Overture: Larghissimo (very slow)
The Doctor bends over the console, frowning, and swipes strands of reddish-gold hair out of his eyes. "What the—? No, no, I don't want to land there." Long fingers stab at buttons, twist dials, tug at levers. "What's wrong with you? I realigned the stabilisers last week."
The only response to his protests is a shrill note in the familiar grumble of the materialisation circuit. "All right, then. You're overdue for a full overhaul, and it's a quiet enough place. There won't be any distractions."
Jack takes the last pair of wine glasses out of the Auto-Kleen and sets them on the wide shelf beneath the bar. That chore done, he looks around the room and smiles. It looks good, this place. His place. Jack can't count the number of taverns he's been in over the centuries. He's worked in them many times, as barman, server, bouncer, or entertainer, but he's never owned his own tavern.
The sign over the front door says Rick's Place. He's Rick Hawkins now, because Jack Harkness died very thoroughly and publicly two years ago on Cressid Beta, caught in a fiery explosion after rescuing 23 children from a shuttle crash. Bystanders' vids of him were splashed all over the major galactic news channels. Sneaking out of the mortuary was easy enough; sneaking off-planet was more of a challenge, and he thinks he might have been seen. It's been 196 years since the last time someone used him as a medical experiment, trying to uncover the secret of his immortality. He still has occasional nightmares about it. In his old con-man days, he might have gone for some temporary face-sculpting to conceal his identity. That isn't an option now. His immortal body treats surgery as just another kind of wound, and promptly 'heals' it. A few more years—maybe a decade—will be long enough to let public interest fade away.
Tritos is a quiet little planet, which is exactly why Jack chose it for his bolt-hole. There's just enough government to keep things semi-civilised, but the Council's unofficial motto is 'Mind your own business'. Violence is mostly limited to pub brawls, and theft to pickpocketing and poker. A friendly place, where your name is whatever you say it is.
Sunset brings in the usual crowd. Targuun settles himself on a backless stool that will accommodate his spiked tail and orders his usual. He's a Squerri, a reptilian species from halfway across the galaxy, and he works cargo at the small nearby spaceport. Jack doesn't know what brought Targuun to Tritos. It probably has something to do with the faint blemish on his left cheek, where a Squerri clan tattoo ought to be. Targuun hasn't said, and Jack won't ask. Mind your own business.
He's mixing a Spacer's Folly for Jason D'Alessio, a member of the Council, and pouring a hypervodka for his partner, Liu Wang, when the stranger enters. Jack assesses him immediately, as he does every new arrival. Human (or human-looking), shorter than Jack, lean and wiry. There's a hint of ginger in his short blond hair. His grey-green eyes sweep the room curiously as he walks up to the bar. Just another weary traveller in rumpled grey tunic and trousers, but he draws the attention of every being in the room like a lodestone.
His assistant Chacaw steps forward to greet the newcomer. "Evening. Welcome to Rick's."
"And would you be Rick, then?" There's a faint lilt in the man's voice that suggests his ancestors came off Starship Eire.
"No, sir—" Chacaw begins.
Jack sets the two drinks down in front of D'Allessio and Liu, then moves to the centre of the bar. "I'm the owner. Rick Hawkins."
The newcomer smiles at him. No, that's too mild a word. He beams like an industrial-grade searchlight. "So that's what she was up to, the minx," he murmurs to himself. "Very pleased to meet you, Rick."
"The pleasure is mine," he says, returning the smile, and pauses for the other man to supply a name.
The five kilowatt smile dims. "I... erm..."
The man is clearly no innocent—there are too many shadows lurking in those sea-green eyes—but whatever trouble he's been in before, he faced it under his own name. Jack ponders the options. Not the cliche 'John' for this man, no. Of course, there are other variants of the name. Why not one that matches the lovely accent? "You look like a Seán to me."
"Seán..." The man tastes the name, considers it, then smiles again. "Why not?"
"So, Seán, what can I get you?"
"Ohhhh... I'll have what's he's drinking." The newcomer points at Targuun's glass, half-full of bright magenta liquid.
