“But,” Rose asked, “why Kyoto?”

The Doctor absolutely beamed as he twisted a knob on the console. “Why not Kyoto? Fantastic place! Culture, festivals, food.”

“And geishas.” Jack said, grinning. “They’ve got the best geishas.”

Rose couldn’t help but wink at the handsome captain. “Oh? And you would know that because…?” She gave him a playful nudge.

“I did some work there once. You know, I think you’d look pretty cute in one of those silk robes. Cut, say, right to here?” He levelled the side of his hand against her hipbone. “It’d give a really nice view of your—“

*DING!*

They turned to look at the Doctor, who’d just slapped the bell on the console. Rose gave him an accusing look. “We’re coming in to land.” He said innocently.

Jacked leaned in close to her, saying, “I’ll tell you what happened later. A tale of adventure should be experienced in the right element.” He winked slyly. “A moonlit night. Soft cushions to relax on. A pot of saki.”

Rose deliberately turned her back towards the Doctor, though she was certain he was listening. “Isn’t that a bit … intimate?”

The Doctor’s grinning face suddenly appeared over her shoulder. “Three isn’t that intimate.”

“Oh I don’t know.” Jack said to him, “I’ve had some pretty intimate moments with th—“

There was a jarring yaw as the TARDIS tilted awkwardly. All three travelers gripped the console for support. The Doctor pulled the hanging hammer into his hand by the cord and gave a sharp rap against the controls. He looked impatiently at the shuddering time rotor, then gave another hit. And another. The piecemeal surface of the control console rattled with a metallic echo, and the column came to a full stop. “Done!” he said triumphantly, releasing the hammer.

“Yeah, we nearly were!” Rose let go of the console. “I swear, these landings are getting worse.”

Before the Doctor could defend himself and his ship, Jack said, “I’ve learned that any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”

“Oh? And does that tie into your little geisha story?”

He wagged a finger at her. “A Shogun warlord, a 32nd century plasma vanguard, and cannibalistic rice paper. That’s all I’m saying for now.”

“That doesn’t make sense. That’d mean the rice paper ate other rice paper.”

“And I’ll bet that makes you all the more curious, doesn’t it?”

“Tease.”

“You two may have a bit of a wait for your saki.” The Doctor studied the monitor with his arms crossed, and the others turned their attention to it. On the small flatscreen, they could see what was outside of the TARDIS: the mouth of an alleyway with a glimpse of a high-pillared gray cityscape beyond. People walked back and forth on the sidewalk just outside of the pathway, apparently oblivious to the ship’s arrival.

Jack said in a certain tone, “Definitely not Kyoto.”

“Definitely not Cardiff either.” Rose added. Then she looked up at the Doctor. “Is it?”

He reached and touched a selection of buttons on the keyboard. A series of circular alien symbols appeared on the screen overlapping the view outside, small glyphs rotating within them. “C) None of the above. Not even Earth. Gravity’s just about right, though. Oxygen content’s a bit high, but nothing wrong with that. Ah. It’s a Tuesday!”

With a determined smile, Rose said, “Well, they may not have saki, but a… “ she thought, “… space burger sounds really good about n—“

She was interrupted when Jack suddenly tensed, and without warning he took off down the ramp for the exit. He threw open the doors and ran out of the ship. She moved to follow him, but the Doctor had already rushed past her with amazing speed. She’d only taken a few steps before he stopped at the doors, holding up a hand. “Stay here!”

“But—“

“Stay!” He ran out, and slammed the blue doors closed behind him.


*


The Doctor exited the TARDIS, and did a quick look about. Seeing that Jack hadn’t gone further down the alley behind the police box, he turned and went to the entry for the street. “Captain?” he called out. “Captain?!” His eyes scanned through the area and finally spotted the back of Harkness’s vest as it disappeared around the corner at the end of the block. He rushed out into public and started pushing through the sea of people milling about. “’Scuse me … pardon … d’you mind…”

He made it through and turned the corner. Jack was still rushing ahead of him, darting through a mass of traffic and running across the street. The Doctor followed, occasionally knocking over a passerby without stopping. He kept yelling Jack’s name but the man didn’t respond.

