Beth looked up as the man stepped into the tourist office. At first glance he seemed to be ok. He was wearing a slightly crumpled brown suit and a tie with trainers and an overcoat, which struck her as original but still within fairly normal benchmarks as men went. As he moved around, touching the postcard rack as if it was an unusual texture, bumping into the counter and knocking the display of Cardiff Bay keyrings awry, she started to worry. His eyes looked strangely unfocussed, and he seemed to be breathing heavily. He was sweating, too.
Drunk? Drugged? Either way, she reached under the counter and pressed the panic button. Jack had told her never to take any chances with strange customers. And this one really was a bit strange.
He rallied a little and grasped the edge of the counter right in front of her. Beth backed away, but he leaned forward.
“Is… this… Torchwood?” he asked her. “I need to talk to the Captain… Captain Jack… Jack Har….”
She opened her mouth to reply to him, but he disappeared from view, sliding to the floor slowly, almost gracefully. Beth was still wondering if she should leave the safety of her shop counter and make sure he was all right when the front door opened and Jack ran in. He had come up to the Plas on the pavement lift and come down through Mermaid Quay to the front door. He caught her expression and then looked down at the unconscious man. He dropped to his knees beside him and began to check his vital signs before beginning CPR.
“What happened to him?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Beth answered. “He asked for you, then keeled over. Do you know who he is?”
“Yes, I do,” Jack told her. “Call Owen, quickly. Tell him it’s a medical emergency.”
Owen worked fast. Before very long the unconscious visitor was transferred from the floor of the tourist office to the medical room where he attended to his immediate symptoms efficiently. This, in spite of Jack hovering anxiously, and pretty much getting in the way.
Owen turned around to look at the patient’s blood sample under the microscope. When he turned back he was surprised to see Jack leaning over the patient.
“I already dealt with the respiratory problems. He isn’t having any trouble breathing. He doesn’t need any more CPR.”
Jack stopped what he was doing and looked around with a smile that almost made Owen blush.
“I know, but he would never let me do that when he was awake. He comes from the planet that defined the word ‘straight’. Did you figure out what’s wrong with him? Why did he collapse on our doorstep?”
“According to our new alien tech medical scanner he’s had a severe reaction to an aspirin based compound. I found no toxins in his blood, but I’ve treated him for aspirin allergy, anyway. I’m not sure why he’s not regained consciousness yet. His brain almost seems to have shut down for repairs. Oh, and he has two hearts and his blood is nothing like Human blood. But you obviously knew that, hence the ‘planet straight’ comment. So who is he?”
“He’s The Doctor,” Jack answered.
“THE Doctor?” Owen looked startled. Above him, on the gallery overlooking the medical room the word was repeated by Alun and Ianto and by Gwen and Toshiko in turn.
“He’s not THE Doctor,” Toshiko argued. “I’ve met him. He was older, and tougher looking. Jack’s idea of a bit of rough.”
“Yes, he is,” Ianto replied. “He’s the one who was at Canary Wharf. He stopped the war between the Daleks and Cybermen. Only… not before… so many people killed, cyber-converted…”
“It is him,” Gwen confirmed. “I’ve seen the file. He looks different all the time. It’s an alien thing. He’s been around longer than Jack. He’s the reason Queen Victoria founded Torchwood, naming him as an alien danger to the British Empire.”
“It’s a good job Garrett’s not here,” Ianto added.
“Why?” Alun asked.
“Because… look at Jack. Look at his face. The Doctor… We’re talking unrequited love here. Jack had a thing for him before any of us knew him. If The Doctor had said yes, I don’t think either me or Garrett would have had a chance with him. I don’t think he’d even be at Torchwood.”
Everyone looked at Jack with renewed interest. All had to agree with Ianto’s conclusion. Jack had an expression on his face that none of them had seen before. At least, Ianto had, when he and Jack had been lovers. And he supposed Garrett must know the same expression when they were engaged in private intimacies. But right now, Jack looked like he was high on love.
“He’s smitten,” Gwen said. “Does that mean…”
“I don’t know what it means,” Ianto said. “But it’s going to be an interesting day.”
Jack turned from attending to the patient and looked up at them all. He ran up the steps and past them. He kept on going up the pavement lift. Toshiko went to her workstation. The others followed and watched on the CCTV as Jack spent several minutes walking around Roald Dahl Plas looking at his futuristic wristlet before returning to the Hub by the lift again.
“Ok, time for you slackers to do some work,” he said. “Toshiko, I need to know how he got to the tourist office, from which direction. Call up all the CCTV from when he turned up and see if you can trace his route. Meanwhile… there’s something missing. If he’s here… then… it must be somewhere in the city. Gwen, get onto your police contacts and ask them. Alun, you liaise with the military, through U.N.I.T. I’ll call Garrett. Maybe MI5 know something. Ianto… could you take the SUV and drive around… start local and work your way out and see if you can see it…”
“No problem, boss,” Ianto answered him. “But see what? You haven’t told us.”
