Hearts

Chapter 6

Three days later Kate wandered into the Hub looking rather dazed and slightly scuffed. The sling was gone, but now her right hand was wrapped in a white bandaging, while her left one had a large butterfly band-aid across the palm, and she appeared to have a bruise on her forehead. Gwen noticed first. "What happened to you, love?"

She shrugged, "I don't know. My luck has just seemed rather off lately. There were the stairs three days ago and now I almost got run over walking here."

Jack looked up from his desk. "Like someone was trying run you over, or you just didn't look before you crossed the street?"

"The latter, I think. I was waiting at a cross walk for the light to change. I stepped out into the street right when the walk sign flashed. A van driver must not have seen me because he was already turning the corner. I would have gotten hit if a woman in the crowd hadn't grabbed my coat and yanked me back."

"But you don't think the driver was trying to hit you?"

"Er, no. He slammed on his brakes when he saw me. He stopped and apologized, seemed very upset."

Jack stood up slowly. "And the hand?"

Kate looked at her hand as if she had forgotten it. "Oh that, that was just me being stupid. Last night I tried to pick up the kettle without a tea cozy."

"What about the other one?" Jack had started to pace.

"I was cutting an apple, knife in one hand apple in the other. The knife slipped."

"And your head? I thought the last injury should have healed by now"

"I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, tripped over my boots, and conked my head on the floor."

Jack and Owen exchanged a look. Kate caught it, but didn't understand what it meant. She watched them both uncertainly. Owen spoke first.

"I'd like to check you for a concussion."

Kate shrugged and stood still while Owen flashed the light in both eyes. "Well, no signs of concussion, I guess that thick skull of yours protected you. Come down to the autopsy bay, I want to run some more tests." With a shrug Kate complied, Jack followed on their heels, clearly unsettled.

Owen began to run several scans, which appeared to tell him nothing. Ianto wandered down the stairs with a tray of coffee and hot chocolate. Kate impulsively reached for the mug of chocolate, and took a swig. She yelped in pain as she burned her mouth and dropped the cup. Fragments of ceramic and hot chocolate splashed across the floor, startling Owen, sending him scrambling back cursing loudly.

"Kate, what the hell?" he snapped examining the stains on his coat. Kate ceased desperately fanning at her mouth. She looked confused.

"I'm sorry Owen. I don't know what I was doing."

Jack frowned and maneuvered his way around the sugary puddle. "You do remember that hot chocolate is hot, yes?"

Kate held her head shaking it slowly. "I know that. I don't know. The thought just didn't connect."

Ianto returned with a mop and a dustpan, and proceeded to clean up the small disaster. He addressed Owen as he worked. "Teenagers do go through periods of forgetfulness, impaired judgment, and clumsiness as their brains establish new connections right?"

"Yea, but not this dramatic." Owen had taken refuge sitting on the counter, he had already accepted that whatever had killed the children was trying to kill Kate.

Ianto swept the shards into the dustpan and dumped them into the waste bin. "Maybe it's more pronounced with Time Lords."

Jack nodded ready to jump on any explanation that did not involve a malice force they had no idea how to fight hunting his young friend, "Their brains are a lot more advanced than ours, especially in the psychic centers. Maybe Kate's basic functions are being affected as her brain enters a new stage of growth." He didn't fully believe it even as he said it though.

"Hard to believe Time Lords managed to survive as a species though, if they all got this hapless for a while when they hit thirteen" snapped Owen.

Kate glared at them all. "Guys you're making me sound like a lab experiment."

"Sorry," apologized Ianto, finishing with the mop.

Owen hopped down from the counter, now that the floor was clear again, glaring at Jack briefly. "Well this should be easily sorted. "I'll run a brain scan. It should only take a moment." He ran a familiar, gameboy looking device around Kate head a few times and then frowned at the screen.

"I don't see any changes at all. All your neural activity is within your normal limits." He paused and looked the screen more closely, "the part I think is your psychic center seems more active though."

