Heaven & Nature Sings by Echo Fain
Sometimes, he can't sleep for re-living the choices he made as a younger man. He lays awake and stares at the dark and follows each thread from beginning to end, considering all the bits of life that came together to create the road he's walked.
When he began, at twenty-seven, to design and build technology for his homeworld that would give them some defense against the Daleks and wholesale destruction, he knew that his body couldn't take the abuse. He hadn't let that knowledge stop him. Jack's future--and the future of the kingdom--counted on his willing self-sacrifice and, back then, what did he have to lose?
First with a vortex manipulator--his wrist strap, from the Queen's own hand, through Professor Song's efforts--and then with the chrononic coral he used to build his Rawleigh. He'd tossed himself back and forth through time, collecting Ianto's temporal DNA and scavenging from battlefields where time was used as a weapon. The wear and tear on his hybrid body had its effects, despite the symbiotic coral's ability to filter away chronons and artron.
When it began, he had no lover. He had no children. He was forbidden to marry. His adoptive family was unaware of his position as Queen's man--and all that it entailed. He'd lived two lives and it wasn't difficult to keep them separated. But then he and Jack had changed the nature of their relationship and he'd gotten his way, with Her Majesty. He hadn't allowed Liz X to put a foot down about the rules he broke; his home-life was all that kept him sane in the face of the temporal work he did.
Because of Jack--first--and then Ianto, and Idris, and finally--but never least of all--because of John, he had done terrible things to the flow of time. He'd bent rules. He'd broken them. He'd crossed his own timeline, had even met himself—repeatedly on one mission. He had crammed fortnights into single afternoons so that his family would never know he'd failed to come home in time for his tea.
He'd plotted coordinates that took him through deadly ion clouds and nebulae. He'd done things only the Doctor would dare, knowing damn well he was destroying his body. His family--husband, son, mam and tad, his brothers--were none the wiser until the symptoms were irrefutable and irreversible.
He'd refused a biostasis chip from the Queen. At first, in the beginning. Because of the effect temporal energy had on his body, he feared the chip would malfunction and make his situation worse. When he was finished at last and no longer needed to travel in the temporal vortex, he accepted the gift with the hope that it would give him a way to heal the chronotic disease destroying his nervous system. It didn't help and, in fact, promised only to lengthen his suffering.
By the time he met the Doctor face to face, he was dying of it.
He was gone with the TARDIS a very long time, and when he finally returned home to fight in the coming war, he returned to a family he'd wounded. A family torn by belief and re-stitched by the birth of a new child. And they'd taken him back.
He had three chips in his body, all under the tattoo on his left shoulder blade. One was a perception filter. Another was his identification as Queen's man and an operative of Torchwood Orion. The perception filter, as far as he could tell, was still working just fine. The ID chip, he'd disabled it three years before leaving his own timezone, to prevent the ragtag remains of his homeworld's government from tracking him down. No one here and now could use either of them against him. The biostasis chip, however, was another matter altogether.
The biostasis chip would kill him. At its current rate of decay, he would be dead of old age in a decade. Maybe another fifteen years. He'd thought it was a fair punishment from Mother Time for the crimes he'd committed against her.
But if there was one thing he should've counted on, it was the ever-changing nature of his own future. The future was impossible to map with any accuracy. His dreams of collapsed waveforms and temporal paths were all the proof he needed that no one could predict all the variables of an outcome. Jack had found him here. Of course UNIT would find him. Of course he would get dragged into working to protect humanity--still bashing each other to death in the cradle--from the Time War.
The Time War. It ended millions of years ago and never really ended at all. The very nature of a Time War meant that everyone--everywhere, everywhen--was in danger from the combatants who used temporal manipulation in their war of attrition. The chaos of the Time War stretched from dawn to dusk of Mother Time's realm and through every galaxy and even every reality.