Jack raises his brows. "One Mauve Alert with extra grenadine, coming right up."
Accelerando (speeding up)
Payday at the spaceport means a busy night at Rick's. That's a good thing, but it also means that Jack is constantly on the move, mixing drinks, filling glasses, greeting customers. It doesn't leave much time for chatting with a certain intriguing visitor. After the initial rush is over, he signals to Chacaw that he's taking a break. A glance and a slight nod at one of his regulars, and the seat next to Seán becomes vacant.
"So, what brings you to Tritos?"
"My ship," Seán replies, then chuckles. "That is, it's because of my ship that I'm here. I was intending to visit Procula VII, but my ship had other ideas. She's been a bit... difficult lately."
"They love to show us who's boss, don't they?"
"I love her dearly, but she drives me mad sometimes," Seán says wryly.
"If you like, I can recommend a couple of good mechanics out at the 'port. For that matter, I know my way around an engine. I'd be happy to give you a hand." He grins. "You can take that however you like."
"I'll see what I can do on my own, but I'll keep your offer in mind." Seán's slight emphasis on 'offer' is accompanied by a quick smile that makes Jack's pulse speed up.
They chat for a few minutes more. Seán is a well-travelled man. They swap tales of Novo Omsk, and Li-Xuan, and Resheph. "Have you ever been to the sun-cake festival on Talitha Prime?" Seán asks. "No? You must go. Though, a word to the wise... whatever you do, don't offer a sun-cake to a woman. The Talithans consider that a legally-binding offer of marriage."
"I'm guessing that you found this out the hard way. Did she sue you for breach of promise?"
"Actually, she threatened to have my head cut off," Seán confesses. "She was the High Priestess of the Sun, ritually married from birth to her god. What I thought was a friendly gesture was an insult verging on blasphemy."
"Ouch. What happened?"
Seán makes a vague gesture, rolling his splayed hands around each other. "Oh, we came to an agreement. It's a long story."
Jack would love to coax him into telling what he's sure is a fascinating tale, but he really can't dally any longer. He heads back into the cheerful chaos as the second wave of customers arrive. It's like a dance: darting and weaving through the crowd, usually with a heavily-loaded tray in hand. Twice during the evening Jack has to stop what he's doing to break up a fight. In the first instance, it's enough to have the combatants' friends drag them off the separate ends of the tavern. In the second, the troublemaker is invited to leave and never return. That shouldn't be an issue, as he's a deckhand on a tramp freighter that's scheduled to depart in two days.
Jack doesn't get a chance to catch his breath until it's nearly closing time. He looks around, and is disappointed to discover that Seán is gone. Pity. He would have enjoyed seeing more of him. A few drinks, an uninterrupted conversation, and possibly something more. Maybe tomorrow...
The next evening is busy, but not as hectic as payday. Jack finds himself looking up whenever the front door opens, hoping to see a craggy face and laughing green eyes. Chacaw asks if he's expecting trouble.
Jack shakes his head. "Only the fun kind." He returns to mixing the perfect Blue Moon martini. He delays closing by half an hour, then reluctantly locks up. It's ridiculous, he tells himself. He met the man only once, and barely exchanged a handful of words with him. He can't really miss someone he barely knows.
The following night he forces himself to keep his mind on the job. At break time he chats with the regulars, then wheedles shy Accarren from Ground Control onto the dance floor. Once in motion, she loses her inhibitions about dancing in public, and her silky prehensile tail adds an extra flair to the tango. When the dance ends, there's a round of applause from the audience. He guides Accarren into a bow of acknowledgement, and as they straighten up, he sees Seán at a corner table, clapping and whistling as though it's his job, and he's being paid by the decibel.
Jack picks his way through the crowd to Seán's table. "May I?" he asks.
Seán gestures at a vacant chair. "You're quite a dancer."
"I enjoy it. Do you... indulge?"
"It's been a while. The last time was at the wedding of some friends of mine." There's a hint of sadness in Seán's smile.
Time to change the subject. "So, how's your ship coming along?"
