James Bond hated Hong Kong. A crowded city powered by a corrupt bureaucracy was often a spy’s delight, but Chinese manners, the filthy air and the even filthier conditions on the ground simply went too far. Eight years after the handover to the Chinese, he liked it even less. The usual support network of a British possession no longer existed and the overmanned, under-trained Chinese secret service irritated Bond far more than they threatened him as he went about his business.
Bond had been very irritated of late. This mission smelled of busywork - a way for M to get him out of her hair while the double-oh section languished in a fit of the winter doldrums. Two wealthy – if not well-known - businessmen, Allan McNeal and Robert Silver, had been killed in Hong Kong in the past week. Forensic evidence suggested that the murders had been committed by the same perpetrator.
Usually, MI6 would leave such things to the local authorities but the manner of the killings had M worrying that it could be part of something larger, possibly a generalized move against British interests in the special enclave. Bond thought that M had a bee in her bonnet and nothing better for him to do. But orders were orders and so, three days after the briefing, Bond found himself trudging through a torrential downpour and grudgingly conceding that perhaps he should learn more than three shreds of Cantonese. Yes, no and fuck off only got him so far.
The second man to die, Silver, owned a penthouse apartment in a high-rise development very popular with non-Chinese tenants and so Bond didn’t have to resort to any guile to gain entry. Stealth was a useful skill but sometimes all a man had to do was look like he knew where he was going. He didn’t even have to bother with picking the lock to Silver’s apartment, as the British Embassy had obligingly acquired a copy of the keys, probably via some means that Bond didn’t want to know about.
Given the endemic corruption of the Chinese police, Bond wasn’t extremely surprised to discover someone else inside the flat. The stranger – white, fit, middle thirties was all Bond bothered to register – stood in the middle of the living area, apparently caught in transit from one room to another. Bond pulled his gun from inside his coat and slammed the door shut behind him.
“Who the hell are you?” he snapped.
The stranger held up his hands, trying to ward off anything unpleasant and compounded Bond’s surprise by smiling as if meeting a long lost friend. “Hey, hey, take it easy. I’m Captain Jack Harkness, you must be James Bond and you don’t read your email, do you?”
The gun didn’t waver. “What the fuck are you talking about? Who’s Bond?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “You’re Bond. Geeze, you really missed the latest, didn’t you? Look, I don’t have the bona fides on me, but you can take my word for it that M sent me over to help you out, once she got the incident report on the late, unlamented Mr. Silver, here.”
That didn’t reassure Bond at all. The existence of M was an increasingly well-known fact. However, he did belatedly remember that she had made some mention of the possibility of some inter-agency cooperation. Bond had been too busy seething at the time to take in the details.
Jack noticed Bond’s lack of confidence. “I’m from Torchwood.” He added.
Bond looked incredulous. “It actually exists?”
“I suppose we’re something of a joke over your way,” Jack admitted. “But our remit’s every bit as important as yours.”
Bond relaxed a fraction. “Go on” Jack was right in that Bond never bothered to check his email. He considered the Internet a significant annoyance.
“Robert Silver. Born in England, 1951, moved to Hong Kong 1988. One of those go-getter entrepreneurs with his fingers in a lot of pies, Bobby here made most of his money via investing in the goods-and-services industry. Most recent acquisition was a chain of crematoriums here and in Kowloon. He died rather abruptly last week when a seven-point-six-five NATO round found it’s way into his skull from a distance of at least a half mile. Forensics suggested that a military-grade rifle was used and, last we checked, the Chinese don’t use NATO rounds. And, oh yeah, Mr. Silver was not from this planet. At least, that’s my hypothesis.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Hello? I’m from Torchwood. You think M asked me to come out here because she thought there was too much money in her budget this month?”
“I’m still not reassured that she did send you,” Bond snapped.
Jack sighed. “I told you, the bona fides are back at my hotel, including a beautifully written note from your boss. She’s got lovely penmanship, by the way. It’s a dying art.”
Bond frowned. This glib, handsome American had set off half a dozen alarm bells whilst simultaneously divulging an equal number of facts that suggested he was, indeed, who he claimed.
“Why did you come here to the flat?”
“Same reason as you – snooping. Can I put my hands down now?”
Bond decided that he was going to have to take a chance. The less time spent in this place, the better. He re-holstered his gun and gestured to Harkness that he could relax – for now.
“Thanks. Listen, I’ve already pulled everything I could off Silver’s computers, and I’m sure we’ve both got phone logs and the like. I suggest we get out of here.”
“No.” Bond wanted to look around for himself and proceeded to do so. “Does Torchwood really look for aliens?”
“Look for them, find them and work with them on a regular basis. Long story short, I think Silver’s one, here illegally. A lot of aliens look humanoid and there’s a lot of money to be made off this planet. Cut off a finger, add a nostril, whatever, and you’re all set.”
“So what makes you think he’s an alien?” Bond asked, not really caring about the answer as he rummaged through various cabinets.
“The way the Chinese have been acting. They’ve slammed the case shut, won’t release any remains to the Embassy, or even autopsy reports, despite having cremated Silver at one of his own places, last week.”
Bond paused in his search for a moment. “Interesting.” He conceded in a tone that clearly implied he didn’t believe a word Jack was saying and then returned to the task at hand. A shame he couldn’t pull up the carpets or cut up the furniture, but he didn’t want the local authorities to know about the visit.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for anything you missed.” Not only am I saddled with a lunatic but he’s a nosy lunatic. Great. But M had mentioned something about having to work with another person and even if Bond didn’t trust this Harkness person, he trusted her.
“Oh. Okay.” Jack leaned against a doorway and enjoyed the view of a well-built man moving furniture. Jack realized he certainly could have done worse. The file that Tosh had pulled up – naturally Jack didn’t trust M to make any more than a minimal disclosure – made it plain that the hard-faced blond was one of the best M’s outfit had to offer, which made Jack wonder if she wasn’t already aware of Silver’s non-Terran origins before she asked Torchwood for assistance. Otherwise, why send in such a heavy hitter? Not that Jack minded at all. Talented and very easy on the eyes? Jack’s cup ran over.
It’s a shame we’re meeting like this... Jack shoved the thought aside. This was no time for day dreaming. Bond had finished his search of the bedroom and shoved past Jack to examine the apartment’s sole bathroom.
“I looked already.” Jack insisted.
“You did? Great. Then you can tell me what this is for.” Bond tossed a bottle from under the sink towards Jack.
“It’s tile cleaner – uh…” Jack shook the spray bottle and heard something rattle inside – something that definitely wasn’t designed for whitening grout. “Or maybe not.”
“Maybe not. Now shut up, Captain, and let me finish this. Like you said, we can’t hang about.”
Abashed, Jack fell silent and – wanting to do something – took the spray bottle apart. The source of the rattle was revealed to be a thumb-sized piece of electronics that Jack recognized as a communication device that any Earth-based company would kill for.
“Radio,” Jack announced. “Definitely alien.” He looked at it more closely “Looks like Belkon, probably” He ignored Bond’s skeptical expression. “Short-range, too. Which means there’s more than one of them in town. That’s a shame,” Jack shook his head. “They’re usually way more respectful of the process than this.”
