Title: Consequences (3/4)
Series: Two Travellers
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Jack Harkness
Genre: drama, episode-related, gen
Length: 2731 words
Spoilers: Spoilers for Children of Earth.
Summary: "I've got an errand to run. A loose end to tie up," The Doctor tells Jack.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N: I know, I know. I said that Chapter 3 would be the conclusion, but the boys had more to say to each other than would fit into this chapter. I am immensely grateful to my wonderful betas, canaana and wendymr .
There's no glass wall, no poisonous fog, but for a moment, Jack is back in London, facing one of the worst nightmares he's had since waking up on a space station full of dust and corpses.
Only, this is no nightmare. This is real. He's on the homeworld of the 456, and he's allowed the Doctor and an innocent kid to walk into a trap. The Doctor is going to piss them off -- he will, of course he will, it's what he came here to do -- and they'll let loose one of their viruses, and Jack will wake up to find another murdered child and a regenerating Time Lord beside him. I should never have let him come here. His limbs are made of ice and can't move. His heart pounds and the gulps of air going into his lungs don't seem to be providing him with any oxygen.
The Doctor doesn't even glance at him, but he hears the Time Lord murmur, "Steady, Jack."
"Speak." The synthesised voice sounds the same as the one he heard in London, though he knows that this must be a different Paequorix.
"Am I addressing a representative of the Paequorixi government?" the Doctor asks.
"Speak," the voice repeats mechanically.
"Right. I'm the Doctor, and-- well, never mind the introductions. Certain information has come to my attention." He clears his throat. "The Paequorixi are in violation of galactic law. Interference with the development of primitive worlds. Transportation off-planet of young sentient beings without the consent of their progenitors. Bio-exploitation of sentient beings. Manufacture and use of prohibited toxic organisms." Pause. "There's more, but those are the most serious charges."
"Not relevant," the grating voice replies.
And just like that, Jack feels the switch inside his head flip from 'fear' to 'rage'. "It's relevant to the people you murdered, to the children you stole, to the lives you've ruined!"
"Not relevant," the voice says again. Jack tenses, but there's nothing he can do. He has no weapon, and no visible target to aim one at.
"Bit of a broken record, this one," the Doctor murmurs to Jack. "Trust me?" It's half a question, half a entreaty.
Can I trust him? When they first met, the Doctor saved his life, his sanity, and maybe his soul. In the centuries since then, he's sacrificed all three for the Doctor -- or had them ripped away because of him. Salvation. Loss. Betrayal. He remembers Satellite Five, and the sound of the TARDIS dematerialisation echoing in the empty corridors. He remembers the year of unending torture, and the Doctor weeping over the torturer's body.
Should I trust him? Meaningless question. He doesn't really know what his relationship is with the Doctor -- hasn't known for a long, long time. He does know that there's no choice in it for either of them. They are linked. Bound. Caught in each other's gravity fields.
Do I trust him? Hell, yes. He trusts the Doctor in the same way that he trusts gravity. Both have the power to keep his world in proper alignment -- or send him spiraling down into disaster if he's careless. He can't find the words to say this, but the Doctor wants an answer, so Jack nods.
The grating voice demands, "You have knowledge of a danger to this world. Explain."
"Consequences," the Doctor says, and repeats it, enunciating each syllable. "Con-se-quen-ces. Every decision, every action, has consequences." He begins to pace. "Causality is a complicated thing. The old cliche about dropping a pebble into a pond -- well, you probably don't know that one, but it's a terrible analogy. Causality is more like dropping a lorry-load of gravel into an ocean with all sorts of currents, on a planet with a dozen moons, and a dozen tides all swirling around each other." The Doctor moves around the small room as if caught in one of those tides, his gaze sweeping the walls, the floor, the ceiling. His eyes lock on one spot, halfway up the rear wall, as if he can see beyond it to the monsters beyond.
Maybe he can. Between Time Agency training, Torchwood and UNIT archives, and personal experience, Jack is probably the universe's leading expert on Time Lords. He has observed the best and the worst specimens of that ancient race. The one thing he is sure of is that his knowledge is woefully incomplete, especially when it comes to their psychic abilities.
Anaphu remains where he was placed, not moving a centimetre. His eyes track the Doctor's every movement. Jack steps sideways, carefully not touching Anaphu, but close enough that the boy can probably feel his body heat. He wants to offer reassurances, promise that everything will be fine. I can't lie to the kid. Maybe everything will be okay, but he can't shake the idea that saying so will jinx them.
"--can sometimes be delayed, but never avoided," the Doctor is saying. "You will reap the consequences of your crimes... eventually. "
"You do not know this," the Paequorix replies. "No one can know this."