"What like I'm sending out a signal again?"

"No it's in a different region of your psychic center than when you were in heat. It's like your listening to something."

"I don't hear anything."

"You wouldn't with your conscious mind."

Jack frowned and crossed his arms. Time to face reality "So does this mean there is some sort of psychic entity running around trying to make Kate hurt herself? Possibly the creature you and Tosh saw in the Hospital."

"Looks like it."

"What monster? What Hospital, Does this have something to do with the dead kids on the news?" Kate demanded.

"Kate I'll explain later come with me upstairs I think I might have a hunch about what is going on and it is not good. Ianto remember those mirrors we dredged out of the harbor last year?"

Ianto nodded slowly. "The ones you said were creepy and should be locked away in the vaults forever."

"Bring them up to the main Hub. Owen, help him and be careful, if you break one of these, seven years bad luck isn't just a superstition."

A half-hour later four Victorian-looking, stand-alone floor length mirrors were arranged in the main room of the Hub. They seemed perfectly ordinary to Kate, but she had long ago learned to distrust anything ordinary-seeming if Torchwood was involved with it.

Jack finished adjusting several lights around the mirrors. "Alright. I think this should work. Kate I want you to stand in the middle of the mirrors. Ianto, you're in charge of the lights, Tosh, monitor any unusual energy spikes. Gwen, if Kate gets scared it's your job to calm her down. Owen, er, well keep out of the way, and if you panic, don't shoot anything."

Owen gave Jack a dirty look, but set up residence sitting on one of the desks out of harm's way. Kate walked to the center of the mirrors, glancing around nervously like a deer in the headlights. "I'm not going to get scared, Jack."

Jack just gave her a half-hearted reassuring smile and flicked the light switch. The lights hit the mirrors and bounced back, illuminating the circle. Kate was not by nature a screamer, but we all have our less dignified moments.

How else can one respond to discovering they have had an invisible, and highly disturbing stalker? The creature crouched just inside the ring of light looking a lot like a spider monkey, by a charcoal grey color, and with a gaping black, ragged hole instead of a lower half of the face. Its eyes, shadowed by heavy brows, covered the red flames that burned within. It was not too big, and yet that made it all the more unsettling.

It hissed as the light hit it and scrambled back on its four legs like a spider. It vanished the moment it stepped outside the circle of light. A bullet struck the floor where it had just been, and ricocheted into a trash can, missing Owen's leg by an inch and making everyone jump.

Owen squawked and dived behind his desk. After a moment he looked over the edge and glared at Ianto, who was shaking slightly and lowering his gun.

"Sorry, sorry everyone, I don't know what came over me. I saw the creature and I had to kill it." He was looking at the weapon in his hand as if he wasn't completely sure how it had gotten there. Jack subtly slipped it from his hand and pocketed it.

"Jack what was that?" called Kate. She was sitting cross-legged in the center of the light, glancing about worriedly. Gwen had a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but she didn't seem to notice.

"I've run across this kind of creature before, I just had to be sure. What's hunting you is chronovore of some variety. What these creatures do is use subtle psychic hints to get people to make foolish, life-ending decisions, though only fairly reasonable

ones-they can't make a perfectly happy person commit suicide-then it eats up the potential years they would have had."

"Like the file we have on the 'Weeping Angels?'" asked Tosh.

"Yes, but more deadly, and even more so for Kate. Her time-sensitivity, and the ability of Time Lords to reach out to alternate threads of time and existence, probably also attract the creature."

Ianto, nodded slowly, "because there's so much chronopotential energy, all in one place."

"Exactly."

"So aside from establishing that I can scream like a little girl, and am appetizing to spider monkeys as well as weevils, what have we achieved?"

"Well we gave Ianto another chance to shoot at me," suggested Owen, who had ventured out from behind the desk now that the gun was gone.

