“Captain Jack Harkness. And who are you?”
Her name was Clara Oswald. She had straight, dark hair, tied up for work inside a scarf, and a smudge of dirt across her pretty nose. Clara wore a set of overalls. They were fighting to restrain her curves, and they were losing.
Clara’s story (and holy moly, the woman could talk — kissing barely counted as punctuation) was that she was a civil engineer. A thankless gig, Jack reflected, for a woman in 1930 with the Great Depression just around the corner. Jack had six decades of deathlessness under the belt that Clara’s clever fingers were tugging loose, and seven to come before the century turned again. He wasn’t looking forward to the next stretch of history one little bit. Still, carpe diem and all that jazz. Jack arched against Clara’s supple hips to a riff in his head that Duke Ellington hadn’t written yet.
Clara left at dawn. Her latest job was on the Empire State Building, and she was not impressed at the mess the other contractors had made: Ingenium Magnum Construction, according to Clara, had turned the place into a “bloody death-trap”. Jack smoked a Lucky Strike at the window and watched her go. Killing the millennium, one aubade at a time.
It probably should not have surprised Jack as much as it did that the Blitz was worse the second time around.
He had no business being in London. The risk of breaking the First Law, of compromising his own time-line by mistake, was far too great. He shouldn’t have been in London on the actual day. And he most certainly shouldn’t — in London, on the actual day — have gotten himself pissed out of his mind to cope.
The rest of that night was, in retrospect, a bit of a blur. Jack vaguely recalled that there had been a long, earnest conversation with a man in a top hat and leather gloves. At an indeterminate point thereafter, Jack had sallied forth into the London blackout (and the occasional lamppost) for Albion Hospital, determined to take back what he had lost: Rose Tyler, the TARDIS, and the Doctor. The Blinovitch Limitation Principle could fuck itself; the Continuum could burn. They owed him this.
But then... somehow his arm was around a slender waist. Jack found himself being steered, gently but irresistibly, away from Limehouse, as though by a short, hot Pied Piper. Did that make Jack a little boy lost, or a rat? Jack realized that he had asked that question aloud. By then, however, his shirt was off, and her bra was undone, and the topic of multiple correspondences in mythic analogies was, perforce, put on hold.
Even through the fog of alcohol, her face had looked familiar. The memory only clicked in the morning, when she tossed her name back over her shoulder at the door. Jack tried to surge up to rush after her; the ghosts of fourteen pints ruled otherwise. He sank back on the bed, thinking about enigmatic women, and the advisability of a decade or six on the wagon.
1963, and Jack was stone-cold sober.
“You’re from the Agency, aren’t you?” he said.
She wrinkled her nose up at him. “Wow. Way to make a girl feel special, tiger. Be a dear, and leave a pony on the dresser when you go.”
He flushed. “I’m sorry... You mean...”
“Like I said, Jack, I’m a teacher. I don’t think that Coal Hill would be happy if I moonlighted. It’s all hands to the pumps, with the burglaries they’ve been having.”
“Then how do you explain the other times we’ve met?”
“I never met you before last night, you silly boy.”
Jack had lived for more than a hundred years now, and had been on both ends of an awful lot of cons. He looked down at Clara’s quizzical, honest face, and scratched his head.
“Right. Of course not. Sorry.”
“Apology accepted. Now get back down here...”
“You’re sure we haven’t met before?”
“Jack?” Fingers were being snapped under his nose. “Jack?”
“Huh? Oh — sorry, Gwen. Kinda zoned out for a moment there.”
“So I noticed.” Gwen tapped her biro against her teeth. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You run into gorgeous Clara, who doesn’t know you. You talk; you click; you have a night of astonishingly athletic sex — I don’t believe that the thing you described with her thighs and your left elbow is even possible, by the way....”
“Common misconception. All you have to do is...”
“... and you go your separate ways. A few years later, you run into her again. Same girl; same name; different life-story. She doesn’t seem to be any older, and she has no recollection of ever meeting you. Rinse. Repeat. Is that the gist of it?”
Gwen grinned evilly. “Maybe the sex is more special for you than it is for her.”
“You are enjoying this far too much.”
“Guilty as charged,” Gwen admitted. “Sorry. You know what a bitch having to do this crossword makes me.”
