Death sat on his black stallion, surveying the mass of rubble that had once been the planet Sadala.
Being the Avatar of the Horseman of Death, Ianto Jones was used to seeing such devastation. But this…it had been a complete surprise. Nothing had come through Prognostication or Prophecy; in fact, as far as he’d been aware Sadala had been one of the more peaceful worlds in this sector of space.
Harmony to Armageddon in less time than it took to make a cup of coffee.
Ianto didn’t turn; he just kept staring as the remains of a once-thriving planet began to spread out in the world’s original orbital plane. “So, you’re not the only one who didn’t know this was going to happen?”
“Fuck no,” War answered vehemently. “In fact, I only had one Angel on the entire planet. Nothing going on there at all. It wasn’t natural?”
“No,” Ianto answered, adjusting himself in the saddle so he could rest the butt of his scythe in one of the stirrups. “It was a planet-buster.”
John Hart cursed a blue streak. “Didn’t see that coming at all!”
“Apparently, no one did. The first I heard of it was a panicked message from Donna calling a Mauve Alert. Apocalypse sent me out immediately.”
“Good thing he knew where you were.” Ianto didn’t miss the leer in War’s voice.
“You’re just jealous we don’t invite you to join in,” Death said pedantically.
“Damn right I am!”
Ianto smirked at the response. Both he and Jack were well aware of John’s frustration, and were more than willing to tease him about it. “Death doesn’t share,” he said mildly.
“Yeah, figured you were the selfish type.” There was just a hint of jealously in the response.
Neither War nor Death turned at Famine’s unintentional echoing of John’s words. “Yes, it’s that bad,” Death said.
“Your Angels handling things okay?” Andy asked. “I got a cadre free…”
“I’d be glad if you could call them in,” Ianto answered. “This is…”
“A fucking mess?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“So,” John asked, “who screwed the pooch on this one?” He paused, then added, “And it wasn’t me, I haven’t had a poodle in ages.”
Ianto was glad his hood was up, because he hid the sarcastic grin that spread over his features. John was a lot of things, but subtle wasn’t one of them. “Donna and Tosh are trying to track that down now. Hopefully once we have everything cleaned up, we’ll know who to bitch out.”
“Bloody fucking hell!”
Well, at least the wording was a bit different this time…
“Nice of you to join us, Owen,” Death greeted dryly.
“Yeah, well…I was in the middle of a plague on Calufrax,” Pestilence groused. “Didn’t know we’d have a clusterfuck today, now did I?”
“Language, boys,” Apocalypse’s voice cut across Owen’s little rant. “Not while ladies are present.”
All four Horsemen turned to their leader. Jack Harkness stood just a few feet away, looking dashing in his vintage clothes and greatcoat. He’d discarded his Celestial form, and it was somewhat odd to see someone who looked at least human standing in the void of space like that…well, perhaps just as odd as seeing four robed beings on horses standing in the same vacuum, that was.
Jack hadn’t come alone. Harmony was with him.
Her human name was Sarah Jane Smith, but everyone knew her as Harmony, Apocalypse’s direct opposite. She was a handsome woman with dark hair, dressed fashionably, and looking suitably shocked at the devastation in front of them. “This is terrible,” she gasped.
Ianto couldn’t disagree.
“Did you have any clue that something like this would happen?” Jack asked her.
Harmony shook her head. “In fact, I’d just heard from Abundance that things were going really well there. Oh, there were some rumors of rebels in the hills…in fact, I’d just sent a memo to War’s office over it…”
Death knew that Abundance was one of Harmony’s Cherubs. She, like Apocalypse, had four lieutenants: Abundance, Peace, Life, and Wellness. Ianto didn’t know why they were called Cherubs; but then, the Four Horsemen of Harmony just didn’t have a ring to it.
John nodded. “I’d put an Angel on it, but he reported that he thought the rebels were just some skanky anarchists with really bad personal hygiene. There was no way they were responsible for this.”
“There was absolutely no reason for Sadala to have gone into Worst Case Scenario,” Jack said. “From what we have been able to find out, that planet was scheduled to be in Harmony for another couple of centuries…if Prognostication is to be believed.”
“But they didn’t see this, Boss,” Andy retorted, waving the symbol of his office – a withered stalk – toward the new rubble belt.
“Andy’s right,” Owen added. “How can we trust them to get that right, too?”
