Gwen Cooper stopped her car and rolled down the driver side window to hold two laminated passes up to a camera.
"Gwen Cooper, Doctor Martha Jones, Torchwood. Here for the annual inspection,” she said into the speaker grille.
A red light went out and a green one flashed. The steel gate built with security rather than aesthetics in mind slid open. She disengaged the handbrake and drove forward slowly along the private road. The gate slid closed behind them.
"That's creepy," Martha said, turning to look back at the blocked exit from the premises. "This feels more like a prison than any sort of medical institution.”
"I know," Gwen sighed. "This is my third visit. Jack brought me the first time. Then Ianto. Now it’s my turn to bring you."
The gardens either side of the driveway were pristinely kept, manicured lawns, pruned hedges, flower beds. They were deserted. The residents of Llamidon hall didn’t use the garden very often.
The director of the facility met them as they walked up the front steps of the elegant Georgian house hidden behind the maximum security exterior. Doctor Janice Greer greeted Gwen as a professional acquaintance before she was introduced to Martha.
"Doctor Jones... I read your paper about the rehabilitation of the socially isolated."
"You did?" Martha was surprised. Her written report about Una's progress was not for public distribution. Copies were sent to UNIT and to senior members of the W.H.O. and to Torchwood's equivalent organisations in the USA and Australia, but Doctor Greer wasn't in any of those organisations.
"Captain Harkness kindly allowed me to see a copy. Social isolation is a problem with many of my patients."
'It is rather different, surely," Gwen pointed out. "Most of your patients have been isolated from society for their own protection or for the safety of society itself."
"Indeed," Doctor Greer admitted. "Well, we had better get this inspection done with. Which of our special guests do you want to start with?"
"I suppose it hardly matters," Gwen admitted. "Let's just take them as they come."
Doctor Greer nodded and led the two Torchwood visitors through a ground floor corridor past day rooms where patients in disposable clothing with no fastenings or belts watched television, played chess, or read books under the supervision of their care workers.
"These are ordinary people sectioned under the Mental Health Act and getting ordinary treatment," Gwen explained to Martha. "The patients we're here to see are in a separate wing."
"The difference being?" Martha queried, still wondering exactly what they were doing here.
"These patients will one day complete their treatment and go home with a certificate proving their sanity," Dr Greer explained. "The patients in the 'special unit' are here for the rest of their lives. They were sent here at various times under a little known clause of the Mental Health Act because the cause of their madness or the physical manifestation of their condition isn't found within any definition of mental illness as it is usually understood. They are considered unfit to live in society as Miss Cooper said - for their own safety or that of society at large.” She paused and sighed deeply. “In many cases, both."
Martha was puzzled. Gwen was just sad beyond belief. Her compassion for people in distress had been tested here three times before. She really didn’t want to go through it again, but it was her duty as a member of the Torchwood team.
They went down several floors in a lift, to a section of the hospital that had been added long after the Georgian foundations were laid. When the doors opened it was into a corridor with no natural light. The nearest window was several metres above this level. Instead, strong artificial light bathed the pale cream walls and the beige coloured doors along the length of the corridor. At the far end a woman in an overall was cleaning the floor. Another came from one of the rooms with a tea trolley. The normality of cleaning and tea belied the stark, sterile look and feel of the ‘special unit’.
“I’ll let you visit Annie Dempsey, first,” Doctor Greer suggested. “She likes to talk to people. It cheers her up a bit.”
“Yes,” Gwen agreed. She stopped by a room with a name plate screwed to the wall. Martha was used to chalk boards on hospital cubicles or temporary name cards on rooms for long term patients. The screwed down name plate suggested that Annie Dempsey was a far more permanent resident, here than anyone she had encountered in an ordinary NHS institution.
She was surprised by several details when they stepped into the room. First of all, she noted that it was more like a comfortable student room than anything in a hospital. The patient had a laptop computer on a desk and a small library of books. She was sitting at the desk now, busily working on a long piece of text.
The surprising thing about the patient was that she looked about ten years old.
“Hello, Gwen,” she said in a cheerful tone. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Annie,” Gwen replied. “This is Martha Jones. She works with me in… our department.”
“Pleased to meet you, Martha,” Annie answered. Martha murmured a response as she took in the surprisingly intelligent expression on the child’s face. She spoke with a mature tone in her voice which added to the puzzle.
