of five Earth years really.”
“You mean he’s lived twice his species average life span?” whistled Jack, “Looks like I’ll fit right in here.”
“And no festival?” continued the Doctor, brow still furrowed in bafflement, “What rubbish is that? Because this is definitely Aloria….”
“Failure on the first try?” smirked Jack, “You really know how to show a guy a good time.”
“But that can’t be right,” said the Doctor, frowning, “It just can’t.”
“So you got the date wrong. Better luck next time, yeah?” Rose wrapped her arm around his. “This place’s not half-bad anyway.”
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—my history’s perfect!” He gazed around as if searching for someone to jump out and yell ‘April Fools, the festival’s back on.’ “Something’s off. Even the air smells a bit funny, can’t you smell it?”
Rose and Jack both inhaled deeply. “There’s so many smells going on here I don’t think I’d know,” admitted Rose.
“So much to smell…and so much to see,” said Jack, eyeing a group of giggling girls disappearing around the corner on the other side of the square.
“Can I—?” he started.
“It’s your thank-you present,” the Doctor sighed, shrugging. “Back at the TARDIS in a couple hours.”
Jack mock-saluted and took off.
“What is that smell?” the Doctor wondered aloud, sniffing the air. “It’s not aphrodisiac, it’s something else…”
Rose leaned in closer so her lips hovered right by his ear. “Desire, maybe?”
The Doctor grinned at her, “Actually it smells sweet. Smells…” He sniffed again, and twisted his face in disgust. “Like pears. I hate pears…”
“Oh, don’t start!” Rose moaned, giving him a light shove.
“Alright,” the Doctor relented. “I won’t talk about the disgusting slimy green excuse for fruit your planet calls—”
“You’re just mad that bloke thought you were a lowly human,” Rose teased, and he shut his mouth for a brief moment. Taking advantage of the split second before his gob started up again, she took his hand and squeezed it. “You do realise you’ve taken me to a bazaar....”
“Or maybe the smell’s grapes, I like grapes, grapes are brilliant!” As the Doctor registered what Rose had said, he let out a loud groan. “Oh, no—”
“Time to go shopping!” she said gleefully, dragging him towards the nearest tent, where a woman with mousy hair sold all sorts of jewelry. “Just think of it as a little shop.”
“I do like a little shop…” he said thoughtfully.
Rose, barely containing squeals of excitement, snatched the psychic paper from the Doctor’s pocket and started sorting through all the gleaming bobbles. The Doctor looked thoroughly bored until he spotted a gaudy hat topped with dangly tubular appendages. He mashed the hat over his hair and inspected his reflection in the nearby mirror, preening. He clearly liked it. Rose thought he looked like a squid was trying to swallow his head.
After much deliberation, Rose finally decided to buy some bright blue beads that caught her eye. Her mother would love them.
“Can I have some of these?” Rose asked the shopkeeper.
“You’re human!” The woman exclaimed, straightening her dress as if meeting an important diplomat. “Oh, it’s been ages since one of you have come! This is wonderful!”
“Thanks,” Rose beamed. “How much for these?”
“Four,” the woman pronounced.
“Four…?” Rose asked as she held out the psychic paper.
“Oh, no, no!” The woman didn’t even glance at the paper, waving her hand dismissively. “Just give me your hand, dearie, that’ll be payment.”
“Er, alright.” Slightly confused, Rose shoved the psychic paper back into her pocket and tentatively extended a hand, which the woman gripped tightly. With her other hand, she pulled out a large thorn tied around her neck.
“Wait, hold on—” Eyes wide, Rose tried to jerk her hand away, but the woman was clutching it too tightly. Ignoring her protests, the woman firmly stabbed it deep into Rose’s palm.
“Ouch!” The thorn dug though her skin, drawing blood. All at once, a sense of emptiness overwhelmed her, as if her insides had been sucked out through a straw and all the heat was draining from her body. Her hand was numb, her head felt as if it were floating, and her cry diminished to a whimper.
“What’re you doing?!” The Doctor snapped, the funny hat flying off his head as he whirled towards them.
The thorn dislodged from her hand with a slight popping sound, and Rose yanked her hand away, gasping. Light-headed, she stumbled woozily to lean on the table.
“It’s payment,” explained the woman, puzzled at the Doctor’s reaction. “We agreed on four.”
“Four what?!” He snatched Rose’s injured hand and watched the blood streaking down her palm in dismay.
“Four months, of course. Here you go dearie.” She held out the small pouch of beads towards Rose’s uninjured hand, and a clean rag. “Bit of a bleeder, aren’t you? Here.”
The Doctor seized the rag. “She’s human, she’s got higher blood pressure than you!” He quickly wrapped the rag around her hand, then stood rigidly, glowering at the vendor. “Four months?!”
“They’re very good beads!”
“Four months of what?! Servitude, slavery, what?!”
“Four months of time,” said the woman slowly, as if talking to a particularly dim-witted child.
“Yes, well, she wants a refund,” retorted the Doctor, letting go of Rose’s bloody hand and shoving the pouch back at the vendor. “Give it back. Whatever you took from her, give it back right now.”
“Refund? It doesn’t work that way, sorry.” The vendor shifted uncomfortably, still fingering her thorn.
Rose tottered uncertainly and laid her uninjured hand on the Doctor’s arm. “Doctor, look, I’m fine.” She showed him her wrapped palm. “Just a prick. Let’s just…go, yeah?”
But the Doctor was already whipping out his sonic screwdriver and running it along the thorn necklace, careful not to prick his fingers. “It’s absorbent. But absorbing what? I’ve never seen anything like it.” His eyes moved from the screwdriver to the vendor. “Where’s it from?”
“Everyone’s got one.” The woman irritably snatched it back from the Doctor and rewrapped it around her neck.
“What do you mean, everyone’s got one?” said the Doctor through clenched teeth.
“It’s how we pay for things. It’s illegal to pay any other way.”
The Doctor glanced around her tent full of merchandise. “You all stab each other for payment?”
“Yes,” she said exasperatedly. Spotting a young Alorian woman eyeing her tent, she shooed the Doctor away. “Now, unless you’re planning on buying more, I have customers…”
But the Doctor wasn’t leaving. “Who’s in charge?”
“No one,” answered the shopkeeper simply, tilting her body to peek around the Doctor.
“What, it’s some sort of democracy then? Group assembly, you vote?”
“No, no one is in charge.” The woman put her hands on her hips, irritated.
“Well there must be someone, somebody who’s responsible for keeping this place running!”
“The Vine,” she said, glaring.
“The Vine,” the Doctor repeated.
“The Vine.” The shopkeeper nodded in agreement.
“The Vine? Who’s he? What sort of rubbish name is that anyway, ‘The Vine?’”
Rose, fingering her makeshift bandage, raised an eyebrow. “Says ‘the Doctor.’”
The Doctor sighed. “Point taken. Where can I find this Vine fellow?”
“You can’t!” squeaked the shopkeeper. “Not unless you want to face bankruptcy.” Her hair bobbed more as she spoke. “When you’re ready, the Vine will bring you to him, that’s what they always say…He goes for the humans first, always the humans, but they’ve stopped coming…” She drifted off, then replaced her hands on her hips. “Get out!”
“Why humans?” the Doctor demanded. “What makes them so special?”
“GET OUT!” the woman shrieked again.
“Alright, alright, we’re leaving,” said the Doctor, eerily calm. He took the hand Rose hadn’t pricked and led her away from the tent.
“Are you feeling okay?” he said urgently, “Any nausea, dizziness, headache—?”
“Not anymore,” murmured Rose, “Bit of a headache, I guess…”
“Four months…” pondered the Doctor, “Four months of what? Four months left? Was it injecting you with something? No, it was absorbing something….absorbing what?”
“Blood?” she guessed vaguely. Her headache was subsiding, the pain replaced by fuzziness.
The Doctor stopped in the middle of the crowd to fix her with a piercing stare. “Rose, are you alright?”
“No, you’re not,” he said sharply, gripping her hand tighter. “Tell me the truth.” He continued pulling her through the crowd back to the TARDIS.
“Well my head’s sort of…fuzzy,” Rose decided, “Like it’s not real, bit of a dream….” She blinked. “Is it?”
“No,” the Doctor stated shortly, pushing her faster, “Fuzzy? Didn’t Jack say his head felt fuzzy earlier?” Frantically, he gave up all sense of politeness and elbowed protesting Alorians out of his way. “But he didn’t have contact with one of those thorns…What is that from?”
“Jack….we should go get him,” she commented airily. Light as a feather, she was. She felt like she wasn’t walking, but floating, and the Doctor was towing her along.
“TARDIS first. Hold on Rose, just a bit further…”
Elbowing the last Alorian out of his way, the Doctor whirled around the corner, only to stop dead in his tracks. Rose was forgotten for a moment as he stared at the spot where his ship, his magnificent, beautiful ship, had stood not half an hour ago.
The TARDIS was gone.
Chapter 2: The Secret Prisoner Program
Languages the Doctor said "no" in: French, German, Portuguese, Serbian, Klingon.
The Doctor froze for a moment, staring at the empty space where his TARDIS should have been. Then his thoughts snapped back to Rose, who was still staring at where the TARDIS was supposed to be, a dreamlike expression on her face.
“Medical supplies!” he yelled, dragging Rose back towards the bustling plaza of tents. “Does anyone have medical supplies?”
Several vendors immediately popped their heads out, hollering and beckoning them over. The Doctor rushed towards the nearest, an Alorian with a grizzled beard.
“What do you need?” the shopkeeper asked eagerly.
“Fluids, sugary fluids,” rattled off the Doctor, “And they need to be cold. And I need somewhere for her to lie down. Quickly!”
“It’ll cost you twelve altogether,” said the shopkeeper excitedly, already drawing a thorn necklace from under his shirt.
The Doctor wrenched the psychic paper from Rose’s pocket and flashed it at the vendor. “No it won’t!”
But like the woman who had gotten them in this mess in the first place, the man didn’t even glance at the paper. “I can’t accept money.”
“I’ll give you all the money you want,” the Doctor offered desperately.
“Twelve,” he repeated staunchly.
The Doctor looked from the thorn in the shopkeeper’s hand to Rose apprehensively. He could steal the supplies, but then they’d have to run through crowds of people. Rose was in no condition to run, and with the TARDIS gone, they had nowhere to run to. And he doubted he’d get a different deal at one of the other tents.
“Twelve what?” he demanded, hoping the answer wasn’t what he thought it was.
“Months,” answered the man, as if stating the obvious.
“What’s your name?”
“So, I swear a blood oath to serve some Alorian named Tenzin for twelve months and all I get is some food and a bed?!” protested the Doctor, “Blimey, inflation’s hit here rather hard.”
“Not service,” said Tenzin, eyebrows raised in confusion. “Twelve months of your time.”
“Doctor….” muttered Rose, “’M fine, don’t…” She swayed dizzily on the spot, and the Doctor made up his mind.
“Well if there’s one thing I’ve got a lot of, it’s time. Do it.” He let go of Rose’s hand and reached out, sliding up his sleeve to better expose his arm.
Tenzin gripped him firmly by the wrist, and jabbed the thorn into his palm.
The Doctor winced as the thorn entered, and braced himself for whatever had befallen Rose to overcome him.
Thirty seconds later, Tenzin popped the thorn out of his flesh, and the Doctor yanked his hand back, gazing in both pain and fascination at the rivulets of blood streaking down his palm and over his wrist. But unlike Rose, he felt fine. Slight weakness in the wounded arm and a sharp pain from the hole in his hand, but nothing serious.
Tenzin inspected his thorn carefully, flicking it once as if to check it. “It didn’t work,” he murmured, bewildered.
But the Doctor had had enough. “I don’t care,” he spat, eyes glowering, “My friend needs help now. I’ve given you the blood sacrifice, or whatever you’re calling it. Give me the fluids and a place for her to lie down now.”
Trembling slightly under the Doctor’s burning gaze, Tenzin squeaked, “Alright, here you are, sir, not to worry—” He cleared off a long table and piled some blankets on top, then rushed to the other side of his tent to a small box filled with ice.
“Doctor, what….?” Rose asked dimly as the Doctor carefully picked her up and laid her on the table. Her eyes widened when she saw his injured hand. “Your hand….”
“Is still in a jar on the TARDIS, remember?” he kissed her clammy forehead and grinned in an attempt to cheer her up.
Tenzin extracted two bottles from the ice box and tossed them to the Doctor, who inspected the label. “Lemonade! Lovely! Well, closest Alorian equivalent, anyway….drink up, Rose!”
She accepted the bottle from the Doctor and took a sip. “That’s…kind of good.”
Over the next few minutes, Rose seemed to return to normal as she drank more. The Doctor dabbed at his hand with a strip of fabric, and finally just wrapped the whole strip around it in a bandage.
“Please tell me you didn’t do the same thick thing I did,” Rose groaned when she saw his bloodied hand.
He waved the fingers of his injured hand at her cheekily. “Yup. Tried to buy you a bed and some juice. Don’t you remember?”
“No,” said Rose, brow furrowing as she searched her memory. “What happened to the TARDIS?”
His eyes filled with the same sense of panic and loss she’d seen on Krop Tor. “It’s…She’s gone,” he said hollowly. Rose squeezed his hand comfortingly.
“But if you don’t remember….” The Doctor mused, excitement growing, “Yes, that’s it! Time! The thorns are taking memories! Four months of memories, gone! Do you have any blank spots in your memory somewhere? You remember Torchwood, Jack, Vikings, 2012 Olympics?”
“Yeah, I remember. I haven’t got any missing chunks of memories or anything….What about you? You did it too, are you missing any memories?”
“Oh, I’m probably missing loads, but not because of that.” His lips turned up in a smirk. “Superior physiology. I’m immune to whatever those thorns are doing.”
“About that,” interjected Tenzin unhappily, “Do you suppose you could try again? I have a spare.” Rummaging through his pocket he produced another thorn.
“Give me that,” the Doctor snapped, snatching it out of Tenzin’s hand and scanning it with his sonic screwdriver. “Same thing,” he muttered. “But what’s it from? This is old, I need something fresher…”
“Please try again?” Tenzin begged, “I’ve only got three months left!”
“Three months left until what?” asked Rose, cautiously pushing herself into a sitting position.
“Until I’m bankrupt,” stressed Tenzin. He gazed forlornly around his tent. “My wife left to see the Vine last year, just after my fourth birthday – ”
“Left to see the Vine?” interrupted the Doctor, looking up from his scans and pocketing the thorn. “She just left?”
“Happens all the time,” Tenzin explained, waving a hand dismissively.
“What, people just walk off and leave?” asked Rose indignantly.
“Yes,” replied Tenzin sadly, “Ever since the humans stopped coming. And my wife, she left me with this business. But everyone’s selling the same things we were—that I am selling. Used to be a major shopping district, this. Now the crowds aren’t buying.”
“So use that brain of yours!” enthused the Doctor, “Be a bit more innovative! Do something no one else is doing—say, offering a different method of payment. Not everyone enjoys paying for everything in blood.”
“Well of course no one enjoys it, but it’s illegal to pay any other way.”
“Why’s that then?” asked Rose.
Tenzin stiffened for a moment. His fingers twirled around each other. “Because the Vine demands it.”
“Does he really?” the Doctor said, eyes alive with interest.
Tenzin focused on Rose. “Maybe your friend can pay for it.”
“Ah, no.” The Doctor moved in front of Rose, who cautiously lifted herself off the table.
“Well, you’ve got to pay somehow!” snapped Tenzin, “Or I’ll have to call the Vine’s security force!”
“Oh, please do,” said the Doctor darkly, “Because I’d love to meet him. People disappearing? An economy based on stabbing your customers? Something’s gone wrong, and I think he’s responsible. And you’re certainly not taking any more of Rose’s—” He slid the next word out distastefully, “Months.”
The Doctor and Tenzin locked eyes. “Last chance,” offered Tenzin. “Let your friend pay for them.”
“Are you mad?” Rose glowered. “I only needed them in the first place because of those things!”
“It’s just twelve,” maintained Tenzin desperately, “It only hurts a second.”
“Nope,” the Doctor popped his ‘p,’ not budging from his position blocking Rose. “Non. Nein. Nao. Ne. Ghobe.”
Tenzin and the Doctor continued glaring at each other. Then, with a sudden burst of speed, Tenzin turned, bolted to the door of the tent, and yanked a rope near the door. Somewhere in the square, a bell clanged loudly, and the street was suddenly hushed as people scurried inside the nearest tent, clearing the way for the approaching security force.
The security force composed of twenty of the bulkiest Alorians the planet offered, all carrying items suspiciously shaped like guns.
“Just smile and wave, Rose!” the Doctor said cheerily, raising his hands above his head.
Rose groaned and lifted her hands in surrender.
Jack stretched his arms out as he stumbled from the pub tent into the Alorian sunlight. He’d had quite a few of the local drinks, a tangy and fast-acting concoction, all free just for being a human. Tiny prick—blood ritual, he supposed—and he was on his way to free drinks and company. A lot of those people said they’d keep in touch, too. Hard to keep in touch with a man outside the bounds of space and time, but he was sure he could convince the Doctor to come back here sometime.
Jack yawned, and wondered why he felt so tired. He’d slept recently, right? Not lying there dead, but actual sleep? He was probably just tipsy…
Whatever. He still had an hour or so left of his thank-you trip to kill, and he wasn’t going to waste it napping.
As he searched for another pub he inhaled deeply, drinking in the intoxicating scent of those flowers. He wondered where they came from, and what made them smell so nice….He should find out….go into the woods and find out….
An Alorian girl wearing a brilliant blue dress that was just the right amount of sheer waved coyly at Jack, but he oddly didn’t notice. His features had gone slack; his eyes were unfocused and half-opened.
As Jack wandered from the road and veered off to disappear in the trees, a passing shopper commented sadly to her friend, “There goes another one. Off to see the Vine, I expect. Poor dearie, he’s so handsome too…”
The building they’d been taken to was not a tent like Rose had expected, but a cave on the outskirts of the tent plaza, with a heavy rock guarding the entrance. Two of the guards heaved it aside, revealing smooth rock walls and a paved floor leading downwards. Ingrained in the walls were sparkly chunks that gave off an eerie green glow.
“It’s called relkan,” explained the Doctor, unperturbed by the guards shoving them both down the descending corridor. “Mineral only found on Aloria. Phosphorescent. This cave’s probably got it sprinkled all over. In about two hundred years, Alorians’ll figure out how to power their civilization out of it, build rockets—imagine, going from dirt roads to rockets in just two hundred years! Course your planet managed it too, but still. Then about fifty years after they start building rockets, half the planet gets radiation poisoning. Turns out, relkan’s harmful in concentrated doses—”
“Silence!” ordered one of the guards, smacking the Doctor’s head with the barrel of his gun.
“Oi, no need for that!” whined the Doctor, drawing the psychic paper from his pocket and waving it in the guards’ faces. “Only a test, we’re…part of the new secret prisoner program. Good work, gents, followed the protocol exactly! Haven’t they, Rose?”
“Oh, yes,” Rose nodded quickly, “Arrested us perfectly. Bang-up job.”
“There, you see?” the Doctor beamed at the guards again. “And since you’ve done such a brilliant job, we’ll be sure to tell the Vine you deserve a bonus!”
The guards glanced at each other in confusion until the Doctor mentioned the word “bonus.”
“Sorry, sir!” said the tallest, and apparently the leader, of the lot. “Our deepest apologies at your rough treatment.”
“No worries,” the Doctor said grandly, putting the psychic paper away. “I say it might even count in your favor!”
“Definitely,” agreed Rose, stifling a laugh. “What was your name again?”
“Captain Gorgesh-Polin Wrenthield, ma’am.”
The Doctor shook his hand, still grinning widely. “Well, George—can I call you George? Great group you have here. Keep up the good work, we’ll be off now. Just remember, men, to the letter. To the letter!”
And he and Rose spun on their heels and walked off in the opposite direction.
Once they were out of earshot, they both burst into peals of laughter.
“Can’t believe we finally found a planet that actually works on,” commented Rose, still snickering.
“Or that we finally found Alorians who will actually look at the psychic paper!” The Doctor extended his arm. “Fancy a walk, Dame Rose?”
Rose wrapped her elbow around his. “After you, Sir Doctor.”
They stalked down the dimly lit corridor quietly before finally arriving at a thick wooden door embedded in the rock wall.
The Doctor sniffed, leaned forward so his nose was almost touching the wood, and sniffed again.
“Oh, no,” protested Rose, “Don’t—”
Too late. The Doctor had already licked the door.
“Right toddler you are,” Rose muttered.
The Doctor ignored her comment, scrunching his face up in thought. “It’s that smell again. Sort of sugary and sappy. Tastes like it too, but it’s not coming from the wood.”
“Sugary and sappy?” Rose mused. “Like syrup, yeah?”
“Syrup!” repeated the Doctor gleefully, “Exactly like syrup. But not maple. Not pear either. More...grape-y.”
“Grape syrup? They make grape syrup?”
“Course they do, you humans are brilliant! Edible ball bearings, grape syrup, what will you think of next?” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Shall we go in, then?”
Rose started to nod, but a wave of sleepiness suddenly overwhelmed her. “Doctor,” she said quietly as if letting slip an intimate secret, “We should go upstairs.”
The Doctor arched an eyebrow. “Upstairs? Now? When there’s a great big door begging not to be opened right in front of us?”
“Yeah, we should…go…now…”
The grin slid off the Doctor’s face. “Rose?” Concerned, he grasped her shoulders and looked at her carefully. Her eyes were pointed towards him, but their glassy gaze shot straight through him, as if he wasn’t even there.
“Rose?” He shook her gently, but her focus was still on some unseeable point past him. “Rose!” He shook her harder.
She blinked, eyes lighting up with recognition as they fixed on his worried expression. “Yeah, sorry, the door?”
“Are you alright?” he asked, not letting go of her shoulders. “What was that about upstairs, eh? What’s up there?”
“Upstairs?” Rose closed her eyes briefly and shook her head as if to clear it. “Um, nothing. Just a…funny idea I had, that’s all. Never mind.”
The Doctor stared at her for another moment before whirling back towards the door. “Right, then. Allons-y!” And with that, he pushed the door open.
Jack opened his eyes for a split second before shutting them once more in pain. He’d died many times, in many different ways—electrocution, firing squad, drowning, suffocation, blood loss, stray javelin, and once, tripping down the stairs.
But this was different. It wasn’t quick or painless. It was a slow, ebbing sort of death, the sort that nurtured a spark of hope that claimed he might live through this, that he should cling to life because he could still beat it.
But he knew he couldn’t. He’d already suffered this death twice now. He barely felt the sharp pinpricks peppered all over his skin anymore. All he could feel was life, leaking from him and draining down into the thing.
He gasped, each breath giving him a fresh burst of pain, and fought back tears. His limbs were all too numb to move, his lips too drained to protest as he was slowly sucked dry.
After another few minutes, Jack finally let out a sob, and died.
Chapter 3: The Doctor's Choice
The room spanned the length of the console room, and was lit by the same phosphorescent mineral as the rest of the building. Tables filled with beakers, Bunsen burners and enormous wooden microscopes lined the far wall. Dominating the room, however, was a thick protrusion, two metres across in diameter, jutting from the centre of the ceiling. As she and the Doctor stepped closer Rose saw that scattered thorns covered the dangling limb.
Beside her, the Doctor took a sharp breath. “It’s a plant—no, it’s a root. Plant must be enormous. And,” he inhaled deeply, “That’s where that smell is coming from. Always follow your nose, Rose—unless you’re a Barcelonan dog that is.”
