Captain Jack Harkness is a man who keeps his eyes open. He's been aboard the TARDIS for six days now. He spent half of the first day drinking champagne and celebrating his continued existence. He spent the next five and a half days observing everything around him. Both of his former careers have taught him the value of gathering every possible scrap of information. Information can serve as a weapon, or a key, or a commodity. He'll need all three to make a new start once he leaves the TARDIS. If he has to, he can start over with nothing but an archaic Earth uniform and his wits. He'd much rather start over with valuable alien tech in his pocket and a luscious blonde on his arm. So he smiles and jokes and asks casual questions while his mind absorbs data about this impossible ship and her mysterious captain and crew.
He corrects himself. Rose Tyler is the antithesis of mysterious. She's as open and honest as she is beautiful. Caring. Gutsy. Effervescent. She's exactly what she seems to be: a 21st century girl who hitched a ride on a timeship to see the universe. She's well worth watching just for the pleasure of it, but he hopes that he can also charm some useful tidbits of knowledge out of her. The task would be easier if he could question her in a more relaxed and… private setting, but that's not likely. Not while the Doctor keeps sending glances his way that are about as subtle as a laser cannon. Mine! Keep away!
The Doctor. Mysterious is inadequate to describe him. A riddle wrapped in an enigma, Jack thinks. The Doctor looks human, but isn't. He makes no effort to conceal this from Jack, referring to humans as "stupid apes". (When addressed to Rose, this comment can be anything from a term of endearment to a mild rebuke. When addressed to Jack, it ranges from a teasing challenge to utter contempt.) Jack is comfortable in the company of all sorts of aliens, most of whom could never pass for human. What bugs him is that he can't identify the Doctor's species.
He keeps watching, listening, asking questions. There aren't many clues. Body temperature slightly lower than human; reflexes faster. If he were human, he'd be somewhere between thirty and forty standard years old. He has to be older. Even with a timeship, no one of that apparent age could have visited all the planets he claims to have seen. Could be lies, but Jack has a nose for lies, and he doesn't think so. The things the Doctor knows and the things he can do add up to more than three or four decades. Genius isn't enough to fake the confident, casual skill that comes from real experience.
He tries asking openly. "So, Doctor, where did you say you were from?"
The Doctor doesn't even glance up from the mechanism he is adjusting. "Didn't say. Here an' there."
Approaching Rose later, he hears, "Dunno. Never tol' me the name of his planet." That's the truth, Jack senses, but he's sure she knows more than she's telling. Can't fault her for loyalty.
The ship herself might yield all kinds of clues, if he knew where to look. The technology is like nothing he's even seen. It's like nothing he's ever heard of. He'd love to spend hours exploring every centimeter of that console, inside and out. Not going to happen. After a few more days, the Doctor does let him help with some of the more basic maintenance chores. He understands most of what he's allowed to handle, but there's that readout screen and its tantalizing databanks, bursting with information in a script that he can't even recognize, let alone read.
A week later, they're walking around a marketplace on Pavonia IV. Rose is laughing at a story the Doctor's telling her, so Jack is the first to notice the trio of Grexxians. An unimpressive species — short, frail bipeds with purple fur — many travelers make the mistake of ignoring them. Grexxians are low-level empaths who use their talent for petty theft. They find frightening images in their victims' minds, and project them back, amplified, using the distraction to grab valuables and run. As soon as Jack sees them, his Time Agent training kicks in. He raises his mental shields, then turns towards Rose, ready to grasp her hand and keep her steady. He finds that the Doctor's arm is already curved protectively around Rose's waist, and the older man is motionless, facing the Grexxians. Jack can't see his expression, but he can see the Grexxians clearly enough. They are frozen in place, eyes unnaturally wide, and they are making shrill chittering noises. Jack doesn't need a translation program to understand the sound of terror. The Doctor turns his head towards Rose and Jack, and the Grexxians react as though they have been released from a stasis field. They bolt for the nearest alleyway, empty-handed, and no one bothers to pursue.
Jack raises an eyebrow. "What did you do?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Nothin' at all." He taps his forehead with one finger. "Must've seen somethin' in here they didn't like."
