Jack’s head was down in the middle of a written report on the capture of a live Jec-Tet and his scoutship after an exciting chase through the grounds of Cardiff Castle at two o’clock in the morning. The team always found it starling that he used a fountain pen to write such reports within a headquarters chock full of computers, laptops, PDA’s, and even a couple of devices, not patented on planet Earth, that translated the spoken word directly onto a computer screen.
They would find it even more remarkable if they knew that he was born in the fifty-first century when pens were regarded as antiques. But he had spent more of his life in Earth’s past than he had in the future, much of it before the invention of the ball point pen, let alone the word processor, and he had long ago learnt to find a kind of pleasure in handwriting with a good fountain pen.
The pen had his name – Captain Jack Harkness – engraved on it in gold and had a history of its own that made him smile nostalgically every time he picked it up. But it wasn’t a history he was prepared to share with anyone.
The door opened and there were near silent footsteps before a coffee mug was placed on a coaster at his elbow.
“Thanks, Ianto,” Jack said without looking up.
“Alun,” replied Alun.
Jack looked up and apologised for his thoughtless mistake. It wasn’t exactly that the two of them were interchangeable. But…
“How is the suffering one today, anyway?” he asked, changing the subject.
“He’s still rather bunged up and feverish, sir,” Alun answered him. “I… if it’s ok by you… I promised I’d try to get back to the flat at lunchtime to see if he needs anything.”
“It must be love,” Jack said. “Looking after him while he’s grotty with flu.”
“He has been very kind to me,” Alun replied. “Letting me stay with him in his flat instead of being alone at the farm.”
“You’re good for each other,” Jack remarked. “It’s a quiet day. Take as long as you need at lunchtime.”
“Thanks, boss,” Alun said with almost the same cadence in his words as Ianto had. They WERE interchangeable. Doppelgangers, shy, quiet, hardworking and dependable.
Both forgotten half the time by the rest of the team. And Jack knew he was as guilty as the rest of them. He leant against the doorway as he watched Alun collecting empty coffee mugs from the desks where the others were busily working – or in Owen’s case, busy making the CCTV cameras in Roald Dahl Plas zoom in on women’s necklines. None of them spoke to him.
It wasn’t that they harboured any dislike or resentment towards him. The incident with archive inventory no. 59824 was forgiven and forgotten. His probation period was almost up and Jack had no intention of giving him anything but good news on that account. But without any malice towards him, they had all made him even more the invisible man than Ianto was.
Ianto, of course, had been through a lot of the shit with them. He had stood his ground and fought his corner. Ianto had been accepted.
Jack stood up straight and put two fingers in his mouth. The shrill whistle he let out made Gwen jump an inch from the chair. Owen swore manfully. Toshiko complained that she had lost her place in the alien text she was translating.
“Weapons training, spot practice. Everyone down to the bunker, now. That includes you, Alun. Owen can do the washing up in his lunch break. Serves him right for being a peeping tom.”
“Fair do’s, boss, Owen answered. “But just look at that one! She’d give you a black eye.”
“So will I if you don’t head to the bunker right now,” Jack told him grimly. He glanced at the top view of a woman that appealed to the part of his libido that was attracted to women. But there was a time and a place. He switched off the monitor as he followed the team down stairs.
The bunker had been an underground railway tunnel. Or a part of one. In the Victorian age there had been a plan to link the major cities of Britain – London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, by underground rail. Part of it was built. Here in Cardiff it got as far as a length of track and a platform before money ran out for such a precarious venture. In WWII the idea was resurrected, to be used for secret missions of national importance. He could imagine Winston Churchill riding such a train, secure from assassins and enemy agents. He must have had a hand in the plan. But the war ended before the work was half started. The idea was revived AGAIN in the 1950s when there was the chance any one of those cities could be nuked at four minutes notice. But AGAIN it was abandoned because after all it WAS a bloody loopy idea. The logistics of such a plan, even if it was done openly like the Channel Tunnel, were enormous. To do it in secret, was impossible.
So as well as a whole lot of underground infrastructure, offices, pump houses for keeping out the damp, stairwells and lift shafts, Torchwood got itself a long, soundproofed room in which they could do weapons training. It was set up today as an SAS style killing house. Jack sat down at the small wooden table in the centre of the room and did his best impression of an innocent hostage surrounded by terrorists who were fully prepared to turn him into a colander if they were challenged. Since it was the Torchwood killing house, some of the terrorists didn’t have their heads on top of their shoulders. Some didn’t even have shoulders. Or heads in the accepted sense. But the principle was the same. Aim for the vital organs, the heart, the brain. Kill fast, clean and decisively.
“Hitting me is an automatic black mark,” he said as he watched the team pick up a selection of weapons. “Anything else is fair game.” He pressed a button under the table that dimmed the lights to a dull red glow and set off the sights and sounds of a battle scenario. There were gun flashes from different parts of the room, the sudden flare of a flash bang, the strobing light of an artillery barrage, while pistols cracked and machine guns rattled and the deafening roar of heavier guns burst upon the ear. For those who really couldn’t cut it, just the noise was enough to make them realise that.
Jack put on a pair of night sight goggles and watched his team do what they did best. Owen shot a cardboard alien to pieces as his usually pent up aggression was let loose on it. Toshiko chose her targets carefully and with cool precision. Gwen hesitated at first, and Jack knew he would have to talk to her about that later. But once she got over the shock of the first round she managed to hit her targets accurately.
Alun picked up his weapon and aimed carefully. Jack felt the air move a fraction above his head as Alun fired two bullets in quick succession. He pressed the button that stopped the noise and brought the lights back up as Alun lowered his gun and held it at his side. The others were looking from him to the target directly behind Jack, hunched down as if it was using him as a human shield. Only the eyes and the top of the head could be seen behind Jack’s head.
