NO GREATER GIFT

An hour earlier

Alex very quickly decided that she liked Donna Noble. She liked her a lot. The woman was smart, funny, and had absolutely no problem giving someone an earful if she thought they deserved it. Alex's own signature snark had nothing on Donna Noble from Chiswick. Gwen, unsurprisingly, had been the first to suffer the other woman's acid tongue, followed closely by Owen. She'd flirted ferociously with Bobby, who hadn't seemed to know whether to be flattered or embarrassed.

She remembered Donna from the time they'd been on the TARDIS, a little over three months ago when they'd rescued Bobby, Jack and Ianto from the Grysliaak. There'd been no time to get to know her or, indeed, no real incentive. As far as Alex had been aware at that stage, her contact with Torchwood, and all such strange associations that went with it, was coming to end. At that stage, she'd had no idea that in just three months' time she would be right back in the thick of it.

"You've got the same look on your face that I reckon I had on mine the first time I saw a real, live alien."

Alex looked up in amusement as Donna approached, a friendly smile on her face.

"The Doctor?" Alex wondered, and Donna snorted derisively in response.

"That skinny alien git? Hardly. No, I'm talking about the Racnoss. Giant spider woman. Looked like one of those idiot monster things off that Power Rangers show."

Alex chuckled softly. She'd been subjected to that show often courtesy of her nieces and nephews. The nephews thought the monsters were cool, and the nieces thought the boys were cute. Alex had personally found the entire show to be a good cure for insomnia. She almost always fell asleep in the middle of watching it with them. She only wished that her first encounter with aliens had been as amusing.

"I guess I just never pictured myself doing this," she admitted. Donna stared at her with one eyebrow raised.

"What? Making coffee? Love, believe me, it happens to the best of us."

Alex couldn't help the laughter that escaped her lips.

"Seriously," Donna said with a smile, "I know what you mean. Never even used to believe in aliens, let alone thought I'd be travelling with one. And it's been mad, you know? Totally mad, but I wouldn't change it for anything. Really, how could you ever go back to normal after getting a glimpse of what's out there?"

"It's terrifying," Alex pointed out, thinking of the monstrous creature that had nearly stolen her partner's life just three short months ago.

"And dangerous, and beautiful and exhilarating," Donna added with a wistful sigh. "And so worth it."

Alex looked around the Hub, taking in all its wonders anew, with fresh appreciation.

"Yeah," she agreed softly. "It is."

The unexpected wail of an alarm cut into their conversation, shattering the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.

"What the hell is that?" Donna demanded. Tosh looked up from her computer, worry clouding her face.

"Proximity alarm. Someone, or something, has breached the Hub, and it's almost the exact same signal that we got when the Police HQ was attacked."

The revelation was met with startled silence. Then, Gwen spoke up with an authority in her voice that was a world away from her earlier petulance.

"Donna, get inside the TARDIS, now."

Unsurprisingly, Donna's temper flared at the order.

"The hell I will! I'm not bloody helpless!"

"I know you're not," Gwen countered, "but the Doctor is protecting Jack for us. We owe him the courtesy to do the same for you."

It was clear that Donna wanted to argue further, but Gwen's plain logic had stymied any further protests. With a sour look on her face, she headed for the TARDIS.

"Everyone else," Gwen said firmly, "listen up. Owen and Alex, go to the weapons room, arm yourselves and then secure the room. Tosh, lock us down. Whatever is in here with us is not going to get out again. Use that program that you've been working on, if you need to, to block teleportation. Bobby, go into Jack's office and seal the hatch, then get back out here quickly."

There were no arguments, no protesting. They scrambled to do as ordered with almost military precision, and Alex couldn't help but remark on both it and Gwen's confident command of the situation.

"She's good in a real crisis," Owen said as he pulled couple of guns out of a locker and handed them to Alex. "In fact, I'd have to say that she's at her best in a situation where there's no time to think. When Gwen starts to thing something through, that's when you're in trouble." He paused, frowning. "That came out wrong. What I mean is that sometimes she just lets the humanitarian in her rule when she really takes the time to thing about things."

"And that's a bad thing?"

"In this job? Sometimes it is, like it or not. Like now, for example. Right now, she'll be focused on whoever has gotten into the Hub, and stopping them. Later, she'll be all about wanting to understand them. Ianto calls it her bleeding heart routine. It drives us all nuts, but she is genuine. Got to give her that."

