You Owe It to the World
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Ianto watched the guns discharge in slow motion, the flashes of light and bursts of smoke, the air swirling in eddies about the bullets. He spent one moment gaping before he realized it wasn’t a trick of the mind. The bullets really were moving in slow motion.
“What the--” he managed before someone tackled him, sending them both crashing into the wall behind the President’s desk.
He looked up to see a woman dressed in black, tall and thin with hair white as snow save for one streak of black through the middle. She was also carrying a fireplace poker, though at the moment, it was stuck in an uncomfortable position underneath him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Not now,” she snapped. “There’s someone interfering with my ability to stop time.”
“That’s good to know,” he said, unable to think of any other response. Her words became fact as he heard a soft pop, like someone squeezing a roll of plastic wrap, and the bullets that’d been aimed at him smashed through the windows above them, raining down glass and plaster. “It’s probably the Master,” he added, pointing at the desk.
“That’s a TARDIS?” The woman replied, lifting an eyebrow at him. “What makes you think that’s a TARDIS?”
“How do you know what a TARDIS is?”
A bullet ricocheted off a flagpole past Ianto’s ear. Susan replied, quite sensibly, “I don’t think now’s a good time for that question.” She grabbed his shirt and lifted him up. As they stood, she threw the poker at the agents. Their next volley of shots set the air ablaze with blue lightning as the bullets struck what seemed to be a force field in the immediate vicinity of the poker. It then emitted a flat, cerulean shockwave that froze the room once more, and they dodged past the men into the hallway.
The woman snapped her fingers and the world darkened, the objects and air around them seeming tinged with hints of violet as they alone stood as solid objects amidst a pale, faded environment. “We should be far enough to be free of the effects of the TARDIS,” she explained.
“What did you do back there? Was that Time Lord technology?”
“Your friend Toshiko asked that when we first met as well, or perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that when we will first meet, she asks that.” The woman extended her hand, though Ianto got the sense that the action was more a formality than a gesture of good will. “Ianto Jones, my name is Susan Sto Helit, and I’m from your future.”
Ianto considered this. Deep down, he felt rather startled, but upon further consideration, he decided the revelation was well within the boundaries of his job description, so he just nodded and said, “I see.”
“You look different with the sideburns.”
His jaw dropped. “I lose my sideburns?” he exclaimed. “But I like my sideburns! What happens to my sideburns?”
“I’m afraid telling you could cause the space-time continuum to collapse, or some such similar nonsense. I personally think Lobsang and the Doctor just enjoy spouting technobabble, like that silliness about the polarity of the neutron flow. I mean, neutrons have no charge, so where does their polarity come from? It’s ridiculous even by Discworld standards.”
“So he’s lying?”
“No.” Susan frowned. “The flow really does have a polarity.”
Uttered by anyone else, this admission would have caused the speaker to appear a lunatic. Susan had an air of sensibility, however, that caused all her statements to make the universe seem absurd instead. Indeed, Ianto got the sense that she was a long-suffering soul forced to put up with the idiosyncrasies of everyone and everything else in a way a schoolteacher might put up with a particularly stupid grade-schooler who slobbered when confronted with pencil and paper and drew when presented with food.
“So if it’s all rubbish, you can tell me,” Ianto said, just a little desperately.
“No. It might not be rubbish, and I’m not risking the stability of the universe for the sake of your sideburns. Now hurry up; time isn’t going to wait for us forever.”
In real life, people cannot just disappear in one place and reappear in another, Wilson told himself, trying to collect his thoughts. The idea that he was hallucinating occurred to him, but he preferred not to consider the implications. It's impossible. Right? Well, if anyone would know, it'd be the materializing man himself, who was standing patiently in front of him, waiting for a response. Wilson decided to ask him.
"Err, I realize this may seem like an odd question, but you didn't just sort of... I don't know, materialize in front of me there, did you? Out of thin air?" Wilson said, thoroughly perplexed with himself. Some of the events of the last few hours flashed in front of his eyes and he began to wonder if the whole day had been just a dream. Aside from an obnoxiously surreal plot line, it didn't feel like a dream. Then again, maybe House had spiked the coffee machine out of sheer malice.
"Of course I didn't, Doctor. That's impossible," the man--Mr. Bilis Manger--said calmly. Wilson was pretty sure he had but didn't press the matter for fear of being proven wrong; he didn't like the idea that he might be genuinely crazy. The two men stood for a few more moments in silence. Mr. Manger cleared his throat and gave him a pointed look. Wilson coughed, remembering his manners. He fought down his panic and confusion, popped a few more pills, and decided to examine his psyche later when he was alone.
"Right, sorry, who did you say you needed to find?" he asked, and wondered if it was after visitation hours yet.
"Ms. Gwen Cooper, please." Go figure. Outside the window, the sun was slowly starting to set.
"I think she's down one floor. I'll take you there." Wilson led the way to the staircase, down one flight, and through a few corridors lined with patient rooms. Cuddy was saying something over the intercom, but Wilson's mind blocked it out, possibly in an attempt to prevent any further damage. He vaguely noted he was walking very stiffly but couldn't bring himself to make the effort to relax.
He led the skinny old man to room 232, which he was pretty sure was Gwen's room. At least he wasn’t receiving any comments about the state of his buttocks....
"This should be it," Wilson said, knocking lightly on the door. There was no response, so he quietly opened the door and glanced inside, assuming that the young girl must have been sleeping. He took a step back as he saw the room ransacked and the bed and patient both missing.