Jack blinked and looked at him. Then he took himself metaphorically by the shoulders and shook himself. He was excited, worried, totally overwrought, and he definitely wasn’t thinking straight. That wouldn’t do. Something bad was happening on his turf and he needed to be on top of it.
“You’re looking for his spaceship,” he answered. “It looks like an old fashioned blue telephone box. A police public call box. It has to be in the city somewhere. And it’s important. It’s… the most important piece of alien technology Torchwood has ever had to deal with.”
“Yes. I know what it looks like,” Ianto said. “I remember…. At Torchwood One.”
“Then… go find it for me, please,” Jack said to him.
Ianto looked at Jack curiously. The ‘please’ in that sentence was almost plaintive. This wasn’t just Torchwood business. This was something very personal for him.
“I’ll do my best, boss,” Ianto said to him as he turned to do what he wanted. Jack hardly noticed his departure as he called Garrett. He was a little disappointed to find that the call went to voicemail. He left a message for him and then went back down to the medical room.
“There’s no change,” Owen said before he even asked the question. “He’s in a deep coma. There’s no physical damage to the brain. No head trauma, nothing. He’s just ‘switched off’. And I have no idea how to switch him back on again. Do you have any idea how different his brain is to an ordinary Human?”
“No idea,” Jack answered. “I’ve never looked at his brain before.”
“Well, take it from me, he’s different.”
“I don’t care. I just…” He turned to the bed and touched The Doctor’s cheek again, his finger sliding gently along his jawline.
“Come on, big man,” he whispered. “Wake up. I need you.”
Owen smirked at the obviously seductive tone of those words. Though if the ‘planet straight’ comment earlier was anything to go by then Jack was on a hiding to nothing there even if the patient was awake.
There was nothing more fascinating to a man than the one that got away.
Then he glanced at the monitor and put his mind back into professional mode again.
“Jack, keep doing that. Keep talking. Keep touching him. Preferably in ways that don’t constitute sexual molestation, if you please. But… I think… there was something… a blip. Coma patients do respond to verbal and tactile stimulation. Keep trying…”
He looked at the scanner. There was a definite response. He looked around and saw that Jack had kissed the patient again. “Not too much of that. I don’t want his brain to explode. Just… talk to him.”
Jack did. Owen watched the scanner. Yes. There was something happening, now.
“Come on, Doctor,” Jack said again. “Come on back to me. We’ve got so much to talk about, me and you. So much we’ve done. Doctor…. Remember me… Rose… all of the things we did together. The Daleks… the Master… remember him. Martha… come on. You remember Martha.”
He looked around at Owen hopefully.
“It’s working,” he said. “You’re touching him at an emotional level. Keep doing it. Keep pushing those buttons.”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Jack said. “The Daleks… stuff like that…”
“Try more of that. The really big reactions were to the Daleks, The Master. Keep that up.”
“You’re asking me to tap into his worst nightmares. Mine, too, for that matter. You have no idea just how much hurt those memories conjure up for him.”
“Try,” Owen insisted. “You’ve got to try for the biggest reaction, something to pull him out of this. You’ve got to do this, Jack.”
Jack turned back to The Doctor. He put one hand on his chest, feeling those two hearts that beat slowly and steadily. The other he grasped his hand and pressed it against his own chest.
“I’m here for you, Doctor. Remember that. I’m here for you. You’re not alone. You never will be as long as I have breath in my body. I know I don’t stand a chance in hell with you. That one time I got to kiss you... Damn, I wish that had been in better circumstances. We had to go and fight the Daleks. I expected to die. I thought we were both walking dead.” He looked around quickly. Owen nodded and told him to keep going, but to turn it up. “Daleks…” he said. “They’re the worst. They’ve hurt you more than anything else, haven’t they? Doctor… your home… remember. Gallifrey. Your people, the Time Lords. Remember what the Daleks did to them…. they destroyed Gallifrey, killed everyone you knew there. Remember how angry you were… how hurt… how you wanted to tear every last Dalek apart with your bare hands…”
“Fuck!” Owen swore. “When I said emotional… his whole planet?”
“Yes,” Jack replied. “Is it working?”
“It’s got to be. “Yes, I think… I think so. Yes, there’s spontaneous brain activity now. He’s coming out of the coma, Jack.”
Jack held The Doctor’s hand tightly. He couldn’t talk any more, at least not about those things. He couldn’t get those words past the lump in his throat as his own memories of painful experiences his Torchwood colleagues couldn’t begin to understand overwhelmed him.
“Doctor!” he managed to whisper. “Please… please come back to me.”
