Driving into the old industrial part of Liverpool that had grown up around the one thriving docklands was like entering another place and time. It needed only a little imagination to think of it as a post-apocalyptic landscape. The huge, smoke and grime-blackened brick buildings that towered over the road like man-made cliffs had broken windows or bricked up voids where windows should be. The names of the one time traders were faded or missing parts of their lettering. It was a place that progress had forgotten.

The Stanley Dock was a particularly grim example with a deep rectangular pool of dark water overshadowed on either side by derelict buildings, one of them, the former Liverpool Tobacco Warehouse, listed as the biggest single warehouse in the world. Sunlight rarely hit the cold dock water with such an edifice casting a shadow over it.

But the three men who climbed out of the Toyota and viewed the scene had all been in darker, colder places. They weren’t unnerved by mere scenery. Jack Harkness opened the boot of the car and unlocked the specially fitted compartment inside. Li and Kristoph admitted to each other, telepathically, that they were impressed. The Torchwood Captain had a selection of weapons made at the notorious Villengarde factory. Kristoph picked up a fearsome looking bastic machine gun. It was surprisingly light. It was made of fiftieth century steel alloy that had its molecular density manipulated to make it strong without being heavy.

Li chose a similar weapon. The Captain opted for a short-barrelled semi-automatic rifle descended from the 20th century P-90. All three men filled their pockets with spare ammunition clips. Kristoph was surprised that Jack Harkness also loaded his old-fashioned Webley revolver that first went into production ninety years before this time.

“It’s kinda grown on me over the years,” he admitted. “It feels like an extension of my hand.”

“It only takes six bullets,” Li reminded him.

“Yes, but that’s six bad guys left when I’m done,” Harkness responded. It might have come across as bragging, but neither of the two Time Lord assassins actually doubted him.

“Where do you think the nest is?” Kristoph asked. He hoped it wasn’t the Tobacco Warehouse. There were thirteen floors above ground and probably cellars, too. They could search in there for a week and not flush out every one of the deadly creatures.

The possibility of a building that size fully infested didn’t bear thinking about.

Jack Harkness tapped the miniature keys on the Time Agency wristlet on his left arm. A hologram of the dock and surrounding buildings appeared in the air above it. One building pulsated a sinister red. The three men looked across the pool of water to the tall concrete block that was the former White, Tomkins and Courage Grain Silo.

“That’s the nest,” Jack said. “It’s perfect for them. Dark, grotty, isolated. Probably knee deep in pigeon droppings, but they smell worse, so they won’t mind that.”

It felt like a long walk along the side of the derelict Jesse Hartley warehouse to the east end of the dock. It was time for apprehensions to set in. Again Kristoph wondered if he had been too long away from this kind of work. He didn’t doubt his own courage. He wouldn’t falter in the face of the enemy. But did he still have the stamina for a long fight?

“Self-doubt has never been a Gallifreyan trait.” He felt Li’s telepathic touch on his mind “Still less The Executioner, the Celestial Intervention Agency’s greatest assassin.”

“I haven’t been The Executioner for a long time. I meant to leave that epithet behind. I’ve been The Peacemaker for a lifetime, instead.”

“And you still are. We’ll be bringing peace to the people of this world by ridding it of an alien infestation.”

Kristoph conceded the point. Besides, whether he felt ready or not they were there. Jack examined the hologram on his wristlet again. The grain silo image pulsated an even angrier red. All three men checked their weapons and got ready to fight.

They entered the silo through a ground floor doorway that had been secured with a strong steel door before vandals or scrap metal collectors had broken it off its hinges. The corridor within smelt strongly of rust and pigeon droppings.

“Old droppings,” Kristoph observed looking at the grey mess beneath his feet. “There are no live pigeons here.”

“Not surprising,” Li noted. “When the silo is infested with insects that can snap their heads off with one pincer no bird is going to stay here. Well, Captain, this is your mission. Do you want to start at the top or the bottom?”

There was no question of splitting up and doing both. When they found the nest it would take all three of them to destroy the creatures.

“Let’s try the basement, first,” Jack suggested. “It’s more likely to be secure. This place has had its share of winos and druggies sheltering in it.”

He kicked a plastic bottle that had once held three litres of cheap white cider, definitely not a relic of mass grain storage. He brought a strong torch from his pocket and turned it on before they picked their way deeper into the noisome building and found the way down to the lower floor.

“No,” Kristoph said as soon as they got down into the pitch dark basement. “The Gebellian queen wouldn’t nest down here. You can feel the damp. There must be seepage from the dock somewhere.”

“Up, then,” Jack decided. They retraced their steps and then began to climb the metal stairwell. In places the metal was twisted and damaged. It was a dangerous climb. But they made their way steadily.

“We’re on the right track,” Li noted. “You can hear them.”

“Yes,” Jack agreed. “Like metallic paper rustling. That’s the part-organic-part-metal exo-skeleton. Given time to really nest in here they’d eat their way through all of this steel, converting it into their own built in body armour. The village Torchwood dealt with in the fifties, there was a storage depot for rail sleepers on the outskirts. The Gebellians ate the lot before they swarmed.”

“This was a perfect nesting site for them,” Kristoph agreed. “If Torchwood hadn’t spotted them coming down here they would have got a real foothold.”

