CAPTAIN JACK AND THE ALIEN PERIL
He couldn't see very well from up on the hill, but he didn't dare use binoculars. It was a bright, sunny day, and he knew that the current position of the sun would give him away in a moment. One brief flash of light on a lens, and the guards would be up here like a shot. Some use he'd be then, dead with a bullet in him, or whisked away down into that house for a tedious interrogation that would itself probably end with a bullet. Nobody would ever know, his body would be thrown away out to sea, and then all of this would carry on as undisturbed as it had been before he had become suspicious. No - better to strain his eyes and miss out on the fine detail, than get a few seconds of a perfect view that would doubtless be the last thing he ever really saw. Later, perhaps, when the sun was on its way down; or in the evening, when he could slip closer to the house, and maybe even break in. He was good at that kind of thing. It had all been a part of his training, even if that did seem like a long, long time ago now. Not that long, he thought to himself with a bitter smile. Not really all that long ago at all. And yet, at the same time, it might have been centuries.
There were two of them down there now. Both men by the look of it, dressed in dark uniforms with peaked caps, and some sort of flashes on the sleeves. Insignia of rank or organisation, he supposed. It didn't matter. What mattered was what they were doing there, hidden away in this secluded place, with their strange lights at night, their unusually high consumption of electricity, and their peculiarly secretive behaviour. Sightseers kept being frightened away by belligerent guards, sometimes accompanied by dogs. Curious visitors had been threatened with legal action. The locals went nowhere near the place anymore, but muttered about it in the pubs in the evening, or in the general stores during the day, complaining about the strangers who had appeared one afternoon, and now seemed to think that they owned half of the coast. Whoever those men were, in their simple black uniforms, they never seemed to mix with any of the locals. They never spent their evenings in the pub; they never went to shop in the villages. They seemed to live for their compound down there; for that big house, and whatever lay within its walls. Perhaps they had everything that they needed in there; entertainment, food, living quarters. All the same, it seemed strange that none of them would ever want to leave. Did they never have days off? Did they never have to restock their supplies? Everything must be delivered, perhaps by boat, but that raised further questions. This wasn't a government facility - he had seen that straight away. A private firm, then. Research? Development? Chemicals, weapons, medical science? There were any number of possibilities, many if not most of them entirely legal. This, though, was something sinister; he was sure of it. However his career might have ended, whatever his reputation might now be, he still trusted his instincts. Mike Yates was a civilian now, but he was still a professional. And one thing that he could certainly still do was identify trouble. The problem these days was knowing what to do about it.
He had come here for a holiday. Cornwall was a fine place to get away from it all. He had been here a few times as a child, and even once or twice since joining UNIT, though his time off then had been rare. A weekend, usually when the weather had been far from great; half a week snatched after the clean up operations were completed following some ghastly thwarted alien invasion or other. He had come here this time almost without thinking, down along the south coast where the scenery was so pleasing, off the beaten track a little, to the places where the tourists had not yet swarmed en masse. The quiet beaches of Downderry; the fishing community of Looe; the quiet, picturesque surroundings of Polperro. A place to pitch a tent in some small, empty field, and lose himself in thoughts of the rest of his life. He hadn't expected to find himself in the middle of an investigation. He couldn't ignore it, though, when he heard the local whisperings, and saw the strange lights that lit up this house in the dead of night. The strange sounds, the comings and goings of a long black car with darkened windows. The patrolling guards with their vicious dogs, and stories of local children, terrified by thugs in uniform. The police had been called in originally of course, but they didn't seem to have achieved anything, or even found anything out. Nobody had really tried to investigate these people properly; to ask the right questions in the right places. Everybody just muttered about it, and told each other how terrible it was that outsiders should behave in such a fashion. And that was where it had all ended, until he had chosen to involve himself. He had nothing better to do, after all. A good disability pension from UNIT stopped him from having to get real work just yet. An uncertainty about his own mental health stopped him from wanting to. This, though - this was perfect. A chance to test himself again, and find out if he could still do what he had been trained for. A chance to find out if he was still the man he had always believed himself to be. He wasn't sure how to handle it at the moment, but he was sure that he would work something out. If he was to be any use at all for the rest of his life - if he was to stand any chance of achieving anything worthwhile again - then he had to at least take a shot at tackling this. Otherwise he might just as well take that long, long walk out to sea.
It was late afternoon by the time that Mike arrived back at his camp. His small green tent might have looked forlorn in the empty field, but to a former army man such things seemed homely enough. He built himself a fire from his stock of wood, piled behind his tent, and soon had a merry little blaze going. In no time at all his metal kettle was whistling away to itself, and the morning's catch was spitting and fizzing on the hot plate. He made army cocoa, a particular favourite of his, and ate the fish with a folding fork; just one of many things he had kept from his army days. Somehow no soldier ever seemed to return the full kit, and Mike Yates had returned less than most. He watched the sun begin to set, as he sat beside his now faintly glowing fire, and thought about the evening ahead. There was something going on inside that house, and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that it was something illicit. Somebody was up to something that they shouldn't be - hadn't he learned enough in recent years to know when to be suspicious? He should be able to talk it over with his colleagues. Not all that very many months ago he would have discussed it all with Sergeant Benton by now. They might even have scrounged a day off, to come down here together and check it out, before wondering whether to bother the Doctor or the Brigadier. Jo would have come too, he mused - the three of them, playing at investigators, because that was the sort of thing that one did in UNIT. He had no idea where Jo was these days, but she would probably have heard of his treachery by now. No doubt she and the Doctor had remained in touch. And Benton... well, Benton was out of reach now, and Mike wasn't even going to bother trying to take this to him. He had an idea that the sergeant would still listen to him, but it wasn't a theory that he wanted to put to the test. It would hurt too much if he was wrong. And besides, he didn't want to get his former subordinate into trouble. No, this one he would just have to handle alone. If the worst came to the worst, and he did end up shot and dumped at sea, at least then nobody else would get hurt. And there wouldn't be anyone to miss him, either.
"Stop being so maudlin, you fool." His voice, clear and precise, sounded odd in the dusky, quiet field. He got to his feet, poured the last of the kettle's cooling contents over the fading fire, and kicked over the ashes to be sure that the flames were dead. Returning from a night-time's adventure to find the tent burned down would be annoying at best, to say nothing of just plain embarrassing. It would probably take some explaining to the farmer who owned the field, too. Nothing like attracting the attention of the local police to put an end to his secret investigations.
By torch light he sorted out his belongings inside his tent. A notepad and pencil, relics of his days as an ultra-efficient aide; the torch and a change of batteries; some night-vision gizmo that the Doctor had put together for him back during the Silurian business; and his service revolver, kept in a locked metal box that he had hidden beneath his sleeping bag. He checked the load, and stuck it into his belt, then made sure that it was hidden by his lightweight jacket. Everything else he stowed away into a small backpack that should make him look as innocuous as any ordinary walker. It was April, which was too early in the year for most tourists, but that was no reason for anybody to be suspicious - unless they searched him. He didn't plan on being seen, anyway. Once he was sure that he was ready, he scrambled out of the tent, zipped it closed, then started off across the field. He had been to the house enough times now to be able to find it easily enough in the dark. Getting there was not a problem. It was what came after he had arrived that he needed to worry about.
The luminous dial on his watch showed that it was a quarter past nine when he arrived at his vantage point from previously in the day, up on the hill. He was early - usually nothing happened here until at least ten o'clock. Time for a proper look around, then, before the light show that was sure to begin at some point during the night. Moving carefully, mindful of anything that might cause a noise, he slid the night-vision contraption of the Doctor's from out of the rucksack, and slipped it on over his eyes. It looked like a bizarre pair of sunglasses, but with one press of a button just above his right ear, suddenly he could almost have been standing in the daylight. The range was no more than a hundred yards or so, but it was better than risking a torch. Running at a crouch, as silent as he could possibly manage, he went down the hill, ducked behind a low-running hedge, and made his way up to the fence. There were guards around here, he was sure of it, and he had to be mindful of the dogs. The guards might not see or hear him, but with a dog it was not nearly so easy to hide.
It was a fair bet that the fence was alarmed - possibly even electrified. He listened out for a telltale hum, but could hear nothing save the whispering of the sea. Another contraption of the Doctor's would be a help right now. Something to get him through the fence without causing klaxons to blare, or without getting him electrocuted. He had nothing, though. Nothing save his brain, and his training. Better than nothing, he supposed. After all, his training had to amount to something, and had always stood him in good stead in the past - before everything had gone wrong and he had begun to lose faith in himself. What would he be doing now, if this were a proper UNIT operation? If there were men here under his command, expecting him to know what to do? Somehow it was harder to think of such things now, when he no longer trusted himself the way that he once had. This was not the time for a lack of faith, though. Personal crises would like as not get him killed.
He decided on making a circuit of the compound, to check out the perimeter and see if there were any places where he might scale the fence. It seemed like as good a plan as any, and with the night-vision lenses over his eyes, he was able to see every detail along the fence's length. It was new, he could tell. New and flawless, with no places where he might be able to slip through. He hadn't really expected there to be. Once or twice he came upon a place where a bush or small tree grew near to the fence, but nothing that would have enabled him to climb over. Trying to cut the wire was sure to be out of the question. Generally speaking, there was no better way of causing alarms to ring, or of bringing guards and dogs running. He scowled and pressed on, ever mindful of the possible presence of security cameras, and always on the alert for oncoming guards. It was like having eyes in every direction at once, his senses heightened and his movements steady and precise. Just like the finest soldier, he thought briefly; just like the old days; before he killed the thought stone dead. No time for self-pity, and no time for thoughts of the past. He was here now. The old days weren't.
He had all but given up hope of finding a way in over the fence when he came at last to a place where the surrounding land sloped up. The going became more awkward then; more uneven, more rocky, with loose bits that he had to negotiate carefully. He wasn't going to give himself away with a landslide. That would be too bitter a pill. Scrambling up the slope, struggling not to slide back down into the fence, he realised quite suddenly that his eyes were on a level with the top of it. If he could climb a little higher, in theory he should be able to leap right over and into the compound. Getting out again would not be nearly so easy of course - but getting out was getting out. That was an entirely different problem. He was just getting ready to jump; just gathering the power in his legs to propel himself - he hoped - over the top of the fence; when something flashed in the corner of his eye. Something small and red. Possibilities fired through his mind; security, surveillance, defence, any number of things, none of them good; and his instincts leapt into action before he could straighten his thoughts. Forgetting about breaking into the mysterious house, forgetting about his attempts at investigation, he threw himself down the slope. It saved his life. The second that he launched himself into the air, an alarm burst into life. A jarring, disorientating, impossibly loud ringing, that swirled his senses into a jumble and left him for a moment unsure which way to run. His instincts told him, keeping him running despite his confusion; powering him onwards away from other noises that he could also now hear. It was hard to be sure of them through that awful, insane ringing, but he knew them for what they were. Gunshots. Ricocheting gunshots, hitting the stony slope where he had been standing just seconds before. He thanked the stars for whatever it was inside himself that had made him move at the sight of that single, brief flash of red light. Now all he had to do was stay ahead of whoever was firing those guns.
The ground changed as he ran. The vegetation changed too. Less cover, he realised - though hopefully for him that was less of a problem. Anybody coming in pursuit could not hope to have night-vision as good as his own. Underfoot he could see that there was more sand now, the covering greenery becoming more scrubby, less thick. He was heading towards the beach, and behind him, as the alarm cut sharply off, he could hear the gunshots more clearly. He ran low, zigging and zagging to present less of a target, careful not to lose his footing on the increasingly loose and sandy ground. Falling now would cost him the precious seconds that he had as an advantage. Somewhere off to his right, fortunately still some way behind him, he heard a voice shouting, but he couldn't make out the words. He didn't care what was being said. His first concern - his only concern - was getting away. Anything else was comparatively insignificant.
It was when he realised that he was running on pure sand that he slowed. He had to. Suddenly it was much harder to run. Inwardly he cursed. Now what? He should have tried to keep to the firmer ground, but it had been almost impossible to choose a direction. There had seemed to be too many pursuers, too spread out behind him. They had been herding him, perhaps; knowing all too well just how hard it was to run on fine sand. Well, fine. So he had run straight into their trap. They hadn't caught him yet. Taking a hard left, towards the cover of some rocks, he redoubled his efforts at running. It was hard, yes; but it wasn't impossible. And soon enough they would have to be running on it too. Just as long as he could keep from being shot, he could still stay ahead of his pursuers.
There were many rocks. Small ones that he stumbled over or dodged around; bigger ones that he had no choice but to scramble through. Skirting them would make himself into too much of a target, or risk losing more of his lead. Bigger ones still he squeezed between, wondering all the time if there was anywhere where he could hole up for any length of time. Could he risk taking that chance? He could hide, and perhaps lose his pursuers - but he could just as easily be found by them, and lose all chance of escape. He dodged and ran onwards, still hearing shouts, still hearing occasional shots. He wondered distantly if anybody else was hearing the gunshots. If the police had been called, perhaps. Being arrested by them as a trespasser would be infinitely better to being shot, or captured by these gun-toting guards. Somewhere off to his right he heard a dog bark, and he groaned. Oh, fabulous. As if he didn't have enough to worry about. Another shout rang out then, closer than before; closer than any he had heard so far. He cursed, pushed on, scrambled his way through a veritable giant's pile of rocks - and then suddenly a hand was grabbing his wrist, grabbing his arm, pulling him backwards, jerking him off balance and into utter blackness. His night-vision lenses had been knocked loose, he realised. He fought hard, trying to regain his balance, trying to get free, fumbling at the same time for the lenses, as though, if he could see again, he might somehow be able to escape. He couldn't break the hold; couldn't see a bloody thing; could hear dogs barking and feet scuffing the rocks, and knew that he would be swamped at any moment. When a strange blue light suddenly filled his vision he wondered for a moment if he had been shot. A peculiar feeling enveloped him that left him utterly disorientated, and for all he knew he had been shot, and this was what it felt like at the end. Not quite what he had expected, but it could have been worse. Then suddenly there was light again - real light. Blue and orange and red, and the rocks and sand were gone. He was lying on the decking of some kind of craft, and a tall, grinning man was untangling himself from Mike's arms and legs, and offering him a hand to get up. Mike lay where he was, utterly confounded. What the hell?! Not shot, then. Not unless it was traditional to be welcomed to the other side by a grinning idiot in a USAF uniform, standing inside what looked suspiciously like a spaceship. He frowned rather groggily, and sat slowly up.
"Transmat?" He would have liked to have sounded more sure of himself, and less like somebody who had just been turned upside down and inside out, and shaken until his teeth rattled. The grinning officer grinned even more widely, which was quite a remarkable achievement. "And when did the American Airforce start flying spaceships?"
"2262, if I'm remembering my history right." The grinning officer shrugged. "I'm probably not. Really pretty bad on that period. Captain Jack Harkness, and no, I'm not in the Airforce. It's a cover, but I kinda blew that when I brought you here, huh."
"I certainly wouldn't have believed you were any ordinary pilot, that's for sure." Mike frowned. "Er... might I... Do you make a habit of whisking people away in your spaceship? And where are we, anyway?"
"We're not on a beach, about to get shot by a gang of trigger-happy gorillas in uniform." Jack shrugged. "After that, anything's an improvement, right?" He leaned down, hauling Mike to his feet. "But in answer to your question, we're tethered to something called Shag Rock. Let's just say I liked the name. The ship's invisible, so we're safe enough. You okay?"
"Fine." Mike checked himself over instinctively. Nothing hurt, and everything that was supposed to move still seemed able to. He was a little sandy, and there were probably a few bruises here and there - but nothing serious. "Thankyou. You probably saved my life."
"No, you weren't doing too badly. You move well. Military?"
"No." Mike was good at keeping his feelings to himself, but there was a flash in his eyes that he couldn't quite hide. "Not anymore."
"Sorry. Sensitive point?" Jack's manner was easy, and answering him would probably have been simple enough, but Mike was not the type to open up to strangers - or to anybody else. He shook his head.
"Doesn't matter. I... Listen, I hope that this doesn't sound rude, but what exactly is an American pilot doing in an invisible spaceship tethered to a big rock in Cornwall? Is this something official?"
"Not even close." Jack gave a genial laugh, then slid into the craft's control seat. "Pull up a chair. Well, there's really only the bunk. I did have another seat around here somewhere..."
"I don't want to sit down. So you're under cover as an American Airforce pilot?"
"Yeah... You know, I've really got to stop getting mixed up with the locals. If I keep telling everybody who I am, pretty soon half of Earth's history is going know way more about science and time travel than they should. And that's gonna complicate things, believe me."
"You're a time traveller?" That made a certain sense. The spaceship, whatever the Americans might be up to in secret, really didn't look like anything that could have come from current human technology; and Mike was sure that the Americans couldn't have intercepted any alien craft without UNIT knowing about it. UNIT, after all, cared nothing for international boundaries, and had the best detection and early warning systems on the planet. Jack raised an eyebrow.
"And that doesn't surprise you. Interesting. Do you take everything in your stride, or are you more than you look?" The questioning expression changed into a faintly suggestive grin. "Not that there's anything wrong with how you look."
"I..." He frowned, not entirely sure how to answer that. "I'm not exactly an ordinary twentieth century citizen. Just when and where are you from?" The frown deepened, suspicion taking over even if he did owe this man his life. "And why are you here?"
"You gonna draw that gun, or just hover round it while you figure me out? I'm from the future, that doesn't make me a mass murderer." Jack's expression suddenly cleared. "I get it. Used to trouble that comes in spaceships, right? You're from UNIT. This is the late twentieth century, but you're obviously familiar with certain concepts. Yeah, it fits. I guess it explains what you were doing running around back there in the middle of the night, too. Are UNIT investigating that house?"
"Not exactly, and you didn't answer my questions."
"Yeah, and you didn't stop looking like you can't figure out whether or not to shoot me. It wasn't me that was just chasing you around the Cornish countryside, trying to blow holes in that pretty head. I was the one who stopped all that, remember? Dashing rescue? Heroic space adventurer dramatically whisking the soldier boy in distress straight from the jaws of death? It was pretty hard to miss."
"I didn't miss it. And thankyou, it's appreciated." Mike forced himself to take his hand away from his gun, and tried to decode the high speed barrage of words that had just been thrown at him. None of it had really sounded like an explanation. "So what exactly are you doing here? And who are you?"
"Direct. I like that." Jack tapped a few controls on the instrument banks around him, and a screen suddenly flashed on in a blaze of colour. A three dimensional representation of the house lit the American's face with peculiar shades of yellow and orange, and tiny little black-unformed guards patrolled a miniature fence. "Recognise it?"
"Of course." Mike came closer, fascinated. "Something is going on in there. The local police seem to have lost interest, but I've seen too much in the last few years to be fobbed off now by official explanations and clever public relations people."
