Stuck in Traffic at the Magic Roundabout by xwingace [Reviews - 10] |
Credit: jmtorres, shade_shifter and Dune for their insightful and helpful comments for improving this fic. jmtorres also pushed me to take this fic much farther than it did originally, and made it much better as a result. Should there still be any mistakes or strange things left, then they are of course down to me.
Earth, somewhere in the 20th century.
Jack groaned as he pulled himself from the wreckage of the small time-ship he’d bartered a ride on. He’d known those temporal aligners had been off, but would the pilot listen? He was lucky to have made it out alive. He felt a light breeze blow over his body. All over. His clothing was gone. Ripped to tatters too small to hang together.
He looked back at the remains of the ship. From what he could see by the light of the stars, all that was left were some bits of interior hull metal worn away so far they were little more than foil, and scattered pieces of what might have been the ship’s pilot and the one other passenger. No way in hell could anybody have survived that.
This didn’t feel right at all.
Still, at least it looked like he’d managed to get to Earth. With that alone, he’d exponentially increased his chances of running into the Doctor at some point. So the next thing to do was to find out when he’d managed to end up.
Oh, and to find some clothing. There was a chill in the air, and he’d like to keep certain things functioning, thank you very much. He picked a random direction and set off.
He walked past more and more wreckage. It looked like the ship had been shedding material long before it hit the ground. Small surprise, that. As he kept on walking, the chill in the air disappeared with the rising sun. So, summer, then. Judging by the distance he’d managed to travel across farmland and meadows without running into any people, he was in a country that had the room for large-scale farming and grazing.
A scarecrow on a field abandoned by everything but crows supplied something approaching clothing. Although the temperature didn’t require it at the moment, walking around naked wasn’t something tolerated all that well in most of the earth societies advanced enough to have clothing of this kind, but too backward to have concreted over all of their farmland.
He found a road, initially not much more than a dirt track. After a few miles it crossed with a slightly better maintained road that was paved with asphalt. Good. That put him at some time around the 20th century or later. (Those temporal orienteering lessons had been good for something, at least.) And where there was a road, there were people, and thus the chance to ask questions about the date.
“Hold it right there,” a voice behind Jack rang, accompanied by the sound of a blaster charging for a shot. Lethal charge, by the sound of the whine. But that wasn’t what sent sudden cold shivers down Jack’s spine despite the burning midday sun.
He mentally started cataloguing the times he’d been on past-Earth, more specifically the locations and dates of his missions in the 19th to 21st centuries. He couldn’t remember ever coming to a location like this to arrest someone for messing with history. Those kinds of offences tended to happen in more public areas. He certainly didn’t remember ever making contact with vagrants that looked the way he must now.
Then again, this sort of thing was the perfect assignment to hand over to a promising young officer who’d just been promoted to command his own team. Loads of empty space around and not many people meant that a major screw-up wouldn’t be unrecoverable. And boy was this a screw-up.
“How do you know you’ve got the right guy?” Jack asked, not turning around. Now was not the time to show his face.
“Because the wrong guy wouldn’t ask that question,” his younger self answered. “And I highly doubt people would be walking around with wrist computers in the 1940’s,” he continued. Well, at least he’d been observant even back then, Jack considered. But that talent was going to cause a lot of trouble very soon now.
Should he run? It was probably the best option, because turning around and coming quietly would be causing all kinds of hell with the timeline. The importance of not running into oneself had been drummed into him from the first day in the academy. After that, one of his first assignments had been to clean up after another recruit who hadn’t just run into himself, but had thought it a good idea to have a nice chat about his future prospects. It’d all gone perfectly well until the two of them touched.
According to the after-action briefings, the still unnamed young recruit recovered from a coma after six months with absolutely no memory of the encounter. Of his older version, only ashes were salvaged.
Then again, Captain Young And Eager back there was armed and authorised to use lethal force. Jack’d never been a bad shot. Running away with his younger self aiming a sonic blaster at him from this distance was almost certain death as well.
Still, it was a choice between almost certain death and definite certain death. So running it was. There was a ditch about half a mile back that was overgrown enough that it could hide him for a while. If he could reach it, that was his shelter. Now all he needed was a little distraction so that that ‘almost’ could be converted to a ‘maybe’. Those were probably the best odds he’d get.
