Chapter One

Jack Harkness could feel the blood running down his leg. It wouldn't be far now, the room where they were keeping him, the heart of the Xja ship. His wrist strap was feeding him latitudes more often as he came closer to the Drive Chamber, the telltale lines on the tiny readout screen the only signal that he was going in the right direction. He reached out a hand...

THUNK! Kirrrrrsh-whoomp.

One well-placed chop and grab, and the first of many of the latest wave of bugs lay dead at his feet. He didn't have time to do it gently. What was it the Doctor had quoted the other day? Jack smiled as he remembered the phrase over a pile of Xja kirschwassern, cyberized scouts that could tear apart an army in moments, given enough room to move. In these narrow corridors, they were easy pickings for someone like him. Odd how there seemed to be no contingency for intership attacks in their floor plan. The high frequency scraping sound that filled the Xja ship, the sound of Xja speech, had disoriented him when he'd first heard it; he could only imagine how it must have sounded for the man he was looking for.

hwooooo!

All at once, the bing of gravity doors swooping back into recesses took his attention.

The large portals sliced backward before him and jumped into hidden catches within the walls. Big doors, he thought, wondering idly at the architecture of the place, a writhing mass of wires and plating. Very clinical, and the rooms were growing cooler, a side effect of the increased amount of mercury running through the conduits. He was so close now. The mercury proved it.

Too empty. No Xja to guard an inner chamber? No. Surely not. And it was dark? The bugs had watched too many Old Earth holovids. A five year old could have outwitted these oversized flycatchers! But still, a trap within a trap was not uncommon where the Doctor was concerned. Jack pulled his Webley from its holster and the plasma stiletto he'd hidden in his... and clung to the doorframe, and waited. The Xja should have come running to the smell of the mandible bite on his leg. They were cannibals, after all. Didn't matter whose it was, so long as they had meat. He thought of the Doctor that day, when the man had been yammering on about Disney movies. He was going to ask him about what he'd said, the exact phrase, yeah. That would be the first thing out of his mouth when they saw each other. Laughing out loud, he entered the freezing room. The blue of wall mounted sodium lights buzzed on, mixing in a bit of sulfur with the smell of foreign flesh and burning ichor.

A single bug stood between him and his quarry. Jack raised his gun, his plasma knife gaining height with each unsteady breath prey and predator shared. Hesitation was an unnatural thing, for him. Would it be the same for the small Xja standing between him and the Doctor?

Centuries before, he wouldn't have allowed such a thought as was forming now to enter his mind.

That was before he had met the Doctor, before he'd been forever changed.

Now he found that one thought filling his brain.

Had he been wrong?

More thoughts followed, less sharp, more hesitant. The enemy could have gained several rooms on him by the time he took a second breath, yet still the thoughts kept coming.

Was it a child? Had he emptied the ship of all the able adult Xja?

The ring of the Xja Continuum was silent in his ears as he stared across the close corridor into the violet eyes of a man-sized white mantid.

It was shivering, wasn't it? Wasn't it? If he had killed children, he'd have more than his own guilt to worry about. He'd hand the Doctor his Webley, cleaned and loaded, if it came to that.

You... mustn't blame... self Jack. You didn't... all trying... kill you. Don't... in here. Just don't. Trust... child. His name... Yahs.

The Doctor was in his head. Barely. In all the years they'd known each other, Jack had never known the Time Lord to break that trust without cause. The man never did anything without cause. It was bad, then.

Jack stiffened, not caring if the young Xja saw him falter in that moment. But then the mantid did a strange thing. It waved a long white claw and stepped aside, still trembling, its slender mandibles clicking and whirring away in a chorus of Xjandian words he couldn't decipher. Which brought up another question.

Where was the TARDIS? Was she missing? Or was she nearby, and the Doctor simply too weak to complete the circuit?

Either way, he reasoned as he nodded to the Xja and lowered his weapons, preparing to follow it into the cylinder of rotating anterooms that formed the ship's propulsive core, there was one sure way to find out.