"I'll bet. This era is a fabulous one from my point of view. Different alien invasion practically every week, or that's how it seems. I guess you've seen a fair bit of that, being in UNIT."
"Yes, I have. And stop avoiding the issue. You saved my life and I'm grateful for that, but that doesn't mean that I don't want answers. Lots of them."
"Yeah." Jack looked rueful. "So much for going incognito, huh."
"If you wanted to remain incognito, you wouldn't be leaping about the place using transmat beams. Could the people back on the beach have seen the light that the beam made?"
"Possibly. I tried to be careful, but I couldn't pick my moment as well as I'd have liked. They wouldn't have known what it was, though. This is the nineteen seventies, and they're only human."
"Ignoring the obvious insult, how can you be sure of that? Whatever is going on in that house doesn't seem 'nineteen seventies and only human' to me."
"You're not entirely wrong." Jack sighed. "Okay, look. I come from the 51st century, or sort of. I travel through time. Visit planets, eras, all over the place, looking for... artefacts, let's say. Things I can sell. Anything anachronistic, which is why this is such a great era. There's a lot of debris in this decade, and especially in this country, that really doesn't belong in this era. It's because of all the alien invasions. UNIT doesn't get all the alien technology that gets left here. They think they do, but they don't always know what they're looking for. All of which leaves plenty of spoils for me."
"And so that's why you came here? You're what exactly... some kind of intergalactic rubbish collector?"
"Hey!" Jack looked faintly insulted. "No, not exactly. And the guys I sell all this stuff to hardly think that. I'm more... an adventurer. A prospector. I find things that other people want, and I pass them along."
"At a price."
"Of course. Hey, everybody's got to make a living."
"Yes, no doubt. Alright, so you came here looking for things to sell to people. It sounds feasible, even if it is a little unlikely. What do you know about that house?"
"Probably not a whole lot more than you do." Jack pointed towards the hologrammatic map. "Take a look at this. I came to England looking for alien leftovers, like I said. While I was here I detected the residue of some kind of time-travel equipment. Nothing terribly sophisticated, but it was enough to get me interested. I know people who'll pay a lot of money for anything like that, so I kept looking. And that was when my ship's detectors picked something up, down here in Cornwall. Energy emissions that shouldn't be here."
"Yeah. You ever hear of something called tallite?"
"No. It sounds like some kind of mineral."
"It is. It's from a planet named Corus IX. Not a big place. No more than a glorified asteroid, really, but it was developed as an Earth mining colony - will be developed, I guess I should say - in 2481. It's Earth's main source of tallite throughout the twenty-sixth century, and well into the twenty-seventh. Important stuff, tallite."
"In the future."
"In the future, yeah. There's no way it should be here on the Earth now, especially in these kinds of quantities. Somebody is using it to power something in that house back there, and they shouldn't be able to do that. It could be that it has something to do with the time travel equipment I detected."
"I doubt it. There have been one or two incidents recently where time machines of a sort were used here in Britain. I suppose they would be primitive by your standards, though they got the job done at the time. I think you can rule them out as being connected with this."
"If you're sure."
"I'm as sure as I can be. There was a sort of a cult a few months ago, that wanted to return the Earth to a Golden Age. Their equipment is most likely what you detected. I'm not sure what happened to it, as I wasn't involved in that part of the operation, but I think we can be sure that it's no longer in any state to be used. Before that there were one or two other events... There might have been more, but I doubt it. This is hardly Time Travel Central."
"We'll, you're the guy in the front line I guess." Jack shrugged. "Any other theories?"
"I have no idea how a mineral from the future could be here in any great quantities now. All that I can really suggest is some kind of alien involvement. It's hardly rare. They don't seem to want to leave us alone."
"You guys are real alien magnets alright. I've been reading up on it all since I came here. It's incredible how much alien activity was going on in Britain at the end of the twentieth century, and all without the general public finding out. You UNIT guys have done one hell of a job."
"We try." Mike looked away, trying not to let his mind wander to thoughts of the life he had left behind. "So that's your theory then, is it? That there are aliens in that house? The guards looked pretty human to me, though I haven't been able to get a very close look at them."
"The guards are human. My scanners are pretty clear on that. Could be they don't know who they're working for, or maybe they just don't care. Maybe they're being controlled somehow. Hypnosis? Drugs? It happens."
"Yes, I know." Mike had first hand experience of mind control, though not of the alien kind. "Whether or not they know what they're doing is irrelevant just at the moment, though. Tell me more about this tallite. What's it used for?"
"All kinds of things. It's used in laboratory equipment, transmitters, lasers, weather technology; it's ground down and used in toughened glass - it's pretty useful stuff."
"Yeah. All the rage in the twenty-sixth century; and I really can't stress just how much I shouldn't be telling you all this. They worked out a pretty much foolproof system of Design Your Own Weather. Want to be sure of good weather for your wedding? No problem. Became quite a big business for a while, until people started to complain. Rich people could pay for all the dry weather they wanted, or for rain whenever they felt like it. The rest of the population didn't think so much of it. Doubt the ecosystem appreciated it much, either." He shrugged. "Anyway, they stopped in the end. It was supposed to help tackle freak weather, and the damage it causes, but they never learnt how to stop massive storms from happening whenever they feel like it."
"So we've got an alien in a big house in Cornwall, using tallite he shouldn't have in order to make transmitters, toughened glass and lab equipment, and to mess about with the climate?" Mike sat down on the edge of a nearby bunk. Orange light glowed around him, reminding him that he was on board a spaceship, and that he still didn't really know who this man was. In that context, aliens living in a house in Cornwall didn't seem so strange. "There has to be something else, surely?"
"Weather technology was Earth's number one use for tallite. There's no telling what other races might do with it. Doesn't explain why they'd come to Earth here and now with a shipload of the stuff, but then why do any aliens come to Earth? Especially to Britain."
"Any number of reasons." Invasions, usually. Mike had had plenty of experience of those. Aliens wanting to replace important government figures with clones; aliens claiming to come in peace, but with sinister agendas behind their false smiles. This was surely just some other plan to take over the planet. They should probably call UNIT; an anonymous telephone call would do the trick. The information would have to be checked out, and no member of UNIT would be fobbed off the way that the local police had been. There would be people down here in a matter of hours, and soon enough they would find out what was going on. Nobody need ever know of his involvement - which was probably for the best.
"Any number of reasons. Exactly." Jack was suddenly on his feet again, beaming like this was the greatest day of his life. "So - you want to go take a closer look?"
"A closer..." He should tell UNIT. This was not something that he should be handling on his own, with a total stranger that he couldn't even be sure he could trust. "We should hand this over to the authorities now. Let them handle it."
"Why? You're the local alien expert. I'm the guy you always want on your side. What do we need authorities for?"
"Because they're equipped to deal with these things. All I've got is a nice torch and an illegal sidearm. I thought I could take a look around, but they trounced me before I got anywhere."
"Yeah, but now you've got me. And I've got a lot more than a nice torch." Jack waved an arm around at the interior of his ship. "I can zap us straight into that house, and nobody will ever know we're there. If they do, no problem. I'll zap us back out again. Come on. What do you say?"
"I think I'd be crazy to even consider it."
"You're pretty crazy for trying what you did anyway. Why not take one more step? Look, if this is a trust thing..."
"That's part of it, certainly. For all I know, you're working with those people back there. Be a great way to find out what I know, wouldn't it."
"Yeah, sure. Except you know that's not what I am. If I just wanted to get your trust, why the spaceship? There are far better ways of approaching somebody."
"And I certainly wouldn't be encouraging you to go take a look around inside that house. It'd be pretty pointless springing a trap like that after the conversation we've just had. Hell, even you don't think you're a threat to those guys. UNIT threw you out, right? Listen, I don't care what your issues are. All I know is that there's some alien or aliens out there, who are planning to do something with a whole lot of tallite. That stuff shouldn't be here, but I can sell it for a lot of money if I jump it forward a few centuries. Keep this ship in power cells for the next decade, that would. So I plan on going into that place and having a look around. I'm no philanthropist, though. If they're planning on blowing up the planet, that's not my problem. Figured you might care. Maybe you don't."
"I do care." Mike's voice was suddenly cold. "Which is why I think we need to call UNIT."
"Yeah, okay. But why not have something concrete to tell them first? Why not find out what's really going on in that house, before you hand this over to somebody else? You've started this. Stick with it a little longer, yeah?"
"What's it to you? If you don't care what they're doing, why worry?" Mike smiled suddenly - a thin, cold smile that made him look uncharacteristically hard. "You don't want UNIT here, do you. They'll get in your way, and they might stop you from making off with your spoils. You really don't care what those people are up to."
"I care. Up to a point. It's hardly in my best interests to let them destroy the planet several millennia before I get to be born. Being erased from history would cramp my style just a little. But yeah, you're right as it happens. I don't want UNIT here getting in the way. I don't want any kind of authorities here. They interfere in everything, they cause trouble, and we don't need them. And they sacked you, right? What do you want them for anyway?"
"I think this conversation has gone far enough." Mike was standing without really being aware of making a move. "How do I get out of here?"
"Same way you got in." Jack sighed. "That's really it? You get offended and go off in a huff? Look, we make a great team."
"We don't even know each other. And I rather think that it's best left that way."
"Hey, we know each other. At least, you know me. You didn't introduce yourself, sure, but did I take offence?" Jack offered him a smile that was weirdly endearing, and almost infectious. Mike glared.
"Somehow I don't think that this is an acquaintance we'll be extending. Let's just leave it at that."
"So you're going off to the nearest telephone, to report back to your old bosses, just because you don't know if you've got what it takes to deal with this anymore?" For the first time Jack's voice bore no traces of humour. "That really what you want?"
"What I want is to be left alone." For some reason Mike couldn't quite look him in the eye. "Yes, they fired me - and with good reason."
"And I saw the way that you handled yourself out there. You stayed cool, you moved like a pro. You don't think you can do this, but I think you can. Any time you want to back out, sure, we'll call in UNIT. Any time. But you must have thought for a moment that you could handle this, or you'd never have gone to that house tonight. You'd have been sitting back in your boarding house, hiding under the covers and waiting for the grown-ups to frighten the monsters away. Right?"
"I suppose I did think that I could do something, yes." Mike glanced away, over towards the holographic map that was still suspended nearby. "I have no idea what. Some of my best work has been done without stopping to think, but it didn't seem to go quite so well tonight."
"Then give it a chance and try it again. Look, I want the tallite. You want to make sure it gets out of the twentieth century, right? It shouldn't be here. Can you be sure that if UNIT comes here, that stuff won't get into the hands of the wrong people? Maybe UNIT are trustworthy, but it's not like they rule the world, is it. I can get that stuff someplace far out of the way."
"All out of the kindness of your heart."
"Hell no. But it turns out in everybody's favour, so where's the problem? Come on, soldier boy. Say yes. Come on a little reconnoitring with me, check out the territory and see what's what. If this is too big for us, we'll let the soldiers take over. Then you can buy me dinner, and we'll check out the Cornish night-life. But it's worth a try, right?"
"Maybe." Mike was thinking back to his attempt to break into the house. It had been wonderful, being on a mission again, with a purpose and a goal. Not the same as the old days, no - but good all the same. And once upon a time he would have tried to look around down there on his own, without reporting to the Brig until he was sure. That was just good soldiering, after all - or, at least, good UNIT soldiering. He stared again at the little map, with the soldiers patrolling their miniature fence. Doubts about Jack Harkness still lingered. He really didn't know the first thing about this man. And yet Jack made sense, after a fashion, and there was something about him that Mike did trust. Maybe it couldn't hurt to go to that house again, and try for a proper look around. Get some real information to pass on up the chain. Jack was grinning, and Mike realised that his change of heart must be showing itself on his face. He hated himself for that, but it did at least get rid of the need for long conversations. He merely nodded, and looked away. He was going to regret his. He was absolutely sure that he was going to regret this. Somehow, though, he was already feeling relieved. Passing the buck never had been his style.
"I'll fix up the transmat." Jack sounded like a kid about to go on holiday. "Grab your night-vision gadget up off the floor. It might be useful. And check up above your head. I've got some transponders there somewhere. If we get separated, I can find you that way. You're not going to regret this."
"I already am." Mike did as he was asked, watching with half an eye as Jack disappeared under a nearby console, ferreting about with a fearsome gadget that was possibly supposed to be a spanner. For some reason he reminded Mike of the Doctor, desperately working on his TARDIS in the days before control of it had been restored to him. Just now the comparison was not an especially encouraging one. There was a distinctly slapdash air about this spaceship and its devil-may-care pilot. There was no going back now though; he knew that. Quit now and he would never try this again. Quit now and he would wind up spending the rest of his life in a suit, working in an office somewhere, and pining for a past he had let slip away. He sighed.
"Mike Yates," he said, more or less to himself. Jack's head popped up from underneath the console.
"It's my name. Captain Mike Yates. I didn't tell you earlier. I suppose I was being stand-offish. It's one of my talents."
"Oh." Jack grinned. It was a nice grin, Mike couldn't help thinking. A friendly grin, and one that really did demand to be returned. "Hi Mike."
"Hi." He returned his attention to the search for transponders, trying not to think of distracting, and faintly disturbing, pilots from the future. Back underneath his console, Jack's grin turned into a fond smile. He had thought from the beginning that this was going to be a fun trip, and generally speaking he was right about such things - except when he was wrong, anyway. This time he was definitely getting a good feeling. And things were shaping up all the time.
Fate was a lot of fun, sometimes. She could be cruel, sure. She could be damn well vicious at times. But she could also, like today, be a whole lot of fun to be around. Jack had come to the twentieth century on a whim; had stayed around merely because he had detected the use of some primitive form of time travel technology - and now here he was with a shot at a good shipment of tallite, and a decidedly interesting individual to help him get at it. Mike Yates had a nice smile, when he used it; he certainly wasn't bad to look at; and it was as clear as a bell that he had some kind of story to him. A past in UNIT, a dismissal for some reason that still stung, a rather charming acceptance of Jack's story of time travel, as though it were the most normal thing in the world; and a fascinating set of night-vision lenses that by the look of them had been cobbled together from various materials that had no business being on Earth in the nineteen seventies. They had no business being on Earth at all, come to that. Jack couldn't help wondering who had made the device, and how a stiff-backed, proper young army officer had come to be in possession of it. Certainly he was hoping that he might get the chance to find out. Over dinner, perhaps. Maybe a bottle of wine or several, with the sea view from his spaceship as a backdrop. Twentieth century military types tended to need more persuading than most, but sometimes it was worth the effort. And Jack was the optimistic type. Mike Yates would defrost, eventually. He just needed the right approach.
The right approach not necessarily being a transmat voyage right into the heart of the lion's den, but then danger was traditionally a great melter of ice. In theory. Besides, Jack had kick-started the whole endeavour, so he could hardly step back now and suggest that they takes things slowly. Best to strike whilst the iron was hot - and while it was still dark outside. With luck the guards wouldn't be expecting a second attempt on the house tonight, and they certainly wouldn't be expecting anybody to appear inside the walls. As the haze of the transmat beam faded away, and Mike and Jack covered the immediate area with their highly contrasted weapons, there was not a movement nor a sound anywhere. Apparently they had achieved step one.
"Do you want to split up?" asked Mike. His torch was in one hand, but he was wearing the night-vision lenses again, and for the time being it was turned off. Jack, who was relying on the sensors in his wrist-computer to help him find his way, shook his head. The other man would be able to see it.
"No. Not yet, anyway."
"We can cover more ground alone."
"Sure. We can also get picked off more easily. You usually split up in enemy territory?"
"Not always, no." He did have something of a record for tackling things alone, though, as Jack had more or less guessed. He smiled to himself.
"Easy, tiger. We've got the whole night ahead of us. There's no reason to go off half-cocked." He turned his head slightly, so that Mike would see the smile. "Though I do like the enthusiasm."
"We should... probably get a move on." He couldn't see Yates, but he was almost certain that the other man was blushing now, or looking disconcerted at the very least. Jack would have laughed, but he didn't want to tease the poor guy too much just yet. That came later, when a few of the walls had come down. For now he contented himself with enjoying the faintly flustered sound in his companion's voice, and turned up the flirtation one further notch.
"Lead on, soldier boy. I'll bring up the rear."
"If you say so." Professionalism was taking over. Mike stuck his torch into his belt, then taking a two-handed grip on his gun, led the way at a quick pace to the nearest end of the corridor. There was nobody in sight when they peered around the corner, and Jack's equipment confirmed that there were no living beings other than themselves within two hundred yards. That was handy for not being discovered, but not quite so handy for helping them find what they needed.
"That's a computer, isn't it." Mike gestured at the leather strap around Jack's wrist. Jack nodded. So did Mike, his invisible face showing no reaction that Jack could see. "Good. Can it track down whatever source of power this place is using?"
"I've had it scanning since we came in here. There's a shield, so I couldn't check out the terrain before we came down here. You have to shield tallite to stop the emissions from affecting electrical equipment."
"Like with radioactive materials?"
"Yeah." Jack flashed the other man a highly appreciative smile. "You catch on real fast for a twentieth century primitive."
"A twentieth century primitive with A-level Physics," shot back Mike, this time with a faint smile of his own. Jack would have enjoyed it, had he been able to see it. Instead he merely chose to assume that it had been there, and matched it with another.
"Cute. Anyhow, we're inside the shielding now, so I've got my computer mapping out the corridors. Pretty soon we should be able to find our way about in here like one of the natives, so that ought to help. In the meantime, if we hang a left here, we should be on the right track. Probably."
"Fine. Maybe you'd better lead." Mike was already falling into place to cover their rear, so Jack moved ahead, setting a swift pace down a series of corridors. Once or twice they passed the glow of light beneath a closed door, but Jack didn't bother stopping. He was fairly sure that there was nothing of particular interest here. There was no shielding, and as yet no sound of equipment in use. Only when a distant humming noise reached them did he slow down, and glance back over his shoulder at Mike.
"Yes. It's the same noise that I've heard outside. It'll rise in volume soon, and then there'll be vibrations and flashing lights. Have you seen it at all?"
"I caught a real light show here last night, yeah. That was before I detected the tallite." Jack grinned. "I was just going to forget it all. Put it down to quaint Cornish customs or something. I'd have missed out on the fun, then."
"Missed out on a chance to get rich, you mean." Mike moved into the lead, more cautious now that they seemed to be growing closer to their goal. "Anything could be happening here. Any kind of alien forces might be planning who knows what. And all that you care about is making money out of some space-age mineral."
"That's not all I care about." Jack caught up with him. "Anyway, you make it sound like a bad thing."
"Being happy to run off and leave your planet in the lurch isn't a bad thing?"
