With the painful accuracy of bad timing, Jack’s question hung unadorned in dead silence.
“Oh shit,” Govinda groaned.
“What did you say?” the first speaker repeated, taking two steps toward Jack. He was that man who’d argued with Jack on Floor 0, Lynda remembered. Sweat gleamed across his shaved head and dripped down his neck, dark circles of it graced his cheap jacket. “No shuttles? Oh that’s rich — d’you hear that?” he raised his voice and turned to the rest of the room. “This lot say we can’t get back to Earth!”
“Actually, I didn’t say that,” Jack said. “I said we had some potentially serious atmosphere problems, and we were about to go over our options. Pays to listen carefully when you eavesdrop.”
“Didn’t sound like you planned on talking to the rest of us,” the other man persisted.
“We were getting ready to,” Davitch said. “Really. Just calm down, alright? Look, we’re trying to get our bearings — ”
“Well, you were doin’ that an hour ago, now, weren’t you?” Sweaty Jacket interrupted, sensing weakness, pressing his advantage and looking for support to a growing audience that was drifting toward the dais. “That’s what you said you were doing when you came to get us. I don’t see you doin’ it. You were big on ordering us up here, which is stupid, because the shuttle bay is back down there, but what you got to back it up?”
The knot of people around him began to nod, and murmur.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Govinda chanted, very softly, next to Lynda.
The weight that Lynda never used to think about rolled and lurched inside her, like a stone set to drag her down through muck and bog to oblivion.
Years she’d felt it, every minute, every moment. At home, where her mother's frustration in dead end teaching had infected her; at school when download docents told her history was a useless job skill; with friends who wanted only to talk about the latest shows and were irritated or amused when she tried to talk about other things; on the shiny and efficient streets where she’d walked and ridden with crowds of other useless, unemployed dole dolls and delinquents, looking for someplace to fit.
(Lynda you’re dead sweet, he’d said. And she had died, and been free of the weight.)
Not fair, she thought with a spurt of unexpected anger. She pushed back at the weight.
“Hsshh,” she said, barely whispering herself and putting her hand lightly on the other woman’s arm. “Let the Captain take care of this.”
“Captain?” Govinda sounded as incredulous as it was possible to sound while whispering.
“Yeah.” Lynda embraced another returning memory. “Just listen.”
“The bay’s certainly there.” Jack’s agreeable drawl easily rolled over his opponent’s bluster. “But that’s about all.”
“There’s no oxygen — the bay doors are wide open and they won’t shut, not with the blast damage we’ve detected. No shuttles; you may recall we packed them with as many people as we safely could and sent them quick like bunnies down to Gran Canaria. The only reason you’re still here is because we couldn’t get a blessed one more in. Believe me, I’d have preferred that. You weren’t much help to us.”
“How much help was anyone? What good did it do? And who put you in charge, then?” the sweaty man challenged, sticking his jaw out slightly.
“I put myself in charge,” Jack responded, with another one of his professional grins. “I’m that good.” As he smiled, he did something with his shoulders and shifted his weight — so quickly, and in such a subtle fashion, that Lynda was certain no one else really noticed it — and loomed over his questioner, those blue eyes unblinking and cool. “Your name?”
“Mayhew,” the other man said. He didn’t retreat, exactly, but he looked cautious. “Roderick Mayhew.”
“Well, Mr. Mayhew, remind me exactly what you were telling everyone the last time I saw you on Floor 0,” Jack said pleasantly.
Roderick Mayhew looked chagrined, but got no chance to proffer an answer. That came from the redheaded, middle-aged woman who had just exited the lift, trailed by four men chair-carrying her injured charges.
“As I recall, he was heading the ‘They Don’t Exist, I Won’t Help You Save Me Because I’m a Whining Tosser’ brigade,” the woman said as she strode up to Jack. She eyed Roderick with distaste. “You’ve got no pull around here, chum. Sorry to be late, Harkness. I didn’t expect to take so long. Why is this idiot wasting air?”