There was a large hole between its eyes.
“Yeah,” Owen remarked. “But his other bullet missed.”
“No, it didn’t,” Jack answered. “The second went through the same hole.”
“Fuck me!” Owen swore as he looked at Alun with a new found interest. “Bloody good shooting.”
Alun said nothing. He looked at Jack. He didn’t say anything, either, but there was a look on his face as he made eye contact with him.
“Alun has the one thing none of you have,” Jack said as he stood up. He thought the message had got through anyway, but it didn’t hurt to reinforce it. “Service in one of the special forces of the British Army. He’s skilled at more than just filing. And he’s an asset to the team.”
He let that sink in for a bit.
“Ok, you all passed, more or less. Fuck off back to what you were doing. Or in your case, Owen, to what you SHOULD have been doing.”
As they trooped out Jack picked up one of the guns and put on the ear protectors. He fired a round at the target Alun had hit. The gun he used had a larger calibre bullet. It made the original hole a little bit bigger.
“Very good, sir.” Alun said as Jack took off the ear protectors and looked around. He had THOUGHT he was waiting still, but hadn’t been entirely sure.
“You’re better,” Jack told him, “And don’t let anyone forget it, especially me.”
“But I’ve never fired at anything other than a target, sir,” Alun admitted as he automatically joined with Jack in emptying the remaining rounds from the guns and storing weapons and ammunition in the locked cupboards along the back wall. “I don’t know if... in combat… I was never sure if I could. That’s why I was happy to do admin at U.N.I.T. I’m not sure I could actually be a field agent.”
“When the time comes, we’ll all find out,” Jack assured him. “For what it’s worth, I think you’ll be ok.”
“Thank you, sir,” he answered in those same diffident tones that Ianto used when in work at least. “I… I’d better get on. You DID tell us all to get back to work.”
“When you go up can you pop into the archive. I want that artefact we found in the Jec-Tet ship. Bring it down here. Just in case it IS anything explosive, this room would take the blast.”
“Inventory no. 59828,” Alun said with confidence in his memory for numbers. “The pyramid.”
“Yep. I want Gwen and Owen to have a crack at opening it this afternoon. You can pop off and nurse Ianto when you’ve sorted that out. I’m going to have another go at interrogating the pilot before lunch.”
Alun did as he asked. He wondered as he carried the surprisingly heavy artefact down to the bunker whether Jack was serious when he said the room could take a blast in case of explosion – especially when he then mentioned Gwen and Owen having a crack at it. Alun HOPED their boss meant that Gwen and Owen would be able to escape from the room in that event. He decided that MUST have been what Jack meant. He surely wasn’t the sort who sacrificed team members just like that!
It WAS a strange object. It was about three and a half feet tall, a foot and a half at the square base of the four sided pyramid. It looked like it was made of platinum and gold, and had some very sinister looking symbols on it. Alun shivered as he looked at them and was glad he could leave it on the floor of the bunker among the shot up dummies. He made his way back upstairs and Jack waved to him from his office as he collected his coat and went up the ‘scenic lift’ to the fountain above on the Plas. Jack brought his written report out and gave it to Toshiko to scan with the handwriting reader that would convert it into a word-processed file. He told Gwen and Owen to look at the pyramid after lunch, then he headed for the cells.
The Jec-Tet was about the ugliest broadly humanoid creature Jack had ever met and that was saying something. It even made the weevil in the cell next door but one look attractive. It was six foot tall and as wide as a rugby prop forward, with a thick, short, almost non-existent neck and grey flesh like a rhinoceros. It had one large eye in the centre of a permanently wrinkled forehead and a bulbous nose that covered most of the face. Below that was a jaw full of teeth a sabre toothed tiger would have been proud to brush twice daily.
Except Jec-tet almost certainly didn’t brush and Jack figured they didn’t wash often, either. Between breath that stank of rotting meat and a greasy, sweaty body that gave off a smell like a Friday night pisshead from St Mary Street – sweat, urine, vomit – that had been somehow condensed and then fermented for a week or two, it was pretty much the vilest thing imaginable.
And what with that and the teeth and the generally repulsive disposition he was happy to conduct his interview from outside the cell. He was glad, too, for the chains made of the strongest metal known to Torchwood – a polycarbide recast from the casings of a couple of defunct Daleks left over from Canary Wharf.
“So,” Jack said to the Jec-Tet, using the guttural language the creature spoke. “Are you ready to talk yet? Your ship is destroyed, by the way. We didn’t use anything high-tech or space age. Just a couple of simple claymore mines next to the engine casing. Seeing as you landed in a slate quarry nobody even batted an eyelid about the explosion. You see, we’re not so stupid and defenceless as you think, us humans. So if you’re here to report back to your buddies about how easy this planet is to invade, think again. We’ve seen off the lot. Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, Autons, a weird Spiderwoman with ideas above her station. You name it. We can handle your lot, no problem.”
“You fool!” the Jec-Tet sneered back at him. “You think that I am the only one? You think that I am alone?”
“Well, we searched the skies. There’s no other alien craft out there, not even cloaked. We can detect all known forms of cloaking devices, by the way. And I don’t think you dung heads have the brains to develop a new type. So it looks like you’re on your own, pal.”
“Far from it,” the Jec-Tet sneered. “Beware, Humans. We are legion, and we are here to conquer.”
“Yeah? Jack replied in the same contemptuous tone. “You and whose army?”
The idea was to get the pilot to say something stupid, something that revealed his real plan. It didn’t work. Jack decided to let him cool off for a little longer. Between him and the Weevil they wouldn’t have much trouble with rats down in the cells, anyway.
