“I’m Jack Harkness,” the man said. “And you’ve got ten seconds to explain why I shouldn’t turn on the machine.”
Maria wasted the ten seconds thinking about that. Luckily he wasn’t using a stopwatch.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “but you told me I had to stop you.”
“I told you?” he looked at her and then grinned. “The people I work with think I’m an outrageous liar. Why should you believe me?”
“Because you sent us here. You and HER.” She pointed to Liz. “And I don’t think either of you did it as a practical joke. Don’t touch that button. Listen to me… listen… no… listen to yourself. And tell your guards to let Sarah Jane and my friends in here.”
Jack nodded to the guard that still hovered behind Maria. He went to do as he was told. Maria took the metal envelope with the Torchwood logo from the satchel and gave it to him. He looked at it for a long moment as if he didn’t know how to operate it.
“Just open it out,” she said. “There’s a message…”
He opened it and was as surprised as everyone else when the hologram of himself appeared. He listened to the first message warning them that something bad would happen at six minutes past two and then checked his watch. It was almost fourteen minutes past. Armageddon was cancelled, or at least delayed.
Then the hologram shimmered and a new message began.
“The machine has a damaged component. Turn it on and it will open up a hole in the universe. Cambridge will be sucked into it, followed by the rest of this planet, the solar system… you get the picture. Don’t touch that button. There is a replacement part in the satchel the girl has with her. Don’t bother your head about the paradox. It’s no worse than the one when you were in 1941 twice at the same time. But the accident never happened because Liz and I sent those three kids back in time using a future version of the machine.”
Jack Harkness said nothing. He reached out and took the satchel from Maria. He set aside the plastic box with the sandwich wrappers and apple cores inside and pulled out the object like a laptop computer. He turned it over twice and looked at it before he gave it to Liz Shaw.
“It’s the dimensional stabiliser,” she gasped. “Without that…”
The universe will be sucked into oblivion,” Maria said. “Maybe it would be better if you don’t play with such dangerous toys in the first place. Grown ups! It’s bad enough you’re all trying to blow each other up with nuclear bombs without this sort of mad stuff as well.”
“The kid has a point,” Jack Harkness said with a laugh.
“I’m not a kid. I'm Maria Jackson,” she said. “And you’d better not forget that name I’m a friend of Sarah Jane Smith and I’ve met The Doctor. He gave me a sonic screwdriver for my birthday.”
“Did he really?” Jack looked impressed. “That’s more than he ever gave me. Though he did save my life a couple of times, so I can’t complain.”
They both watched as Liz went to the machine and swapped the broken part for the new one. She looked at the broken component and her face grew concerned.
“That’s funny….” She began.
At that moment, the hologram shimmered again and began to give out a new message.
“By the way, it wasn’t an accident. You’ve got a saboteur. He’s sitting at the computer terminal two rows back on the right.”
Jack, Liz and Maria all turned to see the man the hologram Jack identified just as he jumped up from his seat and dashed towards the door. Jack pushed Maria and Liz to the ground and drew a gun from his back pocket. He aimed it, but he didn’t need to use it. The saboteur was already sprawling on the floor after Sarah Jane put out her foot and tripped him up. Clyde and Luke applauded her enthusiastically as the guards pulled him up and put him in handcuffs.
“Way to go, Sarah Jane!”
“WHY would anyone want to pull the universe into a hole in reality?” Luke asked later when they were all sitting in Liz Shaw’s office with tea and biscuits. “That makes no sense. Everyone would die.”
“He didn’t know it would do that,” Liz answered. “He thought is would just not work. It was just ordinary espionage. He was in the pay of the USSR. They wanted the secret of time travel before the West. That’s all there was to it.”
“Well, if he’s been working here for a while, they may already have the plans, anyway,” Clyde pointed out.
“We think they might,” Captain Jack said. “There are people doing secret things to try to persuade them not to use it. For their own safety. Even with the dimension stabilizer it still doesn’t work properly. It’s ok as a transmat… transporting things from place to place. According to me on the hologram message that’s what it’s being developed as in 2008. The time travel is a side effect. But if any adult should try to use it they’d die, horribly.”
“Huh?” The three youngsters looked at him curiously.
“That’s why it had to be you three,” Liz explained. “There’s something about the way the temporal flux works. Something about blood cells, and how adults who have finished growing are affected. I have to admit I don’t understand it fully myself. I’m going to have to do a lot of research.”
“As long as you don’t do it using chimps,” Maria said. “Or I’ll be having words when we get back to 2008.”
Liz again found her profession being questioned by a teenage girl. But she promised she was anti-vivisection and would endeavour to run a cruelty free lab.