“Hey! Am I talking to myself here? I said, ‘turn around!’”
No distractions were presenting themselves. And young Jack was getting impatient, too. Well, he would, given how Jack was ignoring him. Something else that hadn’t really changed. Being ignored always stung. Okay. Then maybe he should be the distraction himself.
Very slowly, keeping his face hidden as long as possible, Jack turned around. God, the kid looked young. Jack didn’t remember ever being that young. Then again, that didn’t have to be a good sign.
Now the kid recognised him, and the look and exclamation of surprise coincided with a marginal lowering of the blaster. Jack took off, running almost straight at the kid, only swerving at the last possible instant to avoid direct contact. The kid shied away, hopefully from the same impulse.
“Stop! I’ll shoot!” Jack ignored the cries and kept running, his younger self in pursuit. The kid had well over a decade on him in fitness and was better dressed for this sort of activity, but in fact cross-country running wasn’t something very many Time Agents did on a regular basis and Jack knew the lay of the land better. He might just get away. The distance was increasing already.
He was almost at his intended hide-out when the sonic blast hit him and he felt his ribs shatter into his lungs. With the last bit of life he had left, Jack dove into the bushes. Then it went dark.
When he woke up, he was lying in the scrubs, and he heard his younger self approaching. The kid was mumbling. It sounded like “ohmygodohmygodohmygod.” Jack crawled deeper into the bushes, so that he would be better hidden.
Only then did the thought penetrate that he’d been lethally shot only moments before, and now he wasn’t even feeling any pain in his ribs. Oh, shit. He’d known something hadn’t been right about that crash.
Young Jack’s mumbling was interrupted by a second voice, probably one of his subordinates. “Sir, are you okay?”
“Y-yeah. I’m fine.” Jack could hear himself trying to pull together in those few words. And after clearing his throat he appeared to have managed it, because the next words came with confidence and authority. “There’s nothing here. It appears the bodies we found were those of the only occupants of the craft after all.” After a short further discussion, both of them left.
Captain Jack Harkness (brevet only) dropped into one of the uncomfortable seats on the Agency time ship, for now blessing the privilege of rank that meant he wouldn’t have to actually pilot the thing. That left him some time alone to collect his thoughts and nerves while his two subordinates busied themselves with getting the ship back on Agency time.
He’d expected this to be an easy mission: in the unlikely event that anyone who had thought it a good idea to try and fly a malfunctioning time ship anywhere had survived the attempt, arrest them, and in any case clean up the mess that had resulted from it ending up, well, everywhere.
It all seemed to be going according to those expectations until he’d spotted a trail leading away from the wreckage. He’d followed it, and found…something.
To suddenly stand face to face with oneself, and not in the mirror, was a greater shock than he’d anticipated. It wasn’t impossible, after all, not with time travel. But according to the lectures, it was usually ugly.
And now he had first-hand confirmation of that. He’d shot himself! Training had taken over on that one; he’d pulled the trigger before he’d even realised it. What a way to commit suicide.
Then again, it didn’t have to be, did it? Shape-shifters weren’t very common, but they weren’t unheard of, either. Maybe the escapee had been one of them, and had shifted into the shape of his attacker as a shock mechanism.
Yeah, that had to be it. Then again, why didn’t the thing also copy his clothing? It was a lot better than the rags it was wearing. And where had it got hold of an Agency wrist com?
He had to stop thinking about this. It was dead now, in any case. He’d been sure of his aim, and his blaster had been set to kill. No use for regrets now, whatever he’d shot at.
But he’d still better check when he got back to the Agency.
New York, Dec 21 1950.
“Truly, the tripe they dare put on stage these days is just atrocious. But then I don’t think I could have expected anything less from someone of Mr Porter’s reputation.” Evelyn Whitaker pursed her lips disapprovingly while she looked at her escort for acknowledgement of her remark.
Jack replied with a shrug. “I rather liked the music.” It had been the one saving grace of the evening, which otherwise truly hadn’t held much in the way of entertainment.