“Ianto!” Alun called as he opened the door to the flat. “Are you awake?”
“No,” came the hoarse reply. Alun smiled and went to the bedroom. Ianto lay there with his head pressed into the pillow and the duvet pulled around him. The bedside table was covered in Lemsip packets, Lucozade bottles and tissue boxes. A waste bin was overflowing with used tissues. Alun emptied it and replaced it and made two mugs of tea.
“You should have had the flu jab. You wouldn’t be suffering.”
“I’m allergic to it,” Ianto answered mournfully as he took a mug of tea and sipped it gratefully. He looked up at Alun and managed a smile. “Least I’m not suffering alone. It’s good of you to look after me.”
Alun reached down and kissed his forehead. “That’s what friends are for,” he said.
“You’re more than a friend, Alun,” Ianto told him. And they both knew it. But they both avoided that four letter word, love. Love complicated things. Since Alun moved in, they had shared a bed. There was only one in the flat anyway. They had enjoyed each other sexually almost every night. That wasn’t an option just now with Ianto full of flu, but Alun had looked after him. He didn’t call him his lover. They were friends who satisfied each other’s needs and desires.
“I’ll make you something to eat. What would you like.”
“Steak and chips,” Ianto answered. “But my throat is so sore I’d choke on it. I’ll settle for one of your great cheese omelettes.”
“Coming up.” Alun kissed him again and went to make the food. He put two plates of omelette and fresh mugs of tea on a tray and returned to the bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed to eat his food while Ianto slowly managed to swallow his.
“Do you have to get back yet?” Ianto asked.
“The boss said take as long as I need,” Alun answered.
“That was nice of him.”
“He seems a nice man. He’s been very kind to me. So have you.”
“Come to bed with me,” Ianto said. “For a while at least. I don’t have the strength to fuck you. And I’d probably flake out if you tried to fuck me. But I could cope with a cuddle.”
Alun smiled and slipped of his shoes and jacket, his tie and shirt, and then his trousers and underwear and slid into the bed. Ianto was naked, too. His skin was burning with the fever that was sapping his strength. But Alun enfolded him in his arms, his head resting on his shoulder. Ianto sighed softly.
“I love you, Alun,” he thought but did not say. “Stay by me, Alun. Don’t ever leave me. Don’t die, don’t fall in love with somebody else. Please just stay by me.”
He didn’t say it. Though if he had he could probably claim it was under the influence of Lemsip Flu Strength. He was not responsible for his words or his thoughts.
“I love you, Ianto,” Alun thought but did not say.
They lay together quietly, saying nothing, just holding each other for a timeless length. Alun kissed Ianto’s cheek, his neck and shoulders and caressed his tired, aching body. No, sex wasn’t an option just now. But that didn’t stop him caring deeply for the man who had given him so much and wanting to hold him tight.
Alun kept telling himself that he had to go back to work. But he kept putting it off for a little longer.
After their lunch break around the table with take out pizza, Owen and Gwen went down to the bunker to examine the pyramid again.
“It’s definitely a power source of some kind,” Owen said. “Look at these readings. They’re off the scale. But what is it and how can we use it?”
“That ought to be the motto of Torchwood. What Is It And How Can We Use It,” Gwen commented. “It ought to be translated into Latin under a fancy Torchwood crest on the front door!”
“If we actually HAD a front door!” Owen remarked. “Did you ever imagine you’d wind up working in a disused railway tunnel? Torchwood One was a luxury modern skyscraper. We get the sewer!”
“It’s ok, I suppose,” Gwen answered.
“Would be nice though, if we WEREN’T secreted away down here in the bat cave with our secret identities and all. I do wish sometimes I could TELL people what I do.”
“You mean you want to tell WOMEN what you do. So they’ll be impressed.”
Owen grinned. Gwen gave him a ‘look’ then turned back to the computer where she had a schematic of the four sides of the pyramid in front of her.
“This is not really my sort of thing,” she said as she tried to understand the data on the screen. “Toshiko is the one who gets this stuff. It’s all gobbledegook to me.”
“There’s a chance this thing might be radioactive or explosive,” Owen answered her. “Toshiko isn’t allowed to handle it. In case it harms the baby.”
“I’d like to have babies some time,” Gwen said. “I don’t want something radioactive buggering up my chances.”
“Should have stayed as WPC Lollipop Lady then,” Owen remarked, not entirely nastily. “This is Torchwood. We take the risks.”
“I know,” she said. “And I don’t RESENT that Toshiko can’t do stuff, and will be able to do even less in a few months. But it is going to be a problem for all of us as we take on her workload.”
“Maybe Jack will find another Alun clone to join us.”
“That’s not fair. Alun is…” Gwen started to respond to that comment but the computer bleeped and the data on it scrolled fast. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Owen… it’s getting hotter. Look at the temperatures. It was cold before. Not ice cold, but cold like metal usually feels. But now it’s getting hot.”
Owen reached out and touched it and yelled, thrusting his fingers in his mouth.
“Well, how stupid was THAT?” Gwen responded. “I just SAID it was hot.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t look it, and the computer COULD be wrong.”
Gwen tutted and repeated the word ‘stupid’. Then she gave a yelp.
“It’s reading lifesigns. Hundreds of them. Owen… There’s something ALIVE in there.”
“Shit!” he exclaimed and backed away as the pyramid began to hiss loudly and a vapour escaped from the edges. Then the whole thing opened up like a metal flower with four triangle petals. “Oh FUCK! Gwen, get out of here. Run, now. Oh CHRIST ALMIGHTY. Go on, Gwen, get out of it.”
