It was raining. The tourist center was always busier when it rained. Not that Ianto minded; he rather liked helping people find their way. It took some time before he noticed the woman in the brown overcoat coat leaning against the wall studying at him, almost appraising him.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" he asked, staring right back at her. She was in her late fifties, maybe older, finely dressed with an air of class and culture, her silvery hair up in a bow. Her manicured hands adorned with expensive rings were tented under her chin.
Her eyes twinkled as she continued her examination. "Would you ask Jack to come up here, please?" Her accent was definitely American, but he couldn't quite narrow it down further.
"Yes." She didn't even bother to hide her grin. "Please call the Captain and tell him he has a visitor."
Ianto glowered at her for a second. "Captain?" he asked, trying to buy himself some time. He could sense an odd test of some sort going on between them and had the distinct impression that he was losing.
She leaned in and whispered, "Captain Jack Harkness, leader of Torchwood Three. Call him. Tell him Miss Maggie is here. The Magnificent Miss Maggie. Say exactly that and you won't get in trouble, I promise."
She knew Jack's full name and knew this was Torchwood, so he couldn't feign ignorance any longer. He'd lost this battle of wills, hoping it didn't mean problems for him or Jack . . . He clicked on his comm, "Sir?" He tried to keep the panic out of his voice. "Could you please come up to the visitor's center?" This woman didn't appear even remotely dangerous, but knowing the types of people that might be looking for Jack he knew looks could be deceiving.
"Ianto?" The reply was wary as Jack picked up on his unease.
"Your presence has been requested by . . ." Ianto looked up and saw her mouth the words 'the Magnificent Miss Maggie' again, "by the Magnificent Miss Maggie."
Ianto wasn't sure what sort of response he had expected, but it certainly hadn't been laughter.
It was only seconds before Jack flew through the door. He whooped with delight, ran over and grabbed Maggie, spinning her around while hugging her, firing one question at her after another. "When did you get here? What are you doing in Wales? Did I know you were coming? Why didn't you tell me you were coming? How'd you find me? You met Ianto? What did you tell him? Wait, why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"Jack! Jack! Uncle Jack!" she admonished. "Put me down right now!"
"Uncle Jack . . ." Ianto heard muttered behind him. He turned to see that the entire Torchwood team had followed Jack to the tourist center and stood there, lining the doorway, with stunned looks on their faces.
Jack took no notice of the others. He deposited Maggie on her feet and slipped into an elaborate bow. "My Magnificent Miss Maggie," his voice was humbled, "one hundred and seventy-one of my deepest apologies my dear." Then he kissed her on her forehead and smiled one his most genuine of smiles. "But," he waggled his finger at her, "I am still very angry that you didn't tell me you were coming!"
She laughed, kissed him on the cheek and grabbed his hand. "And ruin the fun?" She laughed. "Now, why don't you introduce me to your team?"
The introductions went off about as well as Jack had expected they would, especially after Maggie 'accidentally' let it slip he'd been her unofficial uncle since she was four. Gwen didn't say much, just stood there with her mouth open, staring at Maggie. Owen was his typical juvenile self, repeating "Uncle Jack" over and over, each time somehow managing to make the comment seem little more lewd. Tosh took it all in stride, shaking Maggie's hand and chatting like they were old friends, but then again Jack had expected nothing less from Tosh, after seeing how she'd handled 1941 and meeting the real Jack Harkness.
Maggie seemed to find the whole Torchwood team terribly amusing, especially Ianto. With that ever present twinkle in her eye she said, "Jack, you're quite right, he does look good in a suit. But you should have told me how good!" She took Ianto's arm. "I think I'm going to like you kid!"
"Wait till you try his coffee Mags, you'll never want to let him go."
"Jack!" Ianto sputtered, blushing. He stood there, utterly frozen and giving such a good impression of a deer caught in the headlights that Jack took pity on him.
"So, I take it this isn't a social call?"
"Unfortunately, no. I really think you should see this." She pulled a disc out of her pocket. "All of you. I sincerely hope it isn't what I think it is . . . "
"Let's take it down to the Hub. Ianto, close things up here and join us as soon as possible."
"But Jack," Gwen interrupted, "you can't just . . . "
"Take me straight into the heart of Torchwood?" Maggie interrupted. "Really dear, don't worry, it's not like it's all that big a secret anyway." Seeing the surprised look on Gwen's face, she laughed. "Did you actually think that no one out there really knew about your little organization?"