"I suppose it is, to a certain way of thinking. Anyway, I didn't know that the planet might be in danger until I found out about the tallite. And I didn't run off then, did I."
"Because of the tallite. Not because of Earth."
"Well, yeah. So?" Jack took the lead again, apparently faintly exasperated by the unfathomable morals of the twentieth century. "I think I can feel the floor move. You?"
"Yes." The conversation about Jack's ethics seemed to be over, and Mike was content to leave it that way. It wasn't as if it was going anywhere useful. "The humming is getting louder too. We should see the flashing lights soon. Any idea what kind of machinery could be causing it?"
"We're closer now. My computer might be able to come up with some answers." He tapped out a brief command, and scowled. "The shielding must be stronger. I'm getting some weird readings."
"I can't see any shielding."
"No." Jack waved his wrist-computer at the nearest wall. "It's in the paint. That's another thing that shouldn't be on Earth in the twentieth century. Somebody sure came here all kitted out."
"And you say that this tallite can be used to manipulate the weather?" Mike was frowning, staring down the corridor through his night-vision lenses. "The more I see here, the less I like that idea. Outside it didn't seem so immediate. In here, when I can feel the walls vibrate - it all feels bigger somehow."
"Yeah. Whoever is behind this means business alright. All those armed guards, a big consignment of tallite - it's adding up to something. I just wish I could figure out what. Weather control is just one of a whole lot of possibilities."
"We have to take a look at the machinery. We might find our answers then." Mike started forward again, only to stop almost at once when a deep red light flooded the corridor. Seconds later a burst of yellow-orange light replaced it, then yellow, green, blue and purple. Over and over again the colours chased each other down the corridor, flashing in angry slow motion, and making Mike whip the lenses from his eyes in sudden pain. Jack swore.
"There's your light show. Could have done with a dimmer switch."
"Couldn't it just. Come on." Putting the night-vision glasses away, Mike let the brightly flashing lights guide him onward, not bothering to see whether Jack was following. Around a corner, a big black door greeted him. There was a window in it, through which the coloured lights were pulsing, and when he put his fingers against the door he could feel the powerful vibrations of machinery throughout his arms. He was touching some kind of metal, he realised, but he knew instinctively that it was not one that he had ever encountered before. Alien metal, then, or just something from Earth's own future. That was alien too, in its way.
"I wonder why there are no guards?" he mused, barely aware that he had spoken aloud. There didn't seem to be any security cameras either. Jack joined him, his movements inaudible beneath the humming of whatever machinery lay behind the door.
"There are probably a few guards in the room. I guess they're pretty sure that their perimeter is secure. Most people don't think about enemy agents with transmat beams. Not in the nineteen seventies, anyhow."
"I suppose not." Mike took a step back, rather at a loss now. It wasn't that he couldn't plan out a course of action - he was a captain in the British Army, or had been. He could plan an assault, command a combat team, and he didn't need the Brigadier to point him on his way. It was just that now he was actually here, with the enemy more or less in sight and the target reached, it was hard to be sure what to do. He had no idea what kind of weaponry he might be coming up against, or who or what might be behind all of this. The identity of the brain behind the pulsing machine might well be important in deciding upon tactics. He didn't really have enough information to be sure of how to handle things now. Jack Harkness, however, apparently wasn't bothered by such shortcomings.
"You take the left, I'll take the right?" he suggested, hand already on the doorknob. Mike blinked.
"That's it? That's our plan of attack?"
"It works. I've done it before. Listen, soldier boy - they're not expecting an attack. We go in, we take out the guards, I examine the machinery, we find the tallite, and we're gone. I can zap us out of there, straight back to my ship, and even if our alien mastermind does figure out how we did it, I can have us two thousand light years away before he can think about tracking us down. That tallite can be good old fashioned electronic credit before you can snap your fingers. Where's the problem?"
"Problem? We don't know how many guards might be in there. We're up against a possible alien, or human from the future - my future, at any rate - so we can't assume that we're just going to face contemporary guns. They might know about us by now, and this might be a trap. And besides, I don't want to be two thousand light years away."
"You don't?" This seemed to leave Jack genuinely surprised. "Well, two thousand miles then. He still won't find us. I'll drop you off before I go make the sale." He grinned. "You're welcome on my spaceship if you want, though. There's a lot going on out there, soldier boy. No sense in waiting around in this backwater."
"Is this really a good time to be discussing my future plans?" Mike returned his gaze to the window in the door, pointedly ending the conversation. It was becoming uncomfortable. There was a distinct hint of flirtation in his companion's manner that was growing increasingly difficult to ignore. Having some dynamic, handsome American flyboy making a pass at him was awkward enough, without it being in the middle of an operation like this. Jack grinned at him.
"Hey, I'm just making the offer. What you do with it is up to you. You ready?"
"You really are planning on just walking right in there, aren't you."
"Yep." Jack shrugged. "Like I said, in and out. No problem. Listen, I'm no hero, soldier boy. I don't go throwing my life away on a whim. Have a little faith, yeah?"
"Faith." It was utterly absurd having faith in a quite obviously insane space pilot with a highly overactive libido. And yet... He sighed, and nodded his head. Somehow he really could see this working. The Brigadier would have had him sectioned at the very thought, he was sure; and he could picture Benton, too, with an eyebrow quirked in a wordless question. The Brigadier was no longer the boss, though, and Benton was no longer at Mike's side. What they thought was immaterial.
"Knew I could count on you." Jack's grin was horribly infectious. "Ready?"
"Probably not, no."
"That's my boy." Jack clapped him on the shoulder. "See you in hell."
"Not if I've got any say in--" but Jack had already gone, throwing the door wide and running fast and low into the room beyond. Mike's sarcasm fell away, his military training taking over as he followed the other man without another thought. The room was a grey space, filled with instrumentation that he didn't recognise, machinery that he couldn't hope to identify; unimportant things that he shut out of his mind. It was the people that he had to focus on; scientists, in white coats; a pair of guards in black uniforms; a smaller, darker man who was obviously in charge. Mike's gaze zeroed in on him then, shutting out the scientists, who hadn't reacted to him at all. Hypnotised - he could see that straight away. Shutting out also the two guards, already falling in a blaze of blue light from Jack's gun. All of the room was narrowed down, then, to just the few square feet where the small, dark man stood. A bearded man, slight, neat, dressed in a tasteful and expensive black suit. His dark eyes gleamed with annoyance, with indignation - with something else. Mike skidded to a halt.
"Up here." Jack wasn't interested in what he was doing. He wasn't interested in any of the people anymore. Quite probably he hadn't noticed that the scientists had been hypnotised, or that Mike now stood in the centre of the room with the chief of operations at gun point, and a very uneasy feeling in his stomach. "Be finished in a second. No problem, right?"
"Jack..." 'No problem' wasn't exactly how Mike would have phrased it. The man with the dark beard was smiling now, recognition replacing the anger on his face; a curl of contempt showing in the line of his mouth. Mike wasn't sure whether to stare back at him defiantly, or look away. The latter might be less than impressive, but the former was asking for trouble. Eye contact could be a dangerous thing. "Jack, get down here!"
"Working with the Americans, Captain Yates?" The smooth, silky voice was at once both polite and insulting. Jack's head appeared over to Mike's right, peering across a bank of controls.
"You know this guy?"
"Sadly, yes. Listen, we have to get out of here. However this looks right now, it's not going to be as simple as we thought. Forget the tallite. I have to report this."
"Report it? Am I to take it that you're alone?" That silky, unctuous voice, inquiring so politely, made Mike want to forget himself, and punch the bearded face right on the nose. Not that that would do any good. The Master was a Time Lord like the Doctor, and would probably barely flinch. That or he would use some of that confounded Venusian Aikido like the Doctor himself had mastered, and have the tables turned in seconds. Jack frowned.
"From little me?" Once again there was a mocking courtesy in the question; an appearance of utter harmlessness. With his small smile and perfect composure, the Master could almost have been a vicar, talking gently to members of his parish. Mike shot him a murderous look, and wished for a bigger gun.
"Trouble," he confirmed. The Master could have any number of tricks up his sleeve; any number of plans and counter-plans. He could outthink any human, and even after some years of first-hand experience with the Doctor, Mike knew that there was a great deal he had yet to discover about the Time Lord race. Short of shooting the Master on the spot, he didn't know what to do to contain him now. He didn't have any handcuffs with him, and he couldn't see anything that might act as bindings. He certainly couldn't take his eyes off the prisoner in order to look. Jack hardly sounded concerned, though, and showed no sign of abandoning his attempt to collect the tallite.
"He's only one guy!" His head disappeared back behind the bank of controls, then reappeared again a second later. "UNIT stuff, right?"
"Sort of, but--"
"Well I'm not a member of UNIT. Just hold your horses for a while, okay? I'll grab the tallite, and then we can go make reports wherever the hell you like. Another hour can't make any difference."
"Another minute could make a difference! He's not human, and he could be one of the greatest threats that this planet has ever faced. You have to trust me on this, Jack. He's got something up his sleeves. This place is probably booby-trapped."
"Booby-trapped?" Jack's bright eyes turned themselves around to stare at the Master. "Booby-trapped?"
"I resent that insinuation. Captain Yates has rather an overactive imagination, I'm afraid. He's probably been badly overworked, isn't that so, captain? All these pesky problems that keep coming your way. All those dastardly plots to foil. All that work, all that paranoia, building up week after week. You should take a rest. Sit down."
"I'm not tired. And I am not overworked." All the same, Mike did feel a little rundown. His sleep had been interrupted a lot of late, with his night-time vigils over the mysterious house, with its curious lights and rumblings. He probably did need to sleep. Perhaps to... to--
"Woah there!" There were hands on his arms; a gentle grip that held him up, and kept his pistol pointing forwards. Mike blinked. Jack seemed to have his arms around him, which, aside from being not entirely unpleasant, certainly seemed extremely inappropriate. A low chuckle sounded close to his ear, and his first thought was of the Master. It wasn't the Master's laugh though. This one was warm and gentle, with no hint of mockery. It sounded like Jack. Mike blinked.
"Easy, soldier boy." Jack held onto him until Mike was more secure on his feet - though Mike was by no means clear on why he hadn't been steady to begin with. He was almost sorry when the arms left his, and Jack was no longer standing so close. "Don't you people get any training against hypnosis?"
"Hypnosis?" That brought him back to his senses. Hypnosis. Damn it, and he had been thinking about that just a few moments before. You couldn't lose concentration for a moment with the Master. "You see what I mean? He's dangerous. The people around us - these scientists. Look how unconcerned they are about us. They're hypnotised. He has power over people."
"Well he doesn't have power over me." Already half the room away, his mind firmly back on thoughts of his impending wealth, Jack grinned suddenly. "Though tallite sure does - or the money it'll rake in does, anyhow. You're really worried about Captain Nemo here?"
"You don't know the half of it." The problem was that he wasn't entirely sure what to say. The Master came under classified UNIT information - strictly need to know. Mike was still bound by the Official Secrets Act, and Jack Harkness was still just some bloke he had met on a beach. He could be anybody. He seemed to be trustworthy, he seemed to be from the future - he seemed to be a lot of things. He almost certainly wasn't cleared for top secret UNIT information, though. The Master smiled his smug smile, and Mike came to a sudden decision. "You say that you researched this period, and read up on some of the attempted alien invasions that there have been recently? Well this man was behind half of them. He's lethal, and he's sure to have some kind of contingency plan. Jack, we're not safe here. This place could be swarming with guards at any second. For all I know, he's capable of sending them some kind of psychic message, warning them that we're here."
"You think?" With an athletic leap, both graceful and arrogant, Jack vaulted the bank of controls that separated him from Mike. He landed barely an arm's length from the Master, sizing him up with a gleaming blue stare. He saw a man smaller than himself, with an unimpressive build and a natural sort of grace. Dark eyes, bright and vital; a neat, dark beard, pointed and sharp; neat dark hair, sleek and well-groomed; all darkness, all neatness, all precise and exact and intense. A half-smile met his appraising gaze; a smile that was cold and threatening through no more than a twitch of one corner of the thin, tight mouth. Jack saw great age in that face then; great age and experience; unimaginable travels. A man who was not a man. Not a human, and not a man to ignore. Jack smiled his own half-smile, and clapped Mike on the back.
"You have interesting friends."
"He's not exactly a friend."
"No, probably not." Jack had put his gun away since getting rid of the guards, content to let Mike keep watch. He drew his weapon again now, though, eyeing the Master speculatively. "Evil?"
"Very." Mike didn't like this conversation. They should be leaving. They should be securing the doors, or doing something to tie the Master up, or looking for a telephone to call for some kind of back up. Anything but standing around making eyes at the enemy, and chatting with an apparent total lack of concern. Jack nodded slowly.
"Still, you've got him at gun point. What's he going to do? Just don't let him look you in the eyes again." He started back off across the room. "Nobody knows we're here. It'll be fine. Trust me."
"Is that tallite really worth taking this kind of a risk?" Mike sounded angry. Jack ignored him. The guy was good company, but good company couldn't get in the way of a good score - and a load of tallite was more important than staying in the good books of a nice looking soldier with an agreeable smile. "Confound it Jack, do you ever think of anything other than money?"
"Stop being such a killjoy." He growled the words without thinking them, and certainly without meaning them; turned even as he was saying them to consider making an apology. Apologies weren't exactly his forté, but he hadn't meant to snap, and Yates probably had good reason to be jumpy. He didn't make the apology. With an odd squawk, the communicator in his wristband burst into life, and the ever calm voice of the shipboard computer resounded out of the tiny speaker.
"Increased activity has been registered outside the house. All exits now blocked."
"Huh?" Jack blinked down at the little unit, the computer's words registering only after a moment. He glanced up, his eyes meeting Mike's, and they each saw the realisation in the other's eyes. Increased activity, the exits covered. The guards knew that they were here.
"We have to get out." Yates muttered something under his breath that Jack couldn't catch, but that the Master obviously heard. He laughed quietly, and his dark eyes flashed with clear mockery.
"My guards will be here in seconds, gentlemen." His voice was rich, smooth, and infused with an unpleasant humour. "You might shoot a few. Between you, you might even shoot most of them. But never all of them. Never all. If I were you, Captain Yates--"
"Happily for us both, you're not." Mike looked up at Jack, busy tapping something into his leather wristband. "Jack?"
"Don't worry." There were booted feet sounding in the corridor. Guards coming towards them at speed. A lot of guards, by the sound of it. The Master laughed long and hard, and the noise reverberated around the room. One by one the scientists stopped what they were doing, and at last looked up from their work. Mike considered covering them with his gun, but decided against it. He still had the Master to worry about. The Master and however many men were now coming to join in the fun. And still Jack was doing nothing save tapping away at the computer strapped to his wrist. The Master was watching now, obviously intrigued by the leather band. Jack had sparked his curiosity. Mike didn't like that one bit.
"I'm getting there!" Blasted shielding. Blasted protocols. Blasted Chula ship, refusing to stay the way he had programmed it. Always reverting to its default settings, as though it wanted to get him into trouble. A guard loomed up in the doorway, and barely missing a beat Jack shot him down. A burst of blue laser fire lit up the doorway as the guard froze before falling - then suddenly there were two more men coming, and two more behind them, and Mike was falling back in search of better cover.
"Straight in and out, you said! We can zap straight out of here if there's trouble!" Yates was converging on him, but quite suddenly somebody else was opening fire. Jack ducked down behind the nearest convenient bit of cover, and swore loudly in Xorvian. It was a good language for swearing. Guttural, angry syllables, that sounded like they meant business.
"Done it!" With a beep from the wrist-computer that told him he had succeeded, he glanced across at Mike, grinning a reassuring grin that was only slightly dampened when the console beside his head exploded. "Ready?"
"Just get us out of here!" Mike ducked sharply as a bullet ricocheted off something that was rather too close for comfort. Jack nodded.
"No problem." The ship might be a pain in the neck with all its protocols and defaults, and its insistence on rarely doing as it was told, but it wasn't such a bad machine really. And he was getting used to its little quirks now, getting the hang of circumventing its more annoying traits. With a sigh of relief he dragged out the little silver remote control that was his link to safety, and hit the button on the side. Lights flashed, and his last glimpse of the control room was a shower of sparks kicked off by a fusillade of lead. He wasn't sorry to be leaving, all things considered. It was just a shame about the tallite.
Still, he was alive. And that was certainly an improvement on the alternative.
"Up and away!" With a whoop of pure glee, Jack slid into the pilot's seat of his spaceship, even as the blue glow of the teleport was still fading. "Grab a seat, Mike. We'll be out of here in no time. Anywhere you especially want to go?" There was no answer, and he turned around, surprised. The least the guy could do was to play along with the spirit of the moment, and show a little enthusiasm. "Mike?" But there was nobody else on board. Mike Yates was nowhere to be seen. "Computer? Where the hell is Yates?
"Captain Mike Yates is not on board." The computer sounded irritatingly unconcerned. Jack rolled his eyes.
"I case see that he's not on board. Where is he?!"
"Probability that Captain Mike Yates is still inside the house - ninety-seven percent."
"He's still inside?! I told you to focus in on his signal alongside mine. You were supposed to beam us both together!"
"Teleport is malfunctioning." Still she didn't care, his own frustration leaving her completely unmoved. "Shielding within the house affected the--"
"I don't care about the damn shielding!" Jack punched the nearest console, then swore when he hurt his hand, and caused sparks to shower down from somewhere. "Okay. So he's back there in the house. It's not like it's my fault, right? I mean, I didn't force him to come with me. His idea. And he'd have been dead back there by now anyway, if it hadn't been for me. So why should I worry about saving him now?"
"Preparing for flight," announced the computer, obviously taking his words to mean that they would soon be on their way. Jack nodded.
"Set a course for... Computer, can you get a fix on Yates?"
"Shielding prevents a fix on any object within the centre of the house. Captain Mike Yates is not detectable."
"You detected me! If you can get me out of there, why not him?"
"Emergency teleport device functions through most forms of screening. Captain Jack Harkness was retrievable." There was a momentary pause. "Commencing departure."
"Good." He settled back in his seat, then cast a glance over at the hologram that still hung in the air nearby. The house, with its tiny patrolling guards. Mike Yates was in there somewhere, at the mercy of a man that Jack knew to be extremely dangerous. That odd little man with the dark eyes and pointed beard had had an air about him of undeniable menace. "Wait, computer. Damn it."
"Awaiting orders." She fell silent, ready to do whatever he said. She was faithful enough, even if the rest of the ship was against him. Blasted teleport, with its predilection for only wanting to transport him. He was going to have to do something about that one day - and in the meantime poor Mike was alone back there, facing who knew what. And he had had such a nice smile, once he had been persuaded to use it. Jack sighed. "Computer, put me down there again. As close as you can get to the place where you zapped me out. Can you put me down inside the shielding?"