"I've been running system tests and visual inspections, but bugger if I can find the problem." Seán shrugs. "I'll sort it eventually."
"That offer is still open. If you need a hand, you know where to find me. Or if you need a guide to the sights of Tritos."
Seán cocks his head. "Are there sights on Tritos? Other than the spaceport—and this fine establishment," he adds.
Jack acknowledges the compliment with a nod. "There's an abandoned quarry a few klicks south of the 'port," he begins.
"Please don't take this as a slight, but I've seen more than my fair share of quarries, abandoned or otherwise."
Jack grins. "I can pretty much guarantee that you've never seen a quarry like this one. No, really." He holds up a hand in the universal 'stop' gesture. "The mining company pulled out 130 years ago. They'd extracted all of the mineral they could find, and it wasn't profitable to dig deeper. They left the pit just as it was—a big hole with a lot of rocks at the bottom. About eight years later, a fellow by the name of Tully Alexander came to Tritos. He said he was an artist and he was here to fulfill a vision."
He shrugs. "Way before my time. He died more than sixty years ago. Some of the old-timers remember Tully. Depending on who you ask, he was a dreamer, a madman, a vagabond, or a genius. As to whether he was an artist... how 'bout I let you decide?"
"All right." Seán is clearly intrigued.
"Meet me here tomorrow at noon," Jack instructs Seán. "Oh, and bring a spoon. A metal one."
"A spoon? Why?"
Allegro con brio (fast and bright, with vigour)
Jack's only been waiting three minutes when Seán hurries around the corner. "Slow down. We're not under a deadline."
"Sorry," Seán says, looking genuinely contrite. "I had a spoon problem."
"That's all right. You don't really need to bring one. It's just a local tradition."
"No, no. I've got one. I just had trouble choosing, so..."
"Not a problem," Jack says. "Shall we get going?" He leads the way around the back of the tavern, where his hoverbike is parked. He slips the rucksack off his shoulder and offers it to Seán. "I packed a lunch. It'll make for easier riding if you carry it."
Within minutes they're skimming over the empty grasslands south of the spaceport and the settlement that's grown around it. Jack pushes the speed as much as he dares, revelling in the roar of the wind. He's also enjoying the feel of Seán's arms clasped firmly around his waist. Pity it's such a short trip. He parks a dozen metres from the quarry's edge, in an oval patch that's been worn bare of grass by frequent use.
Jack leads Seán up to the waist-high safety fence. He doesn't bother with words, just points downwards. He focuses on Seán's face, watching for the reaction.
Seán breathes in, sharply. "That is brill. That is feckin' brill."
Jack grins with proprietary pride. "Isn't it, though?"
"But what is it?" Seán glances at Jack in bewilderment, then back down at Alexander Tully's life work. The centre of the pit looks like a strange, leafless forest. Pillars of roughly-carven stone rise up from the floor of the quarry. The smallest ones, Jack knows, come up to his chin, and are thin enough that he can span them with his two hands; the largest ones are twice the height of a tall man, and as thick as oak trees.
"You'll see. C'mon. The entry ramp is over here."
The wide ramp descends the quarry walls in a continuous spiral. At a brisk walk, it takes them twenty minutes to reach the floor. Jack leads Seán to the cluster of pillars. Close up, they can clearly see the scrolling vines and graceful flowers etched into the stone.
"Beautiful," Seán murmurs.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Jack assures him. He digs into his jacket pocket and produces a long-handled spoon. With one swift motion, he strikes the bowl of the spoon against the nearest pillar. A deep, bell-like tone fills the air.
Seán's look of delight is swiftly replaced by one of confusion. "What? They're hollow, yes, but stone shouldn't sound like that, unless..." A moment later he bends down and scoops up a handful of sand and gravel. "Aulosite?"
"Very good," Jack says. The mineral's unusual properties of resonance make it very desirable for certain kinds of power units. "The mining company cleaned out all of the pure aulosite. What was left was worthless for industrial purposes, but Tully saw other possibilities." Jack hits a smaller pillar with his spoon, sounding a higher note than the first.
"He was a visionary."
"Or a madman."
