“There’s no use.” It was Martha who said what they all were thinking. “We have to call him.”
“No,” said Jack, his voice firm. Martha raised her eyebrows at him, her gaze at the same time challenging and understanding.
“We need him,” she pointed out. “Or do you have a better idea? I’m open for suggestions.”
“We won’t call him! We can handle this on our own.”
“Hate to say it, boss, but we can’t,” said Mickey, who didn’t know. “He’s an authority in this field. We are not.”
“The fate of the planet depends on it.” That was Sarah Jane speaking. They had all assembled, all working together on the same problem, but they couldn’t solve it. “He’ll know what to do. He always does.” Her faith was admirable, but given with reason. Martha could only guess if this woman knew, if Jack had told her, of if she’d been kept in the dark like Mickey and all the others.
She wished she’d been kept in the dark herself.
“We don’t know if it’s really that dangerous,” Jack reminded them.
“But we have to assume it is. I’m going to call him.”
“You’re not! You keep your hands off that phone, Martha Jones! That’s an order!” The head of Torchwood stood from his plastic chair and left the tent to show that this discussion was finished.
Martha sighed. There was no arguing with that man. Eventually he would call him anyway — when all else failed. It was his job to protect the Earth, and personal feelings had no place in it.
Neither his nor hers nor anyone else’s.
Mickey exhaled audibly.
“What the hell is wrong with him?” he wanted to know. “What happened between them?”
“That’s complicated,” Martha told him. “And none of our business. Don’t mention it to either of them, ever.”
“I’d say it is our business if it keeps him from doing his job properly,” Gwen voiced what Mickey, according to his expression, was thinking as well.
Luke seemed confused, not understanding what all the hassle was about. Sarah Jane, however, said nothing, and from the way she put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close Martha suspected that she knew.
She wouldn’t mention it to her, not even to make sure. Who knew didn’t speak of it. Who didn’t know wouldn’t find out, never knowing how lucky they were.
“He is doing his job properly,” Martha said, sharper than necessary. “Jack’s professional enough to known when we need him. He’ll come around eventually.”
“True.” Gwen still sounded doubtful. “I just hope it’ll be soon.”
So did Martha.
“I called him.”
Jack turned around sharply to see Martha standing in the entrance to his tent. He wasn’t even surprised — they couldn’t handle this on their own, and the fate of the world was much more important than his emotions. It didn’t stop him from being angry — anger was an easy feeling to have.
“I don’t want him here!” he hissed.
“I know.” She nodded, so damn reasonable and calm. “But if you don’t want to see him I’d advice you to stay in here and not come out until he’s gone.” There was no sympathy in her voice, and he understood why when she added, “You can’t bear his presence? Well, guess what, neither can I! It hurts to even think of him now, but I’m dealing with that because I have to. I would not have to if you had not told me, Jack! Do you believe I wanted to know that? I don’t need to know!”
One moment later she apologized, but Jack waved her off. She was right. There had been no reason to involve her in this. But he’d been so angry, so hurt and shocked that he had to share it with someone. She’d asked what was wrong and he’d told her. Less than one minute later he’d known that he shouldn’t have. There was no excuse for making her life harder than it had to be — they had to face him far too often still.
The familiar grating noise filled the air before they could continue their discussion, reminding Jack that it wasn’t his decision anymore. The only decision he could make now was weather to stay inside this tent or go out and face him.
And that wasn’t even a decision. Martha gave him one last, long look before she left.
A gust of wind blew sand at Martha as she stepped out of the tent. It was caused by the TARDIS materializing less than ten metres away, in front of the hole in the ground. Only seconds passed before the doors opened to reveal the Doctor, looking like he always did, wearing a t-shirt under a blue suit. His face lit up when he spotted her and before she could think a single thought she was hugging him, pressing her face into his shoulder.
“I’m so glad to see you,” she told him, holding him close. For a moment her feet lost contact to the ground, before he put her down again.
“You look good,” he said, looking her up and down. “Jack’s paying you well enough to feed yourself, then?”
“Jack’s paying me well enough to feed London,” she laughed, her eyes firmly set on a point just beneath his face. He turned away to greet Mickey, lucky Mickey, and she closed her eyes for a second and swallowed.
