"Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun."
- "A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning", by John Donne
"'E's not of us."
Ianto growled at the pounding in his skull. It grew louder, moving to just one ear, and the tiny part of him that wasn't presently in pain-edged tatters realized that the pounding was, in fact, not entirely in his head but the result of heavy boots landing on a hard surface. He tried to move, and winced at multiple spikes of electric-sharp pain.
It was ridiculously tempting to just sink back into oblivion, leave the world to be somebody else's problem for a little longer. Except, he had sense enough to remember that the last time he'd taken his time returning to consciousness, he had woken to Jack dead, Owen bleeding from a shot in the leg, and Tosh in vehicular pursuit of an alien that was, in turn, chasing after Gwen. Which, as much as he adored Tosh, was something he could not in good conscience unleash on Cardiff a second time.
He ignored a thousand microscopic twinges, and managed to open his eyelids part of the way. He blinked. "Jack?"
Ianto surged up to sitting, and promptly threw up. It was an inconvenience his body had experienced numerous times before, and thus a minor blip on his awareness. Most of his attention was on his surroundings.
The mess of wiring, the metal grates, humming machinery - familiar enough details that he hadn't notice the difference until he'd opened his eyes. (Until he'd seen Jack.) But, yeah, something was definitely wrong.
Because this? Was definitely not the Hub.
He was in some sort of service passageway. There was a man standing behind Jack, whom Ianto neither knew nor had ever seen before. The man stared at him with a wary expression. Ianto's eyes, trained from childhood, took in the stranger's dark red uniform - a stiff black collar, odd loose sleeves, black buttons down the front on the left side. There were a handful of pins decorating his upper right sleeve.
"Jack?" he said again, wiping his mouth and looking up. He saw a barely discernible shifting, masked by the cloak, and then Jack's eyes, half-shrouded by shadow, seemed determined to burrow holes through Ianto's skull; but the face was carefully blank. And different from the one Ianto was used to, one which usually preceded bad news or one of Jack's many secrets.
The stranger, on closer inspection, looked about Ianto's age, but carried himself with a stiffness and surety that recalled the clean-cut landscape of Torchwood One. He turned and said something to Jack.
At first, Ianto wondered if whatever had happened had knocked his hearing askew. But no- he was picking up sounds fine, if not a little too well. (A particularly loud metallic clunk echoing from the distance made him wince.) He suffered long moments of confusion, before more of the fogginess cleared and it dawned on him that the two men weren't speaking English. It simply sounded like English, almost London, in the cadence and consonants and clipped tones, but bore none of the familiar words.
The anxious knot in his gut intensified.
Jack barked a string of words, rather loudly, and Ianto was slow to realize that they were directed at him. "I'm afraid I don't speak your language," he said, not bothering to hide his utter bewilderment.
The unknown man stared at him, looking even more curious than before, but Jack's lips twisted. A furrow appeared on his brow, accompanied by a tightening of the jaw - indicating some great internal debate. After a long while, Jack said, in clear English, "Who are you?"
Ianto blinked. "Ianto Jones." A wave of weakness rolled over him, his body reminding him that he'd need to pay attention to it at some point soon, and he was glad to be sitting. He concentrated on the present, repeated to himself that answers would come later, and hyperventilating would not help anybody.
Jack's speech was slow and carefully pronounced. "You are an unregistered person aboard this vessel. Are you a stowaway?"
Jack nodded, looked like he hadn't expected any other answer. "Until further notice, you will be considered a potential threat. Come with me."
It was all the same - the face, the voice, the body - so Ianto was moving to obey before he really processed the words. Getting to his feet was tricky, and the two men (soldiers) made no move to help him. His vision swam, his thighs trembled under his own weight, his heart did a little stutter-stop that left him breathing hard. Clearly, his body did not like whatever it was that had brought him here. But he managed to get relatively vertical under his own power, and after a few minutes of rest and waiting for his blood to sort out where it was going, he nodded at Jack to lead the way.
The light in the first corridor was dim and tinged with red. This changed to blue, and then purple, growing brighter at crossroads. Ianto spotted people moving up and down other passageways, but none passed them. Twice the walls of metal and support beams stopped and gave Ianto a glimpse of other levels. At the end of the long walk, they stepped into what appeared to be a small cage with only two walls, and handles dangling from the ceiling. Ianto grabbed one of these, past caring that Jack and the unknown soldier appeared to disdain them. But instead of going up, the cage sped off sideways, tugged along unseen tracks on a twisting horizontal path. It went too fast, and the place was too dark, for Ianto to see anything clearly, but he thought he caught a crowd of people in a bright room, and large plane-like shapes looming within a dark space. Aside from the first jolt, the ride hardly had a bump, and after a few minutes slowed smoothly to a stop in front of a well-lit and guarded platform.
