Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Jack shouldn't have opened that box.
He shouldn't have opened that box.
Jack hadn't meant to find the box at all. If he'd known one even existed, he would have been far more careful. It had all started on spring cleaning day. Their winter had been hectic, what with an alien species from Lacafell trying to cause war in London.
That had been quite a mess to clean up, both literally and figuratively.
As a result, boxes had been piled up everywhere, and their mission for the day was supposed to be going through each box one by one and sorting through all of the paperwork. Unfortunately, it had come on one of the most pleasant days they'd seen in awhile. It had been a rare warm day in March, with very little rain. Kids were playing outside, and even Ianto had stared out into space, absently tossing a bouncy ball back and forth off the wall.
It was going to be very difficult for the gang to focus.
Martha had walked by his desk with a heavy box in her arms. After Tosh and Owen had died, he'd had to find replacements for them, and he'd found no one he was more impressed with than Martha and Mickey. They'd joined him shortly after they'd saved the universe from the Daleks. The decision to hire the two of them - especially Mickey - had come on a whim; he'd seen how well they conducted themselves while with the Doctor.
Martha came on board without much convincing. She was fed up with her job with UNIT and felt that her services would be more useful in Torchwood. "There's about ten doctors at UNIT, and it seems like you need one," she'd said.
Mickey had taken more convincing. He'd wanted to settle down and lead a more quiet life, but Jack did everything he could to convince Mickey that he'd be a valuable asset to the team. After two lunches out and one afternoon tea, Mickey had finally agreed. "Only for a bit. I'm not going to do this forever," he'd warned.
Jack didn't know how long 'a bit' was going to be, but Mickey had lasted about a year without mentioning leaving. He hoped it'd stay that way. He was just about as good as Tosh had been, and was a quick learner. When he didn't know how to do something, he found out.
The deaths of Tosh and Owen were something they spoke very little about. After the funeral, they'd carried on as if nothing had happened. Jack hadn't wanted to bring it up. He'd already lived through so many deaths. No one else on the crew talked about it, either. Ianto and Gwen had thrown themselves into their work, sometimes working even longer hours than usual.
"Need any help, Jack?" Martha had asked, eyeing the large piles of paperwork on his desk that he'd been steadily avoiding doing.
"If you want to sort through all of this for me, go right on ahead."
Martha had shaken her head and continued to walk past him. "I'll pass."
Then Jack had opened his desk drawer. It was probably best to get a head start on all of this before it became too much to handle. Well, actually, the mess had been too much to handle back in February. Now it was a disaster area.
He'd pulled out a box from his drawer. Well, that was odd. He hadn't seen that before. Maybe they should have had more days set aside just for cleaning. It was a gray box, and it had sort of shimmered against the light as he placed it on his desk. "Hey! Who put this box in my desk?"
There had been no response.
He shouldn't have opened the box. But he had, and now they were dealing with the consequences.
There was a loud bang and Jack fell off his chair from the force of it. "Is everyone all right?" he called when he managed to pick himself back up again.
Ianto came in first, dusting off his suit. "What on earth was that?"
Martha came in next, followed by Gwen. Mickey came in last, dusting himself off as well.
"It was this box. I don't know. It was in my desk and I wanted to see what it was, and as soon as I opened it, this explosion happened." Jack bent over to see if there was anything dangerous inside. Not even a stick of dynamite.
"Jack, do we need to have a talk about opening mysterious objects we don't know anything about?" Ianto said, putting his hands on his hips in that way he did when he was exasperated with him.
"It doesn't seem to be anything dangerous."
"Except it's causing quite a lot of smoke," Martha pointed out. She shut the lid and pulled her fingers back quickly. "Ouch. It's hot."
They waited around for a moment to see if the box was going to cause any immediate danger. Eventually, the box stopped smoking and started to look like a normal box again.
"I'll go make sure the alarms don't go off," Ianto said. "And then we can finish up in here so I can go home."
He walked out, and the others began to file back to their office stations.
It was Mickey who began to figure out that something wasn't quite right. "I'm getting weird signals all over the place," he said, a few minutes later. He always barged into Jack's office uninvited. "Look." He pushed a large remote in Jack's face. "The energy here doesn't seem at all like earth energy. I thought we were surrounded by aliens at first, but see that green line relative to that red one?"
