Jack scratched a fourth tally mark into the cellar wall with the edge of a button. He could remember making two of the others, and assumed the last was also his doing, though he had no proof. His arrival at the farmhouse was still on the other side of the new hole in his memory.
He still had hopes of filling in the gap. It had taken him much longer than it ought—whole days—to even notice he had lost time again, and the memories he had recovered had come back piecemeal: a reconnaissance flight; a sudden, all-enveloping fog bank; a mental note to hunt down Trenchard and make the case for standard-issue parachutes again.
He didn't remember a crash, which he supposed was a small mercy. Probably not a deliberate one; he doubted whoever caused his amnesia had the skill. If it was the Time Agency, their standards were slipping. Certainly in his day, none of the officers here would have been Agency material. Well, perhaps Lieutenant Zucker—not as a field agent, but his air of cheerful surliness would have been right at home in Tech Support. But Captain von Weich, a bald little martinet who seemed to think his facial scar lent him sufficient gravitas to command, wouldn't have lasted a week.
The padlock outside clattered, and as if summoned by the thought (though Jack would have wagered his last bar of chocolate the man was no telepath), von Weich himself entered, flanked by Zucker and a stranger. The new man was another lieutenant, a slight man in his mid-twenties, with hair as pale as Zucker's was dark. Long silly nose; longer, sillier chin; fantastic hands, was Jack's straightforward appraisal; and in fact many less susceptible minds had found the newcomer's hands an incitement to lewd thoughts, though generally in more promising circumstances.
"Captain! I see you've brought a friend. Is this the good cop or the bad cop? No offence to Leutnant Sugarcheeks here, but I'm guessing bad."
"In case you should need a translator," said Zucker—and that was fishy already, for Zucker's English, though slow and heavily accented, was quite correct— "the Kapitän has sent for a language expert. Leutnant Adler, of—of—" He faltered, looking at von Weich for guidance.
Captain von Weich drew out the monocle he wore on a neck chain and screwed it in. He fixed hard narrow eyes on Zucker. "Er ist vom Hauptquartier gekommen." He turned the same look on Adler, who surely shouldn't need to be told where he'd just come from. "Vom Hauptquartier."
Both officers snapped to attention. "Getting your story straight?" Jack said. "Little late for that, don't you think?"
But von Weich ignored him, and left him to the two lieutenants, with a stern command to make him talk. To Jack's surprise, Adler took the role of the good cop. "Captain Harkness. We shall be great friends, I'm sure." Jack had the only chair in the room, a wobbling discard from the farmhouse kitchen; Adler settled comfortably on top of an empty apple-crate and offered Jack a cigarette, which he took. Zucker refused a crate of his own, but accepted tobacco. No one turned down tobacco. "Such fascinating lives you must lead," Adler began, "you pilots. I can never resist the chance to talk to one of you. I should love to fly in an aeroplane—I've ridden in a hot-air balloon, and I've driven a fast motor-cycle down a lonely road. Does it lie somewhere between the two, the sensation of flying? But," he went on, without leaving Jack a chance to answer, "you would rather talk about other things, I am sure. So much blatant Schwärmerei—so much hero-worship, one might say—must all get rather tiresome, yes?" Adler spoke a rapid Oxonian English; only the precision of his enunciation gave him away as non-native.
Jack puckered around the cigarette and took a long drag. "I dunno. Tire-ing, maybe, if you do it right." He leaned back on his chair's two good legs, stretching his own legs invitingly, and blew out a long stream of smoke. He considered winking for good measure, but there was no need.
Zucker scoffed. "You English—"
"Whatever you are, you are out of place here."
"Oh, I don't know," said Adler. "Motzstraße has given as many volunteers as Magdeburg—and, whatever slanders we like to spread about each other, vice is truly the same everywhere." Zucker looked unconvinced; Adler waved him into silence, with an imperious gesture that seemed to come easily to him. "But good conversation, unfortunately, is all too rare; and I imagine it does not flourish in an RFC barracks, does it, Captain Harkness?" He leaned back on his packing crate, stretching his legs in near-imitation of Jack's pose. "Are you fond of music? You must have been in Paris more recently than I. Tell me, has the Ópera yet been reopened?"
"I wouldn't know. Music-halls are more my line."
"Ah. Vienna is your city, then." And the rest of the interview, if so one-sided a conversation could be called such, passed in reminiscences of the Viennese music scene, with digressions on Wein and Weiber and some whistling of airs.
