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Wayward Son, Chapter 16: Curtain of Iron

At 7.00 am on a Saturday morning, the last thing Hal expected to hear was the ringing of her mobile. The sound so startled her that she gasped awake before rolling over to snatch the smartphone off the bedside stand.

“Hello?” She tried not to sound as startled and out of breath as she was.

“Good morning, Hal!” came a cheery male voice from the other end. “Have you decided where we’re going to lunch today?”

She slumped and let out the breath she’d been holding before responding. “Doctor, I don’t believe I actually committed to lunch today, if you’ll remember.”

“What you actually said was that you’d let me know. Well, I’m calling so you can let me know,” he continued obtusely.

“How did you get this number, anyway?”

The Doctor gave a humming laugh, as if pleased with his cleverness. “It’s in our disaster recovery plan. The one they made me take home this week as part of orientation.”

“So, is there a disaster right now, Doctor?”

“Uhm… not yet?” he ventured.

“Then you were not supposed to use that number! The personal information is only to be used during an actual emergency or drill.”

“I get that,” he said. “But, if you’d given me your number last night when you dropped me off at my car, wouldn’t it have been exactly the same number as what’s on this recovery plan?”

“Yeah,” she said, rubbing her forehead. It was too soon after waking up for her to have a Socratic discussion over improper use of confidential information, especially with the Doctor.

“So, if it’s the exact same number, what difference does it make if there’s a disaster or not at the moment?” he persisted.

“Never mind,” she capitulated. “Where do you want to go?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes and rolled to sit upright on the edge of the bed.

“Do you like sushi?”

“Yes, if it’s decent.”

“Any reliable place near you?” he queried.

“Uhm, Little Tokyo is my favorite. Always fresh, large menu and usually quiet. About five blocks from here.”

“What time?”

“Oh, about 11.30 would be best so that you miss the main lunch crowd,” she said, groaning slightly as she stretched.

“Are you alright?” he asked in concern.

“Fine. Just stretching.” She was reticent to tell him he’d awakened her, since 7.00 am was a luxuriously late start of the day for her, even on a weekend. She gave the Doctor the address for the restaurant before ringing off.

Darn, she thought. Did I just let him know where I live? Eeediot.

“Sid,” she called out to the air.

“Yes, Hal?” responded a disembodied voice from a hidden speaker in the wall. It had a soothing, smooth British accent to it that belied its electronic origin.

“I could really use a little Bernado Rubaja this morning.” An ambient acoustic instrumental piece with a South American flair played softly in the background as she made her way to the kitchen. Taking a small pod of espresso from a cabinet and inserting it into a coffeemaker, she started a single-serve cup of espresso-ish coffee into a mug. Having to clean up the dedicated espresso machine seemed like a waste of energy for one cup, and simply wasn’t in the cards this morning.

Rubbing her temples, she tried to rid herself of the dull throbbing ache left over from yesterday’s encounter with the Doctor. The complexity of his Time Lord consciousness had surprised her. That he had the discipline to maintain shields at all had intrigued and alarmed her, although his mental defences were no match for hers.

Mentally sifting through and cataloguing the memories she’d gained from him yesterday, she simultaneously made the bed as the coffee gurgled in the kitchen, stopping occasionally as a particularly interesting bit of information floated into her conscious mind.

Hal sighed as she retrieved her espresso from the machine, sipping it slowly as she made her way to the computer console in the living area. She entered an extended logon sequence via keyboard, grimacing as the bitter unaltered hot liquid of the espresso hit her tongue. Years ago she’d given up sweeteners or whiteners in her coffee, finding that the bite of strong roasted beans and undiluted caffeine gave her brain cells a kick-start to the day. A star chart appeared on the flat screen monitor as she typed, slowly rotating in 360-degree views as she rapidly tapped the keys.

Staring at the monitor for several minutes, Hal’s mind turned to other matters that had become more urgent and immediate. She wasn’t yet sure what to do about the Time Lord. In many respects, he irked her because he’d disrupted her well-established routine and was already trying to inveigle his way into her personal life. Well, not that she truly had a personal life, but if she’d had one he would be barging his way into it. He might well, she acknowledged begrudgingly, be of use to her in discovering a way home, but that didn’t mean she had to befriend him.

Having isolated herself socially from everyone in the alternate universe out of fear of discovery, she had known nothing about this strange man until introduced to him by Torchwood Director, Pete Tyler. She had steered clear of the office grapevine, or she would have heard rumors of the sudden appearance of a mysterious Tyler “godson” at the Tyler Estate. His supposed nebulous connection to Rose Tyler, with whom she’d worked on the Dimension Cannon project, would have undoubtedly caught her attention.

She had heard whispered chitchat in the hallways about a powerful being in several alternate universes called “the Doctor” who supposedly could stop the stars from going out, and she had been privy to the knowledge that the Doctor was the main target of the Dimension Cannon project to which she had formerly been assigned. But connecting “the Doctor” of the Dimension Cannon project to pretty boy “Dr. John Smith” hadn’t happened until she’d panicked and delved into his mind.