Rose didn’t answer. The Doctor turned to see her stretching out a hand towards the root, her face utterly expressionless.
He snatched her wrist and she blinked, snapping out of her reverie. “Don’t,” the Doctor ordered.
Rose blinked and shook her head slightly. “Don’t what?”
“You were reaching for the root. Why?”
She shrugged. “I dunno…just seemed like…something I was supposed to do, I guess.”
The Doctor extracted the sonic screwdriver from his pocket and twirled it in his fingers, considering her carefully.
“Stay back,” he warned, and Rose stepped back. Satisfied, the Doctor turned back to the root and flicked the screwdriver on. It hummed merrily for a moment before the Doctor held it up for inspection. “Definitely where those thorns in the marketplace come from. Similar readings as those thorns, except fresher.” His brow furrowed as he ran the screwdriver over the root again, then over the thorn he’d taken from Tenzin. “It’s transmitting something….” He ran his hand through his hair as he gazed up at the plant, frowning in concentration. “Something that made you sick, but left me alone.” He brightened as he spotted the microscopes on the table. “I can use that!”
“What’s it transmitting, then?” Rose asked worriedly as the Doctor inspected the microscope.
“Oh…Hallucinogen? Toxin?” Frowning, he sonicked something in the microscope.
Rose bit her lip. “Toxin? Does that mean I’m poisoned?”
“Eh…” The Doctor wobbled his hand uncertainly, then pinched his fingers together, leaving a small space between them. “Possibly. A little bit.”
“Doctor…” Rose warned.
“I’m going to fix it!” the Doctor declared, putting the microscope down and striding back to the plant. “Maybe if I—” He prodded the root with his sonic screwdriver.
Instantly the root came alive in a writhing tentacle of fury; several thorns shot out from it like missiles, burying themselves in the Doctor’s suit. The root itself wrapped around the Doctor’s waist like a boa constrictor, pinning his arms to his side and squeezing.
“Doctor!” Rose cried, running closer as the root plucked the Doctor from the ground so his trainers dangled just out of her reach.
“Don’t—touch it,” the Doctor managed to gasp. His eyes were clenched tightly shut.
“Well, I can’t very well touch it if it’s up there, can I?” she snapped frantically, scanning the room for something with which to free him.
“Get out, get out, GET OUT!” the Doctor bellowed, words coming out in choked sputters.
Rose dashed to the tables that held the microscopes.
The Doctor kicked fruitlessly against the swinging root, but the root just twisted him upside down.
Rose heaved one of the hefty microscopes off the table and scrutinized the root for an opening she could target without hitting the Doctor.
Another powerful wave of sleepiness almost caused her to drop the microscope on her foot, and she shook her head to clear it. The Doctor needed her. With a cry, Rose flung the heavy microscope as hard as she could straight at the point where the root met the ceiling.
As the microscope slammed into the plant, the Doctor let out a vicious shout of victory, and the root recoiled, letting his limp body drop face-down to the ground.
Rose was at his side in an instant, and turned him over so he faced up. “Doctor?”
“That plant,” gasped the Doctor incredulously, “Is telepathic. Sentient. Sentient and telepathic. Sentient and telepathic and tried to get inside my head.” He sat up, gazing at the squirming root in wonder. “Managed to fight it off while it was distracted. Thanks for that, by the way.”
Rose helped him up and they both scooted back towards the door, keeping a healthy distance between them and the root. Its furious writhing indicated it was ready for another go.
“Brilliant telepath…almost too good,” murmured the Doctor, still fixated on the plant. “And it’s not just sentient, it’s time-sensitive, I could feel it…Time-sensitive plant? I know of dozens of sentient or psychic plants, but I’ve never heard of one that’s time-sensitive…This one’s a bit like a Joidran but it can’t be; they’re peaceful and certainly not time-sensitive – ”
“Doctor, maybe we should leave?” Rose suggested, keeping an eye on the root and tugging on his arm.
The root cracked at them like a whip, stopping just short of their faces.
“Right you are!” the Doctor agreed, pulling on the door handle. The door refused to budge. With a sinking feeling, he yanked on the door again, then pushed it just in case. The door remained stubbornly shut.
“Hold on,” said the Doctor determinedly, whipping out his sonic screwdriver.
“Thought it didn’t work on wood?” Rose asked, jumping slightly as the plant took another crack at them.
“It doesn’t. But the hinges—” He leaned close to inspect the hinges securing the door to the rock.
But before he could sonic anything, the door flew open, slamming him into the wall. He hit the wall with a grunt, then whirled around to see two of the guards they’d fooled earlier seizing Rose. The Doctor had just enough time to stash the screwdriver in his pocket before another two guards nabbed him as well.
“Now really, gents, you’ve already passed your test with flying colours!” commented the Doctor cheerily. “Oh, and George! There you are! No need to arrest us, you’ve already proven your point quite eloquently—”
George slammed an elbow into the Doctor’s stomach, and the Time Lord doubled over with a groan. “There is no secret prisoner program!” George accused.
The Doctor twisted his grimace into a wide-eyed picture of total innocence. “There isn’t? Really?”
“Says who?” demanded Rose.
“Says me.” The speaker stepped out from behind the captain. His enormous brown mustache looked like it had been glued to his face rather than grown—he was so young he barely looked capable of producing peach fuzz.
The Doctor flashed him a winning smile. “Well hello! I love to meet new friends! I’m the Doctor, and this is Rose. Who are you then? The Vine?”
The man’s—boy’s?—voice cracked as he chortled. “Me? No. Alfric-Podge Bulm.”
“Where’s the Vine then? I’d like a word with him.”
Bulm raised an eyebrow, and nodded at the root. “You’ve already met.”
“Aw, I was hoping you wouldn’t say that—”
“Unless you’re talking about the organization—in which case, you’re standing in it. This,” Bulm waved a hand around him, “Is the Vine, Incorporated. But I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in what two off-worlders are doing in my laboratory, attacking my business partner.”
“People have been disappearing, and your economy’s based in blood,” the Doctor said tensely. “I want to know why.”
“Blood?” Bulm scoffed. “That’s just a means to an end.”
Bulm said nothing, eyes lingering on the bandages covering both their hands. His lips quirked up slightly before finally answering. “The Life Exchange.”
“Life Exchange?” Rose repeated, confused.
“But—oh,” the Doctor’s eyes widened. “It’s time-sensitive. So that means the thorns absorb….”
“The potential energy of future cell divisions, yes.”
“What’s that mean?” Rose asked fearfully.
“Oh, Rose, I’m sorry,” the Doctor said, wincing. “I was wrong about the memories. It didn’t steal your past. It stole your future.”
“Stole my future?!”
“Four months’ worth—well, two Earth months, off your potential life span.”
Rose stopped struggling in the guard’s grip and gaped at him. “You mean that thing sucked two months off my life?”
“’Fraid so,” said Bulm, eyes wide with excitement. “Earth? You’re human? Oh but that’s excellent! We haven’t seen one of you lot in ages! You people live for years!”
“Doesn’t mean you can take them!” Rose cried, resuming her attempts to escape the guards’ grip.
“Clever little economic system you’ve got going here,” the Doctor seethed, “Your planet’s economy crashes, your money’s useless, what do you do? You turn to the only resource anyone’s got left. Their own lifetimes. Everyone gets a thorn from the plant, trades little chunks of their lives. Some people get to live long, way beyond their normal lifespans, while others are dying before their lives are even really started.”
“You think it’s barbaric,” said Bulm, unruffled. “But tell me, haven’t you ever wanted to live longer?”
The Doctor’s eyes scorched at him. “No.”
“Or wanted someone else to live longer?”
The Doctor stiffened and fell silent. Rose tried to catch his eye, but he refused to look at her.
“My wife,” Bulm continued, “Died forty-two years ago, when she was five. I vowed that I would never let death win a victory over me again. That’s when it came—the Vine. My associate. I found it in the woods outside of town, a feeble tangle of weeds. It pricked me, saw into my mind, saw my deepest desire, and it made me a promise. It would feed me what I most desired—life—if I fed it life in return.”
“Hadn’t got much life to give it though, did you?” The Doctor countered.
Bulm shrugged. “I don’t. You do. Anyway, I am, if you’ll pardon my vanity, a shrewd businessman. I transported the Vine here—and look how much it’s grown! From then, it only took a matter of months to set up this company and present a new economy to a thriving tourist’s operation, and then to a starving people. It’s simple really—everyone gets a shot at a long, youthful life, and the Vine and I live off the taxes.”
“Taxes?” wondered the Doctor. Then he his eyebrows furrowed in realization. “The plant’s telepathic. The thorns are still psychically linked, aren’t they? So you take a bit off every transaction. Can’t be much, though, the thorns are too tiny to transmit much, only a few days at most…”
“Doctor…” Rose murmured softly.
“So it absorbs the potential divisions of cells, yes, but what did it put back in?” the Doctor wondered aloud. Then he groaned. “Oh, I’m so thick! The grape-y toxin! Pumps you full of it! Moves through the blood until it reaches the brain and…” Eyes wide in horror, he slowly turned to Rose.
Bulm glanced at the watch on his wrist. “Well, she’s on time, anyway, don’t know what’s keeping you.”
Rose’s body stood rigid in the guard’s grip, her lips hung slightly open in confusion, and her eyes stared blankly in front of her.
The Doctor struggled to jerk away from the guards holding him. His voice hitched in panic. “Rose? Rose?!”
But his companion neither glanced at him nor gave any flicker of recognition.
“That’s the tax, you know,” Bulm continued conversationally, “You’re right, the Vine is psychically linked with the thorns—and the spores they emit. And every once in awhile, someone accumulates so many spores that it draws them here to be taxed. That’s where the real money—or should I say life—is.”
The syrup-smelling toxin, the Doctor realised, used the psychic link to draw the prey in, to bring its victims to the plant. Time Lords had natural defenses against this sort of thing, but the average Alorian sure wouldn’t.
And neither would humans.
“Tell it to get out of her!” the Doctor ordered, voice like cold steel. “Get out of her now.”
Bulm gave a little snort. “Get the spores out of her? Hardly. She’s saturated in it. Those spores are everywhere—in the thorns, passing through the blood with every transaction, dusted on every dish of food, sprinkled in the drinks, permeating the perfumes in the street, lingering in the air you’re breathing. Even as we speak, the spores are seeping into your every cell. It’s only a matter of time before the Vine draws you in too. It draws everyone in eventually, but especially off-worlders.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “You humans in particular—something about the higher blood pressure getting the spores through the system faster, I’d guess. Or the Vine might just be a picky eater. You’re such rich resources after all; you satisfy it so much longer than an Alorian would.” He beckoned towards the door, and nodded to the guards. “Take them upstairs.”
The Doctor thrashed, eyes wild with fury as the guards dragged him towards the door. “You’re making a mistake, let her go! LET HER GO NOW!”
“Sorry,” Bulm drawled. “You’re right. She’s got two feet of her own, hasn’t she? You heard him, men, let her go.”
The guards relinquished their hold on Rose, and she numbly followed after them, unblinking.
As they reached the stairs leading up, Bulm held out a hand. “Wait.” The group stopped, and he turned to the Doctor. “You said you were a doctor? A man of science?”
“I dabble,” the Doctor stated through gritted teeth, making an obvious effort to stay calm.
Bulm stroked a finger over his lips, considering him thoughtfully. “On second thought, take her upstairs, and him to my office.”
The Doctor felt himself being shoved past the stairs and twisted desperately for one last look at his companion. “I’m going to get them back, Rose,” he promised, although he had no idea how. “Every last second.”
Rose’s eyes flickered for the tiniest of moments, but her vacant expression remained.
And then she had ascended up the stairs, and was gone.
“This way, this way,” Bulm mumbled, beckoning the guards clutching the Doctor forward. “You still haven’t switched? Odd…”
“What, you mean I haven’t decided to walk to my own death yet?” the Doctor snapped, “Because wherever you’re taking me must be so much better.”
Bulm furtively glanced up and down the hallway before sliding an antique-looking key into the slot of yet another heavy wooden door. “Quickly.” He ushered them in.
This lab was smaller and much more elaborately furnished with scientific equipment than the lab they’d just left. Most importantly, no root protruded from the ceiling.
“The door, if you please,” Bulm ordered. One of the guards shut the door behind them while the other handcuffed the Doctor’s hands in front of him.
Jerking away from his captors, the Doctor stomped towards Bulm, drawing himself up to his full height. His voice was a low and dangerous growl. “Get Rose out of there now, or I swear I will—”
“We haven’t got time for this,” Bulm interrupted. “This is one of the few rooms where my…associate can’t quite hear us.”
“What, is your friend not playing nice?” the Doctor asked bitterly.
Bulm sighed. “I’ll cut straight to the point. The Vine and I have always split the taxes fifty-fifty, until our last take.”
“You mean a person. A person who still had many more years to live that you just took. It’s murder. And if what you’ve told me is true, it’s been absorbing your own people too.”
Bulm shrugged. “It’s only started going after my people when the humans ran out. I suppose you taste better. I just want my taxes. Which brings me to the point—last take the Vine suggested that it should receive a higher percentage.”
The Doctor scowled at his handcuffs as he jiggled them uselessly. “It is doing most of the work.”
“You say you are a man of science. My scientists have tried to create a formula that will subdue the Vine, just in case, you understand.”
There was no pity in the Doctor’s voice. “In case it decides to kill you? It doesn’t need you anymore, you know. It could suck this whole planet dry, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Bulm’s nostrils flared, but his voice betrayed none of his anger. “None of them have succeeded. The only one who ever produced anything remotely useful was unfortunately taxed.”
“Why hasn’t it taxed you?” pondered the Doctor. “The concentration of spores must be the highest here, you must be brimming with them—but you haven’t succumbed to the psychic link, not in forty-two years…”
Bulm didn’t answer the question. “If you manage to fix the formula before you succumb to the spores, I’ll let you walk out of here with not a single second taken.”
“I want Rose’s mind and life restored.”
Bulm pressed his lips into a thin line, then said, “Not possible. She’s too far gone. There’s too many spores in her system.”
The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll decide that. Give me whatever you’ve got.”
Bulm pointed to one of the lab tables, and the Doctor strode quickly over to it. A couple microscopes, several beakers filled with foul-smelling chemicals, a few clippings from the plant…and a slip of paper with a complicated formula.
Still in handcuffs, he worked feverishly under Bulm’s watchful eye, analyzing the scrawled formula he’d been given and mixing chemicals. He’d quickly found the problem: the formula effectively shriveled the plant, but it didn’t suppress its psychic abilities. A typical sort of weak pesticide, really. But if he could just tweak the formula so that it would break the psychic connection….
Half an hour later, the Doctor paced as he muttered aimlessly to himself. He acutely felt each second slipping away. Back at the shop Tenzin had expected to leech twelve Alorian months from him after thirty seconds. That worked out to one Earth year drained per minute. If Rose could live another sixty years (his chest tightened at the thought; he’d not let himself think that far into the future), she would be dead within another half hour. And each passing minute meant another year of her hand in his was gone forever.
And that was with one thorn. Who knew how many were impaling her right now, piercing her skin and sucking the life from her? And what if she normally would have died at age seventy or sixty? How many precious minutes did she really have left?
He pinched his lips together as he tested his concoction on one of the plant clippings, then studied the clipping under the microscope. Nothing. It was still missing something, but he had no idea what it was. Rose was going to die because he was thick and he didn’t have the right materials and—
“Are you done yet?” Bulm asked hopefully, hovering nearly at the Doctor’s elbow.
The Doctor snapped and let out a frustrated cry. “I need my TARDIS!” he shouted, gripping his hair in clumps.
“TARDIS?” Bulm asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, TARDIS, T-A-R-D-I-S,” the Doctor flapped his cuffed hands around wildly, “Big blue box! Full of medical and science equipment, and sensors that can tell me more about the spores, and—”
“Well where’d you leave it then? I’ll have someone fetch it.”
The Doctor wanted to scream. Chest heaving with what were meant to be calming breaths, he turned back to the lab work, gazing around at his materials in desperation. Even if he knew where his ship was, he didn’t have enough time. Rose didn’t have enough time.
“Think, think, think!” he muttered, smacking himself in the head. What in Rassilon’s name do you use to counteract a psychic attack this powerful? He needed…he needed…
“Oh!” he cried triumphantly, causing both Bulm and the remaining guard to jump in surprise. Eyes gleaming maniacally, the Doctor snatched an empty beaker, and smashed it against the side of the table.
“What’re you doing?!” protested Bulm in alarm as the beaker shattered.
“Antibodies!” declared the Doctor, face twisted in a frightening cross between a grin and a grimace. “For lack of a better word, psychic antibodies! It needs something to fight off the psychic attack!” His fingers found a large shard and curled around it. “And I’m full of them!”
He slashed the shard of glass across his palm. Blood gushed out of the wound he’d reopened on his hand, and his jaw tightened as he squeezed his fist over the test tube as if squeezing a lemon.
After a few moments of this, he unclenched his pale fist and stirred the test tube in a frenzy.
“Psychic what?!” blustered Bulm. “Humans don’t—”
“And there’s your first mistake,” said the Doctor with a clinical sort of calm, capping the test tube carefully. He reached out to the far end of the table and grabbed another beaker filled with a nasty green ooze. “I’m the Doctor, and I’m not human.”
“What?” the bewildered Bulm cried, “Then what are you?”
The Doctor slid the test tube into his pocket, withdrew the sonic screwdriver, and pointed it at the ooze-filled beaker clutched in his fist. “I’m a man who knows what happens when hydromelshic acid meets a sonic frequency. Are you?”
Bulm’s eyes bulged as he and the guard both dove under the lab table and covered their heads. The Doctor flicked the screwdriver on, dropped the beaker filled with ooze, and legged it for the door.
The resulting explosion knocked him off his feet. He leapt from the ground immediately, checked to make sure the test tube in his pocket was safe, and pointed the sonic screwdriver at his handcuffs. Flinging them aside, he pumped his legs as hard as he could, running towards the stairs with the test tube in hand.
Once he reached the stairs, he practically flew up them three steps at a time. Following the sickly sweet smell of grape syrup led him to yet another massive wooden door, which he kicked open without thinking twice.
This close to the Vine, the smell was closer to the stench of rotting grapes. Vines sprawled over the floor like snakes, sliding and twisting in a tangled heap. The thickest branches delved in through the floor. Thorned tongues wove together into the wooden trunk at the central point of the writhing creature. Dried husks, most of them with the vague size and shape of an Alorian, littered the floor. And on either side of the trunk, two taller figures lay intertwined with the vines, thorns embedded in their gaunt limbs.
The Doctor’s mouth went dry, and he nearly sunk to his knees. “Oh, Jack. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Jack was dying before his eyes, flesh withering and healing over and over as the Vine drained his future cell divisions. His mouth was contorted in a silent cry and his eyelids flickered. Was he still conscious? Could he feel it?
On the other side of the room, the Doctor’s own nightmares were playing out right before him as Rose aged agonizingly fast, her already too-short life span vanishing as her hair blanched white and her closed eyes sunk into their sockets. Wrinkles slashed through her graying face as her body shriveled and shrunk. She could have passed for seventy. More than half her life drained in less than an afternoon. He wasn’t even sure the full magnitude of that had hit him yet. And Jack…how long had he been in here? How many times had he already died?
The plant’s voice was slick and slippery like oil. Mmm…so tasty…rich…won’t you come?
“Give them back,” the Doctor commanded flatly, clasping the vial so tightly his hand shook. “Give them both back to me now or I will stop you.”
No, won’t. Mine, mine, life-blood-time all mine. Not enough time to collect, need more, master needs more…
“Master?” The Doctor wondered aloud. “What master?”
He dodged as the Vine responded with a snapping vine, barely missing a grip on his arm.
They’re almost here! NEED MORE! The Doctor watched in horror as the Vine drained his friends even faster. Jack spasmed as his body deteriorated and healed almost simultaneously; Rose’s breaths grew more and more ragged, as if any one might be her last.
The Doctor clenched the vial in his fist, tiny, pathetic, small, too small to save both his friends. Throw it to the left, and save Jack from an eternity of being drained while the Vine lived forever? Or throw it to the right, and keep Rose from withering into nothing right before his eyes?
He made his decision and smashed the vial.
Chapter 4: Weed Whackers and Wrist Straps
Jack woke, not with his usual gasp, but with a slow gradual awareness. He was curled in the foetal position, the agony his body had just experienced already repaired. Sound was fuzzy in his ears, but he recognised the Doctor’s voice and the voice of the thing that had drained him.
“….spores won’t affect me, you know that. You could prick me all you want and not get a single day. My immune system’s protecting me. But I’ll suppress it—let you in the back door, if you will—if you give her back her life energy and let her go.”
Silly meat-creature, she is mine, tasty, won’t trade.
“Take me,” the Doctor pleaded, “She’s only got the one life, only a bucket of months, I’ve got a barrel, barrels and barrels…”
Want other one back, so tasty, so good, so many months…
“You can’t catch him now, I’ve figured that much out. Bulm was pricked once, but he got out, and now he’s immune. If someone manages to escape, they’re immune, am I right?”
The Vine said nothing.
“You can’t draw him back in,” the Doctor asserted. “Now please, please give her back.”
Not enough months, never enough…
“I’m a Time Lord,” the Doctor said desperately, “I’ve got loads of potential life energy, and you can have it all, just let her go. Give her back the life energy you took, let her go, and you can have me. Three ridiculously long lives for one short one. You can’t resist that.”
“Doc? Waz goin’ on?” Jack’s words slurred together as he sat up. His brain couldn’t quite catch up with what was happening, but it knew it wasn’t good.
Jack’s eyes widened. “Doc, no!”
The Doctor whirled around at the sound of his voice. “Jack, listen, whoever’s controlling this thing is coming. Get Rose out of here, tell her I—”
Less than a second later, arm-like vines swooped from the tangled mass of the plant. They wrapped themselves around the Doctor, skewering him with a thousand tiny thorns and drawing blood all over his face and arms. He gave a sharp cry, and the vines dragged him into the knotted depths of the plant before pinning him against the wall. Within seconds, he was wrapped as securely as if he’d been in a spider’s web.
Jack gaped at the spot where the vines wound themselves around the Doctor until the Time Lord was barely visible, cocooned in a writhing coffin.
A few seconds later the vines recoiled from the opposite side of the room, withdrawing from a youthful but barely conscious Rose. She gasped for air, dripping crimson where the thorns had released her.
Snapping his focus from the Doctor, he crawled over to where she lay coughing and gasping.
“What was that thing?” she asked hoarsely.
“Some sort of psychic plant. I think it was eating us.” He shuddered. Horrible, slow way to go. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I think so…I feel sort of…funny…” She groaned and sat up, rubbing her head. “Where’s the Doctor? We were captured, and this bloke, Bulm, he was talking about taxes…”
“Rose.” Jack swallowed. “He…” Through briefly visible slits in the vines, he spotted glimpses of the Doctor, whose mouth wrenched in a silent scream.
Rose turned. “Doctor?!” Her voice came out in a hoarse shriek. “We gotta get him out of there!”
Before Jack could reply, the door to the room burst open. A short man flanked by guards entered, broiling with fury. He froze when he spotted Rose and Jack on the floor. “It worked?!” he said, mouth agape.
“What worked?” demanded Jack.
“The formula, he fixed it, it worked!” Bulm exclaimed, clasping his hands together gleefully as Jack and Rose slowly rose from the floor. “Where is he?”
Jack numbly pointed towards the wall, where the Doctor’s contorting form was now clearly visible.
Bulm looked at him in aghast. “But I need him!”