“You, too, Owen,” she said as she darted towards the door. “Owen…”
“Gwen, get out,” he shouted again as he looked at the pyramid. For a very brief moment it was like looking at something very big that was very far away, and at the same time close to. And the very big thing was an army of Jec-Tet.
Then there were four full sized Jec-Tet standing there, and two more growing in front of his eyes from the miniaturised troops within the pyramid.
“Oh, my GOD!” Gwen swore as she ran out of the door. As she passed through it the lockdown alarm sounded. The computers had detected the alien lifeforms and automatically sealed the Hub. Behind her the heavy bulkhead had closed before she realised that Owen was still inside with the Jec-Tet army.
“Oh, shit! Owen, I’m sorry,” she cried out. On her headset she heard him swearing loudly and knew he was alive, for now. A klaxon was sounding right through the hub and she kept running, aware that she was only a few paces ahead of bulkhead doors that slammed shut behind her.
They were shutting in front of her, too. She was cut off. She looked around her and saw one door not yet closed. The ladies bathroom was one of the few places that didn’t have a bulkhead door that slammed down. But if the Jec-Tet broke through the bulkheads – and they looked as if they were perfectly capable of doing that – then she hoped they wouldn’t look in there.
“Jack?” She touched the tiny button on her earpiece and called hopefully. “Jack, are you there? Tosh? Owen? Anyone?”
“We’re here,” Jack answered. “Where are you?”
“I’m trapped. Owen is, too. Only he’s in real trouble. He’s with the aliens.”
“The aliens whose presence set off the full lockdown. We’re all trapped. And if we can’t contain the aliens…”
Jack’s voice trailed off. Gwen heard him speaking to Tosh. She had said something to him.
“Gwen, stay put there,” he said, returning to the mike. “Don’t give up hope. I’m going to try everything before I have to resort to the Last Minute Option.”
Gwen slid down onto the floor of the cream tiled bathroom and put her head in her hands. She wasn’t exactly crying, but she wasn’t far off.
“What about Owen?” Jack asked, turning to Toshiko. She had accessed the CCTV in the bunker.
“He’s alive, still,” she said. “Look, he’s on the monitor. Oh, my God. How many of them are there?”
If Owen had been able to answer her he’d have answered “Too fucking many” or something like that. As it happened there were not as many as there might have been. The pyramid seemed to have broken down. Only about fifteen of the Jec-Tet had grown to full size when something began to fizz and spark within it. Two of the vile creatures that had begun to grow instead shrivelled away, emitting a snarling, guttural scream until they imploded messily over the floor. Inside the pyramid the remaining miniaturised creatures were trapped.
Owen tried to back away but two of the Jec-Tet grabbed him, pulling him as if they were pulling a wishbone. A third pointed a weapon that looked as ugly as they were and Owen wondered if it was too late to repent a generally immoral life as he waited to be obliterated by alien death ray.
Then another of the Jec-Tet, one with a darker hue to his grey skin, pushed the weapon away and spoke in his own language. Owen’s stomach turned over as he realised he was still alive. For the moment.
The Jec-Tet leader moved close to him. It grunted and Owen tried not to retch at the foul breath in his face.
“You are… technician?” the Jec-Tet asked in a deep, slow voice as if his grasp of English was limited.
“Technician?” Owen repeated. “Yeah, yeah, I suppose I am.”
“Fix…” The Jec-Tet pointed to the pyramid. “Fix… or die.”
“Er…” Owen was on the point of telling the alien that he didn’t know how, but realised that would be a very dangerous thing to say. “Er… ok. I’ll fix. But back off with the crappy breath.”
“Jack…” Gwen tried to form the question carefully as she sat with her back against the wall and waited. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer, but she knew she had to ask it. “Jack… WHAT is the Last Minute Option.”
Jack didn’t answer straight away. That told her plenty.
Alun had almost drifted to sleep cuddled up close to Ianto under the covers. He had almost forgotten he was supposed to go back to work.
A loud alarm disturbed him. But not as much as it disturbed Ianto. He sat bolt upright in the bed and began to search for his clothes.
“What are you doing?” Alun asked him. “What IS that?”
“Lockdown alarm. The Hub… Something has happened there.” He reached for the phone and pressed a speed dial number. It rang and rang and went to voicemail. He listened to the message. “Orange alert. They’ve got an alien incursion in the Hub.”
“How?” Alun asked.
“I don’t know, but I intend to find out.”
“But you’re ill,” Alun told him. “You can’t do anything to help.”
“My friends could be dying. I’m not going to lie in bed...” He stood up and wobbled dizzily, but he steadied himself and began to dress. His hands shook as he tried to fasten his trouser button. Alun reached and helped him.
“Supposed to be the other way around. I’m meant to UNFASTEN that. Seriously, you should stay here.”
“No,” Ianto insisted. “We’ve got to get down there. Both of us.”
When Ianto began to strap on a shoulder holster Alun drew the line. He took the gun and holster from him and strapped it on himself.
“I’ll do any shooting,” he said. “You… you’re Intelligence. You know the Hub better than I do. And I’ll drive.” He reached out and held Ianto around his shoulders. He was trembling. Not from fear, but from fever. He was in no way fit to go into a dangerous situation.
But there were only the two of them. Who else COULD do it?
Jack was watching the monitor. He saw Owen attempting to do something with the pyramid. He saw two of the Jec-Tet firing their weapons at the door. Energy weapons of some kind. They would burn through the bulkhead door in maybe ten minutes. Ten minutes for each of the five bulkheads that had slammed down between the bunker and here. Then…
“Jack…” Gwen repeated on the headset. “What is the Last Minute Option.”
