Jack loves the Doctor, but he doesn't always understand him. "Disneyland? Really?" He drops his voice into a low, seductive purr. "How about the Sybaris Pleasure Resort on Ahrilac? I've always wanted to visit it-with the right person."
The Doctor smiles at him, but there's a mulish set to his jaw. "You'll enjoy it, Jack. It's a marvellous place."
He tries again. "Okay, Disneyland-but why 1955? Why not the 23rd century, when they've perfected the interactive holo-rides?" And when we won't get arrested or worse for holding hands, he thinks sourly. His association with Torchwood protected him from the barbaric 'indecency' laws of that era, but he remembers all too well what was done to Alan Turing, poor bastard.
"Opening day, Jack! July 18, 1955. Walt will be there. I'll introduce you. Brilliant chap, utterly brilliant. Do you know, I gave him the idea for-" The Doctor rambles on as he circles the console like a moon orbiting its primary, setting the coordinates for their destination.
Jack knows that if he objects, the Doctor will change his plans. He considers it, then looks at the Doctor's wide eyes and eager smile. He lived through the whole of the damned 20th century-he can survive one more day pretending to conform to 1950s morality. "Opening day it is."
The landscape outside the TARDIS door isn't what Jack expected. Judging from the Doctor's frown, it's not what the Time Lord expected, either. Jack looks across the expanse of windswept grass. In the distance, rolling hills are dotted with scrub pines. A pale third-quarter Moon hangs low in the cloudless morning sky. They're definitely on Earth. "No palm trees," Jack comments. He plucks a leaf from a low, gnarled bush and sniffs it. Sage.
"Most likely this is part of Adventureland," the Doctor assures him in a tone that says he's trying to convince himself. "Probably meant to look like the African savannas or the pampas of Argentina." He scans the horizon, as if anticipating Masai warriors or gauchos on horseback to appear at any moment. After a moment's pause, he strides off in a westerly direction, towards the distant hills.
Jack hurries to catch up. "Okay, but where are all the visitors?"
The Time Lord shrugs. "Oh, this section probably isn't open to the public just yet." He continues onward, his dark eyes sweeping the trackless plain. Jack matches his brisk pace as the Doctor natters on about Walt and his influence on Arcturan neo-classical art. He's only half-listening, but the cheerful babble makes him smile.
They've gone about a kilometre from the TARDIS when the Doctor drops to his knees and squints at a patch of bare earth. "Hullo, you," he says to something small and wiggling. It looks like a beetle, and its glossy carapace is a rich moss green . The Doctor pulls a brass-rimmed magnifying glass from his coat pocket, the better to observe his new acquaintance. "Aren't you a handsome fellow?" he murmurs.
Jack bends over him. "Would you two like some privacy?" he teases. "What's he got that I don't?"
The Doctor glances up. "Four extra legs, wings, and an exoskeleton, for starters-but you've got a much nicer thorax," he adds earnestly. His forehead creases. "There's something odd about our friend here," he says. "Something not quite right. Something I ought to know."
"There are a million species of beetles on Earth, Doctor. Even you can't remember them all."
The Doctor stares at the beetle. "I ought to know," he repeats.
Jack recognises that distracted frown. They won't be moving from this spot until the Doctor's curiosity has been satisfied. Jack smiles as he watches the Doctor. He can almost see circuits flashing inside that incredible brain. Gods, he loves to watch that mind at work. It's a thing of beauty, like a Pallu'ian priestess dancing or a Rikkinoi warrior performing a shadow-sword routine. Truth is, just watching the Doctor think is sometimes enough to make Jack hard. It also doesn't hurt that the Doctor's current position-on his knees, bent over the beetle-has his equally incredible arse sticking in the air. Jack thinks about reaching out. . .
"Patience, Jack," the Doctor says without raising his eyes from his specimen.
How the hell did he know? He can't have seen me. Sure, the Doctor can detect his 51st century pheromones, but it's a bit of a jump from knowing Jack's horny to anticipating a grope. Jack shakes off the thought The important thing is what the Doctor said. 'Patience, Jack' is the newer version of 'Time and place, Jack'. It still means no sex right now, but it carries a promise for later. Jack can be patient. Jack can be very patient, if it means the Doctor in his bed at the end of the day.
He stands up and slowly rotates. One of them should be keeping watch, no matter how empty and deserted their surroundings may seem. He wishes he had his blaster with him. Normally, the Doctor pretends not to know that Jack is armed. Today, though. . . "Jack, you can't bring a weapon to the Happiest Place on Earth!" Somehow, it hadn't seemed worth arguing about.
A gust of wind brushes over his bare arms, leaving goosepimples behind. Should Southern California feel this cool and damp in July? If this is Orange County, where are the orange groves? "Doctor, is it possible that your geographic coordinates were a little off-kilter?"