“Now, what’s going on?” the Time Lord asked after waving Hi to Gwen and Ianto, who were watching from the entrance of the largest tent. “Your call was unhelpfully — oh. Hello Sarah Jane!”
The Doctor laughed like a little boy as he hugged his oldest present friend, and Martha found confirmation of her suspicion in the way the older woman was clinging to him, as if her heart was breaking.
“Now, where were we?” the alien asked once he could breathe again. “You haven’t told me yet what’s going on, although I’m suspecting it’s got something to do with that suspiciously large hole over there.” He jogged over to the suspiciously large hole in the sand and the others followed. “Oh, look at that!” the Doctor cried out as he peered inside. “A Penalonian sand capsule. Isn’t that brilliant? I thought the last one had been destroyed ten thousand years ago.” His bright grin was replaced by a frown within a second. “Come to think of it, I was the one who destroyed it. This thing could wipe out this entire civilization. I wonder how it got here.”
“The scanner on the thing around Jack’s wrist says it’s been buried for a few thousand years,” Mickey explained. “It’s only recently come to the surface.”
“Which, of course, is a sign of impending doom.” The Doctor nodded.
“Of course,” agreed Sarah Jane, standing just a little bit too close to him.
“Where is Jack anyway?” the Doctor asked without taking his eyes off the thing in the crater. “I had expected him to be here.”
“And here I am,” Jack’s voice sounded from so close behind them that Martha jumped a little. “You know me — I’d never miss the chance for a hug.”
“Knowing you I’m surprised a hug is enough for you,” the Doctor grinned in Jack’s enthusiastic embrace. Out of the corner of her eye Martha could see Mickey and Gwen exchange confused glances, but to her relief neither of them said anything.
“Now, this.” Jack turned back to business. “What can you do about it?”
After a second of thoughtful silence the Doctor jumped down into the crater with a “Stay here!” directed at the rest of the group and began inspecting the metallic, blinking cylinder with his sonic screwdriver. Jack was beside him in a second.
The Doctor didn’t even comment on it.
The object buried in the ground was, according to the scanner, almost a hundred metres in length, but only five metres of it were above the ground. It was made of a bluish, blank metal and lines with a number of blinking lights. Since Torchwood had been called here a week ago the rhythm of the blinking lights had sped up, which had caused them to call Sarah Jane in the vain hope she might have seen something like this before. This morning a low, beeping sound could be heard once every thirty minutes, which had caused them to call the Doctor.
Just that moment the next single low beep emerged from the cylinder. Martha looked at her watch. Twenty-five minutes.
“The interval is getting shorter,” Jack said. The Doctor’s lips formed a thin line as he examined the object in front of him.
“The next signal will come in twenty-three minutes,” he said. Martha didn’t want to pose the inevitable question, fearing she knew the answer.
It was Sarah Jane who spoke in her place.
“It’s a countdown, isn’t it?”
“What happens when it reaches zero?”
“Nothing.” The Doctor shrugged. “Penalonian countdowns have the annoying habit of ending at four. Don’t ask me why. Probably just wanted to be special.” He grimaced. “But to answer your question, a psyonic wave will toast the brains of every being on the planet that’s developed beyond the level of an earwig. Clean this world for colonization.”
Mickey groaned. “Not again.”
Martha said nothing. She didn’t even glance of Jack in a way that told him how lucky they were to have called the Doctor after all.
“Don’t worry,” the Time Lord said. “That civilization is long gone. They’re no threat for you.”
“If we ignore the fact that they are about to destroy our planet from beyond the grave,” Jack observed dryly.
“Well, yes,” the Doctor admitted. “But at least they’re not going to come here and complain if we break their toy.”
“You can break it?” Mickey asked, gaining a bright smile from the Doctor.
“Yes. Like this!” He used the sonic screwdriver to open a hidden panel on the capsule and poked the little tool inside. Seconds later the lights stopped blinking.
“That’s it?” Sarah Jane asked.
“I’d expected something more dramatic,” Jack added. The Doctor rolled his eyes.
“I can turn it on again if you want dramatic,” he offered, causing Martha to quickly say:
“I like it this way.”
“Me too,” Mickey agreed.
Having settled this they all walked back to the tents and had cake.
