Title: "Afore the Dawning of the Day"
Warnings: Character death
Spoilers: Major for 1.04 Cyberwoman
Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many DVDs and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to RTD and to Auntie Beeb, who already has my licence fee.
Notes: And now for something a little different. This one has been lurking around in my brain ever since I saw Cyberwoman, resisting all efforts to exorcise it in drabble form. I have no trouble with the idea that the Torchwood crew could miss Lisa down in the depths of the Hub - I work in a massive originally-Victorian-but-constantly-updated collection of buildings with vast numbers of corridors, sub-basements and storerooms (we even have pterodactyls!) and if I wanted to lose something large for a few decades I don't doubt that I could - but a nagging bunny wanted to know what might have happened had things gone differently and Jack found her before Doctor Tanizaki showed up...
Thanks as always to my wonderful betas, Mimarie and Jwaneeta - any remaining weirdnesses are all mine. Feedback of any variety is much appreciated but not compulsory - I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn...
It had been months since his nocturnal wanderings had last led him away from the bright lights of the city and down into the quiet depths of the Hub. There was something peaceful about moving through the basements and corridors beneath the Bay, in venturing around corners and down stairwells on a whim, letting sensory recall catch him unaware at every other turn. There were memories carved into the very walls of this place, stories and secrets that the others had no need, no right, to know, not now and maybe not ever.
The weight of ages rested more heavily here than they did in the more inhabited parts of the Hub, an almost tangible presence that was both comfort and cage to one who had lived through so much in this place. Down here it was easy to let his temporal sense drift, to remember the long-past times that -
Jack stopped dead, his brow furrowing in the barely-lit shadows, and turned back towards the corridor he had just passed. The sound had been faint, barely there, but he had lived long enough to know that his ears weren't given to playing tricks on -
"Ianto? You're here early, love..."
Jack spun on his heel, his hand automatically going to the gun at his right hip. Female voice, unfamiliar, evidently expecting young Mr Jones, their adopted Torchwood One refugee. Their adopted Torchwood One refugee who, Jack suddenly realised, was all-too frequently left to his own devices in the Hub while the rest of them were out dealing with whatever the Rift had most recently disgorged into Cardiff's unsuspecting environs.
Apparently Ianto had been doing more with his time than filing, washing coffee cups and disposing of the occasional dead body.
Swearing softly to himself - this, it seemed, was what he got for trusting Yvonne's much-vaunted recruitment policies - Jack started cautiously down the passageway, flashing the beam of his Maglite around the ancient walls and shadowed corners as he moved. There was light, faint and tinged with red and blue, leaking from an observation pane set into the heavy doors guarding one of the old storage vaults, a vault that he knew had been empty for decades. The wooden door was locked from the outside, and Jack eased his fingers against the simple metal bolt as he carefully peered through the age-smeared glass of the security window, trying to locate his uninvited guest before he moved to confront them.
It took him a few moments to realise what it was he was looking at - the shadows and angles all wrong and surely nobody would be fool enough to... - and then he pulled the bolt smoothly back, his Webley raised and ready to fire as he kicked the door open and sidestepped quickly into the room.
"Ianto?" The voice was painfully human, edged with a hint of fear. "Ianto? Is that you?"
A woman, young and dark-skinned, held within the metallic frame of a cyber-conversion unit. Tubes and wires trailed across the nightmare blend of steel and flesh that was her body, a cat's-cradle of plastic that tied her to a collection of medical monitors and drips as a respirator kept time with her breathing - it didn't look as though she'd be able to move even if she wished to, but appearances were too often deceptive. Beside her was a low table bearing a vase of flowers, a bowl of fruit and a framed photograph of a young couple that Jack suspected was not deceptive in the slightest. Adrenaline clawing at his senses, he took a cautious step closer, both gun and Maglite trained on her face. "So who might you be?"
Dark eyes blinked, squinting in the torch's powerful beam. "American." Her lips curved into a small, nervous smile. "You must be Captain Harkness."
He inclined his head in acknowledgement. "You have me at a disadvantage...?"
"Lisa," she provided. "Lisa Hallett. I'm... I'm pleased to meet you at last. I've heard a lot about you."
"Glad to hear it - I'm an interesting kind of guy." Jack stepped carefully around the conversion unit, making sure to stay out of her reach - he wasn't convinced that she could move her hands and electrocution wouldn't kill him even if she could, but it would still hurt like hell. He risked a quick look at her monitors. "So, Lisa, care to explain why you're in my basement?"
"I worked for Torchwood One," she told him. "At the Tower."
"I'd guessed that much." He watched her face for a few moments then came to a decision, sliding his gun back into its holster and resting the Maglite on top of one of the pieces of quietly beeping machinery. "I was at Canary Wharf for the clean-up - you're not the first partial conversion I've seen. Just the first I've seen in Cardiff. So, again: what are you doing in my basement?"