“I’d like to know that, too,” Toshiko told him. “Stupid name. But it SOUNDS bad. Like… final.”
“It’s the worst case scenario. Worse even than when Cyber-Lisa went off the rails down here. It means that we’re locked down with an alien force capable of breaking out and posing a serious threat to the planet. I have the code in the safe. It… fills the Hub with poison gas. Kills every living thing down here. Weevils, aliens, pterodactyls… HUMANS.”
“Oh my GOD!” Gwen’s reaction was exactly what he expected it to be. “Jack. I never knew there was anything like that… Anything that could DO that.”
“I thought you did. Didn’t I mention it when you first joined?”
“No, you didn’t. Jack… I’m trapped down here. I can’t get out. My mobile phone isn’t working. I can’t even tell Rhys…”
“I know,” Jack answered. “The phones blacking out is a glitch in the system that needs working on. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” Her voice rose a notch towards hysteria. “You’re sorry. You… you don’t have anyone who cares about you. You’re not even from here. From this time. And… Oh, my God. You can’t even… You’ll kill all of us, but you WON’T die. YOU CAN’T.”
“I KNOW that,” Jack told her. “I’ve known that ever since I was given the code by the guy who USED to be in charge before me. I always knew that. I always hoped we would never… Gwen, I AM sorry. I’m sorry for you. I recruited you. I brought you into this. You’re my responsibility so much more than all of the others. I am SORRY.”
“Jack…” Toshiko stepped towards him. She looked pale. Although she hadn’t heard Gwen’s side of the conversation she had heard all Jack had said to her and it applied just as equally to her. “I don’t want to die…”
He reached out and pulled Toshiko into his arms. She was trembling with fear. He could understand that. Gwen had put her finger on one flaw in the plan. He wouldn’t die. He’d still be sitting there, watching Toshiko die, listening to Gwen and Owen choke to death. Assuming they weren’t already dead at the hands of the Jec-Tet.
“I have to stop them from getting out of Torchwood and harming other people,” he said. “The final option is self-destruction. I AM sorry.”
Toshiko began to cry. It wasn’t something that happened often. Even being impregnated against her will in a wacky alien experiment had only caused a couple of bouts of tears. Mostly she had coped with it and when he discussed her future as a pregnant Torchwood agent and tentatively asked her what she might do later, she said she was looking forward to the birth. She had not chosen to have a baby. And if she had, that wasn’t how she would have done it. But she had accepted the inevitable.
But this inevitable she couldn’t accept.
“Can’t we fight them?” she asked. “We’ve got guns….”
“We’ve got our personal arms and limited ammo,” he said. “And there are five bulkheads between us and them. We can be ready to fight them when they get this far, but by the time they get THIS far, I’ll have taken the decision… the last option.”
“You know something,” Gwen said over the mike in a voice that could best be described as terse. “The security system in this place is crap. Why are we all locked in WITH the aliens?”
“So that we can be the last line of defence for the world,” Jack answered. “So that we can fight to the last man for the sake of all the innocents up above who don’t know what’s happening. All the selfish bastards who expect people like us to protect them from things like THAT!”
“I want to be one of the selfish bastards,” Gwen replied. “I want to be ignorant of what’s happening until it just hits me without me seeing it coming.”
“Is that you tendering your resignation?” Jack asked. “You want to leave the Hub?”
“Yes,” Gwen answered with a loud sob. “Yes, just give me a dose of Retcon, open the door and let me out.”
“I wish I could, sweetheart,” Jack said in all sincerity. “If I could, I’d send you ALL out. Gwen, Tosh, Owen…. Owen, I haven’t forgotten you. I know you can’t talk back to me. I can see you there on the monitor. If I’m reading the situation right, touch your forehead. If I’m off base, rub your chin. The pyramid is some sort of transmat that allowed those ugly bastards to materialise in the bunker.”
Owen rubbed his chin and went on examining the pyramid with what looked like a soldering iron but might be mistaken at a glance for some kind of electronic scanner.
“No,” Gwen said. “It was a transporter. When it opened, there were hundreds of them inside – miniaturised. Thousands maybe.”
“@#%$£&#!” Jack swore. It was a word he had learnt a year or two back from a friend who’s first language was not of Earth origin, and it was about the rudest word Jack knew, and especially appropriate for this moment. “Owen, they have a Micro-Condenser Troop Transporter?”
Owen touched his forehead briefly. Jack used the alien swearword again.
“Ok, it looks as if the thing isn’t actually working properly. Ugly smelly aliens tend to be crap at basic maintenance. Lucky for us. Owen, even if you DO work out how to fix it, try NOT to for as long as you can hold out on them. I don’t know… maybe I’ll think of something.”
Owen risked a thumbs up towards the camera. The Jec-Tet were all too busy watching the efforts to break down the door to notice him.
The worst tourist office in the world had a much tougher front door than it actually looked. It was not ordinary wood, but a reinforced metal with a wooden veneer and three heavy duty locks that were opened by the right key operated the right way – by turning it 180 degrees clockwise than back 45 degrees. If it wasn’t done right a series of security bolts would slam into place and an alarm would go off inside the Hub.
Alun opened the door. Ianto was too feverish to handle anything involving such fine motor skills. He fired up the computer behind the counter and the cctv monitor that showed what was happening inside the Hub.
The computer came on and went to an ominous flash screen that registered the fact that the Hub was in lockdown. The CCTV was blank.
“In the case of…” Ianto stammered, sitting down on his usual office chair. “…a serious incursion… there is an electronic shield… prevents transmatting or aliens trying to contact their motherships.”
“Also stops us contacting Jack and finding out what’s happened. We don’t even know if they’re alive or dead.”