“This is gorgeous!” the Doctor declared with his mouth full of cake. Then he frowned. “Do you always have cake on missions that decide over life or death of mankind?”
“Only the ones that take so long,” Martha justified their snack. “Also, we knew we might have to call you, so we brought tea.”
The Time Lord smiled at her. “Good tea,” he agreed. “Almost as good as your mother’s.” Then frowned again, while behind him Ianto grimaced at the ‘almost’. “Or didn’t we have tea with her yet? It’s so hard to keep track sometimes.”
“My mother invited you for tea almost two years ago,” Martha explained, causing the Doctor to beam.
“That’s great! I’d hate to have spoiled it for you. Although you probably already know your mother’s tea is good…”
“Still, spoilers are bad,” Jack said. It was the first time he had spoken since entering the tent. “We can’t risk anyone knowing too much and trying to change it, can we?” It sounded almost like a plea. The Doctor looked confused.
“Why would Martha want to keep her mother from inviting me for tea and cake? Oh, tell her thanks, by the way, in case I forgot.”
“You did,” Martha mumbled, but her mind was elsewhere.
“I wasn’t exactly talking about cake.”
“When did we last meet, Jack?” The Doctor eyed his old friend curiously.
“The last time I saw you I accompanied you on a trip to the galaxy M 100. It hasn’t happened to you yet.”
“How can you be so sure?” The Doctor’s eyes widened. “I didn’t regenerate, did I?”
“No.” Jack’s face revealed nothing. “You didn’t.”
“Oh, good! That’s always so annoying.” The man who had just once again saved mankind swallowed the last bit of cake and washed it down with the last bit of tea. “Anyway, I should be leaving. Thanks for the cake.”
“Thanks for saving the world, Boss,” Mickey smirked.
“Don’t mention it.”
The Doctor left the tent and stepped out into the sun, a tail of people trailing behind. Martha was the last to follow but for Jack, who stayed behind, his face dark and closed once again. She could only hope he’d be able to keep up the act until the Doctor was gone.
Sarah Jane was the first to say goodbye. The Doctor shook hands with her and Luke, who seemed almost shy around him, and she turned to lead her son back to her car.
“I’m sorry, everyone, but we have to hurry,” she apologized. “We have an important appointment to keep.”
“We do?” Luke didn’t seem to know about that but followed his mother without protesting. After a few steps, however, Sarah Jane turned around and jogged back to the Time Lord to give him a proper hug after all.
“Take care,” she told him, getting a half-smile in return.
Then she turned away for good, was gone even before the Doctor was. No need to deal with the aftermath of this visit, as Martha, who at the same time envied and admired her, would have to.
“You know you can come anytime, not only when the world is about to end,” Martha reminded her friend as she stepped closer.
“You can stop by for tea anytime,” Ianto offered, his face only slightly sour. “That is, if it’s good enough for you.”
“He’s irked that someone’s making better tea them him,” laughed Gwen, putting her hands on her teammate’s shoulders. “Martha, I fear he’s gonna murder your mum.”
Martha wasn’t really listening. Her heart was beating too fast and she didn’t know how to stop it. This was hard for her, too — Jack had no monopoly on grief.
He wasn’t the only one who still loved him.
“Take care, Doctor,” she said, trying to keep herself from holding him too close as she embraced him. “Come if you need us for, you know, anything.” As if he would.
“Of course. Say Hi to Tom.”
“I will.” She turned away, just in time, and then Jack was beside her and pushed the Doctor through the open doors into the TARDIS before pulling them closed. From the inside.
Ianto and Gwen exchanged concerned glances. Everyone was staring at the blue box, expecting it to disappear any moment.
And it did, but not before the doors opened again to let Jack return to them.
His expression was blank but somehow Martha knew he hadn’t told the Doctor anything. Jack was too much of a professional to make a mistake like that.
He’d merely said goodbye.
“We need to organize for this thing to be removed,” he said nodding towards the capsule as the TARDIS vanished behind him. “And then let’s go home. We’ve wasted enough time here.”
There was work waiting for them. The gust of wind caused by the TARDIS threw sand into Martha’s eyes, causing them to fill with tears. She wiped them away as she turned back to the tent and their equipment, doing her best to concentrate on the task at hand. Life moved on, after all.
September 04, 2006
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