“Prognostication has never been wrong like this,” Apocalypse answered. “This was an aberration, one we need to find out how it happened. If we can’t count on our own Prognosticators anymore…”
He didn’t have to say anything else. Every department relied on Prognosticators to tell them what was happening throughout the Multiverse, and they were always right…until now.
“We can give them credit that they did finally warn us,” Ianto felt he had to defend them. He had some friends in that department, and didn’t want anyone to think badly of them.
“Ianto’s right,” Jack said. “There had to have been something off about this situation; something that Prognostication didn’t see. We need to figure this out STAT.”
“STAT?” Owen laughed. “Did you just say STAT?”
“You been watching Earth medical dramas again?” John snorted.
“Hey,” Apocalypse said, “no picking on the boss in front of a guest.”
“It’s fine,” Sarah Jane answered. “It’s not like I haven’t heard it from my own Cherubs.”
“Yeah, but your Cherubs are in the forms of teenagers,” Jack said. “It’s understandable for them to act like this.”
“Oi!” Famine cried. “Did you just call us teenagers?”
“If the shoe fits – “
Death’s comm. buzzed, and he answered it. “Yes, Donna?”
The voice of his PA, Donna Noble, slammed into his ear with all the finesse of a dentists’ drill. “You’re not gonna believe what happened,” she said, her tone going up in obvious anger.
Ianto winced. “Can you calm it down a bit before you deafen me?”
“Oh. Sorry, Boss.”
“No problem. Just tell me what you’ve found out.” He waved to the others, who all activated their comms in order to hear what Donna had to say.
“Tosh and I have managed to track a paper trail on Sadala back to Provocation,” Death’s PA answered, her voice quite a bit calmer.
Ianto’s eyebrow went up, and the rest of his fellow Horsemen also reacted in various ways: Andy looked confused; Owen began cursing, and John looked as if he wanted to draw his sword and hack something to pieces. Apocalypse himself was frowning, and he conveyed the news to Harmony.
“Why would Provocation send someone to Sadala?” Sarah Jane asked, not happy. “The planet wasn’t due for anything like that for at least a couple of centuries.”
Jack asked that very question, only he was looking quite livid. Provocation was under his dominion, after all, and a screw-up like that would only make him look bad.
“As far as Tosh has been able to find out,” Donna answered, “it was actually a direct request from War’s office.”
“No bloody way,” John denied hotly. “I only had paperwork on my desk for one Angel, which I sent. You can verify that with Rose.”
“Oi, sword boy, I’m not accusing you of anything,” Donna snapped back. “Just telling you what Provocation told me.”
“Have you actually seen the request form?” Ianto asked, in order to avoid a full-scale name-calling battle between his PA and War.
“Diane’s run down after it,” was the answer. “She should be back…oh wait, here she is now.”
There was several second of silence, during which Ianto wanted more than anything to fidget while they waited. Judging from the way Apocalypse was looking, he didn’t think he was going to be getting any when they got back to the department…which meant whoever messed up had better run, since they were screwing with his sex life!
A horny and denied Death is a very dangerous Death indeed.
“Well,” Donna came back on, “someone really screwed the pooch on this one.”
“That’s my line, Red,” John leered.
“Yeah, and Rose had to pay the last one off in order to avoid a lawsuit – “
“Donna,” Ianto interrupted once more.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m getting there. Looks like someone in Provocation saw the request for an Angel of War on Sadala, and just assumed that meant someone from Provocation also needed to be onsite.”
Ianto had to admit, that made sense. The Armageddon Department relied on Provocation to tip worlds into various forms of Apocalypse, thus giving the Horsemen and their Angels something to do. That meant that Provocation would often see any memos that could mean that they’d be called upon to work their wiles on an unsuspecting population.
“Shit,” Jack exclaimed, then muttered a quick apology to Harmony for his language. He gave her a quick explanation of what Donna had found out. “Looks like someone was being overzealous.”
“But that still doesn’t explain how Sadala went into Worst Case Scenario so quickly,” Sarah Jane said. “Whoever was assigned from Provocation couldn’t have been there all that long.”
“And there was no sign of unrest when my Angel reported back,” War added. “Only those anarchists, and they could only destroy something if they waved their armpits at it.”
“Who was sent there, Donna?” Ianto asked, curious to know just how one agent could have caused a previously peaceful world to blow itself to bits.