“Martha doesn’t know your story,” Gwen told her. “Do you mind….”
Annie nodded. She opened a desk drawer and took out a small photograph album. The pictures in it dated back to the 1970s when people tended to stand still and pose for photographs even on informal occasions like holidays. They included images of a girl who looked a lot like Annie did now.
The girl became a teenager in the 1980s when hairstyles became as extreme as they got for the twentieth century. By the 1990s she had a graduation picture and lots of photographs of a woman working within a university department with her colleagues. It looked like some kind of science or technology department with complicated equipment often featuring in the images.
The photos stopped mid-1990s, as if her progress through the academic world had ceased.
Perhaps her life had ceased.
“Is this your mother?” Martha asked, though the maths didn’t quite fit if the woman had died in the 1990s.
“No,” Annie answered. “It is me. I was born in 1970. I got my B.Sc from the University of Manchester in 1990 and my PhD four years later. I was part of a research team studying a very little known branch of quantum mechanics. My papers on the subject were getting me noticed. I had travelled as far as Tokyo and Los Angeles lecturing before the accident.”
“It’s difficult to explain in terms anyone without a Doctorate in Quantum Mechanics could understand,” she said in an apologetic tone. “It was an accident in the laboratory. I was caught up in an unQuantified energy field, and ever since I have been getting younger at slightly faster than the normal rate of Human aging.”
“Er….” Martha stared at the young girl and wondered if this was a joke. But how many ten year olds even knew the phrase ‘quantum mechanics’ or ‘unQuantified energy field’. She sounded like somebody with a PhD and a whole lot of experience in her chosen field of study.
“You’re probably thinking it was every woman’s dream. Instead of touching forty I was going back to my youth. My intelligence was unimpaired. I still knew everything I had learned in two decades of research. But I was young and… sexy.”
That was a word that really sounded strange in the mouth of a child. Martha tried to keep a sense of perspective, but it was difficult.
“Apart from Brian Cox, physicists don’t generally have much of a social circle,” she admitted. “But for a while I got chance to have the fun I missed the first time around. But a lively sex life doesn’t make up for losing my credibility as a scientist. People didn’t believe I WAS the author of those brilliant papers that would have been written when I was a teenager by their reckoning. Even those of my colleagues who knew what had happened stopped taking me seriously. I lost everything. My position, my home… I was lost until I came here to Llanidom house. At least I’m safe here. I can work on my last paper before it is too late… before I can’t write any more… before….”
Martha was speechless. She stared at the child who used to be a woman and her imagination filled in the future horror. She would regress to infanthood, to a baby, and then… to a premature baby, an unformed foetus incapable of life outside some kind of life support tank. Eventually, she would regress to an embryo, and then… to non-existence.
Martha shuddered. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t hide her absolute horror at what Annie knew would happen in a relatively short time. It was only comparable to somebody facing the onset of a degenerative illness like Alzheimer’s.
It was a dreadful prospect.
“Is there no possibility of reversing the… reversal?” Martha sighed apologetically for such an unintelligent way of expressing her question.
“Most medical research is done with a view to helping the greatest number of people inflicted with a condition. Time and money spent on the affliction of one individual with a unique illness is hardly viable.”
“That is….” Martha began to protest. But it was probably true. A cure for cancer or AIDS or even the common cold was more important in the scale of humanity.
“There is some work being done,” Annie admitted. “Your Doctor Harper and a few others with understanding of medical cases outside of the normal laws of physics have been trying for some time, but time is running out for me. Unless a miracle breakthrough happens in a very few years it will be too late. I doubt I will retain my mind… my knowledge… all that is ME once I regress to an infant. After that it hardly matters.”
Martha didn’t know what to say. Gwen apparently did.
“Doctor Harper won’t give up. I am sure he is doing all he can. Don’t give up hope, Annie.”
“I won’t,” she promised. “It is all I have left, after all.”
There didn’t seem much else to say. Gwen promised to visit again and turned to leave. Martha murmured an apology for such a short visit and followed her.
“That’s….” Martha began. “It’s… even the things I’ve seen at Torchwood… aren’t as insanely impossible as that.”