"Negative." There was a buzz and a whirr of computations, before the bank of controls that governed the teleport squawked softly. "Ready to teleport."
"Thanks." He scowled to himself. He must be mad, going back down there again. Even consoling himself with thoughts of the tallite didn't make him feel any better. Still - it was nice to play the hero occasionally. Perhaps a daring rescue would be fun. Fun or fatal, which wasn't much of a choice on the whole.
For the second time that night, then, he found himself inside the corridors of the Cornish house, listening to the thrum of distant machinery. The lights had stopped, though, and he soon realised that this was not the same machinery as before. This was something different; lower, quieter, more grumbling. A different stage in whatever process was underway, he assumed - then wondered why he was interested. He was only supposed to be here for the tallite. Mike Yates's fault, he decided. Cute soldiers with boy scout complexes had no business infecting him with their zeal.
"Okay, so you're an alien mastermind with a secret lair." Jack looked up and down the corridor, then tapped a few commands into his wrist-computer. "Where do you put your prisoners? Oh come on, you're inside the shielding, don't play that 'no data' game with me now. Widen the search field, and... There he is!" He frowned. "Okay, but where is that? Up? Down? Come on, it's always down. Let's have up for a change. Just not too high, 'cause his hair is way too short to do that Rapunzel thing." The computer bleeped obligingly at him, and he grinned. "Oh, well that's easy. At least I know the way." He tapped another control, checking up on the positions of the other people present, and scowled. "Okay, not so easy. Spread out, can't you? This is worse than some party where everybody's congregating in the kitchen." None of the tiny dots representing guards seemed obliged to accommodate his demand, so with an exasperated sigh he continued on his way. Mike Yates appeared to be in the control room, and Jack knew the layout of the route there. He knew where there were corners to be wary of, and he did at least have the advantage of knowing where the guards were positioned. Of course, for all he knew, Mike's bearded friend also knew exactly where he was; but that sort of problem was the kind best ignored. It wasn't as though he could do anything about it right now anyway.
The corridors were deserted, just as they had been before, and the guards were remaining in the control room as far as he could tell. He tried running a scan for similar scanning equipment, to see if the enemy was looking for him, but came up witha blank. It didn't reassure him. Pressing on, he tightened his fingers around the butt of his laser pistol, and tried to concentrate on every little sound. Returning was a damn silly thing to do. He should have gone scooting off back into space, and left Mike Yates to sort himself out. Captain Jack Harkness was not in the rescue game. He was an idiot, he decided, as he edged his way forward, seeing in his mind's eye the big black door that awaited him just around this last, lonely corner. The guards would all waiting be for him there as well; ten of them, according to his wrist-computer, which was pretty much the house's entire compliment of black-uniformed, heavily armed bullies. Which left him with two options - hurl himself around the corner with his gun blazing; or surrender and hope that everybody was in a good mood. He decided that he didn't especially like either option, which left him at something of a loose end. Unless, he mused to himself, he could take two uninviting options, and turn them into one rather more pleasant one. Or a slightly less suicidal one, at any rate.
"You'd better appreciate this, Yates." And he'd better not turn out to be dead. Nothing put the dampeners on an heroic bit of rescuing than leaping gallantly to the aid of what turned out to be a corpse. He'd found that out more than once in the past; which was rather a worrying batting average for a man who didn't generally do rescues. Making a few small adjustments to his laser pistol, he took a deep breath and stepped slowly around the corner. Five rifles were pointed straight at him, and he smiled as confidently and as charmingly as he could. Which was extremely charming, even if he did say so himself.
"Hi." He made sure that all five of the guards got an equal share of the charm offensive. "I was thinking I might surrender. If it's all the same with you."
"Throw down your gun." One of the men had a leadery quality to him - although with this group of men that probably only meant that he had managed to scrape together an IQ rating above 90. Jack let him take the full force of the Harkness Grin.
"Sure. No problem. I'll just... throw down my gun. But first I want to know how Mike is. Tallish guy, kinda cute? Purple shirt, red trousers. Not always the best combination, especially for creeping around in the dark, but then it is the seventies I guess."
"Throw down your gun." The lead guard took a slow step forward, and Jack made what he hoped was a placating gesture.
"Okay, okay. That's fine. Here, I'm throwing down my gun." He hesitated a moment, then with a silent prayer to the god of misguided idiots, threw the weapon down - and dived for cover. Somebody fired after him, and the bullet ricocheted off the wall above his head, but the echo of the report was lost in an instant by the sound of the laser gun bursting into life. Flattened against the wall back around his corner, Jack heard a panicked yell as the gun fired wildly; in his mind's eye seeing it as it spun around under the force of its own shots. He could imagine it blasting away in every direction as its power-pack built up to overload, and knew well what kind of damage it would be doing in the process. Blue light glowed around the corner, laser fire crackled; and in a sudden burst of white heat, the weapon blew up. A sharp, acrid smell filled the corridor, and fighting off a coughing fit Jack rolled back around the corner, threw himself over the smouldering relic of his unfortunate gun, and snatched up a fallen rifle. He didn't know who it had belonged to. He didn't have time to care. Rolling neatly to his feet, he threw open the big black door and ran into the room beyond. A bullet cracked into the wall above the door, and he sent a single shot flying towards its source, then dashed for the cover of the nearest console. A totally disinterested scientist pressed controls and watched readouts a few inches away from his head. Jack tried to ignore him. Hypnotised boffins were not his concern right now.
"Mike?" He shouted the name loudly, ducking back as he did so. He had expected gunshots to come in answer, but none did. "You there, Yates?"
"He's here." It was the voice of the man with the beard - he recognised it instantly, with its superciliousness and ability to annoy. "Throw down your weapon, and I'll see about not shooting him."
"You'll see about not shooting him? That doesn't sound like such a great deal to me." Jack peered over the top of the console, wishing that there was some point in snapping at the scientist to get out of the damn way. He could see the man with the beard, standing in the middle of the room as though he had nothing to fear. Four men in black were spread out around him, a fifth sitting nearby, trying to keep hold of his gun. He had been hit in the hand by the look of things, and Jack silently congratulated himself on a good bit of shooting. He had no idea how badly hurt the five men outside the door were, but for the time being at least it seemed that he had more than halved the threat of the guards. That wasn't bad for less than ninety seconds. The bearded man laughed lightly.
"It's Jack, isn't it. Believe it or not, Jack, I have no particular intention of killing either one of you. You in particular could be very useful to me. But I can't risk any damage to my equipment here, and I'd rather not lose too many of my little band of scientists. So if you cause trouble, I will have both you and the good captain shot. It would be far more sensible to merely throw down that rifle and step out here."
"Sounds about as sensible as skinny-dipping in the acid lakes on Morox V." Jack chose to ignore the enemy, and raised his voice again. "Mike?"
"I'm here, Jack." Yates sounded perfectly calm. "Don't listen to him. You can't trust a word that he says."
"Now really, Captain Yates. Is that any way to talk about an old friend? I could have killed you so many times in the past, but I never have. Doesn't that stand in my favour now?"
"Not killing me doesn't cancel out all the times that you've tried to destroy the Earth, or kill half of the people on it. I wouldn't trust you if we were the only people left in the world."
"Which, believe it or not, we may soon be. Oh yes, Captain Yates, you did hear me correctly. Speeding towards this planet as we speak is a representative sample of the Tragovian fleet. Perhaps your American friend has some idea what that means?"
"The Tragovian fleet?" Jack couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You called in the Tragovian fleet?!"
"Not in as many words, no. I confess to a certain... moral ambiguity, yes, but not to any kind of personal insanity. The Tragovians will cheerfully kill me along with the natives of this lamentable planet; and since at present I find myself incapable of leaving, I would rather do what I can to discourage the fleet from coming here. That is what this equipment is for. That is what the tallite is for... although I admit that it wasn't its original purpose. Perhaps now you see the problem, gentlemen? I do not have the time or in the inclination to fight UNIT right now. I'd rather survive."
"You've heard of these Tragovians?" Mike was directing the question to Jack who, very slowly, was rising up from behind the cover of the console. It was a gamble, but nobody fired at him. For the time being, at any rate. He nodded.
"Yeah, sure. Everybody's heard of the Tragovians. They're lethal. Exterminators. They wipe out whole planets, even whole solar systems, as part of their empire building operations. A lot of races are strong enough to keep them from trying anything, but Earth doesn't have a chance, certainly now. Another thousand years or so, maybe."
"They're that bad?"
"Sure they're that bad. Listen, I was out near Delta VII just before the Tragovian fleet sent the local star supernova. There had been some evacuations, but there wasn't much warning. One minute the fleet is coming, the next - fire, as far as the eye can see it, like everything in the galaxy is burning. I don't want to see it again any time soon, and certainly not here. And certainly not three thousand years before I'm born. That kind of thing'll cause some serious jet-lag."
"Three thousand years?" A dark eyebrow raised itself in an affectedly casual interest. "You're a long way from home, Mr...?"
"It's Captain. Captain Jack Harkness, and you are...?" The dark eyes gleamed, and he felt the waves of their power wash over him. Impressive. Right now, though, the bearded alien had no real interest in hypnosis.
"I am many things, Captain Harkness. I am known as the Master."
"Not by me, you're not." Jack looked over to Mike. "You okay?"
"Yes, fine. As fine as anybody is when they nearly get their head blown off by enemy fire, and see their only ally disappear in a beam of light." Yates joined them, the suspicion he felt towards the Master shining in his expressive eyes. "Jack, this is madness. You don't know this man the way that I do. He can't be trusted."
"I don't doubt it." In many ways Yates was still an unknown commodity, but Jack trusted his judgement - certainly more than he trusted a man whose very presence was sinister. "But we can't take any chances right now. The Tragovians... they're one of the most warlike races in the whole of this sector of space. They kill everything that they come across. Out at Delta VII the authorities were able to evacuate some of the population, but you couldn't even begin to do that here. Three people on a rocket? It's hardly enough to rebuild humanity somewhere else. Even if you could hope to get the rocket out of range in time."
"We couldn't." Mike was no expert in space travel, but he had followed the developments within the space programme in recent years, just like the rest of UNIT. It was frightening at times just how far behind so many other races humanity lingered. "If this fleet is as powerful as you say it is, then by the time that the alert is sounded, a rocket probably couldn't even be in the air before it was too late. I could call UNIT and sound the alarm--"
"Do that and there's no hope for any of us." The Master was smiling patiently, but his eyes showed no such poise, and his voice hinted at the contempt that was forever only just beneath his smooth veneer. "Using the tallite, I can create a field around the Earth that should hide it from detection. In a sense. The Tragovians will see nothing but lifelessness solar system - provided that your Martian neighbours are true to form and stay quiet - and shouldn't realise that the solar system is inhabited. They'll leave it alone. If you start beetling around firing off rockets and trying to escape into space, we don't have a chance." He smiled, the mockery bursting forth into a broad, cruel sneer. "Besides, Captain Yates. How precisely will you organise this evacuation? Who will leave, and who will remain behind to accompany this ghastly little planet into oblivion?"
"Will you get a seat on a rocket, you mean?" Mike could hardly begin to match the other man's monumental disdain, but a fair approximation of it glimmered now in his eyes. "Hardly. Don't think I don't know that you're behind this somehow. Whatever that fleet is doing on its way here, I'm more than sure that you're responsible."
"Me?" The Master's amused, entirely false innocence leant his voice a new kind of mocking tone. "But you'd never do it anyway. Some half-baked escape plan, that could only ever hope to save a few? I know your type, captain. All those millions left behind to perish? That's no plan. My way we can save everybody. All your precious human souls, and me as well."
"It's almost worth letting the Earth burn, if it finally gets the universe rid of you." Mike looked away. "Do you know what he's talking about, Jack? Using the tallite to hide the Earth from detection?"
"Sure. It could do the trick, I suppose. Like I told you, tallite is used in transmitters. Communications technology, you know. Set up the right kind of feedback, and it should be possible to block or even manipulate the fleet's scanners. They'd get here and see whatever we want them to see. A dead planet is probably better than no planet at all. They're less likely to fall for that."
"Very good." The Master inclined his head in entirely false praise at this display of reasoning. "So, gentlemen. Do I take it that we're going to stop trying to shoot each other, and start making some attempt to save all our lives?"
"I still have a lot of questions." Mike was suspicious about a lot of things - not least the hypnotised scientists, and the heavily armed guards. He didn't like co-operating with the Master, and he certainly didn't like the idea that nobody else knew about it. He should be reporting in to the Brigadier. He should be alerting UNIT, and making sure that there were troops here as back up in case anything went wrong. It was still hard to remember that he was no longer a part of all of that. The Brigadier was no longer on the other end of the telephone. Security protocols would have changed, just like the rule books said. He had no way of calling anybody now.
"Questions later." Jack was looking about the room with the air of a man about to take control. "Do we know how far away the Tragovians are?"
"At their present speed, as far as my equipment can tell, they'll be within range of their own scanning capabilities in a matter of hours. After that, whatever we can do won't make any difference, as they will already know what this region of space is really like." There was the flash of a challenge in the Master's eyes; the look of a man who wanted to know just what this new arrival might know, and how well he was equipped. Jack nodded slowly.
"And how far along are you?"
"With my workforce here working every hour on the clock, I've been able to get most of the way. It's difficult, though, with such unskilled labour. Some of the finest scientific minds on this sorry little planet, and most of them don't know enough to even begin to be of real use."
"Yeah, well. It's the nineteen seventies. You've gotta cut them some slack." Jack nodded slowly, casting a speculative eye over the silently toiling scientists, and the hovering, suspicious guards. This was apparently the first that the strong-arm men had heard of the true nature of the project they had been assigned to protect, and they were beginning to look decidedly uncomfortable. Talk of men from three thousand years in the future, and from different planets altogether... talk of fleets coming to destroy the world... They were hardly cut from the finest intellectual material to begin with, and this was all a little too much. "So how long do you think it's going to take you to finish?"
"Another twenty-four hours, at our current pace. I've been trying to speed things up a little, but already the pace is too much for some of my older... guests." The Master smiled a particularly oily smile at his use of the euphemism. "I had one die just this morning, and they're getting hard to replace. People are bound to notice, if too many more scientists disappear." He scowled, looking decidedly hostile. "And then I shall have the forces of that blasted organisation hounding me again. Your people, Captain Yates. And a certain scientific advisor of theirs."
"You can forget the suicide squad tactics." Anticipating Mike's outrage as though he had known the other man for years, Jack stepped neatly in to prevent an argument. "It's too wasteful, and it's not really going to achieve anything anyway. You need somebody else who knows what they're doing. That'll speed things up a hundred-fold."
"Perhaps." Not the kind of man to admit that he needed the help of a lowly human, the Master sounded unimpressed. "Just what kind of equipment do you have, Captain Harkness? And might I inquire exactly what sort of ship?"
"Smooth. Real smooth." Jack flashed the Time Lord a typically sparkling smile. "But just a little too eager. You crash your own ship, or just forget where it's parked?"
"Hardly." For a second ice gleamed in the powerful, dark eyes - then the Master smiled as though it were all nothing. "A minor technical malfunction. A problem in one of the circuits. I can fix it, but not before the Tragovians get here. It will take me weeks of very precise and exacting work, which I hardly think that you will be able to understand. Not even if you were from one hundred thousand years in Earth's future."
"Yeah, well you're not taking my ship instead." Jack scowled. "Great. A desperate scurry to save the Earth, when we could all just make a run for it. Isn't this everybody's favourite way to spend a Friday night?" He sighed, in a display of irritation that Mike Yates wasn't at all sure was entirely false. "Okay, show me what you've got, Fred. Let's see how can speed this along."
"Fred?" Displeasure was etched onto the Master's brow. Mike felt a sudden urge to giggle, although at the same time there was definite malevolence in the Time Lord's expression. Jack shrugged.
"Hey, do I look like I need a master? Just show me what you got. We'll talk about names later."
"Very well." The smile was tight and polite, the voice perfectly composed. Jack wasn't fool enough to miss the note of danger behind the composure, though. There was something else that the Master would be wanting to talk about later, or he was a Myridian marsh beast.
"Jack..." The Master was walking away across the room, clearly expecting the human to follow him, but Mike called out before he could do so. Jack nodded.
"I know. 'Don't trust him'."
"He's evil. And very clever."
"I can see that." He flashed the Englishman one of his best and biggest grins. "It's okay, for now. He needs us. Until he can get this transmitter thing up and running, or steal my ship, he can't kill us." He shrugged. "Or he can't kill me, anyway. You're a little further up the expendable end of the scale, so play it careful. Keep an eye on these guys in black. And I had to sacrifice my blaster to get in here, so unless they're going to play nice enough to give you your gun back, we've only got the one weapon between us." He tossed Yates the rifle he had appropriated in the corridor. "Keep all your eyes open."
"You don't have to tell me that." Mike smiled faintly. "Same rank, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Now I'm going to go play with the scary guy for a bit." He grinned, and his eyes danced teasingly. "Don't get jealous."
"I wasn't going--" But Jack was already walking away. Mike watched him go, wishing that he didn't find the other man so unsettling. Jealous, indeed. Jealous of what? He couldn't deny, though, that he felt a certain something as the other man walked away. He didn't especially want to think about what it was.
"Hey honey." Sliding into the seat next to the Master, Jack favoured him with a grin that usually melted any amount of ice. Somehow he couldn't see it working with this man, but he tried it anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. "Miss me?"
"No." The Master's face was like stone. He was sitting at a bank of controls, that he gestured to somewhat perfunctorily. It was a simple test to find out just how advanced Jack's technological knowledge was, and he didn't bother to diguise that. Jack nodded slowly, but didn't give anything away.
"What are you using to generate your power? This can't all be coming from the mains supply, or the electricity people would have been banging on the door by now." He frowned suddenly. "Unless they already did. Did you kill the electricity people?"
"I do not require the primitive power supplies available on this pitiful planet." The Master typed a few brief commands into the console in front of him, and a bright display flashed up on the screen in front of them. It was the screen of a very basic computer, but clearly it had been greatly modified. "All of this is being run from the central generator aboard my own ship. We have limitless power. Unfortunately that is all that I can use from my ship. The stabilisers have been damaged, and it would be dangerous to attempt to use it further."
"So you're running a system that's, what, ninety percent Earth equipment of the period, on a limitless generator from this amazing homeworld of yours?" Jack whistled softly. "Isn't that a little dangerous in itself?"
"Yes. But not as dangerous as attempting to use the local power supply. Had I done that, we would still have weeks of work to do. Now is there anything that we can use from your own ship?"