Jack led them down the corridor to the Hub, calling over his shoulder. "Mags," he warned, "play nicely now. No scaring the help, that's my job." He laughed. "Now, why don't you tell us about what you brought?"
"It's an audio recording of an unknown alien tongue. And some photos of what appear to be quite a stockpile of weapons and supplies."
"And just how do you know it's an alien language?" Owen interrupted, petulantly.
She sighed, shaking her head slightly. "Did you think I'd come to you without doing any research on it at all?" Jack saw her roll her eyes at Owen's back. "It's not Chulan, Sycoraxian, Krillitane, Sontaran, Wirrn or . . . need I continue?" She shook her head, but was still smiling, which Jack took as a good sign.
"So, you got it from one of your . . . What are you calling them these days anyway? Colleagues? Contacts? Comrades? Cronies?"
"Uncle Jack! Cronies? That's a new one!"
"Maggie?" Tosh interrupted quietly. "If I may . . . " She held out her hand for the disc. "I have a translation program here that we could try running on it."
"Play it for us Tosh, before you start to analyze it." Jack caught the skeptical look Maggie threw at him. "Hey, you never know. We've been around the block once or twice, maybe . . . "
Harsh, guttural tones filled the Hub, sounding vaguely like a cross between someone clearing their throat and being strangled.
"No way that's from Earth," Owen said, "I shouldn't have . . . well . . . sorry Maggie."
"Let me see what I can do . . ." Tosh's fingers flew over the keyboard. "If I input the . . . hmm, too bad the clarity isn't any better."
"Third or fourth generation copy, I'm afraid," Maggie explained. "But there are almost five minutes of conversation recorded, that should help translation a bit. And here are the photos." She leaned over Tosh's shoulder and jiggled the mouse to open a new window.
There was a sharp intake of breath from behind them.
"Jack?" Gwen asked, having noticed Jack's sudden stiffness.
"Oh, this is not good. Tosh, tweak the language program to focus on tonal frequencies." Then Jack paused, turning to Maggie. "You knew didn't you?" he asked softly.
"I suspected," she answered, matter-of-factly.
"They had to be mauve . . ." Jack shook his head slightly.
"Knew what!?! Suspected what!?!" Gwen practically shouted. "And who cares what color they are!?!"
"And while we're asking questions," Ianto said, suddenly appearing behind Owen, "just where did you get your information?"
Maggie laughed. "Do you really think that members of Torchwood and UNIT are the only people that acknowledge an alien presence on this planet? Or keep an eye on alien activity? There are quite a number of us out there that have faced down either Cybermen, Daleks, pig slaves, spaceships or what-have-you and therefore believe in it. We've come across enough pieces of alien technology or non-Terrian languages or someone that looks human on the outside, but was anything but underneath. So we compare notes, try to learn, try to be prepared. And keep an eye on you lot, make sure you don't blow up the world or piss off the wrong people."
"Pig slaves?" Owen whispered to Gwen, who simply shrugged in response.
"We may not be as organized as Torchwood, or UNIT for that matter, but we have quite an efficient system in place of gathering and disseminating information. Professors, medical examiners, linguists, various governmental researchers, etc., etc . . . In fact this disc was passed on to me by the foremost linguistic professor in America, she received it from a colleague who . . . well that's neither here not there. The point is there are people out there who are not as clueless as you think. Now, back to the pictures . . . "
"Yes Ma'am!" Jack said, kissing her on the top of her head. "That's my magnificent Miss Maggie, always knew how to be the center of attention. All right, where were these photos taken?"
"Brecon Beacons National Park."
There was an uncomfortable silence in the Hub.
"Entirely a different situation than the last time," Jack eventually commented, trying to reassure his people. "No one's going to try to eat you this time. Shoot you maybe, but not eat you. And at least we know it's an alien threat." Maggie cocked an eyebrow at him but he simply shook his head slightly, and she seemed to understand he couldn't talk about it further.
"But," Tosh commented, still slightly shocked, "that's only an hour or so from here. And we've had nothing on the rift monitors all week.
"Not everything that lands in Wales comes through the rift Tosh." Jack commented quietly. "It could have come the old-fashioned way." After a moments pause he asked, "Mags, do you know when this was recorded?"