Then he heard Owen swear and run to the bedside. He injected something into The Doctor’s arm. Jack didn’t ask what. The next moment The Doctor gave a hoarse, ragged gasp of breath and opened his eyes wide. He sat bolt upright. He looked at Jack as he steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. His eyes were puzzled.
“Where… am I?” he asked. “Who… are… you?” He breathed in deeply again as if he needed the extra oxygen. “Who… am I?”
Jack was puzzled. So was Owen. Because he had asked all three questions, not in English, but what Jack recognised as his own native language, Gallifreyan.
“He doesn’t know who he is or where he is,” Jack translated. “He’s lost his memory.”
“He’s in shock,” Owen replied as he pressed his patient back down onto the bed and shone a bright penlight into his eyes. His pupils were extremely unresponsive. He might be awake and talking, but he was far from firing on all thrusters.
“Where am I?” he asked again, still in Gallifreyan.
“You’re safe,” Jack replied in the same language. He knew about a dozen phrases in Gallifreyan. It was a language that was only rarely heard beyond Gallifrey even before the planet was destroyed. “You’re on Earth. In Cardiff, Wales. In….” The effort to say the word ‘Torchwood’ in an alien language was too much. Jack switched to English. “You’re in Torchwood. Do you understand me?”
The Doctor’s eyes flickered. Yes, he understood. The Doctor once claimed to know five billion languages. Jack never actually believed that, but he was relieved that one of them was English, and that he retained that knowledge even if everything else was a blank at the moment.
“Torchwood… that name means something… something… but… Who are you?”
“I’m Jack. Jack Harkness. You must know me.” He held his hand again and squeezed it tightly. “Please tell me you know me. You must… you must remember me.”
“No,” The Doctor answered. “But… I feel as if we’re connected somehow.” He looked at Jack’s hand, clenching his tightly. He was puzzled. “We’re not… you’re not my…” His eyes fixed on Jack’s. “We can’t be…”
Jack knew what he was asking. Even a man with complete memory loss must have been drawing some kind of conclusion from the way he was acting. He wondered how to answer him. He wanted to say yes, we were lovers. But that would be wrong on so many levels. It would be a betrayal of something deeper than physical love that existed between the two of them. And besides, when his memory did come back, he was likely to be very angry with him for that lie.
“No,” he admitted. “We’re just very good friends.”
He actually looked disappointed. But Jack knew that was just because his head was messed up right now.
“You’re not you right now,” Jack told him. “You look like you, you sound like you. But something has happened and everything that is you is locked away inside your head. You… if you were right… you wouldn’t just be lying there. We’d have to tie you down to stop you getting to the bottom of what’s going on here. And… and I wouldn’t be talking half as much… I wouldn’t get a word in. And you’d never put up with me being this sentimental.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I know. It’s ok. We’re going to sort it out. Owen… he’s the best medical doctor I know. He’s going to help you. My team are on the case. They’re going to find out why you’re here and how. You’ll be ok.”
“I believe you,” he said. But…”
It really wasn’t like him. Jack’s heart was aching to see him so helpless. And when he reached out to him and Jack found himself being hugged for comfort, it was a bitter sweet moment. He craved physical contact of that sort from The Doctor. He had dreamt of it many nights, even when he was lying blissfully in Garrett’s arms. But seeing him so vulnerable, so desperate, was wrong.
Jack wanted his Doctor back. He wanted that slight hint of disapproval that made him try so much harder to be a better man, just to please him. He wanted the sarcasm and the put downs and the almost cruel humour that was done just to get a reaction from him. He wanted the man who would die for him as much as he would – and had – died for him.
“You’re in there, somewhere, Doc,” he whispered as he held the sad, confused shell of the man that was all of that.
“Don’t… call me.. Doc,” he said.
“What…” Jack leaned back and looked at him, but the glazed look was there again. That response had been a mere ghost, an echo of him.
“Jack.” He looked up to see Gwen standing at the railing.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Toshiko wants a word. And… I’ve contacted everyone I know. They thought I was joking. But they said they’d keep a look out. I’m… look, I know this is important to you. But I was meant to be going down to Saint Fagan’s homeless shelter to see if there was anything in this thing with the missing down-and-outs. Your man there isn’t missing. He’s been found.”
“He’s still missing,” Jack answered. But he knew what Gwen meant. And she was right. There was something suspicious about the downswing in homeless people turning up at the night shelter, considering it was December and bitterly cold at night. Jack had questioned Ray the Wolfman intently last time he booked himself into the vault, but he swore he hadn’t been eating anything that didn’t come from Sainsbury’s frozen meat section. And the Weevils didn’t seem any more aggressive than usual. It was something that needed Gwen’s attention. It needed his attention, really. But he felt too distracted right now.
“Go do that, Gwen,” he said. “Take Beth. She can close up the office for a bit and go and have a bit of field experience with you.”
Gwen departed. He gently extricated himself from The Doctor’s embrace and went up to Toshiko’s workstation.