The cell he was taken to appeared like a long metal box, bare save for a cot in one end and a small slot in the wall. He gratefully sank down on the former, resting his head in his hands and breathing deep.
He'd asked just one question, between where he'd woken up and the cell: "Where am I?"
At first he'd thought Jack hadn't heard him, as his voice was weak and the clatter of moving mechanical parts dominated the background noise, above a hum of muffled speech.
Of course, Jack was just building up the suspense. "A mothership, the Calliope," he'd said, right before they entered a sterile hallway lined with unmarked doors. No guards, but Ianto had known he was being watched from the moment of first waking: a sign that the security was good enough to not need any.
- - -
Ianto stared for a long time at the far wall of his little cell. Around him the ship rumbled, distant engines roaring, and if he closed his eyes he thought he could make out further sounds, living sounds, from above and below.
(Outside the door was a deathly quiet. Definitely more Torchwood One than Three.)
He ought to be thinking about how he'd gotten there, how he'd gotten then, to piece together what had come before the dark. But the memories were too fresh, jumbled and white-hot raw. It was as if his brain knew better than to come near, skittering around any useful recollections.
It had been a Thursday, though he could not be sure even of that. Time flowed without seams where there was no sun, and they'd been working back-to-back shifts for weeks. But he'd been planning a food run, and they tended to run out of takeout on Thursdays.
Coffee. Ianto remembered making a fresh batch of coffee, and checking the fridge for anything salvageable hiding in the corners. He had admonished Gwen for slipping in an extra shift, ignored her pointed look at his by-then bedraggled trousers and mud-caked shoes, and shooed her out of the Hub.
Everything was a bit of a jumble after that.
Either doors in the future did not make noise when they slid open or Ianto's ears were still trying to catch up to the rest of him; one minute he was staring into space, the next, there were two dark blue columns filling up his field of vision. Ianto blinked until his eyes refocused enough to make out smooth fabric and thick boots. He looked up, and up.
Of course it would be Jack. "Where are you from?"
Ianto swallowed. "Cardiff, Wales. Earth." And then, because he'd made his own deductions, "Early twenty-first century."
Jack nodded, clearly not surprised, but a hard edge of suspicion remained in his voice. "And how did you come to be here?"
"I don't remember." Ianto shrugged.
It had been a while since Ianto actively feared Jack. Not that he'd forgotten what Jack was capable of - that knowledge was always at the back of his mind. Perhaps he'd finally learned to live with danger, perhaps he'd seen worse things than death by Jack. An echo of it brushed him now, though.
After a long time staring, Jack grudgingly said, "Our sensors detected a temporal disturbance around the time of your appearance, a local event, and you are giving off void-space energies that match the frequency of the L2T-wave inversions. A specialist has confirmed that the event was natural."
The Rift, Ianto's brain supplied helpfully. Different terms, and likely involving science beyond his relatively scant knowledge of physics, but it could only be the Rift.
He'd visited Flat Holm just the previous week, when Jack had needed a precautionary extra hand for a new patient. It had been a matter of time, really, if one looked at the probabilities. Considering they worked practically on top of the Rift, it should be more surprising that this didn't happened more often.
He eyed Jack. How long since Cardiff, since Lisa, since Jack had surfaced from his office and discovered one of his own missing? (How long until he stopped searching for a way to get Ianto back? How long had it taken to completely forget?)
Jack stared at him further, blatantly distrustful. Ianto was good at knowing when he was in somebody else's power, when the best thing to do was to wait quietly. After a while, Jack said gruffly, "You're not a prisoner, but if you came from that far in the past, then you're a danger to yourself on board this ship. Will you assent to remaining in this cell until other arrangements can be made?"
It took a great strength of will to resist a sarcastic comment and a raised eyebrow, and nod silently instead.
"Very well. If you are in need of anything-"
"Information," Ianto blurted. He blinked at his own unplanned words, cleared his throat. "I'd like to find out where I am, when I am. Please." And then he could start searching for a way to get home.
Just then a large boom of sound, followed by a violent rocking, left Ianto pressed up against the wall and glad he wasn't standing. Jack didn't appear fazed by it, only shifted his stance a little while his coat swayed around him; he was looking at Ianto with something like dark amusement.
"That is all you want to know? No surprise? No outbursts of disbelief?” Jack cocked his head. But before Ianto could come up with an answer, Jack seemed to shrug it off. “You'll wish you hadn't asked."
Ianto gazed back at him evenly. "Unless you know of a way to send me back, I think I should know what I'm going to have to deal with."
There'd been a small but reasonable hope that Jack would tell him he'd be sent home soon, thus him knowing the future would be inadvisable. But Jack only nodded. "Very well, I will show you."
- - -
A war. The Rift had dropped him right in the middle of a bloody war.
Ianto stood and stared as images, videos, words materialized on the screen at every tap of Jack's fingers, new windows jostling each other for space.