"Three, almost four, days ago."
"Can you get hold of the person who recorded it? Maybe they could . . . " Jack trailed off, seeing Maggie's sad expression. "Oh." Jack sighed, closing his eyes and thinking for a moment. "Okay. Owen, pull together everything you can about treating silicon-based poisons and plasma powered weapons fire. Gwen, search for any reports made from around there, police or otherwise that might suggest alien activity- the park's huge, maybe we'll be able to narrow the area somewhat. Ianto, you know the archives better than anyone. I need anything you can find about Tlxoraxian Raiders or the Korbantic Border Wars. And see if we have any neuromatic stunners lying around anywhere. Tosh, work your magic on that recording and the photos, to see if you can tweak them at all to get anything more out of them while the translation program is running. Maggie, you're with me. You need to fill me in on anything else any of your contacts might have come across. I may not have any tea and crumpets, but do I have some 100 year old scotch just begging to be shared."
"Tea and crumpets?" Gwen whispered to Owen, who was too stunned to even shrug.
"Conference room. One hour." Jack said, leading Maggie away, shouting over his shoulder, "Or less if you find something sooner!"
It had only been forty minutes before Ianto asked Jack to come down to the archives to help him identify the proper neuromatic stunner he'd asked for. Maggie wandered out of his office and watched the pterodactyl swooping about for a bit and then meandering over to Tosh. "You know, I have quite a few friends who'd love to study that old girl. Discovering that coelacanth nearly sent the scientific community into orbit seventy some odd years ago, but a pterodactyl? They'd be beside themselves." She watched as Tosh worked for a minute. "So, anything at all I can do to help?"
"Not really, but . . . well," Tosh grinned, looking about and keeping her voice low, "I was wondering . . . you could . . . "
"Let me guess . . . you'd like me to spill some dirt on Jack?"
"I assume you know him very well."
"You assume correctly."
"You're not going to make this easy, are you?" Tosh sighed.
"They're his secrets; it's his place to tell you, not mine. If you know Jack at all you know he keeps things so close to his chest sometimes, like he's terrified that he'll lose it all if he lets go of even slightest bit." She continued quietly, "I can't make those decisions for him, I just can't. I've known him for longer than I'd care to admit. Some days I can't decide if I want to . . . "
"Mother him or smother him?"
Her eyes twinkled. "You do know Jack."
Later, when Jack slipped out of the archives he found the two women at Tosh's workstation with their heads together, whispering back and forth and giggling quite a bit. "This cannot be good," he muttered to himself while quietly sneaking up on them with a huge grin on his face. "Tickle monster!" he suddenly yelled, pouncing forward and tickling Maggie mercilessly.
"Jack!" she yelled. "Stop it!" And then, slightly more chastising she added, "besides, don't you think I outgrew the tickle monster a decade or three ago?"
"Oh, right." His face fell. "Sorry Mags." He took a deep breath and after the slightest head shake he asked, "How's the translation coming Tosh?"
"Slowly," she replied. "The phonology of this language doesn't seem to match any we have on file and I can't pin down any etymological similarities either."
"Well, maybe the computer will be able to sort it out. Or maybe they speak one of the more common trade languages, I know a few and we've got some others on file. Or maybe UNIT . . . oh damn, I suppose I better put a call into them."
"Well . . . if you want to contact them in the spirit of diplomatic relations then go right ahead, but if you're hoping they'll be able to help with the translation than I'm afraid you'll be wasting your time," Maggie said, enigmatically.
Jack just stared at her for a second before the explanation came to him. "Ah . . . so our friendly linguistic professor?"
"She received it through unofficial channels, but I think it was assumed she would pass it onto the higher-ups at UNIT . . . "
"Lucky for us she didn't." Jack interrupted, with the slightest touch of bitterness in his voice. "But, it's our jurisdiction," he ran his hand through his hair, "Our backyard. Our problem." He noticed Tosh looking at him quizzically. "It's fine. I'm sure it'll be fine. It's been about an hour, why don't you call everyone to the conference room?"
It wasn't long before the entire team had assembled together. They'd managed to put together quite a lot of information in such a short time. Gwen explained that although the park's famous waterfall, Sgwd yr Eira, had been closed since the previous May, the fencing put up to keep away tourists had been damaged in several places recently, almost as if they had been removed and then carefully replaced. There had also been reports of odd thefts in its immediate area; several of the park's bathrooms had been vandalized and some of the copper piping stripped.
