Spoilers: The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, Captain Jack Harkness
Notes: 1800 words in response to the Undercover Challenge. With thanks to Cesca and Shalott for their good advice.
No-one used their real name at the Academy. In their first year, they were designated a number - Jack was 2308. In their second year, they were allowed to assume an alias. It was considered a reward. (The cherry on top of not being kicked out and retconned.) Jack chose his name more or less at random. "Do you think I look like a Jack?" he asked his roommate. He put a hand on his hip and posed.
"I think you look like a Claude," she said. She'd gone with Aoi. She was majoring in 19th-century Japan.
"Seriously?" Jack stopped posing and patted his hair, blinking at himself in the mirror. He looked like a Claude?
"Or a Jack," Aoi said, shrugging. "Does it matter? It's only temporary."
Jack tried out Claude for a day or two, and then Gabe and then Dan. In the end, he went with Jack. Jack Green. It was a good name for a first alias, he decided. It reminded him a little of his old name.
As 2308, he had been bright and diligent. He'd gone to all of his classes - languages, engineering, persuasion, weaponry. He knew that the Time Agency did good work, and he intended to carry out that good work in the field.
Still, it had taken him a while to adjust to being a number.
"Your number is not your rank," the guide had said on the first day. She'd had both a name and a rank - Lieutenant Avery. She was in third year. "You are in first year; you have no rank."
Later, they found out that the numbers were completely meaningless, churned out by a randomiser and recycled. After Jack graduated, 2308 would be someone else entirely.
Six months after being allowed to take on a name, Jack was told to choose a major. He decided on 20th-century war zones, even though he'd aced his Latin exam.
"An excellent communicator," his professor had written on the cover sheet.
"And good in bed," she added that night.
"Good?" Jack said, raising his eyebrows (2308 had been practically celibate; Jack had rediscovered sex with his new name).
She rolled her eyes. "Very, very good. Top of the class," she said, and tugged his head back down.
After graduation, Jack asked to be placed in the 1940s. Of all the war zones, he had a particular fondness for the 40s - the music, the uniforms, the jitterbug.
He was breathless with excitement when he received his first commission. He thumbed open the message. It said: August 1989. Chicago, USA, Earth. Anachronism detected Pete's Pizzeria. Resolve.
When Jack had chosen his name, he'd imagined that Jack Green wouldn't take shit from anyone. He'd go after what he wanted. If he wanted the 1940s, that's what he'd get. Looking at the message, though, he realised that Jack Green just wanted to get the hell out of school and into the field - no matter what the commission.
The anachronism turned out to be sofero flour, a maize hybrid that wouldn't be invented for another 220 years. Pete was using it in his pizza dough. "It's harmless!" he protested when Jack advanced on him, smiling and holding up his wrist ID.
"Agent Green," Jack said. He loved saying his name; he loved having a name. "Jack Green," he said again, just because he could. "And my adjective of choice would have been addictive. Or maybe illegal."
"Please. I have a family. I have a wheat allergy."
"And I have this fantastic little flash needle." Jack showed it to him. "Top of the line, won't hurt a bit."
"Oh God," the guy said. "Please-"
Jack subdued him. Then he carefully stripped away the first 34 years of his life. He would still be able to remember his wife and his kid. He wouldn't be able to remember growing up in the 5150s. Jack sat with him while he forgot. It was slow and messy. Jack had to keep administering booster shots when memories bubbled up. ("My mother worked in the Cassica mines." "I had a sister, but she died when I was ten.")
When it was over, Jack left him slumped over the counter, dozing quietly. He turned off the oven and the coffee machine. He tossed out the flour. So this was Jack Green, he thought. This was the kind of person he was.
He walked out onto the sidewalk. He'd been to Earth once - it had been quiet and dry and hot. He had visited a museum in the middle of a desert. It had been nothing like this. Chicago was all colour and noise. People were swarming out of skyscrapers and into cafes and diners; climbing into stinking motorised transports. He was in the past, Jack thought. He wouldn't be born for another 3,000 years. And he'd just destroyed a man's mind. He stared at the people - all of them alive and vibrant. It was terrible being Jack Green, he thought. It was wonderful.
The terrible became the routine. Jack took on a new identity in each city. Answering to a new name became as easy as pulling on a coat. He never seemed to get close to the 1940s, but that didn't matter much. He had work to do. He lost count of how many times he sliced away people's memories. He got very good at his job. Maybe he got cocky.