(He was in shock, hadn't had time to come out of the initial jolt, his system all in chaos; it hardly seemed possible to contemplate the last hour, much less fit in centuries of human history. )
The part of him that was pure Torchwood, honed to operate regardless of external conditions, absorbed what he could. New file: Time-travel, Rift abduction. There’d been a section for these situations in the Torchwood Policies & Procedures. Gather information.
Footage featuring humans firing at a group that was decidedly not human. Another window covered the alien foe in greater detail - humanoid, intelligent, intricate cultural history, some psychic ability. There was a map that covered dozens of star systems, with a red dot near the center labeled 'Earth'. Photographs, news reports, samples of popular art and music.
Date: 8 Nove 3068 AD
Location: geosynchronous orbit above R-133-FT
Ianto tore his eyes away from the dizzying swirl of data to look at the man standing next to him. The eyes he met were darkly amused, a trace malicious, though Ianto sensed that it was not directed at him personally. Still, this was a stranger.
There was no question it was Jack. The universe could not be so cruel as to produce two men with that face and that force of personality, and to inflict them both on Ianto Jones in the same lifetime. Equally, this was not Ianto's Jack, not the Jack he'd spoken to but mere hours before. Normally, Ianto would take this and infer, from the little he knew of Jack's history, that this man had not yet met the Doctor, was not yet Jack.
Except, there had been recognition. Captain Jack Harkness had begun life on Earth - the name would hold no meaning to somebody who was yet to pass that way, but Ianto remembered his expression, when Ianto had called him Jack. And yet - Ianto stared a little harder, just to be sure, he could hardly be faulted for it when the other was scrutinizing him just as keenly - this Jack looked older. Cold. Not in any obvious way (and what were years, to someone like Jack?) but there was a weight that Ianto could feel, like the distance of years. It had been dark in the service hallway, in the cells, but under the glaring light of the little room with its sole tabletop computer, Ianto could make out the faint lines on his face, the teasing suggestions of light color in his hair, and he realized he could not remember for certain where this Jack was different from his.
There was another thing that bothered Ianto, like a half-forgotten memory on the tip of his tongue, until in watching Jack's hands work the computer he realized what it was: Jack wasn't wearing his wrist strap.
Still, it was a reasonable assumption that this Jack must be after Ianto's term, even assuming he'd kept to linear time. Over a thousand years, if it was the same calendar. More than enough time for mankind to take the bloody rituals of civilization to space.
Ianto knew, had known from the start, that among the endless spill of sand in Jack's altered hourglass, Ianto Jones would barely make a few grains. At best, they would be a little shinier than the average by virtue of looking nice in a suit and making good coffee.
But still, it hurt, to stand before Jack and see not one trace of recognition. He'd never thought it'd matter, since he wouldn't be around to see it, but... clearly some part of him had been young enough to hope.
He also felt, conflictingly, a warring sense of relief that Jack could forget, that maybe he was not doomed to the role of sole witness to man's unfailing mortality.
Ianto was given a while to take in the information. And then he was escorted back to his cell, where a waiting soldier passed on the message that the various authorities on board the ship had been alerted to his presence and would be holding a meeting to discuss it.
Jack nodded. "Are you in need of anything?" he asked Ianto.
"No, thank you." Ianto settled back down on the pallet.
Jack turned to leave, then hesitated. He said, over his shoulder, "The meeting will be in a few hours' time, it takes a while for all the chiefs to agree on anything. They'll have questions for you. I'll escort you to it, when the time comes."
Jack left. Ianto rubbed a hand over his arms, frowned at the clamminess of his skin. He leaned back against the wall, stretching his legs out in front of him. Breathed out, and waited.
- - -
Ianto stared at his hands and tried not to fidget. The chair was uncomfortable, the utilitarian stiffness of all things military-issue, but he was careful to keep his back straight and his expression attentive, though the group of war-scarred veterans arguing with each other only feet away barely looked at him. A handful of suspicious glares and accusatory fingers had come his way, in the beginning; he'd decided from the start that not reacting was probably the best course of action. But he was painfully aware that his fate was hanging in the balance.
And Jack wasn't saying anything.
It was difficult to not look at him, Ianto's only point of familiarity in the whole damn place. But he'd gathered enough from the three whose native language sounded like some derivative of 21st century English to guess that they suspected him of being a spy. Which made sense, seeing that it was a war zone and everything. In any case, fixating on Jack might cast suspicions his way, and wouldn't help Ianto's case.
He focused, instead, on translating the sounds he heard into words he recognized. "Our specialists have confirmed... naturally-occurring temporal event... his first appearance. No weapons or teleportation device can recreate that specific pattern."
"He can... Unless... go through all the necessary channels... out of a star system... lockdown?"
