The blackness was complete, and smothering. The silence was not.
There were gasps, something clattering to the floor from someone’s hand.
“What’s going on?”
"What happened to the lights? Who’s out there?”
Lynda moved her head, and gripped the edge of the table in a reflexive spasm of terror when the movement didn't change anything within her line of sight - still undifferentiated dark.
Jack didn't let the screaming start.
"Relax! Jack Harkness here!"
He plowed into the ragged silence that followed with, "Keep calm. Don't move. Everyone, count to 100 - we'll have lights by then."
Beside her, Govinda chanted softly under her breath, undoubtedly a creative string of curses.
Before Lynda could start counting, blue-white light flared in each corner of the cafeteria, then sank bank to a frail luminescence. She could make out silhouettes in the dimness, ghostly hints of light hitting a cheekbone or catching the shine of wide, frightened eyes.
"There we go," Jack resumed, smiling his confidence into the gloom. "Emergency generators are doing their jobs, ladies and gentlemen. Sit tight, and we'll get the main systems back up."
She saw him in outline, turning toward them, pitching his next words very low. "Hsieh?"
The big man was off to her right. "Yeah?"
"Do you have any idea where the mechanicals are in this pile?"
"Yeah, but I'll need my team to get down there."
"They handy?" Still low.
"Yes. Roger's here. You're with me, Rog. Lem, Alex!”
“On our way,” another voice shouted from the small dining room adjacent their table. Lynda heard rustles and thumps, then blinked as two torches shot their light toward her. The two figures wielding them, presumably Lem and Alex, worked their way toward Hsieh. Jack began again, using his public voice.
“Alright, we — "
A static screech drowned out his next words. More startled cries, from all sides. Lynda ducked and grabbed at her ears. She waited for whatever was coming.
The static faded, then rose to a feedback-rich shriek before falling to a murmur, a whisper that resolved into a faint voice. Something boosted the audio, and the tiny thread of sound became a familiar toneless delivery.
“Mr. Harkness? This is Iris Anders. Can you hear me? You can. Please answer.”
Jack had flinched along with the rest of them, but he recovered quickly. He eyed the barely visible wall speaker. “I’m here. Talk.”
“I have turned off the lights.”
“That was you? Any particular reason?”
“I wanted to get your attention.”
“That’s professional of you. What do you want?”
“You and everyone there. You’re not supposed to be there.”
Lynda’s eyes had finally adjusted. She could see Govinda stand up and feel her way, as quietly as possible, around the table to Davitch. His arm encircled her waist, his face in shadow.
Lynda saw more movement in the gloom, as Meg joined Hsieh, Roger, and the two she guessed were Lem and Alex.
“No, Iris, we are most definitely not supposed to be here. Neither are you,” he answered. “But that doesn’t tell me what you want.”
“You’re supposed to be dead.”
“We were all dead. That’s old news. Unless you have something new and interesting to say, I don’t see why you’re wasting breath.”
The sound cut off. Jack spoke quietly to Meg and the security team. Lynda could hear them whispering, but not what they were saying.
The screech of static announced Iris Anders’ return.
“You want to know why I reintroduced the dark.”
“Reintroduced the — that’s very poetic, Iris. Very nice.” Jack looked at Hsieh, who was fiddling with something on his belt. He nodded, and Jack took a deep breath.
“I’m not impressed with your attempts at bravado, Mr. Harkness. You need to listen. We intend — "
“We, huh? That being you and the rest of the folks on Floor 80?”
There was a split second before she replied. "You...yes.”
“And?” Jack prompted when she stopped.
“We intend to remedy this entire unnatural situation.”
“The lack of light?”
“No. You. All you people, being alive.”
Jack’s laugh held no humor. “You’d be changing that exactly how?”
“Mr. Harkness, you’re alive now only by chance. You should have died in the corridor.”
His reply dripped with contempt. “Crack shots, your associates.”
Lynda fancied she could hear chagrin in the woman’s response. “That’s of no consequence now. From now on, we’ll be doing our lords’ work the right way.”
“Still not making sense, Iris,” Jack responded, but he abruptly looked cautious. Lynda felt the old cold weight resettle in her stomach.
“You said it yourself, Mr. Harkness, this station is losing air. We will ensure that continues.”
A girl somewhere across the cafeteria started to whimper. Jack grabbed a torch from one of Hsieh’s people and swung it in her direction.
“Quiet.” Lynda had heard that note in his voice just before he’d exploded back in the apartment. The girl stopped.
After a moment he continued the conversation with Iris Anders. “How do you plan on doing that?”
“I don’t have to tell you,” the SITM woman began, but Jack was having none of it.
“You wanted our attention. You want us to know.”
Silence, then: “Yes.”