The next morning, a fifth tally mark took its place on the plastered wall, and soon after both lieutenants returned. This time Zucker, who despite his disposition was not temperamentally suited to being the bad cop, began, with a demand that Jack admit to being a spy.
"Since you caught me flying recon behind German lines, I don't think there's much else to confess." Jack watched their faces, wishing he had some prop to play with, but with Zucker calling the shots, there was no chance of a cigarette. "Where exactly did you catch me, by the way? I don't actually remember coming down." He worried his cuff distractedly.
"Oh, you do not remember?" Christ, Jack wondered, who taught this man how to run an interrogation?
"Yeah, that's right. I have to say, I don't like having holes in my memory. Maybe I'd remember better if I could see the crash site." Zucker's face was blanker than Jack had expected; perhaps he had some latent skill at this after all. "Or did I make the landing? You don't have my 'bus under wraps somewhere, do you?"
"I say—" Adler's English sounded even more fluent today. "You can't think we'll simply let you wander off to... to anywhere, do you? Not until you've been considerably more forthcoming, you know."
"How long has it been?" Jack asked. "See, I heal fast, so just the fact that I don't have any scratches doesn't tell me much." He held out his unscarred arms, shirtsleeves shoved up to his elbows.
Adler leaned in, peering at Jack's wrist as if expecting to see blood. He squinted one eye, and brushed the front of his uniform, automatically, a searching gesture.
"Of course, you're new here," Jack said, drawing back under Adler's intent scrutiny, which conduced to pleasant but entirely unhelpful lines of thought. "I suppose they might not have told you everything about me. How long have you been here?" And even though the man had been brought in only yesterday, he stammered and looked to Zucker for his answer.
Another tally on the wall, and another. The lieutenants came in at least once every day, together or separately, but Zucker's visits were perfunctory. Adler, however, settled in on his crate and stayed for hours at a time. He was a good conversationalist, with a remarkable knack for putting listeners, or at least Jack, at ease. Though he was still supposedly interrogating Jack, he did most of the talking himself—prattling about Paris and Vienna, mostly, before the war.
Adler spoke more of places than of people. He shied from answering any even remotely personal questions; but despite Jack's penchant for asking them, he kept seeking him out as a literally captive audience, and spoke in minute, eidetic detail about theatre he had seen, music he had heard, books read, meals eaten.
Shell-shock, or the desperate attempt to avoid it, was Jack's first thought—channelling the desire to retreat into his own mind into obsessively reliving his most pleasant and sensual memories. But Adler's prattle revealed more than incipient shell-shock, to Jack's ear. His accent wandered, on his flights of reminiscence, losing its icy precision—but it never wandered toward the German vowels.
"Where'd you study English?" Jack asked, once.
"Heidelberg," Adler said shortly. His posture straightened minutely, and the next words from his mouth were as crisp as ever. "And I travelled quite a lot before the war—a sort of Wanderjahr, you know."
"Where'd you go?"
He shrugged stiffly. "Here and there." Adler checked his watch, and left before Jack could pin him down.
The next day Adler was visibly nervous. His hands trembled as he extracted a cigarette from his case—nearly empty; he'd either been smoking feverishly or bartering for other distractions. He struck a match on the plastered wall. Jack, not without sympathy, seized his opening, and before Adler could open his mouth, launched into his own reminiscences. The beauties, both natural and human, of the English countryside were his topic; he did not think he was entirely convincing, but he dropped in enough references to his pilot training to keep Adler listening. Nothing new, of course; hardly any names at all except for Larkhill, and after three years German intelligence must have got wind of the closing of that venerable aerodrome. Zucker would have broken in anyway, hounded him on every point; Adler merely listened, his grey eyes half-lidded, like a cat that hears dinner being prepared several rooms away.
After a good long while, Jack brought his monologue around to the glories of the English public house; and thence, via pubs he knew, to the university towns. He did not, to his regret, know much of Cambridge or Oxford in this era aside from their better pubs; but Torchwood had got him into the Bodleian on several memorable occasions in the 'Nineties, and he doubted it could have changed that much. Start with Oxford, then. He nattered about architecture, drinking songs, whimsical student traditions he'd picked up from other people's nostalgia. Adler listened without comment or reaction—sat so stonily that when Jack dropped in a deliberate error, a reference to Lent term (which even Jack knew was a Cambridge thing), he was certain he saw him wince. "Sorry, did I get something wrong?"