“Process?” Bond shook his head. “Never mind. Tell me later. Let’s go.”
As they drove back to Jack’s hotel, Jack offered up a condensed version of what he thought Bond needed to know.
“So there’s not more than a couple of dozen of them here, ‘officially’?” Bond clarified. Jack nodded. “But god knows how many unofficially, because we’re the local equivalent of Indians on an oil-rich reservation?”
“I wouldn’t go that far but, yeah, Earth has a lot of things to offer some folks out there – more than you’d expect – and when there’s a market for something, there’s always a black market for it, too. We demand some pretty heavy concessions from any ETs looking to do business here, so that means there’s always a few looking to get around that and undercut the competition.”
“Is that what you think this is? A trade war?” James looked over his shoulder as he changed lanes a bit more aggressively than traffic called for.
“I don’t know.” Jack admitted. “It could be that. It could be a xenophobic vigilante group – they’re harder to find than the aliens, sometimes – it could even be the tongs. It’s hard to say. But I’ve – we’ve – got a lot of information to go through. I’m sure something will come from it. Are we being followed?”
Bond kept his eyes on the road. “What makes you say that?”
“You’re not about to win an award for safe driving, for a start.”
“We’re in Hong Kong.” Bond pointed out.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
Bond exhaled sharply, irritation writ large on his face. “Yes, I think we are being followed and whoever’s doing it is pissing me off.”
“Can’t keep track of them?” Jack guessed.
“I lost sight of them five minutes ago,” Bond admitted in a sour tone.
“So…?” It pained Jack to admit that his cloak and dagger skills were quite rusty.
“So hold on. I’m going to try something.” Thank god this city is full of lousy drivers. The Englishman shifted gears, hit the gas and engaged in fifteen minutes’ aggressive driving that Jack was pretty certain had taken a year off his life, altered state or no.
“Not bad,” he admitted, slowly un-prying his fingers from the door handle.
Bond didn’t have time for compliments, as he twisted in his seat and scrutinized the disturbed currents of traffic behind him. “Good enough,” he conceded, abruptly veering into a parking garage. “I think we can keep going.”
Twenty minutes later, Bond dropped a manila folder to the floor and declared, “I need a drink.”
Thinking ahead, Jack had already cracked open some startlingly expensive scotch from the room’s minibar and slid it along the table in Bond’s direction. He regarded the small bottle with contempt before grudgingly pouring it into a glass and swallowing it in a single gulp. A second bottle followed the first.
Involuntarily, Bond glanced at the documents falling out from the folder he’d just discarded. As promised, Jack’s bona fides seemed to be in order and Bond wasn’t in a position to argue any further. M’s orders were clear and unequivocal: cooperate or face the consequences.
“Jesus Christ. I must have really pissed M off.”
“Come again?” Jack asked, his attention divided between checking email on his laptop computer and the quietly seething secret agent. Smolderingly hot when angry. Check.
“She’s sent me to the other side of the fucking planet on a mission that, strictly, belongs to the local authorities and now I’ve got to babysit someone who deals with little green men, too?” Bond muttered something about disciplinary measures and looked in the minibar for something else to drink.
“You’re a cynic.” Jack wasn’t surprised – nor was he condemnatory, which was a change in James’ experience.
“A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.” Bond announced, abandoning the minibar in disgust and reaching for the phone. “I’ve heard that Torchwood’s a place to send agents that have cracked up but aren’t well-suited for retirement. Let them chase geese and build castles in the air, out of everyone’s way. Room service?” Bond spoke into the phone. “I want a bottle of Macallan and a bucket of ice. Fifty dollars for you if you get it here in less than ten minutes. More than twenty and I’ll break the bellhop’s arms.” He dropped the phone back into the cradle.
“Temper.” Jack chided. “Okay, so clearly you’ve heard the cover story. Of course we’re going to make a point of looking like a joke to the other agencies. It’s not like you guys would take us seriously, anyway. But if you don’t trust me, trust your boss.” Jack pointed at the folder.
And there, Harkness had him. Bond might not trust Captain Harkness or even particularly like him at this point – fast-talking and good-looking was always a dangerous combination and James preferred being the only dangerous man in the room at any given moment – but Bond did trust his boss. Implicitly.
“Alright. Fine.” Bond conceded without grace. “So Silver’s an alien?” he choked a little on the last word.
“I’m pretty certain. This thing,” Jack held up the transmitter. “Certainly suggests it. A human would have sold it to some jerk like Van Statten the minute they got their hands on it.” Bond wondered who this Van Statten was but decided he’d probably be happier not knowing. “If only I could get my hands on the autopsy report but the Chinese have slammed the door on that real hard. Suspiciously hard, in fact.”
Bond nodded. “They did the same for the other guy, too. McNeal.” Even greasing the wheels at headquarters with fistfuls of yuan hadn’t done any good and that was extremely unusual, in Bond’s experience.
Jack looked thoughtful. “Those two hung out, didn’t they? The phone logs said as much.” Bond nodded. “Maybe he answered Silver’s calls.” Jack mused. “He had to be talking to someone with this thing.”
“Put a trace on the radio signal?”
“Can’t do it here. I don’t have the equipment for it. Besides, what’s the point if it’s McNeal and he’s dead already? However – oh, yes!”
“Good news from home?” Bond asked, only slightly sarcastic.
“Extremely. Tosh’s been crunching information on her end and, look at that, McNeal and two more of Silver’s frequent callers weaseled their way into town without submitting to the mandated physical exam.”
“Little green men don’t want to give blood samples.”
Bond frowned. “Who’s Tosh?”
“The most wonderful girl on the planet – and I should know. I hired her a few months ago as a general tech advisor and she’s worth her weight in gold.” Harkness darted a sidelong look at his companion. “No, you guys can’t have her. For a start, you can’t afford her. I’ve got a huge… budget.”
“Is conversation with you always like this?”
“Yep.” Jack nodded, unabashed. “Refreshing, isn’t it?”
“It’s something, all right.” Bond held his tongue. Jack could be useful, even if only in a human-shield sort of way. Although if this information of his panned out… “You said McNeal and two others. Who’s that?”
“A guy called Wallace Keenan - another one of those overreaching entrepreneur types – and one Stuart Bell. He’s a teacher.” Jack frowned at that. It didn’t seem to fit.
Bond thought for a moment. The first name sounded familiar. “Keenan? Keenan Holdings?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Know him?”
“I know of him. He’s a person of interest back home. The Met thinks he’s smuggling stuff through his company – mostly people. Shoving peasants into fifty-five gallon drums on container ships, that sort of thing. And not particularly caring if half of them turn up dead in Dover.”
Bond shrugged. “He’s in it for the money. But that could be useful.”
“Yeah?” Jack realized he needed to pay attention to what the Brit said. Besides, he was much nicer to look at than his computer.
“Greedy bastards with little regard for human life are surprisingly accessible, usually because they want to keep making money. I’ll chase this Keenan person down and have a word with him. Can your wonderful tech person dig up his details?”
