Title: Through Time And Space: Chapter 9 – Crossed Wires
Characters: Ianto, OFC, OMC, Jack
Word Count: 2746
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead
Summary: Ianto finds more obstacles thrown in his path as what at first seemed like the fairly straightforward task of catching up with Jack is beset by one minor disaster after another.
Written For: Challenge #102: Disaster at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
The space station’s interior was all smooth, metallic curves, indirect lighting and recycled air. For a futuristic (in earth terms) facility, it seemed surprisingly bland to Ianto, more like a massive shopping centre than a spaceport. Well, if you ignored the docked spaceships visible through the transparent far wall. People and… beings passed back and forth through airlocks leading to the individual ships, each one connected to the station by a flexible, tube like corridor to allow crew and passengers to board or disembark. Cargo was transferred on and off the ships by means of conveyer belts.
Ianto took everything in at a glance while making his way to the Macassian freighter’s berth, following directions from the TARDIS. She had materialised discreetly at the end of a row of small kiosks, presumably selling duty-free items, trinkets for tourists, and fast food. He waited a short distance away, watching as a being he was assured was the freighter’s captain, handed paperwork to one of the port’s officials to be checked and stamped. Formalities over, the official moved to the end of the nearby conveyor belt, presumably to check the cargo as it was offloaded. The captain made his way over to the kiosks, where he purchased a carton of what looked like crispy deep-fried tentacles. Ianto wasn’t sure whether he felt intrigued by the alien version of chips or disgusted.
“They are Saiyami, considered quite a delicacy. Despite appearances, they are a kind of vegetable and completely safe for human consumption, if you care to try some,” his TARDIS informed him,
“Maybe later. Business before snacks.”
Working his way slowly through the crowds thronging the concourse, Ianto approached the captain, a short, stocky, olive-skinned humanoid with the long ears of a bloodhound. Instead of hair, his head was covered in greenish-brown scales that spread down the back of his neck, vanishing beneath the collar of his smart mud-brown uniform. As he drew closer, Ianto noticed that the Macassian’s face was also covered in scales, though they were much smaller. His ears and equally long, drooping nose gave the captain a faintly lugubrious expression, belied by lively, bright orange eyes.
“Captain Lukek?” Ianto greeted him politely, thanks to the TARDIS’s translation abilities. He touched his fingertips to his forehead and bowed slightly. The captain returned the salute.
“That’s me, esteemed sir,” he replied in a jovial and quite high-pitched tone. “Saiyami?” He held the container out to Ianto.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Ianto replied, taking a crispy vegetable and biting into it, pleasantly surprised by the flavour, like mild but spicy pepper with a hint of tomato. “Oh, that’s very good.”
“The best Saiyami in the quadrant is grown on the planet below, I always treat myself to some when we stop here. Now, what can I do for you? Are you looking for passage? Our guest quarters are Spartan but clean and our rates are very reasonable, although the planets we are scheduled to visit on this trip and not among the more popular destinations.”
“Thank you, no. Actually, I’m looking for a man I believe to be travelling with you.”
“You are not law enforcement are you? I would not like to think one of our passengers was some kind of criminal.”
“No, no, nothing like that. I’m sorry, how rude of me, I neglected to introduce myself. John Smith of Earth. I’m looking for a friend of mine, Jack Harkness, although he might be travelling under another name. About my height, wearing a long grey coat. He would have boarded your ship via teleport at Sol Three.”
“Ah yes, I know the gentleman you mean. Very quiet, kept to himself, rarely left his cabin and then only to occasionally dine apart from the crew and other passengers. He is travelling under the name James Jones. If I might venture an opinion, he seemed burdened by a deep sorrow.”
“He has recently suffered a bereavement, his grandson’s death was very sudden.”
“I see, that is sad indeed, a cause for great sorrow.” Captain Lukek touched his four thumbs together in a gesture of sympathy, leaving Ianto wondering how he could bend his hands like that.
“I was wondering if you could pass on a message to him, asking him to meet me at my ship?”
“Well, I would be happy to oblige, esteemed Johnsmith, but unfortunately your friend is no longer on board.”
“Oh, that’s rather inconvenient. Could you perhaps tell me where and when he disembarked?”