"Is this all we need?" Alex queried doubtfully of the guns Owen had handed her.

"It'll have to be. I don't think we have time to be going through everything. C'mon, Alex. We're going to have to go after the tossers, and finding them in this maze of a place is not going to be easy."


Bobby strode into Jack's office, and headed straight for the manhole in the floor. He knew it was there not because anyone had taken the time to point it out to him, but because he'd spotted it when he'd come into Jack's office on previous occasions.

It was open and, despite the urgency of the situation, he couldn't resist having a quick look inside. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected to see, but inside was a bed that barely fit into the narrow space. Just looking at it gave Bobby the shudders. It reminded him too much of the dark closet that his mother had locked him in semi-regularly when he was a child.

He wondered briefly why Gwen had wanted him to seal the tiny subterranean bedroom, only to have his question partially answered when he spied the hatchway in the wall at the foot of Jack's bed. It wasn't this first innocuous room that needed protecting, he guessed. It was potentially whatever lay behind that door.

He started to close the hatch, only to hesitate. Following an instinct that he had no explanation for, he grabbed the coral off Jack's desk and set it carefully down on the bed.

Bobby had only just managed to seal the hatch and get back up to his feet when the door exploded inwards and he found himself confronted by a woman in a uniform unlike anything he'd ever seen. She was clearly not completely human either, judging by her very vibrant purple eyes and razor sharp teeth. She held a gun on him, and spoke in a slow voice that was heavy with a stilted accent.

"You are under arrest, by order of Time Agency Charter Two-Seventeen, for suspicion of harbouring a wanted fugitive. Do not resist."

Bobby tamped down on an urge to raise his hands, and instead just shook his head.

"I'm not resisting."

She backed out of the room, indicating for him to follow. He did so, and his breath caught. Donna, Toshiko and Gwen were all on their knees in the main area of the Hub, with numerous guns aimed at them. Gwen sported a rapidly blossoming bruise on her temple, and Bobby guessed that she had probably tried to defend her colleagues and had come off second-best.

So far, there was no sign of Owen and Alex, and he found himself fervently hoping that they'd realised what was happening, and were staying hidden.

"On your knees," his captor demanded, and Bobby complied without argument. He was no match for so much weaponry, and he certainly did not have a death wish... despite what some people back home believed.

As he went down, he spotted something that made his stomach knot up. Each one of their assailants wore a vortex manipulator on their wrists.

"You're the ones who attacked the police," he blurted out, only just stopping himself from saying 'Time Agents'. Admitting to that knowledge might just get them all killed.

"We dealt with your law enforcement agency as necessary," one of the agents said matter-of-factly. "Now we are dealing with you. Where are the others?"

"Not here," Gwen answered. "We locked down the Hub as soon as we detected the breach. They won't be able to get back in for at least six hours."

"Agent Helliiax?" the woman asked sharply.

"I detect two other sentient life-forces," came the reply.

"That'll be Myfanwy and Janet," Gwen said with a poker face that impressed even Bobby. "Janet is a weevil, and Myfanwy is our..."

"Guard dog," Tosh offered.

"The life readings appear to be non-human," the agent admitted. The woman, who was clearly in charge, spoke tersely.

"All right. Helliiax, take your people and get moving. You know what you're looking for. Go!"

Half of their assailants broke away and headed in different directions, guided by sleek hand-held devices that looked like the latest mobile phone offering.

"Who are you?" Donna demanded. "Because this is really starting to get on my nerves. You can't treat us like this, do you hear me?"

"My name is Jaydn Taark. I am searching for a fugitive. That is all you need to know. As for your treatment, I suggest strongly that you remain silent, and our treatment of you won't get any worse."

Gwen, Tosh and Bobby all exchanged looks. That begged the question of who were they looking for? Eleya, or Jack?

"How do you know this fugitive you're looking for is here?" Bobby asked, careful to keep his question gender neutral.

"A device was stolen from one of our agents," Taark told him. "We have traced its signal here." She approached Bobby with a critical look. "This city exists on a rift in space and time."

Bobby nodded slowly. She hadn't been asking a question, and he saw no point in lying when they clearly already knew. Taark looked around at Tosh and Gwen, momentarily ignoring a livid Donna.

"And you find things that come through the rift into your world."

Again, it was not a question.

