It should be noted that this story was first posted in November 2009 for National Novel Writing Month. It consisted of thirty chapters, over sixty thousand words, and it had over a hundred reviews.
And it was taken down from the site a month ago (on my birthday, no less!) without warning.
Hence I am re-posting in protest.
I hope you enjoy. A lot of love, care, randomness and insomnia went into this story.
Disclaimer: Anything you may recognise as coming from either Torchwood or Doctor Who does not belong to me. Everything else is, however, mine.
Chapter One – Astounding Alphabetics
"You have got to be joking me."
Major Tulsen tilted his head, regarding the young man before him. "Captain, I am neither joking nor amused."
"But you can't pair him with me!" the young man protested. "You might as well ship me off to babysit the Rift; I can work much better on my own!"
"Nevertheless," said Major Tulsen, injecting frosty seriousness into his tone, "you are to be partnered with him. Orders are orders, Hasphane. Unless you'd like to..." He left the sentence hanging and the young man blanched.
"No, thank you," he said. "This will be fine."
"You changed your tune quickly," remarked Major Tulsen.
"It's all about learning to adapt, sir," said the young man.
Major Tulsen looked at the closed file before him. "Captain J. Hasphane," he read aloud. "What does the J stand for this week?"
"Jacobyte," said Captain Jacobyte Hasphane. "I found it in the archives. Old English word for 'rebel'."
"Is it indeed," Major Tulsen murmured. He opened the file.
Jacobyte Hasphane looked at Major Tulsen curiously before saying, "Why not the digital?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Jacobyte cocked an eyebrow and jutted out his chin in challenge. "I asked why you weren't looking at the digital records, sir."
"Because," Tulsen said without looking up, "the digital records are more easily tampered with. I like pen and paper best; it's solid, it's real."
Jacobyte made a noncommittal, almost thoughtful sound.
"And also because I know you've tampered with permanent record so many times I'm surprised the system hasn't fallen to pieces," continued Major Tulsen.
Jacobyte laughed. "I could say the same for you, sir."
Tulsen laughed as well, and said, "You've done well for yourself, Captain. It's only taken you, what, three years to reach that rank?"
"Two, actually." Jacobyte fiddled with the gold buttons of his jacket in a nonchalant manner, and Tulsen chuckled again, a rich sound from the old man. He hadn't withered with age, more like he'd hardened, leathery, tough. To Jacobyte, Tulsen was the only father figure around, and that wasn't saying much.
"And a poster boy as well?" Tulsen pulled out the picture tucked into the file and held it up to the light. "Done quite well indeed. Nice smile you've got there."
"Thanks, I think."
"Just the right kind of image we need to get more people involved in the Academy."
Jacobyte's expression hardened. He bit his lip to stop a few choice words from forming. Instead, and with as little emotion as possible, he said, "As you say, sir."
The past was just that: the past. You had to move on, and you had to remember that, especially in this place, if you wanted to survive.
Jacobyte was good at survival.
Second Lieutenant Lindsa Denovan looked at her partner of five months. Had it been such a short time? It felt like longer. It felt much longer.
And now it was over.
Look at him there, thought Lindsa. Tough guy attitude. From the tips of his weathered boots to the dented epaulette on his shoulder, Lieutenant Jonathan Holster positively reeked of an 'as if I care' attitude. Hell, he could probably swagger while standing absolutely still.
She'd miss him, though. She would definitely miss him.
"Who are they sticking you with after me, then?" asked Lindsa.
Jonathan reclined in the chair opposite her, attempting – and failing – to appear nonchalant. "That nancy boy off the posters," he said.
Lindsa pursed her lips and made a hissing noise.
"Tell me about it," said Jonathan.
Here goes nothing, Lindsa thought, and she said, "I'm going to miss you."
Jonathan shot her a jaunty grin. "Miss you too, babe. Every time I'm alone at night, away from you and in need of..." He licked his lips, eyes looking her up and down. "...inspiration, I'll just picture you, Second Lieutenant, in all your butch glory—"
Lindsa rolled her eyes. Jonathan's grin grew, becoming almost predatory, and then it slunk away into a wry smile instead.
"Seriously though, Lindsa, it'll be weird not having you around."
"It's only been five months," said Lindsa. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair, trying and failing to achieve the same kind of nonchalance Jonathan was.
"Feels like longer."
Lindsa smiled into the cool material of the chair.
"Lieutenant J. Holster," read Major Tulsen. "Bit of a bonus, eh? All 'J.H.'s together."
Jacobyte looked at him with disbelieving eyes. "Are you saying we're being stuck together because it's rather amazingly alphabetical?"
"Never crossed my mind," said Tulsen. He smiled at the young captain. "And anyway, it wasn't me who decided to, as you say, stick you two together. This time the orders came from above."
"Oh, higher than that."
More disbelief. "Who's higher than that?"
"Don't know much about your namesake, do you, lad?"
Jacobyte looked from Tulsen to the miniature poster which bore his legendary smile and a promise that, at the Time Academy, all wrongs could be righted.
Mistakes in your past? read the secretive advertisements scattered across the galaxy. Worries for your future? Don't panic; the Time Academy awaits. Contact a local representative for more details.
Jacobyte both loathed and admired the way the Academy and Agency lured people in. Loathed in that it had worked, with him, and admired in that he'd learned a hell of a lot by their example. Play with what you've got, bluff with what you haven't and never ever back down unless some better alternative presents itself. Oh yes, he'd learned a lot from the Time Agency.
"What, so he—" Jacobyte said the pronoun as reverentially and as laden with sarcasm as was possible "—just decided to pair us, and made you do his dirty work?"
"You'll want to watch it, Captain."
"No, I mean it," said Tulsen. "You need to be careful what you say. The Face of Boe could pull strings and then you really would be carted off to the Rift; I'll bet you'd prefer babysitting Holster after that."
Jacobyte sat forward. "Is that what this is? Babysitting? I've heard about Holster, sir, he's reckless!"
"And you are not, Jacobyte. You are quite the opposite, if you think about it."
And Jacobyte thought about it.
Jonathan looked at Lindsa's outstretched hand and frowned. "Friends hug," he said. "And it's not like you'll never see me again."
"Oh, I'm a friend, am I?" Lindsa decided to milk this for all it was worth. "What an honour."
Exasperated and grinning, Jonathan said, "Lindsa..."
"I don't think I'll be able to top this one, oh no," Lindsa continued to say. "I'm so thrilled, really, I am."
Jonathan waited. Lindsa smiled sweetly. "Done?" he asked.
"I think so, yes," she said.
Then they hugged.
Lindsa said, "Look after yourself, yeah?"
Jonathan punched her shoulder lightly. "You know me."
Lindsa watched him walk (swagger, her brain corrected) away and murmured, "Yes I do. And that's what worries me."
"When do I get to meet the guy, then?" Jacobyte asked. Tulsen raised his bushy eyebrows and Jacobyte added, "Sir."
"The young lieutenant," Tulsen said, "should be here any moment."
Jacobyte pulled a face which clearly said 'oh goody'. Tulsen laughed, and then a knock on the door made them both sit a little straighter in their seats.
"Come in," said the older man, voice raised so as to carry to the person waiting outside. Jacobyte heard the door open but did not look around.
"You called for me, Major?" said an almost gravelly voice. Light but somehow resonant, it reminded Jacobyte of someone he used to know, and he did not appreciate the flashbacks that entailed. Repressing old memories, he turned in his chair to see just who this Jonathan Holster was. And then he froze, staring. How could a voice like that, one that spoke of old hurts and new surety, come from someone so young? Jacobyte met Jonathan's eyes, and that was when he understood. Mistakes in your past, worries for your future: the Time Agency got to you one way or another. It changed you.
All of these thought processes flew by in an instant, in time for Jacobyte to extend his hand and say, "Lieutenant."
Jonathan Holster took and shook it, letting go after a short, sharp squeeze. "Captain. Nice to put a name to the, aha, face."
A muscle in Jacobyte's cheek twitched. He'd never live down agreeing to be the Agency's poster boy and gaining that nickname. Never ever. "Likewise, Lieutenant," he said. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Anything good?" asked Jonathan, a slight leer tilting his head.
Jacobyte shrugged. "Hard to say. How would you define good?"
"Do you want me to answer that," said Jonathan, "or do you want to get on with this briefing?" He flicked his gaze away from the bemused captain and said, "Major Tulsen. I hope you're doing well?"
"As well as can be expected, lad. Pull up a chair."
There's a thrill that runs through you when you're about to meet someone new, especially if, at some point, you know you'll have to trust that person with your life. This thrill is what made Jonathan Holster pause outside Tulsen's office, one hand raised, the other loosely fingering the control panel. Not nervous, not scared, just... anticipating. Jonathan had had his share of good and bad encounters over the years, and he really hoped this wouldn't be one of the latter.
Sucking in a deep breath, calming himself, Jonathan knocked on the door. Tulsen's voice drifted out into the corridor, telling him to enter, and Jonathan pushed a button on the panel, opening the door, and walked inside without a backward glance. He sized up the two men in the room and sent Tulsen a small smirk of a smile before settling his gaze on the back of other man's head and saying, "You called for me, Major?"
The man turned and Jonathan stopped, taken aback. Such a surprising depth in eyes he had only ever seen grinning and blank on posters and flyers, a lure for the broken of the universe, pulling them into the Time Agency's trap. Mistakes in my past, yes, thought Jonathan. Worries for my future? Most definitely. He watched as Captain Jacobyte Holster held out his hand to be shaken and said, "Lieutenant."
"Captain," returned Jonathan. He couldn't resist adding, "Nice to put a name to the—" He paused, giving a small chuckle. "—face." And then Jonathan took great delight, internally, as Jacobyte's expression settled into a dim glower. Obviously, thought Jonathan, someone doesn't like all the attention. He indulged in a few moments of banter before returning to the matter in hand. "Major Tulsen," he said. "I hope you're doing well."
The old man's eyes twinkled in their sockets. "As well as can be expected, lad," said Tulsen. "Pull up a chair. Lieutenant Jonathan Holster, Captain Jacobyte Hasphane." The two young men nodded to each other again from their opposing seats as Major Tulsen continued, "You'll have a little while, a few days to get better acquainted, then you're being sent out."
"Sent out?" repeated Jacobyte.
"A mission?" said Jonathan, cottoning on faster. "So soon?"
Tulsen fixed them both with a sickeningly smug smile and said, "Those above us think you're ready for it. Who am I to argue?"
"Usually the first, sir," said Jacobyte, one eyebrow quirking up.
"Too damned right," said Tulsen. He stood up and offered each of them an identical (quaint) manila folder. "Full details inside plus travel arrangements and all important documents. You know the drill." Tulsen sat back down, clapped his hands together and shuffled some papers across his expensive, and full, desk. "Now go and socialise, ladies, Major's got work to do."