After the first one had been destroyed, it had taken them many years to rebuild. She glanced over at her son, sharing a sly smile. She traced the last of the chalk lines on the floor in an intricate and ancient pattern. The boy passed her a sharpened wire, long hidden in their cell, and she used it to pierce the end of her tongue, blood filling her mouth and dripping down over the scrawled designs. "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," she whispered, and the room became filled with a terrible blue.
Toshiko Sato sucked in air through her teeth as her eyes trailed over the computer monitor. "Jack?" She usually took care to appear composed, but her voice betrayed her anxiety. She couldn't help but feel a cold chill down her spine.
She sensed Jack Harkness' presence behind her, one hand on the back of her chair, the other leaning on the computer console. "What have you got there, Tosh?" His tone of voice and ever-present smirk made everything a joke or a tease. But she had also seen the depth of his compassion, and at his presence warmth returned somewhat.
"Rift activity, but it's ... Jack, it's at UNIT h.q."
Harkness was gone in a flash, and she twisted her chair around to see him lifting a Vogon stun gun. "Gwen, Owen, Ianto, we're heading out." His voice was clipped and assured as he asserted command authority.
Sato blinked as she watched the rest of the team scramble. "What about me?"
Harkness half-turned on his way out the door. "Tosh, we need you to access UNIT's computer systems. Assuming the rift hasn't shut them down entirely, they might have information on what's going on over there ... or information on how hard they've been hit."
Sato nodded, and began working at her keyboard. Truth to tell, she never felt completely comfortable as a field operative, preferring her time in front of the comfortable glow of the computer terminal. Harkness and Gwen Cooper were born warriors, and Owen Harper was a nihilist. She sometimes suspected that Ianto Jones' natural inclination was like her own, but he had a darkness inside him which was almost akin to a death wish; besides which, he was practically attached to Harkness at the hip. That final thought brought a double entendre to mind, and she blushed slightly to herself, focusing more intently on her research. Fortunately they had a back-door access to UNIT, maintained for years since the organisation first went online.
She almost purred in the back of her throat as she began the simple routines to access their security cameras. She clicked through the options, going from room to room until she found it: a many-angled entity, its blue-scaled surface almost impossibly fluctuative as if she were only seeing sections of it at a time. Moreover, it seemed to be expanding. She watched the hapless UNIT security guards as they were struck down, and became increasingly alarmed as the entity became too large for the UNIT hallways and seemed to slide through the exit doors, passing through into the city streets.
She was still processing information when her attention was drawn to another monitor: a second rift had opened, over the area called Dartmoor. Its energy signatures were almost identical to the first.
"Hell ... bloody hell ... " she murmured to herself, grabbing her coat and rushing to the exit doors, handset calling up directions to Dartmoor.
Storm Over Avallion:
The sleek black automobile slid to a stop, traffic jamming the Cardiff streets. Harkness pressed on the car horn, "Oh for the love of ... " He looked at the others. Cooper smirked at him, and she opened the car door to discern the cause of the stoppage. Harper and Jones followed.
The Destroyer had abandoned UNIT and ventured into downtown. Its presence seemed intrinsically destructive to the environment surrounding it: at the slightest brush with its scaled flesh, brick and concrete buildings would shatter or crumble; human beings who ventured too close were blasted away, ash silhouettes appearing on outside walls. Other entities seemed to trying to interfere with its progress: a red dragon which whirled in the air around it, foreclaws radiating mysterious energy; and a blonde woman in what seemed little more than a red and black bathing suit, from whose hands radiated lightning, directed at the Destroyer.
Harkness clambered atop the roof, and audibly swore. "Just what we need. Superheroes."
Cooper reached into her jacket holster, drawing her revolver. "Caliburn. Bloody amateurs."
Jones shielded his eyes with his hand, trying to take in the spectacle of the battle. "They do seem to be slowing it down, at least."
Harper frowned. "I'm going to need to sample some of that ash, if I can get past the thing and into its wake. Might give us a better idea of what we're dealing with."
"Let's see if I can't shine some torchlight on the proceedings, and divert its rampage a bit, shall we?" Harkness brandished his stun gun, and began to run atop the mainly empty cars, closing in on the battle, with Cooper following close behind; Jones set up a scanner in order to gain information on their opponent; while Harper attempted to circle around behind the Destroyer.