"Hello? Excuse me, Ms. Cooper?" he called, stepping inside and looking around to make sure Gwen hadn’t decided to redecorate in some sort of fit. Mr. Manger followed him in and looked at Wilson expectantly, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. Wilson shrugged. "I guess she's not here. House must've taken her somewhere? Or something. It's probably after visiting hours, anyway. If you come back tomorrow, I'm sure you'll be able to see her." The old man gave him a tight smile, but before he got a chance to say anything, three burly men wearing uniforms and carrying guns burst into the room. Wilson, badly startled, leapt back, did a double-take to avoid the bed, realized the bed wasn’t there, tripped over his own shoe, and fell over backwards behind a recliner, barely avoiding landing on his head.
Shaken, Wilson pulled himself up. He'd barely managed to focus his vision when he saw Mr. Manger give the three uniformed men a strange smile, then vanish. All three looked as confused as Wilson felt, and he noted this with relief, because if others had seen the same thing, he couldn’t be crazy. Then one of the intruders focused on him and he ducked behind the recliner again.
Unfortunately, he hadn't ducked fast enough, and a large, blonde man with an unpleasant expression hauled him up from the floor by the arm.
"Ouch! Hey! Watch it!" Wilson shouted at them. "What's going on?"
The men didn't answer, but instead twisted his arms behind his back, threw handcuffs on him, and led him out the door and back into the hallway.
"Dammit, where are you taking me? You can't do this! It's against the law! I haven't done anything!" Wilson struggled, but there was no escaping.
Well doesn't that just beat all, he thought as he was led forcibly to the elevator.
House swore, putting as much feeling into it as he could muster, as Gwen lay spasming on the floor where she'd fallen. Rolling his eyes and cursing one more time, he knelt gingerly and began performing CPR. In between breaths, he yelled up the stairs.
"GODDAMMIT WOULD SOMEONE COMPETENT PLEASE COME DOWN HERE AND HELP SO I DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS MYSELF? IT'S REALLY ANNOYING."
Understandably, considering he was in the morgue, no one heard him. Several minutes later, the worst of the heart attack was past and Gwen was unconscious but breathing normally again, with a faint pulse. She needed to be connected to oxygen, though, and House wanted to run some tests.
He stared down at Gwen, wondering how the hell he was going to get her up the stairs. Eventually he braced himself, put most of his weight on his good leg, and through a series of acrobatic movements, lifted Gwen over his shoulders. Luckily, she didn't weigh much. He dumped her back onto the gurney. Her arm flopped over the side and swung back and forth with the motion of the cart like a dying fish. Her legs jutted out over the other edge, making it difficult to maneuver the cart without some part of her body hitting a wall. Without regard for her comfort, House pressed on, wheeling the cart towards the elevator.
The doors dinged open on the ground floor to reveal the clinic. The lobby was chaos, with papers strewn all over the ground, soldiers stationed at the doors, and patients crowded around the receptionist making noises about lawsuits. A few good nurses were trying with varied success to pull out some order, but their attempts seemed to result in more screaming. House surveyed the scene, then pushed the gurney out into the middle of the floor, put on his most intimidating face, and shouted.
"Everyone SHUT UP and listen!" Everyone froze. House felt oddly proud. "This woman just had a heart attack. She needs to be hooked up to an IV and some oxygen, and I need someone reasonably intelligent to get her a CT Scan and an echocardiogram and report back to me when they're done. Got it? Good. Now, does anyone know where my minions are? I need to fire them."
No one moved. A nurse coughed. House raised an eyebrow.
"Well?" he added expectantly. That did the trick. The silence was broken. A few nurses and a young man who was probably a resident walked up and wheeled Gwen away, and everyone else went back to what they'd been doing before, only in a slightly more subdued and less chaotic manner.
House grinned to himself and found a nice chair in the lobby to sit and take a nap in.
“So what’s next?” Monty asked. Two hours later, their search hadn’t yielded a single artifact or hint of alien involvement. Though the governor’s office was now off-limits due to the presumably still rampaging lamp, they’d searched through all the documents in every filing cabinet on the floor, aided by Tosh’s rapid scan device, which could convert any written document into an electronic file in a matter of seconds.
“Back to your office,” Tosh replied. He nodded and headed off without waiting for her to follow, and she grimaced. He wasn’t this eager to go there earlier. In fact, he’d briefly protested when she suggested going through his files, asking if she didn’t trust him. He hadn’t held back once they’d arrived, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a secret place where he hid documents he didn’t want people to see. Tosh had her own secret stash behind a panel under the stairs in the Hub, and no one would guess it was there if she didn’t show it to them.
While Monty had a room to himself--a fact which made Tosh a little jealous--it was small, with just enough space for a desk and a bookshelf and filing cabinet in one corner, a small potted plant in another. At her behest, he booted up his computer and logged on.
“There’s security protocols in place,” he said, as Tosh began trying to hack into the other computers. “You can’t get in; believe me, people have tried.”
Tosh showed him her scanner and pressed it against the computer.
“It scans computers too?”
“You know, that almost makes it sound like all its functions have some fundamental link.” Tosh looked thoughtful. “But yes, it’ll hack into any database connected to this computer.”
“It also unlocks doors and trims nose hair.”
“Really…” Monty reached for it but jerked away when Tosh slapped his hand.
“It needs to stay in place until I’m done searching the files.” She peered interestedly at his nose. “And then you can trim all you like.”
“I was actually thinking about the secret storeroom the Governor keeps on the third floor,” Monty said, sounding hurt.
Before she could reply--though she did manage to give him a wide-eyed “haha-I’m-joking” smile, which she suspected looked less like Puss in Boots and more like Cheshire Cat--her cell phone rang again.
“Ianto?” she said, seeing “Unknown Caller” displayed on the screen.
“Greetings! You’ve qualified to be entered into a drawing for an iPhone!”
Tosh hung up. The phone rang again.
“Sorry about that; bad interference here,” Ianto’s voice said when she took the call. “Ow! Stop poking me!”
