Relative Time to Enterprise (January 2156)
January 21, 2155
(-1 year, 20 days)
The phone rang.
Trip's eyes popped open as he straightened up in the bucket seat. It took him a full three seconds for his brain to kick back into gear, and those three seconds were long enough for him to see a strange sight. A young woman burst out of the hallway that led to the bedrooms. Trip gaped as the woman from his dream bounded onto the control platform and snagged the phone receiver.
“Rose? Rose Tyler?” he whispered. “But you're just a dream in my head--”
Rose grinned and raised her hand in a 'wait a minute' gesture. “Yeah, I was. It's kinda complicated. Timey-whimey and all that stuff.”
“Timey-whimey?” It sounded like something the Doctor would say and he chuckled in response. He watched as Rose talked with whomever was on the other end of the line.
“You could've called me on my super-phone, you know. Since when did they start with the extragalactic charges? Fine. Okay...I'll tell him.” Rose looked over at Trip and added, “He's telling you to move.”
Trip stared at her. “Excuse me?”
“Move. A few steps to your right.”
“Who's tellin' me to move?”
“Just do it, 'kay? I promise we'll explain everything in a minute.”
He shook his head and stepped clear of the bucket seats. A moment later, there was a blinding flash of light in the TARDIS, so bright that he had to shield his eyes from the glare. When the spots faded from his vision, he saw a man standing in the exact spot he'd vacated. A tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed man wearing a familiar greatcoat and suspenders.
He grinned widely and gave Trip an impish salute. “Permission to come aboard, Captain Tucker?”
Trip stared at him, unable to speak for another thirty seconds. When he finally found his voice, he whispered, “Captain...Harkness? Jack?”
Jack Harkness dropped the salute and answered, “That's me, in the flesh, so to speak. Sorry about that deal on Risa. That was my own damn clumsiness. I hope I'm not freaking you out right now.”
“I'm way beyond the freak-out stage.” Trip grinned and shook Jack's extended hand. “I gotta admit, though, you look pretty good for a dead guy.”
“And you look pretty good, period.” Jack's grin grew even bigger, if that was even possible. Trip felt a hot blush creep up his neck and into his face. “Sorry. I forget that you're a bit sensitive about that sort of thing.”
“No offense taken.” Trip shook his head. Harkness just hit on me. I guess there aren't as many boundaries where he comes from.
Rose laughed. “He flirts with anything that has a pulse. You haven't changed a bit, Jack.”
“And you're as charming as ever, Rose.” Jack's cheerful demeanor dimmed as he took in Rose's expression. “Let me guess. We're in trouble again, right?”
She sighed and gave Trip a smile of apology. “There are a lot of things to do and not a lot of of time to do it in, so...”
Trip reached over and put a supportive hand on her shoulder. She was right; the Doctor was in trouble, and the sooner they got him straightened out, the better. “Okay, let's save the universe again.”
After some initial confusion, Malcolm took the guests in stride. He, too, was beyond the 'freak-out stage' and nothing fazed him anymore. If the TARDIS allowed these two on board, they meant no harm.
“What happened to your sense of paranoia, Malcolm?” Trip teased.
Malcolm gave him a dry smile and replied, “I trust the TARDIS's judgment.”
To Trip's surprise, he suggested that they take their strategic discussion to the kitchen. Trip didn't understand the reason until Malcolm went straight to the fridge and tossed him a bottle of Guinness.
“I forgot I left those there,” Jack mused, “and Owen has a habit of stealing beer from Torchwood's communal refrigerator.”
“Considering the circumstances, I thought having these would be appropriate,” Malcolm said formally. “Sir.”
“No need to call me 'sir', Lieutenant Reed. I may hold the rank of a Group Captain on my epaulets, but I think the TARDIS considers you two to be her pilots right now. That automatically gives you two a promotion.” Jack gave him a brilliant smile as he caught his beer one-handed.
“Royal Air Force?”
There was a glimmer of sadness in Jack's eyes, but it was gone before Trip could be sure. “Yeah, originally. 1941. It's a long story.”
Trip narrowed his eyes. “You're long-lived? Not Human?”
“Oh, I'm Human.” Jack and Rose traded inscrutable looks. “Long story short, I can't die, not permanently. I come back, time after time.”
Trip's mouth dropped open. “So you actually did die on Risa--?”
Malcolm's question mirrored his disbelief. “You're immortal?”
“For all intents and purposes, yes.” Jack sobered and took a long pull of his beer. “It's not all it's cracked up to be, believe me. Coming back each time feels like being dragged over broken glass.”
“That certainly doesn't sound pleasant.”
“It isn't, Malcolm.” Jack's piercing gaze assessed him in a matter of moments. Malcolm reddened under the scrutiny, but didn't back down from the stare.
Rose gave Jack a discreet elbow in the side. “Can you two have your staring contest later?”