Typically, Evelyn was ignoring his dissent, and was already deep in conversation with one of her so-called friends ¬- social rivals being the more correct term — who was also expressing disapproval of the performance.
“‘Out of This World’, indeed. Still, one must allow for amusement, I suppose. Oh, but dear Evey, who is that marvellous specimen of masculinity on your arm?”
“Haven’t I introduced Jack to you yet? Jack Harkness, meet Margaret Daltrey.”
Jack bowed slightly to the other woman and conjured up one of his more charming grins. While the whole group entered a carriage that would take them to the opening night party, the conversation turned first of all to where ‘Evey’ had dug him, Jack, up. He ignored it. All part of the business. That, after all, was the only reason he was here. Women like the one he was escorting had money; money he needed.
Starting with whatever work people were willing to give to a ragged wanderer, it had taken Jack three and a half years to work his way from New Mexico to New York and from the gutter to something that to the untrained eye appeared to be wealth. He’d used all means at his disposal, which meant that as the apparent working conditions improved, in many ways they actually deteriorated. At the moment he was serving as an escort, in all senses of the word, to this heiress, rich and shrewd enough to have gotten through an economic depression and a full-out war with most of her fortune intact and hypocritical enough to condemn what she deemed loose morality in others.
In those three years in more and less —usually less- savoury jobs, he’d had plenty of chances to test out that deep sinking feeling he’d been left with after his younger self abandoned him for dead somewhere in a field in New Mexico. The conclusions? Getting crushed under half a tonne of bricks left him a bit sore the next day. Soreness not caused by the bricks themselves, but rather by running away from the villagers who’d concluded that the drifter they’d hired to help build their church was possessed by the devil (and how far wrong were they, really?). Getting shot generally didn’t even hurt long enough to slow him down, unless the shooter hit his heart or head or used explosive rounds. Plenty of experience with that one. Same with knives. Poison made any food he’d eaten the previous day come out of every orifice available, but otherwise didn’t do shit.
No more dying for Jack Harkness.
And that meant that something more had to have happened all the way back on the Game Station than just him surviving a point-blank shot from a Dalek Death Ray. To find out what, he’d have to find the Doctor again. And then he could also show his gratitude for being left behind for dead.
But hanging around random American cities doing odd jobs for normal people (even if ‘normal’ tended to be defined as at least two out of the trio of ‘rich, criminal, and insane’ lately) wasn’t going to get him any closer to that. The Doctor tended to come where trouble of alien cause presented itself, and these couple of centuries were plenty renowned for troubles with alien causes. The problem was most of the interesting ones took place in England.
So he had to get himself across that very big ocean, preferably with enough cash that his actual arrival would go unnoticed through the official channels. Because otherwise he was likely to be first picked up for desertion, and then poked and prodded by every kind of doctor imaginable (except the right one) because he didn’t stay dead when he got shot.
He needed money. The kind of money currently in the possession of, for instance, the society grande dame who went to the opening night of a musical whose morality she condemned solely because it was the done thing to be seen appearing at these occasions as sumptuously dressed as she could possibly afford.
He helped both Evelyn and Margaret out of the carriage and was thanked for his efforts with a nod by the latter and not at all by the former. A porter held open the door to the fancy hotel that hosted the opening night party. Once inside, he accepted Evelyn’s stole in order to deposit it at the wardrobe.
“You’ll have to tell them to take better care of it this time,” he was admonished as he took the stole. “Last time, one of those terrible coloureds stole my brooch. I’ll not have it happen again.”
He nodded politely at that, and walked over to the wardrobe, discreetly pocketing the diamond brooch that had kept the stole closed and replacing it with something that looked like it in most lights. She was shrewd, he was shrewder. Still, it grated to be reduced to what was essentially petty theft.
He was just about to turn the item in at the wardrobe counter when he froze. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a man and a young woman coming out of the hotel bar. The woman wasn’t important, but the man…
Shit. And Jack’d been spotted, because the woman was being abandoned, and the man was coming toward him.
He threw the stole on the counter and ran for the door. Great, drawing attention to himself. Outside, he pushed his way through the crowd still waiting to enter, then set off along the street, dodging into the first alley that presented itself.