A twinge of guilt tweaked her at the thought of how she’d almost neutralized the man who’d saved them all from the ravages of the Reality Bomb. Ironically, he, or at least his progenitor, was also responsible for disabling her most promising solution to return home. It was she who had provided the complex temporal and spacial coordinates for the targeting systems, and they had gotten so very, very close. With the hole between the universes now sealed, she was back to her original quandary of locating both a portal, most likely a wormhole, and having the means to get to it.

Mulling over the possibilities, she recognized that he represented an opportunity she could never have hoped for before. She had finally found a key piece of evidence tying the legendary Time Lords to the Kasterborous system, and then the very last of the Time Lords serendipitously appeared before her promising potential transport should she find a portal somewhere within this universe. It was almost too good to be true. But could she actually trust him?

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust his motivations now that she’d seen the very heart of him. He would never deliberately betray her; of that she was certain. His faith in and fondness for humanity far exceeded her own, however, and the possibility that he may inadvertently put her on the wrong side of Torchwood gave her need for pause. Never had she felt so scared, so isolated, so terribly vulnerable, than since she’d blundered into this universe.

But neither had the Doctor, she discovered. Her empathic nature, usually concealed so incredibly well that only her family saw it, recognized a kindred soul in the Time Lord and immediately connected to it. She had, much to her utter consternation, felt an urge to reach out to him. She had wanted to comfort and protect him as if he were… family, and that frightened her more than her initial shock at being discovered.

Oh, how Elly would have loved him, she thought fondly. She had no doubt her twin would have enfolded him into the family like a big-eyed abandoned puppy, and would have guarded him like the fiercely protective mother and matriarch she was. It was Elly’s love and protection that kept Hal sane.

“You could mother a rock,” Hal remembers telling her once. Elly dove into her jewelry box and produced a plain grey rock attached to a cheap corroded gold-filled chain.

“Pet Rock, 1976,” Elly said with a wicked gleam in her dark chocolate eyes. “Remember it?”

Hal had shaken her head at her deeply auburn-haired twin, incredulous. “I remember well when you bought it, El. I just can’t believe you still have it.”

Elly waved the manual in her hand: “The care and training of your PET ROCK,” it said on the cover.

“Are you serious? You kept both of those? Whatever are you going to do with them? The whole concept is just the height of stupidity.”

Elly shrugged, a lop-sided grin on her face. She held the rock by its chain and started to swing it about like a bolo. “Guess I could always use it as a weapon,” she winked.

Hal’s smile faded as she looked up to a framed photo on a shelf over the station. Standing in front of a copse of trees, Elly and her husband were warmly smiling down on her. Her heart clinched as she mourned the loss of their supportive love, stabilizing influence, and constant and immediate presence in her mind.

“What would Elly do?” Hal asked herself in a low voice.

Sid’s voice politely interrupted her thoughts. “I am sorry, Hal. I am afraid I do not have enough information to answer your question. Could you please rephrase the question?”

“Fat lot of good you are,” Hal teased him with a chuckle before rising to make breakfast.

###############################################

Bounding down the stairs like an eight year-old, the Doctor called out to Jackie in the kitchen.

“What’s up, love?” she asked, looking up from her cuppa and biscuits. She still had her robe and slippers on, hair full of a disarray of curlers.

“Don’t wait for me for lunch, Jackie. I’m going out,” he informed her.

Jackie’s eyes widened a bit as she set her cup down on the island. “You’re goin’ out? With a mate?”

“Yeah,” he offered casually. “Someone from Torchwood.”

“A woman?” she asked with a sparkle in her eye.

“Yeah, a woman. Halley Forbin. She has the office next to mine.”

“Good on you, Doctor. I’ve heard of her,” nodded Jackie. “Rose used to talk about her all the time. Quite smart, she said. Kinda stand-offish, though, she tol’ me. Looked like she needed a mate, but would have none of it. Kept to herself all the time, she said. Only met her a couple of times m’self, ‘cause she never comes to any of our parties. How’d you get her to agree to lunch?”

“We’re collaborating on a project, so it’s more about exchanging information,” the Doctor replied cagily.

“Ah,” she said conspiratorially, “don’t tell Pete that. You know he doesn’t like for his people to work afterhours ‘less it’s necessary. Work is work and play is play, he says. Speakin’ of play… you know the quarterly Torchwood party is here next weekend,” she added.

He nodded, happy to have Jackie’s focus somewhere besides his newly awakened social life.

“You should invite her to come to the house as sort of your plus one,” Jackie dropped dryly as she sipped her tea.

“B-b-but, she’s a Torchwood employee. She’s already invited!”

“And she never comes ‘less she’s forced to, Doctor. Maybe she’s jus’ shy and needs someone to hang out with,” she insisted.

“I dunno, Jackie,” the Doctor said uncomfortably, shuffling his feet like a schoolboy. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, even if she were to accept. And I don’t think she would.”

“Well, don’t worry,” she said slyly. “If she doesn’t, I’ve got three ladies lined up as plus ones for ya already. All three are nice heiresses from good families, too. One’s a bit of a dog, but the other two are knock-outs!”

The Doctor paled, looking as if he would faint any second. “What?!?” he asked weakly? “You arranged dates for me?”

“No, you daft idiot,” Jackie scoffed. “You only get one of ‘em. I’m jus’ hedgin’ my bets by linin’ up three. An’ don’t think it was all that easy tryin’ to find one who ain’t lookin’ for a husband or a boy-toy! Took me a bleedin’ week.”