“Meg, my dear!” Jack’s grin almost reached his eyes.
“Hey!” Roderick looked stung, and intimidated. “What right you got talking to me that way?”
“Look, you whinging prat,” she said, “You were unpleasant in the studio, you were wrong on Floor 0 and you’re in the way here. If you’re interested in getting home, I suggest you shut it and listen.”
Roderick’s mouth still hung open as the floor manager dismissed him with a contemptuous once-over.
“I take it you found who you were looking for,” she said, turning back to Jack and nodding to Lynda. “My mob are coming up, too, but it’ll take a few lift trips. The two over there will do fine, I imagine, but I think we need to strip all the first aid stations we can reach, and bring everything up here, so we have something to hand the next time we need bandages and merthiolate.”
“Not a problem. We’ll get someone on it,” he said. “But let me introduce you — Mayhew, don’t move,” he interrupted himself. “Everyone else? Can we have you up here, folks?” Then he turned back, saying, “Meg, let me introduce you to Lynda. Lynda Moss, this is Meg MacNeill, redoubtable Meg,” he said, grabbing the redhead’s hands and pulling her into his circle. “She’s one of the good guys.”
(He’d screamed at her, screamed You killed her, your freaking game show killed her! If he’d won free of the guards’ restraints, he would have snapped her neck and thrown her away and he still wouldn’t have stopped raging, crying.)
“Don’t know about that,” Meg said. “But I’m useful.”
“More than that, Megs,” Davitch said, before Govinda hushed him.
“Fun’s beginning,” Meg said. “That’s my cue to check on my little accident victims. I’m sure you’ll fill me in when I get back,” she wagged a finger at a protesting Davitch, “This isn’t my style. Harkness, I’m in the conference room with my folks. Ta.” She slid out and around Lynda and Jack, heading to the rear of the control room, then taking a left out of Lynda’s sight.
People around the control room coalesced into a wedge of listeners before the dais. The lift hissed open again, disgorging a dozen more people, and they brought up to the rear of the wedge.
“Wish me luck,” Jack said, raising an eyebrow as he jumped up on the dais.
He stood, one hand on a hip, legs spread apart, until the crowd murmurs faded into expectant silence.
“Eyes front, folks. I’m Jack Harkness, and I’m going to try to bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened. First things first; how’s everyone feeling? Glad you’re alive again?”
No one spoke. Lynda could feel the thrum of the station in her feet as she waited. How did he expect them to respond?
“Are you serious, mate?”
That came from one of the guards at the back of the crowd, a skinny man who’d accompanied Meg up from Floor 300.
“Serious as a heart attack, friend. Which, to get it out of the way, seems to be what we’re all recovering from. Fatal heart attacks, fatal burns, at least one fatal decompression. Fatal death.
“We were dead.
“I’m going to repeat what I just said. We were dead. You got that?”
To Lynda’s left, a boy started keening low in his throat. The elderly woman next to him took his hand, patting it ineffectually while she stared at Jack.
“We were killed by Daleks,” he went on. “And every single one of you knows it. What we don’t know is how, or why, we’re not dead now. Or where the Daleks are, although I’m pleased to say they aren’t here. And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care.”
People erupted, trying to catch his attention, raising their voices, shouting over one another. Jack quite matter-of-factly hoisted a very large gun he’d managed to keep out of sight somehow, and depressed the trigger. The roar and chatter impressively, and effectively, killed the infant chaos.
“Those were blanks, you know,” Davitch confided to Lynda. “That’s all he could find...all the live ammo’s used up — ” at which point Govinda kicked his ankle to shut him up.
Lynda looked from Davitch, to the gun, to Jack’s newly dumbstruck audience. Even though she’d flinched and cried out with the discharge, she was satisfied with the result. She wondered why the others were surprised at his move. Didn’t they remember how he’d done the same thing, in the time before?
