Characters: Ianto, Jack, OCs, Alonso Frame.
Word Count: 3973
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead, Miracle Day
Summary: Ianto makes another attempt to locate Jack, while Jack and Alonso run into some problems of their own.
Written For: Challenge #128: Floating at fan_flashworks
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Jack and Alonso weren’t lovers, and they never would be; Alonso understood that, knew that Jack was still grieving for a man he would probably never stop loving. Some day, maybe his heart would be healed enough for him to love again, but that day was still a long way off and Alonso had no expectations of any kind of relationship with the enigmatic Captain. It didn’t matter, what was developing between them was more than enough for both of them; companionship, even the beginnings of friendship, things neither of them had really expected to find.
After the first night, they seldom spoke of their pasts and for a few weeks they just travelled from world to world in the little scout ship, sharing the limited space amicably, never intruding on what little privacy was available. Just knowing that there was someone else there, that they didn’t need to be alone if they didn’t want to be, was reassuring. They were both only just starting to realise how lonely they’d been.
They talked of the places they were going and the places they’d just left, about the different foods they’d sampled, the things they’d seen and the work they picked up here and there in order to buy supplies and re-fuel their ship. Sto was quite a distance from where Alonso had ended up, but now that he knew he was heading home, albeit by a rather roundabout route, he was in no real hurry to get there.
For his part, Jack was satisfied to just float along, living day to day, never making much in the way of plans, just finding out what worlds were near the one they happened to be visiting, picking one and heading there, as often as not just to see what it was like. If he and Alonso couldn’t decide between them which direction to go, they flipped a coin or found some other random way to choose, but most of the time Jack let Alonso make the decisions. As long as they avoided places Jack had visited before, he was… if not happy, then at least somewhat content. He still missed Ianto constantly, but he was slowly starting to heal.
When the cramped conditions started to become annoying, they traded their ship in for a slightly more spacious model and continued on their way in greater comfort. With room enough to carry cargo they did a little trading on the side to supplement their income, and their leisurely journey continued.
Ianto had opted to travel to Wayside in linear time rather than jumping backwards in time in the hopes of catching Jack when he disembarked from the Oglosk. Time travel was not always entirely accurate and if they miscalculated, they could easily miss him anyway and then risk crossing their own timeline in further attempts to get to the right point in time. Ianto was still more than a little nervous about attempting such complex manoeuvres in busy, bustling environments like spaceports, and anyway, he really couldn’t risk the paradox he might create if he ran into Captain Riek before they met. Who knew what effect that might have on his timeline? Perhaps with experience he and his TARDIS would get better at navigating the timestream, but right now they were still relatively new to the whole idea. It probably wasn’t a good idea to mess about when they didn’t really know what they were doing, or so Ianto told himself.
As they didn’t stop anywhere else on their journey, the trip to Wayside only took them a few days and the TARDIS found an unobtrusive place to land where Ianto could mingle with disembarking passengers as though he had just arrived on one of the visiting cruise ships. Armed with a sheet of psychic paper, just in case anyone questioned his presence, he set out in search of the being he was to contact.
Matteus Rober proved easy to find, since he was in charge of the whole port facility, and he turned out to be as eager to help as Riek had said he would be, although there wasn’t much he could tell Ianto. In Rober’s office, they went over security footage covering the time the Oglosk was in port, confirming that Jack had indeed left the ship there. It brought a lump to Ianto’s throat to see his lover walking across the concourse, the first time he’d seen Jack since the House of the Dead. He looked weighed down, as if he were carrying a load far heavier than the half empty kit bag he had slung over one shoulder. His trademark WWII ensemble was nowhere to be seen; instead he was dressed in plain dark grey slacks and a lighter coloured shirt with a loose jacket over the top. It looked like he’d lost weight.
“Can you find out where he went from here?” Ianto asked calmly; he’d had a lot of practice at concealing his emotions and that talent had come in handy numerous times since he ventured out into space.
“There are people I can ask. Please, make yourself comfortable. I will have refreshments brought to you while you wait.”
“Thank you, that would be very welcome if it’s no trouble.”
“No trouble at all, anything for a friend of my good friend Riek,” Rober assured him. “I will return shortly.”
Ianto relaxed in a comfortable chair, browsing through brochures detailing Wayside’s many attractions and entertainments, and only a few minutes later, a small, green-skinned woman entered carrying a tray of assorted foods, a pitcher of iced fruit juice and a tall glass. The drink was familiar to Ianto, as were quite a few of the delicacies on offer; he’d sampled a lot of different foods since he’d left earth, his TARDIS instructing him about which were safe for human consumption and which were best avoided. He was pleased to see a generous serving of Saiyami among the selection that had been provided, having grown rather partial to the strange vegetable over the last few months, and he munched away contentedly on the crisp, spicy morsels while he waited for Rober to return.
