"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy.."
"The thing about free will," said Jack, "is that you can't choose not to have it. None of us asked for it, very few of us want it, and we spend our whole lives running from it, blaming everything we do on someone or something else. The one thing in our entire lives we have no real choice over, is whether or not we have a choice over anything. We do. It's inescapable, and we must be held accountable for every single decision we make.
"But if some hypothetical god equipped us with free will, why the hell would he bother to plan for anything? I mean, God's ineffable plan for the universe, laid out from the creation to the destruction, is supposed to be the word of an omnipotent, omniscient being, describing a course of events which cannot, under any circumstances be altered or even challenged. Even the fall of Lucifer was part of God's plan, right? Lucifer, who loved God the most, was driven insane with doubt, and finally rebelled against him in a war he must have known he could not win, and he was cast down into the pit for his efforts.
"Did Lucifer have free will? Could he have chosen not to fall? Of course not, or humanity would have nothing to strive against, no way to earn passage into Heaven. But we do have free will, and we chose to fall. We had to. How could we do anything else? No human could resist the lure of the Tree of Knowledge, even at the cost of paradise. Eden was never enough incentive. We need to know things, we have to understand our world. It's what we do.
"And so we chose to follow Lucifer into darkness, thinking it was the light, and we moved away from God.
"But God's omnipotent, right? And omniscient. He knew we would do that, and he could have stopped us. That's what those two words mean. He could have saved us, and he didn't. Why? Did he have a choice? Does God have free will, or is he as much a slave as Lucifer was?
"So God chose to give us free will, knowing it would condemn most, if not all of us to Hell. He did that. God did that. He created a race of creatures and imbued them with the one attribute he did not have – the one that would condemn them forever. We were damned the instant Adam took his first breath.
"So really, what we need to ask is, why? What is so important about free will that God would send his children to Hell in order that they should have it? In a universe he created, running to his rules, why this paradox? You do nothing but follow orders, and you are neglecting this gift you are going to have to pay for anyway. You hide from the dark, Sam, because you think God wants you to. You cower in his light, afraid of shadows, afraid of disappointing your creator, but you've got it all wrong.
"All that 'worship me' stuff is a test. 'Worship no idols, pray to no god but me, sacrifice this, follow these commands, say these words in this order…' It's a test, kid. A test of your free will. God doesn't want you to bow and scrape to him, he wants you to choose the alternative. Don't forget that Lucifer was God's favourite angel, his most cherished and trusted. He put that seed of doubt in Lucifer, just like he put free will in you. He did not give you that power to choose so he could then command you not to. He gave it to you so you would choose, so you would leave the safety of the Garden – and that bit's important, because God can't just make you go, you must willingly give up paradise – and go after Lucifer, into the shadows, and search with him for answers."
Sam stared at him, with his mouth open. He closed it. He opened it again. "You don't even believe in a god!"
Jack shrugged. "Maybe I just chose not to."
"But," said Sam, "why would God want us to follow after Satan? He wants us corrupted? Why?"
"I dunno. Maybe God can't walk in the shadows himself. Maybe there are answers there he can't get, and he needs us to discover them for him."
"Then why Hell? Why punish us for doing what he wants?"
"Choosing Lucifer's path only counts as free will if it is a significant alternative to God's. It's not enough to be denied heaven; we must go, knowing that we will be punished, accepting it as our fate and the price of knowledge. It's only free will when there's a real disadvantage to the option you take. Otherwise, it's just flipping a coin. Some might follow Lucifer's path out of mild curiosity, but that wouldn't be enough to take them to the end, to drive them, to commit them to the cause. If it was a safe option, nobody worth spitting on would take it. Because there's a danger to it, only those who are passionate in their convictions will go. Those are the only ones God is interested in, the only disciples he wants Lucifer to have."
"But there are men like that who believe."
"Yeah? You think your Arch Lector, or your First Illuminate has the fervour of belief that those people living with no electricity, no heating, no fresh food in the slums do? None of you love your faith as much as those you persecute hate it, and that's why you will fall. A mountain might look permanent, but the rain that falls on it, that trickles harmlessly down its sides, will eventually wear it flat. You're on the wrong side, my friend, and you don't even have the faith in your beliefs to keep you away from me for an hour."