“I don’t have time for this!” Jack said, so softly, Lynda didn’t think at first that Anders would be able to hear.
“We will bleed the atmosphere. We can do that. We’ll finish what our lords could not.”
“Those who came to judge us.”
“Those who cleansed us.”
(They rose so silently, in such a precise grouping, such an oddly shaped horror. She’d been fascinated as well as frightened.)
“No,” she whispered, outraged.
“What?” Govinda leaned in, trying to catch what she was saying.
“What she said, what she means,” Lynda tried to keep the whispered conversation off Jack’s radar.
“Lady, you can’t be serious,” Jack said. “If you mean...are you talking about the Emperor? The fucking Daleks?”
“It’s blasphemy to speak their names.” Iris Anders’ voice was suddenly fearful.
Jack gestured to Hsieh.
“This is over. Now.”
“Right,” the big man said. He flicked on his own torch — why hadn’t he done that before, she thought, irritated — and made his way to the main door. There was a bank of buttons there, she could see them in the torch glare.
Iris Anders spoke again.
“Mr. Harkness, you can’t sin any longer. You can’t stop us.”
Hsieh punched buttons in sequence. Iris Anders stopped speaking.
“Try me, bitch,” Jack said softly, into the dead air.
“Mr. Harkness?” The girl across the cafeteria spoke up, not quite a whimper this time.
“Captain,” he said, just a little louder. “It’s Captain Harkness.”
“Captain Harkness, who was that? Is she right? Can she do that?”
“No, honey, she isn’t. She can’t,” he said very gently, his hand reaching for the table, for some balance and solidity.
“I can’t stand any of this anymore,” an older man broke in, his voice cracking. “I don’t understand it. This is mad, this is bloody hell. It’s the Daleks, like they said, isn’t it?”
“Not in this lifetime,” Jack snapped. “If there were any within a light year of this place, we’d know it. We’d be dead. Again. Right now.
“Listen to me!’ he raised his voice again. “Everyone, listen closely! The woman you just heard is a Game Station staffer. Her name is Iris Anders, and she is — listen now, this is the truth — she is an insane wack job. My team are going to take care of her.”
“What can you do?” the man challenged, hysteria edging further into his voice.
“We can get the lights working.” Gentle Jack disappeared. “We can find that woman and put her and anyone with her in straight jackets. Or out an airlock. I don’t care which. Then we can contact the colonies, book a rescue mission, get our asses off Game Station, and you can take it from there, because that’s the end of my job.” The steel in his voice was just enough to quell his challenger and the growing babble. “No more questions. You want to make yourselves crazy, do it inside your heads. You want my help? Then shut it.”
“Jack,” Davitch said, and nothing more.
Jack looked at the programmer, blue emergency lamps casting streaks of cold light across his face and his dark, wounded eyes. He nodded, quickly, tightly. His next words were pitched lower, but they still carried.
“I mean it, people. I need you calm. If we stay calm, we can handle this.”
(Next stop the stars, he’d said. And she’d thought for one beautiful moment, before his glare had fully penetrated, about how clear the stars had looked on the observation deck, hanging above the earth, safely above the murk that had isolated it for a century from its own night sky. And she’d wanted to go out there to them, for the first time in her life. The desire rose unbidden, choking her, stinging her eyes with something dizzyingly close to joy. Then she’d seen his face, and fallen back to earth.)
“I have an idea,” she said, dismissing everything in that memory but the stars.
Davitch looked at her, opened his mouth, then thought better of it. She cleared her throat, and went on. “I don’t think she can do, you know, what she said.”
“Speak up,” Jack said. He was looking at her speculatively, his head tilted slightly, his gaze measuring, intent. She saw encouragement there, no matter the darkness.
“She wouldn’t be threatening us if she could actually do what she said she could,” she said firmly, then rushed to clarify herself. “It’s like you said, Ja — Captain. If the Daleks were around here, they’d have tried to kill us again, wouldn’t they? I think that if she could actually vent our air, she would have done it without talking to us.”
“Well then, why’d she call?” Lynda recognized Roderick Mayhew’s voice. He sounded a hair shy of sullen, curious despite himself.
“How should we know?” Meg grunted. “Maybe she just wanted to waste our time.”
Even in the artificial dusk, Lynda could see Jack’s eyes turn flinty, but his next words were casual.
“That type generally likes to talk. It’s all brag, frightening people, and not much more. Hsieh, a change in plans, if you don’t mind.” Jack's change in direction was mildly disconcerting. “I’d like you to leave a couple of your guys with folks in the cafeteria, but I need your personal help. Meg, you’re with me, too. Davitch, stay back. Hsieh, who should he work with?”
“Rog, you stay here,” Hsieh said, completely unperturbed with whatever revised agenda the Captain had handed him. “Alex is yours. Pavel, work with Rog. Lem, let’s go.”