“Oh, Jackie,” he sighed. “I’m not ready for this.”

“Sure you are,” she said with conviction. “You got a right nice position in Torchwood, you’re still good-looking, no gray hair yet, an’ you already got Rose lookin’ again. All’s ya need to do is keep her lookin’.”

“She’s… looking? At me?”

“Oh yes, she is. Heard she followed ya to a pub last night.”

“How’d you find out about that?!?” he exclaimed.

Jackie sniffed. “I got my sources,” was her enigmatic response.

“Hal’s just a mate, not a date. I don’t want Rose to think I’m stepping out on her, Jackie! That’s the last thing I want.”

“Then keep your distance, treat your lady friends like a mate… a male mate, even… an’ let Rose think whatever she likes,” Jackie said, staring him down. “’Less you start snoggin’ her like your last few mates, she won’t have a leg to stand on. Let the jealousy eat at her, then offer your friendship when she comes ‘round. Promise ya it won’t be long.”

He stood with his mouth slightly agape, letting a million thoughts and emotions cascade through his brain.

“Has Rose said anything to you about last night?” he ventured.

“Not a word,” she said. “An’ believe me, if she was really inna huff, she woulda said something first thing this mornin’.”

“I’ve gotta go,” he said, checking his watch. “I’m off to Rotherhithe and need to be there by 11.15. Give me a couple of days to sort out next weekend before you call on the dogs.”

“Have fun, sweetheart,” she laughed as she turned back to her tea and biscuits. “Try to talk about somethin’ besides work, ok?”

Sauntering over to Jackie, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek in answer, nicking one of her biscuits in the process. She batted at him playfully with a big smile and a blush as he easily ducked away laughing.

He found a decent parking spot on the street about three blocks from the restaurant. He’d arrived at exactly 11.15, so he had plenty of time to walk to Little Tokyo. Perusing the eclectic mixture of shop storefronts and restaurants along the way, he noted most had flats over them. A few had obviously been converted to purely residential quarters in the older neighborhood, the windows having been turned to living rooms or bricked in. Walking into Little Tokyo, he found a rather intimate space with barely ten tables, a few booths, a fairly good sized sushi bar and barely any clientele, but it was clean and neat in appearance.

Taking a corner booth again, he ordered a single-serve cold sake and sipped it slowly as he waited. Keeping an eye on the bay windows of the restaurant, he almost missed seeing Hal’s approach until she stepped through the door. He waved her over once he recognized her, unable to stop staring at her hair.

“Hello,” he said as he stood up. “I almost didn’t recognize you! You’ve cut your hair.”

“Hi,” Hal said with a slight blush. She reached back to feel the hair at her neckline, as if she’d just noticed something missing. Her hair was now in a longer, feathered pixie style that no longer fell over her ears. “I hate hair in my face,” she complained as she scooted into the booth opposite the Doctor. “I hacked at it myself the last couple of times, but it’s sort of difficult to do the back and not have it look like you did it yourself.”

“Shortage of hairdressers in this neighborhood?” he asked cheekily.

“Uhm, no. It’s rather bohemian, so there’s probably more hairdressers per capita than anywhere else in the city. I’ve simply been spoiled because Elly used to cut my hair for me.”

“Sake?” he offered, pointing toward his bottle. Hal nodded approvingly at his choice. “Junmai-ginjo,” she murmured. “A good choice. Why not?” They ordered a second bottle of sake and a combo platter of sushi and sashimi, plus a couple of rolls.

“Jackie actually cuts my hair,” the Doctor told her with a smile, pointing to his carefully spiked crowning glory.

“Well, now… aren’t you special,” Hal joked. “How do you convince the wife of a multi-millionaire to be your personal hairstylist?”

“I’m very, very good,” he answered cheekily with a wink.

“No doubt, seeing how you convinced me to tell you more about myself than anyone on this planet knows. Not to mention convincing me to meet you for lunch,” she replied seriously.

“I’m still sorting through the memories you gave me, and I’ve so, so many questions, Hal. For instance, I saw that you’d crash-landed here chasing a Gravalixian fighter, but what happened to your ship?”

“It was severely damaged coming through the rift I hit. Unfortunately, the technology and parts I need to repair it are not available in the twenty-first century on this planet,” Hal said. “Some materials can’t be found on this planet at all. I was hoping that something might fall through the Cardiff Rift, or be found in the Archives.”

“Where did you hide a ship that big? It is massive!”

“Cloaked, about 75 kilometers from here on an abandoned farm. I was fortunate to be able to land it there. It has just enough power to keep the cloaking systems operating and to mask the energy levels well below Torchwood and UNIT’s detection range.”

“I can’t believe they didn’t detect you entering the atmosphere when you crashed,” the Doctor noted.

“If I were to crash today, I would be detected. Five years ago, cloaking was enough. In another five years, I’m sure they’ll develop systems sophisticated enough to discover its hiding place,” she said with a worried expression. “I’ve already had a couple of close calls. Thank goodness I’ve been able to throw them off the scent by data manipulation,” she said with a challenging look into the Doctor’s eyes.