"Ianto said that I'd be safe here," Lisa said quietly, her features limned in red and blue and oddly illuminated where the metallic lines of her helmet caught and reflected the torch's beam. "He said that he'd find someone to help me. And he always keeps his promises."
"Ianto. Ianto Jones?"
"He's a friend of yours?"
"Right." That confirmed what he'd suspected from the photo. "It's just that in the three months your boyfriend's been working here, he's never once mentioned your existence to me. Which seems a little rude, don't you think? I mean, we're all in Torchwood together, right?"
She bit her lip, saying nothing as he snatched up the Maglite and pushed away from the monitors, pacing across the vault floor to examine where the conversion unit was tapped into the Hub's power core. "Right?" he prompted after a moment. "Come on, Lisa - talk to me. I'm your landlord, aren't I?"
"He wanted to find someone who could help me," she said again. "He didn't... we didn't think that you could offer us that. Torchwood One could have, perhaps, but -"
Jack narrowed his eyes, a prickle of irritation cutting through the tension. "But Torchwood Three is just a scrappy little monitoring station out in the provinces?"
"No!" Lisa said, a little too quickly. "But you don't have the people, the expertise, the facilities that One had access to."
"Nothing to recommend us but all the basement space you can eat." Jack snorted and shook his head. "Now I'm getting insulted."
"Well, if it helps - you're right." He moved across to the table, lifting the photo in its frame and regarding the smiling couple sadly. "There is nothing we could do to help you here. There's nothing anyone can do."
"No, Ianto says that there's a Japanese doctor, an expert -"
Jack nodded. "Doctor Tanizaki, Cybertechnology Institute of Osaka."
"You know him?" Her tone was suddenly hopeful, almost excited. "You've met him?"
"Like I said: you're not the first partial conversion I've seen." Jack set the picture back down and stepped away from the conversion unit, using the torchlight to trace the tubes that connected her to the clear bags of the IV feeds. "Doctor Tanizaki - nice guy, bit of a snob when it comes to travel - was one of those brought in to try to help the others after the battle, to try to understand them. He did his best, we all did, but... some damage can't be undone."
"They died?" Lisa's voice was soft. "All of them?"
"Yes. All of them."
She closed her eyes a moment, looking suddenly lost within the cold silver of the helmet. "But I'm still alive."
"Are you?" Jack continued his examination of the medical equipment, ignoring the sound of her protests. "Lisa, I'm guessing you came in with Ianto and the salvage from the Torchwood One equipment stores, right?"
"Yes," she said quietly. "I did."
"And Ianto set all of this up for you?"
"Well, that's something - I'd hate to think any more of my people were involved in this." Jack watched the blinking trace of her heartbeat picked out in neon blue. "Of course, much as Ianto's pretty good with the coffee machine, he handed the kitchen microwave over to Tosh the minute it stopped doing what he asked it, so I'm having just a little trouble seeing how he'd manage to install an apparently fully-functional cyber-conversion unit down here..."
"I told him how," Lisa said simply. "I told him, and he did it for me."
Jack looked up, meeting her eyes once more. "And how did you know?"
"I..." She faltered. "I just... do."
"Like you know what's been done to you medically," Jack continued, waving a hand at the monitors. "What was done and how to contain it." He sighed and shook his head, his tone gentling. "I'm sorry, Lisa, but conversion is more than just physical. It takes the mind as well as the meat, takes you, and while you might not know it yet, it's just waiting for a chance to break free. And the moment it gets that chance? The nightmare starts all over again. For you, for me, for everyone."
The dark eyes were wide, terrified. "You can't know that."
"I can. I do." He shrugged. "I've seen it before."
"No! I'm still me, I can still feel things, I still have emotions!"
"And you know the schematics and operation of a conversion unit well enough to have a man who can't even check the internal fuse on a microwave oven set one up in a storage vault I know damned well has been empty of anything but rats and cockroaches for the past fifty-seven years." Jack's smile was sad. "That's not knowledge we need in the world."
"Torchwood exists to take the alien and to understand it, to use it for human benefit -"
"Yes. But what possible human benefit is there to be gleaned from a cyber-conversion unit?"
Lisa closed her eyes, an expression of pained realisation settling over her features as the quiet beeping of the heart monitor started to increase in tempo. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
"I'm going to destroy the unit, put it beyond use," Jack told her, his voice even. "I have to be sure that it can't be rebuilt."
"You're going to kill me."
"Given that you seem to be rather intimately connected to it?" He nodded briefly. "Yes. Yes, I am."