Malcolm cleared his throat. “Yes. We have more pressing matters.”
“The Doctor.” She quickly told Jack and Malcolm what had happened; Trip simply listened, for he'd already heard this in the dream. Both men understood the implications right away.
“A critical juncture in the Doctor's timeline,” Malcolm murmured. “One different decision, one different outcome. Future Guy seized the opportunity when his defenses were down.”
“Yeah...and now the universes are going to pay for it, including all of ours.” Jack glanced at Rose, who nodded back. “Her universe...a parallel to mine, was one of the first to fall. Future Guy kidnapped all the Doctor's former Companions and my team. Suddenly, my universe winked out of existence. Lucky I wasn't there at the time, or I wouldn't be sitting here now.”
Trip and Malcolm glanced at each other. “And our universe is next on Future Guy's list, and he's got a grudge against Enterprise.”
“The TARDIS has always known when the Doctor needs extra help. I think she found the two men who are perfect for the job.” Jack smiled again and gestured with his beer bottle. “You two.”
Malcolm sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “All right...what can we do to stop Future Guy once and for all?”
“Can the TARDIS find Future Guy?” Trip asked. “I mean, he's not exactly hard to miss.”
Rose clenched her beer in her hand and said, “She knows where the Doctor is, and I reckon she's backtracked in his steps. Go back far enough, and we'll find both him and Future Guy.”
Trip nodded; so he'd been right in that the TARDIS had been searching for her owner all this time. Vulcan, Risa, Lorian's Enterprise, the Xindi Weapon...if the TARDIS had brought Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness along for the ride, they had to be close. Trip sighed and silently thanked the blue police box for sharing the burden. It felt a lot better not carrying the load all by himself.
“How'd you two escape Future Guy's clutches?” he asked. “I mean, if the Doctor's other friends are prisoners--”
Jack put his beer down on the table and folded the right sleeve of his greatcoat away from his wrist. Trip saw an electronic-looking contraption on Jack's arm, similar to a transporter enhancer's armband. Rose raised her arm to show a similar device.
“Time Vortex Manipulator. It's a quick and dirty way to get around space and time,” Jack explained. “Not as elegant as the TARDIS, but it does the job. All Time Agents have one. Rose...ahem...'borrowed' hers from an old friend of mine.”
“He owed me a favor. John Hart's not well-loved in my Torchwood,” Rose quipped, “and I saved his arse from oblivion.”
“In any case, it distorts the time field when someone uses it...so Future Guy can't trace us.” Jack tugged his sleeve back down over the Vortex Manipulator. “We've got these...you've got the TARDIS, so we're covered.”
Malcolm cocked an eyebrow at Jack's confident tone. “Weaponry?”
Jack grinned at him. “How are you at semi-automatics? Not the same as a phase rifle, I'm afraid, but--”
A slow smile spread across the Englishman's face and he nodded. “I'm adequate at them.”
“Good, and I've got the feeling I shouldn't stand directly in your line of fire--” The walls began to shudder and shake so violently that they all heard the condiments rattle in the kitchen pantry. “What the hell--?”
“The TARDIS found something,” Trip said through gritted teeth. “We gotta get back to the control room.”
The four of them made their way down the spiral staircase and back to the console. Malcolm went straight to the tactical screen while Trip hit button and switches. Jack and Rose stood on either side of Trip. Rose's eyes widened at Trip's efforts to slow the TARDIS's descent.
“You can do that by yourself?”
“Not totally by myself. Don't ask; I can't really explain it.” Trip glanced over at Malcolm. “What do we have, Malcolm?”
He tapped the screen as information scrolled down its right hand side. “I'm reading some sort of debris field. There's a ship drifting on its outer edge...it's a shuttlepod!”
Trip fought the shiver of apprehension that went through him at the mention of a debris field. “One of ours?”
“It appears so. In fact, it looks like Shuttlepod One, but the identifying markings are a little different.”
Malcolm shook his head. “I'm not detecting any lifesigns on the shuttlepod or anywhere in the area. If these readings are correct, they're leaking oxygen over there. They've got half an hour left.”
“That's bad. I wish we could transport over there and see what's going on.” The whole situation reminded Trip of the time they'd nearly froze to death on their Shuttlepod One. Were they too late? And why would Future Guy be here, of all places?
“Yeah, we can,” Rose piped up as tapped her Vortex Manipulator. “This'll put us where we need to be.”
Jack frowned and said, “It'll be a tight fit if we all go over there. Rose, let me and Trip go over. He's an engineer and familiar with that technology.”
She pouted, but saw the logic in his suggestion. Malcolm looked like he was going to object too, but Trip said, “I think we'll be okay.”
Rose sighed. “All right, but I go next time.”