A few days more, and they land on a lovely green world, where giant butterflies trill in voices like silver bells. They spread blankets on the soft grass, and eat sandwiches made in the TARDIS' kitchen, washed down with a pale blue wine that looks like the sky above them, and tastes like a Bach flute concerto. Only after the TARDIS dematerializes does Jack think to ask the name of the world.
"Mela'ai'tsao," the Doctor says.
Jack is speechless for a full minute. "Mela'ai'tsao? The lost planet of the flame-opal mines?"
"Yup. Not lost now — hasn't been found yet. Won't be colonized for 'bout another twenty thousand years."
"And you didn't think to get out some tools? An hour's digging, and we could have been rich enough to buy…" Jack spreads his arms in a circle. "…everything!"
"Don't want everything," the Doctor replies placidly. "Even the TARDIS has limits on her storage capacity. Right, girl?" He strokes the console.
Jack reminds himself of Rose's maxim that it is a bad idea to yell at the designated driver. He takes a deep breath, and exhales slowly. "Then why did we go there?"
The Doctor is giving him one of those 'stupid ape' looks. "Rose wanted to go on a picnic. Nice place for a picnic, Mela'ai'tsao."
The next day, Rose sweeps into the kitchen, dressed in a green jumpsuit that she thinks is a bit silly, but Jack assures her is the height of fashion for 62nd century Nova Gallia. Her hair is swept up in a sort of top-knot arrangement, held tenuously in place by a silver hair-stick topped with a faceted glass ornament. Two blonde tendrils escape the knot, and Rose grabs for them, hissing with frustration.
"Let me. There's a knack to it." Jack steps behind her, removes the hair-stick, and then refastens the thick coil of hair. "There you are, Cinderella, all ready for the--" He inhales sharply. "Rose. Where did you get this?'
She has to stop and think. "Found it a couple of months ago in the Wardrobe Room, in a drawer with some scarves an' belts an' stuff. S'pretty. Thought it would go with this outfit."
It's a good thing that Jack can dish out charming compliments while his mind is elsewhere, because his mind is definitely elsewhere. The ornament gracing Rose's hair sparkles with rainbows of its own making. It is a flame-opal the size of a small egg, and at its most conservative value would buy a small solar system. When he pulls his eyes away from it, he finds the Doctor smirking at him. "I haven't seen that one in years. Got it out of a box of Weetos. Should be some earrings to match, somewhere."
Rose's eyes brightens. "Really? Back in a mo." She makes a beeline for the corridor.
Jack stares at the Doctor. "It is real."
"And you haven't told her."
"And you don't plan to tell her."
"Why the hell not?"
Amused eyes meet his. The Doctor shrugs. "She knows it's pretty, and that's enough. No need for her to be worryin' about losin' it. It's only a bauble, after all, Captain."
Jack already knows that the Doctor is an alien. This is the point at which he really believes it.
They're in the console room, and the banter is going back and forth, fast and lively and good-humoured. Rose gets in a quick verbal jab, and the Doctor looks at her with mock disapproval so badly feigned that he can hardly hide the smile. "Oi! Rose Tyler, have some respect for your elders."
Rose's face is bright with laughter and self-satisfaction. "C'mon, Doctor, you're only nine hundred. Gotta be at least a thousand before you can collect your old age pension."
Because of the teasing tone of her voice, it takes a moment before Jack realizes that she means it. She really believes that the bloke in the leather jacket is over nine centuries old. It's cute, but understandable — she's a kid from the 21st century, and what does she know about the life-spans of alien species? There are some races that long-lived, but none that look human.
Jack glances at the Doctor, a smile on his lips that's meant to indicate that he appreciates the joke. There is no answering smile. Instead, the Doctor's expression is strangely blank. Then, just as quickly, the look is gone, and he's telling Rose that she'd better mind her manners, because disrespectful, impertinent brats do not get to visit New Las Vegas.