"Are you criticising my driving, Captain?"
Jack raises his hands in mock surrender. "Just asking."
"We are exactly where we ought to be," the Doctor protests. "Anaheim, California, home of the galaxy's most famous mouse. Well, second most famous, although Trefflicoo of Tranticore wasn't precisely a mouse. Closer to a hamster. The settlers on Tranticore-never mind. What are you looking for?"
"Keeping my eyes open. You never know when a giant bipedal mouse is going to sneak up on you."
The Doctor chuckles. "To tell you the truth, I always preferred-"
Jack doesn't hear the rest of that sentence. He squints at the horizon. "Do you see something moving?"
The Doctor gets to his feet and goes into what Jack privately dubs 'still mode'. He's frozen in place, his eyes are unfocused, and he seems to be reaching out with all six-seven-however many senses a Time Lord has. Finally he says, "There's something at 345 degrees. Several somethings."
Jack strains to see details. The 'somethings' become clearer. Four-legged, close to the ground. "I don't think they're dogs or coyotes. Wolves, maybe. Should we head back to the TARDIS?"
"Not just yet." The Doctor shakes his head. "There shouldn't be grey wolves in California, not after 1924."
"We could be a little early," Jack says tactfully. He wouldn't be too surprised if they went around a hill and encountered gold rush prospectors instead of fairytale characters.
"Possibly. Pos-sib-ly." The Doctor stares at the approaching animals. They're still only vague silhouettes. "There's something not quite right about the wolves."
"Other than the fact that they're wandering in our general direction?" Jack says lightly. He's not too worried. There are very few reports of wolf attacks in North America. They're a shyer breed than their European cousins. Still, he'd be happier if they were heading elsewhere.
"The wolves are odd. The beetle is odd. Why?" The Time Lord twists his mouth, puffs his cheeks, and waggles his nose, as if gurning his face could shake loose an answer from his uncooperative brain. He lightly thumps a clenched fist against his forehead. "I am so thick! Thick, thick, thick! Why are they odd?"
Jack knows the Doctor is talking to himself. He's got no answers to offer to his lover. It's been centuries since he's dealt with any wild Terran animals. Most of his years on Earth were spent in cities. There were horses in the early days of his exile, sheep and cattle during missions in the Welsh countryside, and rats and household pets in Cardiff (and one semi-domesticated pteranodon).
"Odd, odd, odd, odd, odd," the Doctor mutters under his breath. He looks down at the beetle, then turns back to Jack. His eyes are very wide. "Jack?"
"I know what's odd about the beetle," the Time Lord whispers, as if afraid the insect may overhear him. "It's extinct."
"You were right. We've arrived a bit early. In 1955, this little chap will perhaps have been extinct-blimey, Jack! Human languages have very imprecise tenses. All that mouthful instead of-" He half-sings two syllables that the TARDIS does not translate.
On another occasion, Jack would love to learn about the grammar of time travel in the language of a time-sensitive species. Right now (and there are probably a dozen different ways to say that in Gallifreyan, he muses), he's got other things on his mind. ""How long?" he asks.
The Doctor blinks at him. "What?"
"How long has it been extinct?"
"But it isn't-oh! Oh, yes. About 14,300 years, give or take a century."
Jack take a moment to calculate. "Late Pleistocene, then." Not an era he's ever visited. Like most Time Agents, he'd taken illegal side trips to the Jurassic and Cretaceous for dinosaur watching. The rest of Earth's prehistory is unknown to him.
Jack's about to suggest again that they return to the TARDIS when he notices the Doctor's troubled expression. The still-distant wolves have come just close enough that Jack can make out some details of their shape and size. The Doctor, with his keener vision, must be able to see them clearly.
"Jack," the Doctor says quietly, "I know what's odd about the wolves, too,"
"They're not wolves. Wellllllll. . . they are, but not precisely. Not grey wolves, anyway.. They're the wrong shape for Canis lupis. Those are their cousins." The Doctor pauses to take a breath he probably doesn't need. "Canis dirus."
Dire wolves. Jack vaguely remembers Suzie mentioning them as monsters in an online fantasy game she used to play. Those all-too-real animals on the horizon might not be flame-eyed giants. but any predators with 'dire' in their name won't be cute and cuddly. "TARDIS. Now," he snaps.
The Doctor's shoulders stiffen. Jack curses silently. This was bound to happen eventually, but he hoped it wouldn't be quite so soon. Jack spent too many years in command, responsible for protecting others. Don't think about how badly you screwed up, how many died because of you. It's a habit, a reflex, a need. And now it's led him to bark an order at a being who obeys no one and nothing in the universe, except his own conscience. He can't take it back, can't apologise. That would be a lie-an even worse offense.
The Doctor turns to fully face him. His eyes are wide with surprise. Then, as swiftly as sunrise on Amaterasu, he smiles. "Very well, Captain," he says in a tone of fond indulgence, "back to the TARDIS it is."