Kate gave him a sharp look, and returned her attention to Jack, "I meant, do we know how to fight this thing?"

"Not really."

"Well what happened last time you ran across one of these things?" asked Tosh.

Jack flicked off the lamps that were illuminating the circle and slumped in a chair. "It was during the First World War. One of them started to prey on my unit, we were in the trenches, so at first it didn't seem strange that a few men a day were dying from bad decisions. It's easy to get your head blown off, from just looking over the wall at the wrong time during a war.

"The creature was too methodical though, working it's way from one trench to the next, completely eliminating units one man at a time. The soldiers noticed, thought it was a curse. No one ever saw the creature directly, but soldiers started to have dreams. One night they would wake up screaming about a horrible spider monkey, and the next day they would be a second too slow and get shot."

"How did you stop it?"

"I didn't. A week later Germans bombed my section of the trenches. Killed everyone, except me, who couldn't die. I think the creature probably moved to the enemy trenches were there was still food for it."

"Well we have a way to see it this time. Maybe we can set some sort of trap and shoot it," suggested Gwen.

"We'd be more likely to hit each other," warned Owen. "Besides, are we sure this thing is even affected by bullets?"

"Probably not. We need to approach this in a different way. This creature's greatest power is the ability to make people take stupid risks and get themselves killed. We specialize in stupid risks. We could easily end up expending as much of our energy saving each other from dumb mistakes rather than actually kill this thing."

Kate slumped dejectedly. "So are you just going to let my life get eaten by an evil monkey?"

Jack shook his head. "Of course not. I'm not giving up. I just need to think."

"And while you're doing that, Kate might wander into traffic," pointed out Owen.

"Kate, maybe you should stay in the Hub. If you were in one of the cells, there would be no risk of you hurting yourself," suggested Gwen.

"I hate the vault. It's dark, and cold, and full of weevils."

"We wouldn't put you in the same section with the weevils.

"Fine. I'll call my mom to bring me an overnight bag until we sort this out."

Janice was understandably not happy with the situation. Even though Kate swore to her that Torchwood was only trying to help, she wasn't fully convinced. It didn't help that she had this conversation in the vaults, while her daughter was sitting in one of the cells.

After she managed to trip on the stairs, and nearly conk her head again, Jack had decided it would be best to get Kate out of harm's way as quickly as possible. The chronovore seemed to be stepping up its efforts.

"If you think I'm just going to let you imprison my daughter indefinitely, you have another thing coming!"

"Well technically it's not indefinitely, just until we find a way to deal with the chronovore," said Gwen.

"And she won't be a prisoner," added Jack. "She's here for her own protection."

"Same difference, I don't like it."

"Well tough, it's the only way we can keep your kid safe from the evil life-stealing monkey."

Jack shot Owen a warning look. "We are not going to refer to the chronovore as 'the evil life-stealing monkey'."

Janice stamped her foot to get their attention back, "I'm not convinced of this thing until I see it. I'm staying here until you release Kate. I don't want you spiriting her off to some secret base when I turn my back."

"She's already in a secret base, where do you think we would take her?" asked Jack tiredly. He was really considering enforcing the largely ignored "no civilians in the Hub" rule. However, separating Janice from her daughter was certain to make her more upset, and he didn't want to deal with that. "Stay down here and keep Kate company if you want. Ianto can find you a cot and set it up in the hallway. Just keep out of the way."

An evening spent looking through files, and history turned up nothing. While Tosh could find records of other chronovore hauntings in the past, they always ended with the victim's death. Even when the person was put in isolation the creature haunted their dreams, until the victim became sleep deprived and exhausted. They usually lost all interest in food and eventually withered away within a week. The few times it was recorded in material form, all weapons proved useless against it.