“I’m not poking you!” a woman’s voice crackled through the earpiece. “Look, no poker.”
“What’s going on?” Tosh demanded, switching on the speakerphone.
“I’m in the White House basement. Listen closely, ‘cause there’s no time to repeat anything.”
“Monty has a tape recorder; can I record this?”
“Yes, yes, ow! If you’re not poking me, who is?”
“How should I know?”
Monty clicked the recorder on and Tosh hurriedly interrupted: “Go on.”
“There’s a Time Lord called the Master in league with the aliens who’s apparently promised BRAIN technology--you know what that is, from your time with UNIT, correct?” he added and continued without waiting for her to reply. “--it’s been promised to prominent political leaders in the US government in exchange for their cooperation. The promise is obviously a lie, but they don’t know that. The President has either been deposed and is being used as a pawn, or he’s in on the conspiracy as well. I’ve met a woman from a planet shaped like a disc that travels through space on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle, and her name is Susan Sto Helit and she’s the granddaughter of their planet’s anthropomorphic personification of Death, who exists in the form of a robed skeleton with a scythe and sword. Oh, and she’s from the future.” At this point, he paused, then said, somewhat sullenly, “when I no longer have sideburns.”
Sensing he needed a prompt to continue, Tosh said, “Okay....”
“Since the aliens can alter human perception to make us see whatever they want us to see, they can kill and replace prominent politicians. The federal government is safe because Susan says they don’t want to interfere too much. On the state level, however...”
“Oh my god!” Monty exclaimed.
“Yes,” Ianto said. “You may be working for an alien.”
“That’s too cool!”
Ianto sighed. “One last thing; we’ve found a document instructing officials to keep all items and memos pertaining to the aliens in their own homes so as to avoid attracting suspicion at work; obviously, they’re not too strict about this order, but if you’re not having any luck in the office, you might want to search the Governor’s Mansion.”
“That’s in Princeton,” Monty added.
“How convenient,” Tosh said, feeling a shiver of foreboding and a rush of adrenaline at this news.
“But there’s this secret room on the third floor where the Governor goes when he thinks no one’s looking, and he’s the only one who has access,” Monty said. “Maybe there’s something in there.”
“Actually, that’s where he keeps a secret stash of Belgian chocolates,” Susan said, her voice muffled as she sounded like she was chewing on something sticky. Tosh knew that Ianto would be giving her an incredulous look at that moment, and probably doing something funny with his eyebrows, too, and sure enough, Susan said, “Look, I just happened to run across it while I was searching for you, and some of the boxes were close to their expiration date, and I thought, Well wouldn’t that be a waste if they went uneaten?”
“So the governor’s human?” Monty asked, looking crestfallen.
“Who told you only humans like chocolate?” Susan snapped. “Everyone likes chocolate. Every bloody sentient being in the universe, and they’re always trying to steal it from you! Ow!”
“Did you get poked too?”
“Have either of you thought about turning around right now?” Tosh asked.
“Can’t: we’re in a broom closet.”
“Maybe it’s brooms falling against you?”
“Do brooms reach into your pockets to take away pieces of chocolate?” Susan asked pointedly.
Tosh had to admit that no, most brooms did not possess kleptomaniacal tendencies. Monty looked ready to faint.
“Right, something’s groping my buttocks now, and since Jack’s not with us, I really need to go!” Ianto hung up.
Monty continued staring at the phone in horror, and Tosh began to worry about the man’s extensive imagination. She reached into his pockets and took out his car keys. He didn’t respond. She slapped his buttock, and he jumped into the air, yelping. “What was that for?” he said in a high-pitched voice as he rubbed his backside.
Tosh waggled the keys in front of his face. “Fancy a drive?”
Lisa Cuddy was getting more and more frustrated. General Posey may have been a bit of a horny creep, but he was a general and he hadn't gotten that far by being a complete idiot. Additionally, Cuddy's little stripping act hadn't gotten very far, due to her unwillingness to reveal anything real. She had yet to divest any major article of clothing, and that was irritating the man, who wasn't very patient to begin with. An extended lack of any actual breasts was unfortunately bringing him back to his senses, and Cuddy could see the exact moment when he remembered what he was supposed to be doing. His eyes cleared and he gave her a very distinct frown that wrinkled his face most unpleasantly.
"All right, Doctor Cuddy, that's quite enough. I need you to cooperate in finding these individuals," he said gruffly. Cuddy surreptitiously slipped the portable intercom mic back into its holster at her waist and hoped she'd bought House enough time to escape.
"I'm afraid I don't know where any of them are," she told him, and gave him a flirtatious wink just in case. He gave her a glare that told her quite plainly he didn't believe her for a moment.
"Doctor Cuddy, if you don't cooperate, I'm afraid we'll have to take action against you."
She thought desperately, rapidly going over half-formed ideas, but nothing that had a remote chance of helping came to her. She sighed and straightened up, pulling her blouse back over her shoulder and smoothing down her clothes. "I'm sorry, but I can't help you. That's final."
Posey growled at her and took a menacing step forward. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by another voice.
"General, we've located several of the people on the list and have them held securely, but we still haven't found House. What's the situation up here?" A man was walking down the hallway towards them. He stopped abruptly when he reached them and gave her a cursory glance. "Hello Doctor, I'm Colonel Pistachio Smythe." She nodded and he relocated his attention.
"Colonel. I have been unable to get any information out of her. She's the Dean of Medicine here, but she claims not to know anything. I definitely believe otherwise."
"Yes, sir. It would be very wise to cooperate with the National Guard, Doctor," he directed the last part at her. She shrugged.
"We haven't done anything wrong. You can't take anyone without first telling them their charges," she said, drawing herself up and trying to look imposing.
