: I hold the rights to no copyrighted material. All characters from Torchwood, Doctor Who, or Buffy are property of their respective owners. My characters are mine.
After the Valiant, 2008.
"A Time Lord," Buffy mused. "Another…" She shook her head. "It seems so obvious, in hindsight. But I honestly never saw it coming."
"None of us did," said Jack.
Remembering the Year he'd just experienced. The many tortures and deaths he'd been subjected to at the hands of an insane Time Lord genius — who'd been spying on him and his team for the last 18 months.
"You know," said Buffy, "the worst thing about this is that Torchwood and I are probably most responsible for getting him elected in the first place."
Jack cringed. Yes, he knew everyone on his team had probably voted for the Master. That was something the Master liked to gloat about, when he killed and tortured Jack's team members in front of him. Taunted them about how… they'd been the reason he got into power in the first place. They'd caused this all to happen.
"It's not your fault," said Jack. "He was sending out a psychic signal using the—"
"Cell phones, yeah, got that," said Buffy, leaning back. "Four beats. Da-da-da-dum. Telling people not to question him. And, if they did question, or heard anyone else questioning him, they'd feel like they needed to march right up to Saxon or someone close to him and spill the beans."
Jack stared at her. "How did you know…?"
Buffy gave him a sideways look. "I didn't. Not consciously, anyways. Seo did." She sighed, leaning against the back of the chair, dropping her head and staring up at the ceiling. "She didn't know who he was or what his plan was, but she figured out Harold Saxon wasn't who he claimed long before the rest of us."
"Clever kid," Jack said.
Trying to force the memory of Seo's tortured screams and heart-felt sobbing from his mind.
(It never happened, anymore. For the outside world, none of that ever really happened.)
"Maybe… if I'd let Alison actually drop out of school and join up with Torchwood, like she wanted," Buffy mused, sadly, "the President would still be alive." She glanced at Jack. "Alison would have trusted Seo. She'd never have let your team shoot her down."
Jack visibly started at this. "Shoot her down?!"
Buffy said nothing for a long moment. A very, very long moment.
"Like you said," Buffy said, very quietly. "They were brainwashed. Doing what they thought was right. Trying to save the world." She closed her eyes, pain on her face. "Seo knew it, too. Was preparing for it." She shook her head. "I should have guessed. All the warning signs, everything that happened, everything Alison told me — I really, really should have guessed."
... xxx ...
"And that," Seo announced, as the circular door to the Torchwood Hub rolled open, "is how you break into Torchwood Cardiff!"
She turned to her friend, beaming with pride.
Alison gave a small laugh. "And with all the computers and surveillance equipment, you don't think they're going to notice?"
"Oh, I've got an override code for that!" Seo replied. "It's easy! I got the idea from a friend." She paused. Hesitated. "All right, not a friend, exactly. More like… a psychotic Torchwood member who was doing her level best to kill me."
"Suzie," Alison remembered.
"That's the one!" Seo said, clapping in enthusiasm. She raced out into the center of the Hub. Calling after her, "All you have to do, to erase all the logs and surveillance equipment, is shout, 'Because I could not stop for Seo, she kindly stopped for me!'"
There was a whine and a hiss, and then all the video feeds cut out, all at once.
Seo spun back to Alison, waiting for the applause.
Alison just crossed her arms. "Because I could not stop for Seo
?" she asked.
"Emily Dickinson's poems are a lot less depressing when you substitute in 'Seo' instead of 'Death'," said Seo. She reflected. "I mentioned that to Suzie, once. She hit me."
Seo spun back around, and gestured for Alison to follow her. "Come on!" she called, racing off through the Hub. "I've got something to show you!"
Alison had assumed the 'something' would be a neat bit of alien tech. Or maybe a caged, live alien. But, as it turned out, they went all the way past the cell area. All the way down into the depths of the vaults. To a room that looked… a bit like the morgues on all those crime shows on telly.
Alison shivered against the cold air, down here.
"Frozen bodies, mostly," said Seo. "Not all dead." She made her way through the room, cautiously, slowly. Almost… respectfully. In stark contrast to her voice, which was still just as bouncy and upbeat as ever. "I saw them revive one of these, once. They let the body defrost, in open air. Then… injection."
Seo looked around, then spotted a small panel embedded in the wall. She hit it, and one of the pieces of floor trim slid aside to reveal a stash of syringes.
Seo glanced back at Alison, pointedly. Then hit the panel, again, and the floor trim slid back into place.
"Injected it right about… here," Seo explained, pointing to her own neck, as she scanned the rows upon rows of metal cabinets. "Then Owen just monitored the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. And… easy as that!" She grinned, as her eyes fell on one cabinet, in particular. "Ah! There you are!"
And, with a hearty yank, shoved open the drawer.
Alison, cautiously, made her way forward. Feeling a little uneasy about all this. "We're… unfreezing someone?"
"What?" asked Seo, pulling the white sheet off the frozen body. She saw Alison's unease, and gave a reassuring smile. "Oh. No. No, we're not defrosting him." She looked down at the nonhuman creature she'd just brought out. Her expression turning sad. Morose. "He's dead. Nothing we can do for him, now."
Alison came up beside the cadaver. The lifeless, furry face of the dead alien looking far from peaceful. It was matted with scars and bruises. Scrapes and cuts. The gashes of many long, infected wounds lining its body.
"Humans did that," Seo whispered. Her eyes on the alien. "He must have fallen through the rift — straight into the hands of a group of angry, worked-up humans just back from a Saxon rally, who were certain that invading aliens were about to kill them all." Seo pushed some of the alien's blood-caked fur out of its face, tenderly, as if he were still alive. "Torchwood found him, a few days ago. Tortured. Cut up. Beaten within an inch of his life." She looked up at Alison, the hints of tears in her eyes. "He was screaming. Confused and alone and in pain and screaming out for someone to help."