“Your secrets are safe with me, Hal,” he said earnestly. “I promise, I solemnly swear I will never let anyone at Torchwood harm you.” She laughed hollowly.

“And how might you promise that, Doctor? Get special dispensation from the Godfather, Pete Tyler? Take away Rose Tyler’s big-ass Preacher gun? Oh, that’s rich! Now that I think of it, she doesn’t need to suspect I’m an alien to take a shot at me. She’s probably thinking I’m trying to take her man.”

“Rose would never do that,” he said sharply. “Even if she’s in a jealous rage, she might say some… well… unpleasant things to you, but she would never seriously harm you. I know her, and I am positive she would never think to harm you. It’s just not in her nature.”

“Perhaps it wasn’t when you traveled with her,” Hal said, slightly chastened. “She grew up and hardened during those years she launched herself through the Cannon. She was singularly focused on getting to you, and nothing else mattered to her.”

“You didn’t show me any of that. Why?”

Hal stared down at her hands as she rubbed her fingers nervously. “It would have been too difficult for you. It was difficult for me to watch, really. She must have gone through it thousands of times, and she didn’t always come back in one piece. The next to the last time she came back, she was completely devastated. She said you’d… died in that world. You’d drowned in the Thames, she said.”

“Donna’s World! Yes, that’s when she gave Donna a message to deliver to me.”

“Donna’s World?”

“Yes, Donna Noble. Donna was my last companion. It’s a long story, but she was attacked with a Time Beetle. A whole new world arose because she drove in a different direction, resulting in her never meeting me. She didn’t save me from myself in that world, so I drowned.”

“Oh, yes, the redheaded woman,” Hal said after a beat, recalling some of the memories she’d plucked from the Time Lord’s memory. “You cared a great deal for her. You’re afraid the other Doctor has wiped her memories of you.”

“She was my best mate. Like a sister, she was. I don’t quite know what to do without her,” he said as his face fell. “It’s all my fault if he has to rob her of her memories.”

Hal automatically reached over and grabbed the Doctor’s arm. “Stop it! How is that your fault?”

“It was the meta-crisis, Hal. The meta-crisis was two-way, and her human brain can’t handle that. If I’d never been born, she wouldn’t have a Time Lord consciousness burning her up,” he moped.

“Oh, for crying out loud! If the meta-crisis hadn’t happened, she’d have literally burned up in the core of the Crucible. And all of us would be very much in the dark… until we froze to death with no sun, that is. Not exactly my favorite personal demise, thanks.”

The Doctor looked up and laughed almost tearfully as Hal withdrew her hand. Their sushi and sashimi platter arrived, so they tucked into it.

“Didn’t you ever think to talk to Rose while you were on the same project?” the Doctor asked after a couple of pieces.

“She’s the daughter of Torchwood’s chief, Doctor. What do you think?”

“But the two of you were both stranded here and trying to get back. Don’t you think she might have empathized with you? The two of you could have gone through the Cannon together. You could have protected each other!” pushed the Doctor, leaning forward aggressively.

“She refused to allow anyone else to go through the Cannon. She said it was too dangerous. I would have done it in a New York minute, and I told her that.”

“You could have made her,” the Doctor insisted. Something very powerful and ancient passed behind the Doctor’s eyes, reminding Hal that this man was virtually a millennium old.

“Look, I know I made a poor showing recently,” said Hal quietly, “but I don’t normally make a habit of ripping through peoples’ heads, Doctor. She was no threat to me by not allowing me access to the Cannon. It wasn’t sufficient reason to bend her to my will.”

“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said contritely. “It’s just that it bothers me that she hurt herself repeatedly trying to get back, and the two of you could have been great together. She has an enormous capacity to accept people as they are, Hal. She would never have turned you in.”

“And I knew that how? She tried to get me to join her and some friends for pub night, but I avoided them, primarily because of who she was. But again, I’m simply not the touchy-feely type, Doctor. Sorry.”

“An empath who isn’t touchy-feely?” the Doctor asked rhetorically. “You’re a Healer, Hal. You’ve saved lives almost at the expense of your own. You’ve transferred others injuries to your own body.”

Hal sucked in a sharp breath. “How do you know? I don’t remember showing you that.”

“A door, once opened, can be stepped through from either side, as someone once taught me. I saw that you have abilities you try to keep carefully hidden. Abilities that could make a real difference to a lot of people, if you would only learn to trust.”

“Every time I trust someone, I get screwed,” she said bitterly.

“It happens,” said the Doctor without so much as a hint of a smile. “But not all of the time. The payoff is worth the times it doesn’t work.”

Hal said nothing as their two additional rolls arrived, swallowing hard as she fought off a wave of anxiety. Her life, so very calculated and organized, was starting to unravel with the appearance of this very ancient being in front of her.

“I wish I had Elly’s abilities right now. She has the gift of limited clairvoyance and telekinesis,” she said sadly. “She’d know what to do.”

“She’s not an identical twin, right? You have different appearances and abilities?”

“Yes, we’re fraternal twins,” she said. “We were born exactly a month apart. Apparently, I was in a hurry to get out and almost took her along with me. We can both shift, but it’s much easier for me, more instinctive.”

“So,” said the Doctor with a long face, “she could explain to me what’s in this strange roll?” he said, poking one of the pieces with his chopstick.