Adler's face softened into a pleasant, foolish smile. "I've no idea, I'm afraid. But do go on."
He was lying. Jack knew it with a sick certainty. But why lie about that, of all things? Why shouldn't a German officer have visited Oxford, lived there, studied there, before the war? Now, a Time Agent... Jack knew, firsthand, the choice between feigning ignorance or displaying anachronistic knowledge. Some places, and he knew Oxford to be one of them, stay remarkably constant over time—but even they change enough to trip up the unwary traveller.
But tracking those changes was the first thing a Time Agent was taught. And mentioning the things he missed most viscerally about the future—cell phones, ubiquitous Indian take-away, teleportation—got Jack only blank looks, and a digression onto H.G. Wells.
If Adler was an agent, Jack concluded when he had gone again, he was very new at the job. Though he might have guessed that much from this farce of an interrogation. Someone—either von Weich, or someone above him—had given up on learning anything of military value from him.
It was another full day after that—nine tally marks—before it occurred to Jack to wonder what his captors had made of his wristband. The oversight, his and theirs, terrified him. On his part, it confirmed that the hole in his memory was no accident: he had been made, not merely to forget, but to shy away from the memories and even observations that remained to him.
And on theirs... Either his capture was some Agency ruse too Byzantine for even Jack to follow; or else his captors believed him to be exactly what he appeared, a downed RFC pilot—and still believed him of too little consequence to search his belongings, his person, much less to interrogate him seriously. And that was impossible, in the war Jack remembered.
Jack twisted the leather cuff around his wrist until he heard the padlock rattle. His skin was chafed; he must have been worrying it for days, almost constantly, to have kept the marks. He had never noticed.
But Adler had. Jack remembered, with sudden intensity, the straw-blond head bent over his arm, the force of his attention.
Angry at himself, not least for the ease with which he'd written off his disquietude at that episode as simple attraction, Jack stared at the cell door with undisguised venom; both lieutenants marked it as they entered, and shared a glance.
Jack rucked up his sleeve and surged out of his chair before the door had even shut. Let them shoot him; it would be another test, in fact the logical one after this. Zucker was nearer; Jack brandished his wrist under his nose. "What is this? Tell me—what do you see?"
"I see nothing."
"Nothing at all? Go, on—look! Look hard—what do you see?"
"Nothing! The-- the Handgelenk—"
"—wrist—" supplied Adler—
"—that is all."
Jack grabbed Zucker's hand and wrapped his fingers around his wrist. "How about now? Anything? Not even a wristwatch?"
He jerked out of Jack's grasp. "You are mad." He turned to Adler. "Er ist verrückt."
"Is he now?" Adler didn't see it either, or else didn't see it properly—his grey eyes darted up and down Jack's arm, searching, not seeing—but it wasn't Jack's sanity he was questioning. He brushed the front of his Feldrock again, as if searching for a pair of spectacles.
Or a monocle. A spotty subaltern opened the door for von Weich. "Was ist hier los?"
"Kapitän Harkness sagt—" Lieutenant Zucker seemed at a loss to sum up what just what he had said, but settled for saying he'd claimed to be wearing an invisible wristwatch.
For the first time, von Weich looked at Jack as though he mattered. His eyes lingered on the wristband, clearly all too visible to him. He screwed in his monocle and stared up at Zucker. "Es gibt keine da." He turned to Adler and repeated himself. "Keine." And when Adler looked again, he saw nothing, just as he'd been told to; his eyes slid right over Jack as though he himself was not there.
The lieutenants left at von Weich's command, obedient—conditioned to obedience. But Adler cast a searching look over his shoulder as he shut the door.
Monocle still in his eye, von Weich questioned Jack—professionally, at last—for hours. "You are in the resistance," he repeated, over and over, which made no sense to Jack—this was 1917, or at least it had been when he took off on his last recon—but at last Jack got his meaning. It wasn't the Germans he was supposed to be resisting.
Now that was fascinating.
He wanted to ask about his plane, about the crash he was beginning to doubt he'd been pulled out of, but he kept it in reserve. This would not be the last interrogation; he needed to have something left. Instead, he asked about his memory. "I don't like people interfering with my head," he said, as monomaniacal on his subject as von Weich was on his. "What happened before I was brought here, and why can't I remember?" But von Weich was silent; Jack cocked his head and considered him. "Because you can. Your lieutenants don't know how long they've been here either. But I'll bet you do."