Dead end. And his pursuit was already entering the alley, shouting for him to wait. Looked like there was nothing else to do.
He turned around to face his shadow. “You know, if I had any confidence left that Agency Command wouldn’t fuck up royally, this would seriously shake it.” When the other man kept approaching, he threw up his hands in a ‘stop’ gesture. “Stay there. This is bad enough as it is.”
The other slowed down, but didn’t stop completely. “Don’t worry; I think I know how far I can go. And for the record, I’m not on assignment. I came to find you.”
Demons, deities and the Doctor, did the kid just say that? Jack let his hands fall back to his sides. “Please tell me I’m hallucinating.”
“That’s what I thought,” his younger self answered, “when I got back from that mission. I couldn’t possibly have just shot myself, could I?” He came a little closer. A ray of light fell on his face, revealing an expression somewhere between curiosity and awe. “But then I went and checked, and I did. And I know I hit, and that shot was lethal.”
Jack backed away. “You shouldn’t even have been able to find that out.” As he recalled, those records tended to be closed for exactly this sort of reason.
The kid broke into a grin. “I have friends in the right places.” The grin dropped, to be replaced by a frown. “But it’s incredible, isn’t it? I mean, how did this happen?”
Jack edged along the wall, hoping to get past his younger self; to escape. “I’d say you’ll find out soon enough if you keep this up. Now get lost.” He was past, the alley mouth lay open to him, and he ran out. He ignored the kid yelling after him to wait. He didn’t stop running until he was absolutely sure he wasn’t being followed anymore.
London, August 1951
Feeling slightly anxious, Jack rang the doorbell. It wasn’t quite the neighbourhood Jack had expected to end up in. He’d expected a small house for a small family, maybe, or even a large townhouse for the son of a well to do family and an officer in His Majesty’s Army. Not something that was essentially a boarding-house. A high-class boarding house, but a boarding house nonetheless.
Someone who was probably a butler opened the door. Jack asked for Major Algernon, only to be told that Colonel Algernon would be attending to him shortly.
Sure enough, within a minute Algy was descending the stairs. When he caught sight of Jack, he paused for just an instant. His expression was one of shock and curiosity. When he started to move again, it was at a much slower pace. “Jack?”
Jack smiled. “Algy. Hey.” Damn, this was even more awkward than he’d anticipated. He’d wanted to see Algy again; the man was after all pretty much the only friend Jack could expect to have in this time period. That friendship might also have been considered to have ended with Jack’s disappearance over ten years ago in Algy’s timeline, however. That was something that might still come between them, if only because it could be taken as desertion from certain points of view.
Algy had now come all the way down to the landing, still studying Jack intently. “By God, Jack, it is you.” The man took a deep breath, and then quickly closed the remaining distance to shake Jack’s hand and pat him on the back. “What a surprise.” Algy stepped back and gestured up the stairs. “Come in.”
Once in Algy’s rooms, Jack admired the surroundings. Pretty luxurious, all things considered. “Nice. Not what I’d expected, but nice.”
“One does one’s best.” Algy pointed him to an armchair. “So what had you expected?” He went to a small cabinet and took out a crystal flask. “Brandy?”
“I’m good, thanks.” He was feeling nervous enough already. No need to unsteady himself any further. He settled back into the chair. “For one, I really hadn’t thought to find a guy like you still single.”
Algy responded with a careful smile. “Yes, well, with one thing and another, matters never seem to have progressed to that point. King and country and all that, you know.” Algy checked the clock. “Oh dear. Jack, I’m terribly sorry, but I promised I would make a telephone call. Would you mind waiting?”
Jack shrugged in an attempt to indicate he didn’t really have a choice. Algy nodded and with a reminder to Jack to help himself from the drinks cabinet, he went into the hallway.
When Algy came back, he poured himself a shot of brandy and knocked it back in one gulp. He then poured another and again offered a glass to Jack. He refused again. “Just water, thanks.”
Algy busied himself getting Jack a glass of water, and when that feat was finally accomplished, sat down on the chair opposite Jack.
Silence reigned for long seconds.
It was Algy who finally broke it. “Well then, old man, what have you been up to in the past decade?”