"Why not both?" Seán suggests.
"Tully spent over half his life on this project. He called it the Forest of Euterpe." Jack glances inquiringly at Seán.
Seán nods. "The ancient Greek Muse of music."
"After the first six years, he had enough pillars carved to give his first concert." Jack moves a few paces away to a spot inside a triangle of three pillars. He spins in a movement that resembles a neo-kendo kata, hitting the pillars in quick succession. The notes linger, blending into a chord. Stepping into a second triangle of pillars, he repeats the process, sounding another chord. He closes his eyes, taking a moment to focus, and lets out a long, slow breath. As he inhales, he explodes into motion, spinning to play one chord, then jumping between the triangles to play another and another. It's a simple children's tune: eight bars with only three chords, but it takes all of his strength and concentration.
"That was wonderful."
Jack shakes his head. "If you want incredible, you should see the Tritos Glockenspiel Society play one of Tully's original compositions. Half the settlement comes out to watch from up top."
Seán turns slowly, studying his surroundings. "This quarry is one huge resonance chamber. It must be magnificent."
"It is. And the eight musicians in the group are pretty talented. But the really incredible thing is that Tully performed his music solo. I've seen one of the surviving vids. He danced through this forest of his like a photon-drive cruiser."
"Feckin' brill," Seán repeats.
"Ready for your turn? Get your spoon ready." Jack can't suppress a grin as Seán removes a fistful of spoons from his jacket pocket. "Pick one you won't mind leaving behind."
"That's all of them."
Jack looks over the selection: a dozen spoons, ranging in size from a delicate silver salt spoon smaller than his little finger, to a hideous gravy ladle cast in a dull lead-coloured alloy. He points to a sturdy soup spoon. "That should do nicely."
Seán wanders through the Forest, testing the tones of individual pillars. This done, he positions himself near the centre. Without warning, he breaks into a trot, striking out the notes of a cheerful tune as he goes, and ending with a triumphant C-major chord. "Hah! I used to play the spoons, but not like this. A very clever fella, your Tully." He glances down at the item in his hand. "Why a spoon?"
"Who knows why Tully did anything?" Jack shrugs. "It's a known fact that he used thin steel rods at first, and later switched to spoons. The most popular story is that some official heard Tully practicing and supposedly said that his one-year-old son could make better music beating his spoon on a tin cup. Tully promptly announced that he would 'adopt the wisdom of a child'. Whatever the reason, he did switch over to spoons in the first few years of the project."
"A clever fella," Seán repeats.
"Want to try a duet? We don't have to play the same piece. A lot of people do a sort of free-form improvisation."
Seán chuckles. "I'm at my best when I'm improvising. Let the craic begin!"
They take a few moments to choose their starting places. Seán ten metres away and out of sight, hidden by the many pillars between them. "We'll do a little practice first," Jack calls out. "Start when you're ready."
A clear, high note rings out, followed by a lower one. E down to C: it reminds Jack of an old Earth doorbell. I'm here! it announces. He responds with quick arpeggios running up and down the scale. Seán plays a series of chords; first major, then minor.
There's a long pause. Seán begins to pick out the melody he played earlier, rapidly growing in speed and confidence. Jack fills in some complementary chords. The melody shifts to something more complex, lively. It sounds vaguely Irish. Jack plays a different melody in counterpoint, the two tunes weaving around each other as the two men sprint through Tully's musical forest.
The pace picks up. Jack catches a brief glimpse of Seán, grinning wildly. A challenge, huh? He plays faster. So does Seán. When their eccentric orbits bring them close again, he sees that Seán is literally dancing as he plays: bouncing up and down with some kind of jig-like heel-toe step. Jack's never learned that style of dance, so he improvises his movements as well as his music, adding some ballet leaps so he can strike the pillars near the top. How's that for high notes?
His body begins to complain, reminding him that immortal does not mean indefatigable. Seán seems to have an endless supply of energy... or is he just better at hiding his weariness? Jack's trying to decide which he values more—pride or oxygen—when he hears a shift in the melody, signalling the end. He shifts his direction, and as the final bars of the song spiral to their conclusion, he leaps into the clearing at the heart of the Forest—and comes face-to-face with Seán.