An impulse made her carefully inventory the ones who still glowered, memorizing their faces. They were the ones, like Roderick, who might cause problems later. She didn’t imagine the gobsmacked ones would cause them any problems later. Nor did she question her assumption of being part of the command structure.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack said with only slightly exaggerated courtesy. “Here’s the deal. If you want to cry, I don’t blame you. If you want to scream, I don’t blame you for doing that either. In fact, I’d like to scream along with you, but I can’t afford to. So keep it short and listen up.
“The one thing I care about is getting us off this station, safely. That had better be your prime concern, too. Once we’re safe, we’re all free to try to figure out what the hell happened to us. Or not.” One corner of his mouth twitched into a lopsided smile. “Me, I plan on finding a bottle to climb into for a day or nine.”
One or two of the guards snickered; others in the room chuckled unwillingly. Jack waited for that to die down, then continued. “I rubbed our faces in the facts because I need your help to get us home, and the last thing I need is everyone trying to ignore the big damned elephant in the parlor, and paying attention to nothing else. No good worrying about life and death, if we can’t make sure we’re going to keep on living.”
Behind her, Davitch leaned over and asked softly, “Does he know what he’s doing?”
“Dunno,” Govinda whispered back. “If they don’t believe him —”
“Just back him up, OK?”
They stared at her, but Lynda knew she was right. “If he’s not calling the shots, I don’t think any of us can. Can you?”
Davitch looked at the tiny woman by his side. She looked at him, back at Lynda, and nodded almost imperceptibly. In an instant, the three of them understood they would be the Captain’s men. It might not save them, but doing anything else would doom them.
“Well, it’s been hours since...since we came up here to the control room,” Roderick spoke up carefully, respectfully. “Why haven’t you messaged...I mean, why haven’t we heard from Earth? Can’t we get them to send shuttles back up to get us?”
“We haven’t been able to raise Gran Canaria,” Jack said evenly. “We’ve been trying New Beijing, New York, even Port Auckland, but television’s dead, radio’s just static so far, micro burst is offline, we’re not even sure why our comp system’s still going.”
He wasn’t giving them an answer. Lynda suddenly knew he wouldn’t, or couldn’t do it, or thought he could find an angle that would keep disaster in check when he told them, if he only had another minute to find it, another half hour, another day, another lifetime....
Not strong enough, and that might still break her. So she had to make him strong. That’s what a captain’s man did.
The weight rolled again, impelling Lynda past her co-conspirators, toward Jack. She didn’t know that her eyes appeared as dark and bruised as if she had been physically hit, instead of simply backhanded by circumstance.
“Jack? Captain Jack?”
He looked down, guarded. Don’t put me off my game said the oblique tilt of his head, because he didn’t realize he was already off his game.
“I don’t think there’s any good time to say it,” she said, determinedly not returning his gaze as she clambered up on the dais beside him. “But, you know, it’s got to be said, really.”
She felt sick to her stomach, the way she’d been in those awful hours after being ‘matted to the Big Brother studio. But the weight was pulling her down again, threatening her again with the bog and the muck, and all that was before, and she couldn’t afford to go back.
And Jack needed re-balancing.
“Hi,” she started, then coughed to hide the quaver in her voice. She started to shake again, and then she remembered her father telling her to smile when she had something bad to say —
(— he had taken her hand and explained that no one liked a little girl who cried, and that she would be pretty if only she didn’t cry, and that she should pay more attention to ‘Mandy’s Mischief Millions’ on the Six to Eight channel, that Mandy was the kind of pretty, funny, sweet little girl who said everything so nicely, even the bad words, and would always have someone to take care of her. He should know, because he was in the entertainment business — )
“Hello!” She waved at the people in front of her. “I’m Lynda; I mean, my name is Lynda Moss. I was on lookout when the Daleks attacked the station. I was helping Jack and the Doctor. D’you remember the Doctor? He...he was helping defend us.”
Most wouldn’t, she suspected. But some would; perhaps a few programmers who’d been on 500 when she, Jack and the Doctor had stormed through the lift doors, threatening havoc.
‘Well, anyway, I was watching when the Dalek ships came.