“What have you got?” he asked.
“His movements this morning, tracked back from where he stumbled into the office,” she answered and played a composite recording of CCTV pictures in reverse, of The Doctor, looking extremely bewildered, moving back from Mermaid Quay, along crowded streets where he had bumped into a number of people and had obviously been sworn at by a lot of them for not apologising or acknowledging them in any way. He looked like a drunk. His progress was erratic. He stumbled, even falling once as he crossed a road. Somebody had reached to help him, then backed away when they saw the vacant look in his eyes. Good Samaritans, these days, tended to be wary of anyone who looked as if drugs might have been involved in their condition.
“There, now,” Toshiko said after they had been watching for nearly fifteen minutes. “Considering the state he’s in, it’s a wonder he found us at all. He’s crossed the busiest part of the city centre, in Christmas shopping crowds, practically on autopilot.”
“But where did he start from?” Jack asked impatiently. “Sorry, Tosh. Don’t mean to snap. But it’s important.”
“Here,” she said. “The CCTV isn’t great. It’s from the railway car park. It’s only coincidence that one angle actually looks down that back street. But you can see that he came out of a door. And…. I think I can get a GPS co-ordinate for it.”
“Looks like an old warehouse, or the back entrance to a shop,” Jack said.
“Possibly. Are you going out to look.”
“No,” he said. “I need to look after him.”
“Owen’s doing that already,” Toshiko pointed out.
“I know. But… Owen’s a stranger. I’m…” Jack stopped. He was running out of excuses for neglecting his duties. He stopped trying to make any. “I’m staying with him. He needs me. Did you see anything of his box?”
“No. But it might be in that building.”
“Could be. In case it isn’t, carry on looking on the live CCTV.” He paused and let a small twinge of guilt about his dereliction of duty prick him. “While you’re at it, see if you notice anything unusual about the down-and-outs in the city centre. Kill two birds with one stone.”
Toshiko carried on working. There were very few parts of the city centre she couldn’t keep an eye on from her workstation. She could spot anything unusual from right there. If there was anything to report she’d be on it.
He touched his communicator and called for Ianto.
“Can you swing back round here and pick up Alun, and the two of you go to the co-ordinate Toshiko’s transmitting to you right now. Take weapons and be careful. Don’t take any risks, either of you. But try to find out what the fuck’s going on there.”
That done he went back down to the medical room. Owen had allowed The Doctor to sit up, propping his back with pillows, and was checking his temperature and pulse by hand. Surrounded by technology, Owen always insisted on doing those things manually.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that his body temperature is meant to be nearly twenty degrees lower than a Human being? And do you have any idea what a normal pulse rate is for somebody with two hearts?”
“Yes to the first question and no to the second. I don’t think what’s wrong with him has anything to do with his pulse, anyway.”
“I’ll say. There must be something really fucked up in his head for him to forget you.”
“So what do you think we should do?” Jack asked as he noted that The Doctor had winced at Owen’s profanities. Jack realised he had never heard The Doctor swear. Time Lords obviously didn’t do that.
“I think it’s time we considered the mind probe.”
“No fucking way,” Jack replied. Again The Doctor seemed upset by the swearing.
“It all looks quiet enough,” Ianto said as the SUV passed slowly up the narrow, cobbled back street and they looked at the ordinary warehouse door set into the rough, red brick building. “If we’re lucky, the phone box is in there and we can bring it back to the Hub, case closed.”
“Are we lucky enough to have such an easy job?” Alun asked. “There’s got to be some sort of trouble in there.”
“Never knew you were such a pessimist,” Ianto teased. Then he sighed and became very serious. “No, you’re right. Jack wanted us to be fully armed. He’s expecting something bad going on.”
“Not the mind probe,” Jack insisted. “I’m not subjecting him to that.”
“You wouldn’t think twice about any other subject,” Owen retorted. “You’re too close to him. There’s too much history. You need to take a step back and look at this logically.”
“Logic is for fucking Daleks,” Jack replied. He knew Owen was right, though. He would have used the deep mind probe that unlocked hidden memories long before now if it was any ordinary subject brought into the Hub. But he knew that the probe was agonising and he didn’t want to put The Doctor through that. He couldn’t do that to somebody he loved.
“Jack…” He heard The Doctor’s voice and turned to look at him. His eyes bore into him as if he had read every word of his thoughts just then. “If there is a way I can get my memory back, then I have to try it.”
“No,” Jack replied. “No, you have no idea what we’re talking about here. It’s a piece of alien technology that only works half the time. We’ve had fatalities using it. And you can’t begin to know how much it will hurt.”
“I still don’t remember anything. But I think I’ve known pain before. Lots of pain. Could it be any worse?”
Jack remembered some of the most painful things that The Doctor had endured. He couldn’t think of anything that was worse. But that wasn’t the point.
