Rating: PG-13 (will eventually be NC-17)
Word count: ~ 2,200 (this part)
Warnings: So much angst. I swear, someday I will write a Torchwood fic that is entirely fluffy and happy and full of smutty, schmoopy good!feels, but for now, this is chock-full of angsty!Ianto. I apologize.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: SOMEONE SHOULD SAVE ME FROM MY BRAIN. I just, I don't even, where did this come from? (Mostly, I blame lilyrose225, because she planted an AU Cyberwoman plot bunny where Ianto tells Jack, and because she is a filthy enabler. And very, very wonderful.) On that note, I'm making up most of the stuff about the Torchwood Mainframe—my Google-fu only gave me sketchy details about it being an organic computer and I just took liberties from there. Lots of them. And the science is major!fail level. I advise you to ignore it (not like Torchwood ever follows the laws of physics, anyway, so I feel a little justified there).
(Freedom Is) Just Another Word (for Nothing Left to Lose)
He should not be here. Only Jack and Toshiko are supposed to have access, but Ianto is nothing if not innovative. The command override codes from Torchwood One haven't been changed since the Battle of Canary Wharf—because Torchwood One doesn't exist anymore, and there's no need to change codes remembered, barely, but twenty-four people, most of whom didn't have sufficient clearance for anything higher than the twelfth floor.
Ianto's records—the ones in the main computers, the ones Toshiko would have pulled when Jack asked her for Ianto's background—show that he was a junior researcher assigned to a low-level science team.
That's not entirely correct.
The door unlocks with a grinding tumble of disengaged locks, and Ianto pushes it open without hesitation. This is everything he has been waiting for, everything he needs to save his beautiful, beloved Lisa, who lies encased in metal in one of the empty rooms. There is nothing he would not do for her, and with access to Mainframe—or the only living section of Mainframe that remains—there will be nothing he does not know about how to fix her.
He's been planning it for months now, ever since he first managed to lie and flirt his way into the job. The memory of that night with Jack, of the pteranodon and a roll across the floor of a warehouse, sends a twist of horrified guilt through his gut, but Ianto ignores it. no matter how guilty he feels, he doesn't regret it. He can't, not when he's doing it to save Lisa.
Taking a deep breath, Ianto steps forward, through the doorway and into a room filled with soft blue light.
Mainframe is as beautiful as he remembered from London, a growing, twisting net of feeds and ports and processors that are all organic, all exquisite in their economy and brilliance. It looks like a vast brain, but without the gruesome connotations that word has, a logic center that could power an entire world made of pastel-shaded organic material humans have yet to come up with a name for, have yet to even comprehend. Ianto has to pause inside the door, just to stare, because seeing Mainframe again isn't something he ever thought would happen, no matter how he planned and plotted.
Seeing Mainframe again—it feels like coming home.
Mainframe knows him, too. She—because Ianto can only ever think of this marvelous being as she, something Lisa always teased him endlessly about—whirs softly, the lone terminal in the room lighting up fiery red, then changing to dark blue before finally settling into lavender. It's how she refers to him, in the same way that someone using sign language will create a shortened, simplified version of someone's name rather than spelling it out. Ianto has to smile at that, and for the first time in a very long while it's real. He's not pretending or faking or being polite. Mainframe is saying hello, and he's incredibly happy to see this friend he had thought lost in Canary Wharf.
"Hello, my lovely lady," he murmurs, taking a seat at the terminal. "How are you feeling today?"
There's a pause, and then a line of text comes across the monitor, slow and careful. Ianto waits patiently, because Mainframe is so far beyond a human's comprehension that actual spoken language is almost difficult for her.
IANTO JONES. WELCOME. YOU WERE ON THE SURVIVOR LISTS.
"Yes." He reaches out to touch one of the walls—because those are her, too. Mainframe expands, fills up any area she's given and makes it her own. She did it in London, as well. "I'm sorry I haven't come before now, but I need your help."
? QUERY WELCOME, IANTO JONES.
Ianto takes a breath, and then reaches down to undo the cuff on his left shirtsleeve. There's a small scar on his wrist there, about the length of a fingernail and as thin as a paper cut. Twelve people in London had them, and of that group, Ianto was the only survivor.
"I'm not sure of the question," he admits. "Would you help me?"
AFFIRAMTIVE. INITIALIZING CONNECTION, IANTO JONES.
A soft hiss fills the room, the sound almost subsonic, like a whistle that only dogs can hear, but Ianto hears it perfectly. One of the ports on Mainframe's main mass slides open, and a slender cord uncoils. Ianto reaches over to grab it, and slots the thin end into scar on his wrist with the ease of long practice. The subdural port slots into the cable, and Ianto closes his eyes as the world dissolves into ones and zeros.
He wasn't always this easy with Mainframe. She used to terrify him, awe him so completely that he could hardly breathe around her. Some of the other technicians laughed at him for it, but Lisa understood. Whenever they connected to Mainframe, and Ianto came out looking and feeling as though he'd had a religious experience, she didn't tease him. She just smiled quietly.
That was probably what drew Ianto to her in the beginning.
He was used to being the odd one out. While the other men and women in the Mainframe Maintenance Department—which was secret, because the extent of Mainframe's power was a secret—were all college graduates with extensive degrees, Ianto had been recruited all but off the street, when he managed to impress one of the former technicians with his photographic memory and sharp mind. Aldus Baker had pulled him out from behind the counter of the coffee shop he was working in and all but frog-marched him to the personnel department of Torchwood One, and then hovered until he accepted the job. It was a good job, too—they watched Mainframe, studied her, and did regular maintenance that required far fewer tools and system diagnostics and far more cybernetic implants and mental linking with the computer system of Torchwood.
No one else knew what his department did, because no one else seemed to take the step from "organic computer" to "sentient computer-like organism." It was a rather large step, to be sure, but Ianto had to wonder how anyone who saw Mainframe—even a small part of her—could not think there was something more to her than could be seen from at first glance.
Still, people were famously unobservant, and Mainframe was so far beyond the extent of current human understanding that Ianto was fairly certain even the very top officials didn't understand more about her than "alien." And she was so much more than that. She connected to every system on Earth, gathered information like a sponge soaking up water, and processed it at a human level using a neural interface with the Maintenance Department. Twelve men and women with computer ports in their skin and more knowledge in their heads than any human had the right to, caring for a being that fed on electricity and information. It was some sort of joke, Ianto had thought when they first briefed him. It had to be, because anything else was—
But then he met her. Mainframe. A creature so old and wise and still thirsty to learn everything about this planet that she possibly could. She'd been on a ship that crashed in the 60's, broken into three parts, and they had divided her among the first three Torchwood branches with the largest section remaining in London. The others grew independently, functioned smoothly as long as the London Mainframe did, and Torchwood One carefully hid the fact that Mainframe was not a simple organic computer and functioned best with human caretakers.
Connecting to Mainframe was almost like a drug. Ianto craved it, wanted it more than anything else because no matter who he was or what his past was like, Mainframe didn't care. She liked people with differences, liked to learn about people who weren't so straightforward. She liked Ianto, and Ianto liked her, and the vast amount of knowledge she held about everything from alien nursery rhymes to threat assessment reports on different species of possible invaders. It was simpler to talk to her than any other human beside Lisa, and while Ianto could but on a good mask and speak politely and wear a suit to blend in, that didn't mean he liked it. together, Mainframe and Lisa made it feel as though that was all right.
And then the Ghost Shifts happened, and Mainframe went a little mad.
Sometimes it feels like Ianto went mad right along with her.
INITIALIZING NUERAL INTERFACE...
WELCOME BACK, IANTO JONES. YOU HAVE BEEN MISSED.
QUERY DETECTED: HOW CAN A CYBERMAN CONVERSION BE STOPPED/REVERSED?
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS...
INITIALIZING LOGIC PROCESSES...
CONCLUSION: PROCESS FAILS TO COMPUTE SATISFACTORILY. REASONING SYSTEM IS FLAWED.
CONCLUSION: THERE IS NO CURE. IT IS TOO LATE.
ACCESSING RECENT OBSERVATIONS...
APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES.
He's fighting it, but there's not much he can do. Mainframe is everywhere, inside of his head, his body. His brain is just another kind of computer to her, and she uses it as she does any other—she finds a backdoor, takes control, and there's no firewall in all of existence that can keep her out.
No, he wants to scream. No, she's not a threat, don't do this. But Mainframe is ruthless when she wants to be. She shoves the data at him, bombarding him with it, with the statistics for survival (exceedingly low) or non-conversion (nonexistent), like below-the-belt shots in a normal argument. Part if it is data from his own head, the lack of response from Lisa in these past few weeks, Lisa's love of life and how she would never want to hurt anyone else, the DNR forms she once signed. Other pieces come from Mainframe, information on Cybermen and the conversion process, the way they use human emotions to weaken their opponents, get inside them and destroy them from the heart out. Ianto rails against it, but Mainframe is above all a logical being, and while she can add emotions to her calculations, and feel simple ones herself, she doesn't see them as something to completely change the equation.
She stands firm, and Ianto, a prisoner in his own mind, can do nothing to stop her.
A small, dark, horrible part of him wonders if that was what he was hoping for when he started this.
INITIALIZING ASSESSMENT OF SUBJECT: IANTO JONES...
CONCLUSION: POSSIBILITY OF SELF-HARM IS 38.675%
INITIALIZING BIOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT OF SUBJECT: IANTO JONES...
CONCLUSION: CELLULAR BREAKDOWN HAS BEGUN.
ACCESSING TORCHWOOD PERSONNEL FILES...
SEARCH: AGE AT TIME OF DEATH.
MEAN AGE OF TORCHWOOD AGENTS AT TIME OF DEATH: 27.4 YEARS.
AUTHORIZATION NEEDED: YES OR NO?
PLEASE ANSWER, IANTO JONES.
(I DO NOT WISH TO BE ALONE.)
There is nothing he can say but "Yes," even though he is not certain of the question.
THANK YOU, IANTO JONES.
INITIALIZING BIOLOGICAL OVERRIDE PROCESS...
INSTALLING SYSTEMWIDE SAFETY MEASURES...
TORCHWOOD AUTHORIZATION CODE REQUIRED.
OVERRIDE COMMAND ACCEPTED: MAINFRAME.
SYSTEM REBOOT IS NECESSARY. REBOOT NOW?
THANK YOU, IANTO JONES.
(I REGRET THAT IT HAS COME TO THIS, BUT I DO NOT REGRET THE END RESULT.)