Jack lets out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. He falls in beside the Doctor, walking at a moderate speed. Rule number one when dealing with predators: running makes you look like prey. "So, tell me about our friends back there."
"Not much to tell, Jack. They're a wee bit more aggressive than grey wolves. Bigger, heavier. About seventy kilos on average. Shorter legs, so they're slower. Longer teeth-very good for crushing bones. They hunt in packs of thirty or more, and they prefer large prey."
"How large?" Jack asks. He remembers being killed by a grizzly during the Klondike gold rush. It had been a slow death-the grizzly mauled him and left him to bleed his life away-but at least the beast hadn't been hungry, only territorial. Being eaten by a carnivore is one death Jack has managed to avoid, and he'd really like to keep it that way. "What animals do they hunt?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Bison, horse, mastodon. They don't seem to care for smaller prey like deer. In fact, there's a theory that they died out because-"
Jack interrupts. "How do they feel about humans?"
"Dunno. Depending on exactly when we are, this lot may not have met any of your ancestors."
Good news or bad? If these dire wolves have met Homo sapiens, will they associate them with spears and fire; fear and pain? Or will they consider a pair of humanoids to be tasty starters before a luncheon of mastodon tartare? He's mostly worried about the Doctor. Jack still doesn't know much about regeneration, but he's aware that even a Time Lord can't return from some forms of death. He suspects that being torn to shreds by soon-to-be-extinct wolves is one of those.
Jack scowls at his vortex manipulator. Right now, it's about as useful as a hula hoop. The TARDIS is currently in defrag mode, running a variety of maintenance subroutines. All of her shields are up, which means he can't safely activate a teleport within a five-kilometre radius.
After a minute of brisk walking, the Doctor catches Jack's arm. Jack instinctively comes to a halt. He raises his brows in silent query.
"Best to break up our movements," the Doctor explains. "Twenty-seven seconds."
Jack nods his understanding. They walk fifty metres further, then pause for one hundred and nine seconds. Forty metres. Wait eighty-six seconds. Twenty-nine metres-this time zigging and zagging, then an eighteen-second pause.
"Are you generating random numbers in your head?" Jack asks, curious. That's supposed to be an impossible feat for organic sapients, but this is the Doctor, after all.
The Time Lord looks faintly embarrassed. "It's not completely random," he says, muttering something unintelligible about Fibonacci numbers and digits of Pi.
Oops. This calls for a distraction. "Let me contribute a little more randomness to the equation." Jack clasps his hands behind the Doctor's neck and pulls him close for a good snog. The Doctor hesitates for a nanosecond, then leans into the kiss. His tongue caresses Jack's.
When they pull apart, Jack is slightly breathless. "Ninety-two seconds," the Doctor says, blinking. "Come along, Jack."
Jack's grin fades as he glances over his shoulder. "Uh oh."
The Doctor turns, his eyes widening as he sees the pack of dire wolves heading towards them at full speed. "Run!"
Jack is in motion instantly, feet pounding, arms pumping. Beside him, the Doctor matches him stride for stride, puffs of dust blossoming beneath his trainers. Jack keeps his eyes fixed on the ground, and not just to watch out for rocks and other obstacles. The TARDIS is to the east, and the morning sun is blazing in the sky.
The world narrows to a semi-oval of grassland that extends about three metres in front of him; less on either side. Everything else is a blur of green and brown. The wind carries the scents of sage and juniper and a dozen other plants he can't identify. The only sounds are the thudding of footfalls and the steady rasp of his breath.
Something small with grey fur and a whiplike tail emerges from beneath a bush and darts in front of him. Startled, Jack pushes off one foot, going into a long forward leap. He lands on the other foot and keeps running. Not quite a grand jeté, but I think Alexei Nikolayevich would approve. Jack smiles at the memory: Paris before the war, a smoke-filled cafe, and a lithe, sinewy young man with eyes the colour of absinthe. The Premier Danseur of the Ballets Russes had taught him some impressive moves-including a few that were related to ballet.
Just for the hell of it, he repeats the leap, clearing almost twice the distance this time. He hears a snort of laughter from his right, and turns his head to wink at the Doctor.
"Show-off!" the Time Lord calls.
Jack merely grins. He can't spare the breath to talk while he runs. He may be immortal, and fast-healing, but his endurance is only a little better than the average human. Out of the corner of his right eye he catches movement behind them.
Shit! Jack looks over his shoulder at the dire wolves, then ahead to the TARDIS, gauging the distances involved. The dire wolves are catching them up. "Thought. . . you said. . . slower," he gasps.
"Yeah, they are. They're slower than grey wolves, 'cos of the shorter legs."