The blonde woman looked over at Harkness when he arrived, practically elbowing her out of the way. "Nice gams, lightbulb," he said, "but excuse me while I whip this out." He aimed the Vogon weapon at the Destroyer, directing the powerful phased energy into its chest.
The Destroyer turned and looked down at him. It turned away in silent disdain, not even bothering to disintegrate him, and diverted its path down another street, continuing on its way.
The woman pursed her lips mockingly. "Not quite as big as I'd imagined, based on your description, but I bet you hear that often from girls."
Harkness opened and closed his mouth wordlessly for a moment, while Cooper stifled her giggles. "Actually, um."
Cooper extended a hand. "Gwen Cooper. Torchwood."
The woman took it with a smile. "Electro-Girl." The dragon returned to earth, and transformed itself into a humanoid appearance; his skin was an alien shade of red, and he was clad in nothing more than a pair of briefs, boots, gloves and helmet, in a shade of deeper red. Also landing amidst them came another man clad in yellow, his hood bearing pointed ears. Electro-Girl continued, "Marsman. The Bat. We're members of Caliburn."
"Of course I've heard of you," Cooper said, and continued the introductions as Jones ran over to join them. "Do you have any information about what that thing was?"
Electro-Girl's expression was uneasy. "It ... it looked like one of the Lloigor. The Many-Angled Ones."
"I know about him," Harkness said. "Last I'd heard he was settled quite happily on the planet Vortis until he was killed in the Time War ... "
"The Lloigor are a they, not a he," Electro-Girl interrupted. "They usually work through possessing the bodies of metahumans though ... it doesn't seem like their style to just ... rampage through the city like this ... " She winced, remembering how they'd taken over Electroman, resulting in the hero's death at the hands of the alternate Earth metahuman named Voltage.
Marsman placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, empathetically sensing her distress. "The Lloigor also committed ... atrocities on myriad alternate Earths ... for the sole purpose of ... manipulating our allies into sacrificing them." His voice was halting, heavily accented. "This could be a continuation of those strategies."
"Whatever they are, they're working with some pretty powerful forces," Jones noted as he looked at the results of his reading. "What we were looking at was a contained atomic explosion. I can't even begin to guess what was holding it together."
Harper joined the grouping. "An analysis of the ash left behind supports that. It's localised, but highly radioactive. About what you'd expect if those corpses were the result of an atomic blast. I ... do you mind?"
The Bat had approached Harper from behind, his face intrusively close. "You are steeped in death," he said quietly.
Harper looked unnerved. "And what do you know about it, you costumed berke?"
The Bat removed one of his gloves, the skin of his hand as uncannily pale as Harper's own. He took the other man's unbandaged hand and placed it on his own wrist, exposing the lack of a pulse. "You are not the only man who has returned from the dusk latitudes."
The Dark Path:
Sato got out of her car, several yards from the structures set in the south of Dartmoor. She closed the door noiselessly, and began to prowl the ancient stones once used as calendar markers. She performed an almost slapstick doubletake when she came across a man and a woman, apparently deep in conversation. The man noticed her, and rose to his feet. "Ahh, Toshiko Sato, is it?" He was tall, and dressed in a long ivory greatcoat over a suit of antiquated style. He was balding, his white hair falling down to his shoulders. His features were of an indeterminate age, though his eyes appeared immensely old. The woman was younger, clad in an elegant ivory skirt and jacket with a long scarf around her neck. She had pretty, pleasant features and brown hair.
Sato narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "You know me?"
The man's smile was infectiously engaging. "I know of you. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the ... the Merlin. This is my companion, Romana."
The woman's smile joined the man's. "Pleased to meet you, Toshiko."
Sato wondered what the relationship between the two was; 'companion' sounded like a euphemism, though from the unquestionable intimacy obvious from their body language they could be anything from father and daughter to lovers. "So have you two noticed any odd occurrences hereabouts? Any flashes of light, or ... ?"
Romana laughed. The Merlin said, "It's more like we are an odd occurrence. You probably noticed the rift fluctuation in the area. We ... or rather, Romana here ... caused that. I rode my time ship in on her coattails."
"Time ship?" Sato's mouth fell open. "You're the Doctor!"
The Merlin smiled again. "I can't even remember the last time I called myself that. How many lifetimes has it been?"
Romana looked up at him, "You're not as old as you used to be, that's for sure." She seemed endlessly amused by everything the Merlin said, as if she were an indulgent parent, yet it was clear she held him in great regard.