Hal laughed. “It’s kampyo. Pickled gourd. One of Elly’s friends introduced her to it while visiting in Boston, and she went nuts over it.”

Grimacing, the Doctor placed one piece on his plate and poked at it again with his chopsticks.

“It’s very tasty, trust me. Nothing bitter or green about it, I assure you.”

Dubiously, the Doctor popped the roll into his mouth and chewed. “Mmmmm,” he hummed. “This is gorgeous! I can’t believe it’s a vegetable.”

“See, I told you,” Hal said.

The Doctor took a sip of his sake, then put his elbows on the table and looked Hal directly in the eye. “Ok, I trusted you on the kampyo roll. So now, are you going to trust me?”

“Depends,” she said suddenly full of spunk.

“You going to let me take a look at that artefact?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Ooooh, I didn’t expect you to be so easy,” the Doctor laughed.

“Oh, I’m anything but easy, Doctor,” she retorted.

“I could really use some help. I’ve not been here but a little over three months, and I want to avoid giving myself away, like I did with the Beavis and Butthead comment,” he explained. “You’ve managed to avoid detection for five years! So what’s so different about this world, other than the President and zeppelins?”

Hal cast her eyes around the restaurant as if checking to make sure no one was listening, then leaned forward.

“There’s no Peter Gabriel here,” she said in a low voice.

The Doctor let out a high-pitched squeak before clapping both hands over his mouth. Several patrons looked up in surprise while a few snickered.

Hal narrowed her eyes. “Did you just squeak like a little girl, Doctor?” she asked, trying not to break out into a grin.

Nooooo! Tell me it isn’t so!” he gasped, ignoring her jab.

“Nope, no Peter Gabriel. No Devo. No Kansas. No Ian Dury.”

“That’s… that’s simply mad. How am I gonna survive here?”

“Well,” she said smugly with her arms crossed, “guess it’s a good thing I had a copy of my audio collection onboard when I crashed.”

“Oooh, I don’t suppose you’d consider… sharing?” he asked hopefully.

“Might do,” she smiled. “Quid pro quo, though,” she said, inspecting her nails.

“Please tell me there’s Elvis…,” he said with his hand over his heart.

“He’s still dead here, but his music lives on.”

“Thank goodness!” the Doctor said with a relieved sigh. “I was about to throw myself into the Thames. So, what else did you salvage from your ship?”

“Oh,” she looked around again, this time actually looking for listeners, “my main navigational AI system, for one.”

“Okaaay… that… is… impressive. Obviously, a sophisticated navigational Artificial Intelligence system isn’t twenty-first century technology. How did you manage to time travel to obtain such technology, anyway?”

“I’m not sure this is a good venue for discussing such things, Doctor.”

“Where can we go? I am dying to ask you a lot of questions that would probably get us locked up, dressed in very, very long-sleeved jumpers.”

“My home is only five and a half blocks from here. Are we done with lunch?” she asked, starting to look a little paranoid.

The Doctor paid for lunch with an elite black credit card that garnered a very high eyebrow from Hal. “Must be terrible burden to be a Vitex tycoon’s godson,” she muttered.

“You have no idea,” he smirked as they left the restaurant and headed out on foot. “Designer jeans, getting chased out of the kitchen by the cook, avoiding husband-hungry heiresses dripping in designer wear, all those posh parties; it’s a madhouse!”

Reaching a stretch of shops, Hal stopped at one with bricked in windows that had been painted to appear like shop windows with dummies. Lifting the postbox mounted next to the door, she keyed in a sequence of numbers into a hidden pad beneath, and then pressed her thumb to a small flat panel. Red lights across the top of the panel changed from red to green as he heard the slight snick of the door lock. They walked into a tight foyer that gave way to a stairway leading to the upper living area, while a lower door that had once led to the “shop” section had been bricked in. The Doctor’s keen eyesight caught the dull red glow of laser beams at several points along the stairs as they ascended.

A landing at the top of the stairs had another door; a large flat panel was next to it on the wall. Hal placed her right hand flat onto the panel where the Doctor could once again see the glow of a sensor beam scanning Hal’s hand before unlocking the door into her flat. He followed her into the flat, and blinked as the lighting automatically brightened.

“Sid! We have company,” Hal shouted out. “You can call him the Doctor.” She pointed to the panel just outside the door. “Oh, yeah… press your right hand onto the panel, Doctor.” Backing up a few steps onto the landing, he placed his right hand over the panel and held it.

“Doctor John Noble Smith,” intoned Sid slowly. “Handprint stored and identity confirmed with Torchwood employee records. Good afternoon, Doctor.”

“You can come in now,” Hal indicated with a wave.

“That’s quite a security system you have,” he said. “I saw the lasers on the stairway.”

“Those are just the secondary detection systems, not the defence systems. Don’t even think of using your sonic on them. It wouldn’t be pretty. Besides, you’re probably not endearing yourself to Sid by not addressing him after he greeted you.”

“Oh, so, so sorry, Sid!” he yelled at the ceiling. “Good afternoon.”

“No offence taken, Doctor,” Sid replied pleasantly. “Would you like some tea?”

“Tea would be fabulous, Sid. Thank you!”

“Actually, Sid is downstairs and can hear you just fine, so you can stop yelling at the ceiling,” said Hal.