"I can." The words are calm, quiet, and uninflected. "I'm a Time Lord. The timelines here are trivially easy to read. All of them lead to the collapse of your civilisation, and most to its utter destruction. Normally, I'd let events shape themselves, but too many innocents have suffered. It ends now."
"No," the Paequorix growls.
"Oh, yes," Jack growls back. "We are shutting you down."
"No more children will be sacrificed for your amusement," the Doctor says coldly. "Not one. Not from any world." He resumes pacing. "If you cooperate, I will do my best to help you."
"Help them? Doctor, are you crazy? Helping them is like spitting on the graves of--" Of the ones I loved. "--of their victims."
"They get one chance, Captain," the Doctor says, and the chill in his voice matches the cold of the room. It's a warning, though Jack isn't sure if it's aimed at the Paequorix or him.
"We will do as we choose," the unseen monster says. "You can not hurt us."
The Time Lord shakes his head. "Consequences, remember? I have no intention of hurting you. I'm just going to make sure those consequences begin now. What happens to you and your people will be entirely your own fault."
"You will do nothing to us, and you will not leave this place." This statement is punctuated by a soft hissing sound.
Poison! "Doctor!" he shouts, but before he can complete his warning, the Doctor's hands emerge from his pockets. One holds his sonic screwdriver. A buzz and a flash of blue light, and the hissing stops abruptly. It's replaced by a louder pppssssttt and a cloud of white mist.
Anaphu is sure that he has never been this frightened in his life. Not when Laagun stole him, not even in the holding pen, when he learned about the fate that awaited him. The voice of the Devourer roars, and the Protector shouts, but that's not what frightens him. The Wise One stands in the centre of this tiny room, quietly pronouncing the doom of the Devourers and their world. Anaphu shudders, wondering how he could ever have thought that the Protector was the truly dangerous one of the pair.
"Doctor!" the Protector shouts again.
The Wise One holds up the white cylinder in his left hand. "No worries, Jack. A broad-spectrum antiviral in an inert dispersal agent -- and just a touch of apple-grass fragrance -- and all's well." He turns towards the door. "We really ought to be leaving, before our hosts think of some more party games they'd like to play."
The Protector stares at him. "What? But we haven't--"
The Wise One points his blue-light device at the door, which slides obediently open. "Run!"
Anaphu is still trying to understand what's happening when the Protector grabs his arm and pulls him out of the dark place. Then they're running through the room full of aliens, down a bare hallway, and through two doors. The second door is a bright blue, unlike anything he's seen around here, but before he can wonder about it, he's in the midst of a marvel. The Wise One dances around the device that occupies the center of his chamber, pressing buttons and flipping levers. A crystal shaft, bright as a star, rises and falls, and a loud noise like a storm-wind fills his ears.
"Right," the Wise One says. "Time for the next bit. Jack, can you--"
"That's it?" the Protector demands. "You gave them a talking-to, and now we're leaving?"
The Wise One lets out a long, slow breath. "Let me get the boy settled, Jack, and then we'll discuss it." He turns to Anaphu. "The Protector and I have important matters to tend to before we can bring you home. Come with me. There is a place where you can be warm and comfortable."
They exit the strange chamber through a different door, and then into another room. This one also resembles a cave, but without the high green arches. The light is more golden, and it is warm, blessedly warm. In the center of the room is -- can it be? -- a large flat rock.
The Wise One lifts his face to the ceiling. Perhaps he is addressing his gods, for he says softly, "Thank you." He turns to Anaphu. "Youngling, I will not lock the door, but I ask you to remain here until I come to fetch you." Without waiting for a reply, he hurries out. Anaphu flings himself onto the beautiful, welcoming rock, and begins to compose his own prayer of thanks to whatever god sent the Protector and the Wise One to him.
As soon as the Doctor returns to the console room, Jack pounces. "Where are we? We materialised somewhere, a few seconds after we left."
The Doctor nods. "Clever as always, Jack. We're in orbit, about forty thousand kilometres above Paequorix."
Jack thinks longingly about all of the actions that one can take from such a position. Torpedoes and lasers and bio-toxin bombs... He doesn't have any of these items with him, and he's fairly sure the Doctor wouldn't let him use them, but the thought makes a pleasant fantasy.
The Doctor bends over a control that Jack doesn't remember seeing before. "Is this on? Testing, one two three. Hullo! Attention, people of Paequorix. This is the Doctor speaking. Because of crimes against galactic law, your planet will be placed under a permanent embargo, beginning in one standard hour. After that time, no traffic will be allowed to leave or enter this system. Any off-worlders who don't want to become permanent residents should probably depart immediately." He flicks a switch, then flicks it back up. "That is all." Click. He looks at Jack. "Om-com. I should have installed one long ago. Could come in handy--"
Jack feels the rage building, and doesn't even try to hold it in. "This is your idea of consequences? Give them a scolding and send them to their room?"
