Luke’s first sensation was pain. Everything hurt before he tried to move or open his eyes, and that was bad, but it also meant he was neither dead nor unconscious, and that was good. He lay on his back on some hard flat surface, which could be either good or bad, depending on a lot of other factors.
Okay then, everything else: generalized ache, felt neural rather than muscular or skeletal, but no injuries as far as he could tell except for something that might be a patch of burned flesh on one wrist where–
The blonde had grabbed him there, and she’d done something–
Memory returned with a rush of panic that made his body tense and his eyes fly open, and he discovered simultaneously that he was in a small metal-walled room with instrument panels he could barely see behind him (someone could be watching him, right now), that he was wearing only his underwear and something quite like a hospital gown, that he was lying on a stainless-steel examining table, and that cold metal cuffs kept his wrists clamped to the table down by his sides. Similar restrains pinched at the skin of his ankles when he tried to move.
Luke lay motionless, heart pounding so hard he thought he’d throw up. This was bad. This was very, very bad.
The door hissed as a pressure seal released, and a man’s American-accented voice punched into the room: “No, I read the directive and all, and I got that it was something different–like, how often do we get a spike through time even with the new system, right?–but we’re talking brand-new here, something we’ve never seen before.”
A young woman’s voice: “I sort of figured that when Bob got interested.”
“Well, yeah–” The voices’ owners, both in white lab coats, slid aside the door and ducked into the room. “I don’t mean just the readings off him–which yeah, they’re weird, kind of on a different level from what we’ve always seen before–but I’m talking, like, kid doesn’t have a belly button.”
The woman rounded the table and started flicking switches on the panel next to Luke’s head. “Okay, now you’re just being stupid.”
“No, seriously. Take a look.”
She did, and cold air swirled over Luke’s abdomen, making his skin crawl. He flinched when she prodded his stomach with one finger as if trying to find where he might have hidden his navel. Finally she moved back to her instruments. “So...he got it removed or...what, he wasn’t born?”
“I know, right?” The male tech moved to Luke’s other side, unzipped a padded case, and pulled a tray down from the wall to begin unpacking it. “And that’s not all–just aside from the Walker System’s report, which was also weird seeing as he couldn’t be found two years before the spike, everything we’re getting says he’s physically a normal teenager, and it’s also telling us he’s just over a year old.” He plugged in something Luke couldn’t see, and a faint, high-pitched hum filled the little room.
“Faulty instruments?” the woman asked. She took Luke’s wrist and wiped the back of his hand with something wet and cold, and then a sharp sting made him gasp.
“Not after we ran it five times and recycled the system twice to clean out errors.”
He’d been out a long time, then. Luke tried to pull away, but the female tech’s hand and the restraints held him fast. He craned his neck to see her tape down an IV needle to his hand and hang a bulging sac of clear liquid from a stand, and finally he managed to speak over the fear drying his mouth. “What are you doing?” he asked, unable to keep a tremble out of his voice.
“So when did Bob want to see him?” the woman asked, ignoring Luke entirely. Another needle pricked the crook of his elbow.
The other tech picked up two electrode patches and stuck one to Luke’s chest under the hospital gown, the other to his temple. “Lot of tests to run first. See what we get, and if it’s any good, then when we push him harder Bob’ll show up to see.”
“So, just a preliminary battery of tests for now.” The needle withdrew from his elbow with a jerk, and she set aside a vial of Luke’s blood.
“Um, prelims A, B, and G, probably.” Fingers threaded through Luke’s hair and pulled, making him lift his head. Then something cold and metallic wormed under his neck, locking into place and keeping his head propped up at an uncomfortable angle. He tried to pull away; a wave of dizziness swept through him, and his muscles refused to cooperate. She’d put something in his IV, and this was so very bad–
“Right, yeah,” the woman said. “That’s what I meant. Got everything hooked up?” An oxygen tube pinched his nose.
“Everything but the neural feed,” the tech said, reaching for a switch just inside Luke’s peripheral vision.
“Please,” he tried to say, “don’t–” But everything was responding sluggishly now, if at all, and his mouth couldn’t form the words, and then the tech threw the switch and something clicked and there was a clunk and snap of metal and something pierced the back of his neck where his spine met his skull.
Luke choked on a gasp of pain. A needle pressed in deeper, and then something connected and fire flashed through his body, leaving him dazed.
“Ready,” the male tech said. “And...mark.” He flipped another switch, and the faint hum began changing pitch, burrowing into Luke’s brain. Pressure grew behind his eyes until he was shaking with it, and this was the MITRE headset and the Slitheen all over again and only the memory of the Xylok told him how much worse it could get.
But he’d escaped then, the first time, with a burst of telekinesis he’d barely controlled, more from instinctive reaction than deliberate plan. He hadn’t been able to do it since, after Sarah Jane neutralized the headset neither of them wanted to deal with, but he remembered how it felt and if they were testing him for psychokinetic ability, he might be able to do it again–
The pressure made an abrupt key change into real pain, stabbing through his head and down every nerve. He dredged up a last reserve of energy and flung it through the place in his mind that still remembered that burst of telekinesis, and there was nothing, like an echoing empty space.
He didn’t even know how to do anything and they knew how to block him.
“See that?” the female tech said, tapping a monitor. “These are just–”
“Crazy different, yeah. Plus strong and all kinds of unfocused. Bob’s gonna love this. Last prelim, and–”
If the tech said anything else, Luke didn’t hear it; something exploded in the very deepest levels of his consciousness, burning all the way up and through him, setting everything on fire, and he would have screamed if he could have found the breath for it. He was deaf and blind and nothing existed except the fire in his head.
