Author's Notes - This is the prequel to The Emissary that will explain exactly how Jack and Emma's timelines end up so twisted, although you certainly don't need to read The Emissary to understand Peace at Any Price. It revolves around the Time War, and is therefore of a much darker nature than my previous stories. However, I am doing my best to stick to a teen rating. Fair warning, though, war itself is brutal, and Emma's personal role in the Time War has been more ruthless than most. In the end, this is a story about personal redemption more than the brutality of war, and I hope you will give it a chance.
As always, I'd appreciate knowing what you think about my writing, good, bad or indifferent. If you're new to my stories, I hope you will give it a try, and if you've been waiting for an update on this series, I thank you for your patience!
The planet had been picturesque in its prime. She remembered it well from another lifetime. Emerald had been green and lush and full of old growth forests. Now, it was nothing more than scarred earth, its organic resources razed by the Daleks, who were currently using the planet as a staging ground for its troops.
She stared at the Daleks' main encampment through her binoculars, dismissing the grotesque tin cans without a thought. Only the shimmering portal in the middle of her enemy's territory held her interest. It was something that shouldn't exist inside the time lock that trapped friend and foe alike in an absolute existence for the duration of this brutal war of attrition.
Brax had been right again, insufferable bastard. The Daleks were very close to breaking through the time lock. It wasn't the time travel aspect of the corridor that was worrisome. Time Lord and Dalek alike still had access to time travel and used it in horrific ways. No, it was the fact that this time corridor had been built upon the remains of an older one, a gateway that pre-dated the time lock itself. Activated, this particular corridor could piggyback upon the old pathway, allowing the Daleks to attack the same causal nexus more than once, chancing a paradox big enough to wipe the universe from existence.
Squatting in the dirt, Emma tugged at her ponytail as she searched in vain for a solution that didn't involve suicide. Not that the thought of suicide bothered her anymore. She'd committed enough atrocities during her two hundred eighty-five years of fighting to convince her that death would be a welcome relief from the nightmares that plagued her.
She had long ago become a killer, using her knowledge of the lesser species to infiltrate countless worlds. A whispered word to a paranoid dictator, the kidnapping of a sultan's daughter, a bribe to the right official—she'd caused more apocalypses on more planets than she wished to remember, all in the name of the greater good. And, in her dreams, she relived each and every one.
These were the times when she wished she could be a proper soldier, manning a Battle TARDIS and flying into the face of the enemy. But, she'd never been a soldier. No, she was far worse. She was a spy.
Shaking herself out of her introspection, she rummaged through her backpack. She dispassionately contemplated her options as she took a long sip from a bottle of tepid water. According to the readings she'd taken, the time corridor was functional. The bulk of their troops were waiting in neat rows for orders to invade wherever and whenever the tunnel would take them.
She'd decided to foist it all off on Irving Braxiatel, her bond brother and leader of the Celestial Intervention Agency, when a red Command Dalek appeared on the edge of the camp. Shit. Its presence changed everything. The soldiers would not be waiting in passive rows for much longer. Suicide it was, then.
Hoping her perception filter would work long enough to pass the Dalek troops, Emma dropped the water bottle and grabbed two fisssion grenades from her backpack. She felt an unexpected pang of regret for all she had lost as she jogged determinately towards her target. Quietly, she moved past the rows of waiting killing machines. Activating the first fission grenade, she abandoned caution and ran the last ten yards towards her target. She took them all by surprise, jumping into the time conduit as the first grenade detonated behind her.
Shunted from one time and place to another, she could feel the massive explosion radiate outward. Radiation engulfed her, damaging her cells to the point that her body began to fail. Brutally pushing that perception aside, she concentrated on the rapidly approaching white light at the end of the psychedelic tunnel, activating the second grenade even as she was forcefully ejected onto hard concrete.
She didn't have time to take in her surroundings. For some strange reason, she had not yet died. Instinctively, she ran, making it almost twenty-five yards before the second grenade collapsed this end of the time conduit and engulfed everything around her in a blinding flash of power. The only thing that kept her body from being incinerated on the spot was the towering concrete wall she had ducked behind moments before the explosion.
The forces she'd unleashed, however, were too much for the structural integrity of the wall in question. It fell like a domino onto the shell of a building some ten feet away. Emma was trapped between the two in an open space only four feet tall as chunks of debris rained upon her already dying body.
It hardly registered. She could feel the surge of regeneration taking over, but was too weary to fight it. As she exploded in a golden light, she could only hope to be overlooked in the rubble.
