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03 September 2006 @ 09:26 am
Fic: The Crime of the Centuries  
At last! Delayed by RL, illness and procrastination.

The Crime of the Centuries

Written for cherryice, who requested: "Romana/Jack, alien cultures, and Ten being bamboozled." Although I fudged a certain amount on the last two...

Rated a lowly G; featuring Romana, Jack, Ten, Martha, some aliens, some Oods and a handful of humans.




The Crime of the Centuries
by LizBee



"That," said Romana thoughtfully, "is very wrong."

"What would you say," said Jack, "about five hundred years premature?"

"At the very least. Look at those engines."

"Believe me, I'm looking."

"We should do something about it," said Romana. "A ship like that doesn't just appear out of nowhere. Someone is messing about with the fabric of history." Her jaw was set. Jack realised that his near future was probably going to contain some kind of heroics.

"So," he said, "we find out when they first appeared--"

"--Go back to that point--"

"--And save history from a series of renegade timeships."

"Yes." Romana smiled. "Then I thought we might steal it."

"I was hoping you'd say that," said Jack.

*

"The Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire," said Romana, "was neither great nor bountiful by any standards. Nor was it entirely human."

She was lying on the floor of their ship, reddish hair fanned out over the floor.

"Whole planets existed within the Empire with hardly any humans at all."

Jack would have thought she was drunk, except that he'd never seen alcohol pass her lips. She was just a little mad, slightly insane in a way that occasionally reminded him of someone else.

"Much as I appreciate the history lesson," he said, "I know this."

"But do you know," Romana rolled over onto her stomach, her hair spilling over her face, "that by the middle Imperial period, major engineering projects were outsourced to the people of Chemanshi IV? They called themselves the Cehss, which translates as 'people', and they regarded shipbuilding as an artform."

"If you're bored," said Jack, "you could have a look at the plant schematics and see if you can't find a way in."

"I was planning to use the front door."

"Right. I should have guessed."

*

Jack was not in love with Romana. Not even a little. First rule regarding strange women you meet in the bowels of Torchwood House: don't fall in love with them. You'll be settling in for a life of wedded bliss with the love of your life, next thing you know, she's eating your face off.

Not that Romana had tried to eat his face off yet, but he'd caught her looking at him with a curious detached smile, so he wasn't relaxing yet.

Torchwood took a dim view of aliens on Earth, and a particularly dim view of aliens who looked like humans. Romana had been a prisoner for two months when he met her.

"She's a weird one," said Hewitt as she led Jack through muffled Torchwood corridors. "You'd think she was somewhere else entirely. And when she does acknowledge your presence, it's like she's the one doing you a favour." Hewitt gave him a sidelong glance as they descended the staircase. "Sorry, I wasn't told why you were assigned here. Is it permanent?"

"Temporary secondment only."

"Pity." She led him down to the cells. "And this," she was all business again, "is our mystery lady."

Romana was standing in the shadows, eyes closed, listening to something beyond Jack's perception.

"She looks human."

Hewitt leaned over and said in a stage whisper, "Two hearts."

Romana met his eyes for a moment. He thought she was laughing.

"Careless," he said.

"Who can tell what an alien's thinking?" And who cares? Hewitt's tone implied.

Romana smiled. After a moment, he returned it.

*

Jack came back that night.

"Two hearts," he said.

Romana looked at him, straight at him.

"Two hearts," she agreed. "You're keeping poor company."

"Can't say I had much choice."

"I suppose not, but I can't say I approve of your taste. What are you, fourty-ninth century? Fifty-second?" She smiled. "I know. You're a Time Agent. Not a very good one, since you've gotten yourself stuck on this forsaken planet, but I suppose you're the right species for it."

"I feel like you have me at a disadvantage. You're not from the Agency."

"Guess."

"I met a man, once. Said he was the last of the Time Lords. I said, you're crazy, that's just an old legend. But he had two hearts. And great timing."