The chase finally came to an end at a hover dock set aside a dull seascape. The Doctor found him darting between cargo carriers. “Come out!” Jack yelled hoarsely. “Come out!”

The Doctor asked, “Who’re you yelling at?”

Jack remained oblivious to his presence, continuing his frantic search and outbursts. “Where are you?!” He kicked over a garbage bin, sending it rattling and rolling along the concrete. “Come on out!”

The Doctor pulled at the younger man, turning his shoulder to face him. “Who are you yelling at?”

Jack’s eyes were wild. He took the Doctor’s arm with an intense grip. “Help me.” His voice was almost breathless from the shouting. “Help me find him.” His eyes darted about, never stopping. “If we do that, then we—we—“

The Doctor took his face in his hands, forcing Jack’s attention on him. “Find who?”

Jack blinked. His eyes focused on the Doctor’s as if finally noticing him. “He’s… he’s… “ The blue eyes started to moisten, and he pushed away from the Time lord. He turned his back on the Doctor, and he punched the side of a packing crate roughly, the fight and fury seeming to drain from his muscles.

“I … don’t know.”


*


The pair went along the docks, walking past automated carriers and load-pan bays. Jack massaged his knuckles, which were bruising from his outburst. A faint breeze tossed the edges of the Doctor’s leather jacket. “That’s all you remember?” the Doctor asked. “His eyes?”

Jack nodded tiredly. “On the screen. I could see him in the crowd. When I got outside he was already moving away. The last I saw of him, he’d run into here. Then… nothing.” They moved to the edge of the dock and Jack leaned forward on the railing, the Doctor leaning with the small of his back against it. They both kept the silence for several seconds until Jack finally spoke. “You’ve never asked me about the memory-wipe.”

The Doctor replied simply, “A man’s got a right t’his secrets.”

Jack flexed his aching fingers. “What do you know about Time Agents?”

“Not much. Bumped into a couple in my life, that’s about it.”

Jack stared out to sea. “They came when I was ten. Just… showed up.” He gave a brief look back at the Doctor. “That’s how they operate. No applications or anything. They just pick whomever they want to work for them. No one knows why exactly. There’s a myth that they only choose the people they knew would become Agents in the future.”

The Doctor shook his head. “There’s so many paradoxes wrong with that idea I don’t know where t’begin.”

Jack chuckled. “Yeah well, like I said, it’s a myth. I don’t know why they picked me. I wasn’t special or anything. I was just another kid. But they told me I was ‘chosen. And that was that. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to anyone or anything.”

He paused. “The academy was so boring, not like regular school at all. I mean, after awhile even quantum cellular mechanics loses its allure you know?” The Doctor smiled. “The physical training was alright. It helped to break the monotony of the technical stuff. Time theory, causality, determinism-probability. I swear, if they’d thrown in a lit-course or two at least there would have been some relief!”

“Y’made it through, though. That’s something.”

“I graduated, but that isn’t where it ended. All those years of training and studying, that was like … elementary school. It was compulsory. By the middle of the final semester, we had to decide whether to accept graduation and take an entry level at the central service – or whether to move on for certified agent training. Field work.” He gave a little laugh. “It was what all of us had been talking about, dreaming about since we started. My entire graduating class went on for ceritification.” His smile slowly froze. “My best friend. He didn’t want to. Said he’d heard stories about what could happen. Would happen. It scared him. I talked him into signing on. Told him we shouldn’t split up, that we could get through anything if we stayed together.” He went quiet.

“Did he?”

Jack stared down at the water below the dock. “No. He… “ He thought about what to say, “… he didn’t make it.”

The Doctor could tell there was something Jack didn’t want to say. Desperately wanted to avoid. So he moved on. “You became a full agent afterwards?”

Jack blinked, swallowing. “Yeah.” He half-smiled. “My first assignment was investigating low-level emissions from illegal time travel activity. Mars. 73rd century.” He shook his head. “It was a milk run, pure and simple. But that’s what the newbies get. And a chaperone. Ronfeldt.” he said with a distasteful expression. “A real hardass. Everything by the book. Indexed and footnoted. By the clock by the second. You know the type.”

“Lived there, done that, bought th’jumper.”