It didn't work, because right then she finally looked at this new man, Colonel Smythe, and took in his appearance. He was extremely tall, but not like a normal person is tall. He was tall like a giraffe is tall. His head towered over her and he looked down at her through slightly squinty eyes, but his actual torso and legs were only a little taller than average. His neck was abnormally long, and his head was strangely squished so it was far longer than it was wide, with his facial features all looking a little crammed in, as if otherwise they wouldn't fit. His eyes were too close together, his mouth was thin, and his nose was very long and pointed. His eyebrows were so thin and shapely that they looked like a woman's, but on his face they seemed out of place and menacing. On the very top of his head he had a short shock of black hair streaked with the beginnings of grey that was mostly covered by an army cap. His neck seemed to stretch on forever, although she thought it must have been mostly an optical illusion brought on by his ridiculously skinny torso and bizarrely-shaped head. She guessed he was well over six and a half feet tall--probably closing in on seven feet.
He wasn't built or muscled like most of the army minions were, and he wasn't slightly chubby like most of the officers, including General Posey, were. He wasn't exactly wiry or skinny either, though. He was definitely built like a man, not a teenager. He looked as though someone had taken a normal-sized man and stuck him in one of those medieval torture devices that had just stretched him out.
It might have been comical, but on this man, it was frightening.
Instead of responding to her statement, Colonel Smythe gave her a vaguely amused look, then turned back to his superior officer.
"Might I suggest, sir," he said, "that we simply put her somewhere out of the way for the time being?" The General didn't look too pleased by this suggestion.
"I suspect I could get something more out of her, Colonel, if--"
"I believe my suggestion would be much more appropriate, sir," Smythe interrupted pointedly. Posey looked a little shaken, and worried his hands as he tried to gain some ground.
"Sir," Smythe said, with a little more force. Cuddy could see Posey wilt under the pressure of the man's intense glare.
"Oh, all right then. Lock her in her office for now. We'll question her later," he said irritably.
"Yes, sir," Smythe said, and grabbed Cuddy's arm.
"What?! You can't do this! It's against the law!" Cuddy protested. She tried to fight, digging her fingernails into the man's arm, but he didn't even flinch.
"Sorry, Doctor, I'm under orders from a superior officer." With that, he flung her into her office and slammed the door. She heard the sound of the lock being jammed and ran up to grab the doorknob. Sure enough, it wouldn't turn. She slumped to the floor with her back against the door and ran her fingers through her hair.
"What would House do?" she asked herself, barely able to believe her situation.
Outside, the last few rays of daylight slipped below the horizon and night fell upon Princeton-Plainsboro.
"What the fuck?!" Cameron shouted upon finding herself jammed into a tiny dark space in between someone's back and a wall.
"Ha, serves you right!" the person she was pressed against shouted back.
"...Owen?" she asked, surprised.
"Yeah, this would be so much better if you weren't Chase right now," Owen sighed.
"Oh god," came Foreman's voice from the other side of Owen. “That didn’t stop you before.”
Cameron tried to slap Owen but the action was aborted by the lack of space. It was stiflingly hot and stuffy in what she now knew was the trunk of the rental, and the air that was there didn't smell too great. Not to mention it was cramped as hell, and pitch black to boot. The trunk must've been closed again, she noted. The rental was a minivan, and as such the trunk was large enough to accommodate a lot of luggage, but it definitely couldn't comfortably accommodate three people. Four people, she corrected herself as she heard someone groan on the far end, behind Foreman.
"It's Chase. Or, Chase as you," Foreman answered her unspoken question. "He's a little out of it."
"Foreman, you lucky bastard. It must be amazing to have tits like that pressed against your back," Owen grumbled. Instinctively, Cameron tried to punch him, but once again all she could do was jerk weakly.
"How the hell did we get here?" she asked, trying to find some answers in lieu of beating someone up.
"We, uh, actually don't know," Foreman said, sounding embarrassed.
"How can you not know? You were here!"
"Yeah, but, well, I don't know how to explain it, but one second you weren't here and the next you were, with no in between time," Foreman tried to explain. Owen made a gesture that might have been a shrug.
"So we just... appeared here?"
"Well, no. Not really. You just weren't, then you were."
"I don't get it."
"I told you, it's hard to explain. I don't understand it myself." There was silence for a moment. Cameron nudged Owen.
"What? Don't look at me! When Foreman showed up, I was asleep so I have no idea what happened there! And I don't know what happened with you two any better than he does," Owen protested. Cameron sighed.
"The air in here is disgusting," she noted wryly.
"Yeah, just be thankful there is air," Owen grouched.
"How is that, anyway?" Cameron wondered.
"Dunno," said Owen and Foreman at the same time.
"What's going on?" asked Chase groggily from the other side of the car.
"You got me kidnapped, that's what! What if they'd killed you? I'd have been stuck with a dick forever!" Cameron wasn't in the mood to be rational.
"Looks like you didn't do any better yourself!" Chase shot back, then paused. "Where the hell are we?"
"A trunk," Foreman supplied. There was a pause.
"Well, shit," Chase said.
"What I want to know," Owen said slowly, like he was trying to figure something out, "is why we're here? I mean, if these aliens had wanted to kill us it would've been easy, right? But instead they stuck us in here. Why?" The four of them mulled that over for a bit. Cameron's anger subsided and she could feel the beginnings of panic. She did her best to quash them and consider the problem at hand.
"Well, obviously they're holding us for something. Like a prison cell," Foreman said.
"Yeah, sure, but why here? Obviously they've got pretty advanced technology. Why not just transport us to a real prison on their home planet or something?" Owen asked.
"This place seems to work well enough," Cameron said dryly.
"Maybe they're keeping us here just until they can take us somewhere else nearby? And they don't want to waste resources by taking us farther than they have to," Chase mused.