“She already has. He’s hunkered down at the Savoy Tower. But, uh, don’t you mean we should talk to this guy? Safety in numbers?”
Bond shook his head. “No. You’ll slow me down. And besides, if Keenan’s scum, he’s going to feel ganged up on if the meeting’s more than one-on-one.”
“You’re trying to cut me out.” Jack accused, irritated.
Bond didn’t mince words. “I’m not trying to, I have. I’m not kidding. You’ll slow me down and if that happens, either the other side’ll kill you, or I will.”
Jack decided not to mention how unlikely that possibility was and, instead, made the best of a bad situation. “Fine.” He snapped. “I’ll check out the other guy, Bell – figure out what ties him in with the others.”
“Good idea.” Bond agreed that it was a viable course of action and it carried the bonus of keeping Harkness out of his way in the meantime.
“Shall I break the bellhop’s arms for you, too?” Jack asked, still irritated but also cautious of anyone who routinely went armed like a one-man commando squad.
“Only if he’s more than twenty minutes late.” A half-smile softened Bond’s dour expression for a moment. “I’ll see you back here in a couple of hours.”
The University of Hong Kong was a typical example of city architecture – a venue that used space vertically, rather than horizontally. A cluster of five and six story buildings covered an area smaller than the parking lot for an American theme park – and parking lots themselves were in short supply, Jack noticed, observing the number of bus lines and bicycles converging on the spot.
Both buses and bikes were homeward bound at this point, as the early evening rushed in and students and faculty were keen to kick off New Year celebrations. Therefore, Jack wasn’t very surprised to learn that Dr. Stuart Bell of the physics department was not in his office on the third floor of the faculty building. Far from being disappointed, Bell’s absence suited Jack just fine.
Making sure that no-one saw him, Jack quickly opened the locked door to Bell’s office with a small mechanical device that had served him well for many years and stepped inside. The size of a large walk-in closet, the space was largely dominated by stacks of papers and academic journals. Even Bell’s desk – undersized to suit the space – was hard to find and the chair accompanying it was filled with a stack of student papers, apparently awaiting distribution back to a class.
Jack stared at the sheer volume of stuff crammed into the space and decided to start with the default – the trash can. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Jack muttered as he poured a small torrent of receipts, old quizzes and official correspondence onto the floor at his feet.
Jack soon found something quite encouraging – a recent bank statement, which included images of all checks written and deposited. One of those checks – the most significant of the five that Bell had deposited in the past month – was written by Allan McNeal, the first of the two corpses that Harkness and Bond were investigating and apparent friend to the second. True, McNeal might have just been funding a tax-write off but Jack took it as a good omen. Tucking the statement into his pocket, he turned his attention to the filing cabinets and wondered if there was a computer buried somewhere out of sight…
It was a point in Harkness’ favor, Bond had to admit, that his information had proven correct. Wallace Keenan occupied a mid-level condominium in the Savoy Tower, a mile away from the Hong Kong waterfront. Given that it was just past 6PM, Bond was ready to gamble that he’d probably be in residence. After fighting through even-worse-than-usual Hong Kong traffic – people were starting to celebrate the New Year, early - Bond was damned if he was going to ignore a potential lead, just because he felt bloody minded.
A phone call to London had confirmed that Keenan’s background wasn’t as clean as it could be. There were a few too many papers lost en route, a few too many cargoes inspected rather too swiftly to be entirely thorough, et cetera, and that was enough for Bond. Much to M’s ongoing despair, he preferred to act quickly, rather than wait for some dreary eighty-page analysis by some pencil-neck who’d never been in the field.
Bond considered his approach and decided that, despite his mood, a lighter touch was called for, as he knocked on the door to Keenan’s apartment.
“Who is it?” The speaker asked first in English and then in badly accented Cantonese.
“My name’s Bond. I’m a friend of Bob Silver’s.” James took on the rough tone of east London, expecting Keenan to make the usual classist assumptions.
The door opened, a safety chain apparent. “What do you want?” The sliver of face visible to Bond showed a thirty-something Anglo with light brown eyes and an expensive haircut. A plain shirt was unbuttoned at the throat and no jacket in evidence. Bond caught a whiff of beer on the man’s breath and started to hope that his luck might be in.
“Bob said I could come to you about some business. Something I didn’t want to discuss over the phone.” Bond made a point of looking over his shoulder, an amateur worried about security. “A staffing issue.” He added with heavy emphasis.
“Fucking hell.” The voice sighed. “I could kill that man.”
So you don’t know he’s already dead? Interesting.
“Yeah, well, that’s between you two, innit? Are you going to let me in or what?” If Keenan decided not to, Bond could always take the hard-line approach.
The door closed and Bond heard the safety chain being disengaged. The door re-opened and Wallace Keenan stepped back to let Bond in. Following Keenan, Bond walked into the undersized living room of what passed for six-figure living in Hong Kong. Technically the apartment offered a view of the bay, if one stood on the coffee table and squinted at the space between two skyscrapers, although standing on that table would be difficult, given the several beer bottles, half-empty takeout containers and a half-full ashtray that covered its surface.
“I’m sorry mate, did I catch you at dinner?” Bond counted bottles and wondered if perhaps Keenan had heard about Silver’s death. It’s only human to have a few drinks after hearing bad news…
“It’s alright.” Keenan insisted with a smile. Bond heard the strictly shortened vowels of elocution lessons – a vanity that many a boostrapper had fallen to, Bond knew. Or maybe the guy only had BBC newscasts to learn from on his UFO. Jesus, Harkness must be getting to me. Bond dragged his attention back to the matter at hand.
“Any friend of Bob’s…” Keenan gestured at an overstuffed, rather cheap-looking chair. “Get you a drink?”
Bond nodded. Keenan seemed to be half in the bag already, and such people were easier to deal with. “I’ll have whatever you’re having, thanks.” He sat down.
Keenan went into the kitchen and returned shortly thereafter with two open bottles of Tsing Tao. Bond tried not to pull a face at what he considered a decidedly inferior drink. Bond accepted the bottle and otherwise ignored it.
Keenan sat down on the unoccupied sofa, took a significant swig and said in a world-weary voice. “What has my big-mouthed brother in business promised now?”
Bond was surprised. He hadn’t expected Keenan to be quite that obvious. Then again, if the man liked money… He thought fast. “I’m here for a friend-”
“A friend, huh?” Keenan smiled, an expression that knocked some ten years off his face. “It’s always a friend. And what’s this ‘friend’ need, then?”
“If you’re going to be like that about it,” Bond shrugged. “Fine, it’s me. Long story short, I just got stuck with two hundred bloody acres of strawberries in Kent that need picking and no-one to do it.”
“You don’t strike me as the farming type.”
Bond glared at him. “I don’t give a stuff what I ‘strike you’ as. I need some cheap labor and I heard you could hook me up with some without resorting to bloody Polacks. If you can’t…” Bond put his drink down, and made as if ready to leave.
“Hey, hey,” Keenan made a conciliatory gesture. “Don’t get like that. Just y’know… Bow bells and strawberries. Odd match.”