They burst into laughter and fling their arms around each other. The laughter steals away the little bit of breath that Jack has left, and it's a full minute before he can gasp out, "Oh, yeah!"
"That was grand altogether!" Seán exclaims.
Slowly, they disentangle their limbs. "I'm ready to sit down for a few years," Jack confesses, "but first, there's something I want to show you."
He leads the way to the far side of the Forest, where the quarry floor is covered by heaps of gravel and rock. Narrow paths like miniature valleys wind around the heaps. "Waste rock from the mining?" Seán asks.
""Yeah, and from Tully's work, too. He's buried here... somewhere. His friends made him a burial cairn by covering his casket with waste rock. At his request, they left it unmarked, but tradition says it was here." As they follow a sharp bend in the path, he waves a hand at the mound directly before them.
"It's like a hedgehog. A feckin' giant hedgehog."
It's a good comparison. The mound—three metres long, two high and two wide—is bristling with spoons of all types and sizes. A few, here and there, are still shiny, but most have been worn down by wind and dust to a matte finish.
"I don't know how it started, but the tradition is that if you play in the Forest, you leave at least one spoon behind."
Seán circles the mound, now and then bending forward to peer at a particular spoon. Most of them are planted firmly into the gravel, bowl upwards. Jack has already deposited his spoon, but Seán takes several minutes to find the perfect spot. As he inserts it into the eastern end of the mound, he murmurs, "Thank you," and nods.
Tradition honoured, Jack suggests lunch. They make their way back to the foot of the ramp. A low, flat boulder offers convenient seating. They chat about everything and nothing. Seán has a lot of questions about Tully Alexander. Jack can't answer most of them. "He kept to himself, except when he hiked into town for supplies. He lived here in a quick-fab storage shed that the miners left behind. Didn't get many visitors. When he gave his first concert, most of the locals who attended had never seen his face before."
"Some artistic geniuses thrive on contact with other people. They need the stimulation, the energy. And some are happier alone, just themselves and the work."
"I'd say I fall into the first category," Jack replies.
Seán rolls his eyes. "Artistic genius, are you?"
"In certain forms of art..." Jack waggles his eyebrows suggestively.
"Don't make claims unless you're prepared to back them up," Seán warns him. He removes a plum from the open cool-pak and bites into it. Juice squirts from the ripe fruit, dripping down Seán's chin.
Jack reaches forward and catches the drip with his forefinger. Holding Seán's gaze with his own, he licks his finger clean, slowly and deliberately. "I'm always prepared."
Seán's eyes darken. "You didn't get it all," he says, and tilts his head back to allow Jack better access.
"Careless of me." Jack leans in towards the other man. His tongue laps gently at Seán's chin, then flickers across his lips, and those firm, smiling lips part to welcome him.
Seán grasps the back of Jack's head, holding him in place. Not that Jack is inclined to go anywhere. He feels that he could stay like this forever... until his aching arse reminds him that a stone surface makes for a damned uncomfortable shag. He pulls back his head and looks at Seán. Are his own eyes so lust-dazed? Probably. "I think that our next duet needs a different venue."
"Too right," Seán murmurs.
Crescendo (growing louder)
Jack waves his hand across the sensor plate, disengages the lock, and waves Seán into his flat. "Excuse the mess. I'm something of a packrat."
Seán grins. "I have a similar problem."
Jack turns the lights down to 70%, and gestures towards the sofa.
Seán sits beside him, studying his face with the same seriousness as a pilot considering his pre-launch checklist. "I want to taste you again." It should sound like a joke, or a line from a cheesy holovid. When Seán says it, it sounds as immutable and certain as the atomic weight of thorium.
He leans forward just enough to make it an invitation. Seán meets him halfway, and their lips press together.
He's ready to take this to the bedroom right now. For that matter, the sofa will reconfigure to a flat surface at the flick of a switch. Why wait? But something is telling him to take this more slowly, that patience will repay him a thousandfold. "I think I need a drink while I get my breath back. May I get you something?"
