Characters: Jack, Martha, Sarah Jane, Luke, Ianto, Gwen, Mickey, Wilf
Genre: Gen, drama
Spoilers: MAJOR spoilers for Stolen Earth and Journey's End, references to various older episodes from Classic and New Who.
Summary: After the events of Journey's End, the Doctor's friends and companions gather together to remember the past and to prepare for the future.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes.
Jack pulls a mobile out of his coat pocket. “All right, boys and girls. Five minutes to curtain time. Everybody ready?” A babble of voices answer in the affirmative. He turns to the woman beside him. “Does my hair look all right?”
Sarah Jane smiles. “It should do – you used half a tube of gel on it.” She surveys him, gaze moving carefully down from the carefully-disarranged hair to the brown pinstriped suit to the polished dress shoes. “Looking good, though I’m still getting used to the eyes. It’s amazing. I wouldn’t have thought that contact lenses and a suit could make such a difference, but you’re another person entirely.” The transformation is completed by carefully applied cosmetics that conceal the cleft in his chin and put some shadows under his dark brown eyes.
“Thank you, Miss Smith. You’re very kind.” She gapes at him, not because of the words, but the voice. The American accent is gone – replaced by London with a hint of Scots – educated, but not overly posh. It’s also pitched a bit higher than his usual baritone.
Jack grins at her reaction. “I’ve been in this country for over a century,” he says in his normal voice, “and I haven’t spent all of it in Cardiff. Time Agency training put a lot of emphasis on learning languages and accents. It’s important to blend in with the natives, especially in primitive societies.”
Sarah Jane says with mock indignation, “Primitive? I’ll show you primitive, mister.” She pretends to swipe at him with her handbag. He pretends to look alarmed. Honour satisfied for the moment, they return to the serious task at hand.
Gareth Linton’s flat is on a quiet street. It’s tidy and comfortable enough, but to Sarah Jane’s eye it clearly belongs to a single, workaholic man who uses it mostly as a place to sleep and keep his clothes. After greetings have been exchanged, and drinks offered and declined, she launches into her explanation. “This gentleman—” She gestures at Jack. “—wishes to be called John McDonald. He hasn’t shared his real name with me.”
Linton only nods. He’s accustomed to informants who want to remain anonymous.
“Mr. McDonald rang me up several days ago. He had some concerns about your upcoming article. He didn’t want to approach you directly, for reasons that he’ll explain, so he asked me to be a sort of go-between.”
“I read Miss Smith’s series on the aftermath of the Cyberman invasion, and it seemed to me that she would be open but not gullible on the issue of alien contact,” Jack says in a soft, hesitant voice. “I— this is rather awkward. I am what you might call middle management in a government office. I can’t say which one, for obvious reasons, but I assure you it’s nothing glamorous or secret. I am not a spy or a diplomat or a policy-maker.” He appears to be studying the pattern of the wool rug beneath his feet.
Linton makes the standard reassurances about respecting confidences.
Jack nods. “I have reason to believe that you may be in possession of some photographs of me, perhaps heavily edited.” He takes in a long, ragged breath, then expels it slowly. “I was aboard the Valiant on the day when President Winters was killed. I was then serving as an assistant to an official whom I will not name, except to say that it was not Harold Saxon.” He raises his head and looks Linton directly in the eyes. “If – as I believe – you have those photos, then they were given to you by a young man whose mind was seriously disturbed by the terrible events of that day. He is convinced of many ludicrous and untrue things, not the least of which is that I myself am an alien.”
“Mr. McDonald, are you trying to tell me that there was no alien activity involved in the death of President Winters? And in the recent return of the Earth to its proper location in space?” Linton’s voice is polite, but challenging.
“Oh, there most certainly was alien activity,” Jack says earnestly. The corners of his mouth crook upwards in a wry smile. “I should know – I was at the centre of it. I know how melodramatic this will sound, but I was – there is no other word – possessed by an alien intelligence.”
Sitting in front of the subwave terminal in the Hub, Ianto keys in a command. “Torchwood Three calling Luke. Do you read?”
“Loud and clear, Mr. Jones! Mr. Smith is ready, too.”
A deep electronic voice replies, “I am presently blocking all incoming calls to that number. Transfer will be made when needed.”
“Good. Stand by. Mr. Mott?”
“Haven’t had such butterflies in my gut since before I took my first drop,” the older man grumbles. “I’m ready.”
“Gwen? Sut dych chi?”
“Dim yn ddrwg, but I think Mickey is having stage fright,” she says.
“Oi! I am not!”
Ianto chuckles. “Break a leg, you two. Torchwood out.”
“Possessed?” Gareth Linton echoes.