The next morning when Ianto carried down a tray of breakfast neither Kate nor her mother looked well. "She woke up yelling every hour or so," Janice explained. She looked more frightened now, as she finally accepted what Torchwood had told her. Ianto noticed with a rising sense of worry that Kate only picked at her breakfast. Even with nothing dangerous on the plate she managed to drop it on her foot. Kate cursed angrily and retreated to her bunk, hating the world in general.

He passed Gwen on the stairs as she headed down to talk to Kate's mom. For all of Ianto's tact he did not have the raw people skills that Gwen did. Ianto reported his findings to Jack when he went back to the main room of the hub. "Damn, things are already happening faster than they do in the records. The chronovore must really want Kate."

"So we have established. What's the plan?" Ianto always expected there to be a plan.

"Remember a few months ago when we found an empty prisoner transport device, similar to the one Mary arrived in?" Tosh buried her face in a file at the mention of Mary.

"I thought the test with the rat established that its passenger compartment was damaged and squished anything put in it," commented Owen, glancing up from his desk, where he was wearily perusing files.

"I don't mean to put Kate in it. I want to trap the chronovore in it and send it into the Vortex via the Rift. Because the transport is damaged it should break up in the Vortex should kill the chronovore, it kills anything exposed to it even most energy beings. We just have to draw it out long enough to trap it."

"Very good, sir. So how do you propose we bell the cat?" asked Ianto.

"Tosh?" Jack nodded at her, and she instantly began tapping at her workstation.

"Right, so, when Jack told me about how and when Kate's father came to Cardiff I checked back over the log of Rift activity from that time. There are some weird records from that time which my predecessor never figured out.

"What Rogadeit described as falling through space and time, actually meant he fell through the Vortex and then got caught up in the Rift and thrown out in Cardiff, like a marble falling through a hole in a pocket. There was a considerable spike when his TARDIS fell through the rift. From Janice's description I think I've figured out where. There was a second considerably bigger spike of a different sort of energy about ten minutes later.

"This was probably when Rogadeit died and regenerated. The energy from that created a sort of knot in space-time because it was so close to a hole in the Rift. There had been a continuous loop of small energy spikes there ever since. It's been something of absolutely no consequence until now."

"English, Tosh, plain English, I know you speak it," complained Owen. Tosh rolled her eyes and continued.

"What this all means is that there is a knot of energy trapped in the Rift and I can manipulate the Rift just enough to undo the knot and free the energy. The creature will instantly be drawn to feed and then we catch it in the transport and send it off."

"So what's the catch?" Gwen was leaning on the stairwell that went down to the vaults, listening.

Jack raised an eyebrow. "How do you know there's a catch?"

"You're looking dramatic, Jack. You look like you're standing on a desolate roof top even in the middle of the Hub."

Jack crossed his arms. "We know the chronovore is following Kate. We need to take her to the energy knot so it will go there as well."

Gwen's expression sharpened. "Which means we'll be taking her from the safety of the Hub across town, possibly in a car, exposing her to countless things that might allow the chronovore to kill her before we get there. We can't put her at risk like that-there's got to be another way."

"There isn't."

"Her mum will never let us."

"She doesn't have any say in this. We need to deal with this creature and we need to do it now, it's killed to many already."

"And if Kate gets killed in the process? God Jack! This is Kate we're talking about. Our Kate, the girl you saved from Weevils, the girl who's been hanging about the Hub for a month. You can't use her as bait." She strode across the room facing Jack directly. The rest of the team remained silent, letting the argument play out.

"Do you think I don't know that? Do you think I'd have concocted such a desperate plan if I weren't desperate to save her? If we delay any longer she will die anyway-at least this way she has a chance."

Gwen looked ready to say more, but then thought better of it. She slumped slightly. "Alright Jack, I'll trust your judgment in this."

Jack laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Thank you."

Kate's mother was predictably not happy about the plan, but she agreed because she was scared by the way she could see her daughter already weakening. Kate agreed because she trusted Jack and he had never failed her before.