"Copper?" Jack asked. "You're sure only the copper pipes are being taken?"
"Yes Jack, the reports were very clear on that." Gwen replied quite huffily.
Jack sighed. "Well, I guess that was to be expected." He patently ignored Gwen's raised eyebrow and asked for Ianto to explain to the others what he'd found.
Ianto was happy to report that his searches in the archives had managed to unearth two neuromatic stunners that, according to Jack anyway, would defend them against the plasma weapons that the Tlxoraxian Raiders usually carried. By the looks the team were giving each other it was obvious that they all wondered just how Jack knew about the Raiders, and not only what type weapons they used but how to counteract them, and that none of them found it not remotely surprisingly that no one was quite willing to come right out and ask him about it.
After a short pause Ianto continued, explaining that unfortunately, information about the Korbantic Border Wars was quite scarce. All he could find was that once the treaties had failed guerilla warfare had spread along the unregulated areas resulting in mass genocide. He also mentioned that the one and only reference to Tlxoraxian Raiders merely stated "Extremely dangerous, avoid contact at all costs."
"Bloody lot of use that is," Owen muttered under his breath, which earned him a disdainful look from Jack.
Meanwhile Tosh was studying pictures of the land near the waterfall. She explained that there were quite a few similarities in the terrain that could be seen in the photos behind the weapons stash and it appeared to match a small section of land around the waterfall, so at least they had narrowed it down to where in the park the aliens were hiding.
Owen had managed to find two supposed antidotes for silicon-based poisons that had been recovered by Torchwood One from a crashed spaceship a few years back, but the research on proper dosages was rather incomplete so they could only be used as a last resort. And he'd failed completely in his attempts to find treatments that were especially designed for plasma weapons, so in his opinion their only hope was that the stunners from the archives did the job Jack said they'd do.
"All right," Jack rubbed his hands together, "we're as ready as we're every going to be. Tosh, that translation program can run from the SUV, right?"
"Good, let's load up and head out." Everyone stood, including Maggie. As soon as Jack noticed he grabbed her arm. "Sorry Mags, you're staying here."
"Oh no I am not! And don't think you can tell me what to do, young man!"
"Actually, I can, by order of the Queen herself. You're not a Torchwood employee and you've no weapons training. At best you'll be in the way, at worst you'll endanger us all." His grip on her arm became tighter and he shifted, not quite able to meet her eyes. "Please Maggie, my Magnificent Miss Maggie, stay here and stay safe, for me. Please?"
She regarded him for a second, seeing the tension in his shoulders and the worried look on his face. "All right, fine!" She threw up her hands in mock defeat. "You are an impossible man to say no to Jack Harkness! I'll stay here. But on two conditions. First of all, before I leave Wales I get to see a real alien, up close and personal. And not one of those disgusting slime slugs you brought to my birthday party that one year." She ignored his mutterings about it having been an accident and that the slugs were actually quite cute in their own way. "And nothing dead. I want to see a real live impressive alien. Deal?"
"Deal. One real live alien. Check. What's the second condition?"
"Try not to get yourself killed." Her hand stroked his cheek for a second and she took a deep breath, momentarily closing her eyes. "Try, just try, to protect yourself the same way you protect everyone around you." She abruptly turned from him without even waiting for an answer. "Now then, perhaps one of you would be kind enough to show me the way to the coffee machine before you take off?"
"I'd be delighted to, Miss Maggie." Ianto replied, offering her his arm.
The ride to the Beacons was atypically quiet. Jack had insisted on driving, but couldn't quite hide his unease and as a result was gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white.
"Errr . . . Jack?" Ianto asked, trying to find the proper way to voice his concerns over this expedition. "That entry I found in the archives, the one about the Raiders?"
"What about it?" Jack asked, seeming to already know where the question was leading.
"All it said was they were dangerous and to avoid them."
"So you said." Jack quickly looked in the rearview mirror at the rest of the team who were unsuccessfully pretending not eavesdrop.
"But . . . well . . . Sir, the entry . . . you made it." The words started spilling out faster now. "There was no signature, but it was in your handwriting. Don't try to tell me different; you have to know I'd recognize your writing by now Jack."
"I thought you might."