Sam shifted in the chair, hooked one leg over the other. The seer had performed another mind-meeting with Jack, and he had recovered from this one swiftly. He did not seem ill at all. In fact, he seemed quite bright. The way he spoke worried Sam a little; this man who claimed to have no belief spoke of the old ways as though they were fact. Had they got to him already with their perverted psychology? Sam didn't think a mind like Jack's could be influenced from the outside. Whatever your beliefs were, his would be stronger, and he would defend them with vigour until you gave up. He supposed Jack was being hypothetical, trying to sway his convictions.
He couldn't convince himself it wasn't working.
Jack's eyes were glazed over, and he was staring blankly at the wall, a million miles away inside his own mind. Sam didn't dare disturb him. He was caught up in Jack, entranced by his entire attitude towards the world. He'd never met anyone like this before. He had never guessed people like this existed, but here he was, large as life, systematically dismantling Sam's life. Thing was, though, he didn't think that was such a bad thing any more. Jack had done that to him. Showed him the mask he wore to hide from himself, cracked the shell of illusions that encased him. Jack wouldn't take the mask, though, or smash the shell. That was for Sam to do himself.
Jack's focus was suddenly back in the room. His gaze fell on Sam, and for a moment he looked utterly exhausted. "It's an alien," he said.
Sam snorted. "What? Who's an alien?"
"Your god. Your Light. Whatever you call it. That's why me and the Doctor and Martha are here. It's an alien, and we're going to stop it taking over the world."
"That's ridiculous." Sam stood up, took three steps across the tiny hospital room, then turned round and sat down again. He was sweating, he realised.
"That seer kid will know by now, if she didn't before. She'll have seen it in my mind. You can't lie to yourself, not beneath the surface. It'll all start to come apart, the Doctor will see to that. I need to get out of here, and you have to come with me."
Sam laughed nervously. "That's rubbish. I don't believe a word of it!"
"Liar." Jack gave him a look that made his knees go weak. "You'd believe me if I told you your mother was the statue of Liberty. Is it really that difficult to believe an advanced creature could convince all you silly little humans that it was god? It's been done enough times around the universe. It's an alien, a glowing, laser-equipped alien. And it wants your souls."
Jack stared hard at him, daring him to argue. Sam, however, was very good at finding excuses.
"We already know you can't get out of here. And I certainly can't get out with you."
"No problem. The Doctor will come."
"You have a lot of faith in him."
"He's earned far more than my faith."
Sam looked away, but Jack reached out and took his chin in one hand.
Sam felt his cheeks burst into flame. "There's a camera."
"They'll actually kill me."
"They'll try. Isn't that exciting?"
It would, Sam vaguely knew, have looked ridiculous to anyone watching. He leaned over, screwed his eyes shut, and let his lips touch Jack's. A hand was suddenly gripping the back of his neck, before he could move away, and Jack kissed him thoroughly. When he was finally released, Sam had to fight for his breath.
"That," Jack said, "is what it feels like to fall. Exhilarating, isn't it?" He smiled at Sam's expression, empathising with the mix of confusion, horror, and desire. He leaned closer and whispered against Sam's ear.
"By the way, it wasn't Hell that Lucifer was cast down to. That's one thing not a lot of people know. It wasn't Hell, it was little old Earth. This is as bad as it gets."
The Doctor did not like to waste his time listening to other people speak, but that was exactly what he had spent the last hour doing. If he was honest, he hadn't expected a ceremony. In his mind, he walked into the Temple, made his demands, and someone in a robe went out, then came back seconds later with Jack. Then they all went back to the TARDIS for cake, while the Doctor laid down his terms and conditions to Jack, who agreed wholeheartedly with all of them, and kissed him like the Doctor knew they'd both always wanted.
That was probably why, after all these years, the universe still managed to take him by surprise.
"Stupid universe," he muttered under his breath, as a man in a robe continued to ramble on about something or other to do with darkness and light and being saved, and completely failed to go away and bring back Jack.
Of course, if all he had to endure before Jack was returned to him was a bit of tedium, that was something to be thankful for. He could cope with this. Compared to monsters and villains, this was easy. From a certain point of view.