Jack stomped over and snatched Bulm by the front of his shirt, ignoring the weapons the guards pointed at him. “Yeah well, we need him more! How do we get him out?”
Traitor! cried the Vine suddenly in their heads. You were behind the formula?!
Jack dropped Bulm in shock. “It talks?”
Rose nodded fearfully. “The Doctor said it was sentient and psychic. It drains life…”
You tried to kill me!
Bulm fell to his knees, shaking his head and clenching his fists around each other. “No, no, I – ”
Vines swooped from the plant’s trunk, wrapping around the nearest guards, who shrieked for mercy as the thorns pierced their convulsing bodies. The trunk released a puff of spores, making a guard who breathed them in go limp in its grip.
“Rose, grab onto me!” Jack cried. Rose grappled for his arm and clung to it. Jack swung a fist down to smack his Vortex manipulator. He felt something wrap around his leg as a flash of blue light enveloped them…
They were suddenly in a hallway, the screams of the unfortunate guards echoing from not too far away.
Jack glanced down. It was not the Vine that had wrapped around his leg, but Bulm’s arm. He’d grabbed onto it at the last second and come along for the ride.
The Vortex Manipulator fizzled on Jack’s wrist.
“Is it broken?” asked Rose, wiping some more of the blood off her face.
“Burnt out!” he replied in disgust, slapping the device as punishment for not working. “Three people was too many!”
Bulm relinquished his deathly tight hold on Jack’s leg, gasping for breath. “Pardon me for trying to stay alive!”
Jack scowled at his broken wristcomp again as he fiddled with the settings.
“Jack,” Rose’s voice broke, “The Doctor, he’s…he’s still in there.”
“I know, I know!” Jack snapped. “We need to get back in there—whatsyourname, what—”
But when he glanced up, all he saw of Bulm was a single shoe as the Alorian dashed around the corner.
“Well, that was a great help,” said Jack bitterly. “Broke our only tool! And from what that plant thing said, he’s the one who got us into this mess in the first place!”
“Name’s Bulm,” explained Rose, “Partnered with the Vine, which sucks life from people.”
Rose traced a finger over her bandaged hand. “That thing took over our minds or sommat, yeah? So what’s keeping it from pulling us back in?”
“The Doctor said something about that, right before the Vine…anyway. He said we were immune.”
“Like, it can’t hurt us?”
Jack shook his head. “No. It just can’t make us go to it.”
The last scream coming from the Vine’s room abruptly ended. Both Rose and Jack stared at each other, each unwilling to mention the sudden silence.
Rose bit her lip. “Jack, what do we do?”
He sighed. “You got any weed whackers on you?”
Rose shook her head.
Jack started to pace. “Alright, how to kill a plant, how to kill a plant…”
“Too much sun,” Rose suggested, “Not enough light, too much water, not enough water, cutting it, burning it, digging it out…”
“None of those will work though!” Jack said frustrated, “That thing’s massive. We’d need a weak spot, some vulnerable spot we can get at, and quickly.”
“Like a root?”
“Yeah.” Jack rubbed his face in thought.
“I know where we can get at one then.”
“You do?” Jack perked up.
“Yeah, me and the Doctor ran into one earlier downstairs.”
“Right,” Jack said, jaw set in determination. “Can you get there in the next two minutes?” Rose nodded. “Then get in there and hurt it, or distract it, or whatever. Soon as it looks like the Vine’s preoccupied, I’ll try and grab him.”
“You’ll never come out alive!” Rose protested.
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Immortal, remember?”
“Oh,” Rose said sheepishly. “Right. Still getting used to that.” She bit her lip. “Get him out okay, yeah?”
He clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Will do. Now go!” He nudged her shoulder firmly. With a determined nod, Rose turned on her heel and dashed back towards the stairs.
The Doctor couldn’t move.
Vines enveloped him, pinning his arms and legs together and rendering him completely immobile. Their thorns pierced his skin, lighting up nerves all over his body as if they were on fire. He caught one glimpse of Jack’s horrified face before he felt the Vine yanking him deep into its throes, and he cried out as it invaded not only his body but his mind.
Let me in, it ordered.
He clenched his eyes shut as he focused, turning off his body’s own unconscious workings, poking a hole in his own immune system and mental barriers. He had to let the plant in, or it wouldn’t let Rose go.
He knew he’d succeeded when he felt his mind blasted from the inside, utterly obliterating the remains of his mental barriers. Images, memories, trivia, ideas rushed over him like water from a burst dam. The Master laughing at him….Two wires in his hand determining the fate of an entire race, did he really have that power?...A massive explosion of a freighter smashing into earth, wiping out dinosaurs and one boy…SusancallingforhimandSarahJanescreamingandtheHousemartinswereformedin1983byPaulHeatonandStanCullimore…
He sensed that the Vine had let Rose go unharmed, and he frantically scrambled to reerect mental barriers and thwart the plant as he felt minutes, hours, days leeched from him at a phenomenal rate. His brain felt like it was broiling in his skull as he pushed back, finally managing to stem the flood of his own thoughts enough to think.
The Vine violently pushed at him, but he’d managed to get control of his own head at least. Now the plant would have more of a job draining him. But Rassilon, it hurt.
He bit back another scream and concentrated on not losing his sanity.
Rose burst through the door she and the Doctor had entered earlier. The root was just as it had been when they’d first entered—still dangling from the ceiling, unmoving, waiting to strike.
Well, she’d just have to strike first.
She snatched another of the hefty microscopes from off a table and thrust it at the same spot as earlier. Instantly the root thrashed wildly, elongating to snap at her face. She dropped to the floor and flinched as it cracked at the air just above her head. Then she rushed to the next table, grabbed another microscope, and lobbed it at the same sweet spot, dodging the root’s attacks as she went.
Jack stooped near the entrance to the Vine’s chamber, anxiously waiting. A single bead of sweat trailed down the side of his face as he gritted his teeth in determination. A fist clenched his pocketknife from World War II. He’d used it for slicing bread and cutting loose threads—and the occasional rope—but he only hoped that the sliver of a blade could slice through plant stalks as well.
The Vine suddenly squirmed, letting loose a psychic shriek as it thrashed. Good ol’ Rose, Jack thought before diving into the room.
A vine slammed directly in front of him as he ran, forcing him to stop dead in his tracks to avoid being squashed. Another vine wrapped around and pulled his legs out from underneath him. Jack cried out as he was dragged further from the Doctor and towards the Vine’s trunk, then twisted his body and stabbed blindly at the tendrils engulfing his leg. The Vine released him with a howl, and Jack half-crawled, half-stumbled towards his friend.
The Vine screeched in his head again, and Jack had an absurd mental image of a dandelion clutching its stubbed toe and crying obscenities. Clawing at the floor and at air, Jack nearly tripped over another vine as he neared the Doctor.
The next vine smashed into his back, knocking him flat on his face. A sharp pain greeted him as he landed, and he rolled over with a groan to see his pathetic pocketknife protruding from his gut. He yanked it out and stared at the crimson on the blade disbelievingly then at the hole in his belly. Probably fatal. Screw that, he was so close…
He rolled, dodging as another vine came crashing down where he’d been moments earlier. Again the Vine screamed in his head, and Jack pulled himself to the unconscious Time Lord and frantically sawed at the vines enveloping him.
Rose chucked microscope after microscope at the Vine until only one remained. She dodged another swipe from the root, but this time she wasn’t quite fast enough. She shrieked as the thorns on the root raked through her skin on the arm she’d raised to protect her face.
Before it could take another swing at her she curled her fingers around the last microscope and slung the heavy projectile at the root. Whether it was from her injury or her exhaustion or just sheer bad luck, the microscope missed, soaring in an arc to smash to the floor. The root snapped at her again, ripping another streak of blood across her arm. Stumbling blindly in panic and pain, Rose managed to make it to the wooden door and slam it behind her. She collapsed to the ground and leaned on the door, gasping with adrenaline and clutching at her injured arm. She only hoped it had been enough.
Chapter 5: Always Rescue the Hot Guys
Clutching the Doctor’s limp body, Jack stumbled out of the Vine’s chamber and fell back against the door to slam it shut.
“Is he alright?” Rose gasped, chest heaving from having just run up the stairs.
“I don’t know,” panted Jack, heaving the Doctor’s limp form further from the door and gently letting it drop on the ground. “He’s not…” With a groan, Jack collapsed next to the Doctor and lay still.
Rose reached out an apprehensive hand to check Jack’s chest for a pulse and found none. She let out a gasp when she saw the blood pooling around his gut and had to take a few deep breaths to remember that he was going to be fine. Then she gripped the Doctor’s hand in her shaky fingers.
The Doctor’s chest rapidly rose as he took in a sharp ragged breath. His eyes opened, darting around madly until they focused on Rose’s face.
“Rose? Jack?” His voice was dry, and he licked his lips.
She ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I’m here. Jack’ll be along in a minute.” She tried to smile, but worry overcame it.
“You look funny….” The Doctor drifted off, face screwing up in concentration. A loopy smile spread over his features. “You’re all goldy-ish…Like Goldilocks! Porridge too hot, chips too cold, hand’s just right…” He frowned. “I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
Rose tried to bite back a smile. “Yeah.” Her smile dimmed. “What were you thinking?”
“I…” He frowned again. “Your arm’s bleeding.”
She dabbed at her arm with the hem of her shirt, barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes. “A bit, yeah. It’s a scratch, and it’s scabbing over already. Did I mention, you just got the life sucked out of you by that plant thing?”
Jack woke with a gasp, and turned his head to look at his friends. “Doctor.”
“Captain.” The Doctor nodded weakly.
Jack groaned and slowly crawled closer. “You okay? How much did it take?”
The Doctor winced. “Oh…twelve years? Twelve years, seven months, thirteen days, twenty-two minutes…It was eating as fast as it could. Gobbling me up like Christmas dinner.”
The Vine suddenly roared. The Doctor bolted upright at the sound, practically snapping to attention. “Right. It said its master was coming. But Bulm seems to be under the impression he and the Vine are business partners, not master and servant. So…who is the Vine’s master?”
“Its species?” guessed Rose. “Early scout for an invasion?”
“Ooh, that’s good,” the Doctor said excitedly. “Could be.”
“What species is it?” asked Jack.
The Doctor waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, that wouldn’t be much fun if we knew, now, would it?” He ran a hand through his hair, deep in thought. “Although…massive time-sensitive plant that emits psychic spores, with telepathy strong enough to get inside my head….and I’ve never heard of it? Sentient, sure, telepathic, sure, but time-sensitive?”
“Maybe we could search the TARDIS databanks?” Jack suggested.
Rose shook her head. “The TARDIS is gone.”
“Of course it is,” Jack sighed.
“But how did Bulm know about the TARDIS?” wondered Rose. “Is it around here somewhere?”
“He doesn’t know where it is,” the Doctor said definitively, “Unless he’s very good at playing stupid. Great trick, works most of the time—” He stiffened as he heard footsteps, and whirled to face the direction they were coming from.
“What is it?” asked Jack, hand instinctively reaching towards his pocket for a gun. His fingers only grasped air, and he remembered he was weaponless.
“Bulm?” Rose guessed worriedly. She was proven right as the youthful-looking Alorian rounded the corner, flanked by a new entourage of guards.
“Doctor!” Bulm cried with relief, “Glad you’re out, old chap, can’t tell you how glad! But I’m afraid I need more formula.”
“Alfric-Podge Bulm!” the Doctor replied brightly, “Hello. Busy now, mind if we do what I’m sure will be a very friendly chat later?”
“Ah, no,” said Bulm, “I don’t trust you to stick around.” He snapped his fingers, and his guards all aimed their guns at the three travelers.
“It’s true,” muttered Jack as they raised their hands in the air, “You don’t really have the best track record for sticking around.”
“I said I was sorry, didn’t I?” the Doctor hissed back. Louder, he replied to Bulm, “Look, even if I made you more formula, it’s not really that effective, you’d need a massive amount to even knock a serious dent in that plant, much less kill it! It’d be like squirting a water pistol at a volcano!”
“Oh, I don’t need you to make more formula,” said Bulm, twirling his moustache, “I have people who can make it, now that I know what the missing ingredient is.”
The Doctor took a deep calming breath before speaking. “Look, you can drain me dry later, but we really need to get out of here before—”
A deep, guttural sound groaned through the cave walls, shaking pebbles and dust from the ceiling.
“What’d you do?” demanded Bulm.
“Not me, this time,” remarked the Doctor. “Did I mention? Your business partner’s expecting company. Its master, apparently.”
“What do you mean, its master?!” Bulm shouted, flustered. “It doesn’t have a master!”
“Also, it’s angry,” continued the Doctor lightly, “And if there’s anything I’ve learned in 900 years of time and space travel, it’s that rabidly angry things should be avoided at all costs. Now if you don’t mind—”
He stepped closer to the guards, but quickly froze again as their guns clicked threateningly. “Alright, alright, not moving…”
“Doctor,” Rose muttered, “What’d he mean, ‘drain you dry?’ ”
“Ah, turns out the natural antibodies in my blood are the missing ingredient to a formula that temporarily suspends the Vine’s psychic abilities.”
Rose and Jack both stared incredulously at him.
“If you please,” Bulm requested again. “I’d like to get this over with so I can tend to my…partner.”
Jack stepped in front of the Doctor, arms outstretched, and snarled, “You’re touching him over my dead body.”
“Jack…” warned the Doctor quietly. “Bad idea. Get out of the way…”
Bulm sighed. “If you insist.”
Rose screamed as a beam struck Jack in the chest. The captain crumpled to the floor instantly, determination still fixed on his dead features.
The Doctor tensed as the guns then aimed at Rose, then gazed back over his shoulder frantically as if seeing a premonition. “Oh no—”
An instant later several blue lights flashed behind them, producing uniformed people with enormous guns. Bulm’s forces aimed their weapons at the newcomers.
“Get down!” ordered the Doctor just as each side began to fire. Both the Doctor and Rose dove for the ground as zapping beams whizzed over their heads. A few hit the ceiling, knocking dust and debris down on them.
The Doctor stared above him, eyes tearing as they filled with dust. His hearts thumped as he watched chunks of the ceiling dropping down on top of them as if in slow motion—
He shoved Rose away just before he was buried in the onslaught of rocks and dirt.
When the dust had cleared and the zapping had stopped, Rose slowly sat up. She saw nothing. Had the cave-in blocked the relkan’s light or was she blind? She gently prodded her head and winced, feeling the warm stickiness on her forehead. “Doctor?” she called uncertainly, “Jack?”
A gravity globe suddenly glowed just above her head, illuminating Jack’s cheery grin and wiping away her fears of blindness. “Well, I’m no Doctor, but I hope you’ll take me anyway.”
“Oh, good, you’re here,” said Rose, relieved. She raked a hand through her hair to clear the dust. “Where’d you get a gravity globe?”
“Standard equipment. Captain Jack Harkness, at your service,” Jack beamed, sticking out a hand to help her up. “And who might you be?” He boosted her to her feet.
“Rose Tyler,” she rolled her eyes. “Not the time for games, Jack.”
Jack lifted his shoulders defensively, palms up. “Hey, who’s playing? I make a habit of knowing the names of people I’m trapped with.” He tilted his head to look behind her. “Excellent bottom, by the way.”
“Jack!” she scolded with exasperation. “Not now!”
“Hey, dollface, we’re trapped in a cave-in, figured I should make the most of the opportunity, you know?”
Rose dug her fingers into the deep mound of dirt and stones. “He’s on the other side of this stuff, probably…What if he’s crushed?”
“Who’s this he?”
Rose spun to face him, infuriated. “The Doctor! You know, the bloke you just died to save?”
Jack looked down, patting himself over in confusion. “I’m dead?”
“The one who threatens to castrate you every time you look at me?” she elaborated.
Jack whistled. “Ooh, overprotective boyfriend? Hey, don’t worry. I can handle him. I can probably handle you both at the same time.”
Rose stared at him. “Did you hit your head?”
“Nope,” replied Jack, smile fading. “Looks like you did, though…Here, sit down.”
He gently nudged her down to the ground and knelt beside her, running a thumb over her forehead. He sucked a breath in through his teeth. “That’s pretty nasty…”
“Forget that,” Rose snapped, smacking his hand away. “We have to find the Doctor. Help me dig!”
“Yeah, you probably do need a doctor,” said Jack, ignoring her. “We’ve got one back at the agency. I can give you a lift back to your colony too.”
Rose sighed. “How long before your head heals? Because we really don’t have time for this. The Doctor’s in there somewhere, and he could be suffocating or sommat.”
“That’s right, dollface,” Jack said comfortingly as he ripped off a piece of his shirt and tied it around her head.
Rose swatted his hand away again, indignant at being talked to like a child making up stories. “Jack? What’s wrong with you?!”
“What’s wrong,” He tightened the knot on the bandage, “Is that a simple grab-and-go mission’s become a bit more complicated than I bargained for.”
Rose blinked. “Grab and…?”
“Yeah,” explained Jack, “I’m with the Time Agency. We influenced the development of a weapon on this planet, and we came to pick it up. Didn’t bargain on it having human hostages. How’d you get here anyway?”
Rose considered him for a few moments. “You’re a Time Agent.”
“Yeah,” Jack grinned winningly again. “You impressed?”
“But…” Rose turned back to face the collapsed wall, eyes wide, and then back to Jack. “You’ve never met me, have you?”
“I’m pretty sure I’d recognise someone with such an attractive—”
“Sod off!” Rose snapped. “Listen, there’s two people trapped in all this dirt, and we have to get them out.”
Jack sighed, frowning at mound of debris. “Hate to tell you this, but they’ve probably bought an agricultural planet, if you know what I mean.”
“But they can’t have!” Rose cried, thinking of Jack, her Jack, suffocating over and over, and the Doctor bursting into gold again and again, with a new face each time...
The Time Agent Jack put a hand on her shoulder sympathetically. “I’m sorry. But I’ve got to get back to my team, and you need to get to a doctor. I don’t want to bring the cave down on top of us.”
The hand not on her shoulder moved to his wrist, and Rose realised with horror he was going to teleport them out and leave the Doctor and her Jack behind…
“They’re hot!” She blurted. “Drop dead gorgeous, both of them!”
Jack’s hand froze, and he raised an eyebrow. “And that’s supposed to convince me to waste time and risk both our lives?”
“Yes,” Rose pleaded.
He considered her for a moment, then sighed. “Ah, well, never could resist a beautiful woman...or her attractive friends.” He withdrew a familiar object from his pocket.
“Squareness gun?” Rose’s lips quirked.
“Are you sure there’s nothing you’d wanna do before I likely kill us both trying to recover two lovely corpses?” Jack paused hopefully.
Rose groaned, yanked him closer by the shirt, pressed her lips to his, and shoved him back again. “Hurry!”
Jack rubbed his lips together thoughtfully. “Here goes, then.”
He fired at the mound of rubble, cutting a perfect square hole straight through it. Jack and Rose both tensed, waiting for the ceiling to come crashing down on their heads…
A sputtering cough, followed by its owner, emerged from the dirt.
“Respiratory bypass! Gotta love it!” gasped the Doctor, blue suit so dirty it could have passed for his brown one. He squinted. “Ooh, gravity globe. Bit bright for such a small space, isn’t it?”
“Doctor!” Relieved, Rose gripped his arms and pulled him out of the rubble.
The Doctor smacked his suit a bit, clearing off some of the dust.
Jack whistled. “You weren’t kidding about gorgeous. Where’s the other one?”
The Doctor froze, eyes fixed on Jack. “You’re not wrong.”
“So you agree with me? Bit full of yourself, aren’t you? But who isn’t, these days?”
“Jack,” interrupted Rose, nervously glancing between him and the Doctor, “Thanks. Really, I can’t tell you how thankful I am. But you can go now. Get back to your Time Agency team.” She looked pointedly at the Doctor.
“Hold on,” protested Jack, “What about your other friend?”
“What other—oh.” The Doctor, no longer confused, gaped at Jack. “Not good.” He turned to Rose. “Do you have any idea how bad this is?!”
“Well I couldn’t just leave you in there, could I?” she replied defensively, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
The Doctor turned back to Jack. “Harkness, I’m sure your friends are missing you, I think it’d be a really good idea if—hold on, Rose, what happened to your head?”
Brow creased in concern, he gently prodded at the makeshift bandage on her head. “First your arm, now your head?” Then he whirled to face Jack, eyes glaring dangerously. “What’d you do to her?!”
Jack glared back. “Gave her a bandage. Got a problem with that?”
“Very nearly,” the Doctor spat, “Get back to your team, before something catastrophic happens.”
Jack raised his squareness gun to point at the Doctor’s chest. “Oh no you don’t, I’m not leading you to them.”
The Doctor warily raised his hands.
“Jack, what are you doing?” protested Rose. Jack swiveled the gun towards her chest, and she too raised her hands in surrender.
“He called me Harkness,” said Jack, switching to point the gun between both of them. “And I never told him my name. This is a set-up. I don’t know who you are, but you’re going to have a fun time explaining this to—”
A grimy hand burst from the rubble, followed quickly by a gasping head. With some quick scrabbling the rest of the torso followed, then collapsed onto the ground, chest heaving grateful breaths of air.
The filthy newcomer raised his head to view his surroundings and locked eyes with Jack. Both Jacks gaped at each other, the Doctor and Rose utterly forgotten.
“Oh, we’re in trouble now,” the Doctor muttered.
Chapter 6: Jack Attack
Both Jacks gaped at each other in disbelief.
“What’re you doing here?!”
“What’re you doing here?!”
“As if you don’t remember!”
“I don’t remember this—”
“Crossing your own timeline’ll get us kicked out of the Agency—”
“Yeah? Well, bad news for you, pal—”
“FINGERS ON LIPS!” the Doctor roared. Both Jacks shut up.
“Right, you,” the Doctor turned on the older Jack. “Proper Jack. Next time I take you somewhere, Harkness, you could mention that you’re already here!”
“I didn’t know!” The older Jack protested.
The Doctor waved a hand dismissively, then turned to the Time Agent Jack. “And you…other Jack. Explain what’s going on, then.”
“Why am I ‘other’ Jack?!” the past Jack demanded.
“Just answer the question.”
“Picking up my boss’ pet project,” the past Jack said, as if that explained everything. “Said he’d spent the last two years on it.”
Rose gave a small gasp in realization. “Two years?”
“Or twenty, depending on how you look at it,” continued other Jack, lips turning down as he noticed his future self paling. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” said the Doctor hastily, nudging the older Jack further away from his past self. “What do mean, two or twenty?”
“Yenson spent two years developing some kind of plant, sent me to take it back twenty years, give the plant time to mature.”
Rose’s eyes narrowed. “You mean you left that thing here on purpose?”
The past Jack shrugged. “Yeah. Why?”
“It’s been sucking the lives out of the locals,” the older Jack said with gritted teeth. “It’s killed people. It nearly killed them,” he jabbed his thumb towards the Doctor and Rose, then at his own chest, “And it did kill—”
“—Any chance these people might have ever had at happiness,” the Doctor interrupted with a warning glare at the older Jack.
Bits of dirt tumbled onto their heads, and Rose eyed the ceiling nervously. “Is it going to collapse again?”
The Doctor aimed his sonic screwdriver above their heads.
“What is that?” asked the Time Agent Jack, leaning closer to peer at the tool. “Sonic obviously, but sonic what?”
“Don’t you even start,” the Doctor grumbled venomously, pocketing the screwdriver. “There. I’ve temporarily cemented the ceiling.”
“Temporarily?” the younger Jack raised an eyebrow.