And here came the difficult bit. Making up lies was easy, and Jack had thought out his story well in advance; had in fact mentally rehearsed this conversation. But now, in reality, it didn’t seem to want to go as well as it had in his mind, and both he and Algy left long silences between their questions and explanations.
After about ten minutes, the doorbell downstairs rang.
“Must be for one of the others,” Algy said, draining his glass. He looked at it and then pushed himself out of the chair to walk over to the drinks cabinet again. “Are you sure I can’t tempt you?”
Okay, now something was definitely off. Jack had never known Algy to drink to any sort of excess, but now he was already moving to pour his third brandy in not even half an hour. He also started to come up out of his chair. “What’s going on, Algy?”
Algy turned back from the cabinet, now not holding a glass, but a gun, pointed directly at Jack. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
At the same time, the door into the room burst open and people — soldiers — poured in. They quickly surrounded Jack, not leaving him much choice but to put up his hands.
Jack Harkness (Captain) now owed several thousand favours, sexual and otherwise, to Marek Salvatorian in Personnel and Records. In exchange for those, he had managed to acquire the full intelligence brief that had instigated his mission to Earth. So far, the news wasn’t good. It appeared he actually had shot himself in the back.
However, thanks to Lieutenant Natalya Feodorova in Historical Continuity (who merely required a score of romantic engagements and a record of his voiceprint, which for some reason granted access up to a much higher clearance level than it should if used properly), he also had a record of other sightings of Jack Harkness throughout the six years following the incident. He’d survived —would survive — it and even more gruesome incidents in the years after. This wasn’t just a relief, or even merely interesting; it was positively fascinating.
How? A full sonic blast to the chest or back was lethal, Jack was sure of it. And he had hit his fleeing self with such a blast. A few hundred kilograms of falling bricks should also be lethal when they hit someone on the head, but he’d appeared to have survived that, too.
All the strings he’d been able to pull hadn’t managed to get him an answer to these questions, but there was someone else who might be able to give them to him. He pulled up the record of the last sighting. It had him in captivity somewhere in London in 1953. Not just that, but the institution that was holding him was a precursor to the Time Agency.
A man was supposed to be grateful for help in an escape attempt, right? All the more so if it would actually help prevent another paradox.
London, June 1953
Jack once again cursed his impulses to go find the one man he might still have called ‘friend’ in this day and age. That had got him exactly where he’d hoped to avoid getting: locked up.
Oh, the confinement didn’t lack for comfort or space, considering the time period, and he’d mostly been treated with a strange sort of reverence. But he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything unsupervised, and almost all interaction with other people consisted of interrogations of one sort or another. He was also reasonably sure his rooms were being observed around the clock. Couldn’t trust anybody in this day and age.
Someone entered the room. Jack looked around, confirming his suspicions. It was the Judas himself. He was holding a small box that looked to be made of bakelite. “Morning, Jack.”
When Jack didn’t reply (churlish, yes, but what would have been the point?), Algy swallowed, and then came closer and held out the box. “Would you mind taking a look at this?”
Jack took it. The box had a bakelite outer shell with two turn dials and a small glass screen that had been smashed. Inside were the remains of what passed for electronics these days.
“It’s a TV. A broken one.” He handed it back. Even if Algy wouldn’t have demanded its return, as he always did, there wasn’t even anything worth palming in there. It was hard to believe that the Torchwood Institute, competent enough to not just capture him but hold on to him, could come up with no better ‘alien’ artefacts than this.
“A television, this small? That’s ridiculous. There has to be something alien in there.”
“Nothing that I can see.”
That was the conversation for today. Algy left. He paused at the door as if he wanted to say something else, but seemed to think better of it at the last moment. Like he usually did. That left Jack alone again, probably for the rest of the day and most likely for days after. The artefact capture rate was either very low, or they didn’t trust him to look at the more dangerous things. That would also explain the lack of impressive artefacts being shown to him, come to think of it.
Wouldn’t surprise him, either. It wasn’t as if Jack hadn’t already tried to escape. It’d only gotten him killed and captured again, this time with a side order of invasive medical procedures, before he was returned to these same old quarters. With double the guard outside the door.