A bland-faced man who'd been mostly silent said something that made all the voices pause. Though he could not understand the words, the cold and casual finality with which they'd been delivered drove a spike of fear through Ianto's iron composure. Fear and distrust were expected- but this man's eyes spoke... indifference. He'd only looked at Ianto the one time, right after entering the room, and since then he'd been observing the proceedings with the air of somebody merely indulging the whims of others, but had real work to do elsewhere.
Objections were raised, though the delay and lack of conviction did not reassure Ianto any. Calm. It was difficult to remember that he shouldn't interfere, when it was his bloody life they were bandying about.
He resolutely did not look at Jack. The continuing silence from that pocket of the room was indication enough.
Finally the noise died down some, the notes of discord rearranging themselves into discussion. A decision had been made, then; now Ianto was being made to wait until one of them could get around to telling him what it was. To his surprise, one of the more vocal debaters, a woman of moderate age and stern expression, stepped away from the main circle and directed several questions to Jack. Jack's answers were short and concise, and at the end he made a gesture that Ianto easily read as I don't really care, do what you like.
Okay. Even breaths. It wouldn't do anybody any good for him to lose control, or appear like he was going into some sort of seizure. He hadn't expected much, had thought himself resigned to no help from that quarter, but... surely there was something? Some speck of memory, a tickle of familiarity? It always angered Jack when he couldn't remember a name the name of someone he'd been close to, as if it was a personal failure.
A warm weight on his shoulder startled him, and he reflexively jerked away. The man standing over him was one of the older specimens, clearly a veteran, but there was something comforting about him, a patient and kindly air. Someone's favorite grandfather, Ianto thought dazedly.
The man said something to him, but the jumble of consonants and vowels fitted nowhere in Ianto's moderately extensive linguistic knowledge. Guessing that Ianto couldn't understand him, the man reached down and, with surprising strength and gentleness, pried the fingers of Ianto's right hand off his left hand. Ianto blinked at the cuts left behind by his nails, shocked more by the sudden bright red than the sting he couldn't yet feel.
Nobody was looking their way. Small mercies. He looked up, tried to convey his thanks with a small smile and a nod. The old man nodded in reply, patting Ianto on the shoulder before shuffling back to where he'd been standing against the wall.
By the time the talking had died down and most of the group began to file out with the relieved air of having gotten through a tedious piece of business, Ianto had smoothed his clothing down as best as he could and locked his expression to something neutral. A tall man wearing a red and white insignia, radiating an air of being The Man In Charge, strode up to where Ianto was sitting.
Ianto instinctively stood, wondering briefly if he should salute. But he was making no pretenses about being a soldier, and in any case one mustn't make free with cultural forms unless certain of their contemporary meaning.
Man In Charge paused to give him a searching look, the expression on his face superciliously critical, and then delivered an announcement that had all the tolling and doom of a final verdict. Upon finishing, he looked at Ianto expectantly.
Ianto did his best to look impressed, or terrified, or overwhelmed, and rather suspected that the end result communicated a need for the toilet. But, well, it was difficult to react when he could not understand a word.
The figure that Ianto was very determinedly not paying any attention to appeared at Man In Charge's side. "They've decided that you're to go with me, due to many complicated political and bureaucratic reasons, but mostly because I'm the only who speaks your language. So if you've got any bombs or viral nanocomputers, pack them up because we leave within the hour."
Oh. It hadn't even occurred to him that Jack wouldn't be staying on the ship. And while it was disheartening and terrifying to see that familiar face regard him like a stranger, like a potential enemy, being trapped on the ship while Jack went away, perhaps never to return, losing even that meager link to Earth and Torchwood...
Thank you. Whoever’s listening out there.
From the vaguely malicious look on some of the other soldiers' faces, to the restrained irritation on Jack's, Ianto was pretty sure that being assigned to Jack was not a kindness for either of them, nor the safer option. It was Jack, after all.
Somewhat comforted by this small sign of consistency, Ianto released the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "Yes, sir."
- - -
Once the decision was made, Ianto found himself bundled off into the cage he'd ridden in earlier and dropped off at what looked like a small hanger. Jack was standing next to a ship, directing the loading of boxes and tall canisters into the back. The ship had the look of a transport rather than a war-vessel; the main body was smooth, vaguely egg-shaped, and the stubby wings served mainly to hold up the two pairs of engines. He nodded at Ianto impatiently, gesturing for him to get inside.
Less than two hours after the meeting, Ianto was strapped into the seat next to the pilot's, watching Jack ease them out of the hangar. Jack had confirmed it was a shuttle, used only for short-distance transport, and he’d been on the mothership but briefly in order to pick up some supplies and report to the high command.
What are the odds? Jack's presence, on the same ship as the one the Rift had spat Ianto out in. Being found by somebody who'd gone to Jack first, instead of some trigger-happy soldier who'd shoot a stowaway first rather than risk a spy.