Rose shrugged. “About as safe as our life gets, really.”
“Other Jack, shoot another hole with your blaster,” the Doctor ordered, “We’ll use the tunnel to get out.”
The younger Jack complied, and the Doctor aimed his screwdriver at the ceiling again.
“Come on, then,” the Time Lord called, striding confidently over to the tunnel, Rose close behind him.
"So," the younger Jack drawled, following after his future self down the tunnel, "Two of us. You thinking what I'm thinking?"
The older Jack sighed forlornly. "Yeah. But it turns out, time doesn't work that way."
The younger Jack reached out for his future self's shoulder. "What do you mean, time doesn't—"
The Doctor whirled and snatched the younger Jack's wrist. "No physical contact whatsoever with each other. I've got enough on my plate to deal with today without the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, and your condition will probably only make it worse."
The past Jack looked quizzical. "What condition?"
"Don't worry about it," the older Jack said hastily.
"So what were you doing here again?" asked Rose as they paused to blast an extension of the tunnel.
"Excellent question," said the Doctor, walking between the Jacks to make sure they didn't touch. "You said you're here to pick up the Vine?"
“Yeah. Half my team’s dispatched to bring it in. Other half was brought in to rescue the two humans detected in the building. Incidentally, that means one of you isn’t human.” He smirked. “Guessing it’s the feisty one.”
Flushing slightly at his comment, the Doctor continued, “But what does the Time Agency want with a sentient life-sucking plant?”
“Sentient?” At this, the Time Agent’s blaster shifted in his hand uncomfortably. “They never mentioned it was sentient. Told me it wasn’t, in fact.”
The Doctor rubbed a hand down his face. “Obviously, they lied. So what do they want with it?”
The younger Jack shrugged. “How should I know? It’s my boss’ project. Something to do with a Fourth Strain pre-emptive inoculation, I think.”
“Fourth Strain?” The older Jack asked suddenly. “There was a Third?”
“Yeah, last year. Wiped out a good fifteen percent of Creve colony’s population.” The past Jack frowned as he blasted another extension of the tunnel. “How far into my future are you, anyway? Must be ages if you don’t even remember that.”
“Further than you’d expect,” the older Jack muttered darkly.
“Maybe you’re not my future,” the past Jack reasoned, dread creeping into his voice. “One of you is an alien—you could be a shapeshifter….”
In an instant the past Jack shoved the Doctor out of the way and thrust his blaster at his future self, who raised his hands in surrender. “What are you?!”
“Jack, put it down,” the Doctor urged, holding out his palms defensively. “That’s you, in the future. I’m the one who’s not human.”
The past Jack’s free hand drew another weapon from his pocket and aimed it the Doctor. “Prove it,” he snarled, eyes flitting between his future self and the Time Lord.
“Jack—” Rose started, eyes wide in alarm.
“Or is it you?” the past Jack accused, emphasizing his point by moving the blaster aimed at his future self towards Rose.
“I’ve got two hearts,” the Doctor said slowly and carefully, wedging himself between the blaster and Rose. “You’re welcome to come and check.”
There was a moment of hesitation, where the Time Agent’s attention lingered on the Doctor a little too long. Switching his aim from Rose to his future self, the past Jack took a small step closer towards the Doctor, stole a quick glance at the possible alien—
A rock smashed into the past Jack’s head, and he crumpled instantly, both blasters dropping from his hands.
Rose gaped at the fallen Jack. “You just knocked yourself out?”
“Trust me, if time moved in the opposite direction, he’d do the same thing to me!” the older Jack shot back, picking up one of the fallen blasters.
Rose turned to the Doctor. “You gonna back me up here?”
The Doctor contemplated the fallen Jack’s form with his lips pressed together. “Can’t say I entirely disapprove.”
“Fine,” Rose huffed. “What are we supposed to do with him, then? We can’t just leave him.”
“He tried to shoot you both!” Jack snapped. He lifted his foot to kick his past self’s body, then remembered they couldn’t touch and put his foot back down. He shook his head to calm himself down. “I’m sorry.”
“No offense taken,” the Doctor replied brightly, leaning over to inspect the Time Agent’s head. “We’re all imbeciles in the past, really.” He straightened. “He’s out cold.”
“Not dead,” Rose sighed in relief.
“The Time Agency must have the TARDIS,” Jack deduced.
The Doctor nodded. “And the Vine. And I don’t trust them with either.”
“Shall we go break in then?” Rose suggested.
Jack laughed bitterly. “You can’t just break in to the Time Agency.”
“Why not?” questioned the Doctor. “There’s a team waiting for Captain Jack Harkness and two human hostages, right?”
“Right…” Jack said reluctantly.
“So human hostage number one,” the Doctor wrapped an arm around Rose’s shoulder and pulled her close. “Human hostage number two,” he pointed his thumb towards his chest, “And Captain Jack Harkness!” He waved a hand towards Jack. “Molto bene!”
Jack considered this carefully. “We’d have to be careful. The Agency’s brutal, and it doesn’t like people nosing around.”
“Who’s nosy?” the Doctor asked innocently. He turned to Rose. “Am I nosy?”
Rose stuck her tongue out. “Last one was ear-y, this one’s hair-y, next one might be nose-y.”
“Of course,” Jack realised with a grin, “I’ll need his uniform.” He pointed to his unconscious counterpart. “And since I can’t touch him or the universe gets shredded…”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck for a moment, then sheepishly turned to Rose. “Understand this is a sentence I never expected to say and hopefully never will again.”
“Yeah?” Rose nearly laughed.
The Doctor shuffled his feet a bit, took a deep breath and looked at her with wide, pleading eyes. “Rose, help me undress Jack?”
Jack straightened his blue uniform and twirled the blaster in his fingers. Oh, how he’d missed the heft of a gun in his hand.
“Mind sticking that somewhere else?” the Doctor asked, lips pinched together as he eyed the blaster distastefully.
Jack pocketed it next to the other blaster, then gazed down at his past self, who lay stripped down to his boxers. “Sure you guys don’t want to take off one more layer?”
“No,” the Doctor replied firmly. He started checking off a list on his fingers. “Alright, he’s got air, he can escape through the tunnel we’re about to create, and he looks like he’ll be out of it for awhile. Out of the way and not dead. Brilliant.”
“Vortex manipulator,” Rose reminded him, pointing to the Time Agent’s wrist.
“He’ll need it to get back to base,” Jack pointed out. “These things aren’t always good at arriving on time. If a whole team’s here, they’re probably using the big teleport to sync their coordinates. That’s how we’ll be getting there.”
He blasted an extension of the tunnel with his blaster, and the Doctor cemented the ceiling with his sonic screwdriver.
“Allons-y!” the Doctor cried cheerfully as they headed down the tunnel.
“So, anything I should know about the 51st century?” Rose asked nervously.
“Oh, let’s see…” The Doctor scratched his head. “Ah, Earth’s in an Ice Age, so the humans have all scattered into colonies. You lot ditch your planet at the drop of a hat, you know, it’s just a little Ice Age…You always come back though. Except after the year five billion because—”
“The sun expanded and destroyed it,” Rose interrupted, grinning. “I know. I was there. First date, remember?”
“We had chips,” the Doctor fondly recalled.
“You took her to the destruction of her planet for a first date?” Jack asked incredulously. He glared at Rose accusingly. “I gave you Big Ben, an invisible spaceship, and dancing!”
“He took me for chips afterward,” Rose explained.
“Chips win every time,” the Doctor said smugly.
Jack’s eyes lit up. “Well, if that’s the case, I’ll get you a whole barrel of chips if you—”
“No,” the Doctor growled.
“Okay, fine, fine,” Jack said with a sigh.
Rose rolled her eyes, but her lips were still stretched wide in a smile. “Okay, so we’re all on colonies, dancing all over the universe. Anything else?”
“Er…Pandemic just ended. Third Strain, nasty disease…Jack, what did he say your project was? Pre-emptive inoculation for the Fourth Strain? What’s that about?”
Jack shrugged. “Might’ve gotten a probe from the future warning about a Fourth Strain. I don’t even remember a Third.”
Rose blinked. “So, what, you’re trying to create a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist yet?”
“Must be…” Jack blasted another extension of the tunnel.
“But isn’t that a paradox?” Rose continued, stepping gingerly over a large rock.
“Yes,” the Doctor answered, massaging his jaw. “You’d be rewriting time, but...It might be possible. Provided you closed the loop…Doubt a bunch of humans could manage it.”
“Might?” Rose echoed incredulously.
“Well, when I say might—”
Just then, the tunnel opened into the main cave, and a girlish squeal cut the Doctor off. “Jack!”
Jack’s eyes bulged in surprise as a girl with ice-blue hair tackled him in a hug, snogging the life out of him.
“Regina?” Jack stammered when they finally broke apart.
“You’re alive!” She spotted the Doctor and Rose. “And you recovered the hostages!” She started towards them, lips already puckered.
Recovering from his shock quickly, Jack put a hand on her shoulder. “Better not, Reggie, they’re a bit traumatized at the moment.”
“Oh, sorry!” She turned her back towards them, and the Doctor mouthed a silent thanks to Jack. “Chris, Maren, I found him!”
A dark-skinned man and a brunette woman both appeared from other tunnels leading off of the cavern, relief on both their faces.
“Oh, good,” said the man, “We’ve barely a minute before the teleport leaves.”
“Get them loaded, then,” Jack ordered. The Doctor winced as the bouncy Regina snatched his arm and dragged him to the same spot the agents had first appeared.
The brunette woman took hold of Rose’s wrist. “Come on, then!”
“Can I get a lift?” Jack suddenly asked, “My wristcomp broke in the cave-in.”
“I’ll take you, love,” the man offered, wrapping an elbow around Jack’s arm and fiddling with his own wristcomp. “Syncing….time of departure in three, two, one…”
A moment later, there was a flash of blue, and the cave was once again empty.
Chapter 7: The Fourth Strain
Rose thought she may eventually get used to the churning in her stomach that came with teleporting, but as the cave disappeared in a flash of light, she discovered that that time had not yet arrived. The Doctor cast her a sympathetic look as they landed—he probably never got motion sickness, stupid smug alien.
They stood upon a round, slightly elevated teleportation platform at the centre a large, bustling atrium. People dressed in similar uniforms walked briskly to and from hallways branching off from each corner. High above their heads, enormous screens displayed complicated diagrams of what looked like clocks and various agents’ faces.
“Not the best mode of travel,” the Doctor muttered to her, “Bad for you, actually.”
“What, traveling through the vortex?” Rose whispered back.
“No, traveling through the vortex without a capsule.”
Without releasing their arms, the agents escorted the Doctor and Rose off the platform towards a brooding old man. His aged face crinkled in slight disgust as he watched them move towards him.
Jack stared for a split moment, then gave a jovial grin. “Milo, my man! Hostages recovered!” He waved a hand towards the Doctor and Rose.
“It’s Yenson, Harkness,” the man replied shortly, eying the Doctor and Rose suspiciously. Jack’s cheer dwindled at the lukewarm greeting. He couldn’t take his eyes off Yenson’s face.
“Yep, that’s us, human hostages!” the Doctor beamed, extending a hand. Yenson raised an eyebrow in bemusement, and the Doctor withdrew his hand. “Oh, right, you lot haven’t done that since the Second Strain, have you?”
“Names?” Yenson droned, nearly yawning.
“I’m John, and this,” he waved a hand towards Rose, “Is Rose Tyler.”
Yenson surveyed them carefully. “And how did you become hostages?”
“Oh, got a bit lost, wandered off, that sort of thing,” the Doctor prattled, jerking his head towards Rose and adding in a low, secretive voice, “She does it all the time.”
Rose glared at him as a perky young woman carrying an electronic clipboard dashed full-speed towards them, coming to a halt just next to Yenson.
“Here, sir,” the young woman gasped, tucking a stray blonde hair behind her ear.
“There you are, Irina,” said Yenson disapprovingly. He beckoned a hand at the Doctor and Rose and sniffed. “Do something with the Tylers, will you?”
Rose glanced at the Doctor to see if he would correct Yenson, but the Time Lord only grinned back at her and shrugged.
Irina nodded enthusiastically as Yenson turned to the other Time Agents.
“Good work, ladies, gents, and others. Reports due at the end of the day. Disperse.” And with that, he spun on his heel and stalked back down the passage.
Chattering and casting curious, albeit slightly lustful, looks back at the Doctor and Rose, the team members scurried in different directions, though Jack lingered.
Irina’s perfect white teeth gleamed at the pair. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you sorted!” She traced a finger across the screen of her electronic clipboard at rapid speed as she talked nearly as fast as the Doctor when he got going. “Hey, Jack! Lovely day! Or so I hear—haven’t been outside the office in ages. You missed lunch. We still on for tonight?”
Jack didn’t need to think twice. “Course we are.”
“Soon as I get the plant mess organized anyway…” Irina trailed off. “Oh! Here we are. Were you with the tour group?”
“Yes!” said the Doctor, excited to have an excuse. “Yes we were. Travel all over, that’s us.”
“But they’re so regulated,” Irina chattered, “It’s nearly impossible to get lost!”
“Oh, trust me,” Rose smirked, jabbing a finger at the Doctor, “Getting lost is practically his calling in life.”
“Oi! I resent that!”
Irina’s smile never wavered. “Which colony are you from?”
“Alfava Metraxis,” the Doctor supplied.
“Oh, bit too far for the teleport then,” Irina commented, scrolling through her electronic clipboard. “Well, we’ve got a shuttle heading back to Alfava Metraxis in a few hours. Or we can give your tour ship a call.”
“Rather have the trip back home, thanks,” said the Doctor. “Don’t want our holiday ruined any further by rubbish travel agencies.”
“Then I’ll find you somewhere you can wait until the shuttle’s ready.” Irina’s finger danced even faster across her clipboard.
“Oh, waiting’s boring,” remarked the Doctor dismissively. “Do you suppose we could get a look ‘round this place? Not often we get a chance to tour such a lovely facility.” He paused thoughtfully. “Do you have a little shop?”
Irina’s perpetual smile remained, but her eyes hardened. “Sorry, but we don’t really offer tours.”
“’S Alright, Irina, I’ll just show ‘em around a bit,” offered Jack, flashing her a grin.
Irina’s expression nearly melted. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Nah, I’ll just show them the vortex rooms or something. Nothing that isn’t on the vids anyway.”
Her smile stayed plastered on even as she breathed a sigh of relief, “Okay, thanks for taking them, I’ve gotta get back to my office and finish the daily report. Just get them to the shuttle dock by 0100.” She raked her eyes over Jack again. “See you tonight.” Her smile flickered for the tiniest of moments as her gaze landed on Jack’s arm, but she gave a little wave at him as she turned and click-clacked on her high heels away.
“Well the tech security girl’s acting a bit more familiar than I remember,” Jack grinned as he led them down one of the hallways. “Last I recall she hated my guts.”
“If all goes well, you won’t be here tonight,” the Doctor pointed out.
“Well he will,” said Jack wistfully, “Same thing. And Milo, wow, Milo’s…old. He’s only forty – well, forty-four now. He looks ancient. And I guess we had a falling out, if we’re on last-name terms. Shame…”
“Lot changes in two years,” the Doctor pointed out, “Just look at Rose here! Two years ago…ish…the highlight of her life was going to the chippy. And now—”
“The highlight of my life is going to an alien chippy.” Rose rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, was that rude?” the Doctor suddenly wondered.
Rose gave him a playful shove before asking at Jack, “Where’re we headed then?”
“Milo Yenson’s lab, where I’m betting they took the Vine.”
“Thing I don’t get is,” Rose said as they headed down the hallway Jack lead them towards, “They must have taken the TARDIS, yeah? How’d they find out it was there so quickly?”
The Doctor pursed his lips thoughtfully. “They couldn’t have. Unless they knew it was going to be there ahead of time.”
“We don’t have that kind of tech, though,” Jack objected.
“But how would you know?” Rose wondered, “’S not like you’re up-to-date on everything. This is part of the two years they erased, right?”
“So maybe they invented sommat in the last two years that can detect the TARDIS,” she reasoned.
“But nothing could detect it that quickly!” the Doctor protested.
Rose flicked a strand of hair behind her in exasperation. “Well I don’t know!”
Jack held up a hand to stop as they reached a door. “Yenson’s lab,” he announced, scanning his thumbprint and glancing into the retina scanner. “Time to play hostage, you two. You’re into bondage, right?”
“Harkness,” the Doctor warned. A small beep sounded, and the door slid open to admit them.
The stench of rotting grapes slithered around them as they entered. Its source, the Vine, lay immobile in the centre of the room. Flasks of golden fluid were loaded onto trolleys surrounding it. A gruff man with a hooked nose and thick gray eyebrows held a syringe filled with more of the fluid.
“What’re they doing here?” he demanded, brandishing the syringe in their direction with a gloved hand.
Jack held his palms up. “Hey, hey, relax Frank, they’re with me. Friends of mine. Wanted to see what happened to the thing that held them hostage.”
“Can I ask what you’re doing?” asked the Doctor, putting on his wide-eyed-innocent-human face. “Only I’m good with plants…and stuff.” Without waiting for an answer, the Doctor scooted closer to the Vine, drawing his brainy specs from his pocket and fixing them carefully askew on his nose. He inspected the unmoving plant’s vines, squeezing one of its thorns and smelling it. “Ah! I see you’ve inebriated it with brokhel’s acid. Keeps it subdued, although,” he took his glasses off and glared at Frank, “You’ve left it in there too long. You’ve killed it.”
“Still got a bit more life left, though,” Frank pointed out, squeezing the syringe into an empty flask and fitting it onto a cart with the others. “I’ve still got sap to squeeze from it.”
“But it was sentient,” the Doctor stressed.
Frank took of his gloves and raked a hand carelessly through his wild, grizzled hair. “It also tried to kill you, from what I hear. Who are these loons, Harkness?”
“I called them in,” Jack answered, sticking his hands in his pockets nonchalantly. “Xenobotanists. Thought they could help us out a bit. They got captured by your sentient plant on the way in.”
“Oh…” Frank shifted uncomfortably, scratching at his head. “Look, sorry about that, Harkness. Yenson didn’t want me to tell you. Said you’d—”
“Said I’d what?!” Jack demanded, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Frank sighed. “Go overboard.”
Jack noticed the Doctor whispering intently to Rose, who nodded in response. Jack flailed his arms to keep Frank’s attention on him and cried melodramatically, “Go overboard?!”
“And that’s exactly what you’re doing!” Frank retorted. Behind him, Rose wandered over to the trolley holding the flasks, finger hovering above them as her lips moved silently. The Doctor, meanwhile, was strolling over towards an old-fashioned blackboard standing on the opposite site of the room.
Jack lowered his eyes and whimpered for all he was worth. “I thought I was your friend, Frank.”
“C’mon, Jack, he’s my boss. You know what he’s like. What was I supposed to—Oi! What’re you doing?”
The Doctor whirled around from the blackboard and put his hands behind his back. “What, me?” he implored, eyes so wide they nearly protruded from his skull. “I’m not doing anything.”
“What’s behind your back?” Frank asked suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing,” the Doctor answered, holding out his empty palms for inspection. “I have to put my hands behind my back so I’m not tempted to touch things. Interesting string of figures you have written here.”
“I didn’t write it—hold on, do you have clearance to look at that?” Frank demanded, stepping forward angrily.
Jack placed a hand on his shoulder to hold him back. “Yeah. He’s got clearance to look at whatever he wants, got it?”
Frank spun to face Rose, who had finished her counting. “What about her?”
“You kidding? Both of them’ve got more clearance than you and me put together,” Jack declared, putting on his best convincing smile.
The Doctor turned back to the complex diagram on the blackboard. His body was rigid in concentration as he ran his hand through his hair, muttering incoherently to himself.
Frank folded his arms sceptically. “Uh-huh. Xenobotanists. Riiight. What’d you get them for anyway? We don’t need them. Yenson’s finished the formula; all we have to do is take the sap and mix it in—”
“This isn’t a formula,” the Doctor announced, turning to face them. “It’s wrong.”
Frank froze. “What do you mean it’s wrong?”
The Doctor turned abruptly. “Rose, how many flasks are there?”
“There’s sixty-three,” Rose called.
“Sixty-three?” murmured the Doctor. “Sixty-three times…” he counted off on his fingers as he calculated. “That’s enough to infect a planet.”
“Not infect,” Frank corrected, “Cure. It’s part of a vaccine.”
“And that’s why you needed the plant to be sentient,” the Doctor realised, snatching up a piece of chalk.
The Doctor’s hand moved in smooth, even strokes as he rapidly drew lines and figures over the formula. “You don’t know what this means, do you?”
“Course I do, it’s a vaccine!” Frank cried, arms flailing in exasperation.
“We’re not scientists, Doc,” added Jack, “We just get the materials.”
“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Rose implored.
The Doctor stepped back from the blackboard, grimacing as he studied what he had written. “This isn’t a vaccine. It’s a genetic code.”
“For what?” Frank demanded.
“A virus,” the Doctor scowled, tugging at his hair again. “And not just any virus. This right here is the Fourth Strain. Congratulations. You’ve just invented the first sentient virus in the universe.”
“Look at this, sir,” Irina frowned, beckoning Yenson towards her monitor, which displayed a short three-second loop of the teleport zone.
Yenson bent over at the monitor. “What am I looking at?”
“This is Harkness’ team before they left to retrieve the human hostages.” On the video, Jack’s expression, like the rest of his team, was fixed in a grimace of concentration. One member of the team clicked her gun. Then a blue light flashed, and the team disappeared.
“Now this,” Irina continued, opening up another video on the screen, “Is Harkness’ team returning, with the hostages.”
Another loop began playing on the monitor. A blue light flashed, and the agents reappeared on the platform with the Doctor and Rose in tow.
“So what?” asked Yenson. “I have eyes too, Irina, I already know how appealing the hostages are. Prettier than you, anyway.”
Irina’s cheeks flushed as she continued, “But look at Harkness.”
“I’ve looked at Harkness loads of times.”
“I mean his arm!” Irina pointed, clicking to zoom in. “Before he leaves….” The before video played, zoomed in on Jack’s left arm. “After he comes back.” The after video played, focused similarly.
Yenson frowned. “Where’d that scratch on his arm go?”
“Exactly,” said Irina. “He got that scratch yesterday when he came back from ancient China. Said it was too small to spring for a session with the dermal regenerator and he’d let it heal on its own. Except now it’s gone.”
“We’ve got an imposter,” Yenson realised.
Irina shook her head. “He passed the DNA entrance tests. It’s Harkness.”
Yenson’s frown grew, ridges in his forehead deepening into ravines. “The wrong Harkness…”
“Sir, should we take him in? He’s crossed the timeline.”
Yenson shook his head, concentration broken. “No, no, that’ll just alert him. The kid’s bright. If he figures we’ve turned against him, we’ll never be able to catch up with him. Where is he now?”
“The hostages asked for a tour of the facility. Harkness volunteered.”
“I don’t like this. What’s he doing here?” Yenson paused, brows once more furrowed in thought as he studied the screen. “Get some background on these prisoners. And find out where Harkness is.”
Chapter 8: Time Tag
“Congratulations,” the Doctor said darkly, face grim. “You’ve just invented the first sentient virus in the universe.”
The stunned silence in the room lasted for only a moment before it was interrupted by a catchy beat. Swallowing, Frank reached for a communicator in his pocket and glanced at the screen.
“It’s Yenson,” he said hollowly, still reeling in shock.
“Don’t tell him we’re here,” Jack ordered.