"Let me out of here," she said, "and I'll show you just how good my timing is."

"Why should I trust you?"

"Why not?"

"Not enough."

"All right." She walked right to the edge of her cell, and the energy field that confined her hummed in warning. "Your friends have my ship."

"A TARDIS?"

"No. But -- you'll know it, when you see it. And then you'll come back for me."

"Why should you trust me?"

She laughed, and offered no answer.

*

He did come back, and that was when she told him her name.

"So are you a Time Lady?" he asked.

"What do you think?"

"I think you're crazy. Other than that, I'm keeping an open mind."

"An excellent policy, Captain Harkness."

She was slightly mad, and he wasn't in love with her at all, and they got on very well.

*

"I do like the front door approach," Romana said as a tall grey man led them down a corridor. "It's so terribly direct."

"Stylish, too."

"Hmm."

"None of this grappling hooks at midnight business."

"I rather enjoyed that."

"You weren't bailed up by the dogs."

"I like dogs."

"And this," said their Cehss guide, "is where we keep our experimental projects." He affected a laugh. "I'm afraid I can't take you any further."

"That's quite all right," said Romana, and that would have been Jack's cue to pull his weapon and start making gentle yet convincing threats, only she was holding his arm in a pincer grip and letting the guide lead them back to the main corridors.

Once they were out of the plant and away from guards, cameras and spybots, Jack said, "What the hell was that?"

"I just had the most terrible thought."

"You're not getting cold feet, are you?"

"Don't be silly. I'm just thinking ... you Time Agents, you like to rush around the space-time continuum righting wrongs and preserving historical integrity, yes?"

"There was also a bit of cheating, piracy and humanocentric historical manipulation, but yeah, that's basically what it said on the brochure."

"Then -- correct me if I'm wrong -- but shouldn't this planet be simply crawling with agents?"

"You're being paranoid."

"Am I?"

Jack took her hand and led her through the streets, past the pristine industrial parks and out into the chaos of the bazaar. They paused at a stall selling badly woven fabrics, purporting to be in the traditional style of the Cehss, and lingered over some electronics that still bore the logo of the Great and Bountiful Human Imperial Army.

"If the Agency was involved," he said, "we wouldn't even be here, because we'd never know the paradox had existed."

"I'd know."

"Aside from you and your special Time Lady's intuition."

"Envy is a very petty response to inadequacy anxiety."

Jack discarded a commlink -- completely fried and beyond repair -- and said, "What I'm thinking is that you're getting cold feet because this is the biggest thing we've ever pulled."

"That's completely absurd," said Romana calmly. "But I don't plan to spend my next eight regenerations comparing a Time Agency prison to Torchwood, thank you. And I don't think you want a fond reunion with your old colleagues."

"Well, it's not high on my list of things to do, but--"

"And I must admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with the ship itself."

"Because it's human?"

"No! Although," she didn't meet his eyes, "I must admit that I sometimes wish I had a proper TARDIS..."

Jack looked over her shoulder.

"Like that one?" he said.

*

"We're not stealing the Doctor's TARDIS," Romana hissed. "For one thing, it would break both of his hearts, and for another, I really don't think the Cehss deserve to be stuck with the Doctor when he's confined to one place for an extended period of time, and for another ... well, I can't think of anything else, but it would be wrong, and that should be enough."

"You've never quite gotten the hang of this whole 'intergalactic con-artist' routine, have you?"

"You're missing the point entirely!"

"Excuse me," said the Doctor, "but my ears were burning."

They both turned to look at him.

"Oh," said Romana, "hello."

"Hi," said Jack.

"I thought you were dead," said the Doctor.

"Got better," said Jack. "Bit of a funny story, actually, I was hoping you'd be able to clear a couple of things up..." He belatedly realised that no one was listening.

"E-space," said Romana. "I came back ... oh, I suppose it was a couple of years ago now, relatively speaking. Was it you who destroyed Gallifrey?"