"It's a total embargo, Jack," the Doctor says mildly. "I'm going to put a time-lock around their entire system."
"Oh, that makes a big difference," Jack snarls. "You're going to send them to their room and lock the door." He strides around the console, because if he doesn't burn off some energy, he's going to hit something, or someone.
The Doctor is looking at him -- no, studying him. "Blimey, Jack. You're not usually this thick."
"Yeah, stupid ape, that's me. Guess I haven't lived long enough yet to develop the proper sense of detachment. Or is it a Time Lord thing that we lesser species can't achieve?"
He can almost see the Doctor adjusting the focus on the invisible microscope that Jack is under. "You really don't understand, do you, Jack?" The Time Lord sighs and leans forward, bracing his arms against the console. "In London, the Paequorix in the tank had a human child with him?"
"Yes. I told you that."
"Didn't that strike you as odd? If he'd come alone, he could have lied about why they wanted the children. Why tip their hand?"
"I don't know. Maybe they wanted to rub our noses in how helpless we were."
The Time Lord shakes his head. "Oh, no. It was a much simpler motive." He frowns at the blank look on Jack's face. "Why did they want to take the children of Earth?"
"Chemicals. They got high on hormones or something that the kids' bodies produced."
The Doctor nods encouragingly. "They asked for twelve children the first time around. Forty-four years later, they wanted millions. Why?"
Jack is really not in the mood to play Twenty Questions. If you've got a point to make, Doctor, then just tell me. But he feels the familiar guilt and sorrow welling up inside him, and he's tired, and it's easier to play along with the Doctor than to argue with him. He slips into mission analysis mode. Data. Known factors. Motives. Anomalies. He thinks about the information the Doctor shared earlier about raids on other worlds. Never more than a few hundred taken at once in raids spaced ten or twelve years apart.
"The first group, in 1965, were an experiment," he says, thinking aloud. "They wanted to see what humans were like. Maybe different species have different flavours, or some give a better high. But why wait so long for a second visit? Or maybe humans taste the same as other species, but human kids last longer?" He looks up. The Doctor is beaming a proud smile, like a teacher listening to a prize pupil. Long ago, when Jack was new on the TARDIS, he would have cut off an arm to see the Time Lord give him that look. Later, he found it annoying, patronising. Now he just accepts it as a mixture of kindness and arrogance so deeply embedded in his psyche that the Doctor is probably unaware of it.
"Oh, very good!" The Doctor claps his hands. "Other species only survive for twenty to twenty-five years after they undergo the conversion process." Abruptly, the smile and the energy are gone, replaced by a somber, closed expression. "The Paequorixi discovered that human children lasted twice as long as their other... donors. About the same time, some of their favourite hunting grounds became unsafe for them. A couple of worlds were ravaged by plagues, others developed planetary defence systems, or came under the protection of the Shadow Proclamation."
"So they decided to grab as many kids as they could, maybe stick a bunch of them in stasis to use later on. And they came back to Earth," Jack says, voice tight with anger, "where they knew that the people who ought to protect children would roll over and show their bellies."
"Except that Earth surprised them," the Doctor says, a flicker of his smile reappearing. "When you forced the Paequorixi to leave empty-handed, they got desperate. Started paying slave traders and child-stealers to do their dirty work for them on planets they wouldn't dare try to raid."
The embargo will stop the Paequorixi raids. The trade in child slaves will continue in other parts of the galaxy, but the slavers will suffer a setback, losing such a major customer. For a little while, fewer kids like Anaphu will condemned to lives of pain, terror and degradation. That's something, I guess.
The Doctor doesn't need telepathy to tell what Jack is thinking. "In a few decades, the last of the captive children will be gone."
"Dead, you mean," Jack retorts. "Used up and thrown away like rubbish".
The Doctor accepts the correction with a silent nod. "And then what passes for civilisation on Paequorix will crumble."
"Why? Because they'll have to find new ways to get their jollies?" Jack freezes in place as an old memory resurfaces. Corporal Chivers writhes as another spasm of nausea hits. "Cap'n, please, jus' a sip. Jus' one, to tide me over, like." He reaches out a shaking hand, but Jack has already emptied the flask of opium-laced wine in the stinking Calcutta back-alley. "Gawd 'a mercy! Cap'n, I can't--!" He struggles futilely against the improvised restraints binding him to the narrow cot.
"They're addicted," Jack says flatly.