“Okay, I promise.” Jack set the coordinates on his own machine. “Grab onto my arm, Trip. Here we--”
Trip blinked as the interior of the shuttlepod flashed into existence around him. The air had an icy bite to it and frost already covered most of the control panels. He pushed away the memories as he made his way forward to the pilot's seat. A limp body slumped on the helm controls. The uniform was black, with rank bars on the shoulder epaulets. A belt crossed the man's chest from left shoulder to right hip, ending in a gun holster.
He put a hand on the pulse point of the man's neck, but there was no heartbeat. Blood had congealed all around the instrument panel and the floor of the shuttlepod. Trip gently pushed the body back into the pilot's chair; the head lolled limply on its shoulders, but he got a good look at the face.
It was his, but the right side of his face was horribly disfigured, with a horrible scar and a drooping eye. The remaining left eye was open, glaring at Trip as if to say, Where the hell have you been?
“Trip?” Jack called from farther back in the shuttlepod. “I think you'd better take a look at this.”
He tore himself away from his dead double. A glint of steel sparkled in the dim light and he spotted a wicked-looking, three-pronged knife just inches from his double's hand. The blade itself was blackened with dried blood. This version of Tucker hadn't frozen to death. He'd been stabbed.
“Look familiar?” Jack asked without humor. He inclined his head to a second body lying in the passenger compartment. “I don't recognize the uniform--”
“MACOs. Military Assault Command. Think of them like the old United States Marine Corps.” Trip knelt at the second man's side; he already knew who it was before he saw the face. “It's this universe's Malcolm Reed.”
Jack whistled as he made a quick search of this Reed's corpse. By the time he was done, a small pile of knives, smoke bombs, and phase pistols lay on the floor. Trip raised an eyebrow at the handful of star-shaped blades from inside Reed's jacket.
“Those look nasty.”
“Yeah. They're shuriken. I remember Toshiko showing me a few of 'em at a museum display. Ninja stuff.” Jack gave Reed's body a look of wary respect. “Your friend wasn't kidding when he said he was 'adequate' at weapons. He's got more firepower hidden on him than I do, and that's saying something.”
Trip winced as he surveyed the carnage within the shuttlepod. “Japanese weaponry--”
“Strange, considering he's English.”
“Yeah, but he's...he will be...involved with our comm officer and she's Japanese.”
“I'd hate to mess with this guy's girlfriend, then, if she gave him the shuriken.”
Trip shuddered at the thought of an evil Hoshi Sato. A sadistic version of Malcolm and a scary-looking double of himself were bad enough. Just what kind of people were they in this universe? “They didn't freeze to death; they killed each other. I think this Reed wasn't expecting to die.”
“Yeah. That Tucker fought back and probably surprised the hell out of him.” Jack pointed at a particularly vicious gut wound. “He would've lasted maybe ten, fifteen minutes, and would've been in a lot of pain. Not a pretty way to go.”
“I guess you'd know, wouldn't you.”
It was Jack's turn to wince. “Yeah, I would.”
Trip took a deep breath and shivered as he glanced back at the helm. “Obviously, a darker universe, more violent than the one I'm from. Lemme see if I can get any information from the computer.”
“Better make it quick. It's getting pretty cold in here.”
This shuttlepod's systems were close enough to Trip's Shuttlepod One for his PADD to be compatible with the computers. He found an access port and coaxed enough tendrils of power for an information dump. His PADD beeped a warning; his eyes widened as he yanked the connections free.
“Yeah. Whoever designed this system encoded a virus to screw up anyone accessing their computers.”
“Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if MACO Reed back there installed it.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “So you didn't get anything?”
“Got maybe half of it.” Trip shook his head. “Let's get out of here.”
Jack nodded in agreement. “Yeah.”
There was another flash and the interior of the shuttlepod vanished.
“Another ship just appeared on the edge of the TARDIS scanners,” Malcolm reported, barely a minute after Trip and Jack reappeared in the control room. He swiveled the screen around so Trip could see the readouts. “NX-class, but it's significantly different from our own.”
“How different?” Trip's eyes widened as the specs of that ship scrolled down. “Their engine output is fifteen percent higher than our Enterprise's--”
“Their phase cannons are more powerful, too.” Malcolm murmured. “It's a warship.”
Rose stared at it with wide eyes. “A warship? You don't have ships like these in your universe.”
“Not quite like this, Rose. We're peaceful explorers, not conquerors.”
“Do we have an I.D on it, Malcolm?” Trip asked.
“Bringing it up right now--” He frowned at the name of the ship. “It's Atlantis, under Captain Charles Tucker the Third.”
Jack made a face. “They don't know their captain's dead in a shuttlepod.”
“No,” Trip said softly. “Not yet. I think I know why the TARDIS brought us here. I think we're supposed to take their places, Malcolm, and with any luck, we'll find Future Guy and stop him.”
Malcolm stared at him, then at the ominous ship on the tactical plot. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.