He isn't supposed to be here. And the war never really came to Earth in this timezone. But the war is trying to arrive now. With Jack, he pried a little, every time the immortal's mind drifted to emotional memories of the incident in Newtown. He'd dug--what was one more invasion in the face of his need?--and found what he was looking for. The sight of dead Daleks and, oh gods, the insignia of the Eternity Circle's seeker squadron.
Jack's suspicions are correct. These are his pursuers.
The Time War destroyed timelines and histories and planets and whole galaxies. Here, it would change the nature of humanity's future and this was how it began.
He'd told Mister Holmes he would do nothing to alter humanity's timeline.
Oops. Too late. He brought trouble to the doorstep at his heels. But. Something bigger is coming. He remembers this tidbit of Torchwood history, doesn't he? Yes, he does.
And he remembers what came next.
7 November 2011; Monday; 0908 hours
Half an hour into consultation with UNIT's top scientist in the field of nanogene research, the mobile in his pocket buzzed. Lyn ignored it and the short, pudgy, red-faced Doctor Stamford told him some very basic details of what nanogene surgery entailed.
He'd smiled, nodded, asked questions, and pretended he didn't know about nanogenes or nanobots or how a gene blueprint could be used to rebuild an entire body with the right three-dimensional template. He chose to not think about how he'd used some of the same concepts to create Chiaroscuro.
An hour later, as he sat in Stamford's office--after his full-body scan and bloodwork--his mobile began to buzz again. It went on and on, not a message but a call. He was alone--Stamford would return with his scans soon--so he pulled out his phone and studied the screen.
He rejected the call and immediately dialed Anthea's number.
"Mister Baskerville. How pleasant. How may I assist you?"
"I need a new phone. I'm destroying this one today." He said with a scar-stretching grin.
"I can have a new mobile delivered to your private recovery room."
"Deliver it yourself. If possible."
"If possible, Mister Baskerville. But doubtful."
He thought he detected a note of regret in her voice but acknowledged that he might be wrong.
7 November 2011; Monday; 1112 hours
Texting on the way to Newtown, Lyn told him to ask again on Sunday. And he had. Lyn joked right back at him, saying no but not in any definite way. Just rebuttals. As if the other non-Earther enjoyed the disagreement as much as anything else. And not once did Lyn ask him about Daleks or UNIT.
But then teasing turned into something else and he'd left Lyn's bedsit ashamed of himself and silently furious with the older man. Sleep evaded his grasp for a while, so he acquainted himself with his new equipment. Dawn found him dozing in his recliner with a ring-bound instruction book on his chest.
The courier from London arrived soon after. Looking like a walking hang-over, he'd signed for his packet, and while the coffee brewed, he read the official letters.
He was still reading, at the breakfast bar in his pyjamas, when Gwen arrived with Anwen in tow.
He'd filled her in on the details he hadn't given her Saturday afternoon, at his return from Newtown. Some of them were new to him, too.
Someone in the Ministry for Defense had decided that Torchwood would exist as an autonomous agency again. They wouldn't have to go through UNIT to get things done. They would take back their own responsibilities. He was still the director and Gwen was his assistant director and they were going to be held responsible for what happened now.
They were going to need an assistant, soon. Someone to handle the paperwork.
Torchwood was offered their pick of six sites where the government would build for them within a budget that made Jack's brows disappear into his hairline. They had a starter list of possible recruits--supplied by Martha--that included only one name he knew. Minor noble with a diplomatic background and a habit of pissing off his superiors--ex-UNIT.
It was a silver platter in the form of a Trojan Horse dressed up to look like gratitude and hope. But he could use it. They both could. The job went on. It was easier to do with money than without.
The whole thing stank of Mycroft Holmes.
He put Gwen to watching the computers for Rift activity and heat bubbles and sorting the names on their starter list for investigation. He took the Rover and went out to look at the building sites on offer.
He texted Lyn as he left the house. He texted again when he reached the first site.
'You're missing out here. I'm scouting new sites today. Your input?' And he attached a picture of the warehouse.