“I had to do all the legwork of course. Put my training to use. It was my case, even with Ronfeldt shadowing me the entire time. I tracked down the suspect to his hideout.” He laughed. “Would you believe he actually had a hollowed-out volcano? Major overcompensation complex! It was all textbook: override the security codes, work out way to the central command center. Then wham!” He slapped his hands together suddenly. “He pulled a Limbo Atrophier on us. We were stuck like glue. And he was all in his glory.” He cleared his throat, and his voice lilted in a vaguely British tone. “’Pitiful fools, your lives are in my hands! The power of time and space is—

—is mine to command.’” The Doctor joined in, “’All will bow before me! Nothing in the world can stop me now!’” They laughed together.

“And Ronfeldt was useless. I swear, it had to have been the first time he’d been on assignment in ten years. So it was up to me to think of a way out of it. Said that if I was going to die, I at least deserved one last drink. Saven agreed, let me out of the Atrophier and poured me a glass of scotch. Then I said that I didn’t like to drink alone.”

The Doctor looked at him. “You didn’t….”

Jack smirked. “I poured me a double, I poured him a double. Then I had another and he had another. So on and so on. Around the second bottle of what was either Lemblesian merlot or window cleaner, he was bawling that his mother didn’t love him.”

The Doctor shook his head disbelievingly. “You seriously expect me t’believe you beat him – by getting 'im drunk?”

“I’m sayin’! An hour later he was sleeping like a baby, I freed Ronfeldt and all three of us were heading back to the Agency.”

“Unbelievable.” He kept shaking his head. Then he stopped. “Hold on, you said ‘Saven?’”

“Yeah.”

“Daboda Nhg Saven? Bald head, scalp kind of… bumpy?” He wagged his fingers along the top of his close-cropped head. Jack nodded. He let out a laugh. “I fought ‘im!”

“No way!”

“Yeah! He was fiddling with time corridor-technology in 2402 – no, 2410. Ended up punching a hole through the vortex, unleashing a ton of vortasaurs. I thought he copped it… how old was he when you got him?”

“I don’t know. Fifty-five. Sixty maybe.”

“He was forty when I had ‘im!” He shook his head, unsatisifed. “You know, there was a time that if someone fell down his own lift-shaft he stayed dead! Tsk.” He moved on from the moment. “I suppose you looked good, though. Bringing him on on your own.”

“Are you kidding? Ronfeldt completely condemned me in his report! Said I had the worst conduct he’d ever seen.”

“What did you say?”

“I told them that my research showed that Saven was an inveterate alcoholic and I knew he couldn’t hold his liquor. In the end, I got full credit for the bust.” He gave a wide smile and looked out at the horizon, the sun already half-set against the lapping waves. “One of the best damn days in my life.”

“Was he?”

“What?”

“Saven. An alcoholic?”

“Hell if I know. It sounded good though. I knew nobody ever read everything in the research files. And besides – when your run-of-the-mill meglomaniac has more bottles of hyperwhiskey in his command center than security guards, it’s not much of a gamble to take a stab that he enjoys the grape.”

They both moved off of the railing and started to walk back down the docks. “Things were great after that.” Jack continued. “I had more missions. Even got to lead a team or two on assignment. Good people. Good friends. Everything was…” he shugged, “… good.” Taking a deep breath, he said, “Then I went to bed one night. Alone.” He attempted a small laugh. “Serves me right. Go to bed by myself for the first time in months and see what happens.” He rubbed his sore hand again. “Sure taught me a lesson.”

“And y’woke up missing years.”

“In a bed that wasn’t mine. Wasn’t my apartment. Where I was, where I’d been living, it wasn’t home.” The Doctor watched as the jocular light-hearted captain faded away. His expression went hard, his jaw clenched.

“I went back to the Agency. Right into the lion’s mouth. I wanted to know what had happened. Everyone denied everything of course, but they took me into custody anyway. ‘For my own protection’ they said. I didn’t want any protection – I wanted the truth!” He composed himself, inhaling a deep breath.

“It was two days before I heard from a member of the senior staff.” His tone changed a bit, like when he’d imitated Saven. Invoking a voice from the past. “’You are hereby under confinement pending a decision on your future.’” He looked into the Doctor’s eyes. “That’s exactly what they said. My future.

