The Doctor is underneath the control board, goggles firmly over face, screwdriver in mouth, removing splinters of shattered glass tubing when Jack speaks. He’s sitting on the floor, legs to the side of hers so that she can feel the human warmth of him. He’s stripping wires, an easy job to do by touch alone.
“I didn’t believe she was you for months.”
The Doctor freezes, then makes herself continue refitting the chronometre, trying to radiate normalcy.
“I thought what you did. That it was the Master. But she was so familiar with the TARDIS, and she just didn’t feel like him. I told her everything she wanted to know in the end.”
That merits a response and the Doctor carefully removes the sonic from her mouth, determinedly keeping up with cleaning the ancillary chamber. “She wanted information?”
“About you. All the other yous. She said she came first.”
“What do you mean, didn’t feel like him?”
“I was so sure it was him, and, well, I’ve had practice withstanding the Master. It was...not good. But it wasn’t...And asking me about you, about things he should have known about you, it seemed like the kind of mindgame he’d play. But he, back on the Valiant, the Master used to do this thing, push into my mind.”
She hadn’t known that and feels a dim kind of retrospective horror. Back on the Valiant, he and Jack had played a dangerous game of tag teaming the Master. The Master couldn’t kill Jack and was unlikely to kill him, and they’d used that to keep him occupied, to keep his attention off Earth and off the Joneses. If he’d known the Master was forcing contact though, he wouldn’t have allowed Jack to be quite so self sacrificing.
“And one day,” Jack is still talking, she risks a quick look at him. Even though he can’t see, he is looking down at the bunch of wires in his hand, still methodically stripping them, “she came in, and she did the same. And just...it felt different. His mind was like broken glass and barbed wire and scalpels dipped in acid. Hers was like a wrecking ball or a brick to a window.”
No finesse at all. That’s what her tutors at the Academy had always said. That she was powerful mentally but had all the subtlety of a hammer. The Master had used to tease her for it, inviting her into his mind and winding tendrils of thoughts like fairy lights around her until she was tangled and twisted and couldn’t remember which were her thoughts and which were his. It had taken years even to realise he was behind her own defenses while he did it. She had never figured out how to stop him but to decline his invitation completely.
All the pieces of glass are removed now. Blindly, the Doctor reaches into the box of parts beside her and starts refitting the tubes. Jack hands her a wire and she takes it. They work in tandem for long moments, she and Jack have always worked well together.
“What did she want to know?” The Doctor asks at last. Perhaps she can guess her other’s plans if she knows what information she had wanted.
Jack takes a long shuddering breath. “Everything.”
Too much information; and not enough at all. The Doctor fits the final tube and closes and relatches the panel. She sits up and looks at Jack who is twisting fingers together in his lap. Before she can ask a question though, an alert sounds on the dashboard and the Doctor gets up to check on it.
When she turns back, Jack is replacing the tools they’ve used in the box, something she rarely bothers to do, she just shoves them in pockets and then complains when she can’t find the interdimensional sprocket wrench she wants. He offers her a small smile. “Do we need to make a house call?”
She can’t not answer a call for help, maybe if she answers enough of them she can fight off the darkness of this forgotten past life that has risen to haunt her. And she always feels better in motion. She pushes the old chronometre into her pocket. “Just a quick one. We have to pick up the others for dinner,” and she activates the flight component.
As the Doctor opens the door of the TARDIS, her first impression is of familiarity. In her peripheral vision, Jack too is a familiar silhouette.
“I know this place,” he says in surprise, and for a moment it’s like old times.
Then, the Doctor turns to face him, a question on her lips and her ‘where are we?’ becomes, “How do you know?” as she catches sight of his ruined eyes.
He smiles very slightly, a bitter edge. “I was here for a long time.” He steps out of the TARDIS, steps confident, and into the room that they have materialised in.