"Then why . . . "
"I couldn't be certain there wasn't anything else in the archives about them. I pretty much assumed there wouldn't be, but when dealing with Torchwood," he shook his head slightly, "one should never assume anything."
Ianto gave Jack a hard look. "You've dealt with Tlxoraxian Raiders before?"
"Once." Jack didn't elaborate.
"And?" Gwen prodded from the backseat.
Jack's face hardened as he caught her eye in the mirror. "Let's just say that things did not end well." The tone of his voice signaled his desire for an abrupt end to the subject.
"Shouldn't you be familiar with the language then?" Tosh asked after a moment's pause, her curiosity seeming to get the better of her.
Jack arched an eyebrow, trust Tosh to think of that. "No, that would be like saying if you met one European then you know everything about all of them. There are a lot of languages and cultures and beliefs. It's . . . more like a category, not a race."
They drove in silence the rest of the way.
Eventually they arrived at their destination. As Jack maneuvered the SUV into the nearly empty Cavers Car Park Gwen commented, "That's odd, it's usually hard to find a space here."
"Low level psionic aversion signal." Jack rubbed his forehead. "Can't you feel it? Like there's a little voice in the back of your head telling you to turn around and go home?"
"No little voice is telling me anything." Owen grumbled, grabbing his gear. "I just wish we could have stopped for something to eat on the way. I'm starving."
"Are you normally that hungry this time of day?" asked Jack.
"Well, no, but . . . "
"See? If you weren't here on the job, you'd think about taking a quick detour to grab something to eat. Only once you'd gotten some food, you would probably decide that it would be much more interesting to visit another section of the park today or that an even better idea would be to go home and see if there was a rugby match on or something like that. Very subtle. And very sneaky. It's easier to hide if there is no one that will come anywhere near you. All right . . . Toshiko, will the translation program continue to run without you monitoring it?"
"Yeah, I set it up to feed the results to my laptop."
Jack quickly passed out the equipment they needed. "Everyone got everything? Let's head out."
They trudged up the path for a while, Jack trying to ignore the looks that flashed between his team.
Finally Gwen spoke up. "It's so quiet."
"That's bloody nature for you." Owen muttered under his breath.
"No, she's right." Ianto stopped for a second, listening carefully. "It's too quiet. All I can hear is the river. No birds, no animals moving about, nothing but the river and us."
"Jack, could the aversion signal be affecting the animals as well?" Tosh asked.
Jack considered it before replying, "It works for different alien species so I don't see why not. And animals are very perceptive when it comes to danger. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a bird or squirrel around for miles."
"But no animals anywhere? How could no one have noticed?" Ianto asked.
"It's not obvious enough. You don't see something you aren't looking for."
"Well, that was cryptic." Gwen whispered to Owen.
Owen laughed. "Think he got that off a fortune cookie?" Hearing Jack's sigh they looked over at him, and turned slightly red when they realized he'd overheard. Jack, however, ignored them both and just kept walking.
Tosh quickened her pace to catch up to Jack. "I don't think the translation program is going to be able to help us in time."
"That's okay. It was a long shot anyway."
"Will you try talking to them in one of the other languages you mentioned?" She asked hesitantly.
He looked at her, and for a brief second she thought she saw fear in his eyes. "I'd rather reason with them then fight them . . . but, well, Tlxoraxian Raiders aren't exactly known for their diplomacy. I just wish I knew what they were doing here. Twenty-first century Earth is nowhere near their typical stomping grounds."
"Twenty-first . . . Do they have time travel capabilities then?"
He sighed. "They're scavengers, first and foremost. You just never know what sort of technology they might have gotten their hands on. If they find something they like, they take it by whatever means necessary." He paused, taking a deep breath. "I know that's not really the answer you were looking for, but it's the best I can do." She touched his arm for a second and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
It wasn't long before they reached the first set of fencing designed to keep the tourists away from the waterfall. "Don't touch anything," Jack warned. "Let me scan it first." The others waited a few meters behind while Jack used his wrist computer to carefully take readings of the fence and the area immediately behind it. "This can't be," he muttered, scanning the fencing over and over again. "They have to be here."
"What's wrong, Sir?" Ianto asked, stepping forward.
"There aren't any sensors. There should be sensors." Jack spoke quietly, seeming utterly confused. "Why aren't there any sensors?"
"Perhaps they assume the aversion signal is working?"