"That's probably the first intelligent thing you've said all day," Cameron quipped.
"Dammit, Cameron, if you're not going to be helpful, just shut up," Foreman snapped. Cameron huffed, but fell silent. Her back was beginning to cramp, and so was her left foot. She tried to adjust, to no avail. There just wasn't any space.
"That seems plausible," Owen added, ignoring the bickering. "So then, where nearby are they taking us that isn't ready yet?"
"What I want to know," Cameron spoke up again, "is why did they kidnap me, Foreman, and Chase? I mean, you're a member of some kind of secret alien-catching organization or something so I get that, but what do we have to do with anything?"
"We don't catch aliens!" Owen protested. He was ignored.
"I'd like to know the answer to that too," Foreman added. "We were essentially innocent bystanders. Why go through the trouble of kidnapping us and locking us in here?"
"I'm hungry," Owen said.
"There's an energy bar in Chase's left pocket, but good luck reaching it," Cameron said. Then she realized this was a bad thing to say as Owen began reaching over and his weight began bearing down upon some uncomfortable portions of her anatomy. She slapped him. “Never mind, I’m sure he’s eaten it by now.”
"Can we get back on-topic?" Chase pleaded. There was a soft shuffling sound as he tried to remove the bar from his pocket without anyone else hearing.
“Hey!” Owen yelled, causing Cameron to wince away in an attempt to save her ear drums.
“Hey!” Chase echoed as Foreman snatched the bar from him, ripped the wrapper, and stuffed the entire thing in his mouth in one bite.
“You’re disgusting,” Cameron told him.
“Ermfphlgurlgprt,” he replied. Cameron glared. He swallowed but failed to choke, proving her glare had no killing properties. He ignored her and looked over at Owen. "Yes, what have you and your friends involved us in?” He demanded. “Are we here by association or is there some other reason? Or is it because we were treating Gwen, and she's with you?"
"Look, I don't know any better than you guys do, okay?" Owen finally responded, sounding cross. "I've been in here all day. Do you think I've been kept up-to-date on the situation at all? Well, I haven't! And I didn't know hardly anything going into this! Our mission was just to find some sort of alien device that had fallen through the Rift and ended up here. There were some strange circumstances, but it was a fairly routine mission. None of us planned for Gwen to get sick, we didn't plan to involve you, and I sure as hell didn't plan to get stuck in a trunk! So lay off!"
"Jesus, fine, chill out!" Chase said.
"You still probably know more about this than us, though. Isn't there anything you can tell us that might help?" Foreman asked. Owen sighed.
"I doubt it. Oh, no wait--Cameron, you said the car was on the top floor?" Cameron nodded. When she realized he couldn't see her, she answered with an affirmative. "Right, if I know anything about transmatting--and I actually don't, really, that's Tosh's area--then we're here for easier access. I know Tosh didn't park all the way up here, so they must've moved us to the top for easier access."
"Great. That's wonderful to know. And how exactly does that help us at all?" Cameron asked, annoyed.
"I don't know! I thought you might appreciate any sort of information!" Owen retorted.
"Actually, even if that sounds mostly like speculation, it is nice to know. It may not necessarily help, but I feel better knowing as much as possible about the situation," Foreman reasoned.
"Fine," Cameron said petulantly. She considered pouting, but decided no one would be able to see her and she didn't want to waste the energy.
For several long, uncomfortable minutes, silence reigned. Then Owen groaned loudly.
"God, I've got to pee so bad..." he informed everyone.
"Don't you fucking dare!" yelled Cameron, Chase, and Foreman in alarm, as they tried to scoot back as far away from Owen as possible.
House’s break was not as long or as restful as he’d hoped. In fact, he’d just begun to get comfortable when two nurses came up to him.
“Dr. House,” the first said, then feeling this was sufficient input on her part, backed away and nudged the other forward a few steps.
The other was clearly bolder than the other. House would have to remember to break her spirit when the time allowed. She stiffened when he gazed pointedly at her breasts, which were on the same level as his eyes, and said, “Given the effectiveness of your exercise of authority earlier, we feel you should put your talents to use in an emergency situation, especially since you are a senior member of the staff and a veteran department head.”
House sighed. “You want me to do Clinic duty, don’t you? Well, fat chance. You have to be at least a D-cup to get me to do what you want.”
“But Dr. Cuddy’s not a--” the first nurse piped up before squeaking and clapping both hands over her mouth. House smirked at her.
“I have a bull whip in the closet,” the second nurse said sweetly, rolling up her sleeves to reveal heavily muscled arms.
“Then that’s clearly not the only thing in the closet,” House said, then jumped up as she made to grab his neck. “All right, all right, I’ll do it, but only because I’m a responsible staff member.” After all, he thought, the hospital’s under lockdown; how many patients could there be?
As it turned out, a giant rift in the space-time continuum existed in the middle of the clinic and disgorged an unending number of patients whose intelligence quotient had an inverse relationship with the number of people sent through.
“I have a cold!” someone said, grabbing his sleeve before he had a chance to take three steps.
“Good, then you’re diagnosed, shoo.”
“But-- aaaarrgh!” the man said as another patient shoved him out of the way and presented her arms.
“I’m breaking out in rashes! I think I have Gulf War Syndrome!”
“Gulf War Syndrome doesn’t exist, and even if it did, you can’t catch it from a soldier.”
“Then you admit there’s a possibility it exists?”
House eyed her cautiously. “Are you a lawyer?”
“How does that matter in any way?”
“This hospital’s under martial law. Get out of the way before I have someone shoot you for willfully interfering in urgent medical affairs.”
“But I’m dying!” she shrieked.