As he’d promised, the Port Master wasn’t long, but the information he brought with him wasn’t as helpful as Ianto had hoped.
“The man you seek joined a high stakes card game, winning a great deal of money which he used to buy a small Kansa class vessel, a scout ship. He left Wayside as soon as the purchase was completed, but made no mention of his intended destination. I am sorry; I wish I could be of greater assistance.” He handed Ianto a small memory disk. “This contains all the information available on the ship he purchased, including the frequency and signature of its identification beacon. It may help you to track the vessel if you have suitable equipment, unless the beacon is tampered with in some way. People who do not wish to be tracked have ways of disguising or even disabling tracking beacons.”
Ianto sighed inwardly. It was a safe bet that Jack knew exactly how to avoid being followed and would have taken the appropriate action as soon as he was out of range of Wayside’s detection arrays. One more lead had run into a dead end. Ah well, back to the drawing board, and their original search pattern. He wasn’t about to give up, but he was realistic enough to know that there was nothing much he could do until he got another lead. He smiled at Rober and offered his hand.
“This was a long-shot at best; the man I’m looking for is skilled at hiding, he was never going to be easy to find. You have done all you could, and you have my thanks. If nothing else, I at least know what kind of ship he left here in. I will find him eventually.”
“Good luck to you, and if you ever happen to visit Wayside again, be sure to stop by for refreshments.”
“I’ll do that, Master Rober.” With a brief clasp of hands, Ianto turned away, returning to his TARDIS and heading out once more into the vacuum of space.
Throwing himself into one of the chairs in the Console room, Ianto tipped his head back and stared up at the vaulted ceiling. He was adrift again, a leaf on the wind, a rudderless ship tossed on an indifferent sea, floating around with no set destination in mind, pulled by the tides of chance… The TARDIS broke into his brooding.
“Where do you wish to go next, Ianto?”
“I’m not sure it matters. Perhaps if we just stop trying to find Jack, he’ll turn up.”
“That is not logical.” The TARDIS sounded vaguely disapproving.
“I know. That’s humans for you,” Ianto teased.
“Indeed. Very well, what do you suggest?”
“Pick a direction and see where we end up? Are there any binary systems nearby that we haven’t checked?”
“Fourteen within twenty light years of our current position.”
“Then let’s check them out, see if Talla is orbiting one of them. We can start with the closest and work our way outwards. Maybe stop in at any spaceports we happen to be passing along the way, just for a quick look.”
“You appear to be suggesting that we resume searching as before.” The TARDIS was clearly puzzled.
Ianto shrugged. “Can you think of a better idea? We’ll just start from where we are now instead of going back to where we were. Anything we missed in between can be checked out later. If we happen to run into Jack, that would be great. If we don’t… Well, we know he’s out there somewhere. Keep a look out for any ships like the one he bought back at Wayside; you never know, he might still be in the area.”
“As you wish. I think I will never entirely understand humans.”
“That’s okay,” Ianto said wryly. “Most of the time we don’t understand ourselves either. You’ll get used to it.”
Everything had been going so well until now, but after accidentally passing through the outer edge of a rather spectacular nebula, Jack realised they had a bit of a problem. The little scout ship was shuddering and making some rather ominous noises, and the power was fluctuating wildly.
“What’s happening?” Alonso sounded worried.
“We’re losing power, something in the nebula must have affected the ship’s power supply. I’ll have to turn off all non-essential systems to conserve power while I try to find the cause and fix it. That means we’ll be without propulsion, lights, and artificial gravity, we’ll be drifting. You might want to strap yourself in, unless you want to find yourself floating around near the ceiling.”
”What about you?”
Jack was digging in the locker where emergency equipment was kept. He pulled out a bundle of straps and held it up.
“I’ll wear this safety harness and secure myself to the bulkhead restraint rings. That’ll keep me where I need to be, and there’s a torch so I’ll be able to see what I’m doing.”
“Is there a second safety harness? You’ll need someone to hold the torch so you can use both hands for the repairs.”
Jack tossed the first harness to Alonso, digging a second out of the locker along with a magnetised tool kit, which he slapped against the bulkhead within easy reach of the panel behind which the ship’s energy systems were housed. As soon at they both had their harnesses clipped securely to rings set in the walls, Jack flipped a series of switches, turning off everything but their air recycling plant and heating. Alonso turned on the torch and held it steady as Jack removed the cover of the control panel and secured it nearby to prevent it floating around and causing damage. What he discovered inside wasn’t good news. Several of the power cells were completely drained and half the conduits that directed energy to the various systems appeared to be partially melted. Even the emergency backup power cells were dead.