"Not really." Jack took over the keyboard, typing in a few instructions of his own. "It's a little temperamental. Actually it's very temperamental, and quite a lot of it is still angry with me for having stolen it." He abandoned the cobbled-together computer in front of him, and tapped a control on his wrist-computer instead. Lights flashed, and a holographic projection appeared in the air in front of him. It looked like a big box, bathed in blue light, and spinning slowly on it axis. "This is what you're building?"
"You have a portable scanner." The Master was eyeing the wristband contemplatively, though with none of the acquisitiveness that he had displayed when speaking of Jack's ship. "What is its range?"
"Good enough, especially if I bounce it off the scanners on my ship." Jack tapped out another order, and the box disappeared. Instead three spaceships now floated in the air, mere projections in blue light, like the box that had preceded them, yet still exuding an air of menace. "They're close."
"Tell me where your ship is, and we can escape. Bring your pet soldier with you if you want. I'll do my best not to pitch him out of the airlock."
"No deal, Fred." There was genuine regret in Jack's voice. Running was definitely an attractive option. "Like I said, the Earth gets destroyed now, I never get to be born. I don't plan on tying myself up in paradox knots, or killing myself before I even exist. No. I'm stuck here, for better or for worse."
"We'll see." The Master rose to his feet. "I have circuits to check on, and machinery to adapt. If I were you I would find something and work on it. We don't have very much time."
"Gotcha." Jack snapped the cover of his wristband shut, cutting off the hologram and banishing the image. The Master was heading away towards a bank of highly peculiar-looking instrumentation, clearly the result of a fusion of technologies. There was Terran equipment alongside what looked to Jack like cybertronic components from halfway across the galaxy. He couldn't identify everything that he saw, and he wondered where exactly the bright-eyed alien came from. It might be interesting trying to find out - or it might not. He got the distinct impression that too much of his particular brand of friendliness might get his throat cut.
"Anything I can do to help?" Mike was coming over, obviously deciding that he would rather be doing something more practical than standing around waiting to see if the guards were going to get dangerous. Jack shrugged.
"I don't know. A-level Physics, you said. That any good?"
"It beats O-level Physics. Beyond that..."
"Never mind. You can connect positive to negative, and front to back, right?"
"If I know which is positive and which is negative, yes. Does this stuff even have positive and negative?"
"Good point." Jack offered him a grin that, under the circumstances, seemed entirely unsuitable. "Any good at improvising?"
"Improvising. Jack, is the Master lying? Is there any reason to assume that this is some kind of trickery? Some way of throwing us off the scent somehow?"
"No." Jack frowned. "The Tragovians are definitely coming. My sensors picked them up." He tapped the leather band on his wrist, as though making some significant point. "Does that effect your ability to improvise?"
"No. I just want to know where we stand. How serious this is. You're still acting like this is some grand day out for all of the family, and I want to know whether I should be playing along or breaking your jaw." Yates sighed and looked away. "So the Earth really is in danger?"
"Yes. You'd really play along if it wasn't?"
"No." For the briefest second Mike almost smiled, such was the glint of light he had seen in Jack's eyes. "Does the Earth really mean that little to you?"
"Hardly. If it got blown up now, the repercussions..." He shrugged. "Hell, I don't know. I'm not an expert in all that Time stuff. It complicates matters for me, though, and that's what counts."
"Succinctly put. You're a bit of a bastard on the quiet, aren't you."
"There's nothing quiet about me, gorgeous. Now go on over there to that big white cupboardy thing. I think it's a computer, and believe me you're going to prefer the ones that are heading your way in the near future. Take the front off and disconnect all the wiring. I'm going to connect it up to this thing here."
"And that'll do what?"
Jack shrugged. "Best case scenario? It'll tie in with what it looks like Fred is doing, and help us to set up a relay that'll cut a few corners and get that signal buzzing."
"And the worst case scenario?"
"I don't know. A very complicated cat's cradle that one of us trips over, so they wind up breaking their neck? Look on the bright side, Mike."
"Bright side. Right." Mike Yates, a man who was no longer sure that he had a bright side, nodded slowly, and headed across the room. The computer unit whirred at him, and its large wheel of tape spun round in circles. To a man who had seen inside the TARDIS, such a piece of equipment seemed horribly outdated - but then to a man who had seen inside the TARDIS; travelled inside the TARDIS; seen all that UNIT had had to face - much of the world now seemed outdated. Outmoded. Small. To a man who could see no place for himself in that world now that his old life outside of it had gone, the end of everything might not have seemed quite so bad. He cursed himself once again for such dark and destructive thoughts, and set about pulling off the front of the machine. He needed to work. With luck it would keep his brain from travelling to places he would rather it did not go.
And far, far up above him, the Tragovian fleet entered the solar system.
There were wires everywhere. Mike didn't have a clue what Jack was doing, and if Jack was any better informed he gave no indication of it. He peered at wire after wire, shrugged, and reconnected them with nimble fingers, brazen confidence, and an apparent disregard for any kind of logic or forethought. The tape reel on the computer was still whirring round, pausing every so often so that a stream of paper could chunter its way out of a slot on a neighbouring unit. Mike had looked at the paper once, only to find a long, unbroken block of text that meant nothing at all to him. He pulled a piece of it off and offered it to Jack, who peered at it, frowned, turned it up the other way, frowned again, and nodded. Mike felt worse than useless, but given that there were four and a half armed guards in the middle of the room who looked like they were in a daze, he was at least sure that he wasn't alone in his confusion. He offered to help Jack, and got sent away to dismantle some other piece of equipment. Since it was a coffee machine, Mike was not entirely sure that it would prove to be of much use.
"Hey, am I a genius, or am I a genius?" Popping up on the other side of a great swathe of multicoloured wiring, Jack offered the room and its assorted occupants a spectacular grin. Most of the people in the room were hypnotised and didn't notice, and at least one other was evil and likely a psychopath, and also gave no response. Jack didn't seem to care, though.
"Have you finished?" Busy trying to remove the pouring spout from the bottom of the coffee machine, Mike looked over at the jury-rigged piece of equipment with more hope than faith. With luck some of it would make sense, and he would have some idea of what his companion was trying to do. Unsurprisingly, though, it meant nothing. He had thought that he was used to being out of his depth, given his many and varied associations with the Doctor, but the Doctor at least was an alien. A very old, very intelligent alien, with all the universe in a little blue telephone box. Jack was a human being. A very human being. Somehow it seemed worse to be outclassed by him.
"Finished? No. I need that stuff you've got over there before I can finish what I'm doing here." Jack clambered over bits of wiring, and three metal chairs that looked as though they were a part of whatever it was that he was building. Cobwebs dangled from his hair, and he brushed at them irritably. "Nobody's tidied up in here for years. You'd think Mr Sunshine over there could have had the place spring-cleaned before he turned it into his evil lair."
"Strange, isn't it, that he's got so much equipment. Some of it seems to have been in place for months. Can he really have been working that long on finding a way to stop the Tragovians?"
"Are you kidding? No way. He's known about them for a week. Ten days, tops. He's adapting equipment that was installed here for another reason."
"Then he was up to something before."
"Of course he was. Did you ever doubt it? Right now, though, I don't give a damn about that. We've got a planet to save." He grinned again. "That always sounds so cool. Or possibly corny."
"Urgent would be more to the point." Yates held up a handful of components that he had already removed from the coffee machine. "These any good to be going on with?"
"Yeah. Great." The other captain clambered over more bits of equipment in order to reach him, then took the pieces and turned them over in his hands. "Nice work. Just what I need."
"You do realise that this is a coffee machine?"
"Yeah. Good stuff, coffee. Very handy in an emergency. You ever get caught in a self-destructing ship, with fire above you, angry Redellians below, and empty space all around - head for the coffee machine."
"And that'll help?"
"Only if you get lucky, like I did, and it turns out that there's a life pod docked just nearby." He shrugged. "But coffee machines are still useful. Here. This bit goes on the generator sub-unit, and these bits can be wired into the main processors. It won't be pretty, but it ought to work."
"Yeah." For once Jack's grin was not huge and broad, but instead barely more than a smile. "You a gambling man, Mike?"
"No. Not really."
"That's probably very sensible. If this works..."
"That 'if' is really encouraging."
"Sorry. It's just that I'm serious here. There's a very real possibility that it won't work. That this time tomorrow planet Earth could be nothing but space dust and dissipating heat. And if that happens, neither of us is going to be around to worry about gambling. But if it does work... drinks down at the local? Maybe some of those fish and chips that everybody seems to like around here. Had some of them once, in Truro in 1957."
"The world could be about to end, and you're thinking about fish and chips?"
"Yeah. And coffee and computers and transmitters and signals and tallite and your psycho alien buddy over there. I got a lot on right now. Be nice to me."
"If the world doesn't end, we'll get some fish and chips." It sounded like something that he was going to wind up regretting, but somehow Mike didn't feel that he could refuse Jack this. "But if does end--"
"If it does, I'm done for. Never born. You could take my ship and make a break for it, though."
"If you were never born, your ship won't be here."
"And thanks but no thanks anyway. The last human? I don't need any more guilt than I've got already." He held up another handful of components. "Here. Go and do something with them. Fish and chips or not, we do still have a planet to save. And you're right. That does sound rather... 'cool'."
"You've got to work on that delivery, soldier boy. Relax a little. Stop being so stiff."
"Go away." Mike pushed half of a dismantled percolator into his hands. "Go and build something useful."
"I'm wounded." Doing a fair impression of a man hurt to the core, the American retreated back to his workstation, and Mike turned his attention to the last few screws that needed undoing. He was smiling as he worked, though he made sure that his back was turned to Jack. There were enough complications in his life, with the Master to contend with and a planet that faced imminent destruction. He didn't want to be thinking about Jack Harkness as well right now.
"Busy?" The soft, oily voice was unmistakable, even to somebody who had only just met the Master. Once more deep in his work, Jack took a moment to react, then looked up from the midst of his wild tangle of wiring and shrugged.
"Pretty much. Time's a-wasting. You know."
"Yes, precisely." There was a light smile on the dark face. "I thought perhaps that we should compare notes. It won't do any of us any good if we're working in opposite directions."
"Fair point." Jack gestured expansively. "You should be able to tell what I'm doing, though. You're no twentieth century human."
"True." The Master peered more closely at some of the cross-patched circuitry. "Very good. For a human."
"Thankyou. As compliments go, I've had better. How's it coming along at your end?"
"We are progressing quite satisfactorily. With you working over here, we should be able to cut our working time substantially."
"So there should be a few less scientists dropping dead. Always good."
"You care?" Stooping to connect up a few loose wires, the Master wound up a section of hanging cable and plugged it into a vacant socket. "I was under the impression that all of this was of minimal concern to you."
"Mike cares. And so do I, I guess. Death isn't nice."
"It's not really supposed to be." The Master was smiling at the back of Jack's head, as though willing him to turn around again. For some reason, Jack did. "You did intimate, though, that you didn't really care about any of this. That if it wasn't for a minor quibble about the timeline, you'd be quite happy to run off and leave the Earth to its fate."
"Yeah. And the great thing is, neither of us will ever know whether or not I meant that." Jack smiled briefly, though without his usual zest. "I'm not running out, and you're not having my ship. So why don't you go back to fixing up... whatever it is that you're fixing up?"
"Perhaps I will." The Master made no attempt to move away, and his eyes flicked over to Mike. The former UNIT captain had finished dismantling the coffee machine, and had started on a second computer. If he was aware that the Master was speaking to Jack, he gave no sign of it. Alone of those working in the room, Mike seemed affected by a genuine sense of urgency. "What if I could guarantee the safety of your timeline? What then?"
"If you could what?"
"Don't behave like a twentieth century primitive. If I could ensure that, even were the Earth destroyed now, you would not cease to exist, would your answer differ? Would you agree to make an escape now?"
"You could do that?" The idea was a fascinating one. "Wouldn't that cause all kinds of paradoxes? Or whatever the hell the plural is?"
"It might. There are those of us, however, who have a far greater understanding of such things; a far greater control, you might say, of matters relating to Time. I think that I could secure your safety, with a little..." he smiled, quite bewitchingly, "a little cosmic sorcery, shall we say."
"Wow." Jack grinned, his enthusiasm restored. "You really know how to turn a guy's head. You're practically offering to rewrite the history of the universe. For me."
"Then it's a deal?" The Master's eyes glittered. Jack sighed.
"No. Sorry. I mean, it's a great offer, don't get me wrong. I'm touched. But it's just a little tainted, you know? If you really were offering to do it for me, you might just have got me. As it is, it's still screaming self-seeking desperation, and that's not very attractive. Unless it's me being the self-seeking one of course. I'm used to me being selfish."
"I don't make an offer twice, Captain Harkness." The Master's voice was like a knife, stabbing at the air. Jack nodded. He had already identified the alien as someone that he shouldn't cross. Sometimes, though, there was no choice. He could only hope to minimise the damage.
"Help me get things sorted here, and you won't have to worry about making an escape. We all live, then. Or are you really so desperate to see the Earth blown to smithereens?"
"It has a certain appeal, yes. I would very much like to escape this world, and see it and the people upon it obliterated. One of the people in particular. As a plan I prefer it much more than staying here and waiting to rest all of my hopes in a transmission that might not even work. By the time we know whether or not it will do what it's supposed to, it will be far too late to escape. We couldn't get far enough away in any craft that you're likely to own. Not in time."
"Maybe you underestimate my ship." The beginnings of an arrogant smile curled at the corners of Jack's mouth, but never quite got the chance to get started. The Master gave a low chuckle.
"I doubt that. And I plan to escape, captain. I will not die on this planet. One way or another, I will get away, and one way or another, you're going to help ensure that it happens."
"One way or another, I..." Jack frowned, blinking suddenly. "Hey. No hypnosis. It's not fair on the inferior species."
"That is rather the intention." The Master smiled suddenly, brightly, cheerfully. "So what is your answer, captain? I would have to protect the timeline to some degree in order to take your ship. It might as well be with your consent, rather than against it. I could merely protect the ship itself, and you would blink out of existence."
"I'll pretty much be doing that anyway, when the planet blows up. No." He was finding it harder to speak, but he was still clear on that point. "I'm no hero, but this is... this as much pure, good old-fashioned self-interest as anything else I've done recently. I don't want to... never have existed..., and I don't especially want the planet to blow up. I might not spend much... much time on it nowadays, but I'm still kinda f-fond of the old... place." He shook his head. "Hypnosis. I said... said to knock it off. Why... why can't I--?"
"Jack!" It was Mike's voice; Mike's hands on his shoulders, shaking him hard. "Jack!"
"Huh?" The voice came at him from a great distance, as though his ears were filled with thick soup. "I... Mike?"
"You were looking right into his eyes, you idiot. He's not some night-club hypnotist, with a stage show and a lot of silly tricks." Mike shot a furious glance over at the Master, who merely smiled at him with glittering eyes.
"You knew that I would try it, Captain Yates. Your... friend here has something that I want. Something that I intend to get."
"Not when Earth is at stake. We're all in this together, Master."
"Really." The Master's voice was suddenly as cold as any that Mike had ever heard. "You and I, captain, will never be together in anything. This isn't over." He turned smartly on his heel and walked away. Mike let out a long sigh.
"I think he just promised to kill me."
"Yeah?" Jack was fighting back to some semblance of consciousness, and blinked at Mike uncertainly. "Well that's good."
"Not quite how I would put it. That man is more powerful than any human. I don't think for a moment that I could defeat him, if it came to any kind of a fight."
"Oh, it won't be a fight. He'll probably just stab you in the back, when you're busy thinking about something else."
"Don't mention it." The former Time Agent blinked, and shook his head. "Boy. I feel like I drank way too much last night. Did we do anything I don't regret?"
"Hardly. And don't pretend that you don't know what just happened. Who was it who warned who about his tricks?"
"Yeah, I know." Jack sighed, and rubbed his eyes. "He's sneaky. I wasn't expecting anything that..." He gestured rather vaguely in the air. "Anything that powerful. Fast. I've been trained to resist mind control."
"Me too." Mike looked suddenly distant. "That's not always how it works, though, is it. Now come on. There's still work to do."
"Yeah, great. Just what I need, with a head full of cotton wool and sixteen tonne weights. I don't suppose you have any special knowledge of massage techniques?"
"Even if I did, I wouldn't be trying them out now, nor on you. Now get back to work. I've got part of another computer dismantled."
"Really?" Jack brightened immediately. "Initiative. I like that. Drag it over here then, and we'll see what we can do with it."
"We?" Mike looked doubtful. "A-level Physics doesn't cover the improvisations of Captain Jack Harkness."
"Shame. But it doesn't matter. You can turn a screwdriver, right?"
"Good. In that case, Mike, you're going to get your first lesson in fifty-first century computing. Just don't go spreading it around when we've finished. The rate I'm going, there'll soon be a whole trail of humans throughout history with inappropriate scientific knowledge. Anybody ever finds out, I get to spend the rest of my days printing space station signs in a penal colony nobody's ever heard of."
"You don't often make a lot of sense, do you."
"With a smile like yours turned against me, soldier boy, it's a miracle I'm even speaking in actual sentences. We'll work on the intelligibility issues later."
"Let's not." Mike pointed him towards the mess of wires and equipment. "Fifty-first century computing. Remember?"
"Yeah, sure. Earth in danger, Tragovian fleet. I remember. Nobody ever said a guy can't save the world and have fun. Deadly danger and flirting don't have to be mutually exclusive."
"I'm not even going to bother starting to argue. Just..." Mike gestured at the wires, wishing that Jack didn't twist his brain into quite so many circles. "Just get to work."
"Sure. Look, it's pretty simple. I need you to take these red wires, and wire them into the tape reel on the front of that second computer unit. I'll show you how in a minute. Then you take these green wires, and you twist them into the mains lead that the computer runs from. Best turn it off first. I don't want to fry you on the first date. Then you take these yellow wires, and you run them back here, and fix them into these empty contacts right there. Got that?"
"I think so. And that'll do what?"
"If I'm right, it'll broadcast the energy signal of the charged-up tallite in every direction. Up, down and round about. Then when the Tragovians get closer, they'll see what our instruments tell theirs - which is that this place is deader than Garonymous XII after the Merchant Wars. And they'll go right on by."
"But they do have scanners, though. Surely they'll have seen the Earth by now?"
"I don't think so. The Master can track their progress because he's got some pretty fancy equipment. I could pick them on up my scanners because I have a Chula ship to back me up. And the Chula were one hell of a race. The Tragovians, though - they can't compete with that kind of technology. Not yet anyway. Give them another thousand years or so, and you'd really have something to worry about."
"Because we don't already?"
"You know what I mean. They're thugs, Mike. All muscle and no finesse. Powerful weapons but none of the frills. Another couple of millennia and they'll have some of those kinks ironed out. As it stands we've got a real chance this way."