There's a flash of amusement in Seán's eyes. "Probably should. Make it official and all. I'll have whatever you're having."
Jack rises and goes to the other side of the room. He pulls a bottle of Fomalhaut Eiswein from the chiller and fills two stemmed glasses. "I like this one; it's subtle."
Seán chuckles. "Says the man who normally drinks hypervodka."
"You're a fine one to talk, Mr. I'll-have-a-Mauve-Alert-with-extra-grenadine."
"Ah, but I didn't say I was subtle, did I, now?"
"I think you could be, if you wanted to. I think you could be almost anything, if you wanted to."
Seán nods. His brow creases, his eyes are fixed on the middle distance. Then he looks at his host. Something in his gaze, his face, his posture says that he's made a decision. "Before we go any further... we have to talk."
His stomach lurches like a green cadet in freefall, but he manages to keep his smile as he sets the glasses down on the table. "Right now I'd prefer actions to words."
Reflexes have the blaster in his hand long seconds before the speech centre of his brain can catch up. "Who are you?"
"Jack... put that down." Seán looks mildly peeved, as though a weapon aimed at his forehead is a minor gaffe in etiquette.
"Who sent you?" Jack snarls.
"No one sends me anywhere," Seán says calmly, as though it's a mathematical constant like pi or e.
He looks again at those sea-green eyes, those old, knowing eyes, and wonders how he could have deceived himself for so long. "Doctor."
The fear of discovery, of white sterile walls and endless pain vanishes, to be replaced by the dull ache of betrayal. "I see you've regenerated again," Jack says coolly. "Which one are you?"
"This is the twelfth me."
"I missed one, then."
"Probably just as well," Seán-no, the Doctor-says. "He was very distracted. There was a lot going on."
"So instead I meet the new, improved model who goes in for practical jokes. What was the point?" he snaps. "To see how long you could fool me? To see how hard I would fall?"
"What? No!" The Doctor exclaims. "I wouldn't... not to you, Jack."
"Then why?" He lets all the raw pain show in his voice and face.
Jack blinks. "You mean, like timelines?"
"No, no. Our history. You and me. When I discovered why the TARDIS had dragged me here, I thought, this is my chance to start over with Jack. I didn't mean to deceive you-well, I knew I was, but that wasn't the intent. I thought.. fresh start. New beginning. Level playing field."
"But it wasn't—it couldn't be. Maybe I didn't know who you were, Doctor, but you certainly knew me. You remembered me and our history together. That gave you a big advantage."
The Doctor's head droops, and his shoulders sag. "I'm sorry, Jack," he says to the carpet. He rises. "I've been a feckin' eejit. I won't trouble you any longer."
Jack sighs. "Oh, for—look, just sit down, will you?"
"Sit. Down." To Jack's mingled relief and surprise, the Doctor obeys. Jack seats himself on the other end of the sofa from the Time Lord. "There's just one thing I need to know. At the quarry, after lunch, was that... real?" Did you want me? Or were you playing a game? Jack has been skilled at reading body language since his Time Agency days, and he's honed his talent in the centuries since then. But this is the Doctor, the one being in the universe who can still make Jack feel young and foolish and uncertain of himself.
"I—of course it was real," the Doctor stammers, managing to sound abashed and indignant at the same time. "I don't pretend... well, not about that."
That's true, Jack muses. If anything, the Doctor pretends that he's not interested when he is. "Let's take this into the bedroom, shall we?"
"Don't play ignorant, Doctor. You know what bedrooms are for—and I'm not feeling particularly sleepy."
A hopeful half-smile dances on the Doctor's lips. "Does this mean you've forgiven me for being such an eejit?"
"No, it means I'm giving you a chance to apologise properly."
The Doctor's smile blossoms into a full grin. "Properly... or improperly?"
Laughing, Jack grabs the Doctor's hand and tugs him into a standing position. "Both, so I can decide which I like better."
They lie together in the drowsy aftermath, limbs entangled, passion spent (or at least, temporarily sated). The Doctor murmurs, "So, am I forgiven?"