Alison wasn't sure what to say to this.
Seo looked down at the alien. "I'm sorry," she told the dead body. "I am so, so sorry."
"Torchwood… couldn't save it?" Alison asked.
"The Torchwood databases said his species could be dangerous," said Seo. "Hostile. Aggressive. Impossible to stop when provoked." Her eyes remained fixed on the alien's face. "They… got scared. Reacted. Told me… it was a 'mercy killing'."
Alison's mouth dried up.
"I thought… they were helping him," said Seo, in a small voice. "Or I would have stopped them."
Alison didn't know what to say. What to do. Why were they here? Were these things now invading, to take revenge, and Seo wanted to study this one? Was this some maudlin reflection on the state of the world?
Seo draped the white cloth back over the body. "They're just doing what they think is right," she said. "They're my friends, Alison. I know they'll always do what they think is right. I trust them to do it. It's what makes them good people. The best people." Her hands shook, a little, as she pushed the cabinet that housed the alien corpse closed. "Just… don't blame them, at the end of this. It's not their faults."
"Not their faults," Alison repeated. Deadpan. "Yeah. Because if an alien species is harmful, that means every single individual alien from the species deserves to die."
Seo said nothing.
"I'm just saying," Alison put in. "I mean, look at us. Humans. Humans are a pretty hostile species. With wars and such. But, individually, we're not that hostile at all."
"Except when you're scared," Seo said, almost too quietly to pick up, her hands still resting on the handle to the cabinet of the alien cadaver.
Alison frowned at Seo. Sensing… that something was wrong. Very, very wrong with her.
"Torchwood… likes to freeze the aliens they kill," said Seo, her voice slightly louder. "That's why this one's here."
"The problem," Seo continued, "is that… not all aliens just… die. Sometimes, when you shoot them, they… change. Regenerate. Sort of… burst into a bright light, and come back — different face, different accent, different personality. But same soul. Same memories. Same person, inside."
"Coming back from the dead?" asked Alison. She frowned. "What, you mean… like what you said happened to your mum?"
Seo pasted a smile on her face. Beamed at Alison. "No," she assured her. "No. Just… forget I said anything." She spun around, preparing to race out of the vaults. "Tell you what? Let's go shopping! There's some brilliant shopping round about Cardiff. We can—"
And that was when it hit Alison. All at once.
Why she was here.
Why Seo was showing her all of this.
She caught Seo by the arm, before she could run away. Stared her right in the eye.
"It's not… 'aliens' who change when they die," said Alison. "It's you
Seo didn't answer. Just caught Alison's eyes with her own.
"You… think Torchwood is going to kill you," Alison said.
The demonstration on how to break into Torchwood. The lecture on how to revive frozen bodies. The way Seo had specifically shown her where the frozen bodies of aliens were kept.
She thought Torchwood would kill her. She'd wind up in here. And they'd have no idea that Seo had come back to life.
Or that she was even the same person.
"It's inevitable, now," said Seo, softly. Almost resigned. She looked down at the ground, with a little laugh. "I could tell you the date."
Alison shook her head. "No," she insisted. "No! I can't believe it! I've met Torchwood. You've met Torchwood! You're friends with them! They'd never—"
"They like to forget I'm not human," Seo cut in. "Like to think I'm just a harmless human-type kid." She nodded back at the freezers. "But just because they choose to forget doesn't mean they don't know. They're all well aware that I'm just as alien as our friend, back there." Her voice lowered, a hair. "And I'm very far from harmless."
That was true.
Alison didn't know how much Torchwood had seen, but she knew, by now, that the full extent of Seo's superpowers was… pretty frightening. She could open and destabilize rifts with her mind. Could turn an immortal, god-like entity inside out. Could stick her hand into someone's head and drain their brains completely dry. And… if this regeneration thing were true… she couldn't even be killed all that easily, either.
If Seo used those powers, for just one second, against humanity instead of for it…
"No, wait, hold up," said Alison. "Torchwood knows you. You've saved their lives, over and over again! They're your friends! Yes, they might be willing to perform a mercy-killing on an unknown alien that fell through the rift, but… if it were you
Seo grinned at Alison. "No. No, it won't be a mercy killing. Not for me. That's not how it'll happen."
Alison stared at her.
"Don't blame them," Seo said. "They'll think they're doing the right thing. And, if I've done my work well, they'll spend the rest of their lives thinking they've done the right thing."
"You think they're going to murder you," said Alison. "Purposely murder you, as an alien threat." She shook her head. "But… why? Why?!"
Alison grabbed Seo up by the shoulders. Shook her. "Tell me!" she shouted. "What are you going to do? Why are they going to kill you? Why are you just letting them?"
Seo gave a small sigh. "Alison," she said. "I can't explain it. I really… just… can't."
Alison stopped shaking her. Stepped away.
Realizing what Seo meant.
"Just promise you'll get me out," Seo said, turning away from her friend, and heading back to the main Hub area. "Please. When I wake up, changed, and am trapped and frozen down here. Get me out."
The next time Alison came down to Cardiff, she did it alone.
Marched right into the tourist information center, at Roald Dahl Plass. Recognized… Ianto Jones, wasn't it?
"I'm dropping out of school," Alison told him. "So I can sign my soul away to Torchwood."
Second Author's Note
: This story does start after the Valiant, yes, but not to fear, it's about the time before the Year that Never Was. There are two direct prequels to "the Years that Never Were", and this story is the first of them.
I don't think, during the last story, that Alison ever really understood what 13 lives actually entailed.