“A hundred years ago, it would have been hops.” Bond said, defensive. “The farm came to me… in payment for something. I’ve got to work with what I have.”
“A high-interest something?” Keenan inquired and immediately backed down as Bond glowered at him again. “Alright. Alright, none of my business.”
How drunk is this guy? Bond wondered. Talk like that could get him killed. “Have you heard from Bob?” James hazarded. “He said he was going to call you, let you know I was coming.”
Keenan shook his head. “Not for a couple of days, actually.” Bond heard the strain in his voice, and wondered if Keenan lied, or was simply worried by the lack of contact.
“That’s too bad. Would have spared you the surprise, huh?”
Keenan nodded and then shrugged. “It’s not the first time Bob’s dropped a clanger on me. Always a one for the last-minute bright ideas, he was.” Keenan apparently didn’t notice the slip of the tongue amongst his increasingly slurred speech, but Bond did. “Moving people,” Keenan pulled at his beer. “Moving parts of people-”
Bond sat up, alert, and considered pushing the issue when someone took it out of his hands. Keenan’s living-room window shattered and Bond reflexively hit the ground, rolling behind his chair for cover. Less than a second later, Bond realized what had smashed its way through the glass but it was still too late. Even as he realized the businessman’s vulnerability, a second high-velocity bullet tore through Keenan’s skull.
Bond stayed down. Some cover was better than none and it gave him a moment to stare at Keenan’s corpse. Dark-green blood soaked into the carpet, and the nearby wall.
“Shit. He was right.” Bond muttered. He wasn’t quite sure what annoyed him more – the probability that he was the sniper’s next target or that Torchwood wasn’t some institutional joke, after all.
Seconds passed, stretching into several minutes. Bond decided that either he wasn’t worth the sniper’s time or he was waiting for a clear shot. Therefore, I can’t give him a clear shot. Bond thought about the layout of the apartment and decided on a direct, if messy, solution.
Being careful to remain behind the flimsy cover of the chair he had recently occupied, Bond pulled his gun out from inside his jacket and aimed at the sprinkler mounted in the middle of the ceiling. Fortunately, the first shot blasted it free and the living room became the center of a torrential downpour. The incoming updraft from the city below helped further muddle things, whipping the water and living-room drapery around.
Bond trusted to luck and ran for the door, practically taking it off its hinges as he lunged into the hallway, unharmed.
Even in a don’t-ask-questions town such as this, Bond knew that unwanted attention was bound to manifest, shortly. If nothing else, the downstairs neighbor was about to get an unpleasant surprise when green-tinted water started seeping through their ceiling and would probably want the building manager to take a look at the source of the problem. He ran for the emergency stairs and prayed he wouldn’t encounter anyone on the way back to Harkness’ hotel. It seems that I need a brief from that Yank, after all.
An hour after he’d begun his rummaging, Jack re-locked Bell’s office door behind him and wondered just what sort of person didn’t keep a computer in this day and age. Even the most hide-bound academics were having the things forced on them and given that Bell’s specialty was astrophysics, Jack doubted that the professor could be a technophobe – quite the opposite, in fact, given some of the handwritten notes that he’d found inside a locked file labeled Long March.
It was those notes – combined with that rather unusual project name – that convinced Jack that he had to continue his search, elsewhere. Bell was apparently in charge of a research project on campus - and whilst there was nothing wrong with that, it did worry Jack that Dr. Stuart Bell seemed to be pushing research along some very specific paths – highly dangerous paths that the human race shouldn’t be traveling for at least another century.
Jack climbed into his uninspiring rental car – he supposed that something with four wheels and internal combustion qualified as a car, no matter how tiny and flimsy it happened to be – and sent an email to Tosh, asking her to look into all possible sources for Bell’s funding and any other possible connections between Bell, McNeal, et al.
Jack had a strong suspicion that she would find other financial connections between the trio. Money was the only thing that Jack could envision linking a no-name academic with two wealthy businessmen – well, not quite the only thing, Jack thought, with a grin. Thinking of which, Bell’s bank statement had yielded some other interesting information.
But first… Jack went to a nearby payphone and dialed a number that he had memorized whilst in Bell’s office. He let it ring for a full minute and hung up. Either Bell wasn’t home in the no-doubt undersized apartment he rented from the campus or he wasn’t in the mood for callers. So that left the address of a bar where Bell had been spending an awful lot of money of late – the End Zone. With a name like that, Jack figured it was either a singles bar or an American sports bar. Either way, he felt confident that something useful would come of a trip. Besides, Bond wasn’t the only person with a thirst for a drink.
Jack had seen some truly tacky and tasteless places in his long life. Some of them were even quite fun, in a shameless sort of way. Jack rather hoped that he could add The End Zone to that list but he doubted it.
The End Zone was a sports-themed pickup joint and that, in many ways, told Jack far more than he wanted to know about the local population’s capacity for good taste.
It didn’t help that whoever designed the place apparently didn’t like sports or America – or possibly both. Oversized – and overloud - LCD televisions hung on every wall, each one broadcasting a different sporting event, which almost sufficiently distracted patrons from the rather threatening ceiling décor – an assortment of football helmets, baseball bats, hockey sticks and other hefty accoutrements glued or hung up where-ever room could be found for them.
Jack surveyed the place and had just started assessing his chances of finding Bell at home after all – and possibly calling an air strike on the End Zone – when a compelling argument to stick around manifested at his elbow. A nigh-on six foot tall, sandy-haired, blue-eyed reason, in fact. Damn, the job might be annoying but the eye candy’s top notch.
“Gross, isn’t it?” the stranger smiled. “But it’s only place around here that’s got ESPN2 and decent beer on tap.”
Jack’s ears perked up at the stranger’s accent. “That would depend on what you’d call a decent beer.” Jack replied with a grin of his own. “No offense but you Brits have a strange idea of what qualifies as decent beer.”
The other man laughed. “Don’t worry, there’s quite a variety, here. Don’t let the décor scare you off. Once you tune out the noise, it’s not so bad.”
“It takes more than bad taste to frighten me away.” Jack said with aplomb.
“Is that so?” the stranger took the remark far more seriously than Jack had intended and, dammit, he didn’t want to be taken too seriously by someone that cute.
“Yeah. They’d have to be out of ice for that. Then I’d be nervous.” If Jack had one weakness, it was a complete and utter inability to not flirt whenever an opportunity presented itself – and what an opportunity because, by God if this wasn’t a pickup attempt, Jack would eat his metaphorical hat. People sure as hell weren’t there for the ambiance.
“Truly nerves of steel.” He deadpanned then held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Stuart and I’m guessing that you’re new in town. I haven’t seen you here before.”
Jack shook the proffered hand and arranged his features into an expression of polite astonishment. “Stuart? Not Stuart Bell? No way!”
Now it was the other man’s turn to look surprised and a little wary. “How’d you know? You’re not a student are you?” He pulled back, slightly – but not too far, Jack noticed.
“No, no.” Jack hastened to reassure him. “I just, uh, didn’t expect a college prof to be so, y’know…” Jack stopped short of an outright leer, but only just. “A mutual friend of ours asked me to look out for you – wanted me to pass a message along.”