“I had the same reaction,” Sarah Jane assures him. She turns to Jack. “Perhaps you should demonstrate?”
He sighs. “Yes, of course.” He closes his eyes, concentrating. One hand rubs the other in what looks like a nervous gesture, and brushes against the large, ornate ring on his right hand. “Good afternoon, Mr. Gareth Linton.” The voice coming from his lips is not one that could be produced by any human throat.
Sarah Jane represses a shiver, even though Jack has already demonstrated the Ergossian modulator ring to her. It’s a musical instrument, designed to act on humanoid vocal cords. There are human devices that can accomplish the same thing, but not without visibly touching the mouth or throat.
Linton looks startled. “Not a half-bad trick. How’s it done?”
“There is no deception. We are the Zajedir. We are not corporeal. To interact with your world, we must merge with a living host. This one—” Jack’s hands move jerkily to indicate his seated form. “—has consented to host us. From the mind of this host, we have learned that most humans fear merging. There is no need for fear.” The “Zajedir” explain that very few humans are psychically compatible with them, that they can only enter a willing host, and that they cannot tolerate corporeality for very long. Jack’s head tilts to one side. “This host says it is like wearing shoes that have become too small.” Jack gazes down at his brown oxfords as if they are strange and exotic items.
“We do not often interfere with the affairs of the younger races. But in some cases, it is necessary to keep the balance of the—” The last “word” is a high-pitched trill. “When the human called Saxon invited the Toclafane into this world, that created an imbalance. When the Daleks moved this world and many others, that was a greater imbalance. To correct this, we needed hosts.”
Gareth Linton frowns. “But those hosts would still be ordinary human beings. Even with your advanced knowledge, how could they possibly repel an alien invasion – two alien invasions?”
“When we are in a physical form, there are abilities that we can manifest.”
Sarah Jane gasps. The chair where Jack was sitting is now empty. What the hell?
“Where’d he go?” Linton demands. “What kind of joke are you two playing?”
A voice comes from the far side of the sitting room. “I am here.” Jack is standing in the doorway, motionless, face impassive. He vanishes, only to reappear in the chair. “And now I am here.”
Linton’s face is pale. “Oh my God! You really are—”
“Why would we say that which is not so?” Jack’s expression is one of mild curiosity.
“I have so many questions for you.” Linton snatches up a notebook.
“Ask, and we will answer.”
And Linton asks. For an hour he shoots out a stream of intelligent, incisive questions. Jack answers, never hesitating, never breaking character. Sarah Jane thinks that there’s probably no one else on the planet who could pull this off, unless there’s another 51st century time-traveller around who has a hundred and fifty years’ experience with alien life forms. Even the Doctor couldn’t do as well, even though he has many more centuries of experience. He’d want to show off, and he’d overdo it and babble, and it’d all go pear-shaped.
At the end of his soliloquy, Jack fixes Linton with a cold, impersonal stare. “You may communicate all of these things to other humans, but you may not reveal the identities of those humans who have served as our hosts. Your race is still young and ignorant. Humans who fear us might fear the hosts also, They might believe that we remain in the hosts. Humans who fear are dangerous to other humans.”
“No names, no photos,” Linton promises. “This is tremendous. My God…”
Sarah Jane opens her purse and fumbles inside it for a tissue. In the process, she flips open her mobile and presses one pre-programmed button. Two minutes later the doorbell chimes. Linton excuses himself.
There’s a commotion at the door: one raised voice, then two, then a man is rushing into the sitting room. His snowy white hair and beard would make for a splendid pantomime Father Christmas, though it would have to be a very unusual production to dress the old gent in baggy jeans stiff enough to stand on their own, a Hawaiian shirt, and an ancient smoking jacket sprinkled liberally with gin.
Linton’s face is red with anger. “Get out, you bloody lunatic, or I’ll phone the police!”
Wilf ignores him. He halts three feet in front of the sofa where Jack and Sarah Jane are sitting, but all of his attention is focused on Jack. “Liar!” Turning to Linton, he says, “Tryin’ to fool you… they’re all liars, bloody liars… don’t believe ‘em… say they want to ‘elp us… don’t trust none of ‘em. Murdering alien monsters, an’ the ones that look human are the worst of all.”
Sarah Jane doesn’t have to pretend to look frightened. I hope to God his hand is steady. Aloud, she says, “Why don’t you calm down, and tell me about it? My name’s Sarah Jane Smith. I’m a journalist, and I’m very interested in aliens.”
At the same time Linton snaps, “Don’t humour him!”
“They lie!” Wilf bellows. “They all lie. They killed my Janie! Murderers!” And on the last word, he pulls a revolver from his jacket pocket and shoots Jack in the forehead.
