Sleeping Dragons 04 - Atonement
Fandom: Torchwood AU, with inevitable elements of Dr. Who.
Rating: General to Teens, for most parts.
Disclaimer: Dr. Who and Torchwood – settings and characters – belong to the BBC. I am just borrowing them. No copyright infringement intended and no money made.
Timeline: Right before and during the 2nd season episode "Sleepers" for Torchwood.
Series: Torchwood Alternate Season 2. Follows directly after "Smiths & Joneses".
Summary: UNIT is about to clear out the abandoned Torchwood lab under the Thames flood barrier. They found something they hadn't expected to find.
Chapter 01 – The Foundling
Author's note: The technobabble; has been taken from "The Runaway Bride" and from the TARDIS Wiki, respectively. I don't even pretend to understand it.
Captain Erisa Magambo, one of UNIT's finest, was not a happy woman. She had chosen her career to fight alien invasions – like at the time when those stingray-like… things came through that wormhole – not to clean up Torchwood's mess. And yet, for the second time within a few years, she found herself doing exactly that.
Of course, the first time didn't really count. All available officers had been temporarily reassigned after the Battle of Canary Wharf to contain the situation. Plus, there had been the very real chance that they would have to fight and destroy hordes of half-converted Cybermen. There, her military expertise had been needed.
But here? The secret Torchwood base under the Thames flood barrier had been destroyed years ago and waiting for a clean-out for almost as long. Jack Harkness from Torchwood Three had paid the place a visit, shortly after they had finished at Canary Wharf, had all potentially dangerous stuff either destroyed or removed, and then declared that he did not need the place and UNIT could have it, as far as he was concerned.
UNIT had no use for the destroyed labs, either, so they had sealed it and let it collect dust. Now however, the recently established new commanding officer of the British division, Colonel Augustus Oduya, had decided that they needed to clean out the destroyed labs, so that UNIT could use them for their own research. And he obviously thought that Captain Magambo was the right person to lead the clean-out team.
She knew, of course, why she had been chosen. She was the protégée of The Brig and had been greatly valued by Colonel Mace, too. Colonel Oduya, who had only achieved his current position because of the unfortunate scandal resulting in Colonel Mace's reassignment to that small, insignificant base outside Cardiff, hated and mistrusted those who had been close to his predecessors. He had already removed Captain Marion Price from Headquarters, sending her to a lab to rot; and he clearly intended to do something similar to Magambo, so that he could put his own sycophants into the key positions.
Erisa Magambo was determined to make it as difficult for her new commanding officer as possible. As a woman aiming for a military career, se was disciplined and used to put up with a lot more than her male comrades would ever have to. She was not giving Colonel Oduya any excuse to get rid of her. If the Colonel wanted her gone, he'd have to come up with an acceptable reason; and with her spotless record, only a promotion would be possible.
She could live with that.
She had to admit, though, that the former Torchwood labs were impressive, even in their ruins. The rooms were huge and extensive, a true honeycomb of interconnected research facilities, and the equipment that was too large to be removed – or permanently integrated into the walls – included pieces of the finest alien technology she had ever seen… and she had seen her fair share of alien tech.
"This is simply amazing!" Lieutenant Anna Zhou, a young exchange officer from the Chinese division, looked around herself, duly impressed. "What was Torchwood doing here anyway? What did they need such complicated machinery for?"
"As far as I know, they were producing Huon particles, among other things," Magambo replied.
Lieutenant Zhou frowned. "Huon… what?"
"Ancient particles from the so-called Dark Times," Professor Malcolm Taylor, who had been called in to help identifying possible alien energy sources, explained. "They are potentially deadly and contain a great amount of energy. In our time, they theoretically shouldn't even exist, as they were destroyed by the Time Lords, billions of years ago, due to their being harmful."
"Why?" the Chinese lieutenant asked. "What can they do?"
"Well, the only thing we know is that they attract other Huon particles," Professor Taylor replied. "A highly dangerous extraterrestrial race called the Racnoss used them in their technology, to power their spacecraft and for other purposes. They can be created by using a hydrogen base to create them in liquid form, in which inert status then they need to be activated in a living being; for example in a human body. They can be drunk in water, and then, if the text subject is in a stressful situation, they are activated. This process can take a whole six months… or it can happen in a few minutes. It all depends on the amount the test subject consumes and how quickly they do it."