"That's our job," Gwen conceded. "We secure things that come through the rift, and keep ordinary people from getting hold of them."

"Listen to me closely, then," Taark told them in a deceptively soothing tone. "Answer me truthfully and none of you need suffer. We are seeking a very dangerous individual. She may appear to be just a child, but that appearance is deceiving. She is not human and she has already killed at least once that we know of. If you know the whereabouts of this child, it is in your interests to tell us."

"The real question is," Bobby ventured, "will you believe us if we say we don't know what you're talking about?"

Taark smiled thinly.

"That will depend on whether you're lying to me."

Bobby didn't respond to that. He knew he couldn't say anything more without lying, and instinct warned him that this woman would not be easily fooled.

Looking as though she'd expected as much, Taark turned away and began moving from desk to desk.

"You have technology here that is far advanced for this time. It will have to be destroyed."

"Over my dead body!" Tosh burst out. Taark smiled coldly.

"If necessary, though I hope you would be smarter than that."

"What are you planning to do with us?" Gwen demanded to know. Taark came to Gwen's desk and began poking randomly at the many personal items that cluttered her workspace.

"Best case scenario for you? We wipe your memories so you'll never remember we were here. If we cannot find what we're looking for, you may be taken back to Agency Headquarters for interrogation." She looked around at each of them with a harsh glare. "If you know anything at all about the child we seek, then I suggest you tell me now. Our techniques for extracting information tend to be extremely painful. Most do not survive the process."

Bobby, Gwen, Tosh and Donna all stayed silent, none wanting to say or do anything to put their other colleagues at risk.

Meanwhile, Bobby watched Taark and her soldiers in wary amusement. Jack had explained to him and Alex the concept of perception filters, but it still amazed him that here they were, within twenty feet of a big blue police box, and not one of the Time Agents had noticed it. That was another reason he dared not say anymore. The last thing they needed to do was to bring the TARDIS to the attention of the Time Agents.

A moment later, he saw something that nearly stopped his heart, something that was potentially as deadly as the Time Agents actually noticing the TARDIS and recognising it for what it was. In plain view on Gwen's desk was a photo of the Cardiff team, with Jack right in the middle. In the split second it took his brain to process it, and the possible implications, it was already too late. Taark had seen it.

"Agent Grandler," she said tensely. An older man joined her, and uttered a shocked exclamation when he saw the picture.

"It's him! Son of a bitch, it's that jumped-up little bastard! He's here!"

Taark spun around to glare at them.

"Where is he? Tell us where this man is, and I'll forget I saw any of you. Tell me now!"

"We don't know," Gwen said, putting as much venom into her voice as she could. "The bastard disappeared on us nearly twelve months ago, and we haven't seen him since. He just left us high and dry. As far as we're concerned, he can stay gone. We don't care if he never comes back."

Taark reached Gwen in just two long strides, and grabbed Gwen's chin in a violent grip.

"Now you are lying. You would not keep this picture if you truly felt that way about him, or if you really had not seen him or heard anything of him for so long. I'll give you one last chance. Tell me where he is, and spare yourself the grief that I guarantee will follow."

Gwen's expression hardened in an all-too-familiar look of belligerence, and she twisted out of Taark's grip.

"Go to hell."

Taark's lip curled upwards in a hateful sneer.

"So be it." She turned to face the scouting team that were just coming back. "Helliiax, prepare these prisoners for transport. Grandler, set the charges. We're going to fry every piece of tech in this place."

"What about him?" Grandler asked. Taark smashed the frame on the edge of the desk and stuffed the photo inside her jacket.

"It can't be a coincidence that he's here. Dorn always suspected that the mind wipe never worked. I'll bet he's got the child with him, or that he at least knows where she is. Hurry up with the charges. We'll get these fools back to Headquarters. Even if they can't tell us what we want to know, they'll still be useful as bait."

Grandler snorted derisively.

"You're assuming he actually gives a damn about anyone other than himself."

Taark turned slowly to stare at him.

"He endured seventeen straight days of specialised interrogation, and never broke. Do not doubt his devotion to that little girl, or to anyone that he might have attached himself to emotionally. Now do what I tell you to do. Luring him to us will be more effective than attempting to recapture him in his territory."

"Now just a bloody moment!" Donna burst out, finally losing the fight to hold her acid tongue. "Who the hell do you people think you are? We've got rights, and if you think you're taking us anywhere, you've got another ruddy thing coming!"