“We ought to be past using the word ‘impossible’,” Gwen replied. “Owen said it was something deeper than mere DNA – the same as Jack’s immortality. It’s beyond ordinary Human biology and he would kill to find the answer. I don’t think he would. That’s just how Owen talks. But I don’t think he’ll find the answer in the time Annie has left. I don’t think we have the technology even at Torchwood with all its alien tech. it’s something we’re not ready for, yet.”
Martha wasn’t used to deep philosophy from Gwen. She had no answer to her.
“This one is a bit easier to get your head around,” Gwen said almost as if it was a consolation. They waited for Doctor Greer to unlock the next room. The name plate indicated that the patient was called Bryce Norris. There were some details about his dietary requirements beneath the panel, but no other clue to why he was in this institution.
The patient was sitting in an easy chair in front of a wall screen displaying views of gardens. Martha couldn’t quite decide if that was therapy or cruelty to somebody who possibly hadn’t seen daylight for years and was not likely to in the long term future.
He turned and stood up as the visitors came in. He reached out his hand to shake politely. Martha noticed that he had quite long fingernails and very cold skin. She dismissed the possibility of him being a vampire. Torchwood had a policy of allowing vampires to live in the community as long as they kept their abstinence vows. She could see no reason for one of those to be living here.
“Bryce, you are looking well,” Gwen told him and introduced Martha. He invited the two visitors to sit opposite him beside his virtual window. Doctor Greer pulled up a chair alongside them.
Martha had glanced away at the changing video image when she was aware of a sudden movement. She turned back to look at Bryce, but he didn’t seem to have done anything. Both Doctor Greer and Gwen were looking scandalised as if he had broken wind noisily in front of them.
“You have been allowing flies to breed in here, again,” Doctor Greer admonished him. “Pieces of meat concealed under your bed again?”
Gwen brushed away a large bluebottle, and Doctor Greer produced a small spray canister of fly spray which cleared the air around their immediate area. Bryce meanwhile looked as guilty as a boy caught with his hand in the sweet jar. Martha was again put in mind of vampire lore, but this time she was thinking of Renfield, the fictional Human helper of Dracula, the man who consumed flies and other insects in an insane attempt to possess many lives.
But again she was short of the truth. One fly that had escaped the spray came close to Bryce’s face and Martha was astonished to see a long, forked tongue reach out and grab it. He swallowed the insect and again looked guiltily at his visitors.
“It… is a weakness,” he admitted. “Doctor Greer has tried to stop me from indulging, but the desire to ingest insects is one ingrained in me. Indeed, it is instinctive… a racial characteristic.”
“A… what?” Martha thought she was the only person in the room who had any racial difference in her DNA, and that did not make her desire any unusual source of protein.
“I am not wholly Human,” Bryce explained. “My father was a warm blooded member of the Homo Sapien species, but my mother was homo reptilius, a much older sentient race who possessed superior technological understanding even before the mammalian life forms had grown bigger than mice.”
Martha glanced at Gwen and at Doctor Greer. Neither of them appeared sceptical of this claim.
“Oh!” A possible explanation occurred to her as a memory surfaced. “Oh… I remember reading a U.N.I.T. file… about a race called Silurians that lay in some kind of deep hibernation under the Derbyshire hills… A race descended from lizards, cold-blooded, reptilian scales… I was allowed to read the report because The Doctor was involved in the incident….”
“Silurian is a Human name for our species and a wrong one at that. We are not from that epoch of Earth time. The humans also made a mistake in assuming that there was only the one colony that was destroyed after their discovery in nineteen-seventy-two. We are legion. There are many millions still sleeping beneath the surface of this planet and one day they will awaken and reclaim the surface from the ape-descendents.”
“Less of the revolutionary stuff, Bryce,” Gwen told him. “You know Torchwood won’t put up with any of it.”
Bryce gave her a scowl before putting on a more placid expression again. Clearly there was some barely controlled aggression within him.
“I don’t quite understand how a child came to be born of Human and Silurian – sorry, for want of a better name,” Martha said.