Frank nodded and pressed a button on the communicator before holding it up to his ear. “Hello…No, I haven’t seen him…Really…Yes, sir.” He pressed the button again, and glanced up at Jack nervously. “He…he wants me in his office.”
Rose narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “What for?”
“Er…” Frank trailed off, eyes darting anxiously between the three of them.
A buzz sounded, and the Doctor, Rose, and Jack all tensed as the door to the lab slid open to reveal Yenson, followed by the three Time Agents from the cave. Frank dashed for the door, throwing a quick, “Sorry, Jack!” over his shoulder as he fled from the lab.
“Jack Harkness, heard you’d come in here!” Yenson pronounced broadly. The other three filed in behind him as he stepped inside the lab.
“Yeah, just baby-sitting the hostages,” said Jack, maintaining a casual tone.
Yenson raised an eyebrow. “In my lab?”
“They wanted to see the Vine,” Jack explained.
“Dead as a doornail!” the Doctor chipped in cheerfully.
“I see,” Yenson monotoned.
“There a problem, sir?” Jack asked warily.
Silence reigned for what seemed like minutes.
“Yes,” Yenson answered finally. He jerked his head towards Jack, and his team sprung to attention. “Arrest Harkness.”
“Oi, he wasn’t that terrible a tour guide!” the Doctor protested as the three agents swarmed over Jack.
“What did I do?” Jack demanded as two of the agents clutched his arms, each holding a blaster aimed at his head. The remaining agent with the ice-blue hair ran some sort of scanner over him.
“Terribly sorry for the disturbance,” Yenson droned to the Doctor and Rose, “But we’ve found Agent Harkness isn’t where he’s supposed to be. Or rather, when.”
Jack glared at Yenson, but stopped struggling.
“What are you going to do with him?” asked Rose breathlessly.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to execute him,” Yenson said with an insincere sigh.
“Blimey, isn’t that a bit harsh?” the Doctor complained.
“Company policy,” Yenson shrugged. “And speaking of company policy…I called your tour ship.” Rose flinched, knowing what was coming next. “You weren’t with the tour group.”
“Really?” asked the Doctor, wide-eyed. “Whatever made you think that?”
“We called. There were no humans aboard the ship.”
Rose bit her lip, but the Doctor rattled on. “Obviously. We’re not human. Can’t a Migarian walk around without others assuming his species’ identity? Disgraceful.”
“Absolutely shameful,” Rose agreed, playing along.
“We ought to ask for compensation!” the Doctor continued, shaking his fist at the ceiling indignantly.
But Yenson didn’t look entirely convinced. “You’re from Migar? Really? I went there once on a pleasure trip. You have a beautiful sky. Remind me—what colour is it?”
“The richest, most beautiful purple ever,” the Doctor said enthusiastically. “Beats silly old blue any day.”
Yenson turned to Rose. “And the grass?”
“No offense to your planet, of course,” the Doctor rambled before Rose could reply, “Been there loads of times, Earth’s very lovely. But our planet’s got better weather and the Eternity Waterfalls and floating crimson lights.” He looked pointedly at Rose.
A memory of lying next to the Doctor on his coat as they watched glowing crimson orbs dance above their heads flashed through Rose’s mind.
“Have to excuse him,” Rose forced her lips into an apologetic grin, “Rambles on a bit. You were saying?”
“The colour of your grass?” Yenson said, sending a glare in the Doctor’s direction to command silence.
Rose shrugged. “Blue, like it should be. Your planet’s all upside-down, with blue in the sky instead of the ground.”
The Doctor beamed proudly at her.
Yenson scowled. “Sorry. You look human.”
“You look Migarian,” the Doctor countered.
“Of course,” Yenson continued, “I wouldn’t want to assume anyone’s species’ identity, especially as I know for a fact there were two humans in that cave. Regina, what does the scanner say?”
Regina scowled at her handheld scanner. “Seven organisms, six humans. Harkness is human, the girl is human, but it won’t identify him.” She glanced up at the Doctor curiously. “Says ‘Species Unknown.’ ”
“Lock the building down,” Yenson drawled, snapping his fingers. The brunette woman holding Jack released her hold to aim her blaster at the Doctor and press a button on her manipulator. A distant clanging echoed outside the lab. Jack jerked in the remaining man’s grip, but the agent only pressed his blaster harder into Jack’s skull.
Yenson’s attention focused on the Doctor. “What species are you…John Tyler, did you say your name was?”
“Alright, alright, it’s the Doctor actually,” the Doctor babbled, stepping away from Rose and raising his hands in surrender. “Worth a try though, eh? And I told you, I’m a Migarian.”
“Except the scanner isn’t identifying you as one.” Yenson raised a hand to his chin, considering the Doctor carefully. “And its selection of species is extraordinarily wide. You must be a long way from home, Doctor.”
“A bit, yeah,” the Doctor said warily. Rose tensely inched towards him, but stopped when his eyes met hers, clearly warning her to stay put.
“Are there more of you around?”
“Around here? No, not really.”
“Under the order of the Shadow Proclamation, I hereby command you to identify your species.”
“Oh, don’t pull that on me!” the Doctor scoffed, putting his hands down and stuffing them in his pockets, “I’m President of the Shadow Proclamation!”
Gasps emerged from all those in the room except Yenson. “I don’t believe you.”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Well, alright, President-Elect, actually. I sort of….ran away before my inauguration and tricked them into forgetting I exist….”
“Your species,” Yenson inquired again. Jack frantically shook his head at the Doctor, and received a smack on the head with a blaster for his efforts.
The Doctor sighed. Apparently Jack didn’t think sharing his species wasn’t a good idea. “Mind putting the guns down? I’m rather tired of having guns pointed at me today. It’s getting a bit old. Old and rude. Not to mention—”
“Maren, shoot him,” ordered Yenson. Maren’s face hardened as her finger pressed down on the trigger.
“NO!” screamed Rose, throwing herself between the Doctor and the blaster, arms outstretched to shield him. Instantly the horrified Doctor reached to push her out of the way.
In the same moment, Jack slammed his elbow straight into the nose of the man holding him. With a satisfying crunch, the agent released him immediately, and Jack dove straight at Maren, tackling her to the ground just as she fired. The shot went wide, blasting into the ceiling and leaving a scorch mark in its wake. Regina leapt into the fray as Jack wrestled with both ex-coworkers. The third agent, still clutching his now-broken nose, kicked Jack in the gut, forcing him to gasp for air as he fell on top of the brunette woman. Prying the wrist strap off her arm, Jack hoarsely cried, “Catch, Doc!” and tossed it towards the Doctor.
With precision timing, the Doctor snatched the vortex manipulator from the air, wrapped an arm around Rose’s waist, and pressed the button.
One flash of blue light later, Rose opened her eyes to see that she and the Doctor were back in the cave.
Only barely registering where they were, the Doctor was already frantically checking Rose over, then enveloping her in a bone-crushing hug.
“Oh, thank Rassilon you’re alright,” he breathed into her hair, closing his eyes in relief. “Don’t do that.”
“Do what? Hug you back?” said Rose, voice muffled from talking into his shoulder.
The Doctor pulled her away from him, holding her by the shoulders. “No. Don’t die for me.”
Her voice shrilled indignantly. “You’ve died for me!”
“That’s different,” he said, voice straining. “I can regenerate.”
“You’d do it even if you weren’t going to regenerate.”
The Doctor made a sort of strangled sound. “Yes, I would.”
“Then how could you expect me to just stand there? She was going to kill you.”
“Let her,” the Doctor declared. “You’ve only got one life, I’ve got three.”
Jaw set, Rose glared at him. “Yeah, I’ve only got one life. But if I want to spend it saving your three, then I will.”
The Doctor gawked back at her, eyes a cross between admiration and utter disbelief.
Rose’s stubborn glare dissolved into horror, the nausea from the teleport pooling in her stomach and growing. “Doctor…We left Jack. To be executed.”
“We’re going back for him,” the Doctor said determinedly, fiddling with the buttons on the vortex manipulator. “Let’s see, this thing’s locked. Probably to keep its wearer from going rogue and traveling through the vortex all willy-nilly. No wonder Jack’s was so unreliable; he probably had to jailbreak it when he left the agency….”
“Locked?” wondered Rose, peering down at the tiny screen. “You mean like it can only go certain places?”
The Doctor nodded, fiddling with the manipulator distractedly. “Programmed only for specific locations. Which is very, very bad for us….”
“Why?” But before the Doctor could answer, several blue flashes answered for him.
“They’ve tracked us!” he cried, frantically skewing the settings on the wristcomp.
As one, the two agents aimed their blasters at the Doctor and Rose. Rose heard the blast at the same instant the Doctor’s hand found hers….
And they were back on the teleport platform of the now-empty atrium. The screens displayed flashing mauve symbols that Rose assumed meant lockdown.
“Oh, they’re clever. Only so many places this thing can go, makes it easy to track,” muttered the Doctor, sonic screwdriver already in hand and pointed at the wristcomp. “But if I can reprogram it….Come on, come on!”
In an instant, the two agents materialized and fired. The Doctor lunged at Rose, and let out a pained shout as one of the blasts grazed his shoulder. The device dropped from his hand as he and Rose both tumbled to the floor.
Rose scrabbled for the manipulator. One hand closed around it while the other seized the Doctor’s uninjured arm.
“What button was it again?!” she asked frantically as another blast slammed into the ground next to the Doctor’s head.
The Doctor shoved his screwdriver back in his pocket with a grimace. “That—”
Rose jammed her thumb onto it as another blast zoomed towards them.
The ground beneath her transformed from smooth tile to gritty dirt. Rose opened her eyes to a familiar sight. The sounds and smells of a bustling Alorian marketplace greeted her. The Alorians themselves milled through the marketplace, all seemingly oblivious to the two filthy travelers who’d just materialized out of nowhere.
“Doctor?” she coughed, propping herself. The Doctor lay next to her, motionless. Her fingers were still wrapped around his elbow. “Doctor!” She shook him in alarm.
His eyes opened as he winced.
“Are you okay?” Rose asked, sitting up.
In an instant, the Doctor sprung to his feet and pulled Rose up. “Course I am, right as rain, just a bit knackered from mentally overriding the fixed programming.”
“I overrode the time lock on the vortex manipulator,” the Doctor explained. “We’ve traveled in time as well as space.” He surveyed the crowd. “Still one of the programmed places, but at least it will be harder to track us through time…Can’t be more than a few hours back, though…”
“You got shot…” Rose commented anxiously.
He waved his arm around in a windmill. “Just grazed, barely a sting. Don’t need to use the spare hand after all!” His hand grasped Rose’s, and he started leading them through the crowd. “We need to get out of here before they figure out where we’ve gone.”
“Can you make that thing take us back?” asked Rose.
“I could…but it’d take us back to when we left. Or thereabouts. And they had guns.”
“Okay, not a good idea,” she agreed, “But how are we supposed to get Jack out then?”
“Working on it…” He froze as he spotted a flash of pink and yellow in the crowd.
He stopped so abruptly that Rose ‘oofed’ into his back. “What is it?” She peeked around him anxiously. “Time Agents? They found us already?”
“Ooh, I hate paradoxes,” groaned the Doctor, sighing in annoyance. His grip tightened on Rose’s hand. “Or at least I do today. Come on. We’ve got to hurry.”
“What’s the rush?” Rose wondered as the Doctor elbowed their way through the dense crowd in the opposite direction. Casting her eyes over her shoulder, she suddenly spotted the Doctor in the distance, suit much cleaner and expression much more worried. And behind him was….Oh.
The current Doctor and Rose turned the corner to see the TARDIS resting there patiently, as welcoming a beacon as ever.
“We stole the TARDIS?” Rose asked in disbelief as the Doctor turned his key in the lock.
“Course not,” he scoffed as he shut the door behind them and dashed to the console. “Can’t steal my own ship now, can I?” With a triumphant cry, he yanked the last lever, and the TARDIS began to dematerialize.
“Thought you stole it in the first place?” Rose laughed.
The Doctor pressed his hand to his chest, face twisted in mock-hurt. “Rose Tyler, I’m astounded you would say such a thing—” He winced slightly as he moved his shoulder.
“Really, are you alright?” Rose pressed.
“Course I am!” he scoffed. “And it’s not going to stop us from going anywhere. Could drive this thing with one hand tied behind my back—in fact, I think I have…” He trailed off, remembering. “Yeah, Peri and I were covered in Slozzakarish slime. Practically glued us together, and she was unconscious, poor girl. Had to pilot the TARDIS one-handed and drag her around…”
“Oh, you’re making that up!” she laughed.
“Am not!” He shot back. His eyebrow quirked up. “I’ll prove it!” He kicked off his red trainers and pulled off his mismatched argyle and plaid socks, revealing bare, wiggling toes.
“You gonna drive with your feet?!”
“Why not?” questioned the Doctor gleefully, lifting a leg onto the console and flexing his toes experimentally. “Told you, I did it before. Had to drive the TARDIS with my toes.” He gave her a foxy smile and winked. “And I wasn’t nearly as flexible then.”
Rose stuck her tongue out the corner of her lips at him as he took his foot off the console.
“Alright, Rose, when I say, press…” he guided her hand over to a series of buttons. “Whichever button I tell you to press. Got it?”
The Doctor grinned and placed one hand behind his back. “Here goes.”
Then he burst into a series of aerobics, limbs jerking wildly as he twirled knobs with his one hand while extending a leg to yank levers with his toes. Hopping in a circle around the console in an attempt to reach as many controls as possible, he occasionally punctuated his dancing with cries of, “Yellow!” and “Left of the periwinkle, hold it down for five seconds!”
Trying not to laugh as the Doctor played Twister with the console, Rose followed his instructions and noted that the Doctor was indeed very flexible.
Chapter 9: The Doctor Deserves Applause
Dim mauve lights were all that illuminated the Time Agency’s emptied hallways as the TARDIS materialized. Above it, monitors that used to flash dates and pictures now displayed only mauve screens.
The door opened. “Landed us not too long before we left,” the Doctor explained, stepping from the TARDIS with Rose on his heels. “During the lockdown, so the hallway’s clear. Unfortunately, that means we don’t have too long before Jack’ll be executed….Ah! Here we go!” He dashed to the wall and stroked his hands over a screen panel embedded there, enthralled.
“Can you find him in time?” Rose peeked over his shoulder as the Doctor rapidly pressed several buttons.
“Working on it,” the Doctor muttered, eyebrows scrunching together as he studied the screen. He smacked the wall angrily, then whipped out the sonic screwdriver. “Come on! I don’t have time for this!” He flicked the screwdriver on, forcing windows to flash across the screen too quickly for Rose to follow.
Rose bit her lip. “But he’ll be alright, yeah? Even if we don’t find him? Perks of being immortal.”
The Doctor’s gaze didn’t budge from the screen. “Not that I’m an expert…oh, who am I kidding, course I am! But the Time Agency’s a bit odd like that. Don’t like to get their hands dirty. They don’t execute you so much as they exile you to any given point in time and space where it’s likely you’ll soon be dead. Like a 43rd century lunar penal colony. Or Hiroshima on August 6, 1942. So Jack being Jack, he’ll survive, but…”
“He could be anywhere,” Rose realized. “We’d never find him.”
“Yeah, guessing not…ho! Hold on, what’s this?” A map appeared on the screen, and the Doctor traced over it with a good finger. “Ooh…” His finger hovered over the outline of one room. “Rose, they do have a little shop!”
“Right! Now, execution rooms, execution rooms…teleport rooms of any sort? Ah!” He tapped a different part of the map. “There we are.” He tugged at Rose’s hand, gesturing down the hall. “Allon-sy!”
Ceilings, Jack decided, had never looked so ominous. He eyed the teleportation beam aimed at him from above, and wriggled uselessly in the chair to which his arms were fastened. He wasn’t going anywhere—and even if he did, where would he go? An airtight glass wall shut him off from the rest of the room. Just outside the wall stood Yenson, twiddling with buttons on a massive control panel, and behind him stood the only door. And beyond Yenson and the door was a locked-down building that only offered teleport as a means of escape.
Supposing he got free from the chair, through the glass wall, past Yenson, and then stole a vortex manipulator?...Jack dismissed the thought grimly. It’d been a long shot, getting one to the Doctor and Rose. Unless the Doctor had come up with something brilliantly clever, he and Rose could very well have been captured already.
He tore his gaze away from the feared device in the ceiling to focus on Yenson, who was idly entering data into the terminal.
Jack felt his usual bravado slip away, replaced by a gnawing fear. Even if he could shrug death off like a papercut, the fact remained that he was about to be flung blindly into time and space with no way of ever reaching his friends again. No vortex manipulator, no TARDIS, no guarantee he’d land anywhere the Doctor would visit. At least when he was in Cardiff he’d known that the Doctor would come back eventually.
“Where’re you sending me?” Jack called, just loud enough for the intercom that communicated through the glass wall to pick up.
Yenson spoke into the microphone. “To the cafeteria, actually, to join most everyone else in the lockdown.”
A rush of relief flooded Jack’s chest. “You’re letting me go?”
“If that’s what you’d like to call it.” The corner of Yenson’s mouth crept up in a wide, smug smile. “But yes. Just three more minutes, and you’ll be loose in the building with everyone else. Run wherever you like, touch as many people as possible. Because that’s how it starts, Jack. And,” he laughed, “That’s how it ends.”
A cold realization surged through Jack’s spine, and he tensed. “Why do I get the feeling you’re not Yenson?”
“Clever human,” Yenson laughed, jamming his thumb down on one more button. An ominous noise roared to life above Jack’s head. “Oh, don’t worry,” the creature said when he saw Jack’s body stiffen, “It wasn’t for the teleport beam.”
“Really?” exclaimed the Doctor as the door slid open to admit him and Rose, “Then whatever was it for?”
Jack jerked in his chair as soon as he saw them. “Yenson’s not human! Get outta here!”
Yenson’s fist slammed down on a button, and Jack’s end of the intercom shut off, silencing his frantic yells. Yenson tensed like a caged animal, staring at the Doctor as if expecting an attack.
Instead, the Doctor leaned against the now-shut door. “Not human? Care to explain that?”
Yenson relaxed, but only slightly. “Why? You never told me what species you are.”
“It’s a mystery, you see,” the Doctor continued obliviously, “Because when your agent scanned me, you registered as human. Which means that body is definitely Yenson…so what’s controlling it?”
“Gelth?” Rose guessed, “Or somebody using a psychograft? Ooh, or one of those energy beings?”
“Possibly…” murmured the Doctor. Then he snapped his fingers. “But…no…yes! Wait…yes!” He yanked on his hair and waved his arms around in giddy excitement. “You’re the virus! You didn’t just create the Fourth Strain, you are the Fourth Strain! A sentient, viral parasite, taking over those you infect!”
“So the real Yenson’s…” Rose trailed off quietly.
“Dead,” the Strain sneered, “Within minutes of infection.”
The Doctor’s eyes widened. “That’s it! You invaded his mind, put in a strong psychic link! Oh, that’s clever. Access to memories, personality traits—he’s only human, he wouldn’t have been able to fight you off!”
“Like the psychic plant!” Rose realised.
The Doctor’s mouth exploded into a wide grin. “Oh, Rose, that’s brilliant! Just like the psychic plant!” He turned back to the Strain, gesturing wildly. “Because viruses aren’t even technically alive. And you—you’re sentient, you’re clever, but you’ve got no life of your own. So what do you do? Hijack someone else’s life energy! That’s why Yenson’s aged so fast—you’re draining his life energy to live longer!” Then he scowled, brow furrowed in thought. “Too much like that plant.”
“My children,” the Strain sighed reverently.
“Children?” wondered Rose, nose wrinkling into confusion.
“Oh!” The Doctor smacked his head. “Oh, I’m thick! Old and thick! The plant wasn’t time-sensitive; the virus infecting it was! The plant was just an incubator! Probably a relative of the Joidrans, already naturally absorbent and loaded with psychic spores. The virus was just using the plant’s abilities to its advantage.”
“Are you waiting for applause?” the Strain droned.
“Wouldn’t object to it, no,” the Doctor commented, “Rassilon knows I deserve it. You still haven’t answered my question, by the way.”
“And what’s that?” the Strain said exasperatedly, rolling his eyes.
“If that wasn’t the teleport beam,” the Doctor pointed at the button the Strain had last pressed, “Then what does it do?”
The Strain closed his eyes, blissful smile spreading over his face, as if appreciating a symphony. “Just a little more time….a pittance really, compared to how long they have waited.”
“Wait, hold on,” the Doctor muttered thoughtfully, gazing up at the beam pointed down at Jack. “Up there…In the teleport beam. You’ve set up a secondary signal in there that sprays your viral offspring into a host. You’re going to infect Jack—more than infect, supercharge him, pump him chockfull of the virus—and send him back into the Agency so it spreads…”
“But those people go all over the place!” Rose protested. “All over time!”
“Propagating the species over all of time and space,” the Doctor finished grimly. “Very clever.”
“I should thank you,” the Strain remarked, opening his eyes, “For giving me an excuse to lock the building down. I was planning to detonate a bomb instead, but initiating lockdown for an invader was a bit less….messy.”
“The other agents can’t escape if they’re in lockdown, can they?” realised the Doctor. “They’re all sitting ducks.”
“Bit like you, actually,” the Strain commented, hand hovering over a particularly ominous-looking button.
“Wait, listen, I can help—” the Doctor started.
The Strain froze and closed his eyes again, letting out a satisfied moan.
“You don’t have to infect these people,” the Doctor continued. “I can—”
“I can hear them!” the Strain obliviously cried, his entire body trembling with ecstasy. “They’re ready! Their first human host, a mere minute from now! They’re clamoring, churning, aching for a subject, to learn how to inhabit, how to spread!” His eyes opened imploringly. “Can’t you hear them?”
“Listen to me,” the Doctor said firmly, “I can help, I really can. I can find you and your children another place, some planet with plenty of nonsentient hosts for everyone. You start your new species in peace, human race gets to go on colonizing the stars and drinking tea and otherwise being brilliant.”
The Strain scoffed, spell broken. “You mean hacking each other to death.”
The Doctor looked put out. “Yes, well…point still stands. I’m giving you a different choice.”
“And I’m declining,” the Strain responded with a sneer. “A pity you aren’t human. You’ll have to settle for watching him and the girl die instead.”
Temper flaring, the Doctor took a livid step closer to the Strain. Fear flashed in the virus’ eyes for a moment, and then his hand slipped towards his other wrist and he vanished.
The Doctor’s scorching gaze glared at the spot the Strain had stood for a moment before Rose tugged at his arm, snapping him from his reverie.
“Doctor, he said a minute, how long’ve we got?” she asked desperately, swallowing her own fear and pointing at the still wriggling and shouting Jack on the other side of the glass wall.
“Forty-two seconds!” He dashed towards the locked door of the glass wall, running his sonic screwdriver over it. He beckoned towards the controls. “See if any of those will turn it off!”
Rose hurried towards the controls as a clicking pop allowed the Doctor entrance. He rushed to his frantic friend as Rose read the scrawled note taped to the terminal that explained the controls.
“What’s happening?!” Jack demanded as the Doctor aimed the screwdriver at his cuffs. The restraints didn’t budge.
“Dead-locked cuffs?!” the Doctor cried indignantly. His gaze darted towards the beam, which was already glowing faintly. Halfheartedly he aimed the screwdriver at the beam, but the glow only brightened.
“Some of us have been a bit creative when it comes to escaping,” Jack replied, gaping at the ceiling with something akin to terror. “I’ve got a knife in my pocket; could you saw the cuffs off?”
“Not enough time!” The Doctor flipped through the settings on his screwdriver in a frenzy.