The other alien human was working on a project for the museum. Was probably busy right now. But that was fine. Lyn would answer when he could.
He rolled the Rover up the long drive. He thought about how Lyn's hug felt, how that good moment ended.
Lyn, comfortable at last, kissed him. It took him off-kilter, unsettled his mind, but now--after so many hours to edge his way around the topic in his head--he came to the conclusion that he could ignore it. He could let it go, ignore the moment of weakness that allowed the off-worlder to show him something of his future.
He didn't need to be ashamed of himself. Or angry with Lyn for thinking less of him.
The warehouse sat on a large car park. He walked around the behemoth's perimeter, eyeing the windows and foundation. He scanned its frame, its strengths and its weaknesses. He walked through the shell of its interior and thought about labs, offices, conference rooms, a canteen.
He could start over here, maybe.
7 November 2011; Monday; 1124 hours
The nanogene surgical theater was an empty room with long, high-set windows. He stood naked but for the white terrycloth towel around his hips and let his audience watch him do nothing.
Let them stare at the ravaged skin and muscles of his legs and feet, the twisted mess of scars. Let them ogle his arms and chest, the strangeness of his untouched flesh--on his back, the upper half of his face. Let them watch him re-emerge from the wreckage, whole once more. To them--most of them, he imagined--he was just the next subject in an on-going research. But there would be a few who knew the truth or something resembling it.
The room's walls were covered in panels, alternating white with chrome. Something about it reminded him of a giant microwave oven--the kind Pamela used to re-heat food.
By now, Alfie would be moving into Pamela's house, taking over his bedsit. His friends would look after each other. The rent was paid up for a year, courtesy of MI6, and he'd left a package in his landlady's care, for Jack. Jack would come looking for him soon. Maybe the telegram and package would end the matter for good. He wanted to believe it could.
While waiting for the surgery, he'd removed the sim card from his mobile and destroyed it, discarding the phone itself. A telegram would arrive for Pamela tonight, from him. Originating in an office on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it would say that he'd landed safely in New York. There was proof of him boarding a flight from Heathrow. The ticket was purchased within moments after he'd spoken with Mister Holmes. Someone resembling him under a good make-up job had left the United Kingdom and flown to the States.
Just in case Torchwood went digging.
MI6 was nothing if not thorough under Mister Holmes.
Doctor Stamford's voice crackled from a speaker. "Mister Baskerville, we're ready on this end. Is there anything you need before we start?"
Lyn shook his head; his voice came out graveled, half-cough. "No."
He closed his eyes then and pictured Idris. Pictured him as an infant, pictured him as an angry young man of nineteen. He ignored the hum that started low and grew in pitch, in volume, as the nanogenes entered the chamber and found him.
Their tiny processors were linked to the computer Doctor Mike Stamford used to direct the repairs and he could feel the warmth of the cloud as they swarmed over his flesh. They would correct what they found, matching the tissue to the template and the DNA.
The tingle became an itch and he swallowed, forcing himself to remain motionless. He thought of Charley, pictured her young and babyish and asleep against Idris' side...the way they'd looked the night before he left them.
Lyn silently hoped that the timebomb in his DNA didn't decide to wake up.
"The tattoo is gone, Mister Baskerville. Proceeding to remove the chips."
The first chip was pushed out. He felt it pop free and he heard it ping on the floor behind his left foot.
The second chip followed and the hum intensified.
"The damaged chip is connected to the nerves of your spine in a deviation that--" Doctor Stamford's jolly voice was suddenly drowned out by a whine from the nanogenes and the agony of fire.
Lyn screamed. His teeth came together with a clash on his tongue as he hit the floor on his knees. But the pain fell away when the darkness claimed him.
7 November 2011; Monday; 1734 hours
They had their future spread out on the dining room table.