“My mother was the sole survivor of a hibernation pod destroyed by humans attempting to deep mine a coal seam in the Rhonda Valley in the mid-nineteen-seventies, a few years after the Derbyshire atrocity,” Bryce explained. “She was only a juvenile, but she survived, living in caves, eating fruit, fungi, insects. My father… he was what they called a ‘survivalist’. He eschewed modern Human life and also lived in caves, ate foraged food. They came across each other… in some way an affection was formed and there was a mating. I was born of that mating… When my egg hatched I was clearly a hybrid with Human skin but cold blood and some of reptilian features such as my tongue. There are some other, less obvious differences that I am not allowed to display. I have poison glands under the backs of my hands and I need manicures weekly to prevent knife-like claws developing.”
“We’re not fond of the tongue, either,” Doctor Greer pointed out. “Or how you catch insects with it. Your dietary requirements are carefully monitored. There is no need.”
Bryce gave an apologetic smile and continued his story.
“My father died when I was still an infant. A fall… something that easily happens in mountain territory. The humans buried him in the valley. My mother and I were not even known. I continued to grow under her care, knowing I was different from her, and from the humans we sometimes saw pursuing leisure activities among the mountains. Of course, once I knew of my parentage, I wanted to see more of my father’s people. My mother told me it would lead to no good, that I would not be accepted, but after she died, in the Human year of 1979, I left the mountains and tried to fit into your society.”
He paused. This was an epiphany in his life, of course. He needed to gather his thoughts.
“I tried to live and work as a Human. But work was difficult to find and people were not welcoming to a stranger. I was often alone. It was difficult.”
“You don’t have to be half-lizard to have had it hard in the nineteen-eighties,” Gwen pointed out. “Wales under Thatcher had a lot of problems.”
“This is something Doctor Greer and her colleagues have taught me since I came to them,” Bryce agreed. “But at the time I only felt the rejection, the isolation, and I became angry. I… resented those who refused me work, who did not allow me into their social circles. I murdered seven men and two women before I was finally captured by the police. When my ‘peculiarities’ were discovered, Torchwood took charge of me and after they had learnt all they could from examination of my anatomy, I was sent here to learn to control my anger and resentment of the Human race and to live out my natural lifespan where I cannot harm any other humans. I accept that I am better here than in a Human prison for my crimes, but I am a prisoner, all the same.”
“There is nothing that anyone can do about that,” Gwen said. “You are deemed unsafe.”
“Yes,” Bryce nodded. “Yes, that was the judgement and I must accept it.”
“As long as you do, Doctor Greer’s team will do all they can to make your life comfortable,” Gwen assured him. “And Torchwood will continue to monitor your case.”
“Of course. I thank you and Torchwood for their concern. When my mother’s people rise to crush humanity, I hope they will treat you as well as you have treated me.”
“Bryce!” Doctor Greer said warningly. There was just a hint of veiled threat in his words, after all. But the interview was over. They had learned all that could be learnt of his case for this year.
“Poor bugger,” Gwen said as the door closed on Bryce’s secure room.
“Poor deluded bugger,” Martha added. “One thing the U.N.I.T. files made clear was that the Silurians – or whatever they should be called – what they believe in most strongly is racial purity. Should they ever have a chance at crushing humans they would eliminate a mongrel like him, too. He would be an abomination to them as much as he is a freak to us.”
“We let him live,” Gwen noted. “Does that make us better than them, morally?”
“Pass,” Martha responded.
“Don’t ask me,” Doctor Greer added. “I’m not entirely sure letting him live like this isn’t cruel. It might have been better to gently euthanize him long ago.”
Martha thought of reminding Doctor Greer of her Hippocratic Oath, but she couldn’t help secretly agreeing with her in one small corner of her mind.
Gwen had never taken the Hippocratic Oath.
“If you think he should be euthanized, wait until you hear the next case,” she said in a quiet tone.
That made Martha just a little worried about stepping into the next room. When she did, she wondered why Gwen had sounded so ominous and why exactly this female patient was included among these ‘special’ cases.
She was dressed in ordinary clothes if slightly too pink for Martha’s personal taste. The room was furnished with pink as the predominant colour, too. There were soft throw pillows and plush toys all over the soft-carpeted floor.
The walls of the room were covered with pictures of babies and toddlers, most of them stock photos cut from magazines. The patient was busy with a stack of such magazines full of parenting advice along with a glue stick and plastic ‘safety’ scissors with which to cut out favoured pictures and stick them in a big scrapbook.
