Jack took his coat off. He skinned out of his collared shirt, leaving him only in suspenders and undershirt. “Let’s do this,” he said to the Doctor, grinning.
The Doctor nodded, gaze fixed to the monitor in front of him. “Captain-” he said, and then stopped. He shrugged. “Good luck.”
“Never needed it,” Jack said, cheerfully, and dived through the hatch.
The tunnel dropped him into an ugly, urban cityscape. It was dark, and deserted. Lonely, grimey streetlights barely illuminated the broken hulks of destroyed cars and garbage cans. “Jack,” the Doctor said through the transmitter in his ear, “head north. The control center should be in that direction.”
“North,” Jack said. “Right. Should be easy.” He took his bearings, and turned. He hugged the wall, moving cautiously and listening for the sound of anyone approaching- not that he was likely to hear anything. Anyone who was still alive in this hellscape would have learned to be quiet by now. This city-that-was-not-a-city was really a set; a charnel house where prisoners fought and died for the entertainment of billions. It was like the Game Station again, but much less civilized. And just like the Game Station, Jack and the Doctor were going to end this- if Jack could make his way across two miles of terrain filled with deadly traps and deadlier contestants.
As he turned a corner, he met the first obstacle. He stepped carefully onto the sidewalk, and he knew immediately that it had been a mistake. There was a click. He’d stepped on a pressure plate. Panels in the walls snapped open, and small, flying robots streamed out. Jack dived back around the corner, pulling out his blaster. From behind him, he heard a voice.
“Our newest contestant is Captain Jack Harkness,” it said. “Originally a resident of the Boeshane Peninsula, Captain Harkness is wanted by the Time Agency for a very long list of unspecified crimes- sounds nasty! Facing off against him in his first battle here in The Arena are our very own killbots: 30 pounds of steel, lasers and a few surprises that Captain Harkness is going to find out about very soon. This ought to be fun, folks- if it’s not over too quick!”
The announcer-bot was a nice touch, Jack thought. It would make the contestants nervous, and maybe startle them into making mistakes. That they knew who he was was a bit of a surprise, but he had to give them credit for research.
The killbots floated, chittering, searching for him. Jack spun and fired, taking down the nearest one. The battle began in earnest. Bots swarmed him, lasers firing. As they got closer, they began attacking him with other weapons- plasma arcs, buzz saws, poisoned claws. Jack whirled and spun and fought. He was still standing when it was over. If he’d been anyone else, he would have been seriously wounded. Fortunately, he wasn’t anyone else. He reached for his earpiece. “Doctor?” he called.
“Keep heading north, Jack,” the Doctor answered. “You’re going to see a large, square sort of building. You’ll need to skirt the east side of it, and then head north again.”
Jack was relieved. He knew he’d survive this, but if the earpiece got destroyed, he might not be able to complete his mission without the Doctor to guide him. “Thanks, Doc,” he said, and moved.
The next trap triggered just as the building came into sight. Before he’d even realized that the attack was coming, he heard the announcer-bot behind him. “Aaand we’re back with Captain Jack Harkness, folks. He survived the killbots, and, I’ve gotta tell you, I thought he’d be in worse shape after that! Maybe we need to upgrade our ‘bots again. Still, we’ve got an exciting battle in store for you now!”
Suddenly, Jack was attacked by three velociraptors- or at least what Hollywood had always seemed to think velociraptors looked like. They had powerful teeth and razor sharp claws. Jack fired at the first one as another one flanked him. He felt its claws ripping into his back, tearing muscle and sinew down to the bone.
“Our android dinosaurs are renowned throughout the Great and Bountiful Empire for their accuracy and attention to detail. We’ve spared no expense in making them every bit as deadly as their paleolithic ancestors- and I’m sure our Jack here appreciates the effort!” The announcer-bot’s voice was irritatingly cheerful.
Jack tried to get his back to a wall, to limit their access to him, but they were faster, and he’d started out in a bad tactical position. One of the dinosaurs swiped at him. He tried to twist away, firing at it again, but it was too late. He went down, blood and intestines leaking out of his belly.
“Oh, too bad!” the announcer-bot said, although it didn’t sound sad. “We’d hoped he’d last longer. Still, he’s not the first contestant to go down to the raptors!”
They were on him, pinning him to the ground with their claws. Jack screamed as sharp teeth tore at his flesh. The dinosaurs were eating him. He wouldn’t have thought that robot dinosaurs would bother. Still they had said that they prided themselves on attention to detail.
“Jack?” a voice said in his ear, sometime later. “Jack!”
Jack gasped. “Sorry, Doctor- dinosaur problems. I’m almost to the building.” Jack pulled himself upright, and took stock. His shirt was destroyed, and so were the lower parts of his pants, but his groin was still covered. Maybe they’d especially programmed the robots to avoid his pants. The idea made him laugh- that was Americans for you.