"There was a war."

"So I heard." She patted him on the arm. "Don't worry. I'd have done the same thing, myself."

"You're looking well. Very ginger."

Romana tossed her hair. "I thought it was time for a change. Not that I really had a choice, since I was dying, and now I'm a little worried that the regeneration went wrong, because I feel curiously disconnected from the universe, and at this precise moment I can't seem to stop talking, although I think that's temporary."

"No, no, I do that too."

"It's so wonderful to see you." Although she didn't sound entirely convinced.

There was an awkward silence.

The girl-who-was-not-Rose said, "You were joking about stealing the TARDIS, yes? Just so we're clear."

"Jack does enjoy his little jokes," said Romana.

"Like being left on the Game Station. That was funny."

"It was complicated," said the Doctor. He looked around. "So, you're here about the anachronistic timeship?"

"Oh yes," said Romana.

"And you're not stealing the TARDIS," said the Not-Rose.

"No one," said Romana, "is stealing anything."

"Like hell we're not," said Jack. But he said it quietly.

*

The Doctor introduced the Not-Rose as Martha, said something about Rose being with her family now, and took them all out for ice cream.

"You promised me alien planets and new cultures," said Martha. "This is like Sunday afternoon with my nephews."

The wind was blowing Romana's hair into her face. Her untouched ice cream was melting.

"Is no one else worried about Time Agents?"

"No," said Jack, at the same time as Martha-the-Not-Rose said, "What are Time Agents?" and the Doctor said, "Hold on, was that a double negative?"

"Never mind," said Romana.

*

"Just between you and me, I'm a bit worried about this banana." Martha held it up for the Doctor to examine. "It's the same colour as the Cehss. It's quite unnatural, as bananas go."

"You eat genetically engineered foods, don't you?"

"I prefer organic. And I like to know where the genes are coming from. And not find myself eating Soylent Green bananas."

"He's a Time Agent," said Romana suddenly, nodding at Jack. "Ask him what they are."

"All right," said Martha. "What's a Time Agent?"

"They're the human temporal authority," said Jack.

"And any other races they can bully into going along with them," added the Doctor darkly.

"Time police," said Martha.

"Temporal Fascists," said Romana. "Ambitious little xenophobes with ideas above their station."

"They clear up anachronisms in the human timelines," said Jack.

"And make a few of their own if they think they can get away with it." The Doctor licked Romana's ice cream off his fingertip.

"Mess about in other people's brains," said Romana. "A year, two years, ten. A lifetime. Given over to them without so much as a by-your-leave, and not a fragment of a memory afterwards." She wrinkled her nose at Jack. "It's a hollow place in your mind. I'm so sorry."

Jack looked away.

*

"What do you know about the timeship?"

"It arrived here a month ago. The Cehss were expecting it." The Doctor was wearing glasses. They made him look intellectual and attractive. An intellectual and attractive stranger. “It was accompanied by a human named Flintlock, first name unknown. He's alone except for a small personal arsenal and five Ood.”

Romana looked up. “Ood,” she echoed. From the look on her face, Jack assumed she was entertaining an idea.

“So,” said Martha, “you're planning to steal it, yeah?”

“We were planning,” Romana mimicked her tone, “to remove it from this time period, where it has no business being, and to keep it out of the hands of those who would misuse it.”

“So, yeah,” said Jack, “we were basically planning to steal it.”

“We were just going to set it on auto-pilot and aim it at the nearest sun,” said the Doctor. “Can't have rogue timeships wandering around the continuum.”

“You stole a TARDIS,” said Romana flatly.

“That's ancient history.”

*

Romana wanted to find an Ood. Martha was all for it. Her parents, she said, hadn't raised her to be a bleeding-heart liberal just so she could stand by while humans enslaved a whole other species. Even if it was the future, and even if they did look like squids.

The Doctor said he was all for an Ood revolution, but didn't they have an anachronism to fix? And Jack was going where Romana went.