“It only killed alien subjects,” Owen pointed out.
“He is alien. Do you know enough about his brain – you said yourself that it was different – to be sure it won’t kill him – or leave him brain damaged and reduced to a vegetable.”
“Jack,” The Doctor said again. “We established that you and I aren’t lovers. Are you my superior in some way… military or… otherwise?”
“No,” Jack answered. “If… anything… I answer to you. I always have, anyway. Ever since I met you. I’ve been your foot soldier, because I knew being beside you… even if it meant we both got hurt… was the right place to be. I trusted you. You trusted me.”
“Then trust me now. This mind probe. I’ll try it. I haven’t any other choice. I have to get my memories back. Without them, I’m nothing. I’m… I’m not even the man you have those unrequited feelings for.”
“Jack, if he’s volunteering, you can’t stop him. “He’s under my care. I can override you if it’s in the patient’s interest to do so.”
“The patient doesn’t know which way is up,” Jack replied. But he knew he was losing this argument. “Ok, fine… go ahead. But… for Christ sake be careful. He’s… he’s the most important patient you’ve ever had.”
“I don’t like this,” Ianto said. “There’s some sort of power source in that building. Look at the readings on this.” He held up a portable device something like a geiger counter but measuring many other kinds of energy than merely radioactive. “And doesn’t it feel as if the ground here is vibrating slightly?”
“It’s next to the railway station,” Alun pointed out. “That might be nothing. But unidentified power sources are another matter. Let’s be very careful.”
Alun looked up and down the street for civilian witnesses before he drew his gun. Ianto did the same. They got ready to open the warehouse door. At that moment, though, the postern door opened of its own accord. A man stepped out of it. He was clearly a down-and-out, in rough, dirty clothes, with several black teeth and hair that hadn’t seen a comb for months. His expression was, even for a derelict who probably lived on cheap alcohol, strangely unfocussed, his eyes staring and mouth slack.
“Sir…” Ianto stepped towards him and put his hand out to steady the man as he stumbled on the cobbles. “Wait…”
He didn’t wait. He staggered away, oblivious to either Ianto’s voice or his hand on him.
“Let him be,” Alun said. “We can’t do anything for him, and we still need to find out what’s going on in here.”
They turned and noticed that the door had closed again. Ianto produced the alien lock picker and applied it. The door swung open. They stepped inside, guns ready. The door snapped shut behind them and they were plunged into total darkness.
Ianto screamed. He actually screamed in a blood-chilling, terrified way.
“Alun?” he yelled. “Alun, where are you?”
“I’m here, cariad,” he answered reaching out and grasping his hand. “I’m right here. Let me… just… get some light on this.” He reached into his pocket and found his slimline torch. He shone it around and was startled to find it illuminated their own faces, but nothing more. There was impenetrable blackness all around them.
“But the door… we were just inside,” Alun protested. “We can’t be far away…”
He turned and reached out for the door. He couldn’t find it. Even when he stepped towards it and should have bumped into it by now.
And in so doing, he had let go of Ianto’s hand. When he turned again, he couldn’t find him. He called and there was no answer.
“No!” he cried out as a wave of fear and loneliness overwhelmed him. “Oh, no. Ianto…”
Jack still wasn’t happy. He watched as Owen set up the mind probe equipment. The sinister head piece and the chair with restraints that looked so much like a means of execution, chilled him.
He didn’t like what it did. He didn’t mean the times when it went wrong and test subject were killed in a way even he didn’t want to think about. But other times, when it had revealed hidden secrets that meant the subject was changed irrevocably.
He had some hidden secrets himself. Those missing years of his life in the Time Agency, and even before that, most of his childhood, was vague flashes and scenes with no coherence to them. But he would never subject himself to the mind probe to find out more. He didn’t want the recovered memories to change him. He thought he had a happy childhood, more or less, before the invasion that destroyed everything. He didn’t want to find out that it wasn’t. He thought he had done nothing in those two missing years that he could be ashamed of. He didn’t want to find out that he was actually a murdering thug who debased himself and the Agency.
In short, he wouldn’t subject himself to that machine.
And he didn’t want to subject The Doctor to it.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told him.
“Yes, I think I do,” The Doctor answered. “I have to know who I am.”
“You’re The Doctor. You’re the most incredible man in the universe.”
“Are you sure we aren’t lovers?” The Doctor asked. “What are you afraid of, Jack? That I won’t like you when I remember? Were we enemies?”
“Jack!” Toshiko approached him. “I’ve lost Ianto and Alun on comms. It might just be bad reception. But in case… I think we need to know what he knows about that warehouse. He has to remember.”
That was a hard choice. Ianto and Alun’s lives against The Doctor’s sanity. Jack’s conflict of interest was squeezing at his heart until it ached.