A flash of light, faint but noticeable, fluttered below the edge of the door. Someone had been listening, letting his shadow fall into the cell. And he had just heard enough. Jack was quite certain it was not Lt. Zucker.
"If you know where you are—"
"—which I don't—" said Jack.
"—then you know about the resistance. You will tell me where you have met them. You will tell me the names of your leaders."
"All I know about the resistance is that it exists. And I only know that because you told me, today."
"You are lying."
Jack laughed, too tired to hold it in. "I'm really, really not."
"Your wristband, then. That is not a lie, and it is not a product of 1917. You will tell me where you stole it."
"Now, that's interesting. That tells me that someone here is capable of making something like this. You want to quit before you give away the whole game, von Weich? Right now I'm two for two."
But von Weich had a trump card—a scrap of paper, heavily crossed out in pencil and ink, and bristling with stars and annotations. "These names. These are not the names of reconnaissance targets."
Jack craned his neck to read— it was a list, in Jack's own hand. Many of its items had been struck through, but some remained in the clear: menin, poelcappelle, cambrai. They were interspersed, in no real order, between the crossed-out words under the heading Salient. Other lists trailed their own headings: Marne, Somme—
Captain von Weich snatched the paper away. "These are not official orders. This is a Resistance code." He slapped his gloves against his empty palm. "You will answer!"
"Sorry, didn't know it was a question," Jack said. "You didn't care if those were my orders. Those could have been targets for bombing raids, or mapping flights, or undercover missions, and you didn't give a damn, until you found out I had this." He waggled his wrist. "So what's so special about a list of—"he swallowed the word battles-- "villages?"
"Indeed," sneered von Weich. "What is so special?"
"It's my to-do list. Places I want to get laid before the war ends." He grinned. "Tell me where we are, and I'll add a line."
"These are the code names of Resistance colleagues. You will tell me their names."
And the questioning dragged on, the same questions, a barrage calculated to weary him. Jack had information to give, but not the information von Weich wanted to hear; and in time von Weich gave up and left him alone to simmer.
The rattle of the lock woke Jack from a doze. He expected von Weich again, with thumbscrews or worse. But it was Adler.
If the man had been courting shell-shock before, he was in the thick of it now. He'd gone from pale to fish-belly; Jack was cold just looking at him. "Is it good cop time again?"
Adler shook his head, and drew a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket. "Ihre Hände vor sich halten, bitte." This was new; he had always addressed Jack in English before.
"And if I don't?" But he was already holding out his hands. Jack had two stone on Adler, but Adler moved like a man with strength to spare; Jack might overpower him, but not easily or silently. And even if he could knock him down, what then? He knew nothing of the layout of the camp or the terrain beyond it, not even the direction of the British lines.
Better to bide his time. Adler locked the cuffs and drew his sidearm, and silently motioned Jack through the door.
The locked storeroom opened onto a wide plastered cellar, fitted out as a sort of scullery with a pump and trough along one wall. Two privates loaded canisters of motor-oil from a sadly paltry stack onto a wheelbarrow; they saluted Adler desultorily and turned back to their task.
"Mind telling me where we're going?" Jack said. "Did von Weich finally decide to let me have a look at the crash site, maybe jog my memory?" Adler waved him through a set of green-painted double doors; the guard on the other side nodded to him. Beyond was a rutted yard; the house's foundations were dug into the slope of a hill. "Huh. I don't remember this place, either; and not to brag or anything, but I've photographed an awful lot of your installations."
"Schweigen Sie!" hissed Adler. It was more a plea than an order, and Jack, obediently, fell silent, and let himself be frog-marched across the farmyard. It was midday, though grey and dull, and the compound was peopled: steam rose from the wash-house; mechanics in a cowshed heaved a field gun off its smashed and listing carriage; around a corner, someone was shoeing horses, whistling. Captain von Weich was nowhere in evidence. In the distance, guns rumbled.
At the motor pool Adler signed out a motor-cycle with side-car. The lack of a driver struck Jack as a good circumstance, but a bad sign; whatever Adler was up to, he wanted no other witnesses. The side-car was the kind with a bar in the front for securing luggage, or, more recently, for mounting a machine-gun; Jack held out his hands when instructed, and let his cuffs be undone and locked again around the steel. He kept his eyes on the key, as it disappeared into Adler's left tunic pocket. The revolver returned to his belt, and Adler kicked the bike into gear and drove them out of camp, returning the motor sergeant's salute with chill abstraction.
