Agent 14 couldn’t believe the opulence that surrounded him. The rich red walls were covered with tapestries that had to be a few thousands of years old. They were covered by thin panes of glass. They looked like something he had seen in his history books back in the academy. Those ones had been from Earth; 15th or 16th century. They would be worth a fortune if they were real.
He wandered around past the fireplace. He stared at it. It looked like it was burning real wood, and not bio fuel.
Above the fireplace was a beautiful picture of some purple flowers. The strokes were broad. He thought he could reach up and smell them. There was a small note pointing at the picture; it said Vincent Van Gogh, Irises.
There were other bits of artwork; paintings, vases, and some other odds and ends on display.
The piece that most caught his eye was a portrait of the man he ‘escorted’ to this place. It couldn’t be this Jones guy, could it?
The handsomeness of the painting didn’t compare to the real thing but it was close. The black suit and red tie set of the subject’s pale skin, but what caught his interest were the blue eyes that looked down at him. They made him shiver; not because of any malice but because of the openness and humanity that he saw in them. Something he lost many years ago on a beach thousands of light-years away.
He forced his attention away from the painting to the rest of the room. He went back to admiring the walls full of artwork. But everywhere he went the blue eyes went too.
He wandered over to a brightly coloured green square, with several different coloured squares inside it. The small tag beside it said it was by Lkakkla. It was called A Piece of Heaven. He continued to read the little note beside the display.
A couple of hundred of years ago, Lkakkla had been an up and coming artist on the planet Ferdina. She had been relatively unheard of even on her own planet until a critic passing through who worked for some big art consortium had announced she was going to be the next great thing in intergalactic art but shortly afterward her planet was taken over by a mad dictator and who hated artists, intellectuals and those believing in democracy.
Lkakkla had been killed in the first round up.
14 didn’t know much about art but he did know what he liked and he loved a rare piece of art that was worth a fortune.
He wondered how much he could get for it. He looked around the room. The security in here was a joke. There weren’t even sonic sensors on the paintings or gas dispensers. He could be in and out with enough money to set himself up in the lap of luxury. Maybe even buy a nice planetoid in the Averse system.
“I wouldn’t think about it, if I were you,” said a booming voice from behind him.
He spun around. His eyes open wide as he saw himself standing in the doorway. He looked up and down at the man in front of himself. Okay, so not exactly himself. This one was wearing clothes he had only ever seen in history books and he was older. Much older, at least fifty.
He laughed hoping to hide how weird he felt seeing another version of himself. He had read about cases such as this back at the time academy. But that didn’t meant he was ready for it. “I was only admiring the art work. You have a great collection here.”
The older him came into the room, wearing a smile that would make a wolf envious. 14 couldn’t help but wonder what was with the suspenders and the belt. He ignored the question; he had to concentrate he was already at a severe disadvantage.
“Don’t bother trying to con a con man.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Let’s sit down. We can talk about your payment in comfort.”
The older him showed him to a small sitting area in the corner. There was food and wine. 14 was impressed by the spread. He helped himself to a drink and a few sandwiches. Kidnapping as well torture always left him hungry.
“Why don’t you tell me how you can be me?” 14 asked food spewing from his mouth.
“Ianto was right, that is disgusting. You can call me Jack,” Jack said handing him a napkin. “And please use this.”
14 wiped his mouth. “Jack, that’s what the target called me.”
“Now the payment was-”
“Answer the question. Who are you?”
“Let’s get back to the payment. Any other topics are off limits. We don’t want to play around with the time lines, do we? As I’m sure your training at the academy taught you.”
“Yeah, right. Rule one.” 14 decided to buy his time. He could come back later if he didn’t get his answers tonight and if he managed to snatch a painting or two who would it hurt?
“Now what were we talking about?” Jack asked handing over a glass with some amber liquid in it.
14 wiped the food off his mouth and took a swig from his glass. “Good booze. The payment was 100,000 credits. That was the price I was told, and that’s what I want.” 14 was on his feet, ready to throw the glass into his other’s face.