"If you're here, something's gone horribly wrong," Sato said. "What do you know about what's going on at UNIT?"
The Merlin sighed, and his expression sobered. "It's an old loose end I let dangle for too long. I never ought to have entrusted UNIT with Morgaine and Mordred as prisoners, but I was in one of my peripatetic phases. Morgaine's created a Destroyer which is powered by Rift energy, but which is also tied to this Earth. In order to defeat it, we need a device which is also powered by Rift energy, and tied to this Earth. A living device."
"A living ... oh no." Sato backed away. "I've heard about how you manipulate people for your own ends, Doctor or Merlin or whatever you're calling yourself now. You want to turn me into some kind of living weapon, like the Cybermen, don't you?"
The Merlin looked appalled. Romana took a half-step towards her. "Toshiko," she said softly, "he would never do something like that. We need someone who can represent humanity, but who also channel Rift energy into kinetic force. Your mind and personality will remain your own. Completely."
"Let me show you something," the Merlin said, and removed a small, hand-held device from the pocket of his coat. He punched some symbols into its keyboard, and a holographic projection emitted from the top of it. Sato observed her teammates and a trio of gaudily-garbed figures in desperate battle against a many-angled blue alien. "Earth could be at the centre of a war that doesn't even belong to this dimension. It will kill them all, it will kill everything here. You're the only one who can help them."
"Me?" She looked completely bewildered. "What do I have to do?"
He crooked a finger, and guided her to follow him through the structure at Dartmoor. They came upon a stone alter, on which lay a pair of artifacts. "Choose the amulet or the sword," he said, "the power of life or that of death. For you and perhaps for the world as well."
Sato glanced at him nervously. "I've seen enough death," she concluded, "I choose the amulet!"
Grasping the amulet with her hands, she became surrounded by coruscating golden energy. As it subsided, she found her clothes replaced by a form of metallic armour. Its colors were patriotic, though the helmet and gloves gleamed like silver. Sato looked down at herself, and saw the way the uniform clung to her like a second skin, accenting and augmenting her physique. "Oh my god."
She turned back to the Merlin, fighting the blush which she knew must have been coloring her cheeks. "Doctor, I don't think I can ... " She furrowed her brow beneath her helmet, peering around as the pair she had been speaking to were nowhere to be seen. "Doctor?" she said.
In her peripheral vision, she saw a flicker of blue.
For King and Country:
Caliburn descended into the vault of Torchwood headquarters, looking about curiously as they accompanied the rest of the team. "My predecessor ... Gan Goh ... was sent to Earth centuries ago ... but he quickly disappeared and ... nothing more was heard from him," Marsman said with a frown. "I see artifacts from my ... own race in these environs."
Cooper looked over at Harkness, who replied to her with a silent, mystified shrug. "I'm sure Torchwood had nothing to do with that," she sought to assure him. "We collect what artifacts come our way, but we have no grudge against non-hostile aliens."
"This is an amazing setup you have," Electro-Girl said. "I wish Speed Gale were here ... he's Caliburn's resident scientist. I don't think he'd ever want to leave."
"I thought there were more than just you three," Jones said as he began to search his computer database. "Where are the rest of your lot? And where's Tosh? Jack?"
Electro-Girl sighed, "Speed Gale, Acromaid, and Powerman are all overseas, assisting our Yank representative Captain Magnet on one of his local problems. I've sent word to them but doubt they'll be returning in time to help us."
"Wasn't there another one?" His fingertips tapped across the keyboard. "Captain Wales?"
Electro-Girl paused, a fleeting expression of sorrow passing across her face. Marsman spoke for her. "Huw Gruffydd ... Captain Wales ... died several years ago. He was a brave man, and ... led us well."
"Tosh!" Jack shouted. "She must have taken a bite to eat. I'd left her instructions to stay on-site. Enough of this chitchat; she'll be back soon, and we need to know where the Lloigor is headed. Ianto, can you predict its movements? Find out what it wants?"
"I've been working on it while I've been researching our new friends. Fortunately, it's not that difficult to track. It's left the city, and seems to be heading towards Dartmoor."
"Dartmoor?" Harkness' eyes widened, his voice taking on a tone of anxiety rarely heard by his teammates.
Cooper looked at him curiously. "Jack? What's wrong?"
"Dartmoor ... was the headquarter of the Forge, an office founded by King Edward after the 'Balmoral Incident.' They closed down years ago, but in their own way they were as effective as Torchwood. If the Lloigor is after what I think he might be ... "
The Bat hissed. "I had encounters with the Forge," he said bitterly. "They crossed over boundaries that no living man is intended to."