Sarah Jane lets out a piercing scream that makes her feel thirty years younger. The gun falls from Wilf’s hand, and he crumples to the floor, like a marionette whose strings have been cut. He clasps his bony knees and rocks back and forth, moaning incoherently.
Sarah Jane grabs Jack’s wrist. “There’s no pulse!”
Linton reaches for the throat where the carotid pulse should be. He curses and heads for the phone. “Get the gun.” He stabs out 999.
A young man with a Welsh accent answers on the first ring. “Hello. What service do you need? Ambulance, police, fire—”
“Ambulance…police. A man’s been shot. I think he’s dead. Hurry. Please!”
The calm, polite voice assures him that help is on the way.
Sarah Jane snatches up the gun, then stands in front of the bookcase rather than sit back on the sofa where Jack’s inert form is slumped sideways. The Webley has no safety, so she opens it cautiously, as if to unload it. “That was the only bullet,” she says with a nervous laugh, and set the gun on one of the higher shelves. She waves a trembling hand at Wilf, still rocking and moaning on the floor. “Should we… do something?”
Linton shakes his head, and sinks down into his chair. “Leave him as he is until the police come.” Sweat is beading on his pale face.
Jack lets out a groan and sits up with a jerk. Sarah Jane shrieks. Her reaction is genuine, even though she knew what was coming; she’s never seen Jack resurrect before.
Linton lets out a choked gasp. The gaping wound in Jack’s forehead begins to contract, squeezing out the bullet just before it seals itself. Without glancing down, Jack catches the bullet. He holds it out on his outstretched palm, offering it to Linton. The man takes it in stunned silence.
“If we had not been merged at the time of the wounding, this host would be dead,” Jack says. His voice is calm, as if picking up the threads of a conversation that was interrupted by nothing more traumatic than a doorbell.
“And when you… leave?” Linton asks.
“He will be as before. Fragile, as all humans are fragile. This is why hosts must not be known to other humans.”
There is a rapping on the half-open door, and two uniformed people enter the flat. One of them, a dark-haired woman, calls out, “Police! What’s this about a shooting, then?”
Sarah Jane strides forward, before Linton can speak. “The three of us were having a meeting when this maniac—” She gestures at Wilf. “—barged in. He started shouting some gibberish about aliens, and then he took out a gun and shot at Mr. McDonald here. Naturally, he ducked, and I think perhaps he passed out—”
“He suffers from low blood pressure,” Linton interjects. He lowers his voice. “I believe the poor fellow is still in a bit of a daze.”
“I’m afraid we assumed the worst,” Sarah Jane confesses, with just a hint of chagrin. “It must have been a blank, since he wasn’t hit, and there’s no sign of a bullet hole in the wall.”
“Better safe than sorry, miss,” Gwen says soberly. “That’s what 999 is for, isn’t it?” She collects the Webley while Mickey hauls the unresisting Wilf to his feet. Sarah Jane can see that he is suppressing a grin as he snaps the handcuffs on.
Gwen rattles off the familiar words. “I am arresting you on suspicion of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence…” When she finishes reciting the caution, she and Mickey begin to lead their prisoner to the door.
“Wait.” Jack approaches them. He stands silently. They wait, almost motionless, no sign of impatience or concern or curiosity on their faces. “Thank you,” Jack says, as if concluding a conversation, and they continue on their way.
When the flat door is safely closed, Jack returns to sit on the sofa. “They will forget. They will take him home, and dispose of the weapon, and then they will forget. They will report that some children were playing with firecrackers.”
“And the one who shot you— shot Mr. McDonald?” Linton asks.
“He will forget coming here; forget his intention to do harm. He will not forget his pain. Some things are rooted too deeply to be safely removed. Human minds are fragile.” Jack’s forehead furrows. “We must leave. Healing the damage to the host drained our energy. We will leave the host and leave your world, Gareth Linton. Remember our words. Farewell.” Jack shudders. “God, I really need a drink,” he says in John McDonald’s human voice.
Linton breaks out a Christmas-present bottle of 15-year-old Laphroaig, and fills three glasses. They drink in silence, and when Jack and Sarah Jane rise to take their leave, Linton does not press them to stay. Sarah Jane recognizes the look in his eyes as the restlessness of a journalist who needs to get his hands on a keyboard now. She’s seen it in her mirror often enough.
As they are descending the staircase. Jack stiffens.
“Jack? What’s wrong?”
“Damn! I bled on Ianto’s favourite tie. He’s going to kill me.”
Sarah Jane laughs, almost giddy with relief. “And then he’ll get over it,” she assures him cheerfully, “and so will you.”
Continue to Chapter 6