Emma woke not quite knowing who or where she was. The bare, gray walls nearby didn't provide any clues, so she sat up in an attempt to see beyond the confines of her tiny cell. Her hearts began to pound when comprehension finally caught up to her observation. Rassilon, she was in a cell. That couldn't be good.
A peculiar tightness suddenly gripped her stomach to make its way up her chest and out her throat. Opening her mouth, she was stunned to see a burst of golden energy lazily float in front of her before wafting to the ground. She had no time to contemplate the odd occurrence, however. Six men in white coats abruptly appeared beside her, pulling her unwillingly into a much larger room. As she glared at them all, they strapped her firmly to the metal table upon which she had been roughly thrown. She felt a sting on her arm and then the rush of a foreign substance as it raced through her bloodstream. As it carried her away to nothingness, she couldn't help but wonder what the hell had she gotten herself into.
"Fuck, Six, you just had to mouth off to the higher ups, didn't you? Forty-one's dead. Who cares what killed him?"
Time Agent Sixty-Nine drolly looked up at his sometime partner, Agent Ninety-Six. The wiry man with the bleached blonde hair was the closest thing he had to a friend in his fucked up life, but at the moment, his slightly psychotic lover was definitely not in a friendly mood.
"Obviously not the Agency," he answered with a flippant grin. "Doesn't matter. In another six months I'll be reinstated, and we can go back into the field. Management knows we make a good team."
"Hell, you're arrogant. Do you really think I'll wait that long for you?"
That earned the man a devilish smirk. "I'm the best and you know it. In every way, I might add."
Hungrily, the blonde man sought to possess the other's mouth. After a few seconds of harshly fighting for dominance, he abruptly pulled back. Two guards had entered the cell; visiting hours were over.
"You're the most arrogant man I've ever met, Sixty-Nine, but you are the best. I'll be waiting." With that, he strode out of the tiny room, cursing his partner's penchant for being much too honest for his own good.
Bored once again, Sixty-Nine deliberately rattled the chains that attached him to the concrete wall of his cell as he recalled just how he had come to be in his latest predicament. He had made a gross error of judgment when he had openly mentioned the possibility that Agent Forty-One had been killed by Daleks. But what else could he have said? Nothing left its victims' insides liquefied quite like a Dalek particle beam, and nothing ever would.
The fact that the Daleks had disappeared over two hundred years ago was inconsequential. Logically, they were the only plausible explanation. However, his superiors had vigorously disagreed. As soon as he had voiced his opinion, he had been officially reprimanded and transferred to Time Agency Headquarters on Tempus Tor.
His desk job had lasted a week before his supervisor had caught him in a three-way with a new recruit and his lovely friend. Unfortunately for him, the agent's friend should have died on the Grand Lusitania in 2257. Agent One-Four-Eight had whisked her away from a watery grave for the express purpose of making her his personal sex slave.
Without the mockery of a trial, One-Four-Eight had been summarily executed for tampering with time for personal gain. The buxom woman had been promptly returned to her proper timeline to die with the rest of the ill-named ship's passengers. And, he had been exceedingly lucky.
After some very fast talking and even faster sex, his supervisor had been convinced that he had acted in ignorance. He managed to get off with a slap on the wrist, at least in Time Agency terms. He was currently serving a standard year sentence at the penal colony on Tuem for aiding and abetting a temporal crime.
The first six months had been almost pleasant. The guards had been bored and easy to please. He'd been listed as nonviolent, so it had been simple to bribe them with fantastic sex in return for better food, varied activities and decent accommodations. Unfortunately, all of that had come to a screeching halt two weeks ago. The newly appointed prison warden didn't possess the lackadaisical attitude of his predecessor. Sixty-Nine was once again an unwilling guest in a bleak, square cell.
If something didn't happen soon, he was afraid that he would die from the monotony, his lover's infrequent visits notwithstanding. His two meals came at the exact same time every day, consisting of the exact same rubbery portion of protein, a small mound of an unidentifiable green leafy vegetable, and a mashed lump of carbohydrate that was almost inedible. No entertainment was provided, and he spent most of his time in solitary confinement, wondering why the Time Agency was so testy when it came to the subject of Daleks.
It came as a complete shock, therefore, when the door to his cell opened again that afternoon, and a young woman barely out of adolescence was pushed inside. She looked around uncomprehendingly, her pale green eyes glassy and dazed. As the force field around the entryway reactivated with a sharp crackle, she sank unceremoniously to the floor. Her hands instantly wrapped around her knees, which she pulled to her chest in an effort to make herself smaller.
Sixty-Nine grabbed his bottle of water, intending to offer it to his new cellmate. Before he could, however, the force field dropped once again. The new warden, a humorless Judoon, ducked through the opening. His expressionless features were impossible to read, but the warden did not keep them in suspense for long.