“Damn. What a mess! There must’ve been a power surge, half of the couplings are fried.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. I can replace most of the fused couplings, and bypass the drained cells, but we’ll still only have about forty percent power. That’s not enough for a jump through the vortex and our last coordinates put us about two weeks away from the nearest port, travelling through normal space. If we only run engines and life support, we might make it halfway, but then we’ll be dead in the water.”
“I should have expected it to end like this; perhaps I really am a jinx.” Alonzo sounded resigned but calm.
“Hey, we’re not dead yet. There’s a blue button on the left of the flight console, you should be able to reach it from where you are. Punch it.”
Alonzo reached across and did as he was told. “What is it?”
“Distress beacon. Any ship that picks it up is obliged to investigate and offer assistance. I’ll do what I can to fix the damage; using only life support and minimal lighting, we’ll be good for six, maybe seven weeks. We’ll have to be careful with water, but we have enough food and emergency rations to last at least that long. Someone’s bound to find us long before that though, so don’t worry.”
“Can’t be worse than the Titanic.”
“You never did tell me the whole story about that.”
”Well, looks like there’ll be plenty of time to tell you now.”
“I can wait a little longer, I’m going to need a hand with the repairs. Under the emergency equipment locker is a storage box where the spare parts are kept. I’ll need the pack labelled power cell couplings.”
“Righto!” Alonzo unclipped himself and floated across the cabin to fetch what he’d been asked for while Jack set about removing the fused components. One way or another he was going to get them out of this mess, there was no way he was going to let another person who trusted him die, there’d been too much death in his life already.
They’d seen some beautiful sights along the way, though Talla had so far not been among them. They’d also encountered some thirty-four ships of the same kind as the one Jack had bought, but all of them had turned out to be piloted by non-humans. Ianto was trying to be philosophical as they drifted from one solar system to the next, but it wasn’t always easy to keep hope afloat. Nevertheless, he was determined to make the most of every opportunity for exploration and to let the Tallans experience as many of the wonders of the universe as possible. If they weren’t going to get home anytime soon, at least he could make sure they enjoyed the ride.
The TARDIS dropped out of the vortex at one point so they could all observe a comet, and later they landed on an uninhabited planet where they watched a spectacular solar eclipse. Now they were hovering at the edges of another nebula, Auber and his people as full of wonder as Ianto had been on seeing the Rosette Nebula right at the start of his adventures. It seemed such a long time ago.
Collecting the device the TARDIS had created for him back then, he took pictures of the new nebula so that he could eventually show Jack. He had a vast collection of images stored by now, photographs of all the places he’d visited and the amazing things he’d seen, and he knew he’d probably bore Jack silly with them, but he didn’t care. He’d lost all the photographs of his childhood, his family and friends; they were back on earth, far beyond his reach. All he had left of his old life were his memories and he was realistic enough to be aware that they wouldn’t last for eternity.
All the pictures he was gathering would be memory triggers for the future when his recollections of this period of his life inevitably grew dim. People, places, amazing sights… the images, along with his new journals, would be his way of holding on to all his adventures. He’d already filled several volumes with everything he could remember of his years on earth, as well as all that had happened to him since he awoke in his TARDIS. He had an excellent memory, but the human brain only had limited storage space. Better to preserve everything while he still held on to the details.
He was snapping away happily with his ‘camera’ as they floated serenely around the nebula’s border when the TARDIS spoke urgently in his mind.
‘Ianto, I am picking up a distress beacon. There is a spacecraft in trouble.’
Ianto immediately turned away from the open doorway, crossing to the console in long strides and leaping up the steps. ‘How far?’
‘Approximately point seven three three light years from our current position.’
‘Lock on to the beacon and take us there.’
‘Estimated arrival time, seven minutes and fourteen seconds.’
The TARDIS doors snapped shut, making Auber and the Tallans turn to face their friend. “Ianto? What is happening?”
“There’s a ship in distress, we’re going to see if there’s anything we can do to help.”
”Is it under attack?”
“No way to know at this distance. I guess we’ll find out when we get there, which should be in just a few minutes.” He glanced up at the ceiling, speaking out loud to the TARDIS. “Better not get too close until we’ve had a chance to assess the situation.”
“I will pause to gather data as soon as the ship is within range of my sensors.”
“Perfect. Let me know what you find out.”
Jack and Alonso had been adrift for almost six weeks. Jack estimated they had enough power and consumables for another three weeks if they stopped using the gravity generators entirely and only ate once a day.