“I regret I am unable to supply that information.” Lukek seemed genuinely regretful. “Your friend borrowed some tools from my chief engineer in order to repair his personal teleportation device, which had become damaged. When we docked here, Engineer Jazzek went to see if he could offer your friend his assistance with the repairs, but he found the cabin empty, just the tools, a note expressing gratitude for the loan, and payment for his passage. Of your friend there was no sign and as we do not monitor the guest cabins out of deference to the privacy of our passengers, we have no means of determining at what point along out route your friend chose to leave us. I can supply a copy of the course we followed between Sol Three and here, if that would be of any help.”
Ianto felt his heart sink. He’d been so close to finding Jack, but now it looked like he might be further away from his lover than ever, depending on whether Jack had managed to fix the time travel function of his Vortex Manipulator as well as the teleport. He could be literally anywhere in time and space. There was no use in wallowing though.
“Thank you, that would at least give me some idea of where to resume my search,” Ianto told the captain, clasping his hands beneath his chin to show proper gratitude.
Captain Lukek inclined his head graciously. “It would be my honour to assist you. May I say what a pleasure it is to encounter a gentle-being such as yourself? Good manners are sadly lacking these days.” He pulled out a device from one of his pockets, pressed a few buttons and after a moment, something resembling a memory card was extruded from a slot in the side. He passed the small object to Ianto. “This contains all the data I am able to provide on that section of our route. I sincerely hope it will assist you in determining the whereabouts of your friend.”
Ianto clasped his hands beneath his chin again, bowing slightly. “I am grateful to you beyond measure, Captain Lukek. If I can ever assist you in any way, I am at your service.”
The captain bowed in response, tugging his ears. “My crew and I are honoured by your offer, esteemed Johnsmith.”
With that, business was concluded and Ianto straightened, slipping the chip into his inside pocket. “Might I offer you another tub of Saiyami to compensate you for your time?” Macassians would not accept currency except in return for transportation or goods; it would be an insult to offer payment. However, food and drink were considered acceptable gifts.
“Most kind of you, I accept with pleasure.”
Together they made their way through the crowds to the booth the captain had visited earlier, where Ianto purchased two tubs of the peculiar delicacy, handing one to Lukek. With a final bow, they took their leave of each other, the Macassian returning to his ship and Ianto wending his way through the throngs towards the TARDIS, munching Saiyami as he walked.
“Well,” he silently addressed the TARDIS, “that was a bit of a disaster. I’m starting to think we might be jinxed.”
“It is beginning to seem we are rather short on luck,” the TARDIS agreed sympathetically. “If I had kept better track of the freighter during transit through the vortex…”
“It’s not your fault,” Ianto cut her off quickly. “These things happen. I just seem to be making a complete hash of planning and taking into account all the factors. I didn’t expect Jack to find a way to repair his Vortex Manipulator so quickly.”
“If I am not to be considered at fault in this matter, then neither are you, Ianto,” the TARDIS chided gently. “We are both inexperienced, we cannot expect ourselves to perceive every eventuality in advance. We are not clairvoyants.”
“Well, I’m not anyway. You can see the future to some extent…”
“Correction; I perceive timelines, it is not the same thing. Major events stand out, but small occurrences are only detectable if I am concentrating on a particular event or a specific timeline.”
Ianto opened the TARDIS’ door and slipped inside, closing it firmly behind him and settling into the nearest chair, munching another piece of Saiyami; its reputation as a delicacy was well deserved.
“Okay, so that’s twice that we’ve had a perfect opportunity to connect with Jack turned into a minor disaster by outside influences. What do we do now? Jack could literally be anywhere by now, or even anywhen. I don’t even know if a Vortex Manipulator needs to recharge between uses.” He bit viciously into his Saiyami, frowning.
“You have the information Captain Lukek gave you?”
“Yep! Here.” Ianto dug in his pocket, withdrawing the small chip.
“If you would be so kind as to place it in the slot indicated on my console…”
Ianto did as asked and watched as a complicated interstellar chart appeared on one of the viewscreens.
“I hope you can make sense of that, because I don’t have a clue.”
“It is quite straightforward. The coordinates refer to the solar systems and individual planets the freighter stopped at; below those are the universal dates and times of arrival and departure. Four stops were made between Earth, or Sol Three, and here, over the course of fifteen earth days.”
“But we were travelling through the vortex for less than half that time.” Ianto was confused.
“Time passes at a different speed within the vortex.”
“Really? Well, I’ll take your word for it. Don’t bother trying to explain though, I doubt I’d understand,” Ianto commented wryly.
“As you wish. I suggest we proceed to the last world the freighter visited and work backwards from there. I will use my sensors to search for a teleportation signature or anything that would indicate that a time travel device has been used between the time the freighter emerged from the vortex and the time of our arrival. It is unfortunate that we do not know the frequency on which your captain’s Vortex Manipulator operates, but it should still be possible to narrow my search parameters once I can rule out other devices.”