"We have another problem," Jones interrupted. "There was a Rift fluctuation at Dartmoor two hours ago. I think that's where Tosh headed to investigate."
A pair of figures in red and yellow departed from the strange spherical craft as it descended near the stone ruins at Dartmoor, followed afterwards by a quintet of others. "God, this is it," Harkness said, his tone voice revealing his worry. "Tosh! Where the hell are you?" He looked around at his companions. "Fan out. I'm not doing anything until we find her."
The Bat and Marsman took once more to the air, while the others roamed the grounds, calling her name. Flashlights and sparks from Electro-Girl's hands illuminated the darkness of the grounds.
Harper was grateful for the opportunity to distance himself from the others, particularly the Bat. The man had some odd fascination with him, but it was a personal connection he was just as happy to avoid. The timeless time he had spent in the afterworld still haunted his waking dreams, and he needed no additional reminders. Moreover, the Bat seemed even more distant from ordinary human discourse than Harper himself was, yet also seemed to have none of Harper's personal disabilities and fragilities. Was that his future, he wondered, becoming some sort of superhuman ghoul? So preoccupied was he that he almost didn't hear the small sound of pain in the darkness.
He shifted his flashlight over, and the light reflected off the silver armour. "Tosh?" He ran over to kneel at her side.
"Owen?" The odd garments she wore were torn, and bleeding wounds and evident radiation burns were visible beneath them. One arm was hanging from her side and appeared broken. "We're all here, Tosh," he said quietly, opening his black bag and injecting her with a narcotic solution to ease her pain. He rose to his feet. "Jack! I found her!"
The others came to join him at her side, though the three members of Caliburn were plainly shocked at her appearance. "What were you playing at?" Electro-Girl insisted. "That uniform belonged to Captain Wales ... did you think you were just going to dress yourself up in tights and save the day?"
"Not ... not playing at anything," Sato said weakly. "He ... the Doctor ... said I would be ... " Her voice faded.
"The Doctor? He was here?" Harkness appeared shaken. Then he looked down at Sato again, as if registering her armour for the first time. "He was the one who did this to you?"
"Not him, it was blue," Sato murmured, "something hot and blue ... "
"That's the Lloigor," Harkness said, and ratcheted the alien weapon he wore around his back. "Torchwood, arm up. I don't how much time we have or how much it's been able to accomplish at Forge, but we're only going to get one chance." He marched off, the others following, and used his sonic screwdriver to open up a previously concealed hatchway in the Dartmoor hillside.
"It will be all right," Harper whispered to Sato as he watched the others disappear, "Jack'll take care of everything, just the way he always does."
Harkness thumbed the controls for the electric lift, and pursed his lips in satisfaction as the machine hums into operation. The metal gates opened, and both teams descend into the darkness. "Jack," Electro-Girl said, "you seem to know what the Lloigor's after. I need to know what my team is getting into."
"Nyathoggoth," Harkness said.
"Guesundheit," Jones smirked.
Harkness scowled at him. "Nyathoggoth was an alien criminal ... the Forge defeated him during an altercation in Lapland, but a small trace remained alive and was transported here for safekeeping. I ought to have seen the connections between the Lloigor and Nyathoggoth. We'd have been here sooner, and spared Tosh."
The lift passed into the lower depths of the underground structure, and they witnessed a telltale blue glow, accompanied by the strange echoing sounds the destroyer seemed to generate. "Arm up, head out," Harkness said in clipped tones as he, Cooper, Jones and the Bat all activated alien weapons that had been removed from Torchwood's own stores.
As they witnessed the Lloigor, it engaged in a ceremony over a swirling mass of violet liquid, which seemed to be extruding and increasing in mass in response to its gestures. The Destroyer turned to look at the new arrivals, and for the first time, spoke, its words echoing in their minds. "Ah... little man. What do you want of me?"
Harkness and the others aimed their weapons, as Electro-Girl's hands sparked lightning. "Get off my world!"
- Toshiko Sato.
Sato stirred, as she sensed the voice in her mind. - Doctor? I tried, I was too weak, I ...
- Do not mention that name to me. I am Morgaine.
- I don't understand.
- I am the one who summoned the Destroyer to this plane. He betrayed us.
- He betrayed you? I am supposed to trust you?