“If no one’s found us after this long, it doesn’t seen likely that anyone’s going to.” Alonso, floating above Jack who was sitting strapped into the pilot’s seat, was slowly losing hope.
“Oh ye of little faith. The way I see it, the longer we wait, the more likely it is that someone will come along and rescue us.” Jack wasn’t about to give up, not after they’d survived this long. Someone just had to have picked up their beacon by now.
“It’s alright for you. You’re immortal, if you die when we run out of power and air, you’ll just revive again when the ship is eventually discovered. I don’t have that advantage.” There was no animosity in Alonso’s voice; he was simply stating facts.
They’d had a lot of time to talk over the last few weeks, sitting in the dark as much as possible to keep their power consumption to a minimum. Not being able to see Alonso’s face had made it easier for Jack to talk about some things he would never have mentioned otherwise, including his immortality and the Doctor’s reaction to it.
“Neither of us is going to die,” Jack replied firmly, hoping that it wasn’t a lie. “At the very least, the Doctor is bound to find us. You know how much he loves dramatic last-minute rescues!” Using his cobbled together VM to send a distress call to the Time Lord had been the first thing he’d done after repairing the ship as best he could.
“He does have rather a flair for the dramatic,” Alonso agreed.
Jack unstrapped himself from his seat where he’d been checking the status readouts of the ship’s various systems and floated up to join Alsonso. For the past few weeks they’d been living in zero gravity most of the time, except for an hour each day when they turned on the artificial gravity so they could exercise to maintain strength and muscle tone. Jack had wanted to keep them both in good shape for their inevitable rescue. From now on they’d just have to do their best to maintain their physical condition without that advantage. Exercising in freefall would be more difficult, but earth’s astronauts had managed it while living aboard the international space station so he wasn’t worried.
“So, did I ever tell you about the day the earth was stolen?”
“I don’t think so.”
Floating on his back, Jack folded his hands behind his head and launched into another story of his life, a sad, wistful smile curving his lips.
“The ship is within visual range,” the TARDIS announced. “Projecting on the viewscreen.”
Ianto stared at the field of stars that appeared on the screen over the central console and frowned. “Within visual range for you maybe. My eyesight isn’t that good; all I see are stars.”
“Apologies. I will increase magnification.” The screen flickered and a small ship appeared in the centre. It was drifting, dark and obviously without power.
“Well, it’s not under attack at least. What happened to it?”
“Scanning.” There was silence for several heartbeats, then the TARDIS spoke again. “The ship appears to have passed briefly through the magnetic field being emitted by a neutron star within the nebula, resulting in damage to and draining of its power cells. Power reserves are minimal, but life support remains operational; I detect two lifesigns on board.”
“Can you land inside the ship?”
“It is too small for my tree form, but there is sufficient space for one of my alternate, smaller forms.”
“Police box?” Ianto grinned.
“Compact and geometric, an ideal form for confined spaces. Perhaps that is why the Doctor chose not to repair his TARDIS’s chameleon circuit.”
“Makes sense. Okay, let’s go rescue whoever’s on board.”
The days were passing achingly slowly. They talked, slept, exercised, ate, talked more. It wasn’t an exciting existence, but at least they were still alive, which was better than the alternative.
The interior of the small ship was lit only by the glow from the nebula, visible through all the viewports along one side of the living area as well as those in the cockpit. It was a dull, pinkish glimmer, hard to see much by; even though their eyes had adjusted to it, unless they were in the cockpit or right beside a viewport, all they could really see of each other was a darker shape against the dimness. So when that strange, eerie, wonderfully familiar sound began and a blue light flared in the dimness, both Jack and Alonso were dazzled, almost blinded by the brilliance. They covered their eyes, wincing in pain and blinking back tears. In the confined space, the sound seemed deafening; they could feel it right down to their bones, but they didn’t care because at long last they were saved.
As the sound faded to silence and their eyes became accustomed to the brighter illumination, they grinned at each other.
“Told you we’d be rescued! Looks like our ride has arrived.” Jack slapped Alonso on the back.
“Better late than never,” Alonso agreed, picking up the pack containing his belongings as Jack slung his own kit bag over his shoulder and tucked his replacement coat under one arm. Jack had insisted that they pack everything they wanted to take with them a couple of weeks earlier, realising they might not have the time or energy if help didn’t reach them until the last minute. After all, the Doctor tended not to hang around for long where Jack was concerned.
Less than a minute had passed since the TARDIS had completed her materialisation.
“After you!” Jack gestured towards the closed door and Alonso stepped ahead of him as the door swung open of its own accord to admit them…