The wariness receded, replaced by curiosity. “Oh? Who?”
Jack looked sly. “Can we step outside? I don’t want to shout.” That much was true, and getting this guy alone was now high on Jack’s agenda.
Bell made a show of considering the question but not for long. “Sure. Let’s go.”
The small, underlit parking garage adjacent to the block occupied by the End Zone seemed made for illicit assignations. Jack half-wondered if it was instrumental in the owner’s decision to operate in the area. He led Bell to an appropriately underlit spot and pushed him up against a concrete pillar. They kissed greedily, pushing against each other and fumbling to get clothes out of the way.
Jack enjoyed it while it lasted, which wasn’t nearly long enough. A damn shame, he thought.
“You’re not really Stuart, are you?” Jack murmured as his partner paused for breath.
The other man looked startled, then ashamed and shook his head. “No, my name’s Jason,” he admitted. “I’m sorry about that. And this.” With that, “Stuart” shoved a knife in between Jack’s ribs.
“If you were having second thoughts…” Jack wheezed painfully. He could feel the nauseating gurgle that warned him that a lung had been punctured, and the wound itself burned painfully.
In response, Jason stabbed him again– another well-placed blow, Jack noticed – and shoved Harkness away, obviously expecting him to die immediately. Jack let himself fall and debated the merits of playing possum versus badly startling someone with no small amount of deadly skill when the convulsions started.
Poison? What a drag. Rather than face the unpleasant chore of metabolizing the toxin, Jack passed out – which was rather unfortunate, given the circumstances. Dimly, he heard a celphone keypad beep. “It’s Bourne. I got him.”
Later that evening, Jack watched a slightly-damp MI6 agent slam his way into Jack’s hotel room and, by some unknown talent, immediately home in on the unopened bottle of Macallan that had been left by a terrified staffer. Given the black temper that he seemed to be in, Jack thought it best to let James get whatever it was off his chest, first. Jack had arrived well enough in advance of Bond to change his shirt and think about how to explain what had happened. Clearly, right now was not the opportune moment.
In a concession to company, Bond poured his drink into a glass – a half tumbler full of scotch, topped off with half-melted ice from the adjacent bucket – but didn’t waste any time knocking it back.
“Little. Green. Men.” He winced at the alcohol. “You were right.”
Jack blinked in surprise. “I’m glad you believe me. What brought about this sudden conversion?”
“I found Keenan. We talked. Things were going pretty well until someone blew his brains out all over his living room. Green brains. Bloody awful.
Jack looked pained. That wasn’t the way he would have introduced Bond to the wonders of extra-terrestrial life. In fact, in the past couple of hours, Jack had quite a few ideas as to how he’d like to introduce Bond to the fact that the universe was much bigger than he knew, starting with a certain misplaced time-traveler but, unfortunately, business before pleasure.
“Bright neon green or more like an emerald green?” Jack asked, quite serious.
“Emerald.” Bond’s attention was taken up by finding a towel and roughly drying his hair. Jack resisted the urge to suggest that he change shirts. He doubted the suggestion would be well-received.
“Belkon, then.” Jack nodded. “That sounds right. They only have to lose a finger, get their skin dyed and wear concealing clothes to pass as human. There’s usually one or two hanging around Earth.”
“But these ones don’t have visas, I take it?”
“I know of two and they’re both in New York,” Jack nodded. “They’re usually merchants, so I guess these fellas are independent businessmen.” He took a deep breath. “I’m afraid things didn’t go much better at my end.”
“Oh?” Bond asked, voice icy.
“Does the name Jason Bourne mean anything to you?”
Bond choked on his drink, eyes wide. “What?”
“Jason Bourne. Heard of him?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. And I know I’m going to regret asking this but how did you hear of him?”
Jack tried for an airy tone. “The guy rolled me for my wallet, broke into my car, stole my computer. And, uh, left me for dead.” He concluded quickly, hoping Bond wouldn’t want much detail beyond that.
“Jason Bourne? Jason fucking Bourne?”
Jack couldn’t help saying it. “We didn’t get quite that far.”
Bond froze, clearly counting to ten inside his head and then said, very quietly. “What happened?”
Jack summarized the incident, being careful not to mention that Bourne had, indeed, done a very efficient job of killing Jack – there was no need to explain to Bond why a knife in the ribs didn’t slow him down all that much – even when it was poisoned – and instead emphasized his excellent skill for dissimulation.
“You seem remarkably well, given the circumstances.” Bond shifted slightly in his chair and Jack realized that the Brit was getting ready for action – unpleasant action.
“You don’t believe me.” Jack said. “I don’t blame you.”
“I’m so glad to have your approval.” Bond said icily, wondering if he should cut his losses and walk out.
“Don’t go.” Bond started back at that, not liking the coincidental timing of his thoughts and Jack’s words. Something was going on here, something he didn’t understand – and that made things that much worse.
Inwardly, Jack winced. This one’s more perceptive than most. “I told you. I’m with Torchwood. We have… resources.”
“That enable you to recover from a well-honed assault in record time?”
“Amongst other things, yes.”
Bond stared at Jack for almost a minute, clearly contemplating his options. Finally, he sagged, apparently giving in to circumstance and poured another drink. “No more than you deserve, chasing totty on a mission.” He grunted.
“I’m only human.” Jack quipped with one of his best smiles, which faded quickly as Bond’s visage remained unchanged. “In fact, I was playing bait. Not my favorite sport, I’ll admit.”
James shook his head. “Don’t try to put spin control on this, Jack.”
“I’m not. As soon as he claimed to be Bell, I knew he was lying – I’ve seen Bell’s passport photo. You thought someone followed us on the way back to the hotel. And you weren’t sure that you’d lost him. You didn’t.” Jack braced himself for some sort of angry denial but none came. Bond just looked irritated, which might have been worse.
“Bourne could have followed me to the campus from the hotel. Maybe he saw me coming out of Bell’s office – or he’s tied in with him other way. Maybe Bell’s next on his list. He’s certainly not squeamish.” Jack almost smiled at the memory, until he caught a glimpse of Bond’s expression. “Given your reaction to his name, I’m guessing that’s no surprise.”
“No, it’s not. Jesus.” Bond contemplated switching back to scotch but realized he was going to need all his wits about him. “And he took your computer? Fuck.”
Jack shifted uneasily. “What am I missing?”
“Nothing much,” Bond said, contempt dripping from his words. “Only that you’ve tangled with one of the most-wanted mercenaries on the planet. Bourne’s upstaged Carlos the Jackal, for Christ’s sake.” Bond noticed Jack’s blank expression and sighed. “Alright, there’s not a lot of information shared between our agencies. Fair enough.”
“Big bad killer? For big bucks?” Jack summarized, starting to think that he might like some of that scotch, himself.
“That’s oversimplifying it but yes.”
“So he’s a sniper?”
“He can be. He does whatever it takes and he’s good at it. And if you make a dirty joke of that, as God is my witness, I’ll shoot you.”
Jack couldn’t help a smile but he stopped short of laughter “Okay. So he could have whacked Keenan, right?”