But The Doctor made the choice for him. He sat in the chair and allowed Owen to fasten the restraints. He put the headpiece on him and adjusted it. Then Toshiko took her place at the computer controls. Jack stood by with water. They had learnt by trial and error that it helped to keep the subject hydrated. Owen was ready to begin the questioning that would help to bore into the locked off part of his mind.
Ianto was terrified. It wasn’t that he was normally a coward. He had faced a lot of danger, a lot of things that would petrify ordinary people. He didn’t usually scream. He didn’t usually break out in a cold sweat.
He didn’t usually feel so alone and helpless.
When he was a very young child, he had a recurring nightmare that woke him up crying and sometimes having wet the bed. The dream faded quickly once the light was on and his father was there, comforting him. But he always had the memory at the back of his mind. He was in a strange place, a place that scared him in unimaginable ways. He had to walk through this place, alone, while unnamed terrors assaulted him. He knew if he could get to the end, he would be all right. But the end was never anywhere in sight.
He was in that nightmare, now. The unnamed terrors surrounded him in the dark as he stumbled along. The end of the ordeal was nowhere in sight.
“Dad!” he screamed. “Dad…. Help me.”
“Ianto!” Alun cried out for his lover. This was his worst nightmare. Ianto was the first person he had loved since his parents had been killed. His worst fear was of losing him. Every day at Torchwood brought that possibility. They worked with unknown dangers all the time. They could be torn from each other, never to know the comfort of warmth and love again.
And now Ianto was gone. In an instant. He let go of his hand and now he wasn’t there. He ached with grief, blaming himself for being so careless as to lose him in such a way.
The Doctor was as comfortable as he was going to get fastened into a contraption like the mind probe. Toshiko powered up the machine and Jack watched The Doctor’s face contort with pain as his mind automatically fought the probe. No matter how willing he was for the procedure, it was an invasion and it was instinctive.
And it hurt. His screams echoed around the Hub, even disturbing Myfanwy in her nest. Toshiko’s mood pebbles vibrated as they soaked up the emotion.
Then it stopped hurting. The Doctor was semi-conscious now, under the influence of the probe.
“All right,” Owen began. “Let’s make this easy to start with. Can you tell me your name? Your real name?”
Jack breathed in and wondered if there was an answer to that question. It was a stock opener, of course. Under the influence of the probe they had found out the real name of quite a few alien imposters. But what could The Doctor say in reply to that?
There was a long pause. He closed his eyes and seemed to be concentrating hard as if the answer to the question was evading him. Then his eyes snapped open and he spoke. When he had finished speaking, Owen looked at Jack, who was as surprised as he was.
“Really? That’s his name?”
“If it is, it’s news to me,” Jack replied. The Doctor looked surprised, too. As if he hadn’t said those words for a long time. “I think you’d better leave that line of questioning. There’s probably a very good reason why he doesn’t mention that – aside from needing a gallon of spit to pronounce it. Try something else.”
“Where are you from?” Owen asked. “When were you born?”
“I am from Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborous,” The Doctor replied. “I was born in the Rassilon era year S?35O7 under the sign of Orion.”
“Gallifrey? That’s your home?” Owen glanced at Jack and raised a quizzical eyebrow. Jack nodded, though he didn’t like what was going to happen next.
“What happened to Gallifrey?” Owen asked The Doctor.
That was the one that would bring everything to the surface. And it was clearly painful, emotionally and physically. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he began to give the answer to the question in terrible detail. Again, Jack was surprised. He knew about the Time War as a fact of history. He had heard a few details about it from The Doctor, in quiet conversations in the TARDIS, late at night, when he actually managed to open up on that tender subject. But now, an unexpurgated version of events poured out and all who heard it were shocked.”
“Afterwards, Tosh, I want the recording of this encrypted onto a memory chip, and then wiped from the hard drive. And if you can all just forget most of what you just heard, it would save me giving you all a short term Retcon in your coffee later.”
“Consider it forgotten,” Toshiko replied for them all. “Poor sod. That must have been awful. How does he live with the memory?”
“He doesn’t,” Jack replied. “Most of it should be buried, deep. His memory of events was fragmented. This damn probe has opened up the well. I just hope he can cap it again. Meanwhile… let’s cut to the chase. The machine works. He’s responding. Ask him how he got here, today. What happened at the warehouse?”
Owen did. The Doctor groaned long and loud and flexed his hands. The restraints on his wrists strained and broke. He put his hands to his head and pulled off the mind probe headpiece, despite Owen’s warning that he could hurt himself.
“I remember,” he said, eyes flashing with everything about him that was missing before. “I know what happened. Jack… people in this city are in terrible danger. There’s a Marandais Brain Entity in there. And its growing with every victim it takes. Soon one building won’t contain it.”
“What!” Jack’s face froze in horror. “Doctor… Oh… shit! Ianto… Alun.”