He made for the front, heading for the din of the guns. Jack had long since learned the trick of not hearing it with his ears. He sensed it in his skin, instead, the medium through which they moved, growing not louder, but denser and thicker around them.
"Where are we going?" Jack called; and, when that failed to elicit an answer, "Wohin fahren wir?"
Adler answered at some length in German, and while half his words were lost to the thrum of the engine and the swelling noise of the guns, Jack got the gist: the English had done something to him, to his memory. He could not speak of it in the camp for fear of spies. And so Adler must turn spy himself, and discover what they had done. Jack was his insurance.
Jack surreptitiously tested his handcuffs. It could not be long before Adler turned his paranoia on Jack himself. The only question was whether he would accuse himself first: if there were an undercover agent in the camp, Adler, with his fluent, educated English and inability to account for where he'd learnt it, was the best candidate for the role.
Nearer the front, they came across a hay barn, miraculously intact, on a little rise next to the shelled-out remains of a cottage, and here Adler pulled the motor-cycle off the road and stopped the engine. The rubbled farmyard overlooked an abandoned section of trench, its sides crumbled in, shoring beams projecting from the earth at drunken angles. Adler stared down at the wreckage, unblinking. The straight stillness of his back and shoulders suggested no resolve but the determination not to bury his head in his hands.
"Where are the men?" wondered Jack. The camp, the road, now the trenches—all had been far too empty. "That's recent-- there ought to be engineers, sappers, a shovel party—someone digging it out." He shook his head. "This whole landscape is wrong. It's not just a matter of a few lost days—this isn't the war I remember."
Adler turned frantic grey eyes on him. "Tatsächlich?" he began, followed by a burst of German too rapid for Jack to follow easily.
"Whoa, whoa, nicht so schnell. Can we try that in English?" Adler's avoidance of the language he had such facility with was beginning to seem ominous, and Adler sat silent for a long moment before replying.
When he did, it was with the first trace of accent that Jack had heard from him yet. "Then it is true. There is some unheimliche weapon—a gas, perhaps—that the English spy has turned on the camp. It is true, it is—you have experienced it, you also!"
Jack nodded, cautiously. "I've experienced something. I know the lay of the land of pretty much the whole Salient, and this place... it looks like I ought to be able to turn a corner and find myself someplace I recognize. It looks almost right."
Adler sighed, and at last let his head and shoulders fall. "And that is all?" he said, in a small voice. "Nothing else?"
Jack answered the tone, rather than the words. "What happened to you?"
"I— My name is Paul Adler. I was born in Charlottenburg, the son of a prominent attorney. I was an only child; we were well-to-do. I had the measles; I went to day-school in the city; I attended University at Heidelberg. I studied literature—English and French. I travelled: I lived in Vienna, I lived in Paris—those I am certain of, those I remember! I volunteered in 1914; I am certain of that, also.
"But the rest—I can hardly call to mind the faces of my parents, nor the names of my playmates or the view from my nursery window. My childhood is slipping away from me." His German accent settled, grew more fluent—a good fake, but still, Jack thought, a fake. "But when I allow my mind to wander, I remember scenes from a childhood somewhere... very far away. I remember a house in the country— almost a palace—and a stable full of horses. I remember a brother and a sister, though I never had either. I can remember, so clearly, the faces of my schoolmates and tutors at a college I know I never attended, while I cannot even remember the rooms I lived in at Heidelberg, or where I took my meals. I remember a girl—all gold and milk-white, with the sweetest face, truly an angel. I even know her name—she's called Barbara. I gave her a ring. I could tell you the weight of every stone. It's nothing I could afford on a lieutenant's pay.
"And all of this, all of these fantasies, I remember so much more clearly than my own life."
Jack had begun to have a horrible suspicion. "Shell-shock," he suggested, trying to sound confident. "You're having blackouts. Happens all the time."
"Oh, yes, it is the shell-shock." Adler pronounced it like a sentence. "I wish I were somewhere else, and I wish it so hard I begin to believe I am some one else—a man with a charmed life, a man whose most difficult choice is which silk scarf he should wear to the opera, a man who the rarest creature in the world condescends to smile on, who can heap her lap with jewels. I wish myself into this man's life, because he has no place in these trenches."
"But you remember the trenches." Jack's hands were going numb; he twisted them futilely in the cuffs.