Rose bolted towards them. “The switches are all for activating the teleport beam. Nothing turns it off!”
The Doctor let out a frustrated groan, then dropped to his knees behind Jack’s chair. “Hold on!” he ordered, “I’ll detach the chair—”
“What’s happening?!” Jack repeated, jerking frantically in his chair as Rose yanked on his unyielding cuffs.
“The virus that infected the Vine is a copy of the one infecting Yenson,” Rose blurted, words coming out so fast they nearly blended together. “And Frank took the copy out of the plant and gave it back to Yenson, and now it’s about to beam down right on top of us!”
Jack blinked. “I think I understood half of that.”
“We’ve less then ten seconds…Rose, get out of here!” the Doctor yelled, one eye on the leg of the chair he was detaching, the other on the increasingly bright glow thriving in the ceiling.
“I’m not leaving you!” Rose snapped as the Doctor moved on to the last chair leg.
“Go!” Jack practically pleaded.
“Either of you!”
“Both of you, go, if it infects me I’ll just come back—”
The Doctor’s cry of triumph as he got the last leg undone morphed to a cry of panic as the beam surged down towards them. With inhuman speed, he rammed his body at Jack’s chair, shoving it out of the beam’s path. The chair tipped as it crashed into Rose, knocking both her and Jack to the floor and clear from the targeted zone.
Not even a second later, the viral beam slammed into the Doctor where Jack had been an instant before. He screamed, writhing as the golden beam enveloped him.
Chapter 10: The Rogue Agent
The first thing Jack was aware of was a chill across his chest. Where was he?
Oh yeah. He groaned, fingers clenching at the dirt beneath them. He must still be in the cave, the impersonator and his accomplices long gone. He slowly sat up with a grimace, and opened his eyes.
The eerie green light pounded into his retinas like an anvil and it was only several curses later that he could see his circumstances properly. Left with only his boxers and his vortex manipulator in a cave. Great.
Well, he supposed as he stood and fiddled with his manipulator, he’d woken in up in worst states before. There was this time on Gregulaun Three….
He smiled fondly as he set his vortex manipulator. Moments later he materialized on the teleport platform in the atrium of the Time Agency only to see mauve screens and empty hallways. Lockdown. His imposter must have already been discovered. He reached for his blaster, only to grasp at his boxers.
Right. Find weapons, find clothes, find Yenson and clear his name from whatever treacherous things the shapeshifter had done with his face. Easy enough. Maybe Irina could help him.
He smirked to himself as he started down the deserted hallway. Maybe he’d save time and skip finding clothes.
The beam had vanished and the ceiling had ceased glowing, but the Doctor made no sound.
“Doctor!” Rose cried. Pinned under Jack’s chair, she twisted frantically to catch a glimpse of the Time Lord. “Doctor!” No answer.
The device in the ceiling roared to life again, blue sparks cascading as it prepared to launch another beam.
“That’s the teleport!” Jack yelled, rocking in an attempt to get his chair off Rose. “Doc, get out of the way!”
They heard a pained grunt and the sizzling of the beam, and then silence.
“Doctor?” Rose cried again.
“Here,” came another soft groan. “Still here…”
Both Rose and Jack breathed a sigh of relief.
“Not that I’m not enjoying the close proximity,” Jack commented, forcing the anxiety out of his voice, “But there’s a pocketknife in my pocket.”
After a brief struggle to get an arm free, Rose reached around him and felt around his pocket for a moment. “This?” She pulled it out.
Jack nodded. “Start sawing at the hinge.”
Taking the small blade tightly in her fist, Rose sawed back and forth at the hinge of the cuff on Jack’s right hand.
“Doctor, you okay?” Jack called.
There was an indistinguishable moan and a shuffling sound as the Doctor propped himself up on an elbow. “I’m fine.” His voice faltered. “My head is…I’m fine.” His elbow wobbled, and he tumbled back to the floor with a grunt.
“Don’t sound like it,” Rose worried, sawing faster.
“Maybe not so fine,” the Doctor admitted. He hissed slightly as he dragged himself over to where Jack’s chair lay on top of Rose, and shoved the chair off.
Rose reached for him, but the Doctor shook his head, breathing hard. “Get him out.”
As Rose resumed her work on Jack’s cuffs, the captain demanded, “You said that was the same stuff infecting the plant? I thought we were immune to it.”
The Doctor shook his head grimly. “We’re immune to the plant’s psychic spores, not the virus itself. And with the amount of viruses just pumped into my system? You wouldn’t last very long.”
“How long are you supposed to last then?” Rose demanded.
“Well I kept them out of my mind, so…” The Doctor’s shoulders lifted in a pale imitation of a shrug. “No idea. Depends on how fast the nasty little buggers figure out my biology.”
“I’ve got it!” Rose announced as she broke through the handcuff. Jack snatched the knife from her and began sawing on the other cuff while she rushed towards the Doctor.
He lifted a hand in protest. “No, don’t—”
Too late. Rose ignored his pleadings and helped him to sit up and lean against her. “Come on, then,” she said with a small smile she didn’t feel, “You’re always telling me about superior Time Lord biology. You’ll just get better, yeah?”
The Doctor smiled weakly back. “Of course I will.” He suddenly inhaled sharply and grimaced, as if a sudden wave of pain had overcome him. “That’s not all the good news, either!” He gasped as cheerfully as he could muster.
“Why’s that?” called Jack.
“I’m a Time Lord,” supplied the Doctor, “Not human. Means I’m the only victim. I can’t infect anybody. Yet.”
“But he said the virus was intended for humans,” Rose recalled, frowning.
“That’s what they’ve been training for,” the Doctor replied, breathing hard as he regained his strength. “In the plant, that’s what they were doing. Training how to kill humans. That’s why the Vine always requested humans…The Strain tried to use Jack as another practice dummy, probably to let him loose so the rest of the agency would get infected.” He grinned. “But instead, they got me! Haven’t got a clue how to kill Time Lords. My immune system should be able to fight it off for awhile and keep it contained so it doesn’t spread.”
“I’m out!” Jack yanked his wrist out of the remains of the handcuff and stuck the knife back in his pocket. He strode towards the Doctor and Rose and crouched next to them. “How long before it mutates?”
The Doctor shook his head as he sat up. “Don’t know. Depends on how long it takes before they figure out how to kill me.”
“But it’s not like they’ve never seen a Time Lord before,” Rose pointed out. “The Vine was feeding off you.”
“Pretty effectively, too,” Jack added.
“Barely a taste,” the Doctor said confidently, pushing himself off the ground with a slight groan. “And I had let it in my head at the time. I should be fine.”
Jack quirked an eyebrow. “‘Should be?’”
“Did I say that?” the Doctor asked airily, patting some of the dirt off his soiled suit.
Rose bit her lip. “You’re not contagious?”
“Nah, not to humans.”
Both his friends eyed him suspiciously.
“Rose, I’m fine,” the Doctor reassured, cupping her cheek so her eyes pointed right at his. “See? Fine.”
She glanced away, trying to hide a smile. “So what do we do now?” she wondered.
“Now?” The Doctor beamed, “Now we rig up something to cure the Strain before it infects anyone else.” He clapped a hand on each of their shoulders and gave them a slight push towards the door. “Allons-y!”
Unarmed and nearly naked, Jack punched his thumbprint into the scanner guarding the entrance to the security room where Irina worked. At his touch, the thumbprint scanner turned a disagreeable red.
He banged on the door, yelling for all he was worth. “Irina! It’s me!” He knocked a few more times, then pressed his ear to the door, listening for a tell-tale click.
The door clicked and opened, and he nearly fell straight into Irina. “Jack?! What’re you doing here?”
Jack started inside. “I ran into—”
She stuck a hand out, preventing him from entering. “Let me see your arm,” the blonde said harshly.
Jack waved his arms at her. “Listen, there’s a shapeshifter wandering around with my face—”
Satisfied with what she saw, Irina yanked him inside the dark room filled with computers. She shut the door behind him. “It’s not a shapeshifter. It’s you.”
“It’s—what?” Jack gaped.
“From the future.” She raised an eyebrow at his boxers. “Nice look.”
“Thanks,” he said in a daze. “It’s really me from the future?”
He rubbed his hand over his forehead. “But why would I do something so stupid? They’ll kick me out of the Agency for this—no forget that, that they’ll execute me for this! What was I thinking?!”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “All I know is, you showed up and started giving the two supposed hostages a tour of the facility.”
“I risked my career and life to show off?!”
“You got to admit, it sounds a bit like you.”
Jack paused, rubbing his jaw. “Yeah, it does. But this…this is insane. I’ve got to find Yenson and convince him this is a horrible mistake. Got any clothes?”
Irina let out a heavy sigh and rummaged in her desk before tossing him a uniform.
Jack held them up to his body. “And just my size too. Can I ask why you happen to be storing a uniform in my size in your desk?”
She tossed her hair behind her shoulder and smirked. “Because tonight, your uniform was supposed to get very, very dirty.”
“Thanks for the thought.” He pulled the spare uniform on.
As he pulled the spare uniform on, Irina slid a bottle out from behind one of the computer hard drives.
“Drink?” She swished the bottle’s contents expectantly.
Jack waved it off. “Sorry, got to see my boss about my death, remember?”
He started for the door, but Irina zipped around to block him. She held the bottle out again. “Please, Jack?”
He stared at her incredulously. “Are you trying to distract me for a reason?”
The sultry smile dropped off Irina’s face. Now her eyes were wide and pleading. “Just one swig, Jack.”
“Why?” A nasty taste gathered at the back of his throat. “I’m already gone, aren’t I?”
She bit her lip. “I got the message that the teleport went off a few minutes ago.”
Jack felt his knees shake. He collapsed into a desk chair behind him, unable to say a word.
“Oh, this is awkward,” Irina sighed, kneeling next to Jack and putting a hand on his shoulder. “I know. How’re you supposed to go on, right?”
“Remember Arthur?” Jack said hollowly, staring at his feet. “Crossed his own timeline to get a promotion?”
“I remember,” she said quietly.
“They sent him to the Halloween Massacre of 2790. I had to eat lunch with his present self every day for a week, knowing he was already dead.”
She winced. “I know.” She pushed the bottle at him again. “That’s why I spiked this with retcon. Take a swig. Nobody deserves to know they’re already dead.”
The earnest shine in her eyes matched the gleam of the bottle as Jack took it. He swished it around a few times, frowning. “You’re not going to want to talk to me after this.”
“I’m taking one too. I don’t want to know…” She trailed off and looked at the ground.
“That you’re dead,” she finished. Her eyes darted towards the computer, the door, and a host of other places, but never on him.
Jack stared at her hard. She still couldn’t meet his eyes. “That’s not it.”
Her voice heightened. “Of course it is—”
“You’re a horrible liar,” Jack snapped, sticking the bottle onto the desk. “What aren’t you telling me?”
She brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “Nothing.”
“You asked to see my arm…” Jack down at the scratch on his arm. “The other me’s healed from this, hasn’t he? You’re the only one who possibly would have noticed.” He snatched her wrist. “You turned me in to Yenson.”
“It’s protocol!” she shot back, yanking her wrist from his grip. “It’s what we’re supposed to do—you would have done the same thing!”
Jack stood. “No, I wouldn’t have.” He shoved her out of his way and strode over to the desk. “So I’ll be taking your blaster.” He yanked it from the drawer just as Irina reached out for him. She froze as he aimed it at her.
“And look at this,” he said coldly, extracting a pair of handcuffs from the drawer and dangling it in front of his face. “Another plan for tonight?”
“Jack, listen, we can forget all about this—”
He threw the handcuffs to her, blaster never budging from its target. “Chain yourself to a desk or I shoot.”
He shot at the floor, making her jump. Grudgingly, she cuffed a hand to a desk leg.
He circled the desk, keeping out of her reach, and scrolled through one of the computers. “I am not going to spend the next week, or year, or however long it is with everyone tip-toeing around me because they can’t tell me I’m dead like they did with Arthur.”
She twisted in a vain attempt to see what he was doing. “You can’t look at that. You haven’t got clearance.”
Jack laughed dryly at that. “I’ve been ambushed, stripped, disarmed, betrayed, and executed. Do you think I look like a clearance sort of guy anymore?” He accessed the tracking programs on the computer and clicked a few buttons. “I think I’ll consider myself terminated. Have fun tracking me without a lock on my wristcomp.” He circled back around to aim his blaster back at Irina’s chest.
“Oh come on, Jack,” she said in exasperation, “What exactly are you planning to do now? Kill me for following protocol? Strike out on your own? Go back home?”
Jack considered. “One of those doesn’t sound too bad.”
She flinched as he suddenly switched his aim from her to the computers on the desks behind her, and fired. Blast after blast slammed into the machinery behind her, until nothing was left but smoking metal and plastic.
He stuck the blaster into his pocket. “So long, sweetheart.”
He shut the door behind him and didn’t look back.
Chapter 11: Spoilers
The usually quiet lab was filled with curses as the Strain materialized. Gnashing his teeth, he paced furiously across the room, the Doctor’s smug face burning in his mind. Stupid man just waltzed right in and waved off what it had taken both him and his host years to accomplish.
Forcing himself to calm down, the Strain considered the possibilities the infuriating foreigner presented. On one hand, if he and the girl managed to disable the viral beam and free Harkness, then three strangers—well, two strangers and a traitor—were wandering the building. Thanks to the lockdown, all the agents normally at the Strain’s beck and call were out of reach in the cafeteria and a few other rooms.
Well, there were a couple people still available. The security girl should still be on duty…
On the other hand, the possibility that they had managed to disable the viral beam or free Harkness was nearly impossible. He’d locked the controls, after all, and they had no weapons and very little time. With luck, the beam had managed to infect all three of them—well, the two humans at least—and transported them to the cafeteria, where a mass of unsuspecting Time Agents were effectively trapped. With less luck, only Harkness had gone, leaving only the two strangers to wander the building. With the building in lockdown, neither of them would be able to do much damage, so he could proceed as he had planned. Watch the security footage until everyone was infected, then end the lockdown.
Either way, he was on his way to the security office to view the tapes.
The Doctor poked his head out the execution chamber door. “Still on mauve alert?”
“That teleport beam was supposed to transport me to the cafeteria,” Jack explained, stepping out behind him. “Which is where all the field agents go during lockdown.”
“Ah. Infecting everyone at once. Clever move.” The Doctor started down the right hallway. “This way…” He abruptly spun around, knocking into Rose. “No, sorry, that way,” he nudged her in the right direction.
“What are we doing then?” Rose asked as they half-jogged down the corridor. “TARDIS is that way. Shouldn’t we try curing you?”
“Except while I’m trying to find a cure for Time Lords, the Strain will have plenty of time to come up with a backup plan for infecting all the humans in this building.”
Rose frowned, and Jack cut her off, “So the faster we stop the Strain, the sooner we can cure you.”
“That’s about the size of it, yes.”
“Then how do we stop him?”
“With this beauty!” the Doctor gestured grandly as they turned the corner. They’d returned to the main atrium, still empty but spacious, with the teleport platform in the middle. “Two can play the repurposing-the-teleport game.”
All three tensed as a clatter echoed from across the chamber. The man standing there had dropped his blaster and gawked back at them.
“Jack?” Rose exclaimed in recognition.
“You’re—you’re not dead?” the past Jack stammered.
“They’d have a hard time killing me at any rate,” present Jack replied. “You believe me now?”
The past Jack nodded. “You’re me.” He picked up his blaster, returned it to his pocket, and strode over, eyeing his future self curiously. He looked him over as if checking himself in a mirror and smirked. “And I still look good.”
“Glad to have you aboard, then!” the Doctor beamed. “Don’t wander off, don’t touch your future self, and do exactly what I say, and the universe should stay in one piece.” He thought a moment. “Hopefully.”
The past Jack blanched. “Hopefully?!”
“Now,” the Doctor continued, peering at the teleport platform thoughtfully, “I need something lethal, something with extreme levels of radiation! Jack?”
Past Jack shook his head. “Haven’t got anything like that here.”
Present Jack shrugged. “He knows more about this place than I do.”
“Why’s that?” Past Jack frowned in confusion.
“Hold on,” interjected Rose, “What about that glowy stuff in the cave? Didn’t you say it was radioactive?”
“Relkan!” the Doctor smacked his hands together and pointed at Rose, “That’s it! Enough of it should be able to stop the Strain—not just stop it, fry it!” He waved his hands in circles enthusiastically, “I’d need a bunch of it…Channel it through the teleport—I’d have to modify it a bit, of course—lure the Strain under it, and Bob’s your uncle, no more virus!”
“What about Yenson?” past Jack asked. “I was on my way to find him…”
The Doctor’s enthusiasm popped. “Yenson’s already dead. His body’s been taken over by a sentient virus. The human brain wouldn’t have been able to stand that level of psychic overload much longer than a few hours. And this level of radiation would very likely kill a human anyway.”
The past Jack deflated; the future Jack merely grimaced.
“Now, first job!” the Doctor snatched the past Jack’s wrist and held it up. “Vortex manipulator, excellent. Go to Aloria and fetch as much relkan as possible.” He dug around in his pockets and produced, to the past Jack’s shock and the present Jack’s amusement, an empty bag, a pickax, and an absurdly large shovel. He handed these to the past Jack as he continued babbling, “You’ll recognise it—shiny, green, glows a bit? It’s all over that cave where you found us. Fill the bag, should hold about enough. You,” he spun to face the present Jack, “Help me dismantle this thing,” he waved up at the teleport beam. “And you…” he turned to Rose uncertainly.
“I’ll go with him,” Rose volunteered, pointing at the past Jack, who was staring at the items in his hands as if afraid they might sprout wings.
The Doctor scowled, apparently unhappy with that arrangement.
“Well, it’s not like I’ll be any use here,” Rose pointed out.
“You can hand me tools and…things,” the Doctor finished lamely.
“You’re just afraid he’ll try to steal her,” present Jack teased.
“That’s what you did the first time you met her!” the Doctor protested.
“I wasn’t stealing! She said she was available!”
Rose rolled her eyes and took the large shovel before grabbing past Jack’s arm. “Guess we’ll just go then. Honestly.”
“But—” past Jack protested, eagerly watching the back-and-forth accusations.
“Just go,” Rose ordered.
With a sigh, past Jack pressed the button, and let the blue light spirit them away.
“Did I really steal you?” he asked as they landed in the dusty half-collapsed cave. As Rose’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, Rose could tell he looked immensely pleased with himself.
She fluttered her eyes back at him, tongue stuck out. “Big Ben, the Blitz, and dancing on top of an invisible space ship? A bit, yeah.”
“Gotta remember that,” he muttered to himself.
The smile froze on her face as her stomach dropped. “We’ll have to dig a bit to get to the relkan,” she said, keeping her voice level.
“Yes, ma’am,” he playfully saluted, tossing her the empty bag and nonchalantly swinging the pickax at the mound of debris.
Rose dug into the dirt with guilty fervor.
“So how’d the Doctor end up with us then?” asked Jack as they reached the cave wall.
“He…” Rose bit her lip, wondering how much she could tell him. “I was already with him, actually. You joined us.”
“Huh. Third wheel on your bicycle, or,” he grinned widely, “Are we a tricycle?”
Rose shook her head.
Jack’s grin faded. “What’s wrong? Am I not supposed to know too much of the future?”
“No that’s not it. Jack, there’s something…something you need to know.” She took a deep breath. “You don’t remember.”
Jack dropped some of the relkan chunks into the empty bag. “What’re you talking about?”
“When the Doctor and I met you, you didn’t know us.”
“Well, I was probably pretending to avoid confusion, wasn’t I?” Jack said confidently. “The Blitz? Must have been on assignment. That means this all turns out okay—I get to keep my job, I don’t get executed—”
Jack’s excitement only made the pit in Rose’s stomach deepen. “You…weren’t working for the Agency.”
Jack blinked. “Why would I ever leave the Agency? I mean, this mess isn’t the Agency’s fault, it’s the thing that’s taken over Yenson, right?.” He dumped another chunk of relkan into the bag.
“They took two years of your memory.”
Jack dropped his pickax. “They—they what?!” he roared. “Two whole years?!”
Rose bit her lip and nodded.
“This is part of it, isn’t it?” Jack waved a hand around the room. “This. I’m not going to remember any of it.”
She shook her head.
Jack let out a frustrated yell and slammed the pickax into the cave so hard it remained embedded in the rock. Rose watched him nervously as he breathed hard, chest heaving as he clenched his eyes shut.
A few long moments later he opened his eyes. “Well, then,” he said calmly, “I know I’m not supposed to know my future, but if I don’t remember…tell me something. Anything. I…need something to hang onto.”
Rose smiled a bit as she resumed scratching at the wall with her shovel. “I was dangling from an airship during a German raid…”
Irina tugged uselessly at the handcuffs as she tried to rub some feeling into her numb ankles. She didn’t really expect them to come loose. But with the key on the other side of the room, what else was there to do?
The door lurched open, and Irina’s eyes lit up as her boss entered the room. “Sir!” she cried in relief.
Yenson’s lips pressed together as he glanced around the room. “What happened here?”
“Harkness, sir,” Irina replied, shaking her handcuffs to advertise her predicament.
“Harkness,” Yenson said flatly. His nostrils flared ever so slightly, and Irina cowered.
“The present one,” she continued timidly, “He was here. Handcuffed me here at gunpoint and stormed off.”
Yenson pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “And disintegrated the computer, I see. I needed that.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I tried to stop him,” Irina pleaded, “There’s a backup!”
At that, Yenson perked. “Get it up then! Where’s the key to those?” He waved at the handcuffs.
“In that drawer right behind you.”
He snatched the key and bent close to her to unlock the cuffs. “Now get that backup,” he snarled in her ear. “Or you’ll have a lot worse to deal with than Harkness will.”
Irina hastily complied.
“Primitive,” declared the Doctor as he and Jack set to work detaching the panels on the floor of the teleport enclosure, “Absolutely primitive. I take it all back. This thing’s not beautiful—it’s a monstrosity.”
“There are worse ways to travel,” Jack shot back, “And at least it doesn’t knock you around like another sort of transportation I know.”
“Beam shoots out of the floor, shatters your very being, transmits each individual atom elsewhere, and then rearranges them, and you think that’s better than getting jumbled a bit in the TARDIS?” The Doctor pried off a panel and set to work sonicking the wiring.
“All I’m saying is there are definitely cruder methods of traveling.” Armed with only a pocketknife and his fingers, Jack managed to get part of his panel detached. Truth be told, only half of his mind was on his work. Rose might fall for those big brown eyes, but Jack wasn’t buying that the Doctor was truly “fine.” Sure enough, he’d noticed that the contagious grin had slipped off the Time Lord’s face the second Jack turned his back, replaced by tightened lips and deep breaths. The moment the Doctor caught him looking, though, any sign of pain on his face vanished.
“Doctor,” Jack called.
“I’ve been wondering,” Jack started, succeeding at prying off his panel, “Back in the cave with the Vine. If you could only save one of us, that means you had to choose between me and Rose. You chose to save me. Why?”
The Doctor’s lips pressed together as he sonicked a wire off the teleport. “I saved both of you. The Vine wouldn’t have traded three lives for eternity, but it might’ve done it for one.”
Jack scowled, unable to focus on what he was doing. “See, there’s that word ‘might.’ You didn’t know, and you still picked me over Rose.”
The Doctor paused in his sonicking, then turned to face him. “Logically, I had to save you. The Vine could have lived forever, feeding off you. And Rose…” he trailed off, not really looking at Jack. “I threw a missile at her once. It was before we met you. We were trapped in Downing Street with the future Prime Minister and a bunch of Slitheen. I realised I could save the world, but lose her. And I told her that. And she said to do it anyway.”