The Llandudno Sphinx was an ancient and powerful entity with a thirst for enigmas, which it approached with more enthusiasm than competence. If it was not fed enough puzzles, it became bored, and rampaged breaking things. If the puzzles it was fed were too easy, it felt insulted, and rampaged breaking things. If the puzzles were too hard, it ignored the mythological precedents that would have suggested suicide by chasm in favour of rampaging, and breaking things. Trial-and-error on the part of Torchwood Three had established that a Telegraph crossword which Gwen could complete within her lunch break was reliably at about its level, the complicated Spectator ones which Tosh preferred being caviar to the general. Gwen continued:
“Seriously, though, people do lose track. Back when I was a copper, I once had to pull my first love over for speeding. Gutted me something rotten when he didn’t know me. We had been a proper Romeo and Juliet. I remember when I gave him a daisy, and he gave me a used Elastoplast with my name written on it.” Jack raised his eyebrows. “We were seven.”
“Amnesia wouldn’t explain the multiple life-stories, or the lack of ageing.”
“You know other people who don’t get older, though. From what you’ve said, your little friend with the playing-cards won’t ever be trying out the grown-up rides at Alton Towers.”
“True. But the Tarot Girl never forgets who I am.”
“Immortality and Retcon?”
“Unlikely. I ran a tox scan with my wrist device the last time but three. She was clean.”
“Hmmm. Do you think that Bilis could be going all S&M with space-time again?”
“It’s a possibility. This doesn’t feel like his style, though.”
“Any other players on that sort of level?”
“A few. The Trickster’s Brigade. The Gods of Ragnarök. The Toymaker.”
“Strange guy. Very into clowns.”
Gwen shuddered. “Ew. Let’s hope it’s not him, then. Could it be...?” Her fingers fluttered in the pattern, somewhere between a benediction and the gesture that denotes a film when playing charades, that was Gwen’s voiceless short-hand for “The Doctor”.
“Could be. I’ve seen stuff like this happen around him before. If it is to do with him, it isn’t good.”
“Maybe she’s the Eternal Booty Call. An antibody generated by the Universe to protect itself against Jack Harkness.”
“Jack, since the day you said — correctly — that I would never get tired of following you, I have followed you into Hell, and I have followed you into Silly, and sometimes they can be hard to tell apart.” Gwen put down her pen. “This Clara... would you say that she’s a good person?”
“Difficult to be sure. We’re ships that pass — repeatedly — in the night. But if even half of what she’s said about her life — her lives — is true... yes. I think she is.”
“Then we help her. And we go on helping her unless we’re given a bloody good reason why we shouldn’t. It’s what we do.”
“So what’s her story this time, then?”
“This time, she says she’s from the future. She was a flight attendant on the Orient Express.”
Gwen frowned. “Why would the Orient Express need flight attend...”
“The Orient Express in space.”
“Ah. Silly me. Go on.”
“Clara noticed that something was up with the engine, sounded the alarm, and organized the evacuation. Good thing that she spotted the warning signs when she did, or what followed would have been a whole lot worse.” Jack sighed. “The Meganoeticon Corporation needs to learn that it’s a really bad plan to use a bound Osirian as a locomotive.”
“How did she wind up here?”
“Lifejacket. Standard issue where she’s from. It should have teleported her to a safe spot in Mission Control like the rest of the passengers and crew, but she was caught by the Rift en route, and things went screwy.”
“Can we send her home?”
“Not a problem. Tosh is helping her fix the lifejacket down below.”
Gwen eyed Jack’s guileless expression narrowly. “‘Helping her fix the lifejacket.’”
“They’ve been down there for two hours.”
“Tosh doesn’t take more than forty-five minutes to fix anything. She repaired the Compasses of Rassilon in thirty-two.”
“Tosh is getting naked with our guest, isn’t she.”
“Almost certainly.” Jack rose, and adjusted his lapels. “And I’m going to see if I can break it up.”
“Come on. Why shouldn’t Tosh get to have some fun? From what you say, Clara’s exactly her type. Great mind, great body...”
“I’m not planning on breaking it up like a scrum, Gwen. If the ladies are amenable, I’m going to break it up like crème brûlée.”
“You’ve told Ianto, I hope?”
“I just texted him. Ianto will be joining us.”
“Good man. Have fun, all of you.” Gwen picked up her biro again, and looked back at the puzzle. “This name is a victory for the Julian calendar (5). I wonder what that could be...”