Bond nodded as his mind raced. Even the possibility of Bourne being involved pushed matters to a new level. He’d never met the man, face-to-face, but they had had several peripheral entanglements in the past. Men like Bond and Bourne could barely stand being in the same time zone together – nor was it good for the immediate environment. Bond winced at the memory of the disaster that was Berlin. He’d laid that at Bourne’s feet, no mistake. But that was then and probably didn’t matter any more. Probably.
“When did this happen?”
Jack glanced at the clock. “I got back about twenty minutes ago.”
James nodded. “Timing’s right. He can probably get across the city faster than I can. Trying to chase him is like trying to catch an eel bare-handed – don’t say it!” James snapped as he noticed the gleam in Jack’s eye.
Jack watched Bond. The secret agent’s manner had changed, back to the reserved, hard-faced man he’d seen in Silver’s apartment. Very quietly, Jack hoped that he never really annoyed this individual. Just because he couldn’t die didn’t mean he couldn’t hurt and Bond probably knew far too much about how to make people regret bad decisions.
“Keenan said something,” James admitted, realizing that Jack should be told what little he learned. “About moving parts of people – him and Silver – in addition to trucking migrants.”
Jack looked surprised and then thoughtful. “I really hope they’re not up to that again.” He pondered.
Jack actually looked a little embarrassed. “Terrans are -” he tried to find the right words. “A commodity, out there.”
“Why do I think you don’t mean in the terms of a workforce.” James asked warily.
“No, I don’t. The fact is humans are kind of… tasty. And some races, they don’t feel squeamish about consuming sentient species.”
Bond’s reaction was surprisingly nonchalant. “Delightful.” He deadpanned. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get any stranger.” At this point, he was ready to believe Harkness.
“But I could be wrong.” Jack added quickly. “I hope I am.”
“I do too. In the meantime,” Bond poured himself another drink at looked out at the night sky. “What next?”
“Get my computer back. It really can’t stay in Bourne’s hands.”
“And how do you propose that we do that?”
“It’s got a GPS chip embedded in it.”
Bond froze with his glass halfway to his mouth. “It has what, now?”
“GPS chip. In my laptop. For occasions just like this.”
“And just when the bloody hell were you going to mention that?”
Jack realized he’d almost blown it again. “Uh. Right now?”
Bond put his glass down with unnecessary firmness and wondered how much trouble he’d be in if he hogtied the American and left him in the closet for the duration. Quite a bit, he realized. M insisted on his involvement. Fine. Plan B.
“How are we going to track this chip, then?”
Jack smiled, relieved at having just missed what was probably a sound drubbing. “By phone. Thank god I left it in the hotel to recharge.”
“All right. I’ll drive, you navigate.”
It was a start. Although Bond wasn’t sure what he’d do if they caught up with Jason Bourne. The fact was, Bond half-hoped that Bourne had tossed Jack’s computer as soon as he’d acquired it but he doubted that would be the case…
Dramamine. I need to add Dramamine to the standard kit, Jack thought as Bond double parked the car in a narrow, stinking alleyway. Jack could handle the worst that spaceflight could throw at him but a street on 21st Century Earth with a maniac like Bond at the wheel? Jack opened the door and sighed in relief as cooler, if muggy, air washed over him.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Jack twisted in his seat. “What’s it look like? I’m getting out of the car.”
“Only if you’re going sightseeing. You’re not coming with me.”
“Not again!” Jack snapped. “I’m not going to wait in the car like some…” he reached for a pop-culture reference. “Scooby or something.”
Bond looked slightly puzzled, but ploughed on. “Jack. You’re from the fucking X-Files – a not very competent version of the X-Files, either. You might be able to cope with little green men but not red-blooded ones who have been trained for most of their lives in how to kill you with bare hands or whatever’s within reach, no matter what special advantages Torchwood’s granted you. Bourne’s bad news. He’ll make mincemeat of you. He has once, already.”
Jack wanted to disagree with Bond, but he could sense the determination radiating from the man. “A team player, you ain’t.”
“So M keeps saying on my reviews. Why she saddled me with you, I don’t know. If we’re lucky, Bourne’s gone and I can just get in, take a look around, grab your laptop and go.” Jack had convinced Bond that retrieving the laptop would be preferable, although he doubted that Jason would be able to hack his way past Tosh’s security, no matter what sort of Renaissance man he was reputed to be.
“And if you’re unlucky?”
“Then I’m dead.” Bond shrugged. “Everyone goes sometime. Now shut up and stay put.”
“Yes, sir.” Jack said, with some show of reluctance. Like hell I will. I’ll give you ten seconds’ head start and you won’t ever know I’m behind you…
Bond climbed the stairs of the crowded tenement and told himself that he wasn’t nervous. Scared, he could deny, but nervous… it was more difficult. He wiped his palms on his coat, reassured by the weight of his gun under his arm.
He hadn’t been kidding when he told Jack that if they were lucky, Bourne would be away. Bond couldn’t be sure who would win a direct confrontation between them and that uncertainty undermined his confidence, further. Uncertainty was new to Bond and he didn’t like it.
Then he realized that there wasn’t anything to debate. When in doubt, take the direct approach.
Jack watched Bond approach a certain door, hesitate, and then knock on it. “It’s Bond.”
A moment later, the door opened and James stepped inside.
Jack frowned. Something had taken a left turn into strange, which was usually familiar territory for him but Bond’s insistence of the danger in this particular patch of strange had made an impression. So what the hell was Bond up to? Jack prepared to follow Bond’s footsteps, only to be distracted by a buzzing in his pocket.
This is too much. Jack distrusted coincidences. He snatched at the phone, recognized Tosh’s number and ran with surprising grace and, more to the point, silence, to the end of the hall, away from Apartment 14.
“Bad time, Tosh.” He hissed.
“Think of that next time you get me out of bed, Mr. I forgot about the time difference. You want to hear about what connects your businessmen and your scientist, or not?”
Jack looked down the hall, conflicted. “Alright, but make it quick…”
Ten minutes later, Jack cut Tosh off in mid-sentence, as the doorway for Apartment 14 opened and shut far too quietly for Jack’s liking. He turned into a nearby doorway, hunching over it like he was fumbling with his keys and did his damnedest to look invisible. With only one witness, it was within Jack’s abilities to look very inconspicuous, indeed. Moments later, the American who had done his best to kill Jack earlier that day, strode past him dragging a trail of blood and cordite through the air. Jack flinched at the scent – indistinguishable to an ordinary human – and nearly ruined everything by bolting towards the recently-closed door before the other man had disappeared down a stairwell.
Jack hesitated outside the door for a moment and pressed an ear to it. Silence – wait. A faint scraping, then a heavy thump. Jack took a deep breath and tasted metal – an inauspicious combination of factors. Jack took another deep breath before shoving the door in. I hope I’m playing cavalry for the right guy.
To Jack’s too-sharp senses, the stink of blood and gunpowder was almost overwhelmingly thick inside the small apartment. Bond, leaning heavily against the wall, staggered doggedly towards… something in the kitchen, although the copiously bleeding gut-wound hampered his progress. Jack didn’t bother to wonder. He knew all he needed to know at the moment.