"I don't know. It doesn't seem quite right. If they don't already know about the Earth, why are they coming here in the first place?" Mike frowned suddenly. "Unless somebody told them to come. They can't see what's out here - but if somebody gave them a set of co-ordinates, they could still find a planet, couldn't they?"
"Yeah. That could be one of the things that the Master was getting up to, all the time he's been here."
"Great. It's not the first time he's got some other race to do his dirty work, but it still seems pretty underhanded, even for him." Mike felt like hitting something, but knew too well that there was little point. He certainly couldn't take out his anger on the Master. "If his ship hadn't malfunctioned, and put him into this situation, we'd never have known a thing."
"Then be glad it did. And start working those red wires into the computer. Here." Jack pulled what looked like a screwdriver out of his pocket, and flicked a switch in the handle. A little red light glowed in the screwdriver's head. "It's like a kind of soldering iron, just without the solder. Fix those wires in round the magnet in the tape drive. I'll be trying to fix our little contribution here onto the Master's machine over there. That's the tallite. I just hope he's got it all ready to go."
"How long now?"
"Till we can test drive this, maybe half an hour if you work fast. Till the Tragovians get here? A few hours, max. So get working, soldier boy. If we can test this thing fast enough, we might have enough time to think of something else if it doesn't work."
"Right." Mike turned about, toying with the screwdriver briefly to get the feel of it. He didn't bother watching to see what Jack was doing, and focused his attentions purely on the wires. It was good to be doing something more constructive. At least now he felt as though he were able to contribute something to the plan.
"Do you approve of what you see?" The Master appeared at Jack's shoulder whilst he surveyed the equipment that the hypnotised scientists had been working upon. Jack nodded slowly.
"It's good work. You could almost do it without all your drones."
"A risk that I would rather not take." There was a sharpness to the Master's voice, and even though Jack did not trust himself to look at the other man, he knew that there was a bright glint in the dark eyes, and a tight little smile on the expressive face. "Are you ready to test our work?"
"Nearly. We have to hook up first. Marry your stuff to mine."
"And you propose to do this yourself?"
"If I have to. Co-operation might be a better idea though." Jack pointed to a big grey box. "The tallite is in there?"
"Yes. There's five hundred kilograms of it. It should be sufficient, if the equipment that we have here is capable of bearing the strain. I have my doubts."
"Human engineering isn't all that bad."
"In your time, perhaps. This is the nineteen seventies, and I have nothing but contempt for the period. And for its engineering." The Master turned away. "Do your work, Captain Harkness. I will see to the final checks elsewhere."
"If you trust me."
"Oh, I trust you. You will see to it that this work is completed in time. But do you trust me?"
"You tried to hypnotise me into running away. You're probably planning to try again, and the only reason I'm here for you to make the attempt in the first place is because you asked the damn Tragovians to come. I'm not stupid, and I sure as hell don't trust you. But I do trust you to make those checks. You're a practical guy."
"Yes." The voice was sharp again, though not without a trace of humour. "Practical and determined. I do not give up, Captain Harkness."
"Good. Because there's a couple of billion people whose lives are depending on that. And some of them are my ancestors." Jack pulled another screwdriver from his pocket, and turned towards the box housing the tallite. He didn't want to spend any more time talking to the Master than he had to. A low chuckle echoed behind him, but he ignored it as he walked away. The Master might have further tricks planned, but they couldn't be any kind of priority right now. The Earth came first. The Earth, and the future that came with it.
It was harder than it had first appeared, to fix circuitry armed with a futuristic screwdriver. Mike had burnt his fingers in several places before he discovered how best to hold the thing, and his work was anything but neat. When he finished attaching the wires as instructed, though, something near his left foot began to buzz. He took that as a good sign, especially when three lights above his head began to flash in a regular sequence. Jack appeared beside him then, grinning broadly, his eyes alive with manic energy.
"Great work. Couldn't have done it better myself."
"Are you kidding? I've scalded my fingers, there's molten plastic all over the floor, and my metalwork teacher would shoot me if he saw the mess I've made. This gadget of yours is a curse."
"It's designed to be operated by something with rather bigger hands than yours. And seven fingers on each of them. Takes a bit of practice." Jack caught the nearest of Mike's hands and inspected it. "You're right. You did burn yourself."
"I am in rather a good position to notice these things myself." Mike tried to reclaim his hand, but Jack merely flashed him the devil of a smile, then kissed the fingers briefly.
"There. It's not exactly nanogene healing, but it has its uses."
"I--" Well aware that he was turning an inventive shade of scarlet, Mike tried to look anywhere but forward. "Thankyou. Now let's get a move on."
"Sure." Jack let go of his hand as though he had never been holding it at all, then led the way over to the tallite case at a suddenly impressive speed. "Our battery, as it were. Everything's connected. The Master is checking his bits and pieces elsewhere. The connection with his ship, I guess. He's a little secretive about that."
"I'll bet he is. The last thing that he would want would be for it to fall into anybody else's hands. If it's what I think it is, it's pretty incredible."
"Hey. And what's my ship, huh? A steam-powered paddle boat?"
"Jack..." Well aware that the other man was merely play-acting, Mike found that he couldn't help responding anyway. "Your ship... your ship, I suspect, is not really your ship. But that's beside the point. It's very nice. Certainly beats my MG."
"MG? Never mind. You can show it to me when we've saved the Earth." Jack took a deep breath and stepped towards the tallite container. "Want to do the honours, soldier boy?"
"Hardly. Shouldn't we wait for the Master? He might not be ready."
"Oh, he's ready. He's in his ship running scans to try to find mine. He'll have done his checks and all that ages ago. The man's no fool." The former Time Agent stroked one side of the container with gentle, assured fingers. There was a switch there, flush with the side of the box; a small switch not much more than a simple touch control. It felt horribly inconsequential, and rather fragile. The easiest of things to mis-wire. The easiest of connections to screw up. Drawing in a sharp breath through his teeth, he pressed the switch.
"What happens now?" Suddenly beside him, Mike was looking about at the equipment, obviously expecting visible results. Jack took his hand, leading him back away from the box, and pointing towards the centre of the room. There was a light glowing there; a dim, white light that gradually began to build.
"The lights that we saw before?" asked Mike. Sure enough, a noise that he recognised started up then, and the white light began to change colour. A madcap nightclub, he thought to himself; a dance without music or movement. Beneath his feet, everything seemed to throb.
"Is it working?" It was one of the black-clad security men speaking. Mike had almost forgotten about them. They had done little since the semi-truce save meander and fail to be useful. He could sympathise. They had no futuristic man of action to help them along. Nobody to explain things, or point them in the right direction. Jack had apparently forgotten them himself, since he had not bothered to try to recruit them.
"I don't know." He spoke softly, his eyes everywhere at once. He was checking the readouts from a dozen screens, trying to see what was what and where was where, and how everything was doing. Mike tried to follow it all too, but it meant nothing to him. Hopeless gibberish, like on the strip of paper that he had torn from that first computer.
"You can't tell?" The wounded man, the one that Jack had shot when he had first burst into the room, held a bloodied wrist in a tight hand. He didn't seem to be in any pain, but there was worry in his eyes. Mike could almost sympathise. These people were the Master's hired muscle, but it seemed that they had known almost nothing about what was going on. They had heard things tonight that they could never have imagined before, and apparently they had chosen to believe it all. They might have wished that they hadn't.
"You'll have to give me a few moments." Jack flipped open the cover of his wrist-computer, and typed in a few brief commands. There was a flash of blue light, and the simple line hologram of the three Tragovian ships snapped back into life. Mike had not seen them before, but he guessed what they were. He could almost see that they didn't appear to be changing course.
"It's not working?" It seemed incredible after all of their hard work. The Tragovians were still coming. They hadn't been dissuaded by any foolish attempt to discourage them. The Earth was still going to be destroyed. Jack's shoulders slumped.
"No, it's not. We don't have enough power here. We can't fire the signal out far enough to hide the Earth."
"You noticed." It was the Master's voice, sharp and hard. Jack didn't bother turning to look at the other man, certain of what he would see. A weapon of some sort; a way of forcing him to hand over his craft. "I think it's time that we were going, don't you Captain Harkness?"
"Or what?" It was Mike who answered, letting Jack take a moment to dwell upon his failure. "You'll kill the rest of us? We're going to be dead pretty soon anyway."
"Very true. But the truth is, Captain Yates, that your friend here has a Chula ship out there, and I know how Chula ships work. My race and theirs have had more than our fair share of... dealings, shall we say, over the years. I know that I can't fly that ship without him to override the protocols. I could do it myself, but that would take time that I am not willing to waste. So, Captain Harkness. We have a voyage to make."
"We do?" Suddenly looking up, eyes bright, Jack broke into a wild, joyous grin. "You're right, we do. Of course!"
"Jack?!" Horrified, Mike turned on him in an instant. "You can't mean that. Leave him here to die, and we'll all go down together. Might as well accept the inevitable. To save him..."
"I'm not saving him. Well, yeah, I guess I am. Side effect. Mike, think about it. We can't generate enough power to get the signal to work. So what do we do?"
"Boost the signal? Run it through your ship, you mean?"
"No. Nice idea, but the equipment isn't up to it. We'd fry everything. No, if we can't make the signal work, we don't boost it. We take it closer to the Tragovians! We load the tallite up on my ship, and we fly it up there. You know. That thing about mountains and Mohammad. It'll work."
"Do you know, I believe that it will." The Master sounded almost impressed. Jack whirled around. He could see what looked like a black pen gripped in the other man's hands; a weapon of some kind no doubt. It was irrelevant now.
"Then you'll help?"
"No. I intend to leave, and as far as I'm concerned this planet can fry. It and all of its unfortunate occupants. But I confess that escaping with the tallite is most definitely a better plan than leaving it here to expire with the planet. So by all mean, Captain Harkness, take it aboard. Yates can help you."
"It'll take more than just the two of us if there's half a tonne of it in there." Mike looked around rather hopefully. "Some sort of trolley, perhaps?"
"We'll all shift it." One of the black-clad guards stepped forwards, throwing away the gun that he had been holding until now. "Between us we can get it done. Jerry can give directions. He's not much use with that hole in his hand."
"Yeah. Sorry about that." Jack flashed the unfortunate Jerry a smile. "Needs must, you know?"
"No hard feelings." Jerry, who like all of his colleagues had established a fearsome reputation amongst the locals as a hardman and a bully, smiled back at Jack as though they had been friends all of their lives. Mike blinked. He couldn't help thinking that whatever it was that Jack had in that smile, it ought to be bottled.
"You should get it seen to, soon as possible." Chatting away quite happily with the man who would, very recently, have cheerfully killed him, Jack glanced over the wound himself. "Looks like a fairly clean injury. You should keep it up, lessen the bleeding. And check the pulse in your hand every so often. Make sure it's still there."
"Thanks. You a doctor?"
"Hardly. Did once spend the best part of a month in the Australian outback with a flying doctor, but I guess that's not quite the same thing. Knew a whole lot about anatomy by the time we got back to civilisation, though." Jack grinned. "Well - her anatomy, anyway."
"Pleasant though this no doubt isn't..." The Master was still pointing his cylindrical weapon at a roomful of people who, to his obvious annoyance, had apparently forgotten about it. "We have to get that box onto that ship. And as soon as possible."
"I could transmat it, if I go back to the ship myself first. Have to sort out the protocols. It's all a little skittish." Jack raised a questioning eyebrow. "Do I get to go alone, if I promise to be a good boy? Only until I get it fixed, I can't take anybody else."
"Transmat?" Jerry was looking doubtful. Jack clapped him on the shoulder.
"Don't worry about it. You guys can stay here, I don't have the room for everybody on the ship, anyhow."
"So you're going to leave us here? The planet's going to explode, and you're going to leave us?" It was another of the guards speaking, but it was Jerry's shoulder that Jack gave a reassuring squeeze.
"The planet isn't going to explode. Well, not for a whole lot of years yet. We're not running out on you."
"If we don't hurry up, we won't be leaving at all." The Master gestured with his gun. "Very well, Captain Harkness. Go to your ship, make your alterations, and then transport myself and the tallite aboard. And do it quickly. If you take longer than five minutes, I shall begin to shoot these people. It will not be quick for any of them. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'm hardly going to run off, am I. I'm deader than any of you if this plan doesn't work." Jack nodded. "Okay. Five minutes ought to do it, but count slow. You shoot any of them, Fred, and I'll blast off out of here without you."
"I doubt that. You wouldn't leave the others." The Master smiled, his expression as smug as ever. "Four minutes and forty seconds."
"I'm gone." Jack pulled his remote device from his pocket, pressed a button, and disappeared in a flash of blue light. The security men blinked.
"What the...?" Jerry had the expression of one who thought that he might just have had a divine experience. Mike almost laughed. If there was one thing that Jack Harkness clearly was not, it was an angel.
"Just a transportation device," he said, making it sound plain and ordinary. "Don't you ever watch any science fiction?"
"Yeah. But that's science fiction." Jerry shook his head. "He's really some kind of spaceman, isn't he."
"Some kind, yes." Mike checked his watch. Four minutes and forty seconds didn't sound like a long time to him, when there was a 'skittish' ship that needed reprogramming in some way. "Look, I used to be in the army. I can still do a pretty good field dressing. You'd better let me take care of your hand."
"Cheers." Jerry held out the injured hand without pause, apparently not giving so much as a thought to trusting in a man who technically was still the enemy. Jerry and his compatriots were, after all, still in the employ of the Master. That fact was not lost on Mike, who was not nearly so immediately trusting of them as Jack had seemed to be. One minute he had been shooting Jerry, the next practically flirting with him. It was unfathomable. And on no account, thought Mike, as he tried to focus as much of his mind as possible upon the bullet wound in Jerry's hand, was that jealousy that he was feeling. He had no claim upon Jack. He didn't want one.
"Two and a half minutes," announced the Master, sounding as though he were enjoying himself. To Mike it seemed a strange way to be entertained, given the Time Lord's own position just then. He was as dead as everybody else if Jack failed to return. Perhaps it was an indication of just how much he wanted to see the Earth, and with it the Doctor, destroyed, that he was prepared to die himself in order to see it happen. Mike doubted it. The Master had never seemed suicidal before - quite the opposite. There was no mistaking his hatred of the Doctor, though. Mike wondered if the other Time Lord was even on the Earth right now. Since his TARDIS had been fixed he had spent much of his time gallivanting about the place, and was no longer confined to one planet. He might be light years away, safe even if the Earth was doomed. It was a reassuring thought. A shame, though, that Jo was no longer with him. She would be safe too then, instead of condemned like everybody else. Still - it was something that the Doctor might yet be out there. That he at least might survive. The Master presumably did not know that the Doctor's TARDIS was no longer broken, or he would have tried to steal it when his own had ceased to work, rather than staying to prevent the Tragovian attack. Mike smiled at that thought. They could so easily have failed to find out about all of this in time. Fate was a strange thing, throwing out clues and warnings when she might so nearly have remained quiet.
"I thought this was going to be an ordinary job." One of the black-clad guards, seated on the floor, was toying aimlessly with his gun. "Keep the locals away. Scare the kids, beat up the occasional busybody. Earn enough money to keep me in beer for a while. Then some guy turns up, kills half of us with the weirdest exploding gun I've ever seen, and then vanishes in a puff of smoke after telling us that aliens are planning to blow up the Earth. I can't decide if I'm drunk, asleep, or high on something I didn't know I'd taken."
"You're not asleep," offered Mike, less than helpfully. Jerry flexed his wounded hand, now more or less safe within an improvised bandage made from pieces of his own sleeve.
"I don't usually get shot when I'm drunk," he added. His friend on the floor laughed briefly.
"Me neither. But then the planet doesn't usually get attacked by aliens when I'm sober." He shrugged. "Or maybe it does. Maybe it's being attacked all the time, and we just don't get told about it."
"I couldn't possibly comment." Mike checked the time. They were nearly out of it, and he had a nasty suspicion that he knew who the Master was planning to shoot first. There was an unpleasant irony to dying just before Jack was able to implement his plan to save the Earth. And he would save it - Mike was sure of that without quite knowing how. It wasn't the same sort of faith that he had in the talents of the Doctor, or in the efficiency of the Brigadier. Without having any explanation for it, he was just sure that Jack would win through. Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking.
"One minute," declared the Master, apparently unaware that everybody else present had a watch too. "He's taking his time, isn't he Yates. Perhaps next time you should choose a knight whose shining armour hasn't become quite so tarnished."
"He'll do it. He said himself that his ship was temperamental. How easy can it be to persuade an alien ship to do something that it doesn't want to do?"
"For a human, apparently not very easy at all." The Master tapped his gun irritably against his fist. "I should have gone with him."
"His transmat doesn't like anybody who isn't him." Mike remembered all too well the sight of Jack disappearing, when he himself had been trapped in this very room with the Master and his hired muscle. Hired muscle that was now sitting around looking anything but muscular. Hired despair might be more to the point.
"Or perhaps, captain, he's decided to fly away and leave us all to our fate." Real steel flashed in the Master's voice. "Panic has an unfortunate effect upon the human mind. We've all seen it. Panic and terror."
"Jack looked anything but panicked." Mike checked his watch again. Twenty seconds. Great. Twenty seconds in which to look his last upon the world, and wonder what might have been. This skittish ship of Jack's might well be his last and greatest foe. The Master gave a low laugh.
"Soon it will matter no longer, Captain Yates. Fifteen seconds."
"He'll be here." The black, cylindrical weapon of the Master's was pointing at the humans again, ready to fire. It moved from one to the other of them, apparently searching for the most likely target. "You really don't trust anybody, do you."
"On this planet? No. If you haven't realised yet what sort of contempt I feel for the inhabitants of this place, you're as foolish as I have every reason to suppose all humans to be. My race is an arrogant one, Captain Yates. We tend to trust none but ourselves. It's nothing personal, you understand - just mere superiority. Eight seconds. Seven. Six."
"Why kill us? You know that if he's left we're all going to die anyway." Jerry was nursing his hand, clearly wondering if it was ever going to get the chance to heal. The Master shrugged.
"A way to pass the time? Three seconds. Two. One." A brief smile leapt into life upon his face, then vanished again in an instant. "Too late." The gun levelled at Jerry.
"No!" Mike had been so sure that he would be the first one to die that he had never even considered that the others might be at risk. Certainly not Jerry, already wounded and a problem for nobody. Chatty, cheerful Jerry, probably with a criminal record as long as he was tall, and with who knew what kind of reputation for violence. Mike liked him, though by no means did he understand why.