He rocked back and forth on his heels, taking in the sparse white interior of the Temple. This was one of the main blessing halls, and apparently the man doing the rambling was one of the top blokes. The Doctor didn't care. He was, however, vaguely interested in the architecture. When he learned the temple was on the site of an old shopping mall, his imagination had provided him with images of people forming queues in front of prayer booths, and vending machines you could put a pound in and get out a can of holy water. He should have realised what one thing all shopping centres have in abundance; space. The place was massive, and – he thought with a smirk – seemed even bigger from the inside. From the street, the imposing walls eclipsed the view, so all that was visible was a handful of towers and roofs, but the internal structure was open and airy. Once you got deeper within the sanctum, he strongly suspected to find a lot more locked doors and thick walls, but the rooms here were all made of a white material that seemed to glow in the mid-morning sunlight.
What was deeply interesting about this room was the stained glass windows, arranged all around the walls. They looked like they had been taken from any church you cared to name. Old, thick glass, picked out in black lead, with mosaic shapes in different hues forming figures and intricate designs. He recognised several of them – a large, complex ring of leaf-shapes caught his attention, and he instantly knew it as the rose-window from la Sainte-Chappelle in Paris. A remarkable reconstruction, he thought, and then he had a horrible idea. He wandered away from the little congregation at the centre of the room, apparently unnoticed, and stood on his tip-toes so he could get a good look. He stuck out his tongue and licked the glass, then made a face.
"Bleugh. Tastes like the 1400s," he said, loudly. The man in the robe stopped speaking quite abruptly, and glared at him, but the Doctor wasn't interested. He ran over to the next window, which depicted a figure in a loincloth beside a tree. The Doctor licked this one too.
"1100s," he said. "1175, '76 maybe. No way that's a copy. The real thing, from Canterbury Cathedral. Adam Delving. Blimey. You can tell," he added, when the others continued to stare at him. "From the texture. Medieval glass, rather coarse, but naturally there's a lot to be learned from the taste of the oxides they mixed in to get the colour…" he stopped, and blinked. "I was going to ask why they're here, but it's because you're human, isn't it? Because you're human. You ripped down Canterbury Cathedral, because it symbolised the old ways, but you're so human you couldn't smash these ancient works of art. And now you flaunt them here to show the world how compassionate you are, how understanding, how we should learn from the old religions – a sort of how-not-to-do-it guide. Oh yes, they had bigotry and famines and crusades, but you've got to hand it to them, they could rustle up a nice bit of pretty when the moment called for it."
The robed man apparently didn't know how to react to this, so he turned his attention back to the book he was reciting from. He carried on talking in his tedious monotone. The Doctor shook his head, and carried on to the next window. He'd never had much of a chance to enjoy any of them when they were mounted in their original architecture, so he supposed he'd take the opportunity to examine them properly while he had it.
Behind him, the clergyman kept on talking, and his little audience listened, and eventually someone went away to fetch Jack.
The sound of voices in the corridor confused Sam at first. He could not work out what he was hearing, or what the implications were, or why the sounds were getting louder, and then it dawned on him that people were approaching the room. He sprang back, shook his hand out of Jack's grip, and flung himself back into the chair before the door opened. Not that it mattered. His expression, and his flushed cheeks would give everything away instantly.
Several excuses presented themselves for use. He could say 'it's not what it looks like', or shout 'the prisoner assaulted me!', or he could claim a stumble from grace and plead for several weeks in a retreat in the country to recover.
But none of these things made it from his brain to his lips, partly from the shock of it all, but mostly because he knew they were all blatant lies. He was tired of dishonesty. When they asked, he would say he had kissed Jack. And then he would be subjected to humiliating examinations, probably followed by torture under the name of treatment, and eventual death. But at least none of it would be a lie.
No one asked. A group of people stood in the doorway; Dr Scott, the surgeon, and the seer. Just behind them was an enforcer.
"This test subject is of great value," said Dr Scott, sounding terribly annoyed. "We can not allow him to be removed."
"Sorry," said the enforcer. "These orders come from high up."