Jack turned and ran, not even pausing to get his coat from his office. He had almost forgotten other responsibilities in his anxiety for The Doctor. But now his first thought was for his team, for the men he had sent into a danger few humans could begin to contemplate. He ran to the garage before remembering that Ianto had the SUV. He looked around and then grabbed Alun’s spare car keys from the board.
“Tosh,” he said into the communicator. “Work your magic with the city infrastructure. Make sure there are no red lights holding me up. The boys need me.”
“Yes, Jack,” she replied. “But…” He closed the communicator as he started up the Audi Quatro and put his foot down on the accelerator.
“I’ll get you a coffee,” Toshiko said to The Doctor in the curious lull after Jack had departed. “You need it after being in the mind probe. Horrible thing, it is.”
“No… I have to go after him,” The Doctor answered. “He’s not safe. That thing… it even got to me. I just had time to shut down my higher brain functions, my deep memory, before it attacked. I hung onto one thing only – getting to Torchwood and warning Jack. I knew I could depend on him. But… I was powerless. He will be, too. It’ll take his mind.”
“You did that to yourself?” Owen queried. “You cut off your own brain…”
“It was the only way I could fight the Entity. And it nearly finished me off. Jack… for all his uniqueness… he’s still only Human…”
“Yes, but... you’ve already been half done in by this… brain entity thing… once,” Owen told him. “You can’t go in there again. It will kill you.”
“That’s why I need to find my TARDIS. I don’t know where it is. The Entity did something with it…”
The sound of the round entry door opening distracted them all. Garrett walked in, looking around.
“Where’s Jack?” he asked. “He called me earlier, but his phone’s off now. I think I can help him. The blue box he was asking about…”
“My TARDIS!” The Doctor exclaimed, his brown eyes lighting up with glee.
“Who are you?” Garrett asked.
“I’m The Doctor,” he replied.
“The Doctor? THE Doctor? The one Jack talks about in his sleep?”
“He does?” The Doctor’s expression was inscrutable. Then he fixed on the other obvious revelation in that comment. “You sleep with him?”
“Not every night,” Garrett admitted. “But often enough.”
“That’s brilliant,” The Doctor said with a wide smile. “Fantastic. I’m glad he has somebody who cares for him. But right now he’s in danger. If you know where my TARDIS is, then take me there, right now.”
“It’s in the debating chamber of the Sennad, causing a security lockdown,” Garrett answered. “They thought it was a dirty bomb. It vibrates and gives off very strange energy patterns.”
“The Sennad? How did it get there? Never mind. Let’s go. Jack needs me.”
Garrett didn’t need a second invitation. He and The Doctor raced for the exit.
“Jack’s ex and his current both heading for him. If he’s not in mortal danger they’ll eat him alive!” Owen commented.
“He’ll die happy, for once,” Toshiko answered.
Jack stopped the Audi next to the SUV. He noticed a down and out who looked like he really needed some medical attention slumped against the wall, but his first thought was for his own people. He looked at the warehouse door. It was locked, of course. He pulled his revolver out and fired twice at the lock. The postern door swung open. He stepped inside.
The darkness engulfed him as soon as he walked in. When he turned and realised that he couldn’t see the door he knew he was dealing with something unnatural.
He shivered. A cold fear gripped his heart. It was a strange sensation. He hadn’t felt scared for himself for a very long time. Not since he and The Doctor faced the Daleks on the Gamestation, when he faced death square in the face for the very last time, knowing that if he wasn’t exterminated by a Dalek death ray then the Delta Wave his friend was building would finish him off.
Since then, he couldn’t die. So he no longer feared death. He just hated it when it happened. Now, his greatest fear was for others. For his team who he was responsible for, for Ianto and Alun who he had sent into this terrible place.
“Alun, Ianto?” He called out their names and the sound seemed to be absorbed by the darkness as if it was velvet. “Boys… where are you? Answer me, please.”
He stepped forward, noting that the torchlight was swallowed up by the darkness as much as the sound was. Then he tripped over something. It felt like a body. He shone the torch down and looked into Alun’s face. His eyes were wide and staring. A bullet hole in his forehead hadn’t bled much. The exit wound that blew the back of his head out was worse. He reached to hold him and recoiled from the feel of blood, brain tissue and skull fragments.
“No!” he screamed. “No. No…!”
He wasn’t even sure what made him look up. A slight movement in the air, perhaps. He screamed again as his torch illuminated Ianto’s dead body hanging from a crude noose, his eyes bulging and tongue swollen from slow, agonising strangulation.
His worst fear. His colleagues dying because he had sent them into danger.
He reached and lifted Ianto’s body down, gently and laid him with his lover. He sat and held them both and cried grievously.