“Might be a way,” Ianto said. “One time when we were in lockdown with a power failure, I got a mobile signal OUT using the metal fountain as a booster aerial. Maybe…” He stood up and started to run for the door. He got five steps before his lack of strength betrayed him. Alun gently brought him back to his chair.
“Give me the phone,” he said. “I’ll try.”
Ianto did so. Alun turned and ran out of the office, up the steps and across the plas to the fountain so simple in design that it didn’t even have an official name. It was just The Metal Fountain. He stepped as close to it as he could without being yelled at by anybody and dialled the number for the phone on Jack’s desk.
The sound of the phone startled Jack. He had not expected it to ring with the lockdown in force. He reached for it tentatively. When he heard Alun’s voice he was partially relieved.
“No,” he told Alun. “There’s nothing you can do, except… be very glad you’re not in here with us. This is BAD, very BAD.” He filled Alun in on the situation. He was entitled to know, after all. Then he wished him and Ianto well and said goodbye.
The goodbye made Toshiko cry again. But he was too distracted by the fact that the ugly smelly aliens had just broken out of the bunker.
“That’s a bomb-proof door,” Jack said. “The others aren’t even as STRONG as that one. Just basic steel bulkheads. Five minutes per door, they’ll be on top of us in twenty-five minutes. And after that, they only have to keep going and they’re in Cardiff, using those weapons that can bust through reinforced steel on people.”
“So…” Toshiko started to ask. But one look at Jack’s face was enough. “You have to launch the Last Minute Option!”
“Yes,” he said. “And I have to do it now. It has a thirty minute countdown. Don’t ask me why. I DIDN’T WRITE THE PROGRAMME! But that gives me five minutes holding the fort when they get through.”
Alun ran back to the office and reported the situation to Ianto.
“He said goodbye?” Ianto looked even paler than before and tears pricked his eyes.
“No. No, I won’t let him. I won’t let him do that. I can’t let him. Gwen, Tosh, Owen… he can’t sacrifice them. He can’t… Oh, my Captain. No…”
“You love him, don’t you?” Alun said.
“I… I love them all. I love you. But that’s not what this is about right now. I can’t let them. There’s a way, there has to be.” He looked around the tourist office hopelessly. The inner door was locked. The bulkhead door within that was locked. The lifts were disabled. The stairwell was barred top and bottom by solid steel. They had nothing that would get through that. The aliens had energy weapons that COULD.
“He said they’re in the bunker?” Ianto looked at Alun with a gleam of a possibility of a slim hope in his eye. “The old railway tunnel.”
“They were. But Jack said they were cutting through. They’ll be in the corridors by now.”
“The tunnel…. The bunker. I think there’s a way. But you’ll have to do it. I couldn’t… It’s climbing. I couldn’t.” He held out his trembling, sweaty palms. Alun held them as he explained, then he looked in the drawer under the desk and pulled out a radio mike headset with a small camera attachment. He fixed it on and Ianto tuned the computer into the signal and looked at himself as he looked through Alun’s eyes.
“I look bloody awful,” he said. “What do you see in me?”
“A man who just told me he loves me,” Alun answered. “Even though I was lumped in with the rest of the team.” He stepped closer and kissed him on his dry, sickly lips and hugged him tight. Every second counted but he spared twenty of them for Ianto. Then he turned and ran.
“How come it only needs YOUR code key and retina scan?” Toshiko asked as she watched Jack initiate the Last Minute Option. “I would have thought… to kill us all… When we set off the Rift Manipulator we ALL had to give the okay.”
“This programme assumes the possibility of Last Man Standing,” Jack said. “Any of us could set it going if the others were already dead.” He pressed the last key and saw the countdown begin from 30 minutes, then he turned and looked at Toshiko. He took her by the hand. He didn’t say anything. He just brought her down the steps that led into Owen’s autopsy-cum-operating room-cum-Frankenstein’s laboratory. This was an integral part of the main Hub Central. It didn’t have a locked bulkhead. They could reach it, though Toshiko couldn’t see WHY they had come there.
Jack was moving around the room frenetically. She saw him pull an oxygen bottle and mask attachment from a cupboard. Then he took her by the hand again and pulled her towards the mortuary lockers where Owen stored bodies temporarily. Jack opened one of them and Toshiko suddenly realised what he was planning. Owen and Gwen had hidden in one of them when Lisa had been on the rampage.
“No, Jack,” she protested. “No, no. I can’t. No, please.”
“Tosh,” he whispered. He stood up and hugged her again. He lifted her face towards his and kissed her gently. One arm was around her neck. The other, he gently reached down and pressed his hand against her stomach, through her dress. She FELT pregnant now. The life within her was a reality. It was an innocent he had to protect.
“Get in. Take this. There’s an hour’s air supply if you stay calm and breathe slowly. It’ll be enough. You’ll survive, Toshiko. So will your baby.”
“Oh, GOD!” she whimpered. “Oh, Jack…”
She hugged him this time and kissed him. “I was going to ask you to be a godparent to the baby. You were my first choice.”
Jack said nothing. He was trying not to cry in front of her. He helped her into the tomb-like metal cupboard and made sure the oxygen tank was working. Then he closed the door. It was airtight itself. She would have to start using the mask in about five minutes. But she would be protected.
“Gwen,” he said into the mike as he walked away. “Gwen, there are no gas outlets in the bathroom. They’re in the corridors and main rooms. You MIGHT have a chance. Get towels, paper towels, anything that’s there, and stop up the gap at the bottom of the door, and any air vents. Its… it’s the best I can do. When the gas clears, I’ll come to you first. I promise.”
Gwen managed to whimper a reply.