He started running. He’d lost too much time already. The Doctor was in a shielded location, but they still only had so long until the Arena’s staff found out where he was and broke in. He jogged around the east side of the building, looking for an opening to head north again. Just as he was about to turn the corner, someone tackled him from behind. Jack’s body went on automatic- he’d had centuries of practice in hand-to-hand combat, and the best training in dirty tricks fighting anyone could have. The other guy was stronger and faster, but he wasn’t fighting smarter than Jack.
“Well, this is an Arena first, folks!” He heard the announcer-bot somewhere to his left. “We’ve never had someone be eaten by the raptors and get up again. Captain Jack Harkness is still up and fighting, and this time, he’s up against 3-year veteran Hollis McKenney- Holly to his fans. Holly is a survivor, and in the last three years, he’s only twice let his opponent walk away from a fight. Jack’s certainly got his work cut out for him if he wants to keep breathing!”
Jack flipped, putting his opponent into a lock. “We shouldn’t be fighting,” Jack hissed into the other man’s ear. “I’m here to shut this place down. Help me!”
McKenney grunted. “No teams,” he snarled, breaking out of Jack’s grip, and slamming him to the ground. “We try, they send in the snipers and ‘disqualify’ us.”
Jack spun, kicking at McKenney’s knee. “I’ve got a man on the outside,” he said, as the bigger man crumpled. “We’re really going to take this place out. Just let me go- I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
McKenney grabbed Jack by the throat. “Won’t last long here, with that attitude,” he observed, and smashed Jack’s head back into the asphalt. For a moment, Jack saw stars- but it didn’t incapacitate him nearly as long as it should have.
“Run,” Jack said, as he slammed McKenney to the ground in turn. “Just run. You’ll be free in a day, if you survive that long.” Jack considered taking a dive- letting the other man kill him. But he couldn’t spare the time.
“Tell me another one,” McKenney snarled, and attacked again.
Jack sighed. A few moments later, McKenney was lying on the ground with a shattered knee. Jack had stopped short of killing him, for what that was worth. Jack, ignored the announcer-bot as it went on gleefully about his ‘victory’, and dragged McKenney to a relatively sheltered spot on the street.
“What are you doing?” McKenney screamed. “You’ve killed me, you bastard, what are you doing?”
Jack pulled his blaster out, and shoved it into McKenney’s hand. “I wasn’t kidding,” he told the other man. “Just survive another few hours. I’ll come back for you.”
Jack took off running. For a moment, he wondered whether McKenney would use the blaster on him- but no shot came. Jack kept going. “You’re not making very good time,” the Doctor observed, in his ear.
“Doing my best,” he said, lightly. “Traffic is a nightmare.”
“You should be coming to a sort of river thingy,” the Doctor said. “There’s a tunnel underneath the water on the north side, about 15 meters east of the road you’re on now. How long did you say you can hold your breath?”
“I guess we’re going to find out,” Jack said, grinning. Then he stopped grinning. He heard a loud noise over his earpiece- alarm buzzers, and something impacting heavily into something else.
“Jack,” the Doctor said. “They’ve found me. They’re starting to cut through the defenses- you don’t have long.”
“Better hurry, then,” Jack said, grimly.
The “river thingy” was an open sewer, choked with bodies and refuse. Jack ran along it to the point where the Doctor had said the tunnel would be, and dived in. The water tasted worse than it looked, and it was difficult to see through. Still, Jack could see the tunnel opening. He could also see the grate that blocked it off. He swore in his head, and surfaced.
“Captain Harkness is in the water- apparently, he’s trying to escape, ladies and gents! Apparently, he’s not aware of what we put in the water here. We don’t like people escaping, Captain Harkness.” Jack spun and fired. The announcer bot sparked, smashed into the barrier, and lay dead. It was a waste of a shot, but it was worth it to shut the thing up.
A little ways away, the bloated body of a young woman was floating on top of the water. It looked like there were still weapons on her belt. He swum over, silently apologizing for disturbing her. There was a knife on her belt, and he took it. As he turned away, he reached out quickly, and closed her eyes.
Then he dove again, and began prying the grate away with the knife and his sheer will. Eventually, he managed to break the grate open on the edge, enough to get his fingers in behind it. Bracing himself, he pulled with everything he had. The grate cut through the flesh of his fingers, and blood trailed away like smoke in the water. Finally, it gave way. Jack surfaced, gasping for breath. “I’m at the tunnel, Doctor,” he said. “Where to from here?”
“The tunnel will take you through into their command center,” the Time Lord answered, with urgency in his voice. “I can walk you through the destruct sequence once you get there, but you have to hurry.”
“See you on the flip side,” Jack said. He started coughing, and he immediately knew something was wrong. There was blood on his lips when he’d finished. “Dammit,” he swore.
“Jack?” the Doctor asked.
“There’s a weaponized plague in the water,” Jack said. “Modified pertussis, maybe. It doesn’t matter. I’m moving.” He took a deep breath, and dived.