“He’s downstairs on the lower level?”

“He takes up most of the lower level, along with the cloaking sub-systems to hide the power source and EM emissions from his primary systems,” Hal said as she offered him a seat in the living area.

“And you have access to Torchwood employee records here? How did you manage that?” he frowned.

“That would be telling,” Hal said with another enigmatic smile.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” he muttered as he scanned the open living area from his position on the sofa. Everything was immaculate and organized. Bookshelves were neatly stacked and labeled. Her desk was clear of clutter; the leather of the sofa was soft and smelt of saddle soap or some other cleaning product. The hardwood floor was gleaming with nary a particle of dust or dirt on it. The feet of furniture all had clear discs under them to prevent marring of the hardwood flooring. A large flat panel display, at least 70” diagonal, was mounted on the wall opposite the couch. Two media cabinets were below it, all with neatly stacked videos with labels on the shelving. He could see a doorway to the back that led to a bedroom, while another led to a bathroom. Another door on the right next to the computer console was at the top of a set of steep stairs leading down to the first level.

“Your tea is ready, sir,” chimed Sid.

“This way,” lead Hal as she went to the street-side kitchen with windows. “Thank you, Sid!” she said as she picked up a mug of tea from the coffee maker. She set the mug down on a tiny table with two chairs, setting a bowl of sugar cubes and tongs next to it.

“Milk or cream?” she asked.

“Milk, if you have it,” he said. Hal retrieved a pint glass bottle of milk from the refrigerator for him.

“You can buy milk in bottles, still?” he asked, amazed.

“It’s dear, but yes. I hate the taste of wax and cardboard in my milk,” she sniffed.

“Oh. I thought I was the only one who could taste the containers in milk. Most humans can’t,” the Doctor said as he dropped four sugar cubes into his tea. He didn’t notice Hal’s grimace and wince at the level of sweetener.

“Shocking,” she commented drolly. Placing another mug into the coffee maker, she began to prepare herself a cup of tea. She reached into another cabinet to retrieve a tin of biscuits that she handed to the Doctor.

“So, tell me… how did you end up in the twenty-first Century on Earth? You were born in the twenty-third Century, according to the memories you gave me,” the Doctor asked as she sat down across from him. “It’s like a collage of memories, and I haven’t yet got them all sorted.”

“I was… abducted at five days-old and sold into slavery to the Sontarans. Elly was immediately brought to the twentieth Century after birth and hidden there to prevent her from suffering a similar fate. Apparently our dam had gotten hold of a vortex manipulator somehow. She was reared with a foster family while I was trained… programmed, really… to be navigator of the lead Sontaran dreadnaught in an Armada launched against the Rutan host. The plan was to start a breeding program that would introduce my genetic material into the Sontaran genome so that they could start cloning Sontarans with shape shifting abilities. That phase was to begin when I reached… breeding age.”

“Oh, that probably would have been much more effective against the Rutans, being shape shifters themselves,” remarked the Doctor. “Are the Rutans related, by any chance?”

Hal nodded. “Cousins, of a sort. We have a common ancestor, similar to Vulcans and Romulans in Star Trek lore. Sontar hoped that shape shifting would give them the edge they needed against the Rutans, but since Rutans are all telepathically connected to the Rutan host, I was their best bet. I was almost twelve before I could be rescued. If it weren’t for the bond between Elly and me, I might not have ever been located.”

“So you were reunited with Elly on Earth?”

“Yes, I was taken to the same time period via the vortex manipulator. I’ve since installed a copy of the vortex manipulator into my ship. We have spent most of our lives in Earth’s past. It has been safe for us, so far. Elly and I spent a bit of time in the fifty-first Century at a colony our dam established, but she ultimately chose to go back because of her husband.”

“He’s from that time period?”

“Yes, he is. And she stays there because they both want their children to have a normal life,” she said with a saddened expression. “She was pregnant with twins when I saw her last. They would be at least two years-old by now. I can’t believe I missed that; that I wasn’t there for her.” Sighing deeply, she stared at her tea as she mindlessly stirred.

The Doctor saw her pensiveness, and decided to switch focus. “I noticed that you refer to your… mother… as your dam. Why is that?”

“It’s kind of difficult to explain. Perhaps another time?” she asked apologetically.

“Oh, certainly,” the Doctor responded quickly, not wanting to be rude for a change. “So, what was it like growing up with the Sontarans all of that time? I can’t imagine it was a pleasant experience. They don’t exactly treat females with respect.”

Hal averted her eyes, suddenly more uncomfortable than ever. “I… I… don’t really remember that much,” she said in such a low voice that he almost had to strain to hear her.

“Because you were so young?”

“No…, not really. I don’t remember because I was… retconned, sort of,” she mumbled.

“What?!? By the Sontarans?” he sputtered.

“No, not the Sontarans. It was… it was… necessary,” she said miserably, looking like she wanted to run. She looked up at the Doctor, eyes pleading with him not to pursue the topic.

“Almost twelve years of memories would have been your entire life at that point, Hal! That’s… that’s… unconscionable!” he shouted, oblivious.

She stared at him for several seconds noting the fire burning in his eyes. His righteous indignation at her treatment so very many years ago touched her; caused something to click within her. “I killed them all,” she whispered. “Every last one of them. I killed them all.”