Driving with Kate was deemed too dangerous, so Owen went ahead with the SUV and equipment to set up. Tosh stayed in the Hub to begin preparing the Rift. Jack, Gwen and Ianto would walk Kate across the city as quickly as possible. Tosh hacked the traffic lights, so that there would be no active traffic flow on any of the streets they needed to cross.

Jack told Janice to stay in the Hub, but she refused and short of locking her in the vault there was no way to keep her from coming along. Not that Torchwood had ever had any problem with temporarily detaining civilians, but Jack wanted to remain on good terms with Kate's mother. If they all lived Torchwood would inevitably have more dealings with Kate, and having her mother hate them would not be good.

They set out from the Hub at quick clip. Jack walked first, looking about for trouble. Kate's mother had her by the arm to keep her from stumbling, and Gwen was on her other side. Ianto followed close behind.

They crossed the square without incident, but as soon as they got to the streets of the city things began to go wrong. As they walked along the sidewalk the awning of a shop began to creak loose. Jack yelled for them all to run, and they did. Ianto scrambled out of the way before the metal rods that held up the old canopy came crashing to the ground.

They picked up their paces to a half run and hurried on. A snarling dog, a large mutt of some sort, faced them at the end of the street. Jack withdrew an electric tazer from his coat and when it lunged he caught it expertly in the stomach. The animal fell jerking and unconscious to the ground with a heavy thud.

"Jack there's two more behind us."

"Three to the right."

"Two to the left, although one of them is a toy poodle." A chihuahua latched onto Kate's leg and she sent it flying with a kick. All the dogs of Cardiff had turned feral and were after them. There was nothing to do but run. From within their pockets Gwen and Ianto produced more tazers, Ianto giving Janice an extra one. She wielded it with surprising brutality as a Dalmatian lunged at her from the side. The baying and snarls persued them even as they began to outpace their remaining, shorter-legged pursuers.

Their haste made them careless and they were all nearly taken out by a careening delivery truck that burst through an intersection ahead of them, its ruined brakes making a horrible screeching sound. Jack slammed to a stop in time to have every one crash into him. He hit the pavement unglamorously thrown by Kate's light weight and surprising momentum. She at least managed to keep her footing and not go down with him.

Jack scrambled to his feet, eyes going wide as he watched the truck crash into a nearby storefront. Behind them Ianto was fending off the growing pack of snarling dogs with his tazer. "Keep moving!" he snapped.

Jack and Ianto exchanged a look and the rest of them hurried on as Ianto stayed to keep back the beasts. They bolted through the crowded shopping district, Jack yelling "Police, make way!" (It worked better to yell police, since people stopped and gawked more if he yelled Torchwood)

At then end of the shopping district Jack stepped ankle deep into a large pool of water. The electric shock from a nearby downed power line stopped his heart and sent him tumbling down. He barely managed to roll away from the puddle and yell, "Keep running!" before death took him.

Clawing back through the darkness into life was as horrible as it always was. Of all the ways and places to come back, though, there had been worse than a street of Cardiff, covered in filthy water, with Ianto wiping the water from his face with a handkerchief. He sprang to his feet unsteadily and together they ran to catch up.

They didn't rejoin Kate, Janice and Gwen until they reached the outskirts of the city. The wind was picking up, and a cold mix of sleet and rain pelted down, making the road slick. Kate kept slipping even with Gwen on one side and her mother on the other, steadying her.

When Gwen lost her balance all three of them went down, Gwen twisting her ankle in the process. She shivered with pain when she tried to stand on it. "Go, I'll be alright." She told them. With worried expressions they did. They crossed an empty cow pasture, now a mess of mud, climbed a hill, and at last arrived at the place of Rodageit's death and rebirth.

It was a rather dull looking hilltop, distinguished only by the stretch of dead ground where the TARDIS had fallen and nothing had grown since. Owen was already there, the mirrors set up, and the lights arranged and drawing power from the mini generator in the SUV. He had the transport device in his hand.

