Author: Zath Chauvert
Summary: Six months after the last episode of The Omega Factor, Tom Crane follows a psychic hunch and gets a surprise.
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Disclaimer: The characters depicted here belong to the BBC. I make no claims of ownership and intend no copyright infringement.
Author's Note: This story was based on the BBC's 1979 series The Omega Factor and written for psychomachia for the 2009 Yuletide fic exchange. There will be spoilers, but hopefully I shouldn't really need to warn for that, considering that the source material is over thirty years old. A more important warning is the fact that this story probably won't make much sense if you haven't seen the series.
The Ghost of Colleagues Past
By Zath Chauvert
It had taken a while, but Tom Crane had finally accepted the fact that his gut feelings and supposedly baseless hunches were more and more often due to a type of intuition that had nothing to do with his training as a journalist and everything to do with his unwanted talent as a psychic. Therefore, when he awoke one morning with the certain knowledge that he needed to be in Newcastle upon Tyne the following afternoon, he never questioned it. He simply packed a bag and headed for the train station. He called his employers, the London branch of Department Seven, just before his train was due to leave so that they wouldn't have time to try to stop him. He didn't talk long, just said that he was talking a holiday and would be back in a few days. He made sure to hang up before Darlington, his current official superior and 'minder,' could get on the line and start haranguing him for taking off without permission yet again. And with that, Tom was on his way North.
Unfortunately, aside from the urgent need to get to Newcastle, Tom's premonition had been completely lacking any other details about specifically where he was supposed to go or what he was supposed to do once he got there. All he could do was check into a hotel, pass the rest of the day as best he could, and then go to bed with the hope that answer would reveal themselves to him. The next morning, having failed to achieve further enlightenment in his sleep, Tom hit the streets in search of an indication that he was not wasting his time. Hours later, he had still not learned anything more beyond the fact that he didn't particularly like Newcastle. By 5pm, he was frustrated, footsore, and ready to admit defeat. The sense of urgency that had been dogging him since the previous morning was now rapidly fading to nothing. Whatever it was that he had been meant to be present for, he must have missed it.
With a sigh, Tom looked around, reestablished his bearings, and started back towards his hotel. He had not gone many blocks when he noticed a restaurant across the street. The place looked busy enough that it must be well-liked, and the smells wafting out through its front door were more than enough to remind Tom that he had never interrupted his day of aimless searching with anything as trivial as the concept of lunch. The longer he thought about it, the more he was sure that he didn't want to walk any further on an empty stomach, so he crossed the street, went in, and ordered a meal.
Ten minutes later, Roy Martindale walked into the room and sat down at the next table.
Tom could only stare, not fully believing his eyes. He was gobsmacked. There was no question that it might be anyone other than Roy Martindale. He was undeniably the same man, tall and lean with a shock of thick dark hair ill-matched to his deeply lined face, but Roy had disappeared over six months ago, and anyone who knew anything about the circumstances relating to that disappearance figured that he was long since dead. And yet there he sat, only an arm's length away, alive and well, perusing a menu and apparently oblivious to the consternation he was causing in his former colleague.
It seemed to take ages before Tom regained enough control of his voice to spit out a rather accusative sounding, "Martindale!?"
Upon hearing his name, Roy looked up from his menu and over at Tom. His expression was one of surprise and curiosity, and it lacked even the slightest trace of recognition.
"I'm beg your pardon, sir," he said. "Have we met before?"
"It's me, Tom Crane." When that failed to generate any response beyond a raised eyebrow, Tom elaborated, "We spent the better part of four months working together in Edinburgh last year. Most of the time I think I made you want to tear your hair out, surely you must remember that."
Roy shook his head, looking perplexed. "I'm afraid you must be mistaken, Mr. Crane," he said. "I haven't set foot in Edinburgh since 1975, and even then I was only there long enough to attend an academic conference. Still, I must admit that your name does sound familiar." He trailed off, muttering, "Crane? Crane?" to himself. Then he brightened. "Ah, yes, I remember now! You wrote that series of articles about the occult and the paranormal not all that long ago, didn't you? Not bad for newspaper work, I must say. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." Roy extended his hand in greeting.
Seeing his opportunity, Tom firmly grasped the proffered hand in his own, but he had no interest in the act of shaking hands. Instead, he used the physical contact to help focus an impromptu perusal of Roy's mind. What he found there surprised him.
For a start, the process was far too easy. The last time Tom had tried to read Roy's mind, he had needed to force his way through some formidable mental defenses before he could even begin looking for the information he wanted. This time, those defenses were nowhere to be found, as if someone had cut a doorway into Roy's mind for easy access, leaving his conscious thoughts exposed like an open book. Worse, within those thoughts, there was no subterfuge, no deceit to be found anywhere. Roy should have been lying, because he should have known Tom, but all memories of their acquaintance were gone. There was no time to confirm his suspicions, but Tom would wager anything that the alteration was only one of many similar violations.
And as if all that were not already enough to worry about, there was something potentially far stranger lurking beneath everything, hidden far down in Roy's subconscious without actually being part of it. Tom was only able to catch the briefest of possible glimpses of whatever it was, just enough to get the impression of a dark, vaguely angry presence, watching, waiting. He was about to investigate further when yet another familiar voice dragged his attention out of the mental realm and back to his physical surroundings.