“The Sontarans on the dreadnaught?” he asked, pausing as if trying to understand.

“No,” she responded, still meeting his gaze directly. “I killed everyone in the entire Armada. There were over 1500 ships in those fleets. I don’t even know how many men.”

The Doctor sat dumbfounded with a shocked look on his face. “How?” was all he could get out.

“I… I don’t really know. I have no memory of it. I don’t even know why! All I know is what I’ve been told since the retcon. That I was found aboard the ship with an entirely dead crew, surrounded by the rest of the Armada, all with dead crews. And that… and that… I subsequently went… insane. I’ve since learned that I can kill by mind alone, so I guess that is what happened, but it’s never been on that scale again.”

“Oh, Hal,” he breathed. “I’m so, so sorry. It was part of your… treatment… to be retconned?”

She nodded silently, not trusting her voice. Getting up with arms outstretched, the Doctor moved toward Hal to give her a hug, but she put her hand up. She shook her head vigorously.

“No, please. I can’t,” she said.

“But Hal, no one needs or deserves a hug more than you do right now,” the Doctor insisted.

“I can’t,” Hal repeated, her head still slowly shaking and her hand continuing to hold the Doctor at arm’s length. “I’m sorry, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but I just can’t.”

Dropping his arms in defeat, the Doctor rose and sat back down. “Will you at least let me help you?” he asked. “How damaged is your ship?”

“The vortex manipulator I installed is toast,” she sighed. “The power systems were fried, so I can’t even get off the ground. I’ve been trying to locate a suitable stable wormhole somewhere close by, but that’s not worth a damn if I can’t get to it.”

“You’ve used wormholes before for travel? Isn’t that rather imprecise? You could end up God knows where.”

“I’m a pretty good navigator, actually,” she said with a faint smile. “It involves a lot of complex calculations, but if the walls of the wormhole are stable enough, you can locate the right point to exit. Depending on the wormhole, you can even cross dimensions, so that’s what I’ve been working on.”

“But you were working on locating Time Lords, too.”

“Well, looks like I’m in luck. Got a Time Lord right here,” she smirked. “But yes, according to folklore in the Prime universe, Time Lords were supposedly able to travel inter-dimensionally. Is that really true, or a tall tale?”

“It’s true,” he nodded. “But it involved at least two Time Lords and two TARDISes, one each, in each dimension.”

“And there just happens to be another Time Lord and a TARDIS in Prime,” she laughed.

“Yup,” he said with a grin, popping his “p” in typical fashion. “And there’s the potential for a TARDIS here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to set up the TARDIS coral growth chamber starting Monday. Pete’s given me a secure room on our floor.”

“I would never have guessed he would be so open-minded about things. You must trust him a great deal.”

“With my life,” the Doctor stated in all seriousness.

“And I can tell already that you think I should trust him, too.”

“I know you should,” he said.

“Doctor, how do you think he’d really feel if he knew about my powers, that I was once deemed insane, and I’ve killed a lot of people simply with my mind? Do you think he’d feel the same if he found out just how dangerous I am?”

“Oh, Hal… you are truly… absolutely… undeniably… properly… one very scary lady. One of the scariest people I’ve ever met in all of my 900 years of living. But you’re nowhere near as dangerous as I can be,” he boasted. “And that… that’s without my TARDIS!”

Hal blinked a couple of times, and then started giggling. Within seconds, they were both laughing hysterically at the Doctor’s cocky claim.

Wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, Hal tried to catch her breath. “So, if I find the right wormhole, you’d actually try to fly the TARDIS through it to get me back?” she asked, incredulous.

“Of course,” he said. “We can even go back in time once we cross over, so that you can be with Elly before the twins are born.”

“Not only is it dangerous, but what if you can’t get back?”

“I eat danger for breakfast, Hal. It’s what I do! And of course I can get back, if it’s through a wormhole. You’ll have to calculate the coordinates for me, or teach me how to do it. And I’ll just have to take Rose with me, in case I get stuck there.”

“Really? Does Rose know of your plans to whisk her off into an untested wormhole?” Hal asked, eyebrow crawling up into her hairline.

“Not yet,” the Doctor admitted. “I have five years to convince her. Oooh, and that reminds me. I have a huge favor to ask of you.”

“A huge favor involving… Rose?”

“No, no. Weeelll, sort of. But not really. You know about the Torchwood party next Saturday, right?”

“I got the memo,” Hal said a little hesitantly. “I never go to those. There’s nothing worse for a telepath than a room full of drunks. Besides, those parties all go past my bedtime.”

“I know. Jackie told me. But I hope you’ll go to this one. As my… uhm… sort of like my… plus one, so to speak,” he said hopefully. “And you can stay overnight as a guest, even! I can arrange some private time with Pete, and we can go together to talk to him.”

“Oh, no…,” Hal said, jumping out of her seat.

“Please, Hal. I really, truly need your help. If I don’t have someone to go with me, Jackie will assign someone as my plus one. She’s got three heiresses lined up as potential dates, and I don’t want a date.”

“Why me? Why not ask Malcolm or somebody? He never goes to those, either. Too shy, but I think he’d go with you because he likes you. Hasn’t stopped talking about you all week.”