“This…” Garrett looked around the interior of the TARDIS as The Doctor prepared to take it to the warehouse. “It’s…”
“Yeah, it is,” The Doctor replied, heading off the inevitable comments about dimensional relativity. “I’ll give you a grand tour after we rescue Jack and his men from the Entity.” He moved around the console, pressing buttons frenetically. “I did it wrong last time. I saw the energy readings and I didn’t want to get the TARDIS close. I went in unprotected. When the Entity took me over, it managed to use enough of my mind to actually control the TARDIS, to throw it from where I left it by the railway station to the Sennad. But what I should have done… I should have used the TARDIS to force my way in. I just hope it’s not too late.”
“Doctor, what is this thing doing to Jack?” Garrett asked.
“The creature lives off minds – any minds it can absorb. It gets into them by playing on the victim’s fears. Once it has them quivering in fright, unable to move for fear, it feeds until they’ve got nothing left. It empties their minds. But… it’s cruel, like a cat playing with a bird that it’s wounded but not killed. It toys with them, prolonging the agony. That’s our one chance. Jack and the others… it may not have fed on them yet. But they must be going through hell.”
“Jack doesn’t scare easily. He’s tough.”
“I believe you. But this thing finds everyone’s weaknesses. It got to me. No ordinary Human could resist for long. Not even Jack.”
The Doctor saw how anguished Garrett looked.
“I understand,” he said. “I care about him, too.”
“I know… that’s my worst fear. Somebody less boring than me, taking him away from me.”
The Doctor said nothing in reply to that.
“Grab a handhold. This could be a bumpy ride. I’m forcing my way into the creature’s lair and it isn’t going to like that.”
Garrett took his advice. He grasped the strange console and held on as the TARDIS bucked and rolled and acted as if it was being used as a battering ram against something solid and unyielding. Again and again it smashed and was repelled.
“Oh no, you don’t!” The Doctor cried out as the TARDIS was thrown even more violently than ever. This time, though, when he forced it against the hazard there was a sensation of yielding. The TARDIS slipped through the gap it had managed to create in the creature’s psychic shield. A few moments later it was still. They had landed.
The Doctor ran for the door. Garrett followed.
There was an eerie reddish-yellow light that came from somewhere in the middle of the warehouse. Garrett didn’t look at it. He was watching the fifty or more people who picked themselves up from the floor, murmuring to each other, or to themselves as they tried to fathom what had happened and where they were. Most of them seemed to be down-and-outs. One was wearing a royal mail uniform. Another had a fluorescent jacket with Railtrack on it.
Then he spotted Jack. He was sitting on the floor, holding Ianto and Alun in his arms as if they were children he was protecting. He was sobbing grievously. Garrett ran to him.
“It’s ok,” he said to him, caressing his cheek. “Jack, it’s ok. It’s over. The Doctor did it.”
“It’s not ok,” he answered. “They’re dead.”
“Who are?” Garrett asked.
“Them…” Jack looked down at the two men. He stroked Alun’s hair. There was no blood or tissue. His skull was intact. Ianto’s neck wasn’t scored with a deep welt from the strangling rope. And when both of them opened their eyes and looked up at him he cried with joy and hugged them.
“It preys on your fears,” Garrett said. “Your fear… is for your team… your boys. You feared for their lives.”
“Yes.” Jack looked at Ianto and Alun as they clambered to their feet, supporting each other. “I saw them both dead… It was real. It felt real.”
“It wasn’t.” Garrett helped Jack to stand. He held him as they both looked around. Alun shot the lock off the warehouse door and pushed it open. The bewildered victims streamed out into the winter sunshine. The Doctor, meanwhile, went to the creature that lay in the middle of the warehouse. It was as tall as he was and as wide as the SUV, and looked like a purple and yellow, misshapen brain. The red-yellow glow was fading and dying. But just to be sure The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and seared the strange flesh. It deflated like a bouncy castle with a puncture, except giving off a foul smell as it shrivelled into a rubbery mess on the concrete floor.
“It’s over,” Garrett said.
“Yeah,” Jack answered, sighing with relief. He turned and looked at The Doctor. He was heading towards the TARDIS. “Hey, you… you’re not running out on me. There’s a lot we have to talk about. And my team want a chance to meet the legend that Torchwood was founded on. And… and…”
He left Garrett’s side and reached to hold The Doctor in a warm embrace. “You remember now, don’t you? Me and you… what we meant to each other… even though you come from Planet Straight.”
“I’m the Renegade from Planet Straight,” he reminded him. “But… you have Garrett. He loves you. You don’t need me, Jack. And… you really should stop talking about me in your sleep, you know.”
“I’ll try,” he promised. “But please stay. For a while. It’s lunchtime. And today’s Chinese takeout.”
“I haven’t had a good Chinese since… the Chino-planet of Xiang Xien,” The Doctor replied with a warm smile as Garrett stepped forward and claimed Jack back from him. “I guess she’ll be all right here for an hour or two.”