“Calm down. Actually, I was going to talk to you about a bonus.”
“Bonus?” 14 sat back down. “How much?”
“Well, you did such a great job in bringing the target back unharmed and in good time.”
14 grinned. “He didn’t put up too much of a fight. He did think about it though, but I think he was a little confused about who I was.”
“I would have been very upset if anything had happened. Even a broken nail would have had dire consequences.” Jack leaned back, sipping on his drink.
14 had no doubt that Jack would have followed through on the threat. He was glad that he hadn’t given into his first thought about seducing Jones, and if that hadn’t worked just taking what he wanted.
“What is it you want with him?” 14 asked. “I mean don’t get me wrong he’s good looking but you’ve gone through a lot of work to get a piece of ass.” He noticed how Jack’s fist flexed. He leaned away from the older man. Instead of getting hit he was passed a small square of shiny paper.
“What is this?”
“A photograph. They were common before hologram technology became common. It’s Ianto.”
“And me. I mean you.”
Jack smiled. “Either is right.”
14 looked at the photograph. It was faded, and the corners were torn. It was a beloved artefact. More loved than all the pictures hanging on the walls. The smile the two of them were sharing was private. It was meant only to be seen between the two men. They were sitting on a bench in the bright sunlight. There was a large body of water behind them.
He handed the picture back.
Jack looked at it before putting it back in his chest pocket. “We had been out for the day, chasing weevils, and all sorts of other space junk the rift dropped on us. I think we had been up for thirty hours straight. Not a problem for me but Ianto was at the end of his rope. He sat down on that bench and told me he wasn’t moving until he got some coffee and chips.”
Jack chuckled. “Deep fried potatoes. Really good when hot and greasy. It was 4209 when they were outlawed for causing heart damage. I was pissed off with him. I just wanted to get back to the hub and get on with the day but Ianto...”
“What about him?”
“He had this way about him. He told me to go back to the hub get some work done. Never mentioned what he was going to do but I’m sure I would have still found him on that bench the next day.”
“Oh you have no idea. He wasn’t overt; he was sneaky bastard. You might not even know you’ve pissed him off. He would just do things like giving you decaf, or ordering pizza but making sure that everyone’s had green olives instead of black ones. He was the only one who liked green.”
14 was amazed to hear pride in his; he meant Jack’s voice. He knew he would have been pissed off if someone did that to him, probably to the point of beating the crap out of him or her.
He held back a yawn. It had been a long day but he was used to going for days and days at a time. That was the joy of time travel you were never really sure how many hours you were going for.
“Now about that payment,” 14 said.
“Ah yes,” Jack said, standing up. He handed 14 a compu screen. “Here is the account number; if you put in your numbers and transfer it into your account you can be on your way.”
14 looked at the amount. “Not that I’m complaining but this is a hell of a lot more than what I was quoted before the job started.” He quickly transferred the payment, before this Jack could change his mind.
“I did say there was a bonus.”
“Well, if you have any more jobs you want done for this kind of credits make sure you call me.”
14 shook his head. It felt fuzzy, like he had been given something to make him- “What the hell have you given me?” He demanded struggling to his feet, only to fall down in a heap.
“Relax, I know it won’t make a difference but it has to be this way.” He felt Jack pat his shoulder. “The money is yours to keep. It will help you get started on your path. You have no idea how much a part of me doesn’t want this to happen but I have feeling if we didn’t do things this way the universe might explode.”
14 heard the words that Jack was saying but nothing was really making sense. “What is going to happen to me? People are going to be looking for me. The time agency is expecting me back.” 14 was hoping to make this insane man forget about this plan.
Jack laughed. “The only ones looking for you are the ones you own money to. You made more than a few enemies. As for the Agency, they have already received your resignation. You’re going to be too busy for the next few thousand years.”
14 wanted to protest but his tongue was getting thick. “Ugh.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you end up somewhere safe.”
14 wanted to call the monster before him many things but his last thought before he fell asleep was that there seemed to be regret in Jack’s eyes.