"Yes. Damn them, I remember the mud, and the cold. They are the only things in my life, in my own life, that even compare to this fantasy I have created.
"But you," he said, turning and clutching Jack's sleeve, "if you are also affected, perhaps I am not—not solely responsible."
"Of course you're not," Jack said stoutly. "Look, you said you remember the trenches. Look down there—does that look like any place you remember?"
"I—it is hard to tell. I don't believe so, but it all blends together in the mind."
"There you are, then. We both remember where we've been fighting, and we both think this place looks fishy."
"Yes." A shudder went through him, but in its wake he straightened, alert, and dug in his pocket for the key to Jack's handcuffs. "Come. We will find the people who have done this to us."
Privately, while Jack echoed the sentiment, he doubted Adler was taking him in the right direction. Certainly von Weich had known something, more than the little he had let slip to Jack; while they might or might not find his opposite number behind the British lines, they would certainly not find some British mind-weapon capable of wreaking this sort of damage on two men's memories.
But he allowed Adler to walk him down the slope and across the fallen-in trench. The Time Agency, or whoever was responsible for this pocket of the War, were well hidden; and Jack preferred to hunt for them from the side that wore his uniform. He ought to be able to pull enough strings to keep Adler alive, for a few days at least; and if he was right about the source of Adler's intrusive memories, a few days should be all it took to identify the man properly.
They scrambled up the bank beyond the abandoned trench and through the broken tendrils of the barbed wire, and then they were in No Man's Land. "Walk ahead of me," Adler said, keeping his hand on his revolver. "You are my insurance."
"Yeah, I got that part," Jack said, with as much bravado as he could muster. "So let's go."
Between the lines, the landscape was still all wrong. Ravaged, yes—pocked with shell-holes, the few trees reduced to blackened stubs. But the ground was rocky and dry, and the human debris was too thin, and entirely military—there was no trace of houses or farms here, no silted-in drainage ditches, no cast-off mowing-machine teeth rusting where they fell, not even a horseshoe. This place's history began and ended with the War.
All Jack said to Adler was "Recognize any of this? 'Cause I don't."
Adler shook his head, thin-lipped, and gestured Jack up a rocky slope. "Perhaps from the top, we will see something. "
Jack scrambled up the loose scree—wrong, wrong, terribly wrong—and crouched on the crest of a little ridge. Below, at the bottom of the crumbling slope, stood the TARDIS. She loomed blue and solid over the edge of a shell-hole, a shallow spill of rainwater lapping at her doors.
Adler halted beside him and stared. "What is it?"
"You can see it?"
"Police Public Telephone Box," he read. "But what can that mean? There are no civilian police here." He saw Jack's face, and his mouth hardened. "You know what this thing is."
"Yeah." Of all Jack's memories, it was the most deeply graven; he'd imagined just this scene on his first night in the trenches, and almost every day thereafter. The TARDIS would shut out the guns and the filth, and take him far away; and the Doctor—
--was almost certainly not Jack's Doctor. That damnable almost had let him down before; he had loitered in alleys and watched in shop windows, waiting hours or days only to see a stranger return to the ship.
The risks, to his person and his timeline, were great; the chance of catching the right Doctor, in the right moment, were beyond slim. And still it took all the strength he had to step back. "Yeah, I know what it is. And we have to get away." He turned and stalked off ahead of Adler, heedless of the revolver trained on his back.
"This is dangerous, this box?" Adler caught him up. "Is it to do with the English weapon?"
"No. It belongs to—to a friend of mine who's looking for the same thing we are," Jack said, and swallowed a curse, for if there was one thing he could be certain of, it was that the Doctor would be up to his eyebrows in whatever was going on. "So we're going to leave him to it, and go reconnoitre someplace he hasn't been yet. Talk to me about Vienna some more."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Vienna. Talk to me. Your mental conditioning is wearing off—the, the mesmerism that's been keeping you from remembering things clearly. Remember how you had to learn to see my wristband? I'll bet anything they didn't want you seeing that box, either, but you did. So tell me something new about Vienna."
"I—there is—it is no good, I tell you! Everything I think I know is tangled in this other man's life."
"So tell me about him." Jack led them over a much-furrowed field of rubble to more solid ground. He could just about see the English lines.
"He—I think he is less patient than I am," ventured Adler. "He is careless. Or he likes to give the impression of carelessness." He laughed bitterly. "I believe he is one of those insufferable fellows who will spend an hour on the fold of his handkerchief and the knot in his necktie, to make it all look unconsidered. He will do nothing unless he can do it with sprezzatura, as the Italians say. Though," he added wistfully, "I believe that must make him a very fine musician."