So they found an Ood. More precisely, Romana found a cluster of Oods and then stalked them until one was separated from the rest.

Everyone else followed from a safe distance.

“Is she always like this?” Martha asked the Doctor.

“No,” he said slowly. He was wearing his glasses again. “In fact, I think I can safely say she's a completely different woman from the one I knew.”

Romana returned from her Ood rendezvous with an abstract little smile on her face. She was humming under her breath.

“The Ood mind,” she said to Martha, “is a fascinating thing. A contemporary human would tell you they're sub-intelligent, but really they're just too subtle for the primitive neurotechnology of the era. And once you've convinced yourself that slavery is for their own good, done a bit of genetic engineering to ensure they're happy with their lot -- why question the status quo at all?” She squeezed Martha's hand. “Don't worry. It's not just humans.”

“I'll try to find some comfort in that.”

“The interesting thing about a slave,” Romana continued, “is that they're beneath their owner's notice. Part of the furniture.” She was skipping, reddish curls fluttering with the movement. She took the Doctor's hand as well, but her smile was for Jack alone. “Let's watch,” she said, “and see what happens.”

*

The Ood rose at midnight. Marched down to the Cehss plant in silent formation. Opened the doors.

Romana and Jack watched from the rooftop of an administration building with sadly inadequate security. Behind them, the Doctor and Martha were having a quiet argument, but Jack dismissed them from his attention. Romana's glee was infectious.

“The Cehss don't understand the Ood,” said Romana as Martha joined them at the edge of the roof. “They rather despise them.”

“But the thing about an Ood is,” added the Doctor, “wherever they are, people just assume they're following orders.”

“Whose orders?” Martha asked.

Romana smiled.

*

The timeship gleamed. A host of Ood formed a sort of honour guard as they made their way to the entrance.

The lead Ood caught Romana's hand as she passed.

“Thank you,” it hummed.

“Any time.”

They entered the timeship. It was aware of their presence, systems activating and humming as if to welcome them.

“Nice,” said Martha.

“If you like that sort of thing,” said the Doctor. “Bit militaristic for my taste. And cramped. Very cramped.”

“Quiet,” said Jack. “Do you hear that?”

Footsteps down the corridor. Boots on metal. Weapons coming online.

“Damn,” Jack saidas the Time Agents arrived.

“I told you so,” said Romana.

*

“You are under arrest,” said the leader, “for attempted interference with the human timeline. For subverting the Ood. For unauthorised movement through the timeline. For attempted theft. You have the right to legal representation. You have the right to seek appeal. You have the right to a painless execution.” The leader blinked and added in her usual voice, “nice to see you again, Harkness.”

“Bette.”

“You've been keeping bad company, kiddo.”

“What can I say? I'm a sucker for a pretty smile.”

In processing, Bette said quietly, “I'm sorry.”

*

Prisoner Section Seventeen consisted of four tiny cells arranged two across. Their sophisticated security systems were widely hailed as being among the great technological developments of the fifty-second century.

“It's a lot more comfortable than the Torchwood cells,” said Romana, “ut I'm afraid the food is worse.”

“I never got as far as seeing the Torchwood cells,” said the Doctor.

“They were quite good. Certainly the nicest oubliette I've ever been imprisoned in, until now.”

“Good to hear they're keeping up the standards.”

“I meant to ask, though, what did you say to Queen Victoria? Must you cause offense everywhere you go?”

“It wasn't so much what I said--”

“Can't you spare a thought for all the other non-native lifeforms visiting Earth? The planet's not exclusively yours, you know.”

There was silence.

“I'm sorry,” she added, “but I've been wanting to say that for quite some time now.”

*

“I don't think I've ever been arrested in this century,” said the Doctor. “What happens now?”

“The twenty-first century woman will be returned to her native time after the memory correction process. The rest of you will stand trial.”

The Doctor, alone in the cell opposite Jack's, looked suddenly grey and ill.