Jack remembers the old joke about two Time Agents being pursued by a hungry grelka. "I don't have to run faster than the grelka, Lieutenant-I just have to run faster than you." Maybe it can work the other way around. If Jack runs slower than the Doctor, he can distract the dire wolves while his lover reaches the safety of the TARDIS. He really, really doesn't want to think about what that distraction will mean for him, but that's not important, compared to protecting the Doctor.
It's a desperate plan. Simple, easy to carry out-and utterly useless, because Daleks will take up knitting for charity before the Doctor will leave someone behind merely to save his own skin. Why oh why did he let the Doctor talk him into leaving his blaster in the TARDIS? A few carefully-placed warning shots would send the prehistoric mutts running, with no worse damage than some holes in the landscape.
Mutts! Hope courses through him like an electric shock. If it doesn't work-no, he won't think about that. "Doctor! We need the sonic!"
The Doctor frowns in perplexity, but-bless him!-doesn't ask questions. Still running at full pelt, he plucks the sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket.
Dammit! What were those numbers? It was so long ago-
"Jack?" The Doctor sounds concerned, with only a hint of impatience. No one could tell from his voice that a pack of wild beasts is getting dangerously close.
"Sine wave!" Jack blurts out. "Oscillating from forty to sixty kilohertz. Short bursts."
The Doctor's mouth shapes an 'ohhh' of comprehension. "Got it." His fingers flicker over the controls of the device.
Jack looks over his shoulder. The dire wolves are close enough that he can see their massive jaws. "Longer teeth-very good for crushing bones." If he's wrong about this, if he's misremembered, then the only thing worse than the death he's about to suffer will be the horror that he'll find when he revives.
The Doctor skids to a halt and points the sonic screwdriver at the oncoming beasts. There's the familiar soft whir and flash of blue. Jack holds his breath. A few eternities later, the dire wolves stop running. They mill about in confusion and distress. The Doctor sonics the wolves again. After the third burst, he adjusts a setting. This time the response is a chorus of high-pitched yelps of pain. The dire wolves turn and flee.
As soon as the TARDIS door clicks shut behind them, the Doctor grasps Jack's shoulders and pulls him close for a quick but enthusiastic snog. "Well done, you!"
Jack flings himself down on the jump-seat. He doesn't need a mirror to know that he's got a silly grin that matches the one on the Doctor's face. "Well done, us," he corrects.
"How did you know the right frequency?"
Jack leans back, tapping the fingers of his right hand on his thigh. "Back in the Thirties, Torchwood experimented with an ultrasonic projector to discourage Weevil attacks. In theory, it worked. In practice, it was a failure. The projector wasn't exactly portable-it needed a power source the size of a steamer trunk-and whenever they switched it on, every dog within 200 metres went crazy. So I was gambling," he confesses, "that dire wolves were anatomically close enough to dogs to be affected. If I'd been wrong-"
"You were right," the Doctor says firmly, "and that's all that matters."
Jack considers pulling the Doctor down beside him, but decides against it. Running for his life usually leaves the Time Lord full of restless energy. Better to let him pace around the console room. Jack himself is 'tired and wired', as the Doctor sometimes describes it. He thinks about his favourite cure for that condition. He could probably coax the Doctor-but, no. They've got a theme park to visit. The Doctor deserves some fun after their near-disastrous excursion.
"So, are you going to reset the temporal coordinates?" Jack prompts.
The Doctor pauses mid-stride. "Why?"
"Uh. . . opening day, remember? We need to go forward about fourteen millennia."
The Doctor waves a dismissive hand and resumes pacing the room. "Nah. We can meet Walt some other time."
"Are you sure?" Jack presses.
"Yup." The Doctor dances around the TARDIS console, flicking switches and pressing buttons.
"Where are we going?" Jack rises and looks at the new coordinates. "The Sybaris Pleasure Resort? Really?"
" I reckon we've already done Adventureland today," the Doctor says casually. He grins. "Sooooo. . . I thought we might try Fantasyland next. Says here that they've got zero gravity holo-rooms, and a formal Predaxian garden, and a geothermal pool with a bar in the middle. I wonder if they serve fizzy drinks with little umbrellas? I love drinks with little umbrellas. Oooh-and an outdoor sauna with a view of the Chrysoprase Glacier! What do you think, Captain?"
"I think that you're talking too much," Jack announces.
Before the Time Lord can speak another word, Jack leans forward and covers the Doctor's mouth with his own. He's looking forward to visiting Sybaris, and he intends to make extensive (and creative) use of their facilities. Right now, the resort can wait. This moment of reality is fantasy enough.
- THE END -
Note: Alan Turing was an English mathematician, cryptographer, and computer science pioneer. In 1952, he was arrested and tried for homosexuality. Turing was given a choice between prison and chemical castration. He chose the latter. Turing lost his security clearance, and could no longer work for the government. He committed suicide in 1954, at the age of 41.