“Jesus!” Jack slammed the door shut. “Quit moving, damn it!”
Bond looked up, ashen faced, and tried to smile. “I thought I told you to stay put?” He gave up on his intended target and slid to the floor.
Jack retreated into humor. “So I’m a bad boy. Spank me later. In the meantime,” Jack hunkered down and took a closer look at Bond. The front of his shirt was soaked in blood and more dripped onto the floor. A classic gutshot, Jack was amazed that Bond could even move. “Oh, damn…”
“Wimp.” Bond accused with a grimace.
“Absolutely.” Jack replied. “I hate the sight of blood. So much so, in fact…” Jack laid a gentle hand on Bond’s stomach, ignoring the mess despite his supposed squeamishness. “Don’t shoot me, okay?”
Bond looked confused - and then startled - as Jack kissed him. Jack felt the energy flowing through him, invigorating – practically intoxicating, as it always was. Some days, I love my job. He ignored the omnipresent worry that one day, it would be once too many and he’d turn into the picture of Dorian Gray. Beneath his hand, Jack could feel ragged flesh healing and the pain-wracked tension leaving Bond’s body. Other tension, however…
“You want to tell me if that shirt was coming off or going on?” Jack teased as he sat back, satisfied with another job well done - only to be surprised as Bond yanked him back down and resumed where Jack had left off. Jack tried not to completely lose track of where he was. Damn, this guy knows what he’s doing, he thought, gladly going with the flow of things.
Abruptly, Bond let him go. “One: I thought I had a choice between getting fucked and getting shot. I was wrong.” he said, somewhat unsteadily. “Two: what the hell did you just do?”
“I told you, James, I work with alien tech. It’s very…alien.” Jack grinned. “And weren’t you taking a big risk – oh, hell.” Jack decided any questions could wait and kissed Bond again. Post-life-threatening passion was a good thing, in Jack’s opinion, and so much fun to take advantage of…
Just as he got comfortable, half sprawled against Bond and idly wondering how to get the – literally – bloody shirt off him, the secret agent heaved Jack off him and struggled back to his feet. Bond headed to a nearby sofa and donned a coat, covering up most of the mess on his clothes. Jack’s face fell. “Uh, did I miss something?”
Bond looked annoyed. “No. But that can wait.” Jack grinned, hope restored. “Jason Bourne thinks we’re both dead. That gives us an advantage – until he gets back and finds that I’m gone. So we have to move quickly. Your laptop and wallet are over there.” He nodded towards a counter. “As far as I can tell, he hasn’t tried to hack your system – yet.”
Jack gathered up the items. “He would have had a nasty surprise if he’d tried.”
“Perhaps. Listen to me, Jack, we have to be careful. I know how to handle a guy like Bourne-“
Bond shook his head, irritated. “I use whatever tools are available. But you don’t know-.”
“Brother, if it takes those sort of tools, I’ve a full set. And the nifty little box to carry them in.” Bond glared at Jack until his happy-go-lucky smile faded. “All right. I get it. But there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I think I know who Bourne’s next target is.”
Bond stared at Jack. “Who?”
“The teacher over at the Hong Kong University.”
“I know, he’s a joker in the pack but there’s a reason. Let’s go.”
A university wasn’t quite the place Bond expected Jack to lead him but he seemed convinced that the answer to all of their questions resided inside the faculty residency building.
“Cover me.” Jack kicked in the door identified as Dr. Bell's and barged inside, hoping that his gamble would pay off.
Immediately inside, a thin, freckled, redhead in black slacks and a green polo shirt that Jack considered most regrettable froze in mid-gawp at the doorway. Unfortunately, Jason Bourne stood beside him. However, seeing two men he was certain he’d left for dead slowed Bourne’s reactions for a vital few seconds.
Not having any time to waste, Jack made a decision and – before Bourne could regain his wits and intervene - and shot the redhead in the leg. He immediately collapsed to the floor, shouting in pain.
Jack dropped to the ground beside him, counting on Bond to keep Bourne off his back and, to his relief, Bond did so – although it didn’t sound pleasant, to judge by the noise. Jack heard a bookshelf crash to the floor and hoped that he wasn’t about to get brained by a thesis.
“Hey, Stuart, how’s it going?” Jack said easily, as if meeting a friend at the grocery store. “Let’s talk about your interest in Terran tissues, shall we? Or how about wormholes? Or oh yeah, that.” Jack yanked Bell’s hands away from his increasingly vain attempt to hide his wound.
Jack glanced over his shoulder to see Bourne cease wrestling with Bond – damn that would be fun to watch at any other time, Jack thought, irreverently – and stare at the green blood covering the Bell’s clothes and seeping into the carpet.
“Talk.” Bourne demanded, his voice flat, all fight apparently leaving him. Bond stood back from Bourne, watching him warily.
“Which one of us?” Jack asked.
“Any of you. Quickly.”
“Okay.” Jack adopted a guise of bonhomie like the second skin it was. “I’m Jack. We’ve met already, and it seems that you know James, too,” he added with a grin. “And Doctor Stuart Bell, here, is not recently of London, but of a small greenish planet about six hundred light years away. And he’s got an unhealthy interest in this place, don’t you?”
Jack holstered his gun. “He’s your client, right?” Jack hazarded at guess at Bourne. “That’s gotta be the only reason you’d be in the room with him and him still alive. But I bet you didn’t know about this, right?” Jack jabbed a finger in Stuart’s leg, whilst simultaneously shoving him back down to the ground. “There’s a few other things you don’t know about, either. Like why he really hired you.”
Bourne backed off minutely, suspicious but also confused. “I don’t care why he hired me.”
“Maybe at the time,” Bond cut in. “But now? Think beyond the money for once.”
Jack frowned as he saw a flash of anger cross Bourne’s face. Jack continued hastily, hoping to patch the moment up. “I can handle this.” He insisted, looking around the place. “Pass me that letter knife, would you?” he pointed at a nearby desk. “I’m probably the only person on this planet who knows where Stuart keeps his gonads.”
“What? What are you doing? You can’t!” Stuart had regained enough composure to protest.
Jack smiled regretfully – the regret entirely feigned. “Yes I can. You’re in a country renowned for a lack of human rights and you’re not even human.” Jack looked at Bourne. “Are you going to get me that letter opener or am I going to have to improvise?” Jack regarded the Belkon thoughtfully. “If I put a bit of pressure right there…” Jack pointed at a spot halfway down Stuart’s chest.
The letter opener thunked to the ground beside Jack. Bourne scowled fiercely at him. “You better be right about this.”
“I am.” Jack insisted, picking the object up. “Keenan hauled migrants. Silver had an interest in medical disposal, of all things. Poor old McNeal had partial ownership in some of the busiest crematoria in town. All members of the same clubs, all good buddies. Stuart, here, is a bit of the odd man out. An academic. Strange that you should move in the same circles as your three dead pals.”
“So?” Stuart snarled, trying to sound brave.
“So I was sure there had to be a connection, beyond that. I’m very intuitive.” Jack plunged the letter opener into Stuart’s torso, letting the blade penetrate almost two inches.