That question earned him a laugh. “You’re not gonna believe this…”
Ianto and the rest of the Horsemen strode into the Provocation Department, following Jack – who was looking decided Apocalyptic – and Sarah Jane. Jack immediately went up to the office of the Head of Provocation, Emily Holroyd, and not bothering to knock he went right in…
Well, looked like that particular rumor was true.
Alice Guppy crawled off Emily’s lap, tucking her high-necked blouse back into the old fashioned jodhpurs she wore. Emily rearranged her hair into its usual bun, smiling up at Apocalypse. “Hello, Jack. What can I do for you?”
Apocalypse glared down at her. “You can explain to me how one of your agents was assigned to a world in a declared Harmony, and how they managed to tip it into Worst Case Scenario within weeks.”
Emily’s eyes went round in shock. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I have someone that good in this department?”
Jack smirked. “Yeah, you do. But that still doesn’t explain why you had someone disrupt Harmony like that.” He handed her the memorandum that Donna and Toshiko had found.
The head of Provocation leaned back in her chair. “I can’t believe she’s that good. I should be down on my hands and knees in thanks to you…or make that Death, since he sent her my way.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Ianto said forbiddingly.
“Does everyone in your department only think about sex?” Sarah Jane asked hectically.
“Nope,” Jack answered. “We also think about violence and cute kittens.”
“And chocolate, preferably dark,” Ianto added. “At least that’s what Myfanwy thinks about.”
“Myfanwy?” Harmony asked.
“My pet vulture,” Apocalypse said proudly. “She was a gift from Death.”
“And so was his scythe kink,” Owen snarked. “Which I never want to see again.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” John said dreamily.
“Can we please get back on track here?” Sarah Jane said. Her face was as red as Ianto’s tie.
Jack cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
“I’m not,” Owen muttered loud enough just for Ianto to hear.
The office door opened, and Alice came back in, accompanied by Gerald Carter, Provocation’s Dispatcher. He looked decidedly chagrined. “This is entirely my fault,” he said without preamble. “I saw the memo, and decided that this would be an excellent training exercise for one of our newest agents. I honestly didn’t think she’d get very far, since Sadala was in Harmony.”
“Well, she certainly did,” Emily said, quite proudly.
“Let’s not have this happen again,” Jack put in, putting on his best ‘I’m in charge, don’t mess with me’ voice…the one that, in the right circumstances, had Ianto begging to be taken against the nearest flat surface. He turned to Sarah Jane. “I’d like to apologize on behalf of myself and my department,” he told her, taking her hand in his. “We’re going to see that this never happens again.”
“Thank you, Jack,” she said graciously. “And thank you for the quick response. It’s too bad our departments can’t work together.”
Ianto wanted to roll his eyes. Another falls to the Harkness charm.
“I know,” Apocalypse said earnestly. “We’ll just have to settle for seeing each other at the bi-yearly department meeting, I’m afraid.”
The entire room breathed easier once she was gone.
“As much as I can appreciate our newest hire’s abilities,” Jack said to Emily, “we can’t just let her loose like that. Someone who can turn a planet of harmoniously boring pedants into suicidal crazies is someone to be cherished…and watched very carefully.”
Emily nodded. “I just can’t believe you passed on her, Jack.”
“It wasn’t my decision.” Apocalypse sent a withering glance toward Owen.
Pestilence buckled under the pressure. “All right! I said I was sorry already!”
“Owen drove her off,” Ianto explained, at Emily’s blank look.
“Yeah, and I wish I hadn’t,” Pestilence bit back.
“What,” Jack teased, “you don’t like Jackie?”
“Ha bloody ha!”
The other Horsemen found it hilarious. Ianto got along famously with Rose’s mum, and Jackie was quite an asset to the department.
"Put a commendation in Gwen Cooper’s file,” Jack said, after the general laughter died down. “But keep an eye on her, all right? “But keep an eye on her, all right? Anyone who can provoke a world like Sadala into self-destructing is special indeed.”
“You got it.”
“But…don’t tell her, not right away.”
“You’re evil, Jack.”
“Nope, that’s the man downstairs. I’m simply Apocalyptic.” And he graced them all with one of this patented smiles.
At least Jack’s in a better mood, Ianto thought as they all left Emily’s office. I won’t have to reap Gwen Cooper’s soul now.
Doing such a thing looked as if it would have been a waste of good talent. And, as much as the Worst Case Scenario had stressed him and his Angels, Death had to admit the woman had been very, very good.
He wondered what she might get up to next time….
No, he didn’t.