“I’ve got my gun,” she said. “I could…”
No, she thought as she yanked the roller towel out of its metal case and pushed it against the door and then went to empty the paper towel dispenser as well. No, she remembered the feeling of being shot in the head when Suzie used her, drained her life and made her experience the injuries she had sustained in her suicide. No, poison gas would be better. It would probably be quite gentle, really. Like falling asleep.
She blocked the door, the air vent, the sink plug hole. She put the toilet lids down, wondering if the gas COULD come up through there. Or would the water hold it down? No. Gas would bubble up through water. They did it in science at school.
She sat on the floor, her back against the wall, and waited. There was nothing else to do.
Jack sat at his desk and waited. He had three guns in front of him on the table. All fully loaded. He was ready to be the Last Man Standing.
“Ok,” Alun said. “I’m in the alleyway now. Where next?”
“Manhole cover,” Ianto said. “A few steps forward from where you are. Use the sewer key I gave you.”
Alun pulled the long metal bar with a flattened end out from under his coat. He had almost laughed when Ianto gave it to him. He had been reminded of a computer adventure game he played once where the hero went all over Paris with a sewer key in his trouser pocket. Alun always found it disappointing that nobody came up with the famous line “Is that a sewer key or are you just pleased to see me.”
But there was no time for jokes now. He inserted the end into the manhole cover and twisted it. It was hard work, but the cover loosened. He pulled it up and dropped down nimbly.
It wasn’t a sewer. It was a corridor, not unlike the ones at Torchwood. Because as Ianto had just told him, the first thing any tunnel builders ever did, be it the Channel Tunnel, the Mersey Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel in New York, was build back entrances into them, emergency exits in case of disaster.
It was old. Part of the original Victorian infrastructure. Ianto, who had fully explored the hub when he had nothing better to do and didn’t want to go back to an empty flat, was probably the only person who knew where it was. Even Jack, even whoever was in charge before Jack, whoever installed the system that had locked down on them didn’t know about it. It was their way out.
Except they couldn’t get out. Owen was in the bunker, but surrounded by aliens. The others were trapped behind the bulkheads and couldn’t get there.
So it was down to him and the automatic pistol he was carrying. Eight rounds meant he could take out eight of the aliens if he shot straight and true each time. He was good, but he couldn’t be sure he was THAT good when the targets were moving and shooting back at him.
Only this morning, he had told Jack he had never hit a live target before. He had questioned his own ability to do that.
Jack had believed he could.
“Thanks, boss,” he whispered as he climbed down the metal ladder into the shaft that opened up in the floor at the end of the tunnel. It was a deep, deep shaft. It was dark, too. He had a small penlight on his key chain to see by. He could just see the next step down. He had no idea how far down he had gone. He lost count after the first two hundred rungs. It was exhausting. And Ianto was right. He would NEVER have managed it in his state.
Jack watched the CCTV. He flipped between Owen in the bunker with four of the Jec-Tet to the ones coming up through the corridors, and the one in the cells, who seemed to be AWARE of the invasion. He was extremely agitated, straining at his chains, hammering at the cell door.
He glanced at the countdown. Fifteen minutes. No more than ten before the Jec-Tet invaders reached him.
He couldn’t die. At least not by ordinary means. He wasn’t sure he could survive a heat ray frying his molecules. He had an idea it just might hurt for much longer. If that was the case, he would be dead before the gas activated. The Jec-Tet would be trapped, though. They would die. And once their life signs no longer registered, the computer would automatically lift the lockdown and clear the air. Ianto and Alun could get in. They could find Toshiko, maybe Gwen. She had an outside chance if she had managed to seal the bathroom. Owen….
“Owen,” Jack whispered down the mike. “I AM sorry. I want you to know that.”
“Yeah,” Owen whispered back, barely audible. He was still surrounded. He didn’t dare speak any louder.
The Jec-Tet had split into two parties. One group of six was still heading towards the Hub Central. The others were breaking through into the cells. They were after their pilot.
Six of them. Jack calculated his chances of shooting six of them before they shot him. He had one advantage, one chance. They had to come up the stairs. With their bulk they could only go single file.
Slightly better than when he faced the Daleks on the Gamestation, he thought.
“Come on,” he said to himself as he positioned himself where he could see them coming. “Come on, you bastards. Try me.”
Alun touched bottom. The shaft ended in a drop of five feet onto a curving brick floor of a room about eight feet square. He knew what it was. The top of the railway tunnel, the bunker. There was another manhole cover set into it. He pulled out the sewer key again. This time he turned very slowly, as quietly as he could and tried to lift it carefully. Easier said than done. The sound echoed around the small, dark, musty room. Would it be heard below?
Not yet, he thought. There was another manhole cover about two feet below. He straddled the hole and inserted the key. He knew there was no way this one was going to lift up quietly. When he loosened it, it would DROP, loudly.
It dropped. But there was no clang as it hit the floor below. At least not straight away. First there was a crunching sound and a growl that cut off. THEN the clang.
What were the odds of one of the aliens standing under the place where the manhole cover dropped? Alun didn’t worry. He drew his gun and lay down on the floor, carefully watching as another alien came to look at the body of its comrade. As the creature looked up, he took aim and fired twice. Then he took a chance, because he didn’t know how many more of the aliens were down there, and he no longer had the advantage of surprise. All he had was the possibility that they hadn’t quite worked out where they should be looking.
One of them was heading towards the two bodies. His aimed shot was straight between the eyes. The other had grabbed Owen and was using him as a shield as it moved closer. This called for the kind of precision he had been showing off earlier when the target was made of cardboard. But this was a lot harder. He was hanging upside down and his target was moving.