The flatscreen showed their map of the United Kingdom in temperature colors again. Everything was static. No heat bubbles anywhere. Anwen played under the table with her blocks and dolls. From the sitting room and the kitchen both, the various whirrs and clicks and thrums of circuited electricity created a white noise. They had twice as many computers running now--four of them working on just Rift activity in the United Kingdom.
Rhys was driving a truck this evening. Andy was on duty at the police station. Which was fine, really, because of what they were discussing over pizza take-away. They needed to start discussing personnel but paranoia prevented either of them from suggesting a first candidate.
Gwen tossed the folder on the table next to her empty plate. "We'll have to start somewhere or come up with our own list."
He agreed. There was a certain lady detective that came to mind when he thought of possible recruits from the local police. And Andy would have to either officially join or go on being just a pinch-hitter. A consultant, according to the rules of government funding.
"What did you see today?" She asked, changing the subject.
Jack turned on the laptop and shifted it to face her.
While she flicked through uploaded pictures, he used his mobile.
Lyn's number rang four times. Then the phone clicked and a message played. He pulled the offending device away from his cheek and stared at the screen. He put it on speakerphone as the message began to play again.
Wide, startled green eyes stared at him when he clicked the mobile off again, disconnecting the failed call.
"Jack--" Gwen said.
He shook his head at her and sat back heavily, pulling his hands from the table.
It could be nothing. It could be that Lyn was off to the continent--but he hadn't answered earlier, either. And the wisps of doubt had questions attached. Big, unfocused questions.
UNIT was watching Lyn. So was MI6. There was a file on his friend in the Black Archive. Martha had said Kate Stewart was accessing that file. UNIT could use a man like Lyn, just like Torchwood might.
Lyn hadn't asked him about Daleks or UNIT. Maybe because Lyn already knew.
He picked up his mobile again and did a quick search for Pamela Goldsmith in Camden. He dialed the number. It rang through to voice mail.
He left a message and then thumbed the mobile off.
"It could be nothing." Gwen said.
"But it's not." Jack disagreed. "I know it's not."
"Maybe that's true. But maybe it was his choice. Maybe he wanted to."
He made a decision. "I won't know until I see him. I'm going to London in the morning. Wanna come along?"
7 November 2011; Tuesday; 2316 hours
He knew he wasn't alone before he opened his eyes. He could see the outline of her emotions. She sat by his bedside in this chilly hospital room behind locked doors and waited for him.
And he caught shadows and slivers of what occupied her mind, making her feel.
It came in seeps and spurts as he watched her from behind his eyelids.
Forewarned was fore-armed, Jack would say. And he agreed.
He opened his eyes to see her clearly. She lifted her face and let him. UNIT's chief scientific officer looked haggard.
He smiled at her. It felt wobbly, but...he felt it and knew that his face was back. He touched it with his fingertips and marveled at both his hand and his unmarred jaw.
Without a word, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart leaned forward and offered him a mirror. She settled once again and used a careless hand to brush away strands of blonde hair that fell against her cheekbone.
He took the mirror but laid it against his chest as he studied her instead.
She was at her wits' end. And the glimmerings of why were in her heart. It was here. The future.
Lyn whispered hoarse. "Anyone ever tell you that you've got your father's eyes?"
A muscle in her cheek twitched but she didn't smile. Her gaze was somber. "I could ask you the same question."
Only then did he lift the mirror in his hand and look at the man framed there.
He was young again. His hair was the color of ripe wheat and his lips were right and his eyes were dark iron and, yes, damn her, she was right.
He put the mirror down and pulled away the front of his hospital gown, sitting up in the bed. His chest was unmarked. He craned to look at his left shoulder. The damage was gone. So was his tattoo. There was no pain in his left shoulder at all. For the first time since he was twenty-eight, he had no prickling pins and needles there. The scars from his first time-jump accident were gone.
He rubbed at his shoulder blade with a flawless hand. His voice came out stronger this time but rueful. "I've had that tattoo since I was twenty-five. I got it when I took the job of Queen's man." He gave her a crooked grin. "Maybe I should replace it with the UNIT insignia. What do you think, Kate?"