“You have no right to do that to her,” he said.

“You had no right to take her from her time.”

The Doctor looked visibly diminished for a moment. Then he straightened again, lazy defiance in his face as he watched the guard leave.

“I was beginning to think you didn't care if we stayed or went,” Jack said.

The Doctor looked away.

*

“Will it hurt?” asked Martha. “The memory wipe, I mean.”

“If it does,” said Jack, “you won't remember.”

She pulled a face. “Not the most comforting thing you could have said, actually.”

*

“It's not so much being left behind,” said Jack, “it's the not-being-dead-anymore. That's the bit that keeps me awake at night. What the hell did you do, Doctor?”

“It was Rose, actually.”

“Rose has godlike powers now?”

“For a minute. She looked into the Vortex.”

“Jesus.”

“She doesn't remember.”

“Good.”

“I'm sorry,” said the Doctor suddenly, “about leaving you behind. It wasn't my best moment, in terms of thinking things through. I'm so sorry.”

Jack exhaled.

“It all works out in the end,” he said at last.

*

“I've decided,” said Romana, “that I don't like the Time Agency much. I don't want you to think I've got nothing better to do than bang on about it, but I really dislike the Time Agency.”

She was lying on her back, apparently examining the palms of her hands.

“They're a bit rubbish, really,” the Doctor agreed.

“And hypocritical. I can't stand hypocrites.”

Martha looked at Jack. “Do you think if I asked nicely, they'd take me away and wipe my memory now?”

“Try bribery.”

“Good thought.”

“They make out that they're the saviours of the time vortex,” Romana continued, “but they'll rip it to pieces if it serves their own interest. Anomalies all over the place.”

“Well,” said the Doctor, “to be fair, the Time Lords weren't above a bit of interference if it suited them.”

“Yes, but at least they had a bit of style.”

“If you like big hats and silly robes.”

“I like hats. And this business with the timeship, it's downright amateurish. Did they think no one would notice if they just imported a bit of fifty-second century technology into the forty-sixth?”

“To be fair,” said Jack, “they probably weren't expecting a couple of Time Lords to show up. Most people don't.”

“You'd think word would get around,” said Martha.

“Yes. You'd think.” Romana sat up sharply. “I really think we ought to be going.”

“I agree,” said Jack. “Going where?”

Romana smiled, climbing to her feet in one fluid move. “Out,” she said. She cocked her head, listening to something beyond their perception. “They're ready.”

*

The facility was suddenly silent. Something flickered on the edge of Jack's perception. The Doctor suddenly laughed.

“Brilliant,” he said. “I love it.”

“I thought you might,” said Romana. “I am a bit clever, you know.”

“What?” demanded Martha, “what's happening?”

“We have to be quick,” Romana breathed. “What would you say the cycle is, five-eighths of a second?”

“Three fifths.”

Romana was very still. Jack realised she was holding her breath, staring at the forcefield. And counting.

She took a running leap and threw herself through. The low hum of the forcefield rose to an alarming pitch. She landed on the floor in a shaking heap. There were tears in her eyes and she was laughing.

“You all right?” the Doctor asked.

“Stings.” She curled into a ball and breathed slowly. “Nerve endings. Burning.” Carefully she climbed to her feet. “Your turn,” she said to the Doctor.

Martha leaned forward. “You don't expect us to do that, do you?”

“Oh no. You'd probably end up with third degree burns and a few bruises.”

“It's all about timing,” the Doctor muttered, and jumped. He landed on his feet, took two surprised steps and swore loudly in a language Jack didn't understand.

Romana was examining the control console by the door. “Here,” she said, flicking a switch. The forcefields containing Jack and Martha died. “The facility's power is down to thirty percent and falling,” she said with a satisfied smile.

“How'd you do that?” Martha asked.

“Oh, it wasn't me. But like I said – whatever the Ood are doing, people just assume they're following orders.”

She opened the outer door.