“She likes babies?” Martha surmised.
“Not in the way you think,” Gwen replied with a shudder. “Doctor Greer… please fill Martha in on this case. I would prefer to wait outside.”
Gwen slipped out of the room. The door clicked shut behind her. Martha looked questioningly at her fellow doctor.
“All this is the best we can do in the way of therapy,” Doctor Greer explained, waving her hand in a circle to encompass the evidence of a baby obsession. “Whether it does any good, I really don’t know.”
“Does she have any children of her own?” Martha asked.
“According to health records from NHS trusts around the UK, Marissa Devon has given birth to seven live babies,” Doctor Greer answered. “All healthy boys. But none of them lived beyond six weeks of age.”
“She killed them?” There was something in Doctor Greer’s tone that matched Gwen’s. Both of them seemed much less sympathetic towards this woman than the previous two patients. She didn’t know if Doctor Greer was a mother as well as a professional, but Gwen was super-protective of baby Anwen and any mention of child cruelty made her decidedly twitchy. If this woman had murdered a succession of babies it would certainly explain her reaction.
“Whatever you’re thinking, it is FAR worse than that,” Doctor Greer told her. “This woman didn’t just kill her children, she ate their flesh. We think she may have abducted at least six more babies and subjected them to the same fate.”
“Uggh,” Martha responded. Then added a question she knew she had to ask. “Why?”
“She says that she is an alien from a planet called Xebia IV, where it is normal to re-ingest male offspring, only females being raised to adulthood.”
“And… is she? Alien, I mean?”
“Torchwood did extensive tests which proved inconclusive.”
“Her DNA appears to be Human. Torchwood, I understand, are in a position to say what is or is not Human DNA….”
“Yes, they are,” Martha confirmed. “So she could just be seriously, catastrophically, delusional?”
“Yes… except that her internal organs are drastically different to any normal Human. Among other oddities, she is capable of self-impregnating. Don’t ask me to explain that one. My field is psychiatry not obstetrics, but apparently she WAS capable of having babies any time she chose – until Torchwood implanted an experimental form of contraceptive in her womb. That has worked for the eight years she has been a patient of ours. Should it fail, any child born to her will, of course, be removed straight away.”
“I should… hope so….” Martha managed to say. “So… either she is the most extreme case of post-natal depression in history or an alien man-hater?”
“Either way, pictures in a magazine are the closest she will ever get to a baby for as long as she lives.” Doctor Greer breathed in deeply and glanced away from the patient. “You won’t hear me arguing against her treatment. I have two grandchildren and if anyone touched a hair on their heads I would find a deeper, darker dungeon than this one to bury them in.”
With that the director of the institute turned and reached for the door. Martha followed her out. Gwen was waiting in the corridor. They walked on without another word about the patient they had just seen.
“Do you want to see Clive Morteson?” Doctor Greer asked.
“Not really,” Gwen answered. “But I suppose I should.”
She sighed deeply and stopped in front of another door. there was a shelf built into the wall beside it. Doctor Greer took three silvery items from the shelf and passed them around. Martha was puzzled when she unfolded something like a rainhood made of metallic fabric. Doctor Greer and Gwen both fastened the strange headgear by the chin tabs. Martha copied them, wondering why it was necessary.
The walls inside this room were covered with the same metallic fabric. So was the ceiling and the back of the door. Martha guessed that the floor underneath the carpet was the same.
A skinny man with an unpleasantly thin face looked up at his visitors and scowled. Martha repressed a gasp. As soon as his eyes met hers she had felt something touch her mind. It was something nasty. It made her skin crawl like watching nature programmes about spiders, except she couldn’t identify the reason for the feeling quite so easily.
Then a completely unbidden thought came into her mind and she couldn’t help blushing. Clive Morteson leered in a dirty minded way.
“I see you still want to shag Jack Harkness,” he said to Gwen. Martha turned her head towards her colleague and noticed that she was also blushing.
“No, I don’t,” Gwen replied. “You put that idea in my head. Get out, and stop playing those dirty games.”
“He can do that?” Martha asked.
“He’s getting stronger. The hoods worked for the last two or three times.”
“It’s because you’ve not been here for a whole year,” Doctor Greer assured her. “You’re not accustomed to blocking your thoughts from him. Stop it, Clive. It is intrusive and rude. Captain Harkness said he would have you lobotomised if you don’t stop pestering his team members.”