But she ignored that. She settled deeper into her chair, making it creak. She crossed her legs at the knee and he realized that there was a white mobile on the bureau by his bed. Not hers; she held hers in one long-fingered hand.
The new mobile probably contained all the phone numbers he needed. None of them would be Jack's.
She spoke and drew his attention once again. "Do you know how many times he's been here--on this planet, in this timezone--during the last fifteen years? Some of those times, you were with him. I just saw you twelve weeks ago. With him."
He shrugged. He didn't want to know or remember the particulars.
She went on, her thin mouth twisting into a frown. "On Friday night, while you were sitting in a cell below Scarman Estate and I was in a field with Jack, hunting Daleks, the Zygons began an invasion right under my nose." He watched her face go hard. "And while you were in Camden, changing your mind, UNIT fought to save this world--and the Doctor was here. Three of him this time."
He could see it in her emotional output, the memories of what she'd experienced. What the whole of Earth had, unknowingly, experienced.
He smiled at her, but said nothing.
And she continued. Her voice matched her face, hard and exhausted. "You just missed them. He left two hours ago. He promised to return in a few days--one of them did, anyway. He's building safeguards against a breakdown in our new peace treaty." And there was a terrible bitterness now, in her tone.
Lyn laid the mirror on the bureau and leaned back into his pillows. The bed was raised for his comfort, to rouse him from sedation, and it was needed. He felt weak. "You didn't tell him about the Daleks? Any of them? Why not?"
"Because we haven't captured one alive yet. Because of why we think they're coming here. It's the Time War, isn't it?" Her brown eyes narrowed, sharpened like a hawk's. "The same war the Zygons were running from."
She nodded, too, but it was a decision-type nod, not agreement. "We want you off this world now. Yesterday would be favorite. But we need your help first. UNIT needs your help."
"I already know what's falling out of the sky, Kate." He rubbed his forearms, one at a time, testing the new skin. "They're from the Eternity Circle. They've come to find a weapon for the Dalek Emperor."
"Something they think they can turn into a weapon." He amended.
"Someone, you mean."
They stared at each other in silence. Her hands were folded into her lap. His moved, restless and half-conscious, seeking out the changes--remembering what should be.
"At any time he was here over the last fifteen years, you could've approached him." She blinked twice and the frown returned. "Why didn't you do it?"
He didn't answer. And her gaze searched him, what was visible of him.
"For that matter." She started, slow this time. "Why didn't you come to us? You could've contacted my father through Torchwood. Or me. Day or night. UNIT took over at Flat Holm--you could've made your presence known, then, too. But you didn't."
She was asking herself why. A very good place to start. She was to UNIT, in this timezone, what he'd once been to Torchwood, in his own.
He chose not to answer. He asked, instead. "What does UNIT actually want from me?"
Kate straightened her shoulders in the chair. "Show our scientists how to utilize Dalek armor with our power sources. And look at a few security measures for a particular problem we're having with integrating our...new neighbors. The Doctor's leaving us with safeguards but we have to build our own protocols."
She might've said more but clamped her mouth shut. There was a lot of frustration in her; frustration she had no intention of verbalizing.
"What you really want to ask me is if this is something I recognize. From my own understanding of Earth's history, seen from my timezone. Did this happen? How does it turn out? Yeah?"
She gave him a thin, wavering smile.
He thought about telling her a lie. He thought about telling her the truth.
Then he said. "The 21st century is where it all changed. And your place in history is assured, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, as a benefactor of the new age. Your father would be proud."
She could use that. It was raw iron for the foundry of her heart.
"I let our world be invaded." She murmured, looking stricken instead of relieved.
"You gave a home to some scared, angry refugees." He corrected her perception. "Refugees who are connected to refugees in other places. Earth has taken its first steps into the universe beyond its front gate. And it's gained itself a new reputation." Lyn held out his hands to her, palms-up, offering. "You won, whether you know it or not."