"Roy, my friend, there you are!"
Involuntarily, Tom relaxed his death grip on Roy. Martindale pulled away, looking dazed and rubbing his temple with one hand while supporting himself against the back of his chair with the other. As their psychic connection collapsed, the last bit of information Tom gleaned from Roy's mind was the fact that he had no idea what had just occurred but knew that it shouldn't have. For his own part, Tom barely noticed. He was too busy watching the awkward looking figure who was currently approaching with two others from across the room.
"Roy, are you all right?" the man asked as he reached the table.
Martindale blinked and then, having apparently shaken off his confusion from a moment earlier, smiled as he finally registered the presence of the newcomer. "How good of you to finally join us," Roy exclaimed. Then, still smiling, he turned his attention back to Tom. "I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine. Your articles actually have quite a large area of overlap with his research, so the two of you should get along famously. Mr. Crane, this is Dr. Vashrevsky. Vashrevsky, this is Tom Crane."
"We've met," Tom said through clenched teeth.
"I'm sure I would remember if we did," Vashrevsky replied just a fraction of a second too quickly. His face was a perfect mask of polite interest, but unlike with Roy, Tom had no need to establish any sort of a heightened psychic connection in order to know the man's true feelings. Fear was pouring out of Vashrevsky in waves, and Tom was willing to admit that such fear was not without good reason. He didn't know if he was capable of making someone's head explode with the power of his mind, but he was currently requiring all of his self-control to keep from trying to find out right there on the spot. Tom didn't think he would feel any guilt if he did manage to kill Vashrevsky, not after the way the man had tried to drive him mad, but he also didn't think he wanted to do it in quite so messy a fashion, at least not in such a public place. Also, there was the matter of the two men who had arrived with Vashrevsky to consider before taking any rash actions. Martindale hadn't introduced them, didn't even seem to see them at all, but they were obviously the sort of men hired for their muscles rather than for their brains.
"However," Vashrevsky continued with his cheerful facade still firmly in place, "I have heard rumors that you yourself possess gifts similar to those who you write about, Mr. Crane, so perhaps you are thinking of events which have yet to happen. It is so easy for too wide a scope of perception to overwhelm a mind's often tenuous grasp on current reality, causing the victim to experience altered states which to the rest of the world are merely fantasy. Such is the curse of the sensitive individual, I have been told."
Tom's desire to kill Vashrevsky was increasing with each new word that came out of the man's mouth, but at the same time, Roy's own very genuine smile was growing wider.
"You're a sensitive, Mr. Crane?" Roy exclaimed with an expression of pure delight. "Really?" He looked back and forth between Tom and Vashrevsky, seeking confirmation but eagerly forging onward before either man could provide an answer. "We must discuss this further. We simply must! Vashrevsky, why are you just standing about like that? Do sit down. The waiter should be back any minute. In the meantime, you can have a look at my menu. It's alright; I already know what I plan to order. And you, Mr. Crane, please, it would be an honor if you joined us."
"Actually, Roy, we must be going," Vashrevsky said, putting an end to Martindale's ebullient rush of words.
"Do you? That's a shame. I suspect you're going to miss out on a fascinating conversation."
"No, Roy, you misunderstand me. We must be going. Come along now." At that, one of the unnamed men accompanying Vashrevsky stepped forward and put a hand on Martindale's shoulder. Roy turned to look at the offending hand. He appeared ready to shrug it off and ignore Vashrevsky's summons. Then, as Tom watched, his gaze landed on the signet ring adorning the man's little finger. In that instant, Roy's expression went slack and all signs of resistance left him.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Crane, but it appears I must be going," he said as he rose from his seat. "Perhaps some other time." He sounded half asleep, or like he was not paying attention to his own words.
And just like that, Vashrevsky and his assistants hustled Roy out of the room, unconcerned by the growing number of stares from the restaurant's other patrons. Tom tried to follow, of course, but in a move that was far too inconvenient in its timing to have been anything other than deliberate, his path was immediately blocked by a busboy with a trolley piled high with dirty dishes. By the time that Tom managed to circumnavigate the obstacle and exit the building, Roy and his captors had vanished.
Tom was at a loss. He and Roy had had their differences. On many levels they probably had nothing but differences. However, in Tom's opinion, no one deserved to have their free will taken away in the manner that he had just witnessed, not even someone as infuriating as Roy Martindale. The question was, what could be done about it? For a moment, Tom was gripped by the desire to go running through the city, madly peering into every alleyway and dark corner until he stumbled across some indication that Roy may have been there in the not too distant past. Common sense soon reasserted itself, though. Now that Tom knew what, or rather who, he was supposed to be looking for, he had better methods of gathering information than wandering the streets at random.
Feeling calmer, Tom went back inside the restaurant, changed his order to carry-out, and once that was in hand, headed back to his hotel. Safely ensconced in his room, he immediately set about making calls while doing his best not to drop chicken tikka masala onto the pages of the phonebook. He had a direction of inquiry. It was not much, but it was a start, and knowing what he knew now, Tom Crane would be damned before he would willingly let tonight be his final meeting with Roy Martindale.