As soon as he saw them he yelled into his communicator. "Tosh, activate the Rift, undo the knot."

For a moment there was nothing as they all stumbled breathlessly to the top of the hill to gather around Owen. Then there was a sharp crack of lightening from the sky that split the earth at the center to the mirrors. The lightning grew and crackled into a pillar of light, and then shrunk into a jagged blue slash in the air, about as high as a tree. Janice began to shake and her eyes stream with tears. Clinging to her daughter, she whispered, "Rogadeit. I…I can sense him again. It's so faint, but it feels like a faded echo of him."

Owen hit the lights. The mirrors illuminated the circle around the lightning. They saw the chronovore crawling into the circle towards the life energy. It raised its little claw like hands and began to draw the lightning into itself, its jagged dark mouth drinking it up like a drug.

Jack took the transport form Owen and crept to the edge of the circle. He hit a few buttons on it and then threw it in. There was another flash of light, this time red and a swirling whirlwind sucked the monster into the jagged metal device. The lightning bolt faded away as quickly as it manifested. The transport shook and wobbled for a moment. It began to flash and fade as it prepared to go. Then the glow changed to a sickly green and it exploded, sending fragments of metal everywhere. They dove behind the SUV in time to avoid the worst of the shrapnel. Jack peered from behind the SUV and saw the creature stalking from the remains.

If it was possible for something so small to appear so very furious and terrifying, it did. The storm grew worse and hail began to pound on them.

Sharper winds buffeted Kate, tossing her about. The creature began to crawl towards the edge of the mirror circle. From one of his endless pockets Jack drew his last hope. He hit a button, gauged the distance and threw it carefully. The small portable prison cell they had once used to hold the sex gas monster. The Chronovore was instantly trapped in the shimmering circles. It raged with a cry like nails on a chalkboard.

Jack grabbed Kate's hand and they ran. "It won't hold. We have to get you to the TARDIS."

Janice watched them go, but did not follow. Instead she walked towards the failing force field, her eyes burning with the cold fury of a lioness. She held the useless tazer like a dagger.

"Get back, the field's about to shatter!" Owen yelled at her but she didn't hear. When the field exploded in a shower of sparks and the wailing monster fell to the ground, she was waiting. She struck out in calculated fury.

Her hand passed through the Chronovore, as if it was a wisp of smoke, and she stumbled forward on the momentum of her own strike. The creature chattered at her like a demonic squirrel and then sprang from the circle, vanishing from sight.

Janice screamed after it. "Come back you bastard! Fight me! Kill me instead! Leave my child alone!"

But it was gone, as if it had never been. Even the cold sleet had stopped, replaced by the natural warm rain of summer.

Jack and Kate ran, ran like rabbits from the wolf, mice from the cat. Hail struck them, wind assailed them. Jack yelled over the clamor to be heard. "I'll distract it long enough for you to get in the TARDIS. Once you're in you've got to jam in any coordinates and go."

"But I don't know how to pilot it, I won't be able to get home."

"It doesn't matter, just run, run for your life! The chronovore will latch onto the outside and be dragged into the Vortex. The Vortex will kill it. It's your only chance."

They could see the garden ahead of them through the pelting ice. At the edge of the garden Jack drew his gun, placed it against his own temple and pulled the trigger. In all his many years of existence, it was the first time Jack had ever taken his own life. The energy of his death drew the chronovore from Kate just long enough for her to stumble the last few feet to the TARDIS door.

She flung it open, tumbled in and slammed it behind her. She ran to the console, Hit a few coordinates and jammed the go button. There was a whooping and a flash and then she was tumbling into the Vortex.

When Jack was dragged back to the world of the living it was to the feeling of the sun's warmth against his face, and mud beneath his head. He sat up slowly. The garden was empty, save the flattened square where the TARDIS had once been. Both chronovore and Time Lady were gone. Where to, no one knew.


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