"No, it's not enough. Assumptions like that are risky. They wouldn't . . . they aren't . . ." He sighed, looking back down at the read out his computer was providing. "It doesn't look like there are any mines set either. I just don't understand."
"Some people would consider there being no mines a good thing," Ianto chided, gently.
"It is. I mean, of course it is." Jack peered into the trees. "These are Tlxoraxian Raiders we're dealing with. The scourge of the Korbantic Border Wars . . . but, they didn't fortify the perimeter?"
"Maybe we should go ask them?"
Jack laughed, "I suppose we should!" He gestured for the others to join them. "We can go through the fence here. It's safe enough."
"Terms like 'safe enough' always make me worry," Owen grumbled as he ducked under the fence to follow Jack and the others.
They stopped right before the final turn in the path before the waterfall. "If the photographs are accurate then the weapons stash should be about 30 meters further along the path." Jack explained. He pulled out a pair of fancy binoculars he'd appropriated when they fell through the rift a few years ago and carefully peered around the bend.
"What about the ship itself?" asked Tosh.
"Hmmm, I don't see it." He adjusted the dials on the binoculars. "It must be cloaked or using a chameleon circuit or . . . oh wait. There it is. The thermal scans are picking it up." He surveyed the entire area. "No fortifications I can locate on any of the frequencies."
"You don't have to sound so disappointed about that," Gwen interrupted.
He turned to stare at her. "Would you rather we blundered in blindly?" he asked coolly. "I would think that by now, especially considering our last time in the Beacons, you would understand that the more careful you are in assessing the dangers the better!" He turned away from his team, carefully scanning the area with both the binoculars and his wrist computer.
"Okay, here's the plan." Jack said quickly. "I already showed Ianto how to work the stunners; he can show Gwen and the two of you station yourself in the tree line here and there," pointing to two strategically located spots, "Owen, you take the rifle and protect yourself and Tosh. But try to stay out of the line of fire, we might need your medical skills. Tosh, you stick with your computer, I might need to use the translator program. Oh, and be prepared to open a link to UNIT, we may need to call in the cavalry. I'll have my comm active so you'll be able to monitor everything."
"Monitor what? Jack," Tosh blanched, "just what are you planning?"
He grinned. "I'm going to go greet our guests." And then he turned around and strolled up the path to the waterfall, his coat whipping behind him.
"HELLO!" Jack shouted as he walked. "Come out, come out wherever you are!" Then he whispered into the comm, "I'm going to start trying other languages. If they fire on me wait until their second shot to fire back, the first one's nearly always a warning shot."
He heard Tosh whisper to Owen, "Nearly always?" and laughed before calling out to the aliens again.
//Greetings. I know you are there, please come out.//
I humbly request an audience with you. >
Suddenly the ship uncloaked only a few meters from Jack. A hatch opened and three mostly human-shaped aliens walked out. If dressed in modern clothing they might have blended in, but in the homespun cloaks that nearly covered them entirely their slightly different bone structure stood out significantly. The tallest one spoke a few words in the language that had been recorded on Maggie's tape.
"I'm sorry," Jack said slowly and carefully in English, putting his arms wide, showing that he was not holding weapons in them, "I don't know what you are saying."
Perhaps you will understand me now?
The elderly woman who had been hiding in the doorway stepped forward. I speak this tongue. I am Htala. Whom am I addressing?
My name is Captain Harkness, I wish to know why you have invaded this planet.
We have not come for conquest. We landed for repairs.
My people did not detect that you released a distress beacon.
That is true. We did not wish to broadcast our whereabouts.
Is that the reason for the psionic aversion signal? To keep people away?
Yes. She seemed to startle when she realized he knew of the signal. We thought we would be able to leave without incident.
Jack considered her for a moment. You claim you have not come seeking battle, yet you have attacked.
She did not seem surprised by the accusation. It was an accident. We only meant to stun. We did not realize the difference between these Earth creatures and the humans we have met before. We will return the body to you if you so wish.
Please do so.
She spoke briefly to the others and the tall one re-entered the ship. Htoro will retrieve it for you.
"Jack. Everything okay?" Tosh asked, her voice sounding wary and tinny through the comm.
"It's okay," he whispered, "they're supposedly getting the body of Maggie's source. They claim that killing him was just an accident."
"That's not terribly reassuring," Owen grumbled.