"Time's up, Captain Yates." The Master's tone was emptily dismissive, as though Jerry's life could not possibly be worth waiting another few seconds. The black-gloved fingers tightened around the weapon, and Mike, not sure what exactly he hoped to do against the Time Lord, threw himself forward. For a second they struggled - for a second he felt that same, impossible strength that he had felt before from the Doctor - and then everything was blue, everything was spinning, and with a clang of metal decking he was falling onto the floor of Jack's ship. A beam of light burst from the Master's gun, striking a bulkhead in a shower of sparks, and Jack popped up from behind it looking indignant.
"Hey! I know I was cutting it a little fine, but that's no reason to try to blow my head off."
"Jack!" It was an expression of relief rather than a greeting. Mike sat up slowly, rubbing his head. Whatever he had hit it on had been hard, unyielding, and made of corrugated metal, and he could have sworn that the humming sound coming from inside it was the ship laughing at his misfortune. Either that or it was just a ringing in his ears. Jack looked concerned.
"Are you hurt?"
"Not yet." It was the Master who answered. Annoyingly he had retained both his footing and his weapon, and the latter was now pointing at Mike. "I don't remember saying that he should come along."
"I know. But I want him here." Jack reached out to catch hold of Mike's arm, hauling him to his feet with a faint flourish. "Adds a little something, don't you think?"
"This ship is not designed for three people." The Master looked around with distaste. Mike could sympathise. The Master was used to travelling by TARDIS, with unlimited space and no company. Still, this ship was hardly crowded. All the same - there was one decided disadvantage to him being on board, which he could see even if Jack couldn't.
"You do realise what will happen if your plan doesn't work?" he asked. Jack flashed him a faintly apologetic grin.
"Yeah. In very little time I'll snap out of existence, and you'll be alone on an impossible spaceship with a psychopath who hates you. Always supposing his plan to shield this baby works. Indulge me, Mike."
"It's nothing personal. Well yeah, it is. It's just that if we win I'd rather be celebrating with you than with Fred here. I don't much fancy kissing him."
"A fact that fills me with considerable relief." The Master hesitated for a moment, then nodded sharply and put his weapon away into a concealed pocket. Mike could see no bulge to indicate its presence, but he had no doubt that that menacing black cylinder would reappear again in a moment should he or Jack try something that the Master didn't like. "Always supposing that the crew is to your satisfaction, Captain Harkness, perhaps we should be getting underway?"
"Yeah. Sure." Jack slid into the pilot's seat, gesturing vaguely behind him. "Sit down. There's plenty of places to sit if you look about a bit. It's hardly first class, but it works." Something beside his head squawked, and he slapped at a piece of the console. "Or most of it does, when it's in the mood. Any requests for the sound system?"
"Just fly the ship, captain, or I will do it for you." The Master smiled tautly. "And I will begin by removing you and the other good captain, and then leaving without making any attempt to complete your plan. So fly."
"Point taken." Jack sounded faintly offended, as though being threatened aboard his own ship was somehow a worse kind of insult. "Comfortable, Mike?"
"I... suppose so." He had no idea how to prepare himself for flight though, as he sat upon a raised piece of decking, surrounded by coloured lights, dangling wires, and strange things making peculiar noises. Did he need a seat-belt? What about the G-forces? Would they lose gravity when they went up into space? "What about the tallite?"
"It's in a tractor beam. I snapped it up just after I got you two. It'll follow us up, and then when we get far enough out into space, I'll dump it. With a bit of luck it'll hit the right orbit, and hey presto. Or so we hope." Jack's hands danced over the controls. "And you should torch that house when this is over. There's too much stuff in there that shouldn't be found."
"We shouldn't leave it transmitting?" It made sense to Mike to keep broadcasting, and keep the Earth hidden from alien threats. Jack shook his head.
"It's not a permanant set up. It'll burn itself out in a few days. Besides, an anomalous signal like that could be more trouble than it's worth."
"What he means is, it might attract a good deal more than it deters. Even using it now is a risk." The Master smirked. "Oh yes, Captain Yates. Your friend here is full of good ideas, but what he seems to have failed to mention is that the energy signature of tallite might well attract other races."
"Who aren't planning to blow the planet up any minute now. We'll worry about consequences later." Jack flicked a switch, and a shiver of power ran through the ship as the engines ignited. "He's trying to scare you, Mike."
"Just get us up there. I'll worry about what does and doesn't scare me when everything else is sorted out."
"Worry later. My kind of thinking." Jack flashed him a grin that was almost entirely inappropriate, then turned back to the controls and hit several more switches. Something rumbled. Something vibrated, powerful, restrained and grand. Seconds later the Master was standing at Jack's shoulder, watching the screen in front of the pilot's seat, and nodding his head in obvious approval.
"It's not bad for a Chula vessel. A little basic. A little cramped. What's your heading?"
"Space." Jack reached past him, flicking switches and pressing buttons. Holographic letters floated in the air beside his head, and bright words scrolled by on screens. Machines chattered, and Mike felt utterly lost. Jack seemed to know what was what, though, and that was at least partly reassuring. "According to these calculations, we should be able to block the Tragovian sensors if we jettison the tallite pretty much anywhere outside of the Earth's atmosphere, but I want to be sure. I'll take it as far out as we can go."
"Whilst avoiding any risk of becoming visible to the Tragovians ourselves." It sounded like an order. Jack glanced over his many readings.
"If I can, yeah. I don't go in for throwing myself in danger's way just for the hell of it. But if I don't want to never have been born, I've got to take a calculated risk now. The chances of them worrying about one ship out in what should look to them like the middle of nowhere, is pretty small. There's no honour in destroying one tiny vessel."
"They're Tragovians. Honour for them is rather different than it is for the rest of the universe. Be very careful, Captain Harkness, or you might find yourself not being the captain for very much longer." The Master's eyes glittered darkly. "Make no mistake; I can take this ship in a second. If I don't like what is going on, then that is precisely what I will do."
"Spoilsport." Jack looked back at Mike. "Make yourself useful, soldier boy. Look at this screen here, and tell me when the reading reaches one thousand. And if you can, keep an eye on that other screen just over there. If it reaches ten, yell."
"With the greatest respect, captain, if that reading reaches ten he won't have to yell. We'll be able to see the fleet out of the front window."
"Fair point." Jack nodded. "Yell out if it reaches twenty-five then. If it reaches ten... duck. And hold on tight to something."
"Twenty-five is hardly better. You should not risk it reaching even that low."
"In an ideal universe, no. But this is hardly ideal, is it. For the guy who called those ships out here in the first place, you've got a lot of gall moaning about it now." Jack hit a series of buttons rather hard, and lights rotated around the control cabin. Something squawked in electronic reproach. "If you don't like this plan, make your move now. Except you won't, as there's no way you can use that weapon of yours in here. And you know it."
"I don't need a weapon." The Master's voice was level. Soft, dangerous, chilling. The fact wasn't lost on Jack.
"I don't doubt it." For once he sounded entirely serious, his usual devil-may-care attitude gone. "But this ship has seen a lot of action, and I haven't been able to take as good care of it lately as I'd like. Just remember that if you do use that weapon, you could well be killing us all." He returned his attention to his readings, frowning at them in deep thought. "Between you and me, Fred, I think running is out of the question now anyway. They're too close."
"Then you were considering it." There was a hint of triumph in the Master's voice, as though he had been trying to judge Jack for some time. Mike glanced up briefly, but didn't say anything. Jack smiled.
"Are you kidding? Of course I was considering it. There may not be any sense in running away if I'm going to get written out of history in the process, but it still has a certain attraction. Do I look like Mr Chivalry?" He sighed, and punched in a series of commands with heavy, forceful hands. "That's the tallite's away. I have to take us out of Earth's orbit to see if it's working, so you might as well sit down. Admire the view or make yourself useful. There's nothing else to do."
"I wouldn't be so sure." The Master's eyes were lingering on a set of controls that Mike couldn't identify. Jack didn't seem interested.
"Listen, Fred. Master. Whatever. I'm the king of sneaky getaways. There isn't one here or I'd have found it. Now keep out of the way. Me and Mike have a planet to save."
"I think not." There was a smile once again in the Master's voice; a smug smile that spread itself into his eyes. "I have my own plans, captain, and they do not include you risking us all by flying out into space, in full view of that fleet, just to test your handiwork. It was good of you to bring me up here, and good of you to bring the tallite as well. I realise that you did neither for my sake, but to my way of thinking, in the end everything is for my sake. Turn over control of the ship to me."
"What for? This is the best plan we've got." Jack's eye caught Mike's, and the fifty-first century captain gave his twentieth century counterpart a brief smile. "Keep your eyes on those readings, Mike. Both of them. We need to know what's going on with the Tragovians as well as with the equipment back on Earth."
"Right." He didn't like taking his eyes off the Master, but he had to trust in Jack to know what to do now. Jack, as usual, just looked like he was making everything up as he went along.
"Best plan?" The Master was as scathing as ever. "You call setting up a shield around the Earth, and then leaving it's protection, our best plan? And what if your clever little idea does work, Captain Harkness? What then? We go back to Earth - a safe, happy little Earth that knows nothing of the dangers it's just faced - and you let me go back to my ship? Finish my repairs and go on my way? Hardly. Prison does not agree with me. I want this ship."
"If you don't want to go back to Earth, fine. I'll drop you off somewhere later. You've just said that you don't want to leave orbit while the Tragovians are out there, so what do you want the ship for? I can keep it in orbit just as well as you can."
"Except that you don't plan to do that. And besides, you overlook something, captain. I want the Earth destroyed. That's why I set all of this up. The Tragovians. My little project down there in Cornwall. I may have hit a slight snag, but your timely intervention has given me the means now to see that I succeed after all. If this ship were to have the sort of protection that you've been planning for the Earth, we would be able to fly right past the Tragovian ships without anybody on board being aware of our presence. We could make our escape without incident - and that is precisely what I plan to do."
"Grab the tallite and use it yourself? You'd be leaving the Earth unprotected." Mike glanced up again, momentarily forgetting the instruments. It was not lost on him that he was arguing a point that meant absolutely nothing to the Master, but he couldn't help speaking up anyway. The look of contempt that he received in response was more eloquent than any of the Master's smug, verbose declamations.
"I would indeed, captain. Is there some reason why I should think this a bad idea?"
"We can't let you do it." Jack was trying to stand up to the Master with one eye on his controls and one on a series of readings that floated across a display screen beside his head. It was hardly the best position from which to look determined. The Master merely laughed at him.
"And how exactly do you propose to stop me? If I cannot use my weapon, then you cannot use any of yours. And I am many times stronger than both of you. I am a Time Lord, Captain Harkness. Can you really have any knowledge of what that means?"
"More than you might think." Jack darted a nervous glance at a reading beside him, and Mike, his own eyes drawn back to the readings he himself had been detailed to watch, saw that the second had reached thirty. He was suppose to yell out when it hit twenty-five. Somehow he couldn't help thinking that they were likely to be otherwise occupied when it did. "Can't let that matter, Fred. I plan on saving my life, and the only way to do that is to save the Earth. If I ceased to exist whole planets would go into mourning. I owe it the universe to save myself."
"A noble sentiment, captain, and one with which I can sympathise. I intend to save myself, and the most logical course upon which to embark is to use that tallite myself, rather to trust in your improvisation, your haphazard calculations and your typically faulty human judgement. And since my plan also sees the Earth and everything on it destroyed, I fail to see any flaws. Surrender your ship."
"Or die?" Jack shrugged, the devil-may-care glint back in his eyes. Mike almost smiled, until he remembered his readings, and saw that that all-important second one was now on twenty-seven. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. This was not the time for him to interrupt. The Master laughed lightly. Evil though he was, he was not without a sense of humour, and the irony of Jack's situation had not escaped him.
"Quite. If you do not stand by and allow me to destroy you, I shall kill you now instead. An interesting dilemma on your part, but not one that especially interests me. I can snap your neck like a twig. Stand aside."
"Really." Jack's eyes darted briefly towards Mike, who wordlessly mouthed a number, in the hope that his companion would be able to interpret it. Twenty-six. He had no idea himself what it meant, other than that it seemed to be some indication of how close the Tragovians were. Ten, and they would more or less on top of the ship. Twenty-five, presumably, was the last truly safe figure before everything was at stake. "You really think that you'll be safe in this ship, if I never had the chance to bring it here? You really believe that you can govern that kind of paradox?"
"I learnt the ways of Time in the cradle. Such things are child's play. Stand aside."
"Maybe I better had." There was something regal in the Master's bearing; something powerful and grand and impressive. He needed only a billowing cloak to complete the image, and turn him into some nightmare being - or, perhaps, a cartoon caricature. Jack took a slow step backwards. Mike tried not to look disappointed. Jack might insist that he was no hero, but surely he wouldn't give in so easily? Surely he wouldn't just step aside, and let the Master save himself and destroy the Earth? And yet just now Jack looked utterly defeated.
"You're a wise man, Captain Harkness. If a soon to be dead one." The Master was smirking, all the contempt and the smug self-satisfaction reaching a crescendo in his voice, and shining in a veritable star-storm within his eyes. "It's been a while since I flew a Chula ship, but this appears to conform to the basic design. What are your security protocols?"
"There aren't any. I took them off-line when I brought you two on board. Like I said, the whole thing is pretty skittish, and I didn't want Mike disintegrated. That's no way to welcome back visitors."
"Then move over towards the back of the ship." The Master had drawn his weapon, though presumably he had taken heed of Jack's earlier warning not to fire it. He seemed to like it in his hands; seemed to like emphasising its presence, the better to survey his prisoners from a position of superiority. His eyes gleamed, and his mouth twisted into a gleeful, gloating smile. "Captain Yates? That second reading, if you wouldn't mind. What is it currently?" Mike glanced down at the screen, then back up at Jack and the Master. The merest hint of a smile briefly lit Jack's expressive face, and without quite knowing why, Mike took it to be a message. It could just as easily have been Jack being his usual arrogant self, but in that brief instant Mike judged the situation, and decided that he had nothing to lose. He glared at the Master, took a gamble, and lied.
"It says thirty-two."
"Good." The Master laughed softly. "Then there's still time. The blue button behind you, Captain Yates, if you would be so kind. Press it twice. Captain Harkness, you'll oblige me by putting your hands above your head and stepping back even further. I don't trust you."
"That makes two of us." Jack did as he was told, his eyes never once leaving the Master's gun. "You're not really going to risk firing that thing?"
"If needs must, I could cheerfully stab you with it. It wouldn't be the best use of its capabilities, but it would get the job done. And there would be no risk then to the integrity of the ship. Captain Yates - the blue button."
"Press it yourself." He stepped back, away from the button, away from the screens and the alien controls. Far out of reach of the Master, and his inhuman strength. Displeasure flashed in the dark eyes, but the Time Lord didn't shoot him, even though his aim was sure.
"I might be willing to let you live, captain. You're not improving your chances."
"Yeah, Mike." As the Master's eyes focused their building wrath upon the former UNIT officer, Jack took a slow, easy step to one side. "Be a good boy."
"You can shut up. I can't believe you gave in like that. Just stepped away and did as you were told. He's going to kill everyone, and you're going to let him get away." For a moment the anger was real, the fear that Jack really had given in rising within Mike unchecked. He shot a furious, contemptuous look at the Master that almost matched the Time Lord's own characteristic scorn. "You want that button pressed, you press it. Shoot me, throw me overboard, whatever you want. But don't ask me to do your dirty work for you."
"Oh, I'm sure that I can be much more inventive than just throwing you overboard." The Master edged forward slightly. "Very well. I shall press the button if it distresses you so. The result will be the same." With one hand he reached out towards the control, the other hand still gripping his distinctive weapon. It unnerved Mike to see it. The Master might easily forget himself in a moment of anger, and fire the thing - and if Jack had been telling the truth, it would all be up for them then. He wondered what it might feel like, to be sucked out into space, and had to conclude that it would be very much better not to find out.
"Don't worry, Mike. Losing your home world isn't so bad." Jack's voice was level, and oddly serious. "Planets are destroyed all the time. Species live on, sometimes. You're probably not the only human off-world at the moment."
"Yes. Wonderful. I get to stand here and watch everything blow up. A real once in a lifetime opportunity." Mike watched the Master's hand as it reached the button it sought. Saw, in the corner of his eye, Jack take a sharp, sudden step to his right.
"Look out!" Jack thought that he was safe; thought that the Master would not be able to see him, but it was as though the Time Lord had eyes in the back of his head; as though some sort of perception far beyond the human senses had warned him of what was going on. The black, cylindrical gun snapped up, even as Mike was yelling his split-second warning; something flashed, and Jack crashed sideways onto the nearest console. There was a tremendous shower of blue and yellow, a burst of hot white that made Mike's eyes burn, and in that instant everywhere alarms were sounding. Two-note klaxons above Mike's head; single note sirens behind him; a manic, insistent beeping that seemed to come from somewhere beneath his feet. He fully expected then to see the ship falling apart around him; to see space breaking in upon them, and feel the last of the air leaving his lungs. Instead he saw Jack, hammering away at a computer keyboard even as the Master was adjusting his aim.
"Keep watching those readings, Mike!" Jack was typing furiously now, the lights around them flickering and faltering. The Master swore, his aim ruined by sudden bursts of pitch, pitch black. It was too easy for Jack to dodge, and too easy for the weapon to hit the wrong thing. Putting the little gun back inside his clothing, the Time Lord started forward across the deck.
"Readings?!" How the hell could Jack worry about the readings at a time like this? Mike couldn't even see the things, the blackouts extending to every piece of equipment in the ship. He saw in brief bursts of blue and yellow light - both of the numbers he was detailed to watch still changing, both pieces of information still useless to him. Somewhere off to his left he heard a clattering and a grunt, and in a heartbeat of unexpected red light, saw Jack and the Master tangled together, wrestling furiously. The Master unquestionably had the upper hand, and Jack was fighting for his life.
"Jack?" It was dark again, and they had vanished into the black. Mike started forward, missed his footing, and fell against something that beeped loudly at him. Sparks leapt out at his hand, and he snatched it away again quickly, a buzz like an electric shock catching at the ends of his fingers. Another grunt sounded out in the darkness, further away this time, and when the lights came on again he caught the briefest glimpse of the Master bashing Jack's head against the floor, before the power failed.
"Jack?!" He wanted to help, but he couldn't see a thing, and he knew that he risked causing more trouble if he got involved. Only then, floundering in the darkness, did he remember that dark night, back when the Silurians had been reawakened. He and the Doctor, alone for a few minutes between crises, and talking together properly for almost the first time. The Doctor, taking pity on the young officer having to go out on a patrol in all that blackness. Fumbling, he pulled out the night-vision device and slid it on over his eyes. His world changed in an instant. Breaking into a run, he reached the struggling duo, catching hold of the Master's shoulders and pulling him off balance. The Master lashed out at him, but Mike dodged easily, locking his arms around the Master's in a hold learnt long ago in basic training. He had no confidence in being able to hold on for long, but for now at least he clung tight. On the floor somewhere by his left foot, Jack lay prone for a second, then gathering himself together he forced himself upright, drew a deep, steadying breath, and threw Mike an unexpected wink. Mike wasn't surprised when gentle hands removed the night-vision lenses. Seconds later the Master went limp in his hands.