“Chances are we won’t complete the project anyway,” she admitted. “If we can’t make it work, we’ll lose the funding.” She sighed. “I’m not sure it isn’t for the best. Time travel… we really ought to leave that to the expert.”
“But the machine is safe for us to go back to 2008?” Clyde asked. “Now it has the new part.”
“Yes, it is, any time you’re ready,” Liz assured them.
“Any time couldn’t be soon enough for me,” Maria said.
“I just want to talk to Sarah Jane a bit more,” Luke said. He turned to her and was surprised to see that she was asleep in the armchair, an empty tea cup on the table by her side. Everyone remembered that she had not really said anything for a while.
“Sarah Jane!” Luke exclaimed and rushed to her side. “What’s wrong with her? Why won’t she wake up?”
“Amnesia pill in her tea,” Jack said. “Perfectly harmless. She won’t remember anything after the traffic jam on Trinity street.”
“Mum!” Luke said, touching her face. “I really wanted to tell you…”
“Mum?” Liz queried. “You mean she’s…”
“That’s exactly the sort of thing she can’t know,” Jack Harkness said calmly. “Sarah Jane Smith is going to have some amazing adventures very soon. When it’s her turn. But this isn’t one of them. She can’t know in advance that we’re going to send you three back in time. It would affect her relationships with all of you, knowing that there’s this destiny to fulfil. Even worse, she might get stubborn and refuse to let you get involved. And then there WOULD be a paradox and the universe WOULD get pulled inside out in a terminal way. Believe me, it’s for the best.”
“But I wanted to tell her…” Luke began. “About…” He shook his head. “No, I can’t, can I? Even if I could tell her something that would make her life much happier…”
“You can’t do that,” Jack told him gently. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after her.”
“What will you do with her?”
“I’ll take her down to the college sickbay. They’ll tell her she fainted with heatstroke. It’s a hot day and the traffic was murder in the city centre and she flaked out when she got here…”
“She won’t remember anything about us at all?” Clyde asked.
“We’ll tell her all about it when we get back,” Luke said. “That’s ok, isn’t it?”
“I think you definitely should,” Jack told them. “Sarah Jane, from what I’ve heard about her, is a lady who gets to the truth eventually. This time it will take thirty five years, but she’ll get there.”
“Where DID you hear about Sarah Jane?” Maria asked. “And when?”
“A coffee bar on a space station in the Alpha quadrant. The Doctor told me all about his friends who had come and gone. He mentioned Sarah Jane a lot. Told me not to mention her to…” Jack stopped and smiled wistfully. “Never mind. It’s a long story and we really should get you three home.”
When it came down to it, they stood and looked at the machine for a long time.
“It IS safe now, isn’t it?” Maria asked. “We won’t… die horribly?”
“As far as we know,” Liz promised. “I’m pretty sure it is. Ninety-nine percent sure…”
“If you’d rather now, we do have an alternative at my HQ in Cardiff,” Jack said. “You can all be cryogenically frozen and woken up in 2008. We’ve been doing it since Victorian times. We’re actually really good at it by now. You’d wake up and feel as if all this happened a few minutes ago, still exactly the age you are now.”
“Frozen? For thirty five years?” Clyde looked completely disturbed by that idea. “Like Demolition Man?”
Maria and Luke weren’t sold on it either. They looked back at the time machine.
“I think we’ll stick with that,” Maria said on behalf of them all. “You just take care of Sarah Jane. Don’t let her get hurt.”
“Captain’s honour,” Jack said, flashing a smile that would have had a more impressive effect on a girl a few years older than Maria. The three of them stepped forward onto the platform. Captain Jack stepped back and saluted them before Liz pressed the button.
“Wow!” they all exclaimed as they materialised in what appeared to be a library. Maria was the first to realise that it was the same room that the time machine was in back in 1973.
“Of course. The Travers Insitutue got a new building in 1974.” Then she gave a shout of joy and ran along the stacks. The boys ran after her, all joyfully shouting in a way quite inappropriate for a library. They hugged Sarah Jane as she stood waiting with the older version of Liz Shaw and the man they now knew as Captain Jack Harkness.
“Hang on,” Maria said. “How come you don’t look any older? I thought adults couldn’t use the time machine.”
“There is a school of thought that doesn’t consider him an adult!” Liz commented. “He has a very childish line in innuendo.”
“You didn’t freeze yourself, did you?” Clyde asked.
“I moisturize,” Jack said. “Seriously, it’s a long story and it involves The Doctor again, and apparently there’s a quota on how many Doctor anecdotes we can tell in one day. I just wanted to say thank you to all three of you for what you did.”
“Yeah, well, ask next time,” Clyde told him.
“He’d better,” Sarah Jane added. “Now, I think we all need a cuppa. Preferably one HE hasn’t put anything in.”