“Torchwood didn’t spot their landing pod,” Jack Harkness admitted. “I lied about that. Li Tuo observed the craft. He contacted me. That’s why I had no back up. I wouldn’t tell Alex who my source was and so he wouldn’t accept that it was a genuine threat.”

Kristoph got ready to respond to that, but above a steel fire door crashed open and a creature almost indescribably gruesome looking, foul smelling, and ferociously angry charged at them. There was a vaguely humanoid shape in that it had two long, strong back legs on which it reared up, and there was a head at the opposite end of the trunk. But it also had four pairs of feelers with thick hair on them that was as sharp as thorns and coated with a paralysing venom. In addition to those was a fearsome pair of pincers. These, along with the legs, head and trunk had the metallic-organic grey-green coloured exo-skeleton that all three men knew about from past experience.

Kristoph fired first, hitting the creature in the chest and head. The bastic machine gun rounds went straight through the natural body armour. Green ichor poured from the wounds as the creature slumped over the stairwell railing and fell all the way to the concrete floor below. A cloud of powdered pigeon droppings settled around it, but the three men didn’t see that. They were getting ready to fire on the four more soldier caste Gebellians that squeezed through the door and launched themselves at the intruders. The sound of the guns firing and the screeches of the creatures as they attacked were deafening within the concrete and steel stairwell as more and more of them kept coming.

“Behind you,” Jack Harkness yelled. Kristoph spun around. The creatures were coming up the stairs to box them in. He fired constantly at the deadly menace. Li fired straight up at the Gebellian who swarmed across the ceiling, clinging to the steel beams exposed beneath the old plaster.

“Don’t let them touch you with those feelers,” Jack called out above the din. His warning wasn’t necessary. Li and Kristoph both tried to keep their distance from them. Even dead, they were dangerous. The venom was still fresh in those barbs.

The flow of soldier caste Gebellians into the stairwell slowed at last after nearly half an hour of close quarter fighting. Jack Harkness gained a foothold at the firedoor. He sprayed the area beyond with automatic fire. Li and Kristoph brought up the rear, firing at everything that moved.

“Sweet Mother of Chaos!” Li swore as their eyes adjusted to the gloom. “This is a charnel house.” He tried not to step into the decomposing body of a homeless man that he came across first. The floor was covered with the skeletons of birds, rats, and even dogs and cats, as well as at least two more Humans who had been unfortunate enough to stumble into the place. “I thought you only observed the pod two days ago. Can they really cause this much devastation in such a short time?”

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Jack Harkness admitted. “I thought the nest would be only partially established. This much meat consumed can only mean….”

It occurred to all three men at once that this upper floor space was darker than it ought to be. From the outside a distinctive feature of the building was the huge round window, like the rose window of a church or a porthole in a ship just under the apogee of the tiled roof. The partially glassless window should shed a little light into the room.

Something huge was blocking the light, and they knew just what it had to be. Five hearts lurched as they got ready to fight the inner core of soldiers who were between them and the ‘queen’ Gebellian. They were standing on the floor, clinging to the walls, hanging from the roof beams, waiting for the three men to move further into the hatchery so that their escape back onto the stairwell could be blocked.

Again, the sound of the fight was deafening. The two machine guns sent out death in a staccato rhythm counterpointed by the sound of the rifle in fully automatic mode. The creatures screeched as they attacked and screamed as their heads were blown away. The guns gave the three an advantage over creatures whose weapons were their pincers and feelers. As long as they kept them at arm’s reach they couldn’t fight them. But there were so many of them it seemed impossible that they would get out again alive.

“No,” Li whispered. “I will live to see my Lily again. “I won’t die in this foul place.”

“Marion,” Kristoph echoed. “I am going home to Marion when this is done.”

Captain Jack Harkness murmured a name as he renewed his advance upon the queen, cutting down the creatures that stood between him and it. If the two Time Lords heard what that name was, the person he wanted to live for, they would never embarrass him by repeating it afterwards.

“The sire!” Jack called out. A creature that was at least a foot taller and wider than the others but with no pincers, rose up in front of him. A rapid burst of rifle fire cut it down. Behind him Li and Kristoph finished off the soldiers. But even though the guns fell silent there was still a sinister sound in the room – an angry chittering rising to a screech that penetrated the brain like a dagger. It acted as a barrier as impenetrable as a brick wall. Li and Kristoph suffered worse than their Human companion. The sound echoed in their telepathic nerves and overwhelmed them. It was all they could do to stand on their own two feet. Their guns felt heavy in their hands and they didn’t have enough co-ordination to pull the trigger.

“Jack!” Kristoph called out as he saw his Human friend move forward towards the creature. He tried to fire the rifle but it was out of bullets. He dropped it and pulled his Webley from the holster, emptying it into the head and body of the six foot tall, five foot wide Gebellian queen.

“No!” Kristoph called out urgently. “Jack, keep away from those feelers. They’re full of venom.”

Jack must have heard both of them, but he didn’t react. He stepped closer to the creature, reloading his Webley with rounds from his pocket. The long, poisonous feelers whipped out and caught him around the shoulders and neck. He yelped in pain, but his gun was loaded again. He fired rapidly, stepping closer and closer to the queen. The paralysing venom was affecting him. His steps were slower and harder, but he pressed forwards until he could actually touch the queen.

“Die, @*#%$,” he screamed over her screeching cries and pushed with all his strength. The remaining glass and framework in the round window shattered as the queen fell back through it, her cry of desperation melding with Jack’s as they both plunged to the ground far below.