“Errr, weeelll, I’m afraid he just won’t do, unfortunately,” the Doctor dissembled.

“Why not?” Hal pressed.

“Well, because… because he’s… not… uhm, female? Jackie’s pretty firm on that. Has to be a woman.”

A look of horror crossed Hal’s face as she realized the dynamics of the situation. “Oh, no. Oh, Hell no!” she spat. “You want me to go so that Rose Tyler will be jealous?!? Is that why Jackie Tyler is setting you up with a date?”

“Oooh, no, Hal. It’s not me, I swear!” the Doctor proclaimed in panic. “It’s Jackie! She thinks that if Rose believes I’m somehow appearing available to other women and in danger of getting snapped up, she’ll start making a claim. It’s not me! I don’t want to date anyone but Rose, and I am simply not interested in the game.”

“Then don’t play it!” snapped Hal.

“But see, that’s the thing, Hal. You’re a mate, just a mate. I’m not asking you to pretend to be a date, or someone who is interested in me as anything but a mate. I’m not talking about snogging, or hugging or holding hands, or anything even remotely romantic.”

“I would think not,” Hal sniffed. “And how do you think this would impact my working relationship with Rose Tyler? Do you have any idea how many times I’ve seen her packing a huge Preacher gun? And believe me, she knows how to use it.”

“It won’t, I promise you. Pete will make sure of that. And she would never shoot you, I swear. Even if… and that’s a truly hypothetical if… even if she were ever to try such a thing, I’d throw myself in front of you without so much as a second thought.”

“Oh, that’s just brilliant,” she snorted. “That would prevent my incineration by, oh, what? A nanosecond?”

“There will be no incinerations, I promise,” he whined. “Please, help me, Hal.”

“No. Sorry, I’m not going.”

The Doctor stared at her with huge pleading eyes that would melt stone.

“That ain’t gonna work, Doctor!” groaned Hal, turning to the side to try to ignore his pleas.

The Doctor dropped to his knees, gigantic chocolate brown eyes growing more plaintive than ever. “Please, Hal. I’m begging you! Me! A Time Lord, begging! Time Lords don’t beg. Please, please save me from the man-eating heiresses in six-inch stiletto heels. Just do that, and we can go together to talk to Pete. We can sit someplace away from the crowd until they’ve gone. I live there, so I know where we can go to talk without you having to put up with a roomful of people. You can stay overnight, so there’s no driving early in the morning hours. We’ll have breakfast at the mansion, and then we can talk to Pete… together. I promise you, you can trust him. No more hiding, no more worrying about your project funding, no one will stick their noses into your projects, and you’ll have Pete Tyler’s full protection.”

Hal stood thinking quietly, eyes unfocused. She took several deep breaths before she turned back to the kneeling Time Lord.

“You so owe me for this, Doctor,” Hal glared at him. “If Rose Tyler comes at me with an axe, or if I end up in the bowels of Torchwood Three, I am gonna haunt your every dream and nightmare for the rest of your life!”

“Oh, thank you, Hal!” he gushed. Getting up, he bent over to grab Hal into a tight hug, wrapping his long arms around her and pinning her arms to her sides.

“Errrgh! No hugs, I said,” she grunted.

“You are so tiny,” he grinned, lifting her up in glee.

“My knee can still reach your groin, Doctor,” she warned.

Setting her back on her feet, he let her go and stepped back, still grinning like a manic mad fool. “You won’t regret it, Hal. I promise. And I will do everything within my power to help you get back home to your family.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” she said, nodding. “Now, I think I’ve had enough traumas for one day. Let’s get you back to your car as soon as I copy my Peter Gabriel collection for you.”

“Thank you, Hal. What else have you got, hmmm?”

“Let’s see if we both survive through next weekend, first.”

As they left the flat, the Doctor stuck his head back through the door.

“Goodbye, Sid!” he called out.

“Goodbye, Doctor,” Sid responded in his dulcet English burr. “I hope you have enjoyed your visit.”


**********************************************************************************************************
The Doctor (Ten II) tries to convince Hal to go to lunch with him.

Title: Wayward Son - Chapter 16:  Curtain of Iron

Characters: Jackie Tyler; Ten II; Pete Tyler; Tony Tyler; Original Character
Genre: Alternate Universe; Angst; Character Study; Het; Romance
Author's Description: Set mostly in the AU of Pete's World; TenII hits a big snag in his efforts to forge a new life with Rose and finds himself facing an unexpected identify crisis.
Length: WIP
Rating: Teen for slight swearing

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
kelkat9
Feb. 2nd, 2012 03:31 am (UTC)
Brilliant! I giggled through a good portion of this. I could just see the two of them bantering away. Oh yes, Hal must save him from those man-eating heiresses!
biteymadlady58
Feb. 2nd, 2012 05:28 am (UTC)
Hehe! Yeah, I really liked writing that part about Jackie's devious plot to get the Doctor to find someone, anyone, but the man-eating, stilletto-wearing, bored heiresses.

My second favorite part was the hug, where Hal threatens to knee him in the groan. He's such a touchy-feely guy, and Hal is anything but (more out of fear than anything).

They're so much alike, yet so radically different that I can just see those two mixing like oil and water in a conversation.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )