Fountain of Youth
"Minimum safe distance, guys," Mickey said as he ushered Lestrade, John, and Sherlock past the police tape. He added to Lestrade, "You'll want to tell the rest of your people to shift back."
Greg nearly argued. Common sense stopped him. Arguing would only lead to a pissing match that he couldn't win. Mycroft's phone call had made that clear. They were to comply with whatever these Torchwood people required, and not ask any questions.
He ordered everyone to clear the area, glaring down Donovan before her obvious dissent reached verbal form. Now she and the rest of the response team watched from a, theoretically, safe distance while Greg fumed from just outside the police tape. "Outrageous!" he muttered, quiet but adamant.
John said nothing. He was thinking they were lucky to still be here at all. The quick internet search he'd done on his phone suggested that Torchwood weren't usually accommodating of observers, whether they were with the police or not.
Greg turned to him. "What did you find out about this Torchwood Institute?"
"Not much." He didn't bother to mention that what little he had found was from a single conspiracy theory website and therefore unsubstantiated and probably written by a nut-case. Whoever they were, Torchwood were very thorough in covering their cyber-tracks. "Only I think it's best to let them do their jobs."
"Whatever those are. You really trust them?"
John shrugged. "Yeah. I do." It was nothing more than instinct, of course. Had he not recognised that depth in Ace's eyes--the same depth he'd seen mirrored in her companions' and for all his life in his Aunt Jo's--he would have been as dubious as anyone.
"What did she call that thing again?" asked Greg.
"Uh. Terileptilan, I think," John answered.
"Nonsense, of course," said Sherlock, startling them both. He had been uncharacteristically quiet ever since the team from Torchwood had surrounded the supposedly alien artefact and began pulling out esoteric equipment to examine it. "I've been reading their lips as best I can. Half of what they're saying is gibberish."
Greg frowned. "So it's not alien technology?"
"They certainly believe it is, and they're keeping up the ruse even amongst themselves."
Huddled around the object and unaware of their observers' scepticism, the Torchwood team finished up their initial scans.
Ace pocketed the resonator and looked at her teammates. "I'm not reading anything volatile or incendiary. I think we're safe to shift it. All right, kids. Let's box it up and take it home."
"I'm on it." Mickey rose and went for the heavy case lined with a thin layer of dwarf star alloy. The stuff could block just about any signal and he'd yet to see a blast that could do more than scuff the surface.
Ace looked up from the device and waved a hand at the Detective Inspector. "Oy! Mate!"
Lestrade looked ready to spit nails, but Ace paid no mind. "Stay put!" she ordered when he moved to cross the tape. "Just giving you a heads-up that we're about to move the artefact into the containment vessel."
"Right!" Greg called back, and then added under his breath to John. "Because she couldn't just say they were putting the thing in a box."
John let out a tiny, amused snort. "Actually, she talks a lot like my Aunt Jo."
"Your family reunions must be a hoot."
Sherlock, eyes still clapped on the Torchwood team, tensed. "Something's gone wrong."
A low whine, almost below audible range, began to emanate from the device.
"Shit!" swore Ace. She grabbed the hyperspectral scanner and thumbed it on, aiming it at the artefact. "It's building energy."
"I thought you said there wasn't anything volatile!" snapped Martha.
"It's not chemical," Ace insisted, examining the readings. "It's-- The thing is freaking out the scanner. It's sub-ether in nature, I think. Mickey?" she called urgently. "Where's the damned case?!"
"Right here--" He stumbled to his knees next to her, landing awkwardly with the case in both hands.
"Too late. Take cover!"
Mickey tried to fling the heavy container over the now glowing purple artefact before he scrambled over the rubble of the torn road. Ace and Martha raced for a low stone wall, leaping over it and into a suburban front garden where they flattened themselves into the damp grass.
John and the others heard the shouted warning and instinct took over. John leapt behind Greg's parked car and hunkered down behind the nearest tyre, pulling up his knees and burying his head under his arms. He felt Sherlock land beside him. He didn't see where Greg ended up.
That was the moment the wave hit. Like an explosive concussion without the explosion. He felt it in his chest and his head. His limbs tingled and it felt like his hair literally stood on end.
Seconds passed as he caught his breath. He could hear shouting, so his eardrums were all right. He did a quick check of his extremities and found no obvious damage.
"What the hell was that?" demanded Greg, and followed that up with a shouted order to Donovan's team to keep away.
John looked toward the sound of his voice, so familiar and yet not quite the same, and his eyes widened. Before John could speak, Greg ducked under the police tape and ran toward Torchwood's explosives expert with the spryness of a man half his age. Which was reasonable since that was what he looked like.
"This is not good," said John. Except, at the same time, he felt physically better than he had in years. Certainly better than he had since before he'd been sent to Afghanistan. "Sherlock, are you--?" The question died on his lips as his gaze landed on Sherlock.
"No." Sherlock shook his head. His gaunt-cheeked, wide-eyed, prominent-eared, ginger head. "No, no, no! This is not happening. This is not happening."
"What the fuck is going on?" Greg's almost-voice again.
John rose and reached out to Sherlock to give him a hand up. His normally perfectly tailored overcoat now dwarfed his thin frame, although the hem remained the same. In short, he looked like a gawky teenager.
"Christ. You're skinny as a rail, but you're still taller than me. And your hair--!"
"Now is not the time, John!" barked Sherlock, as near panic as John had ever seen him.
"All right. All right. Come on. Ace and her lot are bound to have an explanation." I hope, he added to himself.
They rushed after Greg who had reached the Torchwood team and was demanding answers.
"Well, it's not Terileptilan after all. I can tell you that much, mate," Ace was saying when John and Sherlock reached them.
"I don't give a damn where it came from! I want to know what happened!"
"We maybe triggered something. Or it might have been on a delay release. Pre-set to trigger a certain amount of time after landing. Or it could just be broken and fired itself at random."
"Not a clue. Hang on." She pulled out a bizarre looking device and aimed it at Lestrade. "I'm not picking up any harmful radiation, so that's good."
"Oh yes. That's lovely," Lestrade snapped sarcastically. "Excellent."
She scanned each of them in turn, including herself. "Nah. We're all clean. No need to break out the decontamination sponge, at any rate. It's just that you blokes--" She looked at the three of them again. "It looks like you've gotten a bit of a dip into the fountain of youth."
"No. Absolutely not!" Sherlock shook his head sharply. "This isn't possible."
"Maybe not by Earth standards, but it looks real enough to me."
"You have to reverse it! I will not be...this again!"
"Keep your hair on, ginger," she said, far more flippantly that was prudent in John's opinion. In fact, he put a hand on Sherlock's arm, just in case he might need to hold him back. "This is unknown tech. I don't even know what caused the age regression yet, never mind reversing anything."
Mickey and Martha joined them at that moment. "We've got it contained now," said Mickey.
"About bloody time!" Lestrade snarled. "You couldn't have done it two minutes ago?"
Mickey only glared a little and otherwise ignored his outburst. "We're ready to transport."
Ace took in John, Sherlock, and Lestrade with one gaze. "You three'd best come back to the Hub with us. Martha can do a full medical scan there to make sure there's no physical harm done."
"The Hub?" demanded Lestrade and the same time Sherlock shouted, "No physical harm!?"
"Yeah," Martha answered with astonishing calm. "We've got equipment there that should help us sort this out and see what, if anything, there is to be done. Don't worry. I'm a doctor."
"So am I," said John. "But this--" He gestured to himself, to his mates. "This is beyond anything strictly medical. This is...mad!"
Sherlock piped up again, his entire demeanour accusing. "You're not affected. Why aren't any of you affected?"
Ace smiled at him, once more rather cheekier than John considered appropriate considering the circumstances. "You've stopped denying reality already? Well done. I'd heard you were clever."
"Answer the question!"
"I don't know," she replied deliberately. "Could be lots of reasons. Could be the wave was only effective at a certain distance. Could be something in the rocks we were behind shielded us. Could be because the three of us have travelled in the Tardis. I do not know."
She turned to Mickey. "I'll help you load up the SUV. You can drive it back on your own. Martha, I recommend you escort our friends here in their own car. Do you have a full tank of petrol?" she asked Lestrade.
Greg's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why? Where are we going?"
"If you want answers, you need to come to the Hub," she said with that same cheeky smile. "A.k.a. Torchwood - Cardiff."