Luke didn’t know when the fire finally bled back out of him except that it felt like a very long time, and that he felt his muscles begin to return to his control then too, but he was too wrung out to try to move or speak. The techs left everything hooked up to him when they sealed the door on their way out, talking about the levels of telekinetic energy they thought they could push him to next time.
They left Luke behind, too, without a word or a glance, and it was a relief when darkness washed over him and swept away the ache and the fear.
Maria stared out the airplane window without really seeing the clouds or the countryside below. It was too bad she couldn’t tell her mum about traveling to Cardiff in a private jet; Chrissie would have kittens at the idea, even if its military purpose made it a little less glamorous. Alan would probably be impressed too, and she might tell him some details eventually; for now she’d only made a quick call to his mobile to say there was an emergency, Luke was in trouble, and she had to stay with Sarah Jane.
For her part, Maria couldn’t appreciate the jet for worrying about Luke, and what little she’d heard from Martha hadn’t helped.
“Torchwood’s the only people I know who’ve actually had dealings with the Company,” Martha had said as they drove to the UNIT airbase after taking readings with all of their equipment. (Maria knew well enough how to set things up and take them down, but the information from it was lost on her; Martha and Sarah Jane seemed to understand, though, if Martha’s smile of grim satisfaction was anything to go by.) “That’s the other reason. I only know what I’ve heard, which isn’t much; UNIT’s never tried to get involved with them since our interests are...more extraterrestrial. Although honestly, that’s the sort of oversight that makes me think Jack was right, I’m better in a smaller group. I was on my way to Torchwood for now anyway, which is why both Torchwood and UNIT asked me for those readings.”
“I still don’t like it,” Sarah Jane said tightly. “Mind you, I like Jack Harkness just fine” (Maria knew that was true, since Luke had told her everything he’d seen during the Dalek invasion), “but I’ve kept an eye on Torchwood too, and death follows them more than it does the Doctor. Is that just the Rift, or is it Torchwood?”
“You tell me,” Martha said. “You know what happens when you introduce yourself to the universe.”
Now, nearing Cardiff, Maria couldn’t stop rolling that statement through her head over and over again, and it sounded a whole lot more sinister than it had done whenever Sarah Jane said something similar.
She shook herself and went to get a can of Coke from the galley, then headed back to where Sarah Jane and Martha sat, comparing UNIT stories.
“So,” Martha was saying, “just curious, how much do you know about the Saxon incident? More than the public, I’m sure.”
Sarah Jane half-smiled. “Oh yes. Massive alien hoax masterminded by a deranged Harold Saxon, whose goal in the whole plot was to assassinate the president, only his abused wife killed him right after. Big scandal, press goes crazy, everyone goes home happy. No...I know the aliens were real; I know that you, Jack, and the Doctor were involved; I know a significant piece of time was reversed; and I know that UNIT gave considerable benefits and mandatory psychological services to everyone working on the Valiant at the time. I’m also fairly certain Saxon was the Master, especially after some stuffed-shirt at UNIT gave me a ‘can neither confirm nor deny’ on that one.”
Martha laughed a little. “Did you vote for him?”
Sarah Jane smiled. “I never used Archangel. Nor ATMOS, nor BubbleShock for that matter.”
“Smart woman,” Martha said. “I only knew about ATMOS in time because UNIT did.”
“Well, I’m hardly a conspiracy theorist, but I believe I’m entitled to a bit of professional paranoia. If it’s too good to be true and literally everyone is using it...”
“I would’ve voted for Saxon,” Maria mumbled. “Thought he seemed...good, I guess. Dad and Mum voted for him.”
“Wasn’t your fault,” Martha said quickly. “I would’ve too if I hadn’t missed the election. That’s what the Archangel network was for–mesmerized everyone.” She looked at Sarah Jane. “You’re right, by the way. Saxon was the Master. Impossible, but there he was. The Doctor wasn’t the last Time Lord anymore–and then the Master chose to die when he could have regenerated. The Toclafane were...” She shook her head. “End of the universe, that’s the human race. And it wasn’t just a little time reversed, it was an entire year of the world ending in metal and flame, and only those on the Valiant when it happened remember the year that never was.” Her eyes grew a bit distant. “Wish I didn’t, sometimes.”
It’s like the world’s ending, over and over again... “But it happened,” Maria said slowly. “Right? Time reversed, and no one remembers, and everything went back to how it was–but it still happened.”
“For those of us on the Valiant, yes. Beyond that, I suppose it did, if you want to get really metaphysical about it. The science I’m familiar with doesn’t help much there.”
Maria glanced at Sarah Jane. “I think Luke might’ve been dreaming about it.” She explained what Luke had told her, avoiding Sarah Jane’s eyes so she didn’t have to see the doubled guilt and worry there.
Martha spoke first. “Archangel was a telepathic network...that’s how we used it to restore the Doctor. The use of that headset might have opened some sensitivity in Luke to a telepathic burst like that.”
“He should’ve told me,” Sarah Jane murmured. “I ought to have noticed–he did seem more tired than usual, but I thought–I don’t know what I thought.” She shook her head. “Does this change anything?”
Martha hesitated. “It depends on what the Company hopes to use him for.” She glanced between Maria and Sarah Jane. “I’m sorry, but if they’re aware of his potential abilities–and I can’t think why else they’d have taken him–then they’re probably...testing him to see what he can do. I’m not certain how they do that, but I don’t imagine it’s pleasant.”
The jet banked then, and Maria quickly buckled in, her stomach tightening with a nausea that had nothing to do with airsickness. She’d never thought she’d be eager to reach Cardiff, but now she didn’t want to wait another second.
Torchwood had better be good.