But she was miserable, full of doubt. It was a bagful of snakes the Doctor had given her for Christmas this year.
He scooted around sideways and put his legs out of the bed. Sitting on the edge, he leaned forward over his bare--whole, unscathed--knees and touched her fingers where they lay on the chair's arm.
"Kate, you did exactly what your father would've done. You listened--really listened--and then followed the Doctor's advice."
"Making me the nursemaid to a peace treaty to protect and resettle twenty million Zygons." She sounded overwhelmed, ragged. But there was a spark of dark, intense emotion in her eyes. Something that rose to the challenge.
He recognized it. Applauded it.
"It will be my genuine pleasure to lend you a hand with this." He squeezed her fingers. "Whatever safeguards he intends to provide you, you'll still need protocols to protect the safeguards. I'll need to meet the Osgoods as soon as possible, too." He'd seen them in her emotionally-charged memories, clear and crisp and eerie.
The torment in her features eased but didn't disappear entirely. She gave him a smile, quieter and full of something like maternal understanding. "I can call him. He'll return for you."
He ignored that. Sitting back, he let go of her hand and looked down at his bare toes on the cold hospital floor. He wriggled them and gave a chuff of laughter before glancing at Kate. "What about my Rawleigh? My glasses? My cane? My spanner? My rings?"
She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out his spectacles and a flat black velvet case. She laid them on the bureau, by the white mobile phone, and then sat back again. Her smile turned, became business-like. "You'll get the rest as soon as our Time War problems, Dalek and Zygon, are finished."
"Then that's what'll happen. I'm ready when you are." He agreed.
"I will get you home, Merlyn." She said and the smile was still there.
It was the first time anyone had said his real name since he'd crashed here.
"Thank you." He whispered, his throat tightening. "I...I didn't realize, didn't know...how much I needed that. Just that." His name, and the promise of help from a friend who understood why he'd stayed away.
She dropped a hand to his shoulder before she left.
Only after she was gone did he reach for the velvet case she'd left for him. His heart thumped lopsided as he pulled them free, one at a time. Pewter and gold. He slipped them on his unmarked skin and straightened his spine before pulling the hospital gown off to stare at the rest of himself. His legs, his feet, his hips and groin. Relief spread, overtook him like a tidal wave. He began to weep. Silent at first, but then noisily. He was whole. He had his name back. And the shock of it caught up to him.
He cried until he was sore and raw and empty again.
He'd woken earlier, only a few hours after the surgery, but was kept sedated to prevent him from jostling the wires and leads they'd used to monitor him. Part of the research aspect of what Doctor Stamford did here, at St. Bart's hospital. Someone had told him something, then, as he was being given a banana bag and rehydration fluids and another dose of sedative. He couldn't remember who said it. He couldn't even be sure they'd said it out loud. But he knew it was true, whatever the source.
His biostasis chip hadn't fallen out. There was no trace of it in his body, either.
Before he left with UNIT, he needed to talk with Doctor Stamford again. He was whole, healed, and feeling like a very new man, but the missing biostasis chip was a question mark he didn't like.
On his feet, Lyn went to the room's closet and retrieved his bag. He found himself clean clothes and socks and dressed, unwilling to remain naked. Only then did he realize Kate had left him two folders. They lay on the end of his hospital bed. Under them was a fresh notebook and pen.
He slid his glasses into place on his nose and rang for assistance.
By the time his nurse arrived--a burly gentleman with a tribal tattoo on his left wrist--he was settled on the bed once more, folders and notebook open in front of his knees. He glanced up at the brown-haired ex-Marine. He absently rubbed his forehead, speaking to the expectant face as his mind swirled with an idea concerning Dalek armor on UNIT soldiers.
"Could I have a pot of tea, please? Milk and sugar. A few biscuits, if you have any."