Clive’s eyes flickered a little nervously and both women felt the unpleasant pressure on their minds lessen.
“He wants to shag me,” the strange man added in defiance.
“I doubt that,” Martha replied. “Even HE has better taste than you. You have a filthy mind. Keep it to yourself.”
“I can’t,” he protested. “I can’t control it. I was born with this curse.”
“You were not born with a dirty, lascivious mind,” Doctor Greer told him sternly. “You are quite capable of keeping those unwanted urges under control. As for your other affliction, it is high time you started taking responsibility for the consequences – beginning with apologies to these two ladies.
He apologised, but he did not sound particularly sincere about it.
“It is true that he appears to have had the telepathic abilities from an early age,” Doctor Greer explained to Martha. “His parents claimed he was a seventh son of a seventh son and put him in a sideshow – the tiny mind-reader. When he was thirteen… puberty... his parents both killed themselves. We think he MADE them do it.”
“I did,” Clive declared proudly. “They didn’t care about me, only about the money they could make with me. I killed them… I killed the pervert housemaster at the children’s home I was sent to. I ran away and took care of myself. I could easily get food and clothes. I gave any cops or store detectives nose bleeds.”
“You killed at least eighteen people before you were taken into Torchwood custody,” Doctor Greer reminded him.
“They deserved it,” Clive insisted. “They tried to use me – or they rejected me….”
“Christine Hand did neither. She fell in love with you. You murdered her.”
“Dare I ask how?” Martha asked, wondering if she really wanted to know.
“Have you seen the film ‘Scanners’?” Gwen asked her quietly. “Enough said.”
“Quite enough,” Martha agreed. “I presume the lead lined room and these charming hoods prevent him killing anyone?”
“It has worked so far,” Doctor Greer confirmed. “The ultimate sanction… as I said before… would be a lobotomy. We don’t want to do that. Even Jack Harkness thinks it would be too medieval.”
“And he would know,” Gwen murmured. “I think we’ve seen enough. Clive, your behaviour is not satisfactory. You will never be allowed out of this room until you stop blaming the rest of the world for your problems… and stop hurting anyone who gives you the slightest insult. It is a rude world out there. You can’t explode somebody’s head because they bump into you on St. Mary’s street and don’t apologise fast enough.”
“I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way,” Clive responded. “One day… one day I will get out of here and make them all pay….”
“Never happen,” Gwen replied as she stood up. Martha followed suit. As she stepped outside the room and the door was closed she felt a strange sense of relief. Clive had been pressing on her mind all the time they were in there, even with the protective hood.
“He could have killed us in there,” she gasped.
“Not quite,” Gwen assured her. “But we could have had migraines and nose bleeds. I HATE going in there. Sometimes I wish he would explode his own head. Anyway, that’s enough. We don’t have to see all of them, just a sample.”
“A sample? How many ARE there down here?”
“Ninety-seven,” Doctor Greer told Martha. “All with conditions that require them to be held here, in isolation from each other and from the world.”
“So what is the point of this ‘sample’?” Martha asked. “Why are we here?”
“To decide on the final sanction,” Gwen explained. “If we decide, after seeing a selection of the inmates of the unit, that society would be better if they were ALL eliminated, it is possible to evacuate all the staff and fill the rooms, these corridors, everything on this self-contained level, with lethal gas.”
“You mean… kill them all?” Martha was shocked. “Doctor Greer… do you condone this? You took the Hippocratic Oath….”
“That’s why I have always voted against it. Besides, for every monster like Clive or Marissa Devon, there is somebody like Annie who deserves the best we can do for her.”
It seemed so long since they had talked to Annie Dempsey about her reversed life that Martha had almost forgotten how much she had pitied her.
“Even without Annie’s case, I would vote against the final sanction,” Martha decided without hesitation. “It’s just not in me to execute people… no matter how vile they are.”
“Then we’re unanimous, this time,” Gwen added. “Next time….”
Next time they might see a different selection of the inmates whose stories might be more horrific. Next time another member of the Torchwood team might have less qualms than Martha or Gwen. One day, perhaps, the Final Sanction might be voted for and it would be all over.
But not this time.