“What if Jack left the freighter while it was in the vortex?”
“That would be extremely dangerous, as well as very difficult, if not impossible, to detect.”
“I wouldn’t put it past Jack to try it, especially after his recent losses.” Ianto wearily ran one hand through his hair. “So if that’s the case, we’re out of luck?”
“It is likely.”
“Wonderful. Can today get any worse?”
“I would not like to speculate.”
Captain Lukek passed through the final airlock into his ship and made his way to the cabins set aside for paying passengers, knocking lightly on the door of one. There was silence from within, but after a few minutes the door slowly opened a few inches.
“Captain Lukek, what can I do for you?”
“I have done as you requested, though it pained me greatly. A tall gentleman approached me aboard the station and asked if I might pass a message on to you, inviting you to visit with him aboard his ship. He was wearing an earthian suit of clothes and travelling in a large blue box, just as you said he would be. As you requested, I informed him that you were no longer aboard, having left at some indeterminate point between here and Sol Three. I fear I have treated him with great disrespect, sending him away on a… I believe the earthian term is ‘wild goose chase’?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Jack replied dully. “Thank you.”
“It is a regrettable thing to be compelled to tell untruths to such a fine, well-mannered being.”
“I know, and I apologize for asking that of you, Lukek.”
“He gave his name as Johnsmith and claimed to be your friend.”
Jack nodded wearily; he appeared pale and listless, a mere shadow of his former self.
“He is, I just can’t face him right now, not after all that’s happened. One day I’ll have to, there are things I need to know; why he wasn’t there to protect earth and prevent the near disaster that claimed my lover and my grandchild for one.”
“Johnsmith did not mention your lover, only your grandchild.”
A bitter half-laugh escaped Jack. “No, I don’t imagine he did. I don’t think he believes I’m capable of being in a committed relationship with one person. Sometimes I wonder if he really knows me at all.” He sighed sadly. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me. I just need some time alone, to think and grieve, and to commit to memory those I’ve lost.”
“Time and privacy are within my ability to provide, my friend. You are welcome to remain aboard for as long as you need. The crew and other passengers will not disturb you.”
Jack clasped his hands beneath his chin and bowed slightly. “Thank you.” Before Captain Lukek had a chance to respond, he found himself facing a closed door.
Trudging back to his own cabin, Lukek twitched his nose sadly. This was an altogether regrettable business, but he owed the man who now called himself James Jones a debt of honour for saving the life of his second wife when her small scoutship had crashed on earth some forty earth years ago. Lukek himself had been merely first mate at the time of the incident, and Mikek was not only his wife but also the youngest daughter of the ship’s captain. Her death would have spelled disaster for Lukek, both in terms of his personal life and his career, since he’d been the one to authorise her flight. He had vowed then that if ever he could offer assistance to the human who enabled his dear wife to return to her family, he would do so. He would not renege on that debt, even though it meant he must behave dishonourably; doing so would be an even greater dishonour. Besides, Mikek would kill him.
Alone in his cabin, Jack lay on the bunk staring at the ceiling. Like everything else on board, it was beige, which suited his mood. He’d known the Doctor would be bound to find him, he just hadn’t expected it to be so soon; in some ways that made it worse. He’d lost Ianto for the second time in six months less than a month ago, ship’s time, just when he’d started to think there might be a chance for both of them to step out of the House of the Dead and make a life together. But Ianto was too noble and self-sacrificing to leave destroying Syriath and closing the Rift to chance. He really was gone for good this time. Jack felt as though his heart were being ripped to shreds all over again; seeing the Doctor would have been akin to pouring acid on the wounds.
Where had the Doctor been while the 456 had been trying to take earth’s children? What could possibly have been more important than protecting the planet and people he claimed to care so much about? One day, maybe he’d be ready to hear the Doctor’s answers to those questions, but not now, not yet; it was still far too soon. For now, all he wanted was to remember Ianto and Steven as they’d been when they’d been so full of life, not as they’d looked the last time he’d seen them, pale and still in death.
Immortality was the cruellest trick that could be played on anyone; it wasn’t endless life, it was endless loss and grief, eternity devoid of hope. Like any torture, it could only be endured. Jack would do so because he had no other choice, and also because he’d promised a brave and selfless young Welshman that he would remember him.
That was a promise he intended to keep no matter what it cost him.