"What-?" Confused, he let go of the slumping Time Lord. A low laugh answered him from out of the darkness.
"Watch your eyes." Jack's voice, cheerful and cocky as always. Mike closed his eyes briefly, and felt the lights come back on. The sirens fell silent. A hand took his, and suddenly he was being pulled up to his feet.
"Hi." Jack was grinning at him when he opened his eyes again. There were signs of his fight on his face and his clothes, but it didn't seem to have dimmed his spirits any. With a flourish he handed back the night-vision glasses. "Nice gadget. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about it."
"Sorry." It hadn't struck him for a moment that Jack had been expecting him to use the things. The Doctor's improvised gadgetry had been the last thing on his mind when the lights had gone out, when he had thought that the ship was about to fall apart. Jack laughed gently at him.
"My fault. You thought the Master's little black thing had done for us, didn't you. Window dressing, my boy. All part of the act. This ship is pretty rickety, but I think it can stand up to one or two shots from some super alien weapon. Or I hoped it could, anyway."
"Did you hit him with something?" Mike looked down at the prone body. Jack shook his head.
"No. Zapped him. More efficient. I knew I didn't have a chance fighting him hand to hand, even with your help. There's a lot more to him than meets the eye."
"You can say that again." Retrieving his hand from Jack's grip, Mike stowed away the night-vision lenses again. "Now what? Back to Earth?"
"I don't know. What are the readings like?" Jack was dusting himself off, crossing over to the pilot's console to check for damage. Even though he had exaggerated the dangers of firing a gun, it was still possible that something had been broken. Mike stepped over the Master and made his way over to his own assigned console.
"The top one says one thousand and fifty. Is that good?"
"Should mean that the tallite is doing its job nicely." Jack flashed him a killer grin. "Congratulations. I think we just saved the Earth. And the second?"
"It says seventeen." Mike seemed to remember the Master being worried about it falling below twenty-five. "That's not so good, is it."
"On a scale of disastrous to delightful, it's pretty far away from the bells and balloons, yeah." Jack tapped a few buttons, and a hologram unfolded itself in mid air. Three ships looming large, bulbous and unattractive even when fashioned from lines of sparkling light. "Hell. You a religious man, Mike?"
"I don't know. I've never really thought about it all that much. Are you wanting me to pray?!"
"Not necessarily. Just thought it might give us better odds if one of us was the innocent and blameless sort. Less likely to get zapped through cosmic karma then." For a second Jack was still smiling, his eyes bright and warm; then real seriousness took over, and his voice changed. "Hold tight."
"I want to help." He didn't really think that there was anything that he could do, but he had to offer. Jack just turned away, almost as though he were shutting the other man out.
"You ever seen an alien fleet, Mike?" His words were a surprise. Mike had thought that the talking was over. He shook his head slowly, even though the pilot had now turned his back.
"I've seen alien ships. Never a fleet, though, and not properly in flight."
"Well you're about to see one now. Three ships isn't a proper fleet, I guess, but it's more than enough to atomise every planet in this solar system. So you can imagine what it could do to us."
"I'd rather not." Mike's eyes drifted back to the readings. "The counter says sixteen. Can they see us?"
"Yeah. We're far enough out of Earth's orbit now, though. It won't look like we've just come from there."
"So the Earth is safe?"
"I think so. I sure hope so." Jack spoke with clenched teeth now, his fingers clasped around chunky controls. Mike wanted to go to him, but instead sat down out of the way. It was probably the best that he could do.
"Can you outmanoeuvre them?"
"Yeah. In theory." The ship rocked violently, and he cursed. "Possibly."
"They're firing at us?" That at least was something in which Mike had experience. "I could fire back?"
"No point. It'd be like sending a wasp after a whale. Actually it'd be like sending a microscopic wasp after a whale. Just hold on." Another volley of alien gunfire hit them, or something close by. The ship bucked furiously. "Tight. Hold on real tight."
"I am!" There was more bucking, more rocking. Mike felt the ship's engines hum beneath him, around him, felt the peculiar sensation of sudden, fast manoeuvring up and down and around. The front screen showed him a spinning image of space, and he thought that he saw the Earth - a blurred blue speck in the distance. It could almost have been anything. He was glad that it was safe now, even if he was not. It was nice to know that all those millions of people would never even find out how close they had come to the end. Strangely he felt no particular regret that he was not amongst them. The realisation worried him, but he put it aside. Even if he truly did put no great value upon his own life now, there was still someone else who was determined to save them both.
"You alright back there?" Jack's voice sounded oddly strained. Mike could see that he was fighting hard with the controls. A female voice was shouting warnings about damage caused by the weapons discharge both inside and outside the ship, but Jack ignored her. A computer, Mike assumed. Oddly, Jack took a moment to give a console beside him a friendly pat; a gesture of affection almost. A thanks for the information, for the warnings, or an apology for the fact that he was not listening to them? Mike nodded slowly, though he knew that Jack was not looking his way.
"I'm fine. I think." It seemed an odd time to be asked. Jack's hands were whitening at the knuckles as he gripped the controls. His shoulders were set firm as though bearing some great weight, and whenever he removed one hand to tap at other buttons, other switches, the ship wobbled badly. "You?"
"Hey, I'm always fine. Trust me?"
"I--" For some reason that seemed like an ominous question. "I suppose so. I don't suppose that I have a lot of choice."
"Right now, no." For a moment Jack took both his hands off the flight controls, attacking a row of switches with a furious energy. The female voice chided him, and he gave a low laugh. "You heard the man, computer. He trusts me. Prepare for a time jump."
"A time jump?!" Mike started to get to his feet, but Jack put the ship into a sudden dive to avoid a shot from behind. The former UNIT captain sat down again, quickly. "Jack, we--"
"We have to get out of here, and Time is our best escape route. The computer has a focus on this point. It'll be a quick hop back when the coast is likely to be clear." Jack fell silent for a few moments, returning his attention to his flying. "I can't think of anything else, Mike. They won't be able to track us if we go backwards or forwards in time. There's a good chance that it'll fox them completely. Like I said - thugs. No finesse." He shrugged. "I hope."
"I hope you know what you're doing." Mike held on tighter than before. At his feet, the Master rolled about as a tremor ran through the ship. He didn't rouse. Mike was rather glad about that. One more alien shooting at them was the last thing they needed right now.
"Preparing for time jump," announced the computer. Jack tensed slightly, his eyes seemingly everywhere at once. Mike tried to see what he was looking at, and work out what all of the readings meant, but couldn't begin to understand. "Jumping in ten seconds."
"It can't be sooner?!" Jack was clearly watching something that unnerved him. Mike took a glance out of one of the screens, and saw a streak of white light coming their way. Some kind of missile, undoubtedly. He got the impression that dodging this one was not a possibility.
"Seven seconds," answered the computer, unmoved by Jack's question. "Six."
"That thing's gonna hit us in six seconds! You better have got your sums right, computer." Jack flicked a couple of switches, looking rather more hopeful than certain. Again the computer showed no reaction to his comment.
"Three seconds to impact." Jack drew a deep breath. "Ready, Mike?" But before Mike could even think of answering, the computer's countdown reached zero, lights blazed, everything shifted. He felt, for one brief moment, as though he were flying without a ship around him, through a tunnel of light and colour. Then everything was back to normal again, and all was still.
With a sigh of relief, and a grin that seemed bigger than any Mike had yet seen, Jack pushed himself to his feet and stepped out of the control cabin. He gave one of the consoles a brief pat as he went, then turned the grin fully onto Mike.
"Feels like it." Mike also stood up. There were no more tremors from the ship; no more buffeting from laser fire; no more worrying noises from all around. "We made the jump?"
"Yep." Triumph, merriment and pure, unadulterated cockiness shone in Jack's eyes. For some reason it was rather endearing. "We're three thousand years in your past. How does it feel?"
"Not remotely different." Mike laughed shortly. "Sorry. Then we won?"
"I don't see me ceasing to exist, do you? We won. Congratulations."
"Me? I didn't do anything."
"Sure you did. And anyway, I probably wouldn't have got involved if it hadn't been for you." Jack smiled contentedly. "So now we get to relax for a bit. Until the next crisis."
"Relax." It certainly sounded inviting. "I can live with that. But in case it had escaped your notice, we're in 1000BC. What exactly happens now?"
"Now? We're safe, we're heading back into Earth's orbit, the enemy doesn't know where we are, and doesn't begin to know where to look... the universe is ours. Or this bit of it is, anyway. We can do what whatever you want."
"In that case, taking it easy has a definite appeal." Mike went towards the main viewscreen, watching space zipping past them at what seemed a terrific rate. "Shouldn't you be flying?"
"The computer has control. We're safe enough now." Earth loomed before them, looking just as it had when they had left it. Three thousand years clearly meant little in space. "Now all we need to do is pick a point say a day after we left, and head for it. The Tragovians should have given up by then. Simple."
"Not really, no. At least, not to my technology." Mike stared at the planet on the screen. Three thousand years. Even the Romans were nobodies as yet. Jack slapped him on the back.
"Don't think about it too much. That's half your problem, you know. You need to learn how to relax more. Loosen up."
"And how exactly does one 'loosen up' out in space?" He meant it as a joke, but Jack just flashed him another of those dangerously amiable grins.
"How about we go up on the roof?"
"It's a spaceship, Jack. We go up on the roof and we die."
"Well yeah, we would - if I hadn't enclosed us in a forcefield. It'll only last half an hour or so, but that's long enough to go upstairs and admire the view. The gravity will hold that close to the hull."
"Seriously?" It sounded inviting, he had to admit. Jack just grinned, and with the flick of a switch, opened a hatch. Steps unfolded downwards from above them.
"Come on." Suddenly all restless activity, he swung up the steps and disappeared from view. Mike climbed after him more slowly, a little wary of what he was getting into. He had never walked on the roof of a spaceship before, and a part of him did not feel entirely safe.
"You waiting for something?" Jack was standing several feet away; an intentionally dramatic silhouette, highlighted by the corona of the rising sun. He was holding a hip flask, and had contrived to produce a pair of glasses from somewhere. Mike didn't have a clue where, and as he climbed up onto the back of the ship, didn't think to ask.
"It's incredible." The Earth lay in front of them; a mighty vista of blue, green and white, darkened by the arc of the vast sun that was just rising in its - now meaningless - east. Jack gave a low laugh.
"For the rest of time, poets will be trying to come up with a decent description of this view. I guess yours works just as well. Here." He handed over a glass, half-filled with what looked like brandy. Mike took a sip, and found that it was something he had never tasted before. Alien probably. He rather liked that idea.
"I never fully realised that the Earth was so beautiful. Everybody says that it is, but it's not always easy to appreciate the fact when you're standing on it."
"All planets are beautiful. Gas giants, little dead ice worlds - all of them. Especially when their suns are just coming up. I prefer them from space, though. You get a better perspective."
"And an easier escape route."
"Yep." Jack flashed him a grin and sat down on the ship. Mike followed suit. "I'd have thought that an old hand like you would have seen this view before. I thought UNIT were experts in all things extra-terrestrial?"
"It's the seventies, Jack. We've hardly done anything yet. Or... just at the moment it's not the seventies, but you know what I mean." He smiled, once again feeling oddly inadequate next to the man who had done it all. "I've been to other worlds, yes. A friend has a spaceship, and I've been here and there. I've never had the opportunity to see the Earth from space, though."
"A friend with a spaceship?" There was a teasing hint in Jack's voice. "Should I be jealous?"
"Hardly." Mike had to laugh. "He's hundreds of years old, and definitely not interested in inconsequential army captains. Ex-army captains. Besides, that would be illegal."
"What would?" Jack stretched out beside him, a picture of luxurious repose. "Don't tell me they've got laws on human/alien relations? That's kinda jumping the gun for the twentieth century." Mike shot him a sardonic look. "What?"
"I don't mean that. I mean that the army has certain laws that forbid... never mind. Even if I was interested, which I'm not."
"Well don't let the age gap worry you. If you want to get technical, you're three thousand years older than I am, and I'm not letting it discourage me." Jack reached out with his glass, chinking it against Mike's. "Cheers."
"Three thousand years." It was almost unthinkable - but then all of it was. Here he was, sitting on the back of an alien spaceship, miles above the Earth, watching the sun rise in the company of a man who hadn't been born. And that was without even taking into consideration the fact that he himself hadn't been born yet either. Expect The Unexpected, they said in UNIT. Well, there was certainly nothing like taking the company motto to its limit. "That's a hell of a long time, Jack."
"No it's not. I've got all of time and space - what's three thousand years?" The American reached out suddenly with his free hand, taking Mike's in his. "Come with me, Mike. I can find you a planet millions of light years away. Or a place on Earth hundreds of years in your future. Nobody will ever know you, or whatever the hell it was that you did. You can leave all of that behind."
"But that's the thing, isn't it." He wasn't sure quite why it was so much easier to think out here, in all of this vastness, with a glass of alien alcohol in his hand - but it was. "I don't want to run away. I messed up, and I have to face that down there, not out here somewhere. There are people that I have to see again, and things that I have to say. Things that I have to prove. I could stay here now, in my past. But what would that achieve?"
"If you've got something to prove, it's to yourself, not to the people who kicked you out of the army. Forget them."
"No. No, I can't do that. I don't care if my future is in my own time, or in doing what you did, and running off in somebody else's spaceship. But it begins on Earth. It begins with me, down there, back in the time that I came from. I appreciate what you've done, Jack. More than you know. But I have to face up to some things on my own. Get my life down there back in order, before I can even think about what comes next."
"You're an annoyingly level-headed sort, aren't you." Jack didn't sound annoyed, though. Just amused, and greatly relaxed. Mike glanced over at him, sprawled beside him, staring up at what should have been the sky. The Earth hung there instead now, shifted by its own orbit as well as by theirs. Mike wasn't sure if he was upside down, or if the Earth was, or why he was still thinking in terms of the usual dimensions anyway. The entire universe was spinning, and none of the usual certainties seemed to mean much anymore. If this was space travel, it definitely had a unique appeal.
"Right now I don't feel terribly level-headed, I'm afraid."
"That's the Harkness Effect." Jack grinned at him. "I should come with my own health warning. In fact, I think I've been declared a lethal weapon on at least two worlds."
"You're sitting on the back of a spaceship, with nothing but a thin film of energy between you and infinity, and I'm the idiot?"
"With nobody down there watching the psychopath who's alone with the controls, we're both pretty idiotic." Mike groaned, surprised at how unwilling he was to do anything about that. "We should go back down."
"The Master is out for the count. That thing I zapped him with would keep an Ogron unconscious for several hours. He's not your problem anymore."
"You're planning on keeping him around as an ornament?"
"No. If you think your lot can deprogram those scientists without him, I thought I'd take him back to his homeworld. Is he really a Time Lord?"
"Yes. Or so I'm told. Do you know where their planet is?"
"No, not exactly. It's somewhere a long way away, I know that. But I'll find it." He frowned. "Actually I think they're at war with the race who built this ship, so I might have to be a little sneaky about getting there. But how hard can it be, right?"
"Aside from the obvious bit where you get blown to smithereens by some highly advanced early warning system?"
"Aside from that, yeah." Jack was grinning. "Maybe I'll just dump him somewhere else, huh. And you're sure you don't want to come along?"
"I can't." He was as sure of that as he had ever been of anything. "There are things I have to face up to, Jack. Things I have to sort out. Myself, everything else ... I don't know. There are answers I need to a whole lot of questions. No offence, but you're not exactly what I need right now."
"Point taken." He didn't seem offended. Mike got the impression that there was little that could hurt Jack Harkness. The hand that had been holding his had migrated upwards, and he felt the other man's arm drape itself around his shoulders. His first instinct was to shrug it off, but he didn't. If you couldn't let loose just a little when you were floating unfettered in space, when could you? Instead, to his surprise, he relaxed a little in the semi-embrace.
"What is this that we're drinking, anyway?"
"Braxian flower brandy. Or at least, that's what humans call it. The real name is unpronounceable unless you have a double-jointed tongue at least six inches long."
"Nice, isn't it. Two glasses and you're anybody's."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think that you were trying to seduce me."
"No." This time Jack's smile was stripped to the basics; as warm and as open a smile as Mike had seen in years. "Two glasses and it's no fun. Removes the element of choice. Anyway, I've warned you now, and you've haven't even finished your first glass. Some seducer I'd make."
"Right now I don't think I'd object if you did pour me a second glass."
"Scares you, doesn't it."
"Maybe." But the Earth was so beautiful, and so far away, and out here there truly was nobody to see or judge anything that he did. The feeling of liberation was quite extraordinary. "How long until the forcefield collapses?"
"We've got a while yet. Relax. Enjoy the view."
"I plan to. And what happens then?"
"Ideally we're back inside before the field collapses. Otherwise it could be unpleasant."
"I mean, what happens with you then. You drop me off back in my own time, and then what? You leave?"
"Yeah. I've got a dangerous cargo, and I ought to dump him off somewhere. No offence, but I'm not sure I trust your prison system."
"It didn't do much good the last time we captured him, no. So in an hour or so you'll be back out in space, heading for some other planet."
"That's the plan. Afraid our date will have to take a raincheck, with Fred below decks to consider."
"It wasn't going to be a date." Not down there, not where there were other people. Up here was different. Maybe that was another of the things that he had to work out about himself.
"Pick a star, don't look back." Jack barely noticed his protestation. He was describing his life with obvious relish. "Love them and leave them, that's me. I'm not the good guy, Mike. You are."
"I was." He laughed briefly. "Seems like a long time ago now. Another life. All those rules and regulations, all that order. Never sure that it agreed with me really."
"Then look for something new. I'm good at that kind of thing myself as it happens. New experiences, new frontiers, new awakenings. If you like, I could give you a little tuition."
"Oh yes?" The world floated by. The sun rose somewhere. Space spun in an irregular circle, and all of up and down and back and front meant nothing at all. Everything was new. It was heady and weird and spectacular, and Mike's reason didn't seem to be where he had left it. It was a wonderful feeling. He had no objection to it lasting a little longer yet. Jack laughed softly.
"Personal tuition always was a particular interest of mine. Just relax, Mike. There's a whole different set of rules out here."
"Good." He was relaxing, for the first time in a long time. Relaxing into this sense of total, wonderful unfamiliarity. Total freedom. "That's just what I'm counting on."
And space, and time, and everything spun lazily on.