"Oh god. Ianto said that you wouldn't understand... He said that you'd... oh god, please..." There was an edge of genuine panic in Lisa's voice now, of a fear and horror that was all too human. "Please, please, I've made it this far, there has to be something... you've got to help me!"
"Wish I could. But this is the best I can offer." Jack reached up to grasp one of the neatly labelled IV bags - Ianto was never anything less than precisely organised - and over-rode the electronic dispenser pump, sending the full contents of the morphine reservoir flooding into her veins. "Goodnight, Lisa. Sleep well."
She whimpered softly, murmuring, "Ianto, please..." as her eyes slid shut and the drug took effect. The report of the Webley was deafening in the confines of the vault as Jack shot out the respirator, puncturing the bag and destroying the connectors before he turned his attentions to the dialysis unit and the remaining IV pouches, tugging them free of the feed tubes and letting them drip out onto the packed dirt of the floor. He stood back as Lisa shivered, then started to spasm, watching as the monitor readouts flared into furious activity, the machinery fighting to keep its organic component functioning. Angry arcs of electricity sparked across the conversion unit's frame, dancing across the jerking body trapped within, but it was too late, the damage done, the warped symbiosis failing further by the second...
Jack watched impassively, bearing witness as this final act was played out in blue fire and twitching flesh. None of this was Lisa's fault, but his duty was to humanity as a whole and he couldn't risk the lives of millions for the sake of a single unfortunate who had died, in every way that mattered, at Canary Wharf months before. It was cruel, but the alternative was infinitely crueller, and he would not be responsible for unleashing that horror on humanity once more, whether through action or inaction. Sometimes there really was no choice.
A monitor flatlined, its trace stuttering, then fading to nothing. A second followed close behind, then a third, then there was nothing left but static whine and a faint scent of ozone. Jack closed his eyes, reaching to silence the medical equipment and letting the stillness surround him, calm his ragged nerves. There was a tight knot in his stomach, the bitterness of bile at the back of his throat, but the danger had been discovered, the threat neutralised, disaster averted once more.
Executioner was never a role that he particularly enjoyed but it was one he was good at, too old and too experienced to be swayed by tears or pleas or promises.
He played the torchlight across Lisa's still form, watching closely for any last signs of life, then moved to power down the monstrosity that still held her in its embrace, tearing it free of the Hub and finally allowing himself a sense of relief as that connection was broken. Too close, much too close... and on his watch, in his base, in his home. Jack was no stranger to betrayal from either side of the equation, had forgiven and forgotten innumerable acts that would have buried anyone else, but deeds committed in the heat of the moment were altogether different to slow and considered deception. He had lived much of his life by the maxim that forgiveness was easier to seek than permission, but even he had limits, especially when there was so very, very much at stake. To protect someone you loved was one thing, but to do this, after living through the horrors of Canary Wharf and knowing full well what those creatures were, what they could do...
Knowing full well what a conversion unit was actually for.
"Oh, Yvonne," he said aloud, "what the hell did your people send me?"
He didn't want to lose another, not so soon after Suzie, but somehow he didn't think there was enough Retcon in the world to reliably wipe these sins from the record.
The Maglite was the only illumination remaining in the vault as Jack kicked the defunct cabling aside, turning options over in his mind. The machinery would be destroyed, its components smashed and incinerated; the body would likely find its way to Osaka and Tanizaki, a final gift from Torchwood that might yet be of some benefit to humanity. He would need to speak to the other branches, to Glasgow and Manchester, to Plymouth and York, to wherever the other Torchwood One survivors had dispersed to, would need to discover who else had been responsible for keeping her and the machinery hidden and functional.
And then, he decided, he would need to speak to young Clara, with her bright eyes and her dusky skin and her astrophysics degree from Cambridge that meant she was stupidly over-qualified for her job behind the counter at the Starbucks on St Mary Street, but what could you do given the state of science in Britain today? The degree could well come in handy in their line of work.
Almost as handy as her proven ability with a coffee machine.
His wristcom chirped quietly in the darkness, an electronic announcement of the first arrival of the day. Jack didn't need to look to know who it would be, whose footsteps would soon be sounding from the corridor, whose voice calling a dead woman's name. He sighed and stepped over the broken remains of the respirator, bending to place a chaste kiss against Lisa's cooling lips, a wordless apology to the dead for all that had been done and what was yet to follow.
This time, perhaps, there was a choice... but trust was a strange thing, far stronger than most believed and yet with points of fragility that, if struck, could shatter it beyond hope of repair. Their young refugee had trusted the machinery more than his own colleagues, the same colleagues who would have been the first to suffer if - when - Lisa's conditioning broke free. And that, Jack knew, he could not forgive.
There would be tears and pleas and promises, threats and fury and grief, but he was much too old and far too experienced...
Jack switched off the Maglite, stepped back into the shadows, and waited for Ianto to arrive.