He picked up a book and sank into his chair. Maybe Dickens could take his mind off things.
“Man, it’s stuffy in here.”
The sound of his own voice startled Jack into dropping the book. He jumped out of his chair and found his younger self leaning against a cabinet, checking out the surroundings and grinning widely.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Breaking you out. What does it look like?” He checked the settings on the very same kind of wrist computer that was now being investigated in careful detail somewhere in the Institute. “Let’s see. These biosignature settings should work for the both of us if I just do…” He touched two buttons, and the room faded from view.
It was replaced by the narrow confines of an Agency time ship. “...this. There.” The kid looked at Jack triumphantly.
Jack wasn’t feeling nearly as celebratory. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire. “I can’t believe I was ever this idiotic,” he mumbled, then raised his voice. “Do you want to cause disaster?”
His younger self’s smile faded. “You could at least be a little grateful, you know.”
“No, I don’t. I need to get out of here. Now.” Jack dashed over to the transport controls.
The kid tried to stop him. “Wait! Don’t go. You disappear after this. Please…”
But Jack was already gone.
He had set the coordinates randomly, and his luck wasn’t really with him today, as it appeared he’d managed to get back on solid ground right outside the Institute’s main entrance. Still, at least he’d avoided causing a paradox. Again. “Kids these days…”
“You seem to have hit on one of the constants of the universe, sir.”
Jack hadn’t been aware that he’d spoken aloud, and the reply startled him. It had come from a man whose main distinguishing features were a head full of wild curls and a scarf that was about four times as long as it needed to be and four times as colourful, too.
The man offered him a paper bag containing some sort of candy. “Still, we’ve all been young once, haven’t we?” Better add a grin with more teeth than humanly possible to that list, and a voice that seemed to come from somewhere near the centre of the earth. The grin disappeared as the stranger spotted something. “Ah, but there are some people who appear to be chasing after you.”
Jack followed the stranger’s gaze and sure enough, there was a squad of guards, led by Algy, coming in his direction.
“Best make a run for it, I’d say.” It was good advice, and Jack was away before the sentence was even completely finished.
He made it to the bank of the Thames and dove in without thinking. So much so that he got caught in the wash of a ship’s screw and drowned.
His first sight after he drew breath was Algy’s face. Great.
After the teleportation, Jack had stood staring at the empty spot that a few seconds before had held his future version, wondering when he would become so far stuck up himself. Worst of all, he still hadn’t gotten any answers.
Still, he hadn’t gotten to where he was now by giving up easily. There were other points where he could get Jack Harkness senior alone. He already had the records of sightings; all he’d had to do was go there.
Unfortunately, getting there and getting his older self alone turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than he’d really anticipated. He only had limited time and resources in between official missions, and the reports he had merely gave approximate locations and times. He spent a dozen missions looking for himself all over the United States of America in the late 1940’s without much luck. In some cases he got there too early, most others he was either too late or it proved impossible to get to his target safely. In one case he even had to beat a hasty retreat from an inordinately murderous gangster.
Then when he did get his chance, it was almost unexpected.
He’d been sure he’d missed his opportunity once again, and so had taken advantage of the situation to make contact with a very beautiful young lady. He’d been about to take even further advantage when he’d walked into the hotel lobby and spotted himself.
Senior had even made things easy on him, in a way, by running off. Once Jack had managed to catch up to him, they’d been alone. And yet, despite all that, he still hadn’t got any answers. Honestly, he needed to find out what was going to happen to him that would make him so humourless, so that he could prevent it from ever occurring.
As soon as he got back to the base he visited Natalya again, in order to pay some of what he owed her. After a highly enjoyable week, he started turning his talents to persuading her to do him another favour.
The results weren’t quite as spectacular as the last time. Natalya did manage to get him another list of Jack Harkness sightings, but he remembered quite a number of them as being training missions, and so belonging to an earlier version. Those wouldn’t do him any good. Almost every single other sighting seemed to take place during some sort of alien invasion or an all-out war. Jack was sure that in cases like that, he wasn’t likely to get his answers either.
Only one report looked promising. Granted, the descriptions of the circumstances of that particular date included severe earthquakes, but there seemed to be a period of several hours before the earthquakes started that might serve.