- He means to awaken the Nyathoggoth, a creature that slaughters entire worlds to satisfy its hunger for blood. My son Mordred can not inherit a world which has been destroyed.
- What do you want me to do? I am too weak. It hurt me.
- You are stronger than you know. You have it within yourself to destroy it. All that prevents you is fear.
Sato coughed, causing Harper to look down at her, concerned. "Owen?"
"Tosh, what is it?"
"Tell the others ... they have to evacuate. I know how to stop it."
"That's insane, I won't let you ... "
She rose awkwardly into the air before his astonished eyes, silver armour shining in the starlight. "Tell the others."
Down below, the walls sparked blue as the sextet engaged in desperate battle, their weapons having little effect on the Destroyer. As the Nyathoggoth began to awaken, the presence of its powerful mind was felt by all the human combatants, distracting them and causing them to fall deeper into despair.
Harkness answered his communicator through its headset. "Not a good time, Owen!" He listened for a moment, argument springing to his lips. His eyes took in Cooper and Jones, burned and bleeding as they fought on.
"Fall back! Everyone, we're evacuating!"
Electro-Girl looked at him, shocked, but after a moment nodded her assent. She called out to her teammates, and both teams backed quickly towards the lift, continuing their fire. Marsman took Harkness and Jones in hand, the Bat took the two women, and they soared upwards, the Lloigor's mocking laughter pursuing them.
As they cleared the surface entrance, they were met mid-air by the hovering Sato. "Good lord ... Tosh ... " Harkness said, astounded.
"I'm the only one who can stop it." Sato grit her teeth through her pain. "All of you, get away from here, now." She dove into the shaft, ignoring their protestations.
She made her way to the lab, following the blue light. When finally she arrived, the Lloigor clearly recognised her. "Pitiful," it said. "Can this world do no better than you as their champion?"
Sato shrugged, though the movement of her torso made her wince. "Probably. I just do the best I can." It raised its arms, and she narrowly evaded a radiation blast, soaring back up the shaft. She paused just under the entrance port, so as to evade the eyes of her friends, breathing deeply through cracked ribs, and then dove once more, picking up acceleration.
In the seconds before impact, her computer-like mind analysed and assessed what her newly heightened perceptions had told her about the Destroyer's exoskeleton, the scaled skinlike surface which kept its atomic energies barely contained. She reconfigured her personal forcefield, adjusting it to a frequency which would be capable of disrupting the shell and releasing its atomic energies. Her silver fingers, outstretched, pierced its skin, ending its mocking laughter.
She sensed the Lloigor's and the Nyathoggoth's mental anguish as they perished. Her time sense seemed to slow, and she felt the heat and concussive force of the explosion as it began to incinerate her body, the pain so brief before her nerve endings were destroyed so as to be instantaneous, and she knew she had not sacrificed her life in vain. Maybe I'll see you on the other side one day, Owen, she thought to herself.
She wandered the dusk latitudes for a timeless time.
She heard a voice, passing in and out of audibility, the middle of a conversation: "a rag, a bone, a hank of hair." Then there was pain again, before she welcomed unconsciousness.
She awoke once more, in Dartmoor. Her friends and allies had long gone, to celebrate or mourn. She glanced down at herself. Her armour and skin were whole.
"Thank you, Doctor." She rose once more into the air, for the first time doing so free of pain. She marveled at the feeling of liberation it brought.
She had decisions to make for her future. Where would it lay: still with Torchwood, or perhaps she ought to seek out the company of those in Caliburn.
She knew she had time to decide. For the present, she flew.
I thought empowering Gwen, Owen, Ianto, or Rhys would all create interesting dynamics (reinforcing Gwen's status as law enforcement, effectively counterbalancing Owen's corpselike state, giving Ianto or Rhys a sort of 'status' equal to or greater than Jack's which would really alter the dynamic of the team). But eventually I made the choice I did ... I think Rhys would have been particularly funny and he probably would have been my second choice:
Grasping the amulet with his hands, he became surrounded by coruscating golden energy. As it subsided, he found his clothes replaced by a form of metallic armour. Its colors were patriotic, though the helmet and gloves gleamed like silver. Rhys looked down at himself, and saw the way the uniform clung to him like a second skin, accenting his physique, giving definition to a newly augmented musculature. "Bloody hell," he said with a broad grin, flexing his new muscles. "Wait 'til Gwen and that 'Captain' Jack take a gander at this."