That was already a more detailed answer than it would have been strictly necessary. But that was scientists for you. Once they had warmed up to a topic, it was impossible to shut them up.
Unless you shot them dead, but Magambo found that a bit extreme in the given situation.
Lieutenant Zhou, surprisingly enough, didn't seem particularly intimidated by Professor Taylor's spontaneous lecture, and Magambo had the uncomfortable feeling that she actually understood the explanation; or, at least, part of it. Who could tell what sort of education the Chinese division demanded from their officers? As much as she knew, Zhou could have been a cyberneticist or a nuclear scientist… whatever. The Chinese were a secretive lot.
"What happens once these Huon particles have been activated?" Zhou pressed on.
Professor Taylor shrugged. "Well, they start to glow and become magnetized, for starters, attracting other Huon particles. It's been theorized that if enough of them are absorbed – say, a whole gallon or so – they could even pull other Huon particles from different time zones."
"Which was what happened to the Doctor, shortly before the failed Racnoss invasion," Magambo added.
"The Professor nodded. "Yes. The only place you could find Huon particles in our time is a small remnant in the Doctor's TARDIS. But you can recreate them, as we've seen, extruding them through a flat hydrogen base; these lot here used the Thames as a source."
"But what did Torchwood need Huon particles for?" the lieutenant wondered.
"They didn't," Professor Taylor replied with a shrug. "The civilian firm that was leasing the labs, H C Clemens, had been tricked into manufacturing them by the Racnoss that wanted to reanimate their hibernating offspring, billions of years after they had lost the war against the Time Lords. Long story, but you can look it up in the Archives… assuming you get a high enough security clearance, which I very much doubt," he gave the young officer a distracted look and went on prodding the machinery in the next room.
"I find it strange that Torchwood simply gave up these labs," Lieutenant Zhou said, mildly suspicious. "All this highly advanced technology, and no-one laid claim on it? Why did UNIT not take it if Torchwood wouldn't?"
"It's not that simple," Magambo sighed. "Nominally, all this would belong to Torchwood One. But Her Majesty the Queen closed Torchwood One after the Battle of Canary Wharf. Right now, the new director of the Institute, a certain Mr. Jones, would have jurisdiction here, but he doesn't have the manpower to rebuild the labs. Besides, what's left of Torchwood is in Cardiff and in Glasgow, respectively. At the moment, it's just not doable for either of them to deal with the leftovers of Torchwood One. Watching the Cardiff Rift is more urgent."
"Will Torchwood One be ever reopened, ma'am?" Lieutenant Zhou mused.
"Not for a while yet, but in the long run, yeah, I think so." Magambo replied. "They are needed. UNIT is a military organization, and while we have a lot of leeway, compared with the regular armed forces – and can do a lot of things worldwide – in certain situations our hands are tied. Torchwood, on the other hand, is a private foundation, answering to the Queen alone. They can move in to the grey zones where we cannot."
Lieutenant Zhou didn't seem to be fully persuaded about the potential usefulness of Torchwood, but before she could have come up with another argument, Corporal Potofsky, Magambo's right-hand-man, came in running, excitement written all over his face.
"Captain, you've got to see this! You, too, Professor," he added hurriedly as an afterthought.
Magambo arched a surprised eyebrow. As a rule, Potofsky was not prone to over-excitement. At least a full-scale alien invasion was required for him to raise his voice, so whatever he and his men had found, it must have been extraordinary.
Still, it didn't behove for an experienced non-comm officer to behave like this, and that in front of a green lieutenant from a foreign country.
"Yes, Corporal," Magambo said patiently. "What is it that, in your expert opinion, I have to see?"
"Not what, ma'am," Potofsky recognized the reproachful tone of his superior officer's voice and pulled himself together a little. "Whom."
That silenced Magambo for a moment. They hadn't expected to find any living thing down here. In fact, she was positive that the labs had been checked meticulously and found empty before they'd have been sealed.
"All right," she said. "Show me the way."
Potofsky took them down with the still functioning lift to the lowest level, where electric scooters were waiting for them. These had belonged to the secret Torchwood labs and had been left there after the closing down of the facility, as using them anywhere else would have raised questions the people in charge had not wanted to answer. Magambo had to admit that while it felt a bit silly for an adult, especially for an officer, to ride them, it was still faster and more comfortable than walking down the long, dark, dank corridor that stretched seemingly endlessly in front of them, dimly lit with an eerie green light.
"Emergency lights?" she asked.
Potofsky shook his head. "As far as we can tell, ma'am, there has never been any other illumination, not even at the time the labs were running at full capacity."
"That's odd," Magambo commented. "It doesn't sound like Torchwood at all. Director Hartmann always preferred a bright and sophisticated environment."
"This might not have anything to do with her ambitions," Potofsky replied. "Perhaps the ones in charge here didn't want uninvited visitors and did their best to discourage them. Ah, we're there."
There was a nondescript door at the end of the corridor, which announced in big, bold letters: "Torchwood – authorised personnel only". They abandoned their scooters and Potofsky turned the wheel in the middle of the door, opening it and revealing a ladder behind it.
"Corporal, you gotta be kidding!" Magambo scowled. "Are you telling me this is the only way up?"
"Afraid so, ma'am," Potofsky said apologetically. "But we don't have to climb it – it leads to a manhole through which we can get out of the whole complex, right to the Thames Barrier. We're following this narrow passage that crosses under the ladder, though; that's where the really cool things are."
Magambo felt decidedly uninspired to share the corporal's enthusiasm – Potofsky had always been a bit obsessed with this James Bond stuff – but followed him nonetheless, After a short, uncomfortable walk, they came to another door, this one without any sign, which opened before them automatically, allowing them to stop into a cavernous room full of massive test tubes and other equipment too heavy to be moved.
"Looks like a chemistry lab," Lieutenant Zhou commented. "A fairly big one, at that."
"Oh, but it is!" Professor Taylor replied enthusiastically. "This is where the particle extrusion took place!"
"The what?" Magambo and Potofsky chorused. The professor tended to believe that everyone else had half a dozen degrees in various hard sciences, too.
"Where they manufactured the Huon particles," the Chinese lieutenant explained, strengthening Magambo's suspicion that she was a great deal more than just a simple exchange officer. "These," she gestured at the test tubes, now empty and probably dysfunctional, "were used to extract hydrogen from the river water, and that EN generator over there was needed to magnetize them, so that they could attract other Huon particles."
"Exactly," the professor beamed at her like a proud teacher at a promising student. "You're brilliant, my dear. And so were they."
"Insane would be a more accurate description," Magambo scowled. "This is all nice and good, Corporal, but it's nothing we hadn't known before. So, why would I have to see this?"
"Not this," Potofsky grinned. "This is just the antechamber. The really cool stuff is behind there."
He hit a button on one of the seemingly dormant control consoles, at which one of the walls slid upwards noiselessly to reveal a secret chamber with an enormous round hole in the floor. Several UNIT soldiers surrounded the rim of the hole, aiming with their rifles downward.
Giving Potofsky a doubtful look, Magambo walked to the perimeter and peered down, expecting to see some sort of alien monster. A Hoix perhaps, or even a Slitheen. Instead, curled up in a foetal position and shivering with cold and fear, there was a young man on the bottom of the chute.
A very ordinary-looking young man, in his mid-twenties, as far as she could guess from this considerable distance. The chute was very deep and quite dark to tell for sure.
"At least fifty or sixty feet," Potofsky judged. "We don't have a ladder that would be long enough. We'll have to let someone down on a rope."
"Let's do it," Magambo ordered. "We should have the right gear in one of the trucks. Bring some rope. I'd love to ask this gentleman what is he doing down there – not to mention how he managed to break into a restricted and doubly secured area."
"Do you think it will be safe to let someone down to him, ma'am?" Lieutenant Zhou eyed the trapped young man suspiciously. "He may be armed."
"Perhaps," Magambo allowed," but his first priority would be to get out of that rat-trap, and he wouldn't achieve that by attacking whoever goes down to pull him out."
"He might be cooperative at the moment," Zhou agreed. "What about later, though?"
"We're armed, too," Magambo answered with a shrug, "and we're used to deal with intruders. We'll keep a close eye on him. A very close one."
In the meantime, Potofsky had returned with a huge coil of rope, the weight of which made him stagger slightly, and with the rest of the mountaineering equipment. With the help of another soldier, he quickly drove the winch into the concrete floor, threaded the rope through it, and then stretched out his arms, so that the other man could help him into the harness that would enable him to bring their suspect up with him at once.
"Secure the upper end of the rope," he instructed the other soldier, "and use the winch to let me down. Slow and steady; the walls of this chute are smooth like glass, but I can still break my bones if I swing the wrong way… or too heavily."
The young soldier followed his instructions faithfully, and Potofsky climbed over the rim of the hole and began his slow, careful descent into the chute. He was experienced with this sort of equipment; still, Magambo wished there would be another way to extract their uninvited visitor. She did not risk the lives of her men lightly.
"Is it true that the Racnoss blasted this hole in the ground, to save their hibernating offspring?" Lieutenant Zhou asked.
Magambo shook her head. "Nah; that's rubbish; which is why you shouldn't listen to the soldiers' gossip. It was Torchwood One that laser-drilled the chute for them."
"But why? Weren't they created to fight alien invasions, just like UNIT? Why would they help them instead?"
Magambo shrugged. "I'm not a scientist; even if I were, this kind of technology would go way above my head. No-one knows the exact details, but the consensus seems to be that Torchwood One was mislead by the human agents of the Racnoss. They actually believed that Huon particles could be used as an alternate energy source, and with the help of them, they could solve the energy problems of Earth."
"God beware us from good intentions in the hands of megalomaniacs," Lieutenant Zhou muttered.
"Quite right," Magambo agreed. "Still, the problem with new scientific discoveries is that you cannot tell in advance how they will turn out. Not until it comes to amazing breakthrough – or horrible disasters. But if we don't even give them a try, we could as well climb back into the trees and fight the apes for bananas."
"Captain," one of the soldiers, interrupted their discussion with an apologetic face, "Potofsky's hit bottom, ma'am. We're gonna pull 'em up now."
"Good," Magambo said. "Just be careful, Private. We don't want either of them injured."
"Yes, ma'am," the young soldier laid his rifle down, so that he could focus on operating the winch. He did it by hand, rather than using the electronic drive. "Hold on, Corporal," he said into the microphone of his earpiece. "We're starting now."
"Ready to go," the tiny voice of Potofsky answered.
The young soldier grabbed the handle of the winch with both hands and started turning it. He worked slowly and carefully, keeping his moves smooth and steady, but even so, the two men at the other end of the rope bounced against the wall of the chute a couple of times, if their muffled groans of pain were any indication.
"Careful, Private!" Magambo warned the soldier. "I want them in one piece; and unharmed, at least as far as Corporal Potofsky is concerned."
"I'm trying my best, ma'am," the young soldier replied through gritted teeth, his smooth, dark face shiny with perspiration.
After several seemingly endless minutes – the chute was really deep, they had needed the entire length of the rope to get Potofsky down to the bottom – a red beret appeared just above the rim of the hole. The young soldier made one last effort, and in the next moment two of his comrades reached down with their free hands and pulled the corporal and his foundling, both secured in the harness, to the safety of stable ground.
"Good work, Corporal," Magambo said to Potofsky; then she glanced at the young soldier at the winch. "You, too, Private. Lieutenant Zhou, take over coordinating the clean-out for me, will you? And you," she looked at the two soldiers who were freeing Potofsky and his foundling from the harness, "take this gentleman to the former office of Mr. Clemens. I'll have words with him."
"Yes, ma'am," everyone chorused crisply, although the lieutenant seemed a bit disappointed that she wouldn't be present at the investigation. Well, tough shit; this was British business and none of her concern.
The soldiers gave the young man pitying looks. Having words with Captain Magambo was a well-known source of repetitive nightmares.
H C Clements, the company serving as the front of the underground labs of Torchwood One, had been a security firm, nominally, made up by the Torchwood Institute, two and a half decades earlier. Consequently, it had a multi-storey building above ground as well; a moderately modern one, yet one with an up-to-date security system that had kept it sealed since the Racnoss disaster.
Which made the question how the unknown young man had managed to get in all the more interesting, of course.
The office of the late Mr Clemens was on the top floor and had stood empty ever since, save for a large, mahogany-coloured desk and a couple of chairs. Captain Magambo took the comfortable, albeit fairly dusky chair behind the desk, while Corporal Palmer, an experienced veteran re-drafted after the heavy losses due to the Sontaran invasion, pulled another one to the narrow end of the desk and set up his laptop, enhanced with alien technology of course, to record the interrogation – and to correlate the necessary data for his superior officer.
Magambo sent a young Private, whose name she couldn't remember, to fetch them both some coffee, and then ordered their foundling to be brought in.
Two soldiers escorted their suspect in – because what else could he be called, given the circumstances? – pushed him onto the chair opposite Magambo and stayed behind him, just in case he'd try something stupid. Like attempting to bolt, for example.
Magambo eyed him with cold, professional curiosity. Her first estimate had been mostly correct: from close up, he seemed in his early twenties, dark-haired and dark-eyed and quite good-looking; almost pretty. He also had the air of those spoiled brats about him who had never worked really hard, and his eyes were haunted. His nondescript black jeans and button-down black shirt, with its neck open, gave no indication of what he might have been doing for a living – if anything. On the other hand, he didn't reek of money, either, so he probably wasn't one of the rich playboys, after all.
In any case, he was an enigma, and his presence in the sealed-off secret labs a dangerous break of security. So Magambo was determined to find out everything that was there to know about him.
"Well, young man," she said after a lengthy silence, during which her suspect had done his best not to squirm on his chair, although he was clearly uncomfortable, "it seems we're gonna have a long discussion, you and me, so let's start with introductions. I'm Captain Erisa Magambo from the British division of UNIT, responsible for this particular operation. I'm empowered to deal with any obstacles as I see fit, so it would be in your best interest to give me a plausible explanation why did we find you in a top secret facility that had been sealed off for years by top secret security measures; and, more importantly, how did you manage to break in?"
She did not elaborate how she was supposed to deal with obstacles. It had been her experience that unknown threats were a great deal more frightening for suspects than any concrete danger. And once again, it worked like a charm. The young man swallowed nervously, several times – and then he gave her the lamest excuse she had heard during her entire career as a UNIT officer, which was saying a lot. Most young Privates transgressing the rules tended to come up with spectacularly stupid explanations.
"I… I didn't mean it," he muttered. "It was an accident."
Corporal Palmer couldn't withhold a derisive snort. Despite his decades-long experience in the line of duty, today's youth still managed to surprise him, as the incredulous expression of his long, deeply lined face showed. His pale, almost colourless eyes narrowed in suspicion, muttered something under that long nose of his that wasn't particularly flattering.
Although such behaviour was considered unbecoming in the presence of a superior officer, Magambo couldn't really blame him, because really, an accident? Nobody broke into a restricted, high-security area by accident.
"I think you can do better than that, Mister…" she trailed off expectantly. The young man got the clue.
"Mitchell," he said hurriedly. "Adam Mitchell. And I swear it was an accident, ma'am, honestly! I didn't even know that this place existed to begin with!"
He spoke in the manner as used in Manchester and surrounding, albeit with a slight American colouring. Which was strange, Magambo found. Usually, one needed to live in the States for years to pick up that undertone. Could the young man have crossed the ocean, just to break into a secret yet basically empty Torchwood lab? What could he have hoped to find here?
He also sounded more than a little hysterical. If he was a spy, he couldn't be a very good one. Or a very experienced one.
"I find that a little hard to believe," Magambo said in an almost friendly tone. "Why don't you start at the beginning, Mr Mitchell? For starters, where are you from?"
"Manchester," he replied, unsurprisingly naming an address in one of the suburbs of the city. "You can check it…"
"Oh, I intend to, don't worry," Magambo glanced at Palmer. "Corporal, if you would?"
"Yes, ma'am!" Palmer was already hacking into the official records of the City of Manchester, calling up all available information of the people living under the given address… and frowned. "There's a Mrs Judy Mitchell registered to live there all right. However, it's mentioned that her only son, one Adam Mitchell, is currently living in the United States, somewhere near Salt Lake City."
"Somewhere?" Magambo repeated with marked displeasure.
Palmer shrugged. "He's apparently employed by GeoComTex; those guys are a secretive lot, ma'am."
"Can you hack into their personnel files?" Magambo asked. "If our… guest here is their Adam Mitchell, he's clearly not in the States right now. If we can get hold of their Adam Mitchell, though, then ours here is a fake."
Palmer shook his head apologetically, his large ears almost flapping with the effort. Had they not been dealing with a potential security risk, it would have been a funny moment.
"Sorry, ma'am; not with this equipment. GeoComTex practically owns the internet, the only computer sophisticated enough to hack into their system would have been the Mainframe of Torchwood One, but that has been destroyed in the Battle of Canary Wharf."
"I know," Magambo said dryly. "I saw what was left of it; a shame for such an advanced system. But what's this nonsense about GeoComTex owning the internet? Nobody owns the internet."
"Yeah, that's what Mr van Stratten likes to make you believe," their guest muttered. "As long as he isn't found out, he can manipulate the flow of information as he pleases. Including the outcome of the elections."
Magambo gave him a look full of mistrust. "And you know that… how exactly, if I may ask?"
"I used to work for him," the young man replied; then he corrected himself. "Well, I will be working for him, in a couple of years. Until 2012. In fact, another me, slightly younger than the current one, is still working for him. So yeah, would you be able to hack into the security system of the GeoComTech headquarters, you could probably see me in the Vault right now."
"The what?" Palmer asked.
"The Vault," the young man repeated. "Where Mr van Stratten keeps his collection."
"I see," Magambo wasn't believing a word of the rubbish the young man was spouting, but she hoped to learn more by placating him. "And what is… was… will be your job at GeoComTex exactly?"
"Purchasing and cataloguing extraterrestrial artefacts for Mr van Stratten," the young man replied matter-of-factly.
"I see," Magambo said again, without as much as blinking. "And you're a time traveller, too?"
"That was an unexpected side effect," the young man said apologetically. "All I wanted was to get away from Cardiff, where I was, oh, about three hours ago. I thought the gizmo I used was a portable teleportation device. I never wanted to cause a temporal paradox; the Doctor's made us clear how dangerous that could be. And yet somehow I ended up back in time."
"The Rift," Corporal Palmer had helped cleaning out the Torchwood Hub back in 2000, right after Alex Hopkins had killed off his entire team, in the desperate effort to save them from some unknown future catastrophe, so he was vaguely informed about the existence and the peculiarities of the Cardiff Rift. "It must have triggered the time-travelling function of the artefact somehow. What year was it when you visited Cardiff?"
"2013," the young man sighed. "What a mess!"
"Quite," Magambo agreed. "Now, there are two more questions I'd like to have answered. One: where's the artefact that you used to get here? Two: how come that you'd know the Doctor? He doesn't exactly advertise his presence on Earth in these days."
"The artefact is still in the hole where you found me, I'm afraid," the young man said. "As for the Doctor… I travelled with him for a short time. With him and his companion, a girl named Rose Tyler."
"The one that was at Canary Wharf," Magambo added for Palmer's sake. "Got sucked into an alternate dimension, together with her mother, or so Torchwood Three's head geek says."
"What?" the young man cried out in anguish. He must have had a crush on that girl. "Rose's gone? But that can't be! I met her – will meet her – in 2012!"
Magambo rolled her eyes. "How can somebody have travelled with a Time Lord, even if only for a short while, and still be thinking so linear? That man – alien – travels back and forth in time as you'd travel by train from Manchester to London and back! Haven't you learned anything while travelling with him?"
The young man couldn't find a proper answer to that, just looked at her with an expression that would have put a goldfish to shame. Magambo withstand the urge to roll her eyes again. And that used to travel with the Doctor? Her respect for the Time Lord went down a notch or two.
Palmer looked up from his laptop. "What are we gonna do with him, ma'am? If we bring him to Headquarters, he's never gonna see the sunlight again. Colonel Oduya will see to that; you know how paranoid he is."
Magambo nodded. That was one of the thing she liked in Palmer: the Corporal was of the old school, just like herself. And just like herself, he deeply, passionately despised Colonel Oduya, the most opportunistic officer they had ever had the misfortunate to serve with.
"Well..." she said thoughtfully, "temporally misplaced people are Torchwood's responsibility. I say, contact them and let them collect our guest."
"But Torchwood London no longer exists," Palmer reminded her.
Magambo shrugged. "So what? We'll send him back to Cardiff. Harkness was a time traveller himself, he'll know what to do with Mr Mitchell. And they have those picturesque Victorian dungeons under their base; should Mr Mitchell turn out to be fake, they'll find the right cell for him, next to the latest Weevil fished out of the sewers," she pulled out her mobile phone. "Give me a secure channel, Corporal!
"Yes, ma'am," with the help of his laptop, Palmer connected her to the UNIT communications satellite. "Secure channel established. You can dial now, Captain."
Magambo had the secure landline of the Torchwood Three base on speed dial. She hit the key, and after the third ring tone somebody picked up her call.
It was a female voice; one she didn't recognize. She could recognize Jacobs, of course, they'd served together for a few years before the communications technician would have requested a transfer to Torchwood. She also knew the voice of Ms Cowell-Williams, the personal assistant of the new Torchwood director, but this voce was a new one.
"Captain Magambo from UNIT," she introduced herself. "I'd like to speak with Director Jones. Is he available?"
"Just a moment, Captain, I'll put you through to his office at once," the unknown voice answered.
There was a brief pause, then the familiar, mellow Welsh tones of Ianto Jones greeted her from the other end of the connection, cutting straight to the core, as he knew she wouldn't contact him just to chat.
"Jones here. What can I do for you, Captain?"
"We've found a temporally displaced person," Magambo replied. "We think he'd be better off with your lot. Our new commanding officer…"
"Yes, we all miss Colonel Mace in his previous position," replied the young Torchwood director dryly.
That was a double-edged comment, of course. As much as most UNIT officers at the London headquarters mourned Colonel Mace's departure, he had certainly become a pain in Torchwood's backside since his transfer to the Cardiff base.
"Anyway," Director Jones continued, "we're more than willing to take over responsibility for your displaced person. He's human I assume?"
"So he claims, and I haven't found a reason to doubt it – not yet," Magambo answered. "However, he comes from the near future, where he had access to… sensitive equipment," that was their common euphemism for advanced alien technology, "so I suggest to handle him with special care."
Which meant in translation that the temporally displaced person was dubious, at the very least; potentially dangerous, too.
"Understood," the Torchwood director said slowly. "Will a standard field tem do the trick or do you need specialists?"
"I'm not sure," Magambo admitted. "There's something fishy about the man. He claims to have travelled with the Doctor, but he doesn't seem companion material to me. Not after the ones I've seen so far."
"They come in all shapes, ages, genders and colours," Director Jones commented philosophically. "But I think I know what you mean. Specialists, then."
"Harkness would be good," Magambo said. "And Sato, if you can send her, just in case. We'll try to retrieve the, erm, sensitive equipment in the meantime."
"All right," Jones said. "A team will be on their way within the hour. I'll send them with the SUV, so that they can secure our guest, should he cause problems. Can you keep him somewhere safe until then?"
"I hope so," Magambo was thinking furiously. Her team wouldn't babble, of that she was sure, but Lieutenant Zhou was an unknown factor. Could they wait and risk that she would report in to Colonel Oduya – or to her own superiors? "Just tell your people to hurry up; I'd like to have the problem out of my hands before the Colonel learns about it."
"Is there any immediate danger that he might?" Jones asked, understandably reluctant to pick an open fight with the commanding officer of the only organization powerful enough to harm Torchwood.
"A fairly real one," Magambo admitted. "We're clearing out what's left from H C Clemens and the secret Torchwood Lab underneath the Thames Barrier, and he could demand my progress report any time."
"Understood," Jones paused for a moment, mentally weighing the possible ramifications. "Can you trust your team to keep silent about our lost traveller?"
"My team – yeah," Magambo tried not to feel insulted by the mere question; Jones was simply evaluating the situation, after all. "But we've got an exchange officer with us…"
"… whose loyalties might be different," the Torchwood director finished for her. "I see where that could be a problem. We'll have to use more… drastic measures. Give me twenty minutes, Captain, and I'll call you back with the alternate plan."
Said twenty minutes were spent in tense expectation. When Magambo's mobile finally rang, she nearly jumped out of her chair, which annoyed her to no end. As a rule, she wasn't particularly… jumpy, but she really wanted to hand her strange prisoner over to Torchwood. Permanently.
"Magambo," she identified herself.
"Jones," the Torchwood director's voice answered. "Stand by to receive our team in sixty seconds, Captain; and please keep your men from shooting at them. Despite their, say, regenerative abilities, that's always such a bloody mess. Literally."
"Sixty seconds?" Magambo repeated in shocked disbelief. "What do you mean in sixty seconds? How could your team possibly…"
She never came to finish that sentence, because in the next moment two patches of pulsing golden light took shape in the middle of the room. They quickly grow tall and wide enough for a person to step through them – like through some kind of weird interdimensional portal in a bad, low-budget sci-fi film with cheap special effects – released two people, and then collapsed behind them again, as if it had never been there.
One of the newcomers, a slender, sweet-faced blonde girl with a long ponytail, grinned triumphantly.
"Ha! I told you it would work!" she exclaimed. "Dare you to question my skills as a technician again, and I'll be rubbing this under your nose for eternity!"
The other one, whom Magambo easily recognized as Captain Jack Harkness, outdated military greatcoat and all, groaned. "Shit, rough ride! Why do these things leave me always so dehydrated?"
"Perhaps you're getting old?" the girl teased. She was wearing black denims with ankle boots and a black leather jacket over a burgundy red tank top, and seemed not the least influenced by their trip – whatever the nature of it might have been.
"Careful with the age jokes, young lady," Harkness warned her, although he didn't seem particularly upset, and why would he? He looked every bit as gorgeous as always.
Then he seemed to remember that they weren't alone and that they were here for a reason, because he turned to Magambo and virtually blinded her with his trademark thousand megawatt smile.
"Captain Magambo, I presume? I'm Captain Jack Harkness; and this is one of our technical experts, Jenny Smith."
They shook hands. The girl's grip was surprisingly strong for someone so young and slender, but under that child-like façade Magambo's experienced eye recognized the well-trained professional soldier. Tech expert, my arse! She thought, wondering where Torchwood might have found the girl. She knew better than to ask, though. Both sides had their secrets.
"That was a spectacular entrée, Captain Harkness," she said instead.
Harkness grinned. "You said it was urgent. This was the shortest and fastest way to get here."
"But apparently not the most comfortable one," Magambo grinned back at him.
"My… let it call personal teleportation device, is a bit wacky," Harkness explained. "I've tried to repair it… Well, I did repair it, with Jenny's help, more or less, but there are nasty side effects."
"Like arriving at your destination as a desiccated mummy," the girl added helpfully.
Harkness rolled his eyes. "Oh, c'me on, Jenny, it wasn't that bad!"
The girl raised a sarcastic eyebrow. "Wasn't it? If I remember correctly, it took your four days to recover from those nasty side effects."
Being one among the selected few of The Brig's protégées, Magambo knew about what Director Jones had called Harkness' regenerative abilities. If he needed four days to recover from the last trip gone wrong, then the side effects must have been nasty indeed.
"And you still took the risk to use that thing?" she asked, shaking her head. Men and adrenaline, really!
Harkness' blinding smile dimmed a little. "You know me, Captain. Nothing can harm me; not for the duration anyway."
"Yeah, but that doesn't make dying any less painful for you than it would be for the rest of us," the girl countered. "And you know what Ianto thinks about you taking unnecessary risks."
"What about the risks for you?" Magambo asked. "Or are you like Captain Harkness here?"
The girl laughed. "Goodness, no! But my teleportation device happens to work properly. It is a, well, a more advanced model than his."
"Why didn't you both use yours then?" Palmer asked, looking up from his laptop, where he was still trying to hunt down every scrap of information available about Adam Mitchell.
"Can't do that," the girl explained. "These things can only transport one person safely. Trying to take somebody with me would overload the circuits and probably burn out the whole thing."
"It would, too," Harkness agreed. "I had to escape from certain death once, taking your Dad and Martha with me… we barely managed to escape in one piece, and my vortex… my teleportation device was rendered useless."
So Harkness used to know the girl's father, Magambo mused. That explained the unusual fact that he wasn't flirting with her, then. As a rule, the man tended to flirt with everything that had a pulse and, if the rumours were true, with a few things that hadn't.
Perhaps he was taking the feelings of an old friend into consideration. Magambo's opinion about him went up a notch.
"So, does it mean that you won't be able to whisk our… guest away with you, just like that?" she asked, clicking her fingers to demonstrate what she meant.
Then her jaw and that of Palmer dropped simultaneously. They stared with open-mouthed horror at the forehead of the young man, where a strange, rhombus-shaped implant… cybernetic device… whatever emerged from under the unblemished skin. The shutters of the… thing opened like four identical metallic claws or spikes, revealing part of his unprotected brain through the hole in his skull.
She needed all her considerable self-discipline not to get sick, and Palmer didn't seem to take it much better. Her only consolation was that even Harkness and the girl soldier were a bit green around the gills.
"Oooookay," Harkness said languidly. "That's something new. Who the hell are you? No, I'd rather know what the hell are you?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous!" the young man clicked his fingers and the device closed, vanishing without a trace behind his forehead. "It's just an infospike. I'm every bit as human as you are."
"Considering who I am, I'd seriously doubt that," Harkness had already pulled himself together. "But this is not the right time or the right place to discuss things. We must relocate somewhere safe before anyone else discovers your dirty little secret. Let me talk to Ianto, and then we'll see."