Forty years. Forty years, more or less, since he’d managed to convince the people of Torchwood head office that he could be trusted enough to actually run one of the lesser branches. All while still under direct supervision, of course, but the fellow who had replaced Algy as his minder by then had proven to be a lot more amenable to persuasion. And with his file sealed away so securely that only the queen might find out who Torchwood thought he was, maybe, if she insisted, even that had ended with the man’s eventual retirement. Bureaucracy, apparently, was good for something. To the vast majority of the Torchwood staff, he was now just one of the team.
Of course this all rather implied he’d been sitting in Cardiff for all that time, collecting little bits and pieces of alien junk, jumping at the merest mention of a Doctor and usually being disappointed when it didn’t turn out to be the right one.
There’d been the fire at Hendrik’s in London in March last year, sure, and the temporary destruction of 10 Downing Street, but he knew exactly when that had happened and he didn’t dare interfere in it.
Which also meant that after forty years of futilely waiting for the Doctor, today the Doctor would come to Cardiff and Jack would have to stay out of the way. He’d even had to direct attention away from the fact that an alien in disguise had become the mayor of Cardiff, all in order to ensure that events would play out as they already had.
The Hub was empty; all other staff sent home or to London for training. The cameras keeping an eye on the topside fountain weren’t recording. The feed was still running, though, because there was no way he wasn’t at least going to look.
The blue box arrived in front of the fountain. Not much later, Mickey Smith arrived and knocked on the doors. A few minutes later, Mickey, Rose, the Doctor and yet another version of himself left the TARDIS to go explore Cardiff.
They wouldn’t come back for at least three hours. If he wanted to do anything, now was the time.
Jack hadn’t intended to actually go to the TARDIS, but he found himself outside the blue doors before he really realised what he was doing. It felt like coming home. He reached out his hand to touch the painted doors. Something in the back of his mind, some instinct perhaps acquired during all these years, stopped him before his fingers brushed the painted wood.
He turned away and returned to his desk below ground, watching and waiting.
He watched the four of them return to the TARDIS, accompanied by Margaret Blaine.
He watched first Mickey and Rose leave, then the Doctor and Margaret.
Then he saw himself, on another monitor, in one of the side streets leading to the Millennium Centre.
He was out of his chair and into the lift in an instant, pausing only to grab the portable force cage that’d come in yesterday.
By the time he got up there, his younger (youngest? Damn, he didn’t need a headache to top this all off) version was almost at the end of the alley leading onto Bute Place. Jack looked around. Quiet enough. He’d just have to risk it.
He flung the force cage at the man in front of him, trapping him in blue swirls. The young man seemed genuinely surprised to be caught like this. He spun around to identify his captor, and then did a rapid double take, looking toward the TARDIS then back at Jack.
“How did you get here?” His voice was a mixture of astonishment, disbelief, and, -incredibly enough- joy. He even continued in this vein. “This is fantastic. I thought you’d disappeared, but here you are. Twice, even!”
“Didn’t I tell you to stay away?” Jack asked, coming a little closer. The force cage would keep them apart far enough. “Repeatedly.”
His younger version looked a little chastised. He nodded. “You did. And after that last time in New York, I pretty much had to. I couldn’t find any spots where I could step in safely.” Jack must have looked pretty sceptical at that remark, because the kid interrupted his story. “Come on, you really think I’d be that crazy? I made sure it wouldn’t affect anything.”
“Depends on what you call ‘affecting’.”
“I helped you escape, didn’t I? Anyway, this is the last possible moment.” He pointed toward the TARDIS. “That thing is where it all changes. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with whatever will happen to me. The files I could get wouldn’t talk much about that.” He paused for breath. “And this is the only time I could find where I could get myself alone.”
“Well, you can’t.” Jack checked his watch. “In about two minutes, a temporal rift is going to open right under that blue box, and that’ll bring the other people on the ship running back. You’re already too late.”
Younger Jack looked disappointed for an instant, but cheered up almost immediately. “Oh, well. Maybe this time you’ll talk to me, then.” He ignored Jack’s eye roll. “I must admit, I hadn’t expected to find you here. You disappeared completely after that incident in the 50’s. No trace to be found.”