Jack didn't answer as Htoro emerged from the ship with a large bundle slung over his shoulder.
He slowly approached, exchanged a few words in his tongue with Htala, and then lay the carefully wrapped body down in front of Jack. He apologized for the killing. It was unintended. We just wanted to be left alone to make our repairs.
Jack nodded to Htoro. You still claim your purpose here is nonviolent? Then what of your weapon stores? He gestured at the crates. I know the significance of mauve.
And do you know who we are? She seemed almost hesitant when she asked the question.
Tlxoraxian Raiders. I have . . . a little history with your kind and the Korbantic Border Wars.
Then I must apologize.
Jack shrugged. That still does not explain all those pretty cases over there. Mauve is the universally recognized color for danger. What is in them? Plasma canons? Poison? Are you really going to try to tell me there is nothing dangerous about their contents?
I shall not lie to you. They are weapons, but they are not to be used here.
Then why are they out of your ship?
We had to remove them to make repairs.
Oh, I see. Your stardrive engine was damaged.
Yes. Again, he had surprised her. After pausing for a second she finally asked, How did you know?
You stole copper; it's the only earth metal that could be used to repair it.
Yes, that is what our scans made evident.
Is that why you landed on Earth? The availability of copper?
We were quite happy to realize how much of it was readily available in this time and place.
Jack stiffened at her comment, but was careful not to let any emotion show. He casually looked over his shoulder and said, I must confer with my people. I shall return in a minute. Jack bent down, awkwardly picked up the canvas wrapped body and slung it over his shoulder. Then, careful to make sure he never turned his back to the Raiders, he returned to his team.
As he approached he clicked on his comm, "Gwen, Ianto, stay hidden and keep them in your sights. I don't think they've noticed either of you yet. Let's keep it that way."
"Jack, what's wrong?" Ianto asked, picking up on his unease.
He quickly brought them up to speed on the conversation he'd had with Htala. "Something's off. She's too polite, too nice. It doesn't feel right." He gently laid down the body, regarding it for a moment. "Owen, do me a favor, do a quick exam of him for me? Without being obvious about it? Or unwrapping him? They claimed killing him was an accident."
"What'm I looking for?" Owen pulled out a small scanner.
"She said they had only meant to stun him but misjudged the amount of power necessary and it killed him instead."
"And you don't believe her," Owen said, reading his Captain's tone of voice.
Jack, keeping an eye on the Raiders, shook his head slightly. "Not in the least. Tosh, any luck with the translation program?"
She looked up from the laptop. "I fed the snippets of conversation we just overheard into the program and it helped somewhat. Near as the program can make out the taped conversation had something to do with some sort of damage to their ship and being able to find plenty of supplies to fix it here. They seemed very excited about the find; there was quite a lot of it for them to easily obtain. Oh, and I don't believe Htoro apologized to you, the semantics seemed all wrong for that."
"Their stardrive is broken and copper is one of the few metals that can be used for the conduits. She seemed . . . terribly excited would be the best way to describe it, over finding copper here. It's fairly rare out there." He gestured to the stars, "I doubt they'll be content to take a few pipes from the bathrooms and leave in peace."
"Jack?" Owen interrupted, "without a proper autopsy I can't be certain what killed him, but it's hard to believe it was an accident." He handed Jack the scanner. "See that? It's showing two burn patterns on his back, probably made by those plasma weapons you were talking about. One shot could have been an accident. Maybe. But two? No way."
Jack sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Damn it, that's what I was afraid of. Earth has something they want and now they know how to easy it is to kill humans. They'll spread the word that Earth is ripe for the picking. We can't . . . we can't let them leave with this knowledge. "
"What are you saying? We kill them?" Tosh sounded shocked.
"Tosh?" Gwen's voice faltered over the comm channel. "Jack's right. It's not an easy decision to make, but I think it's the right one. He knows more about what sort of people these Raiders are and what they they'd do. We have to trust his judgement here; he says that we can't let these Raiders go now. And that if we don't stop them . . . they could . . ." She couldn't quite bring herself to suggest what the Tlxoraxian Raiders might do to Earth if they didn't stop them.
"But, how?" Ianto asked. "How do can we stop them?"
"I'll think of something." Jack stood up quickly and started walking back to the ship. " I better head back before they begin to suspect their cover is blown."
