Jack came out of his office and looked around at the two women at their separate terminals, hard at work. On one of the spare video monitors the screen saver swirled around as a nostalgia radio station played 70s tracks. On another the internal security cameras were focussed on the tourist office where Ianto and Alun were both working on something that had nothing to do with tourism. He stepped up to that terminal and watched them for a moment. For no obvious reason Ianto had stood up and kissed Alun on the cheek. Both smiled at each other.
“Young love!” Jack said with a soft laugh. “I’m going to have to split them up right now, though. I’m sending Ianto out with you, Gwen. We’ve got crop circles popping up and they may not be hoaxes this time.”
Gwen nodded as she took the copy of the police report from him and searched under her desk for her handbag.. This sort of thing was the ‘routine’ business of Torchwood, inbetween the truly terrifying encounters with things with fangs instead of teeth. The bit of Gwen that was still psychologically WPC Cooper secretly preferred the routine work to the terrifying stuff.
“Owen just called, by the way,” he continued and Toshiko looked up with an interested and very concerned expression. “The Margate Virgin gave birth a few minutes ago to a healthy, eight pound baby girl.”
“Oh!” Toshiko’s face lit with relief. “Oh, thank goodness.”
Jack and Gwen both looked at each other. They both knew it was important to Toshiko, but they hadn’t realised just how much.
“It’s normal?” she asked. “Completely normal? Nothing strange in any way?”
“She’s got the same DNA as her mother,” Jack answered. “Owen was concerned about the fact that the baby was created with only one parent DNA. But of course she wasn’t. She has the DNA of her mother’s two parents. Apart from that she’s perfectly normal, perfectly Human.”
“You weren’t worried, were you, Tosh,” Gwen asked her. “Owen told you the baby was fine. She’s growing just as she should.”
“I know,” Toshiko replied. “And I DO believe Owen when he tells me things like that. But even so… It’s a relief to know that the first of them is normal. It’s… it’s just good to know.”
She touched her very obvious bump as she leaned back in her chair. The look in her eyes was distinctly maternal. She didn’t want to be a parent. It was thrust on her in the most alarming way. But she had come to terms with the idea and she was happy now that he knew that her baby WAS going to be normal in every way except her conception,.
“Anyway,” Jack added. “How do you feel about a bit of a field trip, Tosh? Connie says there’s something up in Abergavenny that she thinks is right up our alley. I’m going to pick her up and drive down there.”
“Abergavenny?” Toshiko looked dubious. “That’s at least an hour’s drive. Better not. Anything over fifteen minutes these days and I’m either travel sick or bursting for the loo. You’d get there quicker on your own.” Then she grinned impishly. “Unless you need somebody to hold your hand. I know you get embarrassed around Connie because she keeps talking about when you were the teaboy.”
Jack met her grin with a boyish wink and laughed.
“I can handle Connie, don’t you worry. And I’ve said it a million times already. I was NEVER a teaboy.” He returned to his office and took his greatcoat and a set of car keys. “Ianto,” he said through his speaker-mike as he headed to the pavement lift. “I’m taking the SUV. You and Gwen will be hunting crop circles in your car. Don’t forget to submit your petrol expenses when you get back.”
“Right, boss,” Ianto replied as