He should be worried, suspicious. There are no coincidences at Torchwood. But adrenaline had left him empty, sore, and too worn to do more than move where directed and respond with some measure of lucidity.
Black space filled the screen in front of them. Stars. Ianto was familiar enough with alien ship technology to know that the internal environment was likely sealed from the moment the door closed, but he couldn't help feeling a drop in temperature once the shuttle left the larger military vessel completely.
I'm in space. In a space ship.
"Let me make some things clear to you," Jack interrupted his reverie without taking his eyes off the shuttle's controls.
"You're not a soldier. You're not a civilian, though we're treating you like one because we don't have a protocol for something like this. You're a refugee, a time refugee, and you've had the bad luck of being dropped right in the middle of a military lockdown zone." One of the sensors began to flash, and Jack's hands flew over the controls. Ianto only noticed the faint shuddering of the ship when it stopped, and within seconds Jack brought all the readings back to white. "Lockdown means nobody gets in or out without a lot of paperwork, and since there's no place we can even send you to, it's been decided that you're not worth the bother."
If Jack was trying to rile him up, he'd need something a lot stronger. Maybe there were advantages to dealing with a stranger.
Still, the words hit something. Ianto kept his eyes focused on a point in the air straight in front of him.
"So now I'm stuck with you. Don't remember the name you gave the chiefs, don't want it - the men will name you themselves soon enough, and that'll be the only name that counts. Since you're not a soldier, I can't give you orders. But you'll do what I say, and if you and your actions endanger my men or my base, I will shoot you without a thought. Got that?"
"Understood," answered Ianto.
"Do you know how to handle a weapon?"
"Only projectile guns." He remembered the war footage. "Early 21st century." Which wasn't strictly true, but he thought it better to make himself appear harmless.
Jack made a face. "That won't help you with our technology. And you'd be useless with our computers."
Probably true, but Ianto was getting tired of the constant reminder that he was unwanted baggage. It didn't help that he still saw the man next to him as the one who'd broken his kettle just a week ago and tried to blame it on thermodynamics.
No, Ianto corrected in his head. Not a week ago. A thousand years ago.
"I'm good at cleaning things up," he said. "And I'm told I make excellent coffee."
He stole a glance to see if the statement rang any bells with Jack, but Jack only smirked. "Cleaning up, huh? You have the stomach to get blood off uniforms? Bone fragments out of guns?"
"Actually, yes." Though he hoped that technology had progressed enough that he would have some help doing so; getting viscera out of fabric was a pain.
Jack shrugged, face doubtful. "All righty, then. The boys will appreciate having a janitor around the base."
The ship jerked, a shower of small debris bouncing off the invisible external shields. Within seconds a large dark planet filled up the screen, a flash of light around the edges indicating that its sun was on the other side. Without light, it was hard to make out any details. They entered the atmosphere inordinately quickly, and apparently right in the middle of a storm.
Thick clouds obscured visibility to nearly nothing, but Jack did not seem concerned. As they got lower, there were occasional flashes of light, and thunder that was less sound and more shockwave. Clouds gave way to high winds and thick dust. Eventually, Ianto thought he could make out a vaguely rectangular shape ahead of them, a slightly darker shadow in a lightless gloom.
"Oh, one more thing," Jack added. "I don't know where you heard that name, the one you've been calling me, but do not ever use it here. Call me Captain, nothing else."
Ianto blinked, but Jack's tone discouraged even the thought of further questions. "Understood."
- - -
They arrived in what seemed to be the dead of night. If the thickness of the roiling clouds they'd passed through was any indication, Ianto doubted the storm ever truly abated. Like a Jupiter, then, with a constant planetary storm.
Despite the strength of the winds, Jack smoothly maneuvered the shuttle into a barely-visible opening in a barely-visible structure and landed it without so much as a bump. By then, the detachment that Ianto had been feeling had engulfed his whole being. It was a little like being wrapped in cotton and floating in solution, and he puzzled over it for a moment before realizing, oh, I'm still in shock. He numbly followed Jack off the small ship, ignoring the looks from the tired-looking men that efficiently swarmed over the landing platform.
Jack walked straight across the wide and empty hanger, towards large double-doors that led into a main building. Ianto's mind drifted during the walk, and Jack didn't acknowledge his presence, so he felt quite like a ghost. Captain Jack's shadow.
Just like back home, then.
At first, the hallways were wide and tall, presumably to accommodate a large number of people heading for the hanger all at once. But they got progressively narrower as the two of them went further into the building, until there was barely room for two to stand abreast comfortably. They came to an area that Ianto, from the tiles and the smell, assumed were the bathing facilities. Lockers with solid metal doors had been built right into three walls.
Ianto couldn't help but notice that over half of them were open and unused. A few bore scorch marks or dents.