Pelithika: an uninhabited world, and not particularly scenic, but it has some mineral deposits that the Doctor needs for the TARDIS. Rose elects to stay in the TARDIS while Jack and the Doctor collect ore samples. It's been sweaty, dusty work, and Jack is already dreaming about a hot shower and a cold drink. The Doctor abruptly looks up, and tilts his head, as if listening to a faint, distant sound. Jack turns, but there's nothing to hear, and nothing is in sight except for rocks, and dust, and the occasional stunted tree. He checks the sensors on his wristband. Nothing. "Something wrong, Doctor?"
"Shut it!" the Doctor snaps.
A teasing reply dies on Jack's lips. He knows that tone of voice from his years as a soldier. The voice of command: warning of danger, and expecting instant obedience. He freezes, all of his senses on alert, ready for action.
"There's a time eddy developing over… there." The Doctor jabs a finger at a spot 200 meters away. "We need to get to the TARDIS before it's fully formed, unless you fancy having your bones scattered like spillikins across half the planet."
Jack spares a few nanoseconds to check his wrist unit again. Nothing is registering in the local temporal field, but when the Doctor says, "Run!" he takes off at full speed, pausing only to scoop up the case of ore samples. Once inside the safety of the TARDIS, he sees that his sensors are just beginning to detect a faint anomaly. Visually, it is only a blurring of the air. Within four seconds, the eddy expands to a diameter of 400 meters, then collapses and vanishes. The only traces it leaves behind are faint ripples in the dust. Strange that such a lethal phenomenon should look so harmless. Jack curses softly. "I've never heard of one forming so quickly. It barely registered on my sensors. How the hell did you know it was there?"
The Doctor gives him Annoying Smile #28: I-am-a-superior-being. "I had a hunch. You Time Agency blokes rely too much on fancy equipment. Time travel is like… sailin'. You can't just study readouts. You have to feel the wind and the waves, learn how they move, learn to anticipate the changes."
Jack rolls his eyes. It's not that he doesn't believe in hunches, because he does. Hunches are as much a part of his arsenal as a blaster, a lockpick, and the most talented pair of lips in three galaxies. He just has a clear sense of their limitations. A hunch can tell you which way to play a mark, when to fight and when to run, and if the brunette and the redhead are likely to feel flexible tonight. A hunch can't warn you about temporal anomalies that are only detectable with sophisticated tech. He decides that the Doctor's 'hunch' must have come from the TARDIS. He already knows that the alien has some kind of mental link with his timeship. Implant, probably. Gives him remote access to the TARDIS scanner systems.
Another day. Rose is complaining — not very energetically -- about yet another delay of a long-awaited shopping expedition.
As she flounces out of the console room, the Doctor looks at her without much sympathy. "Pitiful. Jus' pitiful. My hearts are breakin' for you, Rose Tyler." In an exaggerated gesture, he thumps his open palms on either side of his chest.
Jack's own heart seems to skip a beat, then speed up. Bicardial. OhMySweetGods. At this point Jack realizes two things. First: he has not been uncovering clues about the Doctor; he has been following ones intentionally dropped for him. Like a duck waddling along a trail of bread crumbs. Second: if all of those clues are true, then the Doctor is… the words force themselves out of his mouth before he has a chance to worry if he'll sound stupid. "Time Lord?"
"Took you long enough, Captain," the Doctor says in a mild tone that takes most of the sting out of the words. The steel-blue eyes hold amusement mixed with something more serious: speculation… appraisal.
Jack is feeling too many things to sort them all out. Amazement and awe, chagrin at his own stupidity, fierce curiosity, and if he forces himself to be honest, just a touch of fear.
"I expect you have questions." The Doctor leans back against the console, arms folded. Waiting.
Jack gawks. One of the nearly mythical Time Lords is standing in front of him, offering to answer his questions. He feels like a kid in a candy store; a thief viewing a dragon's unguarded hoard, and he doesn't know where to start. Then, before he has time to think or regret, he blurts out, "Why me?" He doesn't mean why did you save my life? because that's just what the Doctor does. He means why did you keep me?
The Doctor hesitates, as if searching for words that don't exist in English, or in any human language. "It's a Time Lord gift to see… possibilities. You have possibilities, Captain."
Jack's eyes narrow. "You've seen my timeline?"