“And they, they...they hit Earth.”
“Are you insane?” Roderick had elbowed his way even further to the front, and his eyes went wide as he spoke, then narrowed in suspicion. But he kept an eye on Jack and said nothing more.
“Oh. Yeah. I mean, no, sorry to say,” Lynda replied. She shrugged and hunched unthinkingly, the way she’d done over two decades of making excuses for herself and others, then shook herself and straightened. No.
“I’m sorry, really sorry, to say this, but the Daleks attacked Earth. I think they used atomics. Fusion missiles. I watched and they hit everywhere.”
“Where?” asked the older lady. She was still holding the boy’s hand.
“They hit Australia,” Lynda said. “They hit Eastamrika, the coast near New York, so that’s New York down, and I saw them hit east in the Asian Complex. That’s why we’re not raising New Beijing, I’d imagine.
“They didn’t get south of the Angolan desert, so maybe the Namibian Metropolitan is there,” she continued quickly, holding back her own resurgent horror. “Then again, the Metropolitan Hierarchs wouldn’t answer our calls, I mean they haven’t communicated with anyone for the last 26 years, so why should they now?
“And Greater Scotland’s gone,” she said. “Glasgow, Liverpool, Dublin, even Little London.
“So, what I’m trying to say,” she said, rigid in her determination not to fall apart again, “is that the reason we can’t raise anyone on radio or telly or micro is that I don’t think anyone’s there.”
The elderly woman sagged, and grabbed at the boy she’d been comforting. Someone sobbed over by the terminals. The rest was silence, and the thrumming of the station in her feet and her shoulders. Jack’s face was unreadable.
“What about transmat?” the skinny guard in the back called, as if she hadn’t spoken. “There are hundreds of one-man ‘mats, one in every studio, at least. I know they’re supposed to be one-way, but couldn’t we reprogram them?” He looked pale and sick.
“Didn’t you hear her?” Govinda turned and shouted. “Even if we could do that, and I can tell you they built anti-escape protocols into the ‘mat programming to prevent that sort of thing, where would we go?”
Davitch took a deep breath, then jumped up on Jack’s other side, dragging an astonished Govinda with him. “Sorry, Jack,” he said quickly. “Didn’t know what she was going to say, you know? But then perhaps it’s best done quickly, eh?”
“Look, folks,” he said, turning front again. “I’m afraid Lynda’s right. But we’re putting together a plan,” and he made the lie sound confident. Lynda saw Govinda’s surprise turn into admiration for the tall man’s nerve. “The first thing is the atmosphere problem, and we need everyone from Operations to come up front to help us. Ops — is there anyone from Station Ops?”
“Yes, here,” a woman hesitantly put up her hand. She looked sullen and frightened.
“Good. Would you come up to the front? Thanks,” Davitch said, looking sideways at Jack to catch any cues. Jack’s silence suggested permission to continue.
“If you’ve got any suggestions..uhm, there should be some write-rewrite pads next to some of the terminals. Share them....” he trailed off, obviously out of ideas, at least for the moment.
Jack touched Davitch’s shoulder, a tiny, grateful brush of fingers, and took over again.
“Once we’ve pinpointed all the vents, next step is to patch what we can and move away from the ones we can’t patch. We’ll get a team on that, while we send another crew to bring the last survivors up here. We’ll give them the word that they have one chance with us, or they can suffocate on their own.” No one protested the brutality. “Then we look for our next stop.”
“Where the hell’s that gonna be,” Roderick asked, but it was more to himself than anyone else.
This time, Jack’s look was very readable.
“No, really,” Lynda said, momentarily unsure that she’d said that aloud. “Simple, really. I mean, there’s no where else to go, right?”
Another long silence, rescued at the last moment by Jack. Lynda was certain only she and Govinda could see how angry he was. And Davitch, who seemed to be hyperventilating.
“She’s right, people,” Jack said, sparing her a long glance that promised nothing pleasant at all, “Next stop, the stars.”
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