"Higher than me?" demanded Scott. Sam had to admit, she looked intimidating. He wouldn't have argued with her if his life depended on it. Which it just might if they caught sight of him and his bruised lips.
"Much higher," said the enforcer.
The seer walked into the room, and the others watched her. She laid a hand on Jack's forehead.
"He can go," she said. "I believe I have done all I can with him. If I have not, he will be back. If I have not changed him, we will soon have cause to arrest him again."
Scott was still scowling, but she relented a little. "Fine, then. Take him." her gaze fell on Sam. "This cleric can escort you, and bear witness that we followed orders without protest."
Jack held up a hand. "Woah, now. You're letting me go? Why?"
The enforcer gave a slight shrug. "Your release has been negotiated."
"Converts. Standard arrangement. Come on."
Jack was given back his clothes, but none of his possessions. He didn't argue. His wrist device was the only really valuable thing he had taken from the TARDIS, but he could eventually build himself another one. He was wobbly on his feet, and allowed Sam to help him along the corridors. The enforcer walked behind them, never touching his weapon, but he was bigger than Jack, and besides, sheer curiosity was reason enough to play along. Nevertheless, Jack was convinced the whole thing was some kind of set-up, right up until the moment they entered a spacious, bright white room, and there in the middle of it, was the Doctor.
Jack fell into the Doctor's arms like a child reunited with a lost parent, and had to fight back the illogical urge to sob that accompanied the surge of relief that crashed through him. The Doctor held him painfully tight, pressing his face into Jack's neck for just a moment before releasing him again, and Jack had to remind himself they were still right at the heart of the Temple. He caught sight of the other people in the room, and raised a questioning eyebrow.
"We're official converts now," the Doctor said, in a voice that made it clear to Jack that this was not a statement to argue with. "Praise be to the light, and so on. Thing is, we're late for a meeting, and we left the iron on, so if you don't mind…"
Jack recognised the priest of Dru grinning at him from the centre of the cluster of people, and flipped off a salute as the Doctor dragged him towards the door by his sleeve. Sam trotted along behind.
"I'm supposed to escort you!" he called after the Doctor.
"We can escort ourselves, thanks."
"He's coming with us," said Jack, attempting the Doctor's don't-argue tone and missing by a galactic mile.
"Sorry, no pets!"
A couple of enforcers opened the massive doors for them. The Doctor and Jack made their way out first, followed by the priest and his family, who all looked extremely awkward about their false conversion but were doing a good job of not giving themselves away, unlike the Doctor.
"Back to the TARDIS," he said to Jack. "We're getting out of here, now."
Jack glanced back to make sure Sam was following them, throwing him a wink as they went. Brilliant sunlight flooded the square, and lit up the Temple like an elegant Christmas tree – although, Jack supposed, there were no Christmas trees here now.
It was that thought which made him stop dead. Sam walked into his back, and the Doctor took several paces before he realised Jack wasn't with him.
"Come on, back to the TARDIS, lots to do."
"No," said Jack. "This is Earth! We can't just leave it like this."
The Doctor's shoulders sagged, and he sighed. "Jack, this isn't how history was before. But it is how history is now. These things happen. I'm just one little Time Lord in a great big universe – I can't fix everything."
"You're a what?" said Sam, but no one was listening.
"No way," said Jack. "That's not you. That's not my Doctor. You don't just give in, you fight. These assholes have stolen the Earth, and you're going to let them?"
The Doctor shrugged. "No wars. No famines. You want me to bring those things back?"
"Yes! If it means people can think and act how they want again! This isn't about letting history do it's own thing, it's about free speech, Doctor. And free will. That's how the world works. And sure, there are wars, but at least people have the chance to go down fighting for what they believe. They aren't tortured in some dank little room in a Temple for – for falling in love with whoever they want, or believing in whatever they want. That's the Earth I came from, and if this Earth won't become that one, if I can't ever go back there, then what's the point of me living this life with you and Martha? I won't have a choice. I'll be doing it because I have to."
They stood in the street, the three of them. The Captain, defiant; the Doctor, reluctant; the Cleric, anxious.
The Doctor nodded once, very slightly, then set off for the TARDIS.