"I see everyone's timelines," the Doctor corrects. "All the branches. All the might-bes and could-have-beens. They're all there, always."
Gods! How can anyone — even a Time Lord — cope with all that flowing through his mind? I thought he was eccentric; it's a wonder that he isn't full out crazy. Must have some kind of mental filter, the way that telepaths can block out background 'noise'. It's then that he remembers that the Time Lords were reputed to be telepathic.
The Doctor intercepts his covert glance and decodes it. "Nah, I'd have to be touchin' you, Captain. 'Sides, nothin' much interestin' to see in tiny primate brains like yours."
Jack would love to ask about the possibilities that the Doctor sees in his timeline, but even a rookie Time Agent knows better than that. He goes in another direction. "So, what was the point of this little game? A test? See how quickly the stupid human could find the cheese at the end of the maze?"
"A test, yeah, but not that kind. I knew you'd figure things out eventually, even without hints. You're clever enough–" for a human, Jack adds silently. "–except when you let money or… dancin' make you stupid."
Jack lets out a soft breath. "You wanted to see how I'd react." The Doctor makes no sound or movement, but his attention sharpens in a way that tells Jack he's on the right track. "Okay, I can understand that. Whatever else you think of me… well, your secrets are safe with me. And if you thought I couldn't be trusted, I guess I'd wind up drugged, and left on some backwater planet." He shrugs. "I'm missing two years of my memories — what's a few weeks more?"
"Nah. Wouldn't need t'use drugs." There is an edge in the Time Lord's voice; a hint of something cold and dark.
Sure. A telepath must have other ways of erasing or blocking memories. Or there's the oldest method in the universe for keeping secrets. Simple and permanent. Jack shakes off that idea. The Doctor regards killing as a last resort, even as a sign of failure.
"No one would believe you." The Doctor's smile is bleak and humourless. "Everyone knows that the Time Lords are gone. Wiped out in the Time War, all of them — along with the Daleks. Planet blown to bits. All gone. Dead."
"Except for you," Jack says, careful to keep any hint of pity from his voice.
"Except for me. Last of the Time Lords, me."
For a moment, the Doctor's eyes are unbarricaded. Jack looks into the stormy blue depths, and is shaken by what he sees there: a grief so vast and fierce that he cannot tell where grief ends and rage begins. He thought he had seen the full extent of the Time Lord's anger when they stood in the wreckage of the Chula ambulance. Now he knows it was no more than the casual swat that a wolf might give to a foolish cub. This is a ravening, throat-rending fury, and Jack prays to the gods he no longer believes in that he may never see it aimed in his direction. "So, Doctor," he says with a careless grin, "what exactly do you do, other than collecting priceless gems and stupid apes?"
The Time Lord spreads his arms wide in a gesture that seems to embrace all of creation. "Travel. Explore. It's a big universe. Even I haven't seen it all." Now the sorrow and the fury are temporarily swept aside, and other things are visible in those incredible, ancient eyes: delight in the endless diversity of creation, a hunger to understand, and a child's sense of wonder.
Jack wonders if this mercurial change of mood is typical of the Doctor's race. There are damn few records of the Time Lords, and it's almost impossible to separate truth from legend. One detail that remains consistent from story to story is that they had no particular fondness for 'lesser' species; ie, most of the other sentient races in the universe. And this one is traveling around with a couple of humans? Maybe he is crazy, after all. Only survivor of a war that wiped out two races -- even a Time Lord might crack under that kind of strain.
A torrent of memories flows through his mind. Memories of the Doctor: releasing a golden cloud of nanogenes to heal and restore; saving a cocksure ex-Time Agent from the deadly consequences of his own folly; dancing with Rose in sheer joy for the Earth's recovery. Rejoicing in the deliverance of a 'lesser species'. Maybe the Time Lord — the Last Time Lord — is crazy, but the universe could use a a lot more of that kind of craziness. And he, Jack Harkness has been invited to be part of the joyous madness. You want possibilities, Doctor? I'll show you possibilities. Aloud, he says only, "Travel sounds good, but our next stop's gotta be a planet with some good bars." He winks. "I still need to buy you that drink."