Jack pressed his palm against a black panel on the door of one locker, then looked at Ianto in expectation. When Ianto only stared uncomprehendingly, Jack rolled his eyes, grabbed Ianto's hand, and pressed it against the panel, where the outline of Jack's hand could still be seen.
For some reason, the unexpected contact incited a twitch in Ianto's gut, followed by a flush of warmth when he realized that he was reacting to Jack holding his wrist. Jack's bare fingers were warm and dry.
The panel opened. "This one's yours," said Jack. He left Ianto's side, and rummaged through a bin on the other side of the room.
Ianto was given a blanket, a towel, a pair of light shoes, and a set of clothes. The last was pressed into his hands pointedly. Numb and tired as he was, Ianto didn't even hesitate in stripping off his now-crinkled suit and pulling on the new garments. A shirt, a kind of tunic that appeared to go on top, and trousers. The cloth was a pale, sterile blue, a little rough but heavier and warmer than it looked. It was loose in the way of one-size-fits-all, but Jack wordlessly showed him the ties down the sides and how to knot one to tighten the shirt. The tunic fit better, as good as a jacket, and also could be clipped to his trousers. After a bit of hesitation, during which he was aware of Jack's eyes, he neatly folded his old clothes and placed them in the locker.
Another walk, and they entered a section where all the lights in the hallway were dim. "The barracks," said Jack. He consulted a screen on the wall.
Ianto's bunk, in the far corner of a long room full of snoring blankets, looked even more uncomfortable than the pterodactyl's nest. Here, at least, technology didn't appear to have progressed much; Ianto could believe he'd wandered into any military base back home.
He was asleep the moment his head touched the cold padding.
- - -
When the first siren rang, Ianto had been awake for five minutes and had spent three of those trying to not panic while he pieced together the rather hazy events of the previous day.
His bunk was at the very back of the room, in a corner, on the bottom, and on waking he was relieved to find the long row of beds nearly empty. He couldn't even remember if the bed above his had been occupied when he'd crawled in.
There was a sound like soft thunder, growing louder, which Ianto eventually identified as a mass of boots heading down a nearby corridor. A bar above the door was flashing yellow.
Completely at a loss, Ianto debated between remaining where he was or going to see what was going on. He was in a military base, so sirens and flashing lights probably meant an attack. Or it could be a drill. He had no idea what he was supposed to do, if he stopped a soldier to ask questions he'd probably get cussed out for being a nuisance, and simply wandering around outside was likely to make him suspect of sabotage, if not mistaken for an intruder and shot outright.
An explosion had all the lights and bed frames vibrating. Ianto stared at the wall, took in the neatly made beds around him, and got up. His muscles ached, not like after exercise but in a bone-deep sort of way, as if some of their substance had been squeezed out. He wondered if it was an after-effect of traveling via Rift, or a reaction to the sudden change in environment that'd just crept up on him.
He made his bed, straightened his unfamiliar clothes. The explosions outside grew more frequent, and it was strange, to be folding his blanket with precision neatness in a silent, abandoned room while some kind of battle was taking place on the other side of the walls. It occurred to him that he should be concerned - what if the attackers got in? was he expected to fight? - but mostly he worried about smoothing his pillow and placing his blanket just so on top of the sheets.
There was a stain on the mostly-white sheet, barely noticeable after numerous washings and bleaching - or the future equivalent of bleach - but it was there all the same. A slightly yellowish bloom near the center bottom of the sheet. The sheet must have had a different placement when it got the stain, but suddenly Ianto could see a young man, not too different from him, lying pale and senseless on the bed, his life slowly leaving him and soaking into the cloth underneath. He straightened up quickly, and slipped on the shoes he'd tucked under the bunk.
Nobody was in the hallway outside, so Ianto cautiously padded down the direction he remembered coming from the night before. His loose clothing and light shoes were definitely not suited to, say, a murderous alien coming at him with a weapon, and he kept an ear out for approaching weapons-fire.
Aside from three masked figures who paid him no mind and jogged down an adjacent hallway, he saw no one until he turned a corner and bumped into the person he was looking for.
"Jack," said Ianto, not bothering to hide his relief. The look on Jack's face made him amend it quickly to, "Captain, I mean. Sorry."
"Newbie." The explosions seemed louder, out in the hallway. Or they were getting closer. Out of the barracks, the lights were a normal brightness, and Ianto could see other people moving quickly in various directions. No outward panic or distress, at least. "Nice of you to be up. Have you eaten?"
Ianto shook his head. Jack gestured for Ianto to follow him. "I'll show you the mess hall, this bombardment should last for another ten minutes, and then it'll take twenty minutes to clear out all the suckers who tried to sneak in. You'll only be observing today, I have to tell the men about you first."