Owen screamed as the bullet smashed into the top of the alien’s skull. He pushed the body away from him and looked up at the ceiling. He saw Alun do a complicated flip, hanging by his hands from the edge of the round hole.
“Hang on,” he called. “Let me help you.”
Owen got ready as Alun let go and dropped. He steadied him as he landed hard, but not so hard that he would be hurt by the landing.
“Fucking good shooting,” Owen said. It was about the only thing he could say as he backed away and let him stand unaided. “I’m glad I’m shorter than these ugly bastards.”
“Yeah,” Alun said. “Come on, there are more of them. Have you got a gun?”
“I have now,” Owen answered and grabbed up one of the heat rays guns. He swivelled around and aimed it at the open pyramid. He and Alun watched in fascinated horror as the miniaturised army fried within their unusual travel capsule.
“And I wondered if I could kill a live target!” Alun whispered.
“They’re scum,” Owen said. “And now there are only eleven to worry about. Twelve if they’ve busted their scummy mate out of the cells.”
“Still not great odds,” Alun observed. But he checked his weapon and confirmed that he had used six of the eight rounds in it. He went to the cupboard where the ammo and guns were stored for the range. He typed the code on the electronic lock and opened it.
“Come on,” Owen told him. “Get a move on. Jack’s initiated Last Minute Option. And we’re nearly down to the LAST MINUTE.”
Alun reloaded his own weapon and locked in magazines into three more handguns in double fast time. He slid two of them towards Owen. He grabbed them and they turned and ran up through the broken door.
“Jack!” Owen called. “We’re heading up to you.”
Jack didn’t answer. Owen tried again. No answer.
“Oh, God!” he murmured. No. Jack…. Please answer. You can’t be dead.”
“Owen…” Alun hissed a warning. He had heard a noise ahead. They moved ahead carefully, towards the door to the cell block. It was melted away, of course.
“You go left,” Alun said as he pressed himself against the right side of the door.” We get the first two from behind as they come out. Reduces the odds.”
“Who put you in charge?” Owen asked. “We should keep going. Jack might be…”
“If he is, then it’s too late to help him,” Alun answered him. “But we have to neutralise the incursion. Now get in position and WAIT.”
Owen looked at Alun and seemed on the point of reminding him that he was a newbie in the Hub. Then the snarling voices of the Jec-Tet pilot and his comrades cut him off.
It worked like clockwork. Two Jec-Tet burst through the broken door at a run. Alun and Owen shot them in the back of the head then turned and shot at the ones coming behind. They got the pilot and one of his compatriots before the element of surprise was totally lost. Alun took the fifth, but Owen’s shot only wounded the last of them in the shoulder. Even wounded he managed to raise his weapon. Alun shouldered Owen to the ground as the heat ray missed them by inches and scorched the wall behind them. Both of them rolled on the floor and fired a shot each at the Jec-Tet.
“I owe you one,” Owen admitted as they picked themselves up from the floor and resumed their pursuit of the last six Jec-Tet. “I think I owe you several.”
“I’m not counting,” Alun answered as he ran towards the steps that brought them into the Hub Central. Three Jec-Tet bodies told him that Jack had not been idle.
But Jack was in trouble. Alun moved carefully up the steps, keeping himself low. Owen followed behind. He saw Jack being slowly strangled by the leathery hand of what had to be the Jec-Tet leader while the two remaining soldiers concentrated their fire on the main bulkhead door.
“You’ll never do it in time,” Jack said, sounding triumphant even though he was being choked to death. “It’ll take a good ten minutes to get through that door. And if you dung breaths would look at the monitor, we have one minute and thirty seconds until this place fills with poison. You’re oxygen breathers. You’ll die in minutes.
“Switch it off,” the Jec-Tet demanded, tightening his hold on Jack. Or I will snap your neck.”
“If you kill me, you’ll die,” Jack reasoned logically. “In one minute fifteen.”
“Time for you to be good again,” Owen whispered to Alun. “Jack’s head is in the way. But you’ve got to shoot to kill. If he’s wounded…”
“I know,” Alun answered. “I know what I’m doing. You take out the two on the door. On three.”
Alun counted to three on his fingers as the two of them repeated the roll from before in reverse. This time they threw themselves up the steps, and as Owen rolled up into a crouch he blasted with both guns at the two Jec-Tet soldiers, turning the backs of their heads to pulp. At the same moment, Alun took a careful aim and fired twice. Both bullets grazed Jack’s ear before burying themselves in the head of the Jec-Tet leader. Jack pulled himself out of the dead creature’s grasp and ran to the computer terminal. With thirty seconds left he aborted the Last Minute Option.
“By rights,” he said to Alun and Owen as they stepped towards him. “It should have been two seconds to go. That’s the heroic moment! But thirty seconds is a good margin.”
Owen was about to reply when they heard the distinctive noise of the round entrance door swinging open. The alien threat was eliminated. The lockdown ended automatically. Alun ran to the door as he heard the sound of Ianto stumbling down the stairs from the Tourist Office.
Jack watched the affectionate hug they shared and smiled before turning to Owen.
“You get Toshiko out of the cadaver drawer in your lab,” he told him. “I’ll go rescue Gwen from the ladies bathroom. Alun…”
“I’ll… I’ll rustle up some coffee. That’s if Ianto can manage not to fall over if I let go of him.”
Jack looked at him. He went through all of that. Saved them all. And now he was back to making coffee. Was that how it was?
“Alun,” he said .”Thanks. For everything. From all of us.”
“I did what I had to do,” Alun answered diffidently. “My duty to Torchwood.”
“Just don’t let Torchwood ever forget it,” Jack replied to him as Alun headed to the kitchen and he went in search of Gwen.