"Playing? Singing?" said Jack. "Let me guess—he's got some instrument you've always..." Something near them was singing, high up, a whine in the air— "Down!" He grabbed Adler's sleeve and pulled him down with him; the ground shook beneath them. "Are they shelling us? Or are we just in the way?"
The barrage went on, but the tremors and the noise came no nearer. "They're not hitting us," Adler said over the din.
Jack lifted his head. They were on a spit of solid ground between two new lines of craters; as he watched, shells exploded behind them, on either side. "We're in a gap," he shouted. "Come on!"
Heedlessly, he waded out towards the English lines, Adler following. On this side as well, the trenches were sparsely manned; one gun-emplacement was silent in the barrage. Jack made straight for it. They ran the last yards hunched double, threw themselves over the edge and lighted in the damp packed earth.
"We must have been seen." Adler went at a crouch to the nearest turning of the trench, and peered around the corner. He turned back and shook his head, silently, finger pressed to his lips. Someone was here, at least.
On their other side, there was a long empty passage before the next manned section. Adler and Jack scrambled up the sandbag wall at its rear, and belly-crawled along the ground until they were out of sight of the trench.
There should have been ranks of field guns on the surface; communication trenches and a fallback line cut into the earth, dugouts riddling the ground beneath them. Instead, just as on the German side, they found nothing beyond the single trench but empty fields, and a narrow road.
"It is unheimlich," said Adler. "Uncanny." He looked pretty unheimlich himself by now—he'd been shocky and pale for hours, and Jack doubted he could stay on his feet much longer. The effort of memory, or of describing his alter ego, had been especially wearying.
"Yeah. Let's get away from here." The ground at their feet was heavily rutted in one direction. Jack set off the other way, away from the guns and the smoke. If these really were the British trenches, or even, as Jack thought more likely, a less-than-perfect mock-up, then the wheel ruts would lead to help, manned outposts, maybe a hospital. Heading into the hinterlands, they both risked being shot, Adler as a spy and Jack as a deserter.
But where the people were, where the noise and activity were, there the Doctor would be. In the thick of things, where he belonged. They went the other way.
After several miles, a fog settled in, and between one pace and the next, it blanketed the road completely. The fog, oddly, distressed Adler more than anything they had yet encountered; he planted his feet and refused to move another step. Jack opened his mouth to argue, and then remembered flying—the thick, white fog that had blown in, just this suddenly, around his plane, the last thing before his memory trailed off into blankness. "Adler, think. Have you been in a fog like this before?"
"The lines—" He grasped Jack's sleeve, his face nearly invisible even at arm's length. "Are they near?"
"You're having a flashback," said Jack calmly. "You've been in a fog just like this, haven't you? What do you remember?"
"Shh!" He leaned in on Jack's shoulder. "Don't make a target of yourself, man," he whispered. "Our gunners can't tell friend from foe in this mess, don't you know." The precise elocution he'd employed earlier was nowhere in evidence; he spoke like a man who had never doubted that anything he said could be less than pukka. That careless certainty was harder to put on than the Prussian attitude or the Oxford manner, and in it Jack thought he was finally hearing the real Adler.
The real Adler was a lot more nervous than the bloke with the accent.
"All right, come on," said Jack. "This way." He took another step into the mist. If this was the mechanism—if there were a timescoop, or even just a team of agents hidden behind this wall of cloud—then they'd have their answers.
Instead, three steps took them out of the fog, and out of the War. Jack spun around; there was neither fog nor trench behind them, but a Roman road in good repair. The landscape around them had never known shell-fire.
"I say," said Adler, "I know the Jerries are callin' up older men every month, but this is falling rather literally upon the triarii." Jack looked back down the road. A column of Roman infantry was marching, dust churning around their buskins. Two velites detached from the front rank and galloped toward them; another peeled back around the foot and rode back to report them to the centurions. "And for that matter, why not call up Barbarossa from his sleep? Or Dietrich of Bern, or Arminius? Unless these are our reserves, and some clever chap has woken up the vengeful dead from Teutoberg Forest."
"They look pretty lively to me." And the cavalry skirmishers were almost on them. "Maybe we should get off the road." Jack pulled Adler back by the shoulder. A step back, and the fog surrounded them again; another, and they were back in Flanders.