The tunnel was long- much too long for any normal human to have survived. Jack ran out of air long before he surfaced, but it took longer for him to asphyxiate than for a regular person. He kept going, kept swimming, ignoring the hypoxic burn in his lungs. Everything started to go dark, and Jack knew that he had moments until his brain shut down from lack of oxygen. He might revive here- but he might not. He didn’t always come back if there was no air. Jack braced himself against the side of the tunnel, and pushed with all his might.
He was surprised when his head broke the surface. He pulled himself out onto the floor and breathed, and coughed, and breathed for a moment. When everything cleared, he looked down at himself. He was starting to cough up small chunks of tissue. It was his lungs, going to mush inside his chest. He fought down the nausea, and got to his feet. “Where to from here, Doc?” he croaked.
“Just get to a console, Jack. Should be one up the stairs.” Jack heard a grinding noise. He didn’t need to be told what it meant. He ran, spots forming in front of his eyes.
At the top of the stairs, there was a closed door, with a security scanner. He bashed open the panel with the dead girl’s knife, and shorted the door. There were three very surprised techs on the other side. “Anybody looking to fight me?” Jack asked, with a gleam in his eye. He realized that he must look insane- soaking wet, stripped to the waist, the knife in his hand and his face covered in his own blood. “No?” he asked, suppressing a cough. “Out you go, then.” He herded them back the way he’d come, and pulled the door shut.
“I’m here,” Jack said, sitting down at a console. He coughed, helplessly, and it felt like knives in his chest. “Tell me what to do,” he croaked. There was no response. “Doctor?” Jack asked, tapping his earpiece.
“Jack!” the Doctor cried out, as if from a distance. “Change of plans. I sent a virus to your earpiece! Load it into the console! Security key-” There was a buzzing, and then silence. Jack cried out in frustration, slamming the wall. It set off a coughing fit that left Jack’s head spinning. He didn’t think he’d get anything else out of the Doctor. He pulled the earpiece out of his ear, thinking for a moment. The Doctor’d programmed a computer virus, and sent the information to his earpiece. It was just a receiver, though. It wasn’t supposed to be able to store data- unless-
Jack noticed the button on the side. There was a quick playback feature. It could only play back a few seconds, but if the Doctor had sent the virus as coded sound, and if he could configure the console to accept audio data, and if he could amplify the playback- he set to work. He had to stop once to cough up more blood, trying desperately to get enough air to keep his body going. He was running a fever now, and his head was foggy. He ignored it, rewiring the console with a knife and his fingers. He didn’t have time to die.
“Anybody looking to fight me?” His voice said, in slow motion, emitting from the console’s speakers, tinny and distorted. Jack leaned against the desk, trying to steady himself. “No? Out you go then.” And then there was a momentary burst of static. Jack hadn’t noticed it the first time; it must have lasted less than a second. Like this, though, amplified and extended, the computer might be able to understand the input. Jack waited, tense, trying not to cough, in case it screwed up the audio input. A moment passed. “I’m here,” Jack’s voice said, in slow motion. “Tell me what to do.” And then the computer flashed, and the words SECURITY KEY: appeared on the screen.
TARDIS, Jack typed, coughing, wiping blood from his mouth. The computer didn’t accept it. Rose. Gallifrey. Jack. Martha. Earth. Bad Wolf. He paused, leaning his head forward against the console. Everybody lives, he typed. The screen went blank, and then every monitor in the room filled with whirling hexagons and circles. The doors in the room clicked, and opened.
Jack smiled, and started coughing again, worse than ever. This time, he didn’t even try to push past it. He fell to the ground, convulsing, suffocating, burning, drowning in his own blood. It was a terrible way to die, but at least it would be over soon.
He was in the TARDIS when he woke. The grating dug into his back, but he didn’t mind. “You got her back!” he said, grinning.
The Doctor, standing at the console, looked down at him. “Took you long enough,” he said. “You missed all the fun.”
“Regrowing lungs is a bitch,” Jack said, cheerfully. “Did it work?” he asked. “Did we shut it down?”
“The Arena is destroyed,” the Doctor said, grinning back at him. “They’re never going to rebuild it- not here, and not on this scale anyway. In ten years, this place will be banana groves as far as the eye can see.”
Jack sat up, noting that he was still half naked. His coat and his shirt were folded neatly on top of one of the coral struts. “Doctor,” he said, more seriously. “McKenney- did he make it?” He stood, and reached for his clothing.
“Big fellow?” the Doctor asked, feigning unconcern. “Bad knee?”
Jack started buttoning. “That’s the one,” he said.
The Doctor punched keys and turned knobs. “He made it,” the Doctor said, quietly, smiling. He spun the video screen towards Jack, and he could see McKenney on an improvised crutch, fighting killbots while a group of teenagers made for the gate and safety. “He was brilliant.” The Doctor looked over at him. You were brilliant, he didn’t say.
“You weren’t bad yourself,” Jack said, pulling his coat on. “Where to next?”