"Oh, yeah. Though I may start picking fights with you just so we can have make-up sex." There's no reply, and Jack stiffens. Maybe he's made the wrong assumptions. "Doctor?"
"Hmmm? Sorry, I was just thinking about music. Harmony, resonance, counterpoint, that sort of thing. Much more interesting than a solo melody, don't you think?"
"I suppose so," Jack says slowly.
"Will you come with me? For a bit of a while? I know you've built a life for yourself here, but we can return—"
Jack bursts out laughing. "It's not a life, Doctor, it's a hideout." Briefly, he summarises the events that led him to self-imposed exile on Tritos.
"But why the slow path? Your vortex manipulator—"
"Is busted. Won't even do hops through space, much less in time. And this is the wrong century to get it repaired, unless I can waylay a passing Time agent."
"That shouldn't be a problem, since you've waylaid a passing Time Lord. I'll take a look at it later. But Jack—will you come along?"
"Don't be silly. Of course I will." He hesitates. "For a while."
The Doctor nods. "For a while." That could be months—or decades. Neither of them has much use for long-term plans. In this, as in music, they'll improvise.
Da capo (from the beginning)
It takes Jack two days to settle his affairs on Tritos. Chacaw is happy to buy him out and take over control of 'Rick's Place'. He'll keep using the old name. Jack says some goodbyes and packs a few items of personal importance. He's always travelled light.
The TARDIS is parked in a storage bay at the spaceport. "Hello there, darling," Jack says, patting her door frame. "Did you miss me?"
"She did, actually. Or she knew I missed you, which is nearly the same thing."
As Jack steps inside, he lets out a long, soft whistle. "Doctor, you're not the only one who's been changing his looks."
"Isn't she lovely? The last go-round was a bit... cluttered. This is simpler, cleaner."
'Simpler' is a relative term. The console is still covered with an absurd number of buttons, switches, gauges, levers, and keypads, but the rest of the control room is restful to the eyes. The former coral branches now look like arching tree limbs, and the walls shimmer in various gentle shades of green. "Gorgeous," Jack says honestly, and he hears a soft ripple in the ship's everpresent hum.
"Ready to take off, Captain?"
"Ready, sir!" Jack salutes crisply.
"Ah, lay off, you gobshite." The Doctor shakes his head indulgently. "Come over here and make yourself useful."
"Where are we going?" Jack asks.
"You'll see soon enough" is the only reply.
When he steps out the door, Jack blinks in confusion at the endless expanse of grass and the pale blue sky above it. "Doctor, are you sure you fixed her? We're still on Tritos."
"Ah, would you just come on, Jack?"
He hurries to catch up with the Doctor. They're heading vaguely north, and he can see the faint shadow of the spaceport dome on the far horizon. "The quarry? What, you wanted to have another go at the Forest?"
As the Doctor leads him up to the rim of the pit, Jack realises that something is different. The waist-high white safety fence is now bright orange and only comes up to his knees. He doesn't recognise any of the locals standing near the fence, and they're all dressed in a style he associates with historical vids of the spaceport's founding. A flurry of notes going up and down the scale brings everyone's attention to the quarry floor. "Tully's first concert?" Jack whispers.
The Doctor beams at him. "The third, actually. He's had a chance to improve his technique. Let's find a good place to stand."
There really is no bad place to stand. The music can be heard for quite some distance, and though the audience is gazing down into the pit, it's impossible to see Tully Alexander at work. Now and then, Jack thinks he can see a flicker of motion between some of the pillars. He listens, entranced, as the music soars: high, sweet, and triumphant. When the last chord finally dissipates, he exhales deeply.
They walk back to the TARDIS in contented silence. Only when they're inside the control room does the Doctor speak. "Well? Did it live up to your expectations?"
"And then some. I think that must be the most incredible music I've heard in my life. You?"
"Oh, it was grand, and the fella's a genius, without a doubt..."
"But?" Jack prompts.
The Doctor smiles at him. "But it's a solo piece, and lately I've acquired a fondness for duets."
- THE END -