“It didn’t take long for me to figure out I’d be in that cell for the rest of my life. Unless they out and out killed me, or I woke up another morning to find more of my memory had been erased. More of my life stolen. So the next time the guard came with my meal, I made my move. I busted out and escaped.”

The Doctor sounded a bit suspicious. “Sounds a bit easy, doesn’t it? There wasn’t any resistance?”

Jack’s expression went even darker for a moment, his voice gravely. “Oh, there was resistance. I had to hurt a lot of people. People I worked with. Knew. I had to… “ His voice trailed off, and he looked down at his feet. Four, five, six steps later, he looked back up. “No, it wasn’t easy at all.” The Doctor recognized that look all too well. When there weren’t any options left but the last one. The simplest one. The hardest one.

“I stole one of the Agency’s time travel-modules and escaped. Once I was safe, I stripped it so they couldn’t trace me. Then I had to figure out what to do next. I decided that if the Agency wasn’t going to tell me what happened, I’d find out for myself. There’s nothing worse than having things in your life you can’t remember.”

The Doctor’s eyes flickered solemnly. “Unless it’s things in your life y’can’t forget.”

Jack was about to ask what he meant, but then he decided to extend the same courtesy to the Doctor as he’d received. “I went to every telepath, memopath, seer, mystic and mentalist you could think of. Unfortunately, like with everything else in life, the really good ones cost money. A lot of money.”

The Doctor sighed with realization. “The cons.”

Jack gestured a bit defensively. “I never set out to steal from anyone. But times get tough and sonic blasters don’t come cheap.”

“As long as you didn’t pull that ‘put a pound in the bank an’ nip ahead two-hundred years for th’interest’ bit.”

Jack winced a little. “What am I, stupid? I only ever targeted Time Agents. Considering what they stole from me, a few thousand credits at a time was chicken feed.” He slid his hands in his pants’ pockets. “It was a simple plan. Set up the con, stash the travel-module, then make arrangements for a little … ‘incident’ to draw their attention. Nothing flashy or huge that’d bring a dozen of them poking around. Just subtle enough for one. Perferably green, and preferably loaded. You know the rest.”

“What you planned with the Chula Pod.”

“Well it wasn’t hard to pick a time when they were at war. Not big peacemakers by and large, the Chula. The biggest thing was finding a safe place close to a war zone to hide the module before I finally got a Chula ship. Then I had to find a medical transport. I must’ve spent a good three months dodging bullets, firing squads, executioners—“

“—jealous spouses?” Jack finally smiled a bit at that. “An’ every penny of those jobs went to getting your memory back?”

“Yes.” Reluctantly, he added, “Well, at first. Every cent went to the top experts. And every one of them said the same thing. Whatever the Agency did to my head went way beyond just erasing my memory.”

“What d’you mean?”

“My whole brain was restructured. Rewired, reordered. And they found enough evidence to show there wasn’t just telepathic adjustment – there was chemical and surgical alteration, too.”

The Doctor stared. “What the hell did they do t’you?”

Jack looked right back at him. “That’s what scares me the most. Wiping memory is one thing. Any hypnotist can do that – hell, one stiff night at the pub can pull that off. But the experts all said they’d never seen anything like what had been done to me. They couldn’t even begin to guess the reason.” He sighed. “After awhile the lack of results started to get to me. It was the same over and over again. ‘Too bad, so sad, wish we could do more, please pay the receptionist on the way out.’ So … maybe instead of taking the score from the Krakatoa job to go see the Celebrated Cerebro, I’d go to Golobus for a little R-and-R instead. A few drinks, a few laughs. A few loves, a few daring escapes, just to work off the tension. And when I started to feel guilty again, I’d go back to work.

“Then about a year ago, I’d heard of someone. A… monk who lived on an asteroid in the Reja Magnum cluster. He had ‘powers of the mind’ they said. Abilities so strong that he was able to keep his asteroid from colliding with any of the others just from his force of will alone. So I figured what the hell? I had the time, so I went and asked for his help.” He looked at the Doctor flatly. “He said no. His life was devoted to meditation and discovery. I tried everything to convince him. I tried to pay him; he’d taken a vow of poverty. I tried to get him drunk, he’d taken a vow of purity.”