“Sounds like her.”
The Doctor returned to his tinkering, then paused and looked up again. “Jack, just because I love Rose doesn’t mean I don’t love you too, in a way. Even if—” He yawned. “Even if you’re disgustingly wrong.”
“Thanks,” Jack said sarcastically. “You tired?”
“What? No,” the Doctor scoffed, returning his attention to the depths of the wiring in the floor. “Me, tired? Rubbish.”
“Right,” Jack retorted. “Because obviously Time Lords don’t sleep.”
“I don’t!” the Doctor said defensively, twisting off a wire. “Not much, anyway.”
“Sure,” Jack nodded as he replaced a panel on the teleport beam.
“Really—” the Doctor broke off, abruptly dropping his sonic screwdriver and clutching at his stomach.
“Doctor?” Jack reached out a hand in concern.
The Doctor bolted past him down one of the halls. Jack dashed after him, following him down the hall until the Doctor finally collapsed to all fours and emptied the contents of his stomach on the floor.
Jack patted the Doctor’s back until he’d stopped heaving, then helped him back towards the teleport platform.
“Virus?” Jack guessed when they returned to their work.
“Yes,” the Doctor said grimly, rubbing at his eyes. “Do my eyes look a bit yellow to you?”
Jack frowned. “Yeah. What’s that mean?”
The Doctor took a deep breath, blew it out, and then picked up his screwdriver. “Means my liver’s failing.”
“Is that fatal?” Jack asked, alarmed.
“Is if you’re human,” the Doctor said off-handedly as he resumed his work on a particularly tricky component. “Lucky for me, I’ve got two livers.”
Jack raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Two hearts, two livers. Anything else you’ve got two of?”
The Doctor glared.
“—And we just made it to the TARDIS in time,” Rose finished, cheeks flushed from the memory of Kyoto.
“Aww…” groaned Jack in dismay. “I was hoping that ended a bit differently.”
“Not every story ends with you in bed with our executioners, you know,” she laughed as she stuck another chunk of relkan in their brimming bag.
“So what happened right after that?” Jack laughed. “Ancient Greece, volcanic aliens in Kyoto, then what?”
“Right after that?” She thought for a moment, “Oh, Satellite Five! And…” She broke off. How was she supposed to tell the ending of that adventure? The Doctor had died and left him? Not to mention what she did to him…
Rose’s stomach churned. Her Jack had forgiven her, but this Jack looked at her with such hope that her throat ran dry just thinking about explaining what had happened on Satellite Five.
She couldn’t tell him. Even if he didn’t remember, he’d be living with that knowledge until he did. She just couldn’t do that to him. Hadn’t she already told him enough?
“Think we’ve got enough of that stuff now,” she said lightly, “Let’s head back.”
Jack swung the heavy bag of relkan over his shoulder and offered an arm. “After you, ma’am.”
She swallowed her guilt, gave a little smile and sauntered towards him, wrapping an arm around his. “Off we go, then.”
And a moment later, the cave was empty.
Tingles shot through Irina’s ankles as she rushed to hook the backup computer to the large monitor. Yenson tapped his foot impatiently.
“There!” Irina declared proudly as the program sprung to life. “Most of the programs should still work. Won’t be able to track Harkness’ wristcomp, but we could try tracking him with the genetic scanners.”
“Forget Harkness. Show me the cafeteria footage. Live.”
She tapped the proper commands in and anxiously watched as Yenson’s eyebrows rose, then drew together. “None of them are there,” he muttered.
“Sir?” she questioned, inspecting the screen and finding nothing amiss.
He frowned and peered at her. He wasn’t undressing her with his eyes or anything—she was used to that, welcomed it even—but for some reason his scrutinising gaze made sweat glisten on her palms.
“There’s something in the execution chamber you need to see,” Yenson finally said gravely.
“S-Sir?” she choked. “You’re not going to—”
“Oh, of course not,” he scoffed. “I’m afraid I haven’t exactly told you everything. There’s something you need to see.”
The Strain expertly deflected her questions as he led her back to the execution chamber. So what if Harkness had escaped infection? Plenty more humans where he came from. He’d just have to infect someone else instead.
Chapter 12: Downing Street
This has got a hint of non-con, just as a warning.
“But, sir, you still haven’t said what this big secret is,” Irina repeated as she and Yenson neared the execution chamber.
The Strain’s teeth clenched at the sound of her incessant voice. “I told you, it’s a matter of great importance.”
He eagerly stepped through the chamber door and to the controls.
Irina followed him, gazing wide-eyed at the overturned chair on the other side of the glass wall. “Did Jack…escape? Is he alive?”
The Strain ignored her as he fiddled with the controls. His lips curled into a snarl and his fists tightened as he realised the beam had been activated, which it only would have done if someone was beneath it. Harkness must have been infected, then escaped in the moments before the teleport activated. Which meant he was loose somewhere in the building with the other two, not infecting the other Time Agents. And now another Harkness was wandering around who knew where.
He needed the infected Harkness. This was getting out of hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said insincerely as he turned to face Irina. “My mistake.”
He drew his blaster and fired.
Irina’s gasped, her eyes widening and then rolling into her head as she dropped.
The Strain returned his blaster to his pocket and his attention to the controls. His fingers flew across the keys as he entered the formula the real Yenson had copied so long ago. Now that the computer knew what to look for, the genetic tracker would be able to locate his children in the building.
They should have full control of Harkness by now. All he needed to do was find the possessed agent and expose the rest of the Agency to him.
The results flashed on the screen. Atrium, over by the teleport.
The Strain did not glance down at Irina’s body as he strode past it and out the door.
Finished with their work, the Doctor and Jack quickly grew bored. The Doctor finally sat and leaned his back against the platform, and Jack followed suit.
“You know,” the captain said conversationally as he stretched out his arms. “You should really get a phone.”
“Why’s that?” the Doctor asked with a wince, hand pressing at his side. “Who in Rassilon’s name would I call?”
“Hello, Rose,” Jack said, putting on the best Estuary accent he could muster, “Would you mind coming back? I’m getting rather bored and I haven’t kissed you in hours.” He switched to a high-pitched, brutally exaggerated Cockney. “Sorry, Doctor, bit busy getting eaten by giant purple snails. Call me later.”
“I—We—I don’t sound like that!” the Doctor protested. “Sounds more like a Scottish accent than anything, and a rubbish one at that!” He paused for a moment, forehead creasing in worry. “Do you think she has been attacked by giant purple snails?”
“Doubt it,” replied Jack. He reached over and pulled at the hand the Doctor had pressed to his side.
The Doctor flinched at the touch, sucking a breath of air through gritted teeth.
“Virus again?” Jack exclaimed. “What now?”
“I think it’s going for the intestines now,” he groaned. “Probably attacking different organs and systems, trying a variety of techniques to see which one works. Trial and error. Everything’s so…untested.”
Jack rubbed at his chin. “Doc, how long are you going to be able to go on like this? You’ve got to go back to the TARDIS.”
The Doctor quickly replaced his grimace with a stoic mask. “I’m waiting for Rose.”
“I still have to get this thing,” he waved a hand towards the platform, “Primed and ready when they get back here with the relkan. And then I have to figure out how I’m going to get the Strain under there.”
“Bait?” Jack guessed.
“Great. Who do we risk getting infected then?” the Doctor asked, yanking on his earlobe. “I’m already infected and he knows I’m not human, you’re immortal and can feed it forever, making the past you ill might mess with the timestream, Rose—” He sucked in another breath through his teeth as another wave of pain stabbed his abdomen.
Jack patted his back as he clenched his eyes shut. “Rose would do it.”
The Doctor opened his eyes. “I know she would. But I’m not going to let her. I don’t want anybody else dying today.” He looked up at Jack. “And that includes you. Promise you won’t die for me.”
Jack tilted his head. “What’re you talking about?”
“Too many people have died for me,” the Doctor said firmly, “You more than anybody. Promise you won’t die for me.”
Jack’s jaw clenched. “I’m not promising that. What’s the point of this condition if I can’t use it?”
“Don’t know if you remember,” Jack hissed furiously, “But I’m going to live forever. In a couple thousand years, you’ll be the only friend I have still alive. So pardon me for wanting to keep you running all over the universe a bit longer.”
“You shouldn’t have to die for me,” the Doctor insisted, “No one should. And you—you just keep doing it over and over and—”
Jack’s Adam’s apple pulsed. “Fine, then, let’s be logical. What was it you said about Rose? Three lives for one? I can live forever; you can’t. That’s infinity for three. You can’t beat that math.”
“Jack, I’m not worth it.”
Jack laughed bitterly. “I can’t think of anybody else more worth it. And you’re just going to have to deal with it.” He scowled as the Doctor’s breathing grew a bit less ragged. “You need to get to the TARDIS.”
“No, I think it’s changing tactics again, on to try something else now…” the Doctor murmured. Slowly he pushed himself to a sitting position, rubbing at his abdomen. “Someone’s coming.”
“Rose?” Jack asked as he helped the Doctor to his feet.
“Doesn’t sound like her.” The Doctor shifted his shoulders a bit as if shaking off the pain. “If you’re not going to promise me, then at least try not to die. Please. I’m not worth another death.”
Footsteps reached Jack’s ears. Taking his last few seconds, he glared at the Doctor so fiercely anyone else would have been intimidated. “You’d better be glad Rose didn’t hear that. If you weren’t already so sick you could barely stand, I would cripple you. There’s a reason so many people would die for you: you are.”
For a split second the Doctor’s expression darkened. He swallowed, then opened his mouth to respond, but instead he straightened and brightened as the Strain rounded the corner, blaster drawn.
“You,” the virus snarled.
“Hello!” the Doctor waved cheerily, only faint vestiges of pain lingering on his face. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“You nearly destroyed my children’s future,” the Strain accused. He leveled the blaster at the Doctor’s chest.
“It’s not destroyed,” the Doctor said, casually raising his hands in the air. Beside him, Jack did the same. “There’s still my offer. Brave new world, full of nonsentient hosts for you and all your children. I can find you one.”
“And I told you, I’m declining!” the Strain shot back, finger resting on the trigger.
“Alright, well, your decision,” the Doctor babbled, “But before you kill me can I just ask one last question for curiosity’s sake? Final request? Dying man’s wish? It’s a human tradition.”
“You’re not human,” retorted the Strain.
“No, but Jack here is!” He jerked his head in Jack’s direction. “And I’m sure his final request is to let me ask my question. Which, incidentally, is where did you come from?”
The Strain’s lip turned up. “I was born here. Fabricated in a laboratory by my host body.”
The Strain shrugged. “An accident. He was trying to make a vaccine for the Fourth Strain if and when it came.”
“But instead, he created it,” the Doctor nodded in understanding. “Ah.”
“And that was one apiece,” the Strain remarked as his finger twitched ever so slightly on the blaster trigger, “Let no one say I wasn’t fair.” Jack tensed, watching for an opportune moment to attack before the Strain shot the Doctor.
The Strain paused, raising an eyebrow at the captain. “You’re not infected. Too in control of yourself for that.”
Neither man answered.
“Which means,” the Strain shifted his gaze towards the Doctor, “You are.”
In one swift movement, the Strain switched his aim to Jack and fired.
The Doctor cried out and lunged for his friend, but the captain dropped instantly, soundless except for a small grunt as the blast slammed into his gut.
“Suppose I’ll have to take you instead,” the Strain remarked. “Since you’re not human I’ll have to extract it from you first—can’t promise that won’t be painful—”
Another blast rang through the atrium and the Doctor flinched, fully expecting to regenerate any moment now—
But the second blast did not hit him. Lips still frozen in a snarl, the Strain dropped like a limp noodle, a charred mark scorched into his back. Behind where he had stood was Rose and the past Jack. From Rose’s wide, shocked eyes, the Doctor could tell that they had returned just in time for Jack’s murder.
“What did you do?!” the Doctor cried, watching the past Jack lower the blaster he’d just fired. The agent’s own lips matched Yenson’s snarl, and his eyes seethed with feral rage.
“He killed me,” the past Jack said bluntly. “He killed me.” His voice broke in utter disbelief.
In horror the Doctor glanced from Yenson’s corpse to Jack’s and back up at the Jack who had just fired.
“Wait!” the Doctor yelled, waving his hands, “Wait, wait! It’s not what it looks like!”
But the past Jack was already far away, legs pumping down on the floor as he escaped, for the moment, from his future.
“Jack!” Rose called, running after him, “Jack!”
She slowed to a stop. Jack had already left her far behind. “Wait…” She called softly.
“Rose,” the Doctor asked firmly, “Are you alright?”
Rose ran back to him, dropped the bag of relkan, and buried her face in his shoulder. He hugged her tight and shushed into her hair, “It’s alright, it’s alright.”
“I told him,” Rose blurted, “I told him about losing two years’ memory…”
He pulled her back in front of him. “Did you tell him about—?”
“Being immortal? I couldn’t.” Her voice broke. “I just couldn’t do that to him, and now—now he thinks he’s dead.”
“Oh, he’ll be alright,” he said reassuringly, “We’ll just meet up with him later when…” He gazed at Jack’s body for a moment, eyes dark with sorrow. “When our Jack’s come to.”
Sniffing, Rose nodded. Then she frowned. “Doctor?”
“Yes, Rose?” he said with an air of perfect nonchalance.
“Is there a reason you’re so…”
“Brilliant? Attractive? Witty? Charming?”
The Doctor glanced down at his glistening palms, and wiped them on the side of his trousers. “Well, I do have a virus swimming in my bloodstream. If I had to guess, I’d say the virus has found my endocrine system. Don’t use that too often!”
But Rose’s frown deepened. “Your eyes are all yellow too. And you’re shaking…Are you sick?!”
The Doctor winced. “Ah…”
“You’re sick!” she accused. “You said you’d be fine. You lied to me!”
“I will be!” He insisted, rubbing the back of his neck. “We’ll just fix this first.” He plucked up the bag of relkan and swung it over his shoulder. “I’ll just load this in, shall I?”
Rose still fumed slightly, trailing behind him as he heaved the relkan bag towards the teleport platform. “How is it we can touch the relkan then? I thought you said this stuff was lethal?”
“It is,” he explained as he ripped open a panel and placed the relkan inside, “In extremely concentrated doses. These rocks aren’t concentrated enough to do much. I’ve recalibrated the teleport to concentrate the radioactivity just enough to fry the virus.” He sucked in some air through his teeth. “It’s not going to be pretty.”
“Do you need me to do anything?”
“Ah…Go get Yenson’s body, will you?” He said absent-mindedly as he sealed the relkan in place with his sonic screwdriver. “He needs to be on the platform when I set this thing off. There tend to be autopsies when leaders mysteriously get shot, and I don’t want anyone else getting infected from touching all the body fluids.”
Rose nodded and left, leaving the Doctor to finish up the task of reattaching the panel.
“There we are,” he declared, standing up and brushing himself off, “All sealed up, ready for—”
He stopped as he felt a rush of dizziness. He swayed his arms slightly to regain balance, and blinked rapidly to eliminate the lightheaded fuzziness in his head. Ruddy virus again. Launching some sort of attack on his brain now, probably—
Suddenly, the Doctor’s head jerked up as he caught a twitch of movement. “Rose!”
Rose had bent over to clutch at Yenson’s wrists to drag him towards the teleport beam. As her fingers wrapped around his wrist, Yenson’s eyes snapped open, and he gripped her wrist in return. Caught unaware, Rose shrieked as he yanked her off balance to the ground. Gasping with effort, he rolled on top of her, pinning her down before she recovered from the impact of having the wind knocked out of her.
“Rose!” the Doctor yelled again, bolting towards them.
“Get off!” Rose screamed, thrashing in his grip. She landed a solid smack across his cheek, and he slammed her wrists down, teeth gritted in exhaustion.
“No!” the Doctor cried, realization flashing in his eyes as he neared them. “Not Rose, no, please—”
Rose’s screams were muffled as Yenson’s lips jammed onto hers. In seconds, the Doctor reached them, furiously shoving him off her. Yenson’s body went limp in his arms.
“No, no, no, NO!” he yelled, throwing the body away from him. He whirled to face Rose, who was rubbing her mouth off with her arm.
“Is he dead?” she asked shakily as she sat up. “For real this time?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said hollowly. “The Strain…left him.”
“Left? But where—” Rose suddenly stopped as an overwhelming feeling of nausea swept through her body. “Oh,” she muttered softly.
The Doctor only stared at her wordlessly, eyes wide and haunted and showing every day of his age.
She let out a small cry as a piercing pain shot through her skull. “My head, it’s…”
“Rose!” the Doctor quickly knelt and wrapped an arm around her back to keep her from falling back to the ground. “I’m going to fix it, please—I’ll fix it somehow, I—”
Her tongue was sluggish to respond to the words forming in her throat. “You said he needed to die.”
“No, Rose, I won’t let you die,” the Doctor pleaded, stroking her hair. “I can’t.”
Behind the Doctor, Jack gasped back to life, but both of them barely noticed.
Her face twisted in agony as another blinding pain blasted through her head. She felt her fingers curl into a fist and relax of their volition. How much of her own mind had she lost in just these few seconds?
“Please, no, Rose—”
He was crumbling into something close to a sob, whispering empty promises that he could fix her, that she was going to be fine. The Doctor, she realised, wasn’t going to be able to do what needed to be done.
“You remember, don’t you?” she murmured, “Don’t forget what I said.”
“I couldn’t forget you if I wanted to.”
“Not what I meant,” she sputtered, fighting to keep control of her voice for just one more moment. “Remember…Downing Street…”
She caught the grief-stricken horror that flashed across his face, and then Rose knew no more.
Chapter 13: A Toast to the Future
This chapter's got a bit of ickiness in the form of bodily fluids. Graphic Depiction of Illness, basically.
The Doctor knew the second Rose ceased to be Rose. The glint in her eye dimmed, the quirk of her lips shifted, and the steady rhythm of her breathing changed ever so slightly.
He recoiled from the blonde form as if it were a poisonous animal, backing away as the not-Rose pushed herself off the ground.
“Doctor, what just happened?” Jack panted, fresh from a new resurrection as he circled around the Strain to join the Doctor’s side. “She said Downing Street—does that mean…?”
The Strain arched Rose’s eyebrow and tossed her head a little. “You’re alive. Looks like my aim was more off than I remembered.”
“You bastard,” Jack realised, fists clenching at his sides. “You took her.”
The Strain twisted its lips into Rose’s smile, but it lacked her warmth. “Now then, what were you saying about me having to die?”
The Doctor’s grief drained from his face as his gaze hardened. “Oh, you,” he said, voice dangerously low and tinged with rage, “You’ve just made a huge mistake. Colossal.”
“With not getting a new body sooner? I agree.” The Strain grinned widely. “Much younger. I like it. Get a bit more use out of this one, yeah?”
In one quick motion, the Doctor yanked Jack’s blaster from his belt and aimed the blaster directly at Rose’s heart.
The Strain flinched slightly, but kept the confident smile. “You’re not going to kill me,” she let out a little laugh. “You can’t.”
The blaster shook in the Doctor’s trembling hand.
“If you can’t do it, I will,” Jack said venomously.
“You’re right,” the Doctor admitted finally, lowering the blaster but not taking his eyes off Rose. “I can’t. Not like this, anyway. It’s going to be much, much more painful.”
The corner of Rose’s lips fell every so slightly, and she took the smallest of wary steps back. “She can feel it. Everything you do to me, she’s going to feel it all.”
“No, she won’t,” the Doctor said darkly. “Rose isn’t aware of anything.” He slowly advanced towards her, menace filling every syllable. “You’ve filled her mind, consumed her soul. Her thoughts are your thoughts. And in a few minutes, Rose will be completely gone. And I can’t save her, not this time.”
The Strain took another step back, cowering slightly under the force of the Doctor’s cold gaze. Her eyes flitted around the room, looking for escape routes, but Jack grimly shifted to block the nearest door.
She stuck her chin out in a way that was so Rose-like it made Jack’s heart ache. “Look at you!” she said scornfully, “My children are swimming in your veins! Even if you’re not human, they’re clever. It won’t be long before they claim you, use you, spread. You’re sweaty and jaundiced and weak! What can you possibly do, sick as you are?”
“I can’t save her,” the Doctor repeated, “But I can fulfill her last wish.”
“Yeah? What was that, then?” The Strain crowed. She took one step back to correspond with the Doctor’s step forward, and a foot touched the teleport platform.
The Doctor took a deep breath. “Save the world and lose her.”
Emotionlessly, mechanically, he raised the blaster towards the control panel of the platform and fired.
Jack winced as Rose’s scream shrilled in his ears when the beam enveloped her. She dropped to the floor and writhed, sobbing and screaming, reaching a hand out to the Doctor as if pleading for forgiveness.
“Doctor, help me, please! Make it stop, HELP ME!”
Unable to look at his friend anymore, Jack turned his attention to the Doctor. The blaster hung uselessly at the Time Lord’s side as he silently watched Rose’s tortured spasms. His eyes almost looked slightly glazed, as if he couldn’t quite believe what was happening any more than Jack.
“I’m sorry, just make it stop! Doctor, help me!”
He put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. “Can she—”
“It’s not her,” he muttered desperately, saying it over and over in a mantra. “Not her, not her, not her…”
“Jack, he’s killing me, please!”
Jack’s throat constricted so tightly he could barely breathe. He cast his eyes at the ground and listened soundlessly as Rose’s cries diminished to wordless shrieks, then mere whimpers, and finally…nothing.
The zinging of the beam stopped, and for a brief silent moment, neither Jack nor the Doctor moved.
The Doctor’s blaster clattered to the ground as both men rushed to the motionless Rose. Her head lolled as the Doctor scooped her up and gently brushed the hair off her face.
“Is there anyway she…” Jack started.
“No,” the Doctor said dully, pressing his lips to her forehead.
Jack watched as the Doctor shifted back and forth as if rocking her to sleep.
“Jack, she’s dead,” the Doctor’s voice broke. “She’s dead and I’ve lost her and…” A choked sob escaped his throat. “Oh, Rose, I’m so sorry.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When his eyes opened again they glistened, but the rest of his face was utterly drained of emotion, as if he’d hurt so much he just couldn’t feel it anymore.
Jack reached out a hand to cup Rose’s cheek, and the Doctor didn’t stop him. His hand traced down her shoulder and along her arm. “What should we do with her?”
“Her mother’s,” the Doctor murmured tonelessly. “We’ll take her to her mother’s. Jackie…” He took another deep breath. “She should know I’ve killed her daughter.”
Jack’s hand had slid down the length of Rose’s arm and reached her wrist. The captain froze, then gripped her wrist in a vise. “Doc—”
“They’ll stick her in a hole in the ground,” the Doctor continued dully, “The earth will spin and she’ll waste away inside it.”
“Doctor, she’s got a pulse.”
The Doctor blinked, and he mouthed more than uttered the word, “What?”
“Feel it!” Jack urged, holding up her wrist.
The Doctor delicately gripped her wrist as if handling china. “But that’s impossible. The radiation should have…”
“But the virus absorbs life energy!” Jack said excitedly. “If the virus naturally absorbs that, would it absorb the bulk of relkan radiation as well?”
“Think of how good it was at absorbing that…what if the virus absorbed most of the relkan? Rose might not have gotten the full blast. Is it possible—”
“She’d be dying,” the Doctor breathed. “Dying, but not…dead…” He stared at Rose, eyes wide and frozen.
Before Jack had even registered it, the Doctor was up and running down the corridor with Rose in his arms.