They stopped in a wide room filled with long tables. In the far end, a row of slots lined the wall. "Those are the food stations," explained Jack. "Stick your tray in to get the food, if you visit all five you get a well-balanced meal optimized for a hard day's work." The last was said in all apparent seriousness, but out of the corner of one eye Ianto thought he detected a quirk around the lips. "Dump everything over there when you're done, drinks are from that slot. Any questions?"
Jack held out what looked like the earpieces he'd seen the soldiers wearing. It consisted mostly of a flesh-colored wire that would bend behind the shell of his ear, and a discreet little nub that went right into the entrance.
"Comm piece, equipped with a universal translator," explained Jack in an impatient tone, shaking the device at him until Ianto took it. "Had our resident tech expert knock one together for you. They're not standard regulation for this base, so don't forget to take it off if we ever get visitors."
Ianto nodded, tried to fix it to his left ear after a glance at the one Jack was wearing. "Thank you".
"Most of the officers have been made aware that you're a civilian. Don't interfere with the soldiers, and they'll leave you alone."
"Yes, sir," said Ianto.
The next large blast actually shook the whole building, causing a few of the ceiling lights to flicker. Jack looked as if he did not notice, glancing up at the lights like he was wondering why a couple of them were dimming. It was a ploy that Ianto was familiar with, a game Jack liked to play, and without really thinking he forced his body to relax and exude a calm, unconcerned expression.
"Expect attacks like this to happen every few days," Jack continued. "More often, the storm is throwing debris at us. Occasionally, a ship veers off Mariner's Wake, gets lost trying to dodge the asteroid belt, and gets shot down by enemy patrols. You don't see survivors from those, but we still have to look, and scavenge what we can since we don't exactly get regular deliveries of spare parts."
There was a lot of information, and it was a little mean, even for Jack, to drop an impromptu briefing on him while Ianto was getting breakfast. Ianto suspected that Jack was waiting for him to ask for time to digest it all; a thin line on his brow grew deeper the longer Ianto simply nodded along. But not for nothing did Ianto have near-perfect recall. The enemy are called the Kriida, humanoid in physical appearance but with no known genetic ties to humans. Technologically advanced, renowned for skills in terra-forming. Don't leave the base if any of the colored lights are flashing. Don't store valuables in your mattress. The storm covers the whole planet, but it's the dust and sand that cause damage. He would jot down notes later, after mentally replaying the conversation.
Jack wandered off while Ianto ate. There were a handful of other people in the mess hall. He ignored their eyes, and none approached him. Discreet observations revealed that all of them sported some injury or other. It made sense - with the ongoing attack, the only people still at liberty would be the ones unable to man the defenses.
Food consisted of some kind of stew, a roll of bread with butter, what looked like a hard round biscuit, and a long, plump green-purple... something. Likely fruit, from its sweet smell. He couldn’t read any of the buttons on the beverage station and so took a tourist's initiative and pressed the first one. To his relief, it turned out to be sweet tea.
Ianto had wondered if he'd even be able to eat, but after the first cautious mouthful of stew, his body seemed to remember that it needed fuel to function, and the contents of Ianto's tray disappeared quickly. He didn't spend much time pondering the taste, but the biscuit was surprisingly salty. He puzzled at it for a several minutes, the only pause in his eating, until he identified the salty, smoky taste as bacon. Which... all right, meat did have a tendency to go bad easily, and soldiers needed it. The unidentifiable fruit was fresh and sweet, at least.
Jack reappeared as Ianto was putting his tray into the basin provided. Ianto wordlessly followed him out of the hall. They went down several corridors, through an area Ianto did not remember from the haziness of the previous night. More soldiers, now; it felt as if the attack was almost over, with only a few isolated explosions in the distance.
The lights were brighter, the corridors wider. Ianto caught glimpses of rooms with rows of monitors, equipment, locked rooms with guards in front. They stopped in front of one of the latter. Jack nodded at the guard, before unlocking the door. Security code, hand print, retinal scan. (No such thing as useless knowledge.)
The Captain's office was larger than Ianto had expected. He'd been thinking about Jack's office, and the cramped little room down below.
There was the prerequisite main desk, gleaming a forbidding dark grey and made of some material that was not quite metal, but definitely not wood. Behind it was a large screen, depicting the scenery on the other side of the wall in real time.
There were no windows in the base.
It was possibly Ianto's imagination, but the storm outside looked even fiercer than what he'd seen of it on the way in. The frequent flashes of lightning only gave depth to the distant churning clouds, but they also added color to an otherwise monochrome chaos - streaks of red, blue, copper-green.
The Captain walked around the giant monstrosity that was his desk and sat down. He stared at Ianto, expression blank. Ianto supposed that this tactic worked for most of the men, but despite all evidence to the contrary a good part of him still saw Jack sitting there, and out-staring Jack was a skill he'd learned long ago.