One morning he woke up with no idea of where he was. When he moved, his head hurt. He was in a windowless room, tiny and compact as a ship's berth. He tried the door. It was unlocked.
There was a girl in the corridor sipping stimulants. "How much did you drink, Dave?" she said when he asked her where he was.
It turned out he was on a satellite in the Ophiuchi system. He'd been there for a week. His clothes were Dave's clothes, of course - all gaudy shirts and comfort-pants. Apparently, Jack had been posing as a fashion-impaired tourist. He had no memory of it. When he probed further, he found he had no memory of the month before. He ran some tests, cross-referenced with news archives. The hole was two years deep.
When he returned to the Academy, no one would look him in the eye, not even Aoi. She'd never made it to Japan. She'd turned out to be too valuable as a lecturer. She taught third-year students how to shield their minds from psychic influence.
"Maybe it was an accident," she said, looking somewhere over his shoulder.
Jack went freelance after that. The Agency tailed him from Lahore to New Venice to Asteroid Seven. They lost him in Calcutta when he became Max Rashid in the 2130s. It was too easy.
In Pompeii, he took on the name Claudius and the persona of a rich, promiscuous aristocrat. Apart from the dust and the heat and the shockingly bad wine, Pompeii in August was a lot like a resort. He discovered he loved everything about it - or maybe Claudius did. He was that kind of man. Everything was wonderful - the fountains (gorgeous), the people (easy), the frescoes (cheerfully obscene). Everywhere he looked, there were dicks and breasts. He was charmed. The world felt new in a way it hadn't since he'd been Jack Green in his first year in the field.
"Love your penis lamp," he said to the guy sucking his cock. They'd met at the local tavern. Jack had just finished his negotiations with Agent Easy-Mark (two sonic blasters and an anonymous credit chip for a worthless piece of space junk that'd be obliterated by a volcano: beautiful). She'd left to check out the nightlife, and this guy had slid into her seat. "Hi," he'd said. "Celadus." And ten minutes later, they were back at his place. The people of Pompeii really were fantastically easy.
"Mm," Celadus said with his mouth full, making Jack - Claudius - shiver pleasantly. Celadus lifted his head to look at the lamp. "Oh, that old thing." He slid his hand up and down Jack's dick absently. "I could probably get you one half price - maybe less. My cousin sells them down near the fish market."
"Oh really?" Jack said. He pictured his bare little quarters at the Agency. It could do with some fresh decor. But, no- he didn't live there anymore, did he? He kept forgetting. He closed his eyes.
His cock was enveloped again. He opened his eyes, and Celadus was smiling up at him, looking gratifyingly eager to please. "Mm," Jack said. He was here in Pompeii, fucking over the Time Agency, he reminded himself - or one of its agents at least. It was kind of a turn-on. Celadus did something fantastic with his tongue. Jack leaned against the wall and groaned blissfully.
A year later, he finally made it to the 1940s. He arrived during a raid. It was chaos - perfect for a self-cleaning con. He patted the controls of his new, gorgeous ship. "Gin sour and a list of the recently dead," he said to the ship's computer.
"Stop," he said, before the list had been scrolling a minute. The computer was as obliging as always. She shuffled the list back a step or two, so that it was just where it had been when Jack had begun to lean forward with interest.
Captain Jack Harkness
Major Michael Harlowe
Jack Harkness, he thought. Maybe he was getting soft, but he'd missed being a Jack. The name would be temporary of course, but it would be nice to slip into something familiar.
His watch beeped as he thought about what kind of person Jack Harkness might be. Dour and cruel like the captains at the Agency, perhaps. Or maybe flirty and charming like the captains in Pompeii. He was a pilot, so he probably thought of himself as a hero. Jack displayed the message on his watch. "Incoming anachronism detected," the screen said. "Trajectory plotted. Estimated arrival 18 March."
Which gave him about two weeks. Jack switched on the viewer to the outside world. It was dark outside. The image didn't come with sound. As he watched, the sky lit up with silent flames.
It was all out there, waiting for him, he thought: war, fighter planes, Bing Crosby, the jitterbug.
He finished his drink. He pulled on his new identity. "Open the hatch, please," he said to the computer. Then he stepped out into the 40s to find out who Jack Harkness was.