Taark regarded her with infuriating amusement.

"Who is going to stop us? You? You pathetic, twenty-first century human, you're little better than apes." She looked around her with disgust. "What he sees in this time, I will never understand. Utterly primitive."

"We might be apes," a new voice said coldly, "but we're apes who know how to use guns."

The Time Agents turned collectively to see Owen and Alex emerging into the main area of the Hub, each one heavily armed and prepared to fight.

"How did you avoid our scans?" Taark demanded.

"Standard bio-disruptor," Owen answered. "Now put your guns down and back off."

He wasn't entirely surprised that his demand was ignored.

"We don't negotiate and we don't surrender," Taark said. "You have one opportunity. Surrender, or we will kill you."

Her tone was blunt and it was obvious to all that she meant every word. While Owen looked torn, Alex took it on herself to make the decision for both of them. She put her weapons down and stepped back in surrender.

"Damn it, Alex..." Owen growled, but her ferocious glare silenced him.

"What point would there be in dying? Put your damn guns down, Owen."

He did so, if only because he knew she was right.

"At least you have sense," Taark said dryly as Alex and Owen were secured alongside their colleagues. "And as a reward, you shall remain behind to give a message to my wayward agent, when he eventually shows his cowardly face."

"What message?" Alex asked, but Taark didn't reply. She instead turned away to observe as each of their other captives were sedated, and then spoke in a low voice to one of the soldiers, who grinned unpleasantly in response.

Alex grimaced, and shut her eyes at the flare of light as the Time Agents vanished with their prisoners. When she opened them again, it was to find the last remaining agent approaching her with a knife. She knew then that the so-called message to Jack was not a verbal one, and that pleas would do no good.

Driven by adrenalin and self-preservation, Alex stumbled awkwardly to her feet and began to back away. She had no idea where she could go or what she could do to defend herself, with her hands cuffed behind her back, but she was hardly going to capitulate and let this son of a bitch kill her. All else aside, she needed to survive so she could tell Jack exactly what had happened.

Her heels struck solid metal and she nearly went over on her arse. It was the stairs that led up to the boardroom, the greenhouse and the upper gantry. A vague idea was beginning to form in her mind, and she began to edge her way backwards up the stairs so as not to lose sight of her pursuer.

He said nothing as he followed her up the stairs, and that frightened her considerably. In her experience, a cocky would-be killer with loose lips could be bluffed and distracted. This man, though, was not going to be distracted by anything.

As she neared the top of the stairs, he suddenly lunged and swiped at her with his knife. Alex staggered as she tried to jerk away from him, and cried out at the pain that burned across her stomach. She sat down heavily on the top step, and struggled to keep her head as the agent loomed over the top of her. The knife slashed at her again, and she felt a searing pain in her side.

Not a fatal wound, she told herself breathlessly. He either wasn't planning to kill her, or he was a sadist who intended to kill her slowly. She had no intention of waiting to see which possibility became reality.

Gathering her strength, Alex lifted her legs, planted her feet against her assailant's chest and pushed as hard as she could. The stairs were steep and her resistance more or less unexpected, judging by the startled look on the Agent's face. He stumbled back and would have fallen, but for grabbing the railing at the last instant.

Alex felt her hopes sink but the smug sneer on her attacker's face was short-lived. A dark shadow swept down and over the top of Alex's prone figure, followed by a rush of wind. The shadow slammed into the Agent and lifted him momentarily into the air before letting go and sending him plummeting back down.

There was a distinct, sickening snap as the man landed, and Alex knew without looking that her would-be killer was dead. Instead, she looked upwards in a daze to see Myfanwy spiralling back up towards her nest. Thanking God that Ianto had taken the time to introduce her and Bobby properly to the pterodactyl at the start of their time in Cardiff, Alex made a mental note to thoroughly spoil her with all the chocolate she could eat if they came through this intact.

In the meantime, she knew she needed to get to the TARDIS, and hammer on the door until someone heard her. Injuries aside, they needed to know what had happened before Taark came back to find out why her agent was taking so long.

She made it halfway down the stairs before her strength gave out. Before she even had a chance to cry out, Alex slipped and went into freefall, tumbling down the rest of the stairs. She came to an abrupt and jarring halt at the bottom, her head striking the concrete with a dull smack and consigning her to darkness.


to be continued...

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