The alien convulsed and screeched like a band saw cutting metal. Jack resisted the urge to cover his ears – punctured eardrums would heal, after all - and literally twisted the knife. He watched Stuart thrash for several seconds, and then pulled the blade free.
“Yeah, like that.” Jack concluded in the same mild tone. He didn’t like torture but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be good at it. “Got anything to say or shall I do the other one?”
Stuart gasped for breath, twitching slightly.
“Come on, Stuart, I haven’t got all day.” Jack placed a thumb on a spot three inches to the left of the puncture wound in Stuart’s torso. “Right about there, isn’t it? Cover your ears, guys. This one’s even worse.”
“Don’t!” the alien pleaded.
“I don’t see why not.” Jack raised the knife, hesitating for one, deliberate, second.
“Meat.” Stuart gasped. “It’s the meat market.”
Jack looked disgusted. He had so hoped that he was wrong. “Again? When will you guys learn to quit trading in sentient species?”
“When the money’s gone.” Stuart snapped, a hint of bravado.
"And I'm guessing there was a lot of it in it for you? More so if you cut the other guys out?"
Stuart nodded. Jack sighed. Some motives were the same where-ever you went.
“Wait.” Bourne’s voice interrupted them. “Meat? Human meat?”
Jack glanced over his shoulder at the assassin. For probably only the second time in his life, Bourne was white with shock. “Yeah. Tall, violent and English over there can tell you more about it-”
Bond didn’t have much of a chance, as Bourne pulled a gun from somewhere – Jack winced in sympathy – and shot Bell twice in the head. The gun hit the floor a moment later and Bourne held up his hands against Bond’s reflexive lunge towards him.
Bond’s gazed darted from Bell, to Bourne, to Harkness. He didn’t like having to rely on someone else for cues but he was rapidly moving out of his depth.
Meanwhile, Jack looked at the mess on the floor and sighed, as if only tired rather than furious. “Thanks a heap, Jason. That was really helpful. You could have waited." The killing didn't perturb Jack all that much, but he needed more information.
“I know what he’s going to do.” Bourne announced. The other two men stared at him, surprised. “We have to get to the lab.”
Like the rest of the campus, the high-energy physics lab was deserted. All of the students and staff were elsewhere, celebrating the New Year. The doors were locked, of course, but that wasn’t an issue to people like Bond, Harkness and Bourne.
The cinderblock-lined room was crammed with banks of equipment, computers, oversized transformers and at least one linear accelerator. The air hummed with electricity and stank of ozone. The place might be unsupervised but something was in the works. Jack could tell that much just by the taste of the air and the activity of the half a dozen network servers arrayed against a nearby wall.
“He’s going to freeze them.” Bourne explained. “Although I don’t understand how.”
“The Long March experiment,” Jack filled in, remembering the file he’d found in Bell’s office. “Swapping out a chunk of deep space for the local atmosphere. Bell wrote it up like it was going to be a small scale thing but I doubt he meant it. Do it over the harbor and smother and flash-freeze all at once. Do a transmat keyed to bring in the high-protein blobs in a given area and you’re all set.”
“How do you know what he’s up to?” Bond demanded of Bourne, deciding it was best to ignore what blobs implied.
“I hacked the computer at his place.” The assassin replied, as if stating the obvious. Then he looked annoyed. “A shame I missed the alien part.”
“Yeah,” Bond’s voice dripped sarcasm. “That would have saved us a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Bourne said flatly. “His money was good.”
“When are you going to quit that, Jason?”
“When the money stops.” Another duh statement.
“Can it.” Jack snapped. “Save the tiffs for later.” Something was up with those two and, as deliciously salacious as it might be to contemplate, Jack didn’t have time for such thoughts right now. He surveyed the lab, trying to figure out what did what. Everything was unlabelled – or labeled in Chinese which, as far as Jack was concerned, amounted to the same thing.
“Now what?” Bond asked, feeling superfluous amongst the gadgetry.
“Don’t rush me!” Jack insisted. “I’m sure there’s a way to shut this down but it’s…” he looked exasperated. “Tricky.” He sighed and looked around the place again. “Damn. It’s at least five hundred years until you guys realize how superfluous most of this is.” He approached a likely seeming area – it seemed central to the facility – and started tracing wires. He didn’t want to spend ten minutes painstakingly defusing the coffeepot.
“How does all of this work?” Bond frowned.
“Would you accept that it’s really, really complicated and probably illegal on this planet?”
“Alright.” Bond wiggled the mouse of a nearby computer and stared at the monitor.
Jack winced. “Please don’t do whatever it is you’re doing. It probably won’t help.” Jack levered a panel up from a bank of controls and peered at some circuit boards. He was painfully aware there probably wasn’t much time but he couldn’t rush, either. What doesn’t belong here?
A few minutes later. “Found it.” Jack pointed to a mass of black plastic and silver-blue wires that had been soldered in between two apparently-normal circuit boards. “Tricky thing is going to be removing it without turning the city inside out,” he admitted as he levered up the rest of the control panel. “But at least we won’t know, right?”
“Great.” Bourne said, voice dry.
Bond watched Jack at work and decided he had a simpler solution. A floor-to-ceiling cage of electricity generating equipment stood to his left. The fact that most of the labels in the control box were in Chinese weren’t much of an issue to him. “There’s got to be…” he muttered.
Jack noticed Bond’s interest in the cage. “What are you –” The lights went out. “Shit!”
“Quiet!” That came from Bourne.
Jack listened and realized that not only had the lights gone out but everything had shut down. The computers, the linear accelerator – all of it shut down and sat quietly in the dim phosphorescence of emergency lighting strips.
Jack felt stupid. “James, tell me you didn’t just cut off the lab’s power.”
“Of course not.” The Brit replied mildly. “I should have shorted out most of the campus. We don't want any back-up generators cutting in, right?”
Bourne couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Always with the overkill.”
“Hush, you.” Bond replied with a half-smile.
Jack looked at them and settled on the most logical conclusion. “It beats having you two trying to kill each other.” He commented then added with a grin: “But I’d pay good money for a replay of the wrestling at Bell’s place.”
Bourne stared at Jack. “Is he always like this?” he asked Bond.
“I fear so.”
Bourne seemed to take this philosophically. “Is that it?” he asked, finally, gesturing at the lab around them.
“I think so.” Jack admitted as he ripped the alien equipment out of its cuckoo nest. “Sometimes the simple solutions are best.”
“That’s me – direct.”
Jack’s mouth acted ahead of his brain. “I should be so lucky.”
Bond looked at the other American. “See?”
“I think I do.”
“Hey!” Jack protested. “I’m a constant in a changing universe. Or something.”
“I’d vote for the something.” Bond said, thinking of the several unanswered – and perhaps unanswerable – questions he had about Captain Jack Harkness.
“Geeze. Tough crowd - where are you going?” This was addressed to Bourne, heading towards the lab’s exit.
He looked puzzled by the question. “Like you said, we’re done. I’m leaving.”
“Not alone, you aren’t.” Jack insisted. “I’ve got unfinished business with the pair of you. C’mon, James…”