“Let me guess, he took a vow of chastity as well?”

Jack nodded. “A shame; I look great in a cassock.” He shook his head. I don’t know what I finally did. I told him what happened, told him why I needed his help. Maybe in the end he felt sympathetic. Or just wanted me to get the hell out of his life. But he finally agreed. He was going to put me into a meditative coma so my mind would be more open to him. He said it’s be just like going to sleep. It was. Hell it was the best night’s sleep I’d had since … well, before what happened happened. When I woke up, I found out I’d been out three days.”

“An’ the monk?”

“He asked for a drink.”

They stayed quiet a moment. The Doctor asked, “Did what he did help?”

“No, not at first. When I woke up, I didn’t feel any different. The more I tried to find out what he’d seen in my head, the harder he refused. He finally told me to leave and never come back.”

“He was scared.”

“By something, yeah. So I left. Figured it was just another colossal waste of time. Then about a month later, I was in the middle of a con. Orphanage deal, shapeshifters, long story. Anyway while I was there, I saw this woman come in, giving up her baby. She was crying. And suddenly…. It just triggered something in my head. A split second. Seeing something as vivid as I’m standing here with you. Something I’d never seen before. I nearly passed out. Once I realized what it had to be, I figured it had to have been because of the monk. Whatever happened there, it was a delayed reaction to whatever he did. So I scrapped the job and took off for the asteroid again. When I got there, it was empty. Barren. All I found was a note where his camp was. ‘I knew you’d come back.’” He frowned. “He’d triggered something. Knocked something loose, whatever. The point is I remembered something!” His voice was more excited now. “After that, I’d have these occasional flashes.”

“And this man … he was one o’them?”

Jack moved to the side and leaned against one of the cargo carriers, taking a deep breath. “I remember a woman. Human maybe. About forty. Short, bleach-white hair. She was looking right at me and she was crying. And her tears…” his hand lifted a moment, as if seeing her right in front of him, close enough to touch, “… they were like diamonds. Solid. Sparkling.” He lingered a moment in the memory, then blinked.

“In another one, I remembered fire. Burning. I think it was a cabin. I could smell … apples. And I head a loud, wet hissing. And I heard me laughing. And not a nervous laugh. Happy. Ecstatic.”

He took a pause, then said, “The man was in the last one I had. I was on Hasperon when I had it.” His expression slowly froze as he remembered. “There were screams. Hundreds. Thousands. All around me. And all I saw were his eyes. Dark. Sharp.” He gestured lightly against his forehead. “Some dark hair hanging down just over.” The hand lowered. “He was staring right at me. Those eyes burning straight through me. “He was deadly.”

The Doctor asked, “How d’you know?”

Jack said slowly, “The eyes. It’s in the eyes. The way they were looking at me, he wanted me dead.” He blinked, eyes getting moist. “And … I wanted him dead too. I don’t know why, but I wanted it so bad.”

The Doctor watched him for a moment. He could tell Jack was caught in the swell of the memory. He gave him a small nudge to break him out of it. “What’re we waitin’ around for, then? No one just disappears into thin air. Let’s find ‘im.”

Jack looked down one side of the docks. Then to the other. The crates stacked like monoliths. The edge of the rails about fifty feet to the right. With a final, resigned tone he said, “There’s no one here.”

“You chased ‘im here, right? He has to be.”

“Chased who?” He gestured along the length of the dock. “I came around the corner and there wasn’t anyone here. Maybe… there never was.”

“You were runnin’ pretty fast for chasing no one.”

“I could’ve just been seeing things.” Jack said, trying to sound justified. “It was just a pair of eyes in a crowd. He could’ve just reminded me of who I remembered.”

“Alright then. Let’s find someone who reminds you of who you remembered.”

“There’s no one here!” Jack’s exclamation surprised the Doctor. He took a breath, and said, “Maybe I lost him in the crowd… “

“’Him’ someone? Or ‘someone who reminds you of someone’ someone?” His voice went firm. “You don’t have t’do this alone.”

Jack smiled tiredly. “Do what? I’m a con man! Maybe that’s what I’ve been all along, and I’ve just been conning myself.” He swallowed, then looked up at the gray skies. He finally looked back at the Doctor.