“Good. That means I’ll have some peace for a change.”
“Oh come on, that’s no fu…” the kid stopped mid-speech to adjust his balance. The earth had just started shaking. “What’s that?”
“The rift is opening.” Jack reached for the force cage controls. “I’ll let you go, if you go back to your ship and stay away. Okay?” His younger version nodded assent.
He released the cage. But just as he did that, there was another shock, and the released Jack stumbled in his direction. He was still too close. Reflexes that had nothing to do with temporal instincts but everything to do with the simple act of stopping something coming towards you flung out his hands and caught his younger version.
There was a brief sensation of burning ice, a howling in his ears, and then a seeming moment of nothingness before the pain in his lungs told him that taking a breath might be a good idea.
He opened his eyes. He was on the ground, still tangled with his younger version, apparently still unconscious. Jack disentangled himself and backed off. He wanted to check for a pulse, but he didn’t dare do that again. The same thing might happen.
Only now did he feel the headache and the numbness of his limbs. Temporal paradox resolution definitely wasn’t a good way to go.
Footsteps came into the alley. The feet belonged to a man who spotted the unconscious Jack first. “Here he is,” the man shouted back to someone else. Only then did he also see Jack standing two meters away, his only concealment a quickly upturned collar. It didn’t help much.
“Oh.” The man looked back and forth between Jack and his unconscious younger self. “Suddenly I have an inkling of why we were sent to arrest Captain Harkness.” Finally, he settled his gaze on Jack. “But which one do we need to take?”
Jack pointed at the prone body. “He’s been tracking me for a long time. I kept telling him to stay away, but he wouldn’t listen.” He realised something, and sighed. Fate was a bitch. “If he remembers anything, he might go looking for himself again. Our contact must have wiped most of it out already, but you’re probably best off erasing the past two years of his memory entirely.”
The agent’s partner had arrived, and together they were preparing the unconscious Jack’s body for transport. “We’ll pass that advice along, sir, thank you.”
Jack threw him a casual salute and started to walk away from the disaster area. He was halted one last time when the agent asked another question. “Sir? How are you still alive?”
Captain Jack Harkness lay on the table in the medical bay, utterly still. His only movement was the rising and falling of his chest in time with the respirator equipment. All other movement in the room was from the med-techs scurrying around him to attach more monitoring equipment and to administer treatment.
“He’s received quite a shock to his system,” one of the med-techs told a man standing in the next room, observing through a mirrored window. “And the memory treatments have exacerbated it. He’ll likely remain unconscious for a very long time, maybe as much as six months.”
“Thank you.” The man turned to the med-tech and smiled; a smile that didn’t carry into his blue eyes. “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you to make sure he gets the best possible care.”
“Of course not, Director.” The med-tech hesitated. He wasn’t quite sure how to phrase his next remark. “Sir, if I might ask…”
“That’ll be all, Doctor Kirii,” the man interrupted him. He waited until the med-tech had left the room, then turned to a woman standing next to him. “Any reports?”
The woman checked her tablet. “We still haven’t heard any news from Mme de Pompadour. We may have to write her off.”
“Shame. That was one of our best ships.”
“Yes, sir.” The woman ticked off the item. “New clearance systems for the personnel files are in place. That should prevent a fiasco like this happening again.” She pointed at Jack.
The man snorted. “I don’t think a fiasco like this is possible anymore. Do you?”
“I’m sure I have no opinion on that, sir.”
The man shot her a look, one eyebrow raised. “And I’m equally sure you do have one. But I’m not interested in hearing it. Anything else?”
“The number of recursion failures has decreased sharply over the past three hours. It would seem that this incident was what caused most of them.”
“No real surprises there, either.” Again, a humourless smile. “We’ll have to find something else to teach Agency recruits about the dangers of paradoxes now.” The man ran his hands though his short dark hair and over his face. He sighed. “Was that it?”
“Good. My compliments to everybody involved in this. If anything else comes up, let me know tomorrow.” Jack Harkness, Director General of the Time Agency, nodded to his assistant and walked out of the room. “Whenever that might be.”