“Coming?” she said. “I don't know about you two,” her gaze flicked over the Doctor and Martha, “but Jack and I have a timeship to steal.”

*

The Ood accompanied them to the docking bay in silence, but Jack had the distinct impression that there was more going on behind their eyes than one usually expected from the Ood.

The Doctor must have had the same idea, because he leaned forward and said to Romana, “What did you do to them?”

“Oh,” she said, “nothing much.”

He looked at her.

“I just boosted their telepathic communication field.”

“And?”

“And gave them a few ideas to start off with.”

The Doctor looked like he didn't know whether to be appalled or impressed. He settled for opening and closing his mouth a couple of times, shrugging and saying, “Oh well, as long as they don't try to take over the universe, I guess there's no harm done.”

“I think it's brilliant,” said Martha.

Romana smiled.

*

“I guess you'll be wanting to get back to the TARDIS,” said Jack.

“If it's not out of your way,” said Martha.

The Doctor and Romana were having a quiet argument on the other side of the bridge. Something about the ethics of professional thieving versus a life of casual interference in the timelines.

“You could just interrupt,” suggested Martha. “If you had something to say, I mean, and didn't think you'd get another chance.”

“I could,” Jack agreed. “But this doesn't seem like the moment. I'm no good at saying goodbye.”

“No. And we'll probably run into each other again, so there's really no point.”

“It's a big universe.”

“With two Time Lords in it?”

“...Maybe not big enough.”

*

They dropped off Martha and the Doctor on Chemanshi IV, retrieved their own battered, half-functioning ship and stowed it in the hold, and made a quick exit from the forty-sixth century.

They met again on an insignificant moon orbiting an insignificant planet. Romana demanded, and got, a tour of the TARDIS. Jack begged off, and spent a morning buried in records and logs and echoes of Rose.

Romana returned to the console room looking immensely satisfied with herself. Apparently there was no point in staying any longer.

She squeezed Jack's hand as they returned to their new ship. She was humming.

“The Time Agency won't forget us in a hurry,” she said, marching onto the bridge. “I think we should be a bit – unpredictable – for the next little while.”

“I've never thought of you as predictable.”

She beamed. “Thank you!” She pulled something out of her pocket and handed it to him.

“And this is...?”

“A randomiser. I borrowed it from the Doctor.”

“Borrowed?”

“After a fashion. He used to give them away – he won't mind. Well, probably not.”

Jack threw himself into a chair and watched her install it.

“I think we've done some good in the last few days,” she said.

“Theft, interference with the timeline--”

“Averting an anachronism, starting a very small revolution among the Ood...” She fit the final component into place and straightened up. “And tomorrow--”

“Anything.”

She caught his hands in hers and laughed. Her kiss was light and soft and took him entirely by surprise.

“Unpredictable?” she breathed.

“Very.”

“Good.”




end
 
 
Current Mood: accomplished
 
 
 
nnwestnnwest on September 3rd, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
Adorable. Loved it. :) Jack/Romana is lovely.
lizbeelizbee on September 3rd, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
Thank you! *pleased*
AstroGirl: Winsome Jackastrogirl2 on September 3rd, 2006 04:13 am (UTC)
Oh, that was very cool. I loved the interaction between Romana and Jack. And between Romana and the Doctor. And the answer to "I thought you were dead." :)
lizbeelizbee on September 3rd, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
Thanks, on all counts. Delays aside, I had a serious amount of fun writing that.
Cherry: jack!cherryice on September 6th, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)
Oh, this is simply fabulous. I have so very, very much love for it. Marth and the Doctor are great, and there are Oood.

Romana and Jack, WHEE!

Thank you.
HM: laugh. four/2leia_black on September 13th, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)
This was Amazing! A number of absolutely fantastic lines, "The Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire, was neither great nor bountiful by any standards. Nor was it entirely human." Romana and the Time Agents was great, especially the comparison the doctor made between them and the timelords. Style, Hat's and robes! *loves*