“You’re a hypochondriac. My suggestion is to smoke marijuana; it’ll calm you down and make you forget all your troubles. ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’”
“That’s illegal!” she protested.
“Find a loophole and sue somebody.”
“You’re counting on Dr. Cuddy to be so distracted she won’t hear about your behavior, aren’t you?” someone said to him in an a grating, cheerful tone. He glanced over to see Tracy. House grabbed her arm, and dragged her behind him as he headed for the clinic room where the nurses had taken Gwen.
“Everyone out!” House roared as he entered the room. “I’m trying to work and save a life!” Then he saw a nurse holding two paddles over Gwen’s chest. “Oh, very well, carry on.”
Gwen’s body jerked as the charge of electricity raced through her. The EKG began registering a heart beat again, and there was a collective sigh of relief.
House nodded. “I don’t suppose anyone managed to perform the tests I requested?”
“She had a heart attack, Dr. House!” one of the nurses protested, but another laid a hand on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear. He glared at House and left the room, followed by the rest of the team.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no'!” House yelled as the door closed. He snapped his fingers and surprisingly, Tracy wheeled the equipment up and began prepping Gwen.
“You didn’t happen to go to medical school and decide nursing was more fun, did you?” he asked.
“Actually, I did,” she said. “UCSF Class of ’02 with a residency at Ann Arbor, but then I moved here to tend to my dying grandfather, and I needed more flexible hours than an MD would have.”
House blinked and tried not to be worried by his momentary speechlessness. “So you just sort of act cheery and stupid?”
“It seemed fun at the time.”
More speechlessness. More worry. “Is there any chance you’d try to jump me if I hired you?”
Tracy slapped him, then handed him the ultrasound probe.
“Very appropriate balance of work and personal life,” House nodded. “I approve.”
Ianto threw the closet door open without stopping to listen for people outside, and he and Susan tumbled out together. Something roared from the recesses of the closet, and then an alien of the same species as the ones that attacked the hospital tumbled out after him.
“There was an alien in the closet and you didn’t notice?” Ianto exclaimed, as Susan had been the one to choose their hiding place while he made the call.
“Of course I noticed.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You didn’t ask.”
“I said ‘Is it safe!’”
“And I said it was. I’d beaten the alien up with my poker. You even saw me throw the poker away because it was bent.”
“You have a hole in your pants.” Susan pointed, and Ianto noticed his trousers were feeling breezier than usual. It was more of a large gash, as the alien had maintained a rather firm grip on Ianto’s pants as he’d charged out of the closet, but the main point--that of his pants being ruined beyond repair--was understood.
“I don’t have a change of clothes!” Ianto said.
“I don’t remember you being nearly this fussy,” Susan said. “Don’t worry; I’ll go get you a pair.”
Susan retrieved her bent poker and exited into the adjacent room, which Ianto realized contained a stairwell leading to a meeting room. There was a loud scream and a number of clangs and crashes, and then Susan returned with a pair of pants.
“Don’t worry,” Susan said, tossing the poker away once more. “I stole it from the Vice-president’s aide, and we all know he’s an ass. Anyway, I hear most politicians stole pants from each other back when they were in university; for men who condemn sex outside of marriage, they seem awfully obsessed with getting each other naked.”
Ianto shrugged and changed. Susan looked away, and by the time he was done, she was gazing intently at a photograph in her hand.
“We should try to interrogate it,” Ianto said, indicating the once-again unconscious alien drooling on the floor.
“No time.” Susan shook her head, then gave Ianto the photograph. “I saw this man earlier when time was frozen. You need to follow him.”
“Why?” Ianto asked.
“No clue. You give me the photograph in the future and tell me to give it to you when I see you in the past so you can follow him so you can find something out that you can’t tell me about for me to tell you and then you can tell me in the future to give this photograph to you.”
“Oh, you’ll figure out what to do; you already have. Or at least, that’s what the Doctor said.”
“No wonder Queen Victoria wanted him arrested,” Ianto muttered.
Gwen’s heart was riddled with tumors.
“What the hell?” House said.
“They’re called tumors,” Tracy replied.
“They’re also career-enders.”
“That’s mean! I realize she’s probably going to die with that many problems with her heart, but...”
“I don’t mean for her,” House growled. “Chase and Cameron are getting fired.”
“Wouldn’t that be discrimination? I suppose their switching genders comes as a major shock to you, but--”
“I had them do an echo earlier, and they reported nothing wrong with the heart.”
“What if they were right?”
“Tumors don’t appear that fast.” But House paused to ponder this possibility; he wouldn’t have accepted this case if it had been a run-of-the-mill stroke, though he had to admit he hadn’t anticipated aliens showing up. He tapped the probe a few times, causing the ultrasound to make a lot of cool new noises that might have belonged in a Star Wars movie. “I need that CT now. Damn, do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be thinking of a new way of getting past three hundred soldiers with an unconscious patient?”
Tracy opened the door and peered out. “You can’t; they’re coming for you.”
House joined her at the door. “Damn!” he said, as he saw the lawyer from earlier gesticulating in his direction. “Damn, damn, damn,” and then he raised his voice and yelled, “I’ll see you in court!”
She responded by raising both her middle fingers at him. House stuck out his tongue before dodging back into the room as the soldiers began charging for him. He locked it but didn’t think that’d keep them out for long. He glanced at Tracy, but she was looking at him as though she expected him to teleport them out.
“I’m out of ideas!” he said.
“You have to do something!”
The hinges rattled as the door buckled. House shrugged. “Maybe I’ll wake up and find out this was all a dream!”
“This isn’t a dream!” Tracy screamed.
“Women.” House rolled his eyes. “You’re all so panicky and overwrought... and... that gives me an idea.”
“Yeah, it’d better have,” Tracy said, balling her hands up and showing him her fists.