“Are you ready to die, human £$%*&?” the helmeted figure bellowed.
“Not really, no,” said Gwen.
“Die you will,” the figure raised its neutron lance, “for both your weapons are empty.”
Gwen smiled. “Actually, I have three.”
Her adversary heard the movement behind its back and started to turn, but far too late.
“DO YOU £$%*ing WANT SOME, MATE?!”
“This is my better half,” Gwen continued, as the figure went down to a passable rugby tackle. “Stupid alien mook, meet Rhys. Rhys, meet stupid alien mook. And pull off that clasp on his shoulder, sweetheart. It’s what’s letting him hang on to this universe.”
“Will do, love.” Rhys wrenched off the clasp. The prostrate figure blurred out of focus, and disappeared. “No one calls my wife a £$%*&.” He paused, and frowned. “Actually, how did he even pronounce ‘£$%*&’? That’s just rubbish from the top row of a typewriter. More to the point, why do I keep saying ‘£$%*&’? I’m pretty sure that what I meant to say was £$%*&. Hang on...”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I think I know who’s at the bottom of this.” Gwen completed her reloads, and glared back at the blue box standing ajar behind her. “DOCTOR! Did you set the Gift of Tongues to censor what we’re saying?”
“Well, you know,” a somewhat defensive voice wafted out of the TARDIS, “whenever Torchwood hoves into view, everything always gets that little bit more sweary. I just thought I should have a go at doing something about it.”
“Oh, you £$%*ing Time Lord £$%*...”
“Guys,” said Jack. “A little focus? These cross-planar invaders...”
“The Iron Tribunes of Dimension X,” the Doctor added. “Inhabitants of a parasite universe — very nasty...”
“... are just going to keep on beaming in reinforcements. Is there anything we can do to stop that?”
“Absolutely,” the Doctor said brightly. “Just hook up the conceptual geometer to the dimensional stabilizer and... oh. Oh dear.”
Jack sighed, and headed into the TARDIS, while Gwen and Rhys readied weapons as more Tribunes shimmered into existence before them. The Doctor (the really scatter-brained one with the cute bow-tie, who proved it was possible to build a biped out of chins) was frantically plaiting cables together on the floor. The current Companion, to whom Jack had not yet been introduced (the crisis having escalated even quicker than usual) was visible only as a pair of small feet sticking out from under the console. One of the smart ones, then, if the Time Lord was letting her poke around in the old girl’s innards. Jack turned to the Doctor.
“What’s the problem?”
“Artron energy reservoirs are low, Jack.” The Doctor sucked his teeth. “We don’t have enough power to make the dimension dam work.”
Jack’s jaw clenched. “Then I need to get back outside. I...”
He turned to leave, only to find that his way was blocked. Jack looked down into a very familiar face.
“Oh, stand still, you silly boy,” said Clara, and kissed him.
For a moment the world was made of golden light. Then the Doctor crowed, as the cables thrummed.
“Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. Jack Harkness — Clara Oswald. But since that just worked, I know that in a sense you’ve met already.”
“That’s what I was hoping,” Clara grinned. “The Doctor’s told me about you, Jack. And because you get around, and I get around....”
“Your innumerable conjunctions have generated temporal friction.” The Doctor waved his hand. “Shards of the Impossible Girl, colliding again and again with the Fixed Point. That built up a charge of latent artron energy, Jack. It only took contact between you and the original Clara to release it.”
“Did you follow any of that, love?” asked Rhys.
Gwen scratched her head. “Basically, Clara took the universal constant that is Jack’s libido, and weaponized it.”
“Great,” said Rhys. He scratched his head. “All the bad guys outside have disappeared. Doctor, does this gadget of yours mean they’ll stay that way?”
“Should do.” The Doctor ran his screwdriver along a cable, and inspected it critically. “Although.... it would help if we could squeeze out a little more artron energy from somewhere.”
“Suppose,” said Rhys, with an assumed nonchalance which his wife at least found deeply unconvincing, “that your friend did her power snog on Gwen? Don’t give me that look, love. You told me once that the Doctor here said you were a... er....”
“Spatial genetic multiplicity,” volunteered the Doctor.
“One of those. Might that work?”
Clara shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
“OK then,” Gwen sighed. She wrapped her arms around Clara’s waist as she leaned in for the kiss.“The things I do for Torchwood....”