Htala? He called out as he neared the ship. My people wish to know if you have all the copper you require to make your repairs.
She seemed to relax slightly with his offer of assistance. That is a most generous offer, but we are almost finished with our repairs and simply wish to leave as soon as possible. We are grateful that our aversion signal worked on most of this planet's inhabitants leaving us the time to fix our stardrive but we are glad to have met you Captain Harkness. You and your team have been most kind.
Jack walked over to the mauve containers. I should thank you for not using these while on Earth. We would have been forced to enact retribution if you had.
Htoro and the other alien exited the ship and spoke with Htala for a few minutes and then quickly brushed past Jack to start moving the crates back onto their ship.
And now we must take our leave of you. While we are not taking our farewell as allies we are happy that it is not as enemies either. She put her arms to her sides and tilted her head slightly to Jack.
It has been interesting meeting you. He said, slipping his hands into his pocket so his arms lay flat against him and tilting his head in a similar manner. Goodbye.
Goodbye, she echoed, picking up the last of the crates and carrying it into the ship.
Jack walked back to where Tosh and Owen were standing. "Any idea what they were talking about just then?" He asked Tosh, as he watched the ship shimmer and slowly rise off the ground.
"I can't be one hundred percent certain . . . but I believe they were discussing their next visit to Earth."
"That's what I was afraid of." Jack sighed. "Ianto? Gwen? You can come join us now. They won't be able to read us on their sensors now, they'll be too busy calibrating interstellar flight."
"Jack!" Gwen practically yelled as she ran up to him, "you can't let them leave!"
"I don't intent to." He pulled his right hand out of the greatcoat pocket to reveal a small device held in it. "I planted a small explosive on one of the crates." He watched the ship gain altitude and slip into the clouds. Quietly he counted off the seconds: "Five, four, three, two, one," and pressed the button. There was the slightest sound, like thunder in the distance. "Tosh, hack into UNIT's orbital monitors and see what they're reporting."
For a few minutes the only sound was of Tosh's fingers flying over the keyboard. "A report of an NEO energy event of an unknown cause was just filed."
"What the bloody hell does that mean?"
"Something went boom Owen." Jack muttered, rubbing his forehead.
"Oh, well why didn't Tosh just say that?"
Jack sighed. "Let's head home." He bent down, gently picking up the body to carry it back to the SUV.
Jack entered the Hub first. He set one of the heavy neuromatic stunners down and called out, "Maggie? Mags? We're back!"
She had been in the conference room and met him on the stairs. "Did . . ." she seemed uncertain what or how to ask her questions.
"I kept my promise." He joked lightly, pulling off his greatcoat and spinning slowly in a circle. "Look Ma, no injuries! I wasn't shot, stabbed, poisoned, irradiated, punched, slapped or even propositioned."
"That last one's probably a first for you," she said dryly. Just then Ianto and Owen came in, carrying a stretcher. Her face fell. "What happened? Not Tosh or Gwen!"
He grabbed her into a tight hug. "Oh, no. No, they're fine." And he was instantly proven right when the two women slipped into the Hub carrying more equipment. "We were able to recover the body of the grad student who sent the files to your friend." She closed her eyes on hearing the news. "His name was Michael Thompson. They, the Raiders, killed him. I'm sorry."
Her voice hitched slightly and her eyes lost some of their sparkle. "We assumed as much when no one was able to contact him after he passed along the information."
"Owen will have to do a quick autopsy, just to be on the safe side, but then we can forge a death certificate and send his body home."
She grasped his arm. "Thank you Jack, I'm sure his parents will appreciate it." She continued almost shyly, "Can you tell me what happened?"
Ignoring the looks from Gwen, Jack put his arm around Maggie's shoulders and led her into his office as he explained about aversion signals and cloaked spaceships, the importance of copper to stardrives and how to see past bland reassurances to the threats beneath. Eventually the entire team wandered in and made themselves comfortable.
"There's not much else to tell. We did what we had to do." He shook his head, grimacing slightly. "And the Earth's safe now. Well, for the moment anyway. You never can tell what tomorrow will bring . . ."
"Jack," Maggie interrupted, "I know precisely what tomorrow will bring." She waggled her eyebrows at him, her green eyes shining brightly. "I believe you still owe me something!"
He laughed. "Right, one live alien here we come. How'd you like to meet a weevil?"