“Wait!” Jack called, dashing after him. But the Time Lord was waiting for no man. Jack barely caught up with him as they bolted through the winding corridors until they reached the TARDIS. The Doctor fumbled for his key while trying not to drop Rose, but Jack beat him to it, jamming his own key into the slot and pushing the door open. Before Jack had even stepped through the threshold, the Doctor had already cleared the console room and was likely halfway to the medbay.
Jack trailed after him anxiously and shoved the medbay door open.
The Doctor looked the very picture of a mad scientist in his lab. He dashed from one cupboard to the next, yanking out bottles, tossing them aside, spilling pills all over the counter and floor, raking his fingers through his hair, and dashing around attaching wires to machines. His sickly eyes and rasping breaths didn’t contradict the image. In stark contrast to his bursting energy, Rose was laid out on a stretcher, utterly and horribly still.
“Can you save her?” Jack asked, gasping for breath from the running.
“Oh, yes!” the Doctor roared, attention focused on the pills he’d scattered all over the counter. He grabbed a few seemingly at random. “Flush out her system…” He snatched another few. “Quickly.” He strode back over to Rose, gently parted her lips, shoved the pills into her mouth, and massaged her throat. “Good. Swallowed. Jack! I need you, come here!”
Jack rushed over. The Doctor snatched his arm and stabbed it with a needle over the captain’s yelp.
“She’ll need some blood after it’s done,” the Doctor explained quickly, haphazardly jabbing a tube into the injection site and stringing it to a machine he’d pulled next to Rose’s stretcher.
“But are we compatible? I’m A positive – ”
“Yes, yes,” the Doctor said dismissively, snatching another tube and connecting it to the same machine. “Better than infected blood from a Time Lord anyway…Any human blood will do for now, TARDIS should help with compatibility—hold on, did you say A positive?”
“Yeah,” said Jack, thrown by the sudden cheeriness of the Doctor’s question.
“Ha!” laughed the Doctor. “I know where you were Christmas Day!”
“What does that have to do—”
The Doctor tossed the tube he’d just hooked up to Jack. “Right, hook this into her arm when I come out,” he ordered, shifting in a split second from manic glee to fierce determination. “And start pumping.”
“Come out?!” Jack repeated in astonishment, several images flashing through his head—most of them naughty.
Ignoring him, the Doctor took another deep breath and pressed his fingers to Rose’s temples. “Please be in there,” he breathed, and shut his eyes.
Jack watched as the Doctor remained utterly motionless for a few moments, hands firmly making slight indentations on Rose’s skin. The silence was jarring after the bustling that had filled the medbay moments before.
Abruptly Rose took a sharp intake of breath and choked. Her back arched off the table as her arms and legs spasmed, jerking wildly. The Doctor didn’t move, eyes still shut and hands still pressed to her temples.
And then the sweating began. Jack gawked as he watched ash-coloured ooze appear in pinpricks all over Rose’s arms. She sputtered and gagged as more of the ooze seeped from her skin, stained her shirt, collected in the corner of her eyes, spurted from her ears, dripped in rivulets down her nose…It wasn’t long before she was drenched in the ooze, and Jack felt a surge of panic race through his gut as he realised she was choking on more of the stuff.
Carefully, so as to let the Doctor’s fingers remain on her head, Jack tilted her head to the side. Ooze erupted from Rose’s mouth as she heaved, and it dripped off the stretcher and into a puddle rapidly growing on the floor.
The Doctor suddenly opened his eyes and jerked his hands away, gasping for breath.
“What is that, Ebola?!” Jack cried.
“Something like it!” The Doctor snatched a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the slime off a spot on her arm.
Jack inserted the tube into the clean spot on her arm and started pumping. Crimson fluid surged from his arm through the tube, into the machine, and through the other tube into Rose.
“What’d you do to her?!” Jack demanded, flexing his fist to pump the blood faster.
“It’s flushing her system out as quickly as possible,” the Doctor babbled, mixing up some chemicals, “By ridding her body of fluids via every orifice—sweat glands, mammary glands, mouth, ears, eyes, nose—”
“But won’t that kill her?!”
“It’s getting rid of the dead or infected parts first,” the Doctor insisted, “And then yes, it’ll kill her, unless I do this.” He yanked out a syringe, filled it with his new concoction, and jabbed it in next to the blood transfusion site.
He snatched some rags and started scrubbing the ooze off her face. “Come on, Rose,” he urged, breathless and terrified and wild. “Come on, I believe in you, come on!”
Rose’s voice rang in past Jack’s ears as he ran away from his own corpse, and the revenge he had exacted for it. He ran until he could no longer hear her voice and then ran further, determined to escape the echo of the shot that had murdered his boss.
His feet took him to Irina’s office. The door was slightly ajar, and Jack jerked it the rest of the way open and stumbled inside.
Irina had escaped, he noted apathetically, leaving the handcuffs chained to the desk. Perhaps she had a spare set of keys on her. Jack found he didn’t really care.
The blaster dropped from his fingers as he sunk to his knees. He held his head in his hands, listening to the swishing of blood pounding in his ears. He was going to die. He’d watched it happen. All those adventures Rose had told him about…ancient Greek festivals and fiery aliens in Japan and blondes dangling from balloons and a million worlds…it had all ended, right there in front of him.
Irina had had the right idea—no one should have to live with that hanging over their head.
He didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to live with this knowledge or the murder he’d committed staining his life forever. He wanted to live, and to get away, and he wanted—
He wanted a drink. He cast his eyes around, desperate for anything in a bottle, and spotted the brandy Irina had offered him on the desk.
And suddenly he understood. Two years. Fingers still trembling, he sloppily uncorked the bottle and swished it in his hand.
“To the future,” he cried to the empty room with a bitter laugh, and downed the bottle.
His last thoughts before slipping into unconsciousness were of togas and volcanoes and a rather excellent bottom.
Chapter 14: A Nasty Shock
Despite the Doctor’s pleadings, Rose remained still. Jack had nearly fainted from blood loss multiple times, and he was sure that only his self-healing immortality was granting him consciousness.
Minutes passed, and the Doctor lapsed into despondency. Rose’s skin was nearly completely free from the muck, but she still hadn’t stirred.
“She’s breathing,” Jack pointed out hopefully, “She’s definitely alive.”
“Her mind’s gone,” the Doctor mumbled hollowly, “She’s gone.”
Jack swallowed painfully, a familiar feeling of loss growing in his chest. He blocked out Rose for a moment, and wondered when the dark circles had developed underneath the Doctor’s haggard, yellowed eyes. At this moment, he almost looked his age. “Doc, you look worse than she does. Go get some rest, get that virus out of your system, something. If I’ve already lost Rose today, I don’t want to lose you too.”
The Doctor choked on a dry laugh. “I don’t have a way to cure me. It’s taking all my energy to keep it contained so it won’t spread to you, which means no healing comas. And I’m not sure that would work anyway. The only solution I’ve got is what I did to Rose, and we can see how well that’s worked.”
“I can’t die; who cares if I’m infected?” Jack said desperately.
The Doctor shook his head. “You’re immortal, and this thing is time-sensitive. Think of what it did to Yenson, aging him that quickly in a matter of months. It’ll thrive on you and never kill you. And you’ll spread it to every single human you ever meet for the rest of eternity. And in the rest of eternity, I’m sure it’ll mutate.”
“There’s got to be something!” Jack protested.
The Doctor ignored him. He caressed Rose’s cheek, leaned over, and gently pressed his lips to hers. Then he moved towards her ear, and whispered something Jack couldn’t quite discern. Finally he straightened and turned to Jack. “Hold the top-left black button down for seven and a half seconds. That will activate Emergency Programme One. It’ll take you to Rose’s mum. Tell her what happened, and tell her I’m sorry.” He turned for the door. “Have a fantastic life, Jack.”
“Where do you think you’re going?!” Jack demanded, yanking the Doctor back by the shoulder.
“I’m going back to the platform,” the Doctor said firmly. “Goodbye, captain.” He forced Jack’s hand off his shoulder and turned for the door again.
The Doctor and Jack both whirled on the spot, crying “Rose!” in unison.
Jack scooted away before the Doctor elbowed him in the face in his rush to get to Rose. “You’re alive!” he cried in relief, “Are you okay? Are you sick? Nauseated? Disorientated?”
“Wet.” Rose blinked in confusion. “Am I…wet?” She gazed down at herself.
“Er, yes,” the Doctor answered sheepishly.
“I wet my pants?”
“And spewed all over yourself, and leaked all over your shirt, and dripped rather disgustingly—I should stop talking now, shouldn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Jack snorted.
“Oh.” Rose blushed. “Sorry.”
“Good to have you back, Rose,” Jack said weakly.
“Back from what?” she wondered. Her eyes went wide as she tried to sit up, “The virus—!”
“Shh, it’s alright,” the Doctor gently shoved her back down, “I took care of it.”
“What?” she scrunched up her nose. “You look awful.”
The Doctor smiled hoarsely. “I’ve looked worse. There was this time when—”
“You look like you’re dying,” she stressed. “You’re not, are you?”
“I’m—” the Doctor started. He blinked. “Oh. Oh. Oh, dear me. That’s not very good. Not at all.”
And with that, he collapsed to the floor.
“Doctor!” Jack knelt next to him, and Rose weakly lurched off the stretcher.
The Doctor’s eyes flew open. “Rose!” he gasped between coughs. He snatched her by the arms, and breathlessly managed a triumphant smile. “In—hibiting—enzymes!”
“What’s that mean?” Rose demanded, eyes frightfully wide at the sight of him grinning.
“Means I can—fix it!” the Doctor sputtered, still seizing. “Kitchen!”
Electrified by this new good news, Jack scooped his arms underneath the Time Lord and rushed towards the kitchen, Rose struggling to keep up.
“You can fix it?” Jack exclaimed as they dashed.
“I can stimulate the inhibited enzymes into reversal and expel the viral inhibitor,” the Doctor said in one quick breath.
“What?” Jack blinked, uncomprehending.
The Doctor opened his mouth to reply but choked and convulsed again, almost making Jack drop him.
“Just get him to the kitchen!” Rose wheezed, lagging behind.
“Rose,” the Doctor rasped as Jack kicked open the door of the kitchen. “Ginger beer.”
“Ginger beer,” Rose repeated, whirling and yanking open cupboards at random.
Jack plopped the jerky Doctor onto the kitchen table. “Now what?”
Gasping, the Doctor shoved himself off the table. “I’m going to—expel it—Need protein and some—something salty.”
“Expel it?” Jack reached a hand forward to steady the Doctor, but he waved Jack off. “Right then, salt it is,” Jack dashed towards the cupboards.
“Not salt,” the Doctor corrected with a grimace, doubling over and leaning on the table. “Salty.”
“I’ve got it!” Rose cried, running back to the Doctor and holding a bottle out.
The Doctor snatched it from her hand, yanked off the top, took a huge gulp, and swished it in his mouth.
“Fine time to take a shower, Doc!” Jack yelled incredulously as he scanned the cupboard, casting glances over his shoulder at the Doctor pouring the beer over his head and shoulders and drenching his hair.
The Doctor spit the ginger beer onto the floor and reached a hand toward Jack, chest heaving. “Protein!”
“Salted peanuts,” Jack offered, holding out a bag, “Protein and salt. Really stale but…”
The Doctor had already swallowed half the bag. As he dumped the bag into his eager mouth, the other hand opened and closed rapidly.
“Your brain’s exploding?!” guessed Rose in alarm.
The Doctor gulped down the peanuts. “Shock, need a shock!”
“Yes,” the Doctor snapped impatiently, “Surprising, confusing, unexpected, packs a punch, a real whammy—” He convulsed again, wrapping his arms around his stomach as he dry-heaved.
“I’m madly in love with you,” Jack tried.
The Doctor rolled his eyes, still choking.
Rose took a deep breath. “Doctor, I meant to tell you sooner but—”
“I’ll prove it!” Jack reached forward eagerly. The Doctor stepped back, shaking his head and still coughing. Flecks of red splattered on the floor.
Furiously, Rose elbowed Jack out of the way. “Doctor, I’m pregnant!”
The world seemed to stop as both men gaped at her. The Doctor froze open-mouthed where he stood, bulging eyes rocketing from her desperate face to her belly.
“And,” Rose finished, peering straight into his eyes, “They’re twins.”
“But that’s—that’s imposs—” He broke off as his body shook in a heavy groan. A golden fog spewed from his lips up to the ceiling.
He collapsed onto the ground, chest still heaving, and Rose and Jack both rushed to kneel next to him.
“Are you alright?” Rose asked breathlessly, wrapping her fingers around his hand.
“Detox—all better,” the Doctor gasped cheerfully. The smile dropped off his face almost instantly. “Are you—”
“No,” Rose shook her head apologetically. “Thought it’d be a shock.”
“Oh,” the Doctor replied. He sounded vaguely disappointed. “It was.”
“Shocked me anyway.” Jack offered him a hand up.
The Doctor stood and brushed himself off. “Now, then…”
“Are you really alright this time?” demanded Rose.
“Yes, really! Tip-top shape, that’s me.” He frowned. “You on the other hand…”
She flicked a strand of hair off her face. “What’s wrong?”
“You should be dead,” Jack said bluntly.
“Oh.” She scrunched her eyebrows together. “I thought you’d found a way around it at the last minute.”
“I didn’t,” the Doctor said heavily.
“Then what happened?”
“The Doctor fried you with the relkan radiation to kill the virus,” Jack supplied before the Doctor could say anything.
She blinked. “And I survived?”
“Yes,” the Doctor whispered, “You…” His voice strengthened. “You came back. The Strain absorbed most of it, and I was able to flush the rest of the radiation and the virus out of your system.”
“Which is why I’m…?”
“Covered in your own excrement? Yes.”
Rose wrinkled her nose. “Mind if I change before we go anywhere else?”
The Doctor glanced down at his own grimy suit and skin and winced. “If you insist.”
Jack fingered his filthy, tattered jumpsuit for a moment. Then his eyes lit up, and he shot both his friends a grin. “So who wants to shower with me first?”
Both the Doctor and Rose groaned and pushed past him without an answer.
Chapter 15: Past and Future
Freshly cleaned, the Doctor, Rose, and Jack emerged from the TARDIS a few moments later.
“Lockdown’s still not ended,” the Doctor observed, frowning at the mauve lights illuminating the hallway.
As if on cue, a resounding click echoed through the hall as the lights brightened and changed colour.
“Perfect,” the Doctor declared, tilting his body back towards the TARDIS. “Off we go, then, before someone badgers me with paperwork.”
“Then you’re okay with it?” Jack asked, surprised.
The Doctor stopped. “Okay with what?” Then it dawned on him. “Oh, a bunch of humans messing with time? No, actually, I’m not. You lot don’t know what you’re doing half the time. But I also know that in approximately…three months? Yes, that sounds right. Three more months linear time, and this place closes. Shut down, boarded up, disbanded. It’s a fixed event. Can’t close it now or universe goes boom.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and turned to lead them back to the TARDIS.
Rose grabbed his shoulder to stop him. “What about Jack?”
“What about him?” said the Doctor, utterly mystified.
“The other one,” Rose clarified, “I want to say goodbye.”
“I don’t remember it,” Jack reminded her.
“Don’t care,” Rose replied adamantly.
“He’s right here!” the Doctor protested, waving a hand in Jack’s direction. “He hasn’t left!”
“I still want to say goodbye,” she insisted. “I never got say goodbye to the other you.”
“But I’m right here too!” the Doctor said defensively. “Same person, same memories, same…love.”
Rose crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at him. “Don’t tell me after I’m dead and gone, you’re not going to track a younger me down and say goodbye. Because I know you, Doctor. You would.”
“Even I did,” Jack pointed out.
“But—” the Doctor objected.
“I’m just going to say goodbye,” Rose emphasized. “And make sure he doesn’t do anything thick.”
“Like what?” Jack wondered.
“He thinks you’re dead,” Rose reminded him.
The Doctor winced. “Ah, he did seem a bit upset about that. Jack, do you have any secret suicidal tendencies? I mean, back then, because obviously now…”
Jack shrugged. “Don’t think I did. But like you said, a lot changes in two years.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “You said this place closes in three months?”
“What’s the date?”
“Saturday, sixth of Peach-Delta-Slash-Four,” the Doctor reeled off.
Jack’s face paled. “That’s the day I woke up with it all gone.”
Rose gave a small gasp. “Do you think it’s—”
“Happening right now? Got to be.”
The Doctor whipped out his screwdriver and ran it over the nearest screen panel on the wall. “Found you.”
“Always wanted to play hide-and-seek with you, Doctor.”
They ran down the hall, echoes of the past close on their heels.
“In there!” the Doctor indicated as they reached the door for Irina’s office.
Jack reached a hand out to shove the door open, then paused and opened it softly instead. He peeked through the tiny slit in the door.
“What’s happening?” Rose hissed.
“I’m holding a bottle…” Jack murmured.
“Retcon?” wondered the Doctor.
“To the future!” came Jack’s voice from inside the room.
Outside with the Doctor and Rose, Jack quickly clicked the door shut.
“But—” Rose protested.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked the Doctor gravely.
Jack nodded. “It already happened, didn’t it?”
The Doctor looked Jack in the eye carefully. “Sometimes, on very rare occasions…time can be rewritten.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m a Fact, aren’t I? So this has to happen. If it doesn’t, I’ll never go to the Blitz and meet you or Rose. And that’s not worth missing for the world.”
The Doctor gave him a half-smile, and Jack suddenly felt as if he had passed some sort of test. “Captain Jack.” The Time Lord shook his head with a tiny chuckle. “You’re brilliant. And you’re right. And…I suppose…” He took a deep breath. “I’ll learn to deal with…you know.”
Jack smiled. “Thanks, Doc.”
Rose still peered longingly at the door, as if trying to develop x-ray vision. “So you retconned yourself.”
Jack nodded. “I wake up in the security office with no idea how I got there and the words ‘get out and run’ written on my arm in my handwriting.”
The Doctor nodded. “What colour?”
“Dark pink. Didn’t look like a pen, though…”
Rose pulled a lipstick from her pocket. “This do the trick?”
Jack nearly choked as he replied, “Perfect.”
Jack’s eyes burned when he opened them, and his head didn’t feel much better. Must have been some party. Probably one of John’s…where was John? And for that matter, where was he?
He sat up with a wince and finally took notice of his surroundings. Sprawled on the floor of the security room? Maybe he’d been with that blonde from security…Except she wasn’t here, either.
Jack rose to his feet, each movement more painful than the last as each vertebrae straightened, and scanned the room. Charred marks scorched the desks. Someone had taken a blaster to the computers. How drunk had he been?! Milo was going to kill him.
He raised his arm to rub his aching head and froze. His own handwriting blazed hot pink across his forearm: “GET OUT AND RUN.”
Man, he must have been plastered last night. He couldn’t remember a thing.
He tried to ignore his pounding head and checked his wristcomp. He was going to call up John, give him a piece of his mind for ditching him…why’d it say Saturday? Last he checked, it was Monday…
He froze when he saw the date. No…
He staggered in shock, barely able to stay upright. The words on his arm scorched through his eyelids as he shut his eyes: GET OUT AND RUN GET OUT AND RUN GET OUT AND RUN….
The last two years were gone. The Agency had taken them. Why? WHY?!
They would be after him, Jack realized with a surge of panic. He must have fought his way free, written himself a message…blasted the computer to bits, before the retconn kicked in. Why?
He glanced down at his wristcomp. If the computer was destroyed, did that mean the lock on his manipulator was gone? Head reeling, he started to enter coordinates. Where should he go? Where could he hide?
A swarm of images flashed through his mind. Volcanoes, togas, blonde. Pompeii. Sounded nice. He loved toga parties. And it was dangerous there. They wouldn’t look for him somewhere dangerous, would they? As long as he stayed away from volcano day…
A flash of blue later, Captain Jack Harkness disappeared from the Time Agency.
“You, captain,” the Doctor declared as the three of them piled back into the TARDIS, “Are a walking paradox. In more ways than one, it turns out. No wonder you make my head hurt.”
Jack collapsed into the captain’s chair without a word and stared off into space.
“Beautiful little paradox, if it weren’t so unnerving,” the Doctor rambled. “Seeing yourself from the future caused the future to happen, which leads to you becoming a Fact, which must always exist anyway…Blimey, the universe must hate you!” He considered the morose captain thoughtfully. “Either that, or it’s madly in love with you. Hard to tell. Wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Doctor,” Rose hissed, sitting next to Jack on the captain’s chair.
“Oh!” the Doctor’s eyebrows shot up. “Am I being—?”
“Yeah.” She nodded sarcastically, massaging the silent Jack’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Sorry,” the Doctor rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
Jack didn’t meet their gaze, still focused on the floor.
The Doctor twirled some dials and pressed a few buttons, and the familiar warbling of the TARDIS dematerialization sequence reverberated through the console room.
Jack took a deep breath and finally met their gaze. “I know what happened now. All this time I wondered…And now I know.”
“Are you alright, though?” pressed Rose. “With all of it?”
Jack let out a dry chuckle. “You know what? Yeah. Biggest mystery of my life, solved. It was all leading up to this.” He gestured widely at the console room. “Time and space travel with you two. Not a bad way to spend eternity.”
“Glad to hear it!” the Doctor beamed, clapping a hand on Jack’s shoulder.
Jack smirked. “You still owe me a thank you trip.”
“Oh, come on!” the Doctor whined, “I gave you a thank you trip. It’s not my fault we ended up—”
“Chased?” Rose suggested. “Drained? Threatened, fried—”
“Killed, retconned…” Jack continued.
“Yes, yes, all that.” The Doctor shook a hand dismissively. “How about somewhere random? Always loved a good random trip.” His fingers jiggled various controls as he spoke. “Goodbye past, hello future!” he proclaimed cheerfully as he pulled a lever.
“Speaking of goodbyes,” Jack frowned, “Sorry you got gypped out of yours, Rose.”
She sighed and shrugged. “’S alright. Didn’t work out, that’s all.”
The Doctor leaned his back against the console, hands in his pockets. “I think I could swing you a goodbye, Rose.”
Rose’s voice hitched in hope. “From Jack?”
She frowned slightly. “But doesn’t that mess with time or something?”
“Like I said,” the Doctor cocked an eyebrow at her. “I’m probably missing loads of memories.”
Rose considered him thoughtfully for a moment, then shook her head with a mischievous grin. “Nah. Don’t need to say goodbye to someone who’s still here, do I?”
The Doctor’s eyes lit up at her pronouncement, but quickly dimmed again. “Are you sure?” he said guardedly, “Because I could, I really could—I mean, if that’s what you wanted—”
“Nah,” Rose repeated, sauntering closer. “Think I’ll just say goodbye here.”
“But…oh.” His eyes widened as he saw the look on Rose’s face.
“Oh, come on!” Jack whined as Rose’s lips met the Doctor’s in a very forceful goodbye, “If you’re not going to include me—”
The TARDIS crashed with a resounding boom, jostling all three passengers to the ground.
“Where are we now?” Rose laughed, sprawled over the Doctor on the floor.
“No idea!” the Doctor beamed up at her. “Isn’t that brilliant?”
“Last one out’s a Frunchallow!” Jack whooped, shrugging his World War II coat around his shoulders as he dashed towards the door.
“Gonna tell me what that is?” Rose asked gleefully as the Doctor pulled her to her feet.
“Picture a cross between a Munchkin and a marshmallow…”
“Oh you are joshing me!”
The TARDIS door shut behind them as they laughed and ran to greet whatever the universe had to offer them.