“Every man has a moment in his life when he has to stand on his own and do what needs to be done.” he said in a final tone. “I’m going to find out what happened to me. What these memories mean. And the Agency’s going to pay.” His eyes flickered on the Doctor’s briefly. “But not here. Not today.”

The Doctor looked at him quietly. Finally he said, “Fair enough. What that times comes, when you’re ready … you’ve got help if you want it.” He reached out his hand for Jack’s. The captain looked at it a moment, then took it, shaking it with appreciation.

A small awkward silence followed, and Jack laughed. “Listen… I realize you sort of took me on board at gunpoint—“

The Doctor corrected him, “Bomb-point, actually.”

“Right, bomb-point. You didn’t need to come back for me. You could’ve left and just assumed I took care of the bomb and took off.”

“Could’ve.”

He looked at the Doctor curiously. “Why did you? It’s not like you had any reason to trust me.”

The Doctor was silent. Then he said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Well it’s like you said. It’s in the eyes, ain’t it?”

Jack smiled, and was about to say something when a dull warbling sound trilled out. Both he and the Doctor reached into their respective pockets and pulled out slim cellphones. The Doctor gestured with his, showing that he had the call, and pressed it to his ear.

“Hello?… Yeah, I found ‘im. I…. What? … No, I said to… “ His voice got steadily louder. “I told you to stay in… Well, what’d you do a stupid thing like that f… “ Finally he sighed, and said, “Fine, alright.” He closed the phone and shoved it into his pocket with a frustrated groan.

“Let me guess,” Jack said, “you told Rose to stay in the TARDIS.”

“Yup.”

“Which she didn’t do.”

“Yup.”

“And now she’s… ?”

“Arrested.”

Jack stared at him, then couldn’t help himself, and started laughing.


*


He let out a deep sigh of relief.

It was supposed to be just a simple trip. Asking for the help of one of the foremost hyperdimensional theorists in the universe. He planned to arrive a few months before his untimely death, when his research was at its peak. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and instead he got there only a few days before the tragic event. Once he’d entered the flow of events he didn’t dare take the risk of going back further. He had to make do with the time he had. Thankfully, the man he went to see was every bit as brilliant as his reputation, and he accepted the challenging dilemma with enthusiasm. It took time but he eventually came up with a solution – on the very same day he was due to be killed.

He’d actually thought he’d get away without any problems whatsoever. But on the way back to the ship he saw it. The TARDIS. Exactly where he’d left it. Before.

The fabric of the universe was already torn because of the Void Ship punching through. Tossing a juicy paradox os making contact with his own past would only make things worse. Much much worse. So he turned on his heel and took off to where he’d left the TARDIS – his TARDIS – a few days ago.

Now it was over. The danger had passed. He had what he’d come for, pulling a collection of folded sheets from his coat pocket and laying them on the console. The tear in the universe wasn’t stable enough for travel – but a signal would if it was calibrated precisely to the vibrationatory harmonics of the two realities. To make sure she was safe. To say goodbye. The main problem would be adapting the TARDIS’s power network to the equasions and adapting the telepathic circuits. It could take weeks, months maybe. It all came down to time.

Time…It seemed to be the focus of his life lately. The past impacting on the future. The future impressing on the past. The Time War changed everything. There weren’t boundaries anymore. No rules, no safety net. And he knew that all too well. The Bad Wolf paradox, wrapped through time as a clue for his future. The whole existence of Torchwood came about from a single night he spent in Scotland, and grew into something that threatened the universe. And now this… going back in time so close to his own history. Had his earlier self and Jack even left the TARDIS yet? Had Rose been found at the scene of the crime and apprehended for it? How close had he come to it all?

Future. Past. Present. What was to be crossing with what had already been. The universe was a much colder, uncertain place now. Anything could happen without warning – and only at the end would you see the clues had been there all along. Would he recognize them when he saw them next? Would he be prepared for that next future reckoning?

The Doctor stared into the grinding time rotor, his own face reflecting back solemnly. A dark fringe of hair hung loosely just over his sharp, dark eyes.

Time was passing. Whatever was going to happen next, it was getting closer.





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