Finally Jack reached under the desk and pulled out a smooth black folder. "These are your official documents. I've included a list of your duties, with some directions left by the quartermaster. The military doesn't have a protocol for time refugees, but they are good at doctoring new identities. Here, at least, nobody will question your background. If you feel like getting creative, my advice would be: keep the lies simple, but soldiers always like a bit of adventure."
- - -
In the beginning, the men regarded him like something between a curiosity and an unwanted pest. He had to wear the standard uniform, there being no other choices on base, but he still stood out with his clean appearance and lack of visible scarring. Well, Jack didn't have a mark on him either, but there was no mistaking him for anything other than a soldier.
Ianto knew better than to try and insinuate himself into the numerous established groupings among the men. He ate by himself and used the facilities when there was the minimal number of people in there. Strangely enough, this seemed to warm the men towards him a little, and after a few days the hard-edged wariness in every gaze gave way to a general sort of curiosity.
It took about three days - that is, three cycles of sleep-wake-work-eat-sleep, it was difficult to tell actual days - for first contact. Ianto was in the mess hall, methodically emptying his lunch plate, when a woman with braids of cherry blond hair slid onto the bench next to him.
"The Captain says you're our new janitor," she began without preamble, and the translator had repeated the same words at a slight delay before Ianto realized that she was speaking English. Her words were heavily accented, the treatment of consonants and certain vowels making Ianto think of New York.
He considered a number of possible responses, and settled for a neutral, "That is the job I've been given."
"You're not a soldier," she pointed out, blatantly taking the opportunity to examine him critically. "But you're not afraid of guns, like other people from the cities. Were you drafted?" Her gaze lingered on his hands.
"Into the military? No."
Her eyes narrowed. They were a deep hazel, a shade Ianto had never seen occurring naturally before. "Are you a volunteer, then?"
Ianto wondered at the hint of distaste in her voice, shook his head while sipping some water. "No. More like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
She seemed to accept the answer, smiling at him. "Guess that counts for a lot of the folks here."
He shrugged, and cast about for further things to say. "Why don't you like volunteers?"
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "I’m an old-timer, me. We've seen kids come in here because they want to tell people that they've served in the Lantern. They don't care about what we go through, and they never step out of the base. A week later, if even that long, they're begging to go home. One good thing about the lockdown - no more pampered idiots with daddies who have connections."
Ianto nodded, filing away the information. "What's your name?"
She grinned at him. "Varys. No one's decided what your name should be, but then you haven't done much yet."
This was one part of Jack's quick and informal briefing that Ianto was still unclear on. "Can I ask how you got yours?"
He'd worried that the names were a personal thing, but Varys appeared quite happy to talk about it. "First attack after I got here, the Kriida got through the outermost defenses, and I was in the line holding the perimeter. It took hours to drive them off, long enough for my blaster to lose its charge. But I have this antique gun, inheritance from my grandfather, and I took it out and started shooting. The other guys in the line had never seen a gun used before, and they named me Varys, which in Common is the word for a full set at bowl-ball, because I took down an entire row of the Kriida," she mimed shooting a row, "pop pop pop, one after the other."
"Impressive," said Ianto, with genuine sentiment.
"Thanks." She beamed at him. "You came in with the Captain. How did the things at the mothership go?"
It had the feel of a loaded question, so Ianto was glad to be able to honestly say, "I wouldn't really know, they didn't tell me much." He wondered, belatedly, what the Jack had told them about Ianto's unexpected arrival. Not much, and apparently not the truth, if the men were assuming that he was there in some official capacity. "And J- the Captain is... difficult to read."
She grinned, and clapped him on the shoulder. "You're not bad. Sit here again after supper, I'll introduce you to some of my mates."
He nodded, resisting the urge to point out that he didn't really have any other place to go, and watched her stride back to her table. Heads bent close while she gave her report; Ianto returned his attention to his food, and tried not to feel like all his future comfort and social interactions were hanging in the balance.
It became clear, when supper came, that he met approval. The table he'd been sitting at earlier already had a couple of people from Varys' group on it when he arrived with his tray, and they jovially waved him over to sit with them. Varys herself turned up a few minutes later, and made a lightning-fast round of introductions.
He only caught a few names. Wire, Aberdeen, Yeeka, Toss, Rum-Tum. He thought he could see a trend, however: not birth names, not the way they were said and answered to. At the same time, the names fitted, like a well-worn glove or a beloved knife.
They didn't ask him his name, though one or two called him 'Newbie'. It occurred to him that perhaps by the act of speaking it they'd already named him, irrevocably relegating him to being an outsider. But by a creative use of pronouns the name was only needed twice, and in one of those a passing soldier looked around quickly before registering the new face at their table. He laughed, greeted those he knew in the group, and advised Ianto, "Don't get too used to it. We were all Newbie for a while ourselves, and I still turn around whenever I hear somebody say it. You'll get your name soon enough."