It’s an office of some kind, two old rusted computer banks settled on a dilapidated looking desk. There’s a reception area with some more battered soft chairs and a low table. Through what was once a screen door, there’s a waiting room with low sofas and storage cabinets around the edge, an ugly picture of a fish on the wall. Someone has obviously done some major salvage work at one time and there are bunches of cables abandoned on the floor. Everything is coated in layers of dust.
Jack walks up the room, and only the way his hand trails along the wall, tells the Doctor that he isn’t as certain of his steps as he looks. He stops in front of the control panel that leads into the main area of the building.
“This is Satellite 5,” he says quietly.
The Doctor slaps her forehead. “Of course it is. The Gamestation!” For an instant an image of the Controller flashes across her mind, then she pushes it away. “That explains why the Earth alarm went off. We’re in the future of the Station, but whatever is here is threatening the planet below.”
Jack nods slightly. “I wonder why they never reclaimed it, never did anything with it.”
The Doctor pulls out the sonic and runs a quick scan, then starts fiddling with the nearest computer, trying to get it going enough to use Station scanning. “No idea. It looks like it’s been untouched since…”
“I was here a long time,” Jack agrees, “and I never saw anyone until the rescue ship, and even then they were only aboard for the hour or so that it took to pick me up and care for the...the bodies.”
The Doctor looks at him for a long moment. “I’m sorry.”
“You thought I was dead.”
“No. I knew. I felt it. But it- it hurt and I was dying and I ran.”
It’s an old hurt. It twinges deep inside Jack, made raw by being here, by the memory of abandonment made real in the smell of dust and loneliness, but he forgave the Doctor for this long ago. “It’s alright, Doctor. I understand.”
She watches him a moment longer and then returns to the computer. She might regret her past actions, but she can’t change them and she’s apparently done worse since to Jack.
She changes the settings on the sonic and tries using that as a power source, tapping a few keys on the keyboard optimistically. The sonic bleeps forlornly and she flips it over to check the readout. “Innards are fine, monitor is paggered. Give me one of those cables.”
She holds out a hand to Jack imperiously, even while she goes to work with the sonic detaching everything she doesn’t need. Five seconds later she turns sharply at the sound of a glass shattering. Jack is scrambling around on the floor trying to find what she wants, in his anxiety he’s banged into the desk and toppled a dirty glass, abandoned by its previous owner, to the floor. She halts her immediate impulse to go and help him, Jack wouldn’t want to be helpless.
“About three feet to your left,” she says instead. It takes Jack a moment to calm himself, then he passes her the cable. She slaps her forehead again. “Stupid Doctor,” she says and then she’s dashing back to the TARDIS, rummaging through drawers and under the console until she finds what she wants.
When she races back out, Jack is standing in the middle of the room looking confused. “What was that about?”
“I’ve got a thing.” She presses a pair of sunglasses into Jack’s hand.
He raises an eyebrow. “Sunglasses. We’re inside, in space. I’m probably fine.”
“I was blind for a while, last regeneration. I was grumpy and Scottish, you’d have loved me. Being brilliant and blind is hard work though, so I invented these.”
Jack turns them over in his hands. “How do they work?”
“Kind of like echo location. They send out sonic resonance which projects onto the lens of the glasses. It’s not perfect, but it’ll stop you walking into doors and tell you if a Jagrafess is coming at you.” Jack is already raising the glasses to his face as she finishes, “Then it psychically projects it straight into your brain, bypassing the optic nerve completely.”
Jack freezes. She watches his hand stutter as though he intends to throw them away from him. Instead he reaches stiffly out to hand them back to her. “I’m fine.”
Her hearts spasm in her chest. What had her other self done to him? Well. She knows, doesn’t she? Forced contact, the worst crime her people can commit, above even erasing time lines and creating Never Weres and alternates.
“Jack, they’re just glasses, I’ve deactivated everything else.”
“I don’t want them,” he sets his jaw in a scowl.
She finally takes them back and stores them in her own pocket. “Help me get the computer up and running.”
There’s a silence. “Thanks,” he answers. Then, “Tell me what you need me to do.”