Owen groaned and opened his eyes. His head was pounding and his first thought was that he must have had way too much to drink the night before. This wouldn’t be the first time he’d woken up with a raging hangover. Come to that, it probably wouldn’t be the last time either; he was a glutton for punishment, and rarely realised he was drinking too much until the next day, when it was too late to do anything about it.
‘My own worst enemy, that’s me,’ he thought dismally. ‘You’d think I’d know better by now.’
He’d been expecting to find himself in his own bed, or somebody else’s bed, or possibly on his own or someone else’s floor, so it took him a minute or two to realise he was lying on the tattered old sofa in the Hub. He groaned again. “What the fuck happened?” His voice was a feeble rasp.
Ianto’s head appeared in Owen’s line of sight, smirking down at him. “You fainted…straight into my arms. You know if you wanted my attention you didn’t have to go to such extremes.” Despite the smirk, there was a hint of concern in his eyes.
“What’re you talking about? I don’t faint; never fainted in my life.”
“Sorry to have to break the news, Owen, but you definitely fainted.” That was Jack’s voice, and wincing from the pounding in his brain, Owen turned his head, just enough that he could see his boss standing beside the Teaboy, looking down at him, arms folded over his chest and a stern expression on his face. “You came up from the autopsy bay looking white as a sheet, Ianto asked if you were okay, and you keeled over. You’re lucky he has such great reflexes or he wouldn’t have managed to catch you before you could hit the floor. You should be grateful. How d’you feel?”
“Fucking horrible,” Owen rasped out. “I think my head might be about to explode.” He blinked, his eyelids feeling like sandpaper. “Was I drinking?”
“Not that I know about. Last I saw you were studying that piece of tech Gwen and I brought back earlier, the one you thought might be a medical diagnostic device. Remember?”
It sort of rang a distant bell, somewhere in the depths of Owen’s tortured brain, and he struggled to think back to the last thing he remembered. He vaguely recalled the device, sort of a scanner thing, with two plates, vaguely hand-shaped, a screen between them that lit up when it was turned on, and a series of dials marked with what were probably numbers. “Dunno. Maybe. Sort of.”
“Could you perhaps try to be a little less vague? We need to know what happened to you.”
“Yeah? Well so do I. Far as I’m aware I’m still the doctor around here.”
“For the moment,” Jack agreed. “I could call Martha.”
“Just… give me a minute, okay?”
Concentrating as best he could, which wasn’t all that well thanks to his headache, Owen tried to piece together the stray fragments of memory floating around in his head. He’d been studying the device and on a whim he’d put his left hand on one of the plates then tried turning the dials; information in an unknown language had appeared on the screen, and he’d started to feel pretty good, so he’d begun experimenting, turning the dials to different settings, but then he hadn’t felt so good; the euphoria had evaporated, replaced by unexplained weakness. Woozy and disoriented, he’d stopped playing with his new toy, made his way out of the autopsy bay, and… he didn’t remember anything else after that. Everything had gone dark until he woke up a few minutes ago with one of the worst headaches he’d ever had.
“What is that thing?”
“We don’t know yet, but Tosh is having a look at it,” Ianto replied. “The screen was full of writing so she’s running that through her translation programme to see if she can figure out what it says. Hopefully she’ll have something for us soon. In the meantime, you should probably stay where you are and rest.”
“Like I need to be told that.” Owen closed his eyes again, trying to will the pounding in his head to subside. He wasn’t surprised when it didn’t work.
Ianto was still speaking. “Good; can’t have you fainting all over the place. It’s untidy, and I might not be there to catch you next time.” He fell silent for a minute then… “Want a couple of your miracle painkillers?”
“God, yes, I feel like I’ve got the hangover to end all hangovers. I don’t get it; I was trying to figure out what the machine did, and for a few minutes I felt better than I had in years, but then…”
“Wait a minute, you were trying it out on yourself?” Jack asked incredulously.
“Course I was. Not like you’d let me test it on one of the others.”
“You’re right about that; not until we knew exactly what it was and how it worked. You know better than that, Owen! What the Hell were you thinking?”
“For pity’s sake, Harkness, not so loud,” Owen pleaded.
“By your own admission, you did this to yourself. Care to explain?”