“All right, quickly,” House said, pulling a permanent marker out of his pocket. For lack of a better surface, he began writing on the wall. “We’re doing a differential.”
“Just do it! She came in with a stroke, but there was nothing wrong with her brain. There was also nothing wrong with the heart, but then she had a heart attack, and now there’s tumors all over it. She has an angioma in her retina, and also no color vision, but that’s more likely because of the stroke.” House drew an area linking “no color vision” with “stroke.” “Now, we thought hypertension as a cause of the stroke was too easy a diagnosis, but what if it’s true? What if stress did cause her hypertension, but we’re not looking at the right type of stress?” He drew a circle around it, then another arrow to a blank spot on the wall. The door rumbled once more, and a piece of the frame splintered off. “So what we don’t know is what’s causing the tumors and what’s causing her mood swings.” Two more arrows to the same empty space. “Tumors, mood swings, panic attacks, and stress, all from the same cause. Go!”
“Uh, could be hyperparathyroidism, the tumors might be calcium deposits.”
“No elevated calcium levels, no nausea, and all digestive functions are normal.”
Tracy flinched as one of the hinges ripped loose and ricocheted across the room. “Overactive renin-angiotensin system!”
“No good; I liked your tighter focus on the endocrine system.” House snapped his fingers. “I got it! Pheochromocytoma! Tumor on the adrenal medulla, causes the gland to release excessive amounts of catecholamines such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. On the surface, it looks like a panic attack, but it causes the same complications as someone living a high-stress lifestyle for long periods of time and is caused by a tumor, which her body seems to be riddled with!”
“How does this help?” Tracy screamed. The door exploded inwards and soldiers rushed into the room, guns raised.
“Freeze!” their captain said, aiming at House’s chest.
House raised both his hands but maintained a grip on the cane with his right. Then he looked at Tracy. “It helps because there’s one convenient way to confirm my diagnosis, and it’s by doing this!” In one swift motion, he swung the cane in an arc and brought it down on Gwen’s abdomen. It snapped in half with a loud crack.
Her eyes shot open and her body spasmed. Gasping wildly, she wheezed, “What’s happening?” The captain swung around to point his gun at Gwen, but she swept it from his hands, picked him up, and threw him through the doorway.
“Funny thing about pheochromocytomas,” House said conversationally as Gwen proceeded to lay into the rest of the soldiers before they had a chance to aim and fire. “If you poke them, they tend to release a surge of catecholamines.”
“She’ll get another heart attack,” Tracy said, but the reprimand was rather toothless given her awed tone.
“That’s why we have a crash cart ready.” House tapped Gwen on the shoulder and winced back when she rounded on him, ready to attack. “Whoa, whoa, no harm intended.” He held up his broken cane.
“Did you hit me with that?” Gwen said.
“What? This old thing? No, why would I do that? This way, please.” House motioned at the door. Gwen growled and stormed through into the clinic.
Outside, everyone was gathered in silence around the desk, where the captain had landed, smashing a computer and a chair. He moaned and was about to get up when he caught sight of Gwen and thought better of appearing to recover. House waved at the lawyer who ducked out of sight.
“Those who don’t behave get the same treatment,” House announced. “Now sit!”
Everyone sat. Most didn’t even bother looking for a chair and just plopped down on the floor; they were too worried about appearing conspicuous.
“I feel dizzy,” Gwen said, then fainted. House checked her pulse.
“Still beating,” he told Tracy. Unfortunately, she realized there was a catch, so he added, “but she’s going to need surgery to remove the tumor.”
“Pheochromocytoma removals only occur at highly-specialized treatment centers, and for good reason!”
“Right, well we’ve got one operating room, and two doctors, neither of whom are surgeons.”
“Can’t it wait? You said yourself there’s no explanation for the tumors yet!”
“But her heart can’t take any more shocks; if there’s another adrenaline release, we might not be able to bring her back.”
“You should have thought about that before you hit her!”
“You think being shipped off to Guantanomo would be any better for her health? Besides, I don’t look good in orange. Shall we get started?”
“There, that’s him!” Susan pointed. They were now in a parking lot outside of the White House, and though Ianto did not dispute that the person in question matched the one in the photograph, he saw no way they could follow him if he drove off. He said as much, and Susan looked at him with a gleam in her eye. He sighed.
“Do I really have to?” he said.
“I hear from my colleague that it’s a very uncomfortable situation.”
“Nonsense, all we have to do is fix it so that you pull a latch and the trunk opens by itself.” Around them, time slowed down once more so that everything took on a purplish hue, and Susan led him to the car. She pressed her hand against the trunk, and it regained its natural color and swung open.
Ianto considered protesting one more time, but Susan was nothing if not sensible, and if this was the best idea she could come up with, she wasn’t about to give anyone else the chance to propose something better. He climbed in.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll thank me when you next see me.”
“Oh yes, definitely. It already happened.” And then, with a jarring thunk, the world went dark. Ianto glanced at his watch and saw time was happily proceeding on its own once more. There was nothing more to do but wait.
Nightfall. The moon was making its slow ascent into a navy blue sky, faded behind wisps of clouds like a spotlight on stormy seas. Cuddy felt equally stranded, locked in her own office with nothing to do and no news to tell her where her colleagues were or what was happening in this suddenly topsy-turvy world. She could only assume House had made good on his escape as no one was back for her yet. Since Chase, Cameron, and Wilson had all been on the wanted list--Foreman’s absence and the manhole incident confirmed the National Guard was working for the aliens--they were searching for anyone associated with House. Once they realized that she was close to House as well, they would come for her; she didn’t trust House to keep his mouth shut, not when he could spread the misery and sow sufficient chaos to help himself escape.