Jack nodded. Sure enough, a jagged green line filled up the screen on the monitor. Below it, a red line stretched out horizontally.
"The green line represents our oxygen level, and it's going down. The red line represents our ability to breathe. Hasn't changed a lot, but it looks like there's a little less oxygen than should be in Cardiff. Well, anywhere on earth, actually. So far it's not catastrophic, but probably something to worry about. Slightly."
They heard Ianto's voice next. "Uh, Jack? Since when is Cardiff a giant desert?"
New London was a godforsaken place to do a job, Mal thought to himself as he walked across the desert. It was one of the last of the terraformed planets, apparently, and it seemed as if it had been done almost as an afterthought. Not only was the name of the planet one of the most uncreative names out there, it was just miserable. It was hot, and every footstep seemed to kick up a mound of dust. Jayne and Zoe were covered in dust, and he knew he probably looked about the same. He was starting to feel it in his teeth.
His spaceship, Serenity, seemed so far away. They'd probably walked about a mile or two by now. He stared at his radio. The ship's mechanic, Kaylee, was back on the ship supposedly trying to communicate with them, but the wind was so bad they'd have to get much closer to hear anything. They'd lost the signal about twenty minutes ago. Stupid technology.
"I forgot what water tastes like," Jayne said morosely from behind them.
"And we didn't take the mule because why?" he asked.
"We wouldn't be able to steer in all this wind. Also, I made quite a stir last time I was on this planet."
"I'm somehow finding that hard to imagine, sir." Zoe's voice came from behind him.
"So walkin' out in broad daylight is supposed to help keep us under the radar?" Jayne asked.
"You with all the questions today. Who is gonna come walkin' out in this mess?" Mal gestured towards the murky skyline. The weather was so bad here you rarely ever saw blue sky. It seemed to vary between shades of gray.
It looked as if a windstorm was kicking up, anyway. They had to squat against the wind and put their goggles on. Mal couldn't imagine anyone living here, but he knew very well from the last time there were people who did. Why, he couldn't begin to fathom.
"Okay. We're just gonna get the money and get out of here fast as we can. We've got some lookouts at headquarters to make sure no one gets too suspicious. The sooner we leave this gouqiang place the better."
The wind subsided and they stood together, walking closer to a large building out in the middle of nowhere. It looked large and forbidding, almost like a government facility, but Mal knew better. He'd just been there a year or so ago, and he'd seen the general layout well enough to figure out how to do a good job and get out of there.
The facility prided itself on its ability to keep track of aliens. Not like there were very many, and up until that job last year, Mal didn't know there were aliens. Well, he figured they had to be out there somewhere, but he didn't know that any had actually been sighted. His one encounter with UNIT had proven that aliens did exist, and every so often they interfered with some of the terraformed planets. Scared the locals and wreaked all manner of havoc in some places. In addition, he'd seen once or twice that UNIT had bragged about keeping Reavers out of the sky.
Mal hoped he'd be able to get in and out of UNIT - fast. The sooner they could get out of this atmosphere and on their way, the better. Besides, if he remembered correctly, Inara had an appointment on Persephone they just couldn't be late for or he'd never hear the end of it.
"Okay, I'll go 'round the front. Zoe and Jayne, you remember the password?"
"Yep. Meet you in the middle," Zoe responded promptly.
"In the basement," Mal finished.
They were posing as members of the autopsy team so that they could easily slip into the morgue undetected. There'd be a large bag of goods they had to carry off to Persephone with them. The instructions on picking up the money had been very vague, other than it'd be in a body bag.
They went their separate ways, and Mal punched the password into the keypad next to the front door. He was dressed as a UNIT employee, even going so far as to wear that stupid-looking beret that was apparently standard uniform. He slipped off his overcoat that was still covered in dust and shoved it into a cloth bag he'd taken with him. He felt much cleaner now.
A few employees caught his eye and smiled politely at him. There was a mixture of Chinese and Western workers, and occasionally announcements blared over the speaker, once in English, and once in the Chinese translation.
As long as Zoe and Jayne got where they needed to be, the job would be smooth. As soon as he finished thinking this, he felt goosebumps on the back of his neck and then heard the quiet, unmistakable sound of a safety-lock on a gun being released.
However, the one thing Malcolm Reynolds had learned since the war was how to outdraw someone.