“What’s to explain? I tried it out on a rat, but nothing happened that I could see. Don’t learn anything without experimenting, and I was the only other test subject available, so…” He took the pills Ianto offered him in a shaky hand and swallowed them dry; just that much movement took all the energy he’d got left. “Ta.” His arm dropped limply to his side again and he lay as still as possible, waiting for the painkillers to work and for the sledgehammers in his brain to cease their relentless pounding. He felt like death. Dimly through the throbbing in his head, he heard footsteps approaching.
“How’s Owen?” Tosh’s voice was mercifully quiet, like cool fingers gently stroking his brow.
“I think he’ll live, even if he doesn’t feel that way right now,” Ianto told her.
“He’s lucky; if he hadn’t stopped when he did, the device would have probably drained him completely.”
“You know what it is?” Jack’s voice again.
“I think so, and Owen’s sort of right, it does have medical uses, although that might not be all it’s used for. From what I’ve been able to figure out so far, it collects life energy, can take it from one person and give it to someone else, or store it in a sort of battery. According to what I’ve translated, people can donate small amounts of life energy when they’re in good health, to be used to heal others with serious illnesses or injuries.”
“Then why’d I feel so good and then so crap?” Owen asked tiredly, cracking open one eye again and squinting up at her. The painkillers were starting to work and his headache wasn’t as bad as it had been, but he still felt done in.
“At a guess, at first you were receiving the energy it already had stored, but then you must have reversed the settings so that instead of giving, it started drawing your life energy out of you. If it’s allowed to take too much from any one person, it can kill.”
That was enough to make Owen try to sit up, not that he got very far before flopping back down again like a rag doll. “Shit! So you’re saying if I hadn’t got a boost first…”
“You could’ve drained yourself dry,” Tosh finished his sentence.
“Can you give him his life energy back?” Jack wanted to know.
Tosh nodded. “Yes, I should be able to. I just want to double-check my translations first though, make sure I get the settings right. I don’t want to accidentally take more out of him.”
“If you need to test it, use it on me,” Jack said firmly. “I have life energy to spare.”
“Hopefully that won’t be necessary.”
“You know, once we have a better understanding of the device, it could prove invaluable. Maybe it might even help the patients out on Flat Holm,” Ianto suggested.
“Worth thinking about,” Jack agreed. “Alright, finish your analysis, Tosh, then as soon as you’re sure you can work it safely, we’ll get Owen fixed up.”
“Shouldn’t take me much longer,” Tosh assured them as she headed back to her workstation.
Half an hour later, Torchwood’s tech genius had all the text translated and checked, and a solid working knowledge of the device; it’s function, and its operational parameters.
“It’s really quite simple to use,” she told Owen as she set the laptop-sized piece of tech on the coffee table, which she dragged closer to the sofa. “The dials allow the amount of energy being drawn from or administered to a person to be determined before the process begins, and they also allow limits to be set on the quantity of energy being withdrawn, so the machine automatically shuts down when the limits are reached. You had it set to the maximum; if you hadn’t taken your hand off the contact plate when you did, you would have been dead in a few more minutes.”
If Owen hadn’t already been pale as a ghost, that statement alone would have washed every last drop of colour out of his face. “Fuck.”
Jack scowled down at the medic. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson; don’t play with things you don’t understand. Okay, Tosh, go ahead.”
Gently Tosh took Owen’s right wrist and set his hand palm down on one of the contact plates. She’d already set the dials to the appropriate levels, so that Owen’s system wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a sudden flood of energy and he’d be restored to full health gradually. “You’ll be as good as new in twenty minutes or so,” she promised as she flicked the final switch and data began to scroll down the screen.
Owen could feel it working from the moment Tosh turned the device on, a warm and gentle sense of wellbeing gradually infusing his body, restoring his strength and washing away the remnants of the pain in his head as if it had never existed. “Thanks, Tosh, I’m feeling better already.”
“Good. Just relax while the machine does its job.”
That was one instruction Owen had no problem following.
“When I’m back to normal, I’m going to set up a schedule for everyone to regularly donate life energy to be stored in the device. Shouldn’t be much different from giving blood, and it we keep it charged up, maybe we’ll be able to save more lives.”
Jack nodded. “I’ll authorise it, providing you only take energy from those of us in good health, and it’s restricted to one percent at a time, except in the event of an emergency, and even then no more than five percent from any one person, with the exception of myself.”
“I can work with that,” Owen agreed. Perhaps next time they were faced with a critically injured civilian or team member, they’d be able to save a life that would otherwise be lost. Used properly, the new device could be the most important gift they’d ever received.