A scrabbling attracted her attention, and she turned from the windows to see a man’s silhouette on the other side of the door. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he wasn’t tall enough to be Smythe, and sure enough, the door opened and Posey stepped in, muscles tense as though expecting an escape attempt. Cuddy sat in her chair and crossed her legs, doing her best to look serene.
“What can I do for you, General?” she asked, tightening her collar.
Posey blinked, as though briefly thrown off by her sudden change in behavior, but then he took a seat opposite her and smiled. With Smythe absent, he was all assurance and authority once more, and though Cuddy struggled to keep the meeker image of Posey in her mind, it fled before his immediate presence.
“So you haven’t found them yet?” Cuddy said.
He frowned. “Tell us what you know. Dr. House is merely a person of interest to us; he is not our primary target. Once we interrogate him, he will be let free.”
“I’m afraid it’s a matter of principle, General.” Cuddy placed her hands palms down on the table in front of her and couldn’t help feeling that she was offering them to be cut off. “See, I don’t know where you’ve been living the past few decades, but here in the United States, we have strange concepts with funny names like ‘fundamental human rights’ and ‘due process,’ and we don’t take kindly to people who try to take them away from us, because we like our funny names, and as a doctor, I’m even more fond of them than your run-of-the-mill American. Therefore, I don’t care if you plan to give him a million dollars or throw him a birthday party so long as an interrogation is part of the prerequisites.”
“The terror threat level for your hospital has been raised to red and the governor has declared martial law. I’m afraid this is no longer America.”
How easily we fall. Proselytizing was a lot less fun than movies made it out to be, so Cuddy decided to switch tacks.
“I’ve always thought the terror alert system was absurd. I mean, do we really need to use colors to label threat levels? And why red? Why not purple or aqua or maroon? Or silver with gold polka dots? I personally think shininess attracts people’s attention a lot more than color charts, and it certainly makes them a lot less resentful about having to wait in long lines all day for the privilege of sitting in tiny seats on a small, shaky plane breathing recycled air for even longer periods of time.”
Posey’s eyes narrowed. “Nobody cares what you think, Dr. Cuddy.”
“You just care about what I know. And my cup size.”
Posey stood up, and Cuddy resisted the urge to wince back, but his attention wasn’t on her. Instead, he peered out through the window. “Something moved out there.”
House? Cuddy stood and walked around the desk to stand before him. “Afraid of the dark?”
Posey refocused his eyes on her. She grinned and said, “A general, scared of his own reflection? I wouldn’t expect anything else from someone who hides behind a red alert. The color’s so campy, don’t you think?”
She shut her eyes, waiting for him to strike her or do something in retaliation. Come on, House, if you’ve got something planned, now’s the time. But it wasn’t House who answered.
“‘Campy?’ Has someone been talking about me?” A voice said, sounding muffled as though coming to them through a wall or, in this case, glass.
Cuddy whirled around and stared incredulously as Jack Harkness’ head poked up past the window sill. She and Posey reacted at the same time, both grabbing for the general’s gun as Jack raised a fist and punched through the window. The gun slipped from their grip and went sliding across the ground. Posey leapt for it, shoving Cuddy aside and sending her crashing into a bookcase. Jack arrived first, though, and without bothering to bend over to pick it up, he kicked a boot out almost lazily.
The tip of his toe connected with Posey’s temple, sending him spinning and collapsing onto the floor like a rag doll. Jack then turned to Cuddy and grinned.
“I thought there was something wrong when I saw the hospital surrounded by policemen and soldiers, so I figured I’d pay you a visit and see what was going on.”
“Where’d you go?” Cuddy gasped. Jack leapt over Posey to offer her a hand, and she took it, clambering out of the pile of books that had landed atop her.
“Washington DC, teleportation device, it’s complicated.” He winked. “All you need to know is I’m back.”
“We’re in trouble,” Cuddy said, pushing her hair back out of her face.
“I see that. How’s Gwen?”
“I’m not sure; hanging in there, last I heard.”
Jack nodded. Behind him, Cuddy noticed Posey rubbing his head. She grabbed Jack’s arm and tried to pull him aside. “Jack! Watch out!”
Jack whirled around, drawing his gun, but Posey reached his first and fired. Blood splattered everywhere as the bullet went straight through Jack’s heart, and he crumpled.
“No!” Cuddy charged Posey who, dazed, was still focused on Jack. She tackled him, and they both went sliding across the floor. Posey slammed his fist into her face, and it hurt every bit as much as she’d expected it to. Stars in her eyes, she blinked and didn’t seem able to move as Posey staggered back onto his feet and bore down on her. Then, amidst the blurring colors of her vision, she focused on something shiny. Her mind might have exhorted her accuracy at describing the human condition if her head didn’t hurt so much. As it was, she merely realized she’d lost one of her shoes during the struggle and, guided by the innate attractiveness of something that was both shiny and footwear, she grabbed the high heel and swung it as Posey reached down to pick her up. The point of heel made contact with his throat and, having swung it harder than she realized, tore through skin and muscle.
It feels like sticking a thermometer in a turkey, she thought as the man’s weight fell upon her, and she was eye-to-eye with his wide and shocked gaze. Barely able to breathe and feeling as though a heel had gone through her own head as well, Cuddy could feel her consciousness slipping away. Her last thought was, I hope House doesn’t see me like this, and then she fainted.
To Chapter 7: God Does Not Play Dice
Back to Interlude: A Break from Death
Summary: So if the government is controlled by aliens, who do you call? Well, probably not Torchwood. Gwen's on the brink of death, Ianto's stuck in Washington DC, Cuddy's going face-to-face with the National Guard, Tosh is undertaking a dangerous recon mission, and House is actually doing clinic duty in the middle of a lockdown. In other words, it's the end of the world as we know it.