As gruff and stilted as only a Judoon could be, he barked out an explanation. "Prisoner Six-Five-Seven-Four-Three. Designation: Time Agent. Number: Sixty-Nine. Incarcerated for aiding and abetting a temporal crime. Sentence term: One standard Earth year. Prisoner will assist with interrogation of temporal anomaly, designation, Prisoner Six-Seven-Three-One-Three."
Completely flummoxed, the aforementioned Time Agent hastily stood, although the Judoon still towered over him. "What do you mean by temporal anomaly? She looks pretty ordinary to me."
As an aside, he offered her a quick apology for disparaging her lovely form, but it appeared that his fellow prisoner wasn't aware of his presence. The Judoon ignored the woman sitting not two feet away as he continued his explanation.
"Prisoner Six-Seven-Three-One-Three. Classification: Temporal Anomaly. Species: Unknown. Planet of origin: Unknown. Background temporal radiation: Exceeds measureable limits. Prisoner convicted of terrorism. Execution scheduled for twenty-one standard days. Prisoner Six-Five-Seven-Four-Three to be executed concurrently if temporal anomaly does not speak."
"No pressure there," he remarked with a cynical smirk. Why the hell had he been complaining about monotony? Monotony was good. Monotony didn't get you killed.
"Wait a minute," he argued hotly, hoping to appeal to the Judoon's sense of justice. "You can't execute me. I'm here on a misdemeanor. I've got five and a half more months and then I can resume my duties at the Agency."
"Charge of aiding and abetting temporal crime: Class Five Misdemeanor. Charge of treason against the Time Agency: Capital offense. Execution scheduled for twenty-one days. Sentence commuted if temporal anomaly speaks."
The Judoon exited the cell before he could protest against the trumped up charge of treason. After angrily kicking the wall, Agent Sixty-Nine realized that he still held the bottle of water. Not knowing what else to do, he crouched beside the woman who suddenly held his fate in her hands.
Her eyes remained unfocused, and he wondered which drugs the Time Agency had pumped into her during their initial interrogation. She wore a thin, shapeless hospital gown that completely exposed her back. The small amount of her skin that didn't sport yellow, purple or green bruises was pale in an unhealthy way. Her face was angular to the point of being severe, and he couldn't help but think she'd look much better if she were a stone heavier. Her auburn hair was natural (a rarity in this sector), but it was dull and greasy.
It was her age, however, that shocked him to the core. She was much too young, perhaps fifteen or sixteen Earth standard years. How could someone that young be so steeped in artron energy that the Agency couldn't measure it? And what act had she committed to be labeled a terrorist by the Time Agency? Knowing he wouldn't find out those answers anytime soon, he offered her the bottle of water.
"Here, doll, you need this more than me right now."
But, her eyes stayed fixed on some point near the far wall, and she made no move to accept what he had offered. Shrugging to himself, he set the water beside her and carefully backed away. There was no reason to frighten her more than she already was by forcing her to drink. Feigning disinterest, he settled on the other side of the cell, pretending to play a solitary game of chess. All the while, he watched her out of the corner of his eye.
Emma hugged her knees to her chest, taking in her new accommodations without a word. She remembered waking up on a hard metal table, but her life before that was jumbled like a pile of puzzle pieces waiting to be sorted. She occasionally caught glimpses of people in her mind. Most evoked a feeling of warmth; others brought tears to her eyes. Try as she might, however, she could not give a single one a name.
That discovery might have distressed her more if she knew her own name. She had been asked that particular question many times in many different ways since waking up on cold steel, but each time she had stayed silent. She had, in fact, not spoken at all during her captivity.
At first, she had been reluctant to speak, as if she were afraid to hear the sound of her own voice. Then, when she couldn't shake the certainty that answering the questions would be a very bad idea, she had chosen not to talk. It was the first conscious decision she had made since becoming self-aware, and for some strange reason it gave her an enormous sense of pride.
Pride had been her only solace when the so-called medical testing had begun. After four days, twenty-two hours, fifty-eight minutes and forty-two seconds, the only thing her captors had learned was that she might not talk, but she could scream. Washing their hands of her, they had pumped her full of drugs, tried one last ditch effort at interrogation, and then handed her over to the extremely sour Judoon in an unmistakable sign of defeat.
She was vaguely aware of a conversation taking place, but it took too much effort to listen. It was far easier to sit and let her mind wander. Disconnected from her body, she couldn't feel the aches of her injuries or the pain of forced starvation. In point of fact, the foreign chemicals pulsing through her bloodstream brought her much needed peace. It was easy to encourage them to work their insidious design, which is precisely what she did.