"Well," said Jack, "now I know why they wanted to keep me away from my plane. This must look pretty odd from the air."
"It's a bit disconcertin' from ground level, come to that." His tone came nowhere near insouciant; he sounded one or two good shocks from a breakdown.
And there'd been something else—"You said 'our reserves,'" Jack said. "Just now."
"Hardly. The reserves of Marcus Aurelius is more like it—"
"Have you remembered anything."
"I can remember a truly shockin' number of things. Go on, try my wit, lay the bent to the bonny broom. Though I wouldn't recommend asking what 'lay the bent to the bonny broom' means; that one's always been a poser—"
"Whose army are you in?"
Adler fell silent with his mouth still gaping. "That's a deuced uncomfortable question, old man," he said, after a moment.
Jack sighed. "Right, forget I asked." He kicked a clod of dirt morosely. Adler, or whatever his name was, had forgotten himself enough to remember which side he was on, and apparently a slew of trivia besides, and Jack had had to go and point it out to him. "All right," he said after a moment. "We're going back through the fog. Between javelins and artillery, I know which I'd rather get killed by." He had, in fact, had personal experience of both, though he kept this to himself; Adler was in no state of mind to appreciate those stories.
"Must we?" But Adler steeled himself and stepped back into the fog bank first.
The Roman column had turned off the road and struck out overland. Like the trenches, it was undermanned. "Maybe six centuries, none of them full strength," Jack said, squinting after them. "And the auxiliaries are worse off—one unit of light cavalry, a few camp-followers. Nothing like a proper baggage train, either."
"They turned off just before they came to the fog," observed Adler, peering at the track in the brush. "Speaking of laying the bent to the broom. Or, no—just before the place where the fog becomes visible. Suppose they don't fancy walkin' through it any more than I."
"They can't," said Jack. "They've been conditioned. Like we were."
"I think we've attracted the outriders' attention again." Adler pointed up the hill on the road's other side. "There's a footpath, or a cattle trail or something, that runs parallel to the fog barrier."
"Let's go." They headed up the hill; the trail was easy enough to follow, but steep, and Jack had to climb parts of it on his hands and knees. The wall of fog came into view twice, suddenly and shockingly, and he learned to hug the left edge of the trail or go off it altogether rather than risk activating the barrier with an outflung arm. Even so, he felt its presence, a low buzzing at the edge of his consciousness, steady and hair-raising. The Time Agency, to his knowledge, had never used anything like this.
The third time, it was Adler who tripped the barrier. Jack turned and saw him huddled against the stony ground, staring blankly into the roiling mist. "Adler. Adler."
He didn't respond, and Jack had forgotten his other name. "Adler," he snapped. "Nehmen Sie meine Hand; folgen Sie mir."
For a brief moment, a look of utter betrayal flared in Adler's eyes; and then he was taking Jack's hand, and letting himself be led back from the barrier. Jack silently stepped aside to let Adler take the lead, once the fog had dissipated, but Adler shook his head and patted his sidearm. Right. Jack was insurance again.
Cursing roundly under his breath, he led them over the crest of the hill. The other side was steeper, and there was no stepping off the narrow path. Halfway down, the path turned, and was suddenly blocked off by a rockfall; it would have seemed a natural spill, if not for the cave mouth ten yards further down, fortified by a stone-and-turf breastwork.
A lone defender rose from his crouch behind the wall: a French private, no more than eighteen, aiming a rifle with bayonet fixed. "Qui est là?"
"Captain Jack Harkness," Jack answered. "Royal Flying Corps-- Corps Royale de l'Air." He didn't offer a serial number; the kid wouldn't know what to do with one.
"Et lui?" he demanded, his eyes darting to Adler's Feldgrau and spiked helmet. His grip on the rifle seemed none too secure. "Toi -- tu es Résistance? Ou Boche?"
Jack stole a glance at Adler; he looked green and terrible, and the question, or its language, seemed to have stymied him altogether. His hand dropped to his revolver.
"Un pas de plus et je tirai!" the French private stammered, and levelled the rifle, with surprisingly good aim for the state of his nerves, at Adler's head. And then several things happened almost simultaneously. A voice from the cave shouted "Don't, you fool!"; Adler made an abortive step forward, his hand still fluttering on his sidearm; Jack realized it was time to put his unique talent to work again; and the rifle shattered the air.
Jack's leap came just too late to let him take the bullet in the shoulder. He caught it in his head, instead.