“Fine,” Jack said. “Davitch, I want your comm open non-stop. You’re my ears here. Govinda, come with me, you’re my archive girl.”
“I’m not your girl,” she muttered.
“Yeah, I know. But maybe Davitch will share,” Jack murmured back, his hint of a leer more than a bit jarring under the circumstance, Lynda thought. But both Davitch and Govinda snickered and Govinda followed it up with a smart, “Aye, sir!”
“Hey! You just gonna leave us now, waltz on out without tellin’ us?” It was Mayhew again. He had, apparently, remembered how to be bellicose. “What are you tryin’ to pull?”
The former contestant wasn’t graceful, especially not when he couldn’t easily see where he was going, but he kept pushing, bumping his way past people in the dark, with no apologies for damaged toes or shins. His dark complexion made him almost invisible, but his sweat caught what light there was. Lynda wondered if he was always like this. If he was, she was sorry for whoever did his laundry.
“Oh, for the love of — we’re not pulling anything. We’re going to turn the lights back on,” Jack said.
“We’re supposed to believe that? You looking for a way out? Oh, that’d be typical. Just like you military types,” Mayhew said, loudly aggrieved. “Yeah, that’s it; you’ve got some way out! Why should we believe anything you say? We’re not gonna let you do it, not without us!”
“Shoot me now,” Jack said mildly, almost to himself. He sighed, and went on. “Alright, Roderick, defender of the common man. I guess there’s nothing for it. You’ve shamed us into it...you’re coming with us.”
“Oh...oh no, that’s out, right out,” Mayhew objected.
Jack ignored him. “Folks, in case you didn’t hear, Mr. Roderick Mayhew here isn’t certain he can trust us not to pull out the yacht we’ve been keeping in reserve and leg it someplace safe, now that we’re bored with being tired, hungry and abandoned on a damaged space platform. You all remember Roderick, right? His accuracy about the existence of Daleks? We’re going to take him with us, and he’ll keep us honest.”
Someone tried to stifle a laugh as Mayhew’s protestations turned into an angry squawk. Alex and Roger had grabbed the chesty little man and frogmarched him over to Jack.
“Look, I didn’t mean — "
"I know what you meant, pal,” Jack said. “Why is there always one?”
“As far as I’m concerned there’s about 50 of them, Harkness,” Meg said, looking as saturnine as she ever had. “What say we donate this one to Anders?”
“Nah, you wouldn’t dare! You wouldn’t! Don’t...please?”
“Oh, just shut the hell up,” Lynda suddenly snarled, the anger gouting out with her words. Mayhew gaped at her. Govinda and Meg stared.
So did Jack. He scanned her face as carefully as he could in that light. “Lynda, what’s your pleasure?”
She shut her lips over what wanted to come out; I want the stars, I want anywhere away from everything, from all of you, from all of this wouldn’t help.
“I’m going with you. Up to the — “ she stopped herself. “With you.”
He nodded slowly. “Good.”
Lynda’s heart was pounding, in tandem with her head. When she put a hand to her forehead, it came away just as sweaty as Mayhew’s. That upset her more than the anger.
Roger and Alex placed their torches on the table nearest them, affixing them so that the separate beams pooled in the center of the main cafeteria, and, not coincidentally, alleviated the tension just a little more.
“We need some help getting cots in here. Anyone who volunteers gets first crack at one,” Roger shouted. The civilians probably didn’t notice that he was almost as tense as they were. Jack took advantage of the ensuing clamor to organize his party.
“Alright, let’s saddle up. Check your comms before we go; I want clear channels and no problems.” He stopped. “Ready?”
“Got it,” Hsieh said.
“Yes.” That was Lem, a thin woman almost overwhelmed by her own body armor.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Meg said, unconsciously cradling her clipboard closer to her breast. Govinda reached out and patted the older woman on the arm, turned and hugged Davitch fiercely, then broke away and made for the door. The other six followed, Hsieh with one hand on Mayhew’s shoulder and the other quite firmly in the small of the other man’s back. Mayhew looked as if he was about to throw up, but he said nothing.
If she’d been unnerved by her first resurrected minutes in that bullet-littered lobby, it was worse now; the corridor outside the cafeteria was unvarnishedly eerie. The emergency lamps were brighter here, but that made the shadows darker. By the time she’d taken three steps beyond the door, the cafeteria and its relative comfort seemed miles behind them. Lynda hoped very hard that the lift would be lit.
“We’re not using the lift,” Jack said quietly as they reached the lobby.
“Cameras?” Meg was obviously trying not to sound nervous as she pitched her voice to Jack’s level.
“Cameras,” Hsieh agreed, also sotto voce. “And audio.”
Lynda looked to Govinda, who shrugged, at a loss.
Jack motioned everyone closer for some explanation.
“When Iris was pulling her ‘I see you’ act, she cut the audio from her end for a minute, probably to talk to someone with her. It gave us time to compare notes, and Hsieh did some comm snooping of his own. When I resumed our tete a tete, he used his security over-rides on the sound system. We couldn’t cut off her access to us, but we blocked her broadcast ability temporarily, and scrambled the cafeteria signal a little. More important, we tracked her signal. She’s definitely in Ground Force, so we have to assume everyone in there is hers.”
“Facilitators,” Lynda said. “She’s one, so that’s got something to do with it.”
“Look, excuse me,” Mayhew said, very politely, very anxiously. “You going to do something about this bint?”
“Lem?” Hsieh said, softly.
“Right.” Lem fumbled briefly in her side kit, then brought out a long tube that Lynda only identified as a hypojet after she heard it hiss, and saw Mayhew slide bonelessly to the floor. Lem rolled him, grabbed his arms with practiced ease, and cuffed him. Then she pulled out a second set of slightly larger cuffs and hobbled his legs.
“Where do you want him?” she whispered to her boss while Jack looked grateful.
Lem was stronger than she appeared. She dragged her unconscious package across the lobby, stopping just short of another corridor and hitting some unobtrusive buttons next to its archway. A panel slid open on an oblong of darkness, into which she pushed Mayhew. She did it carefully, though, adjusting him so his nose wasn’t up against the wall.
Lynda thought about the men who’d taken the three of them into custody in the Weakest Link studio, after the transport ray hit the girl, the Doctor’s girl. They’d been less than kind; she touched her left shoulder as the memory hit, unsurprised to find a bruise there.
Of course a bruise was better than being beamed onto a Dalek ship, being surrounded by a crowd of the screaming monsters. Still, the Doctor did get her back, his girl with the golden hair...what was her name?
Rose, her name was Rose, why did she keep forgetting that?
Lynda cried out as the inchoate flood bubbled and burned her mind. Her knees started to buckle but Meg put out an arm and steadied her as she sank to a crouch. Jack spun, took two steps to reach her, fingers to his lips, anger warring with worry as he approached.
“Sorry,” she gasped. “Dunno...I...never mind. Sorry.”
“You can’t do this, sweetheart,” he said. “If you’re not up to this, you have to go back.”
“Yes, I damn well can do it, and you need me,” she hissed, fighting embarrassment, her upwelling anger and the dying reverberations of the mental attack.
He pulled back. “Why?”
She pushed away the ghosts that gathered, unanticipated, to murmur in her memory, telling her that no one needed her. “I don’t know. Not yet. But you need everyone, Jack.”
It sounded absolutely bollocks, even to her. Especially to her. She shut her eyes and bit her lip, trying to keep the tears and the rage in check.
“Is it your cheek, hon?” Govinda didn’t realize how much she sounded like Jack when she said that. Lynda just shook her head. Deep inside, part of her chuckled; she had spent nearly all of her life on the edge and on the fringes, no one paying any attention to her. Die, revive, and she couldn’t get out of the bloody spotlight.
“Folks, we’ve dealt with the mouth,” Hsieh said. He’ll be out for at least two hours. We’ve got to move, and do it quietly. Ma’am, can you stand up?”
She nodded wordlessly, and stood up.
The Captain looked at her once more, then bowed his head in the slightest acquiescence. His eyes slid right of her to settle on a section of wall, just beyond the tiny cell Hsieh had called the crook closet. As if it was a signal, the six of them moved in that direction. Lynda couldn’t see why, until Lem and Hsieh bent over and pulled a panel off.
“We have three jobs now, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack whispered. “We have to get to Floor 80 unnoticed — hence this back-door route. It has cameras, but we’re betting she hasn’t thought to check the maintenance visuals. She’s strictly IT, and it shouldn’t occur to her unless someone tells her. If we’re lucky, the people with her are IT too. If not, I guess all bets are off.
“Before we get there, we have a side trip to where we may — I stress may — find some very necessary materiel. We have to do all of this in the dark.
“Third, we have to neutralize Anders, with or without arms, before she actually figures out how to kill us. That all clear?”
“We have four jobs, Jack," Lynda whispered apologetically.
Jack made a moue and nodded. "Right. We still have to get to the archives. That was our original goal. We still need to find everything we can on communications and the colonies.
"So — we find almost certainly nonexistent guns and ammo, ambush 50 much more heavily armed nut jobs, restrain or neutralize them, then pore through a database that’s probably booby-trapped to hide anything useful. It’s easy, it’s fun at the old ball park.
“By the way, Lynda -- your hair looks good that way.”
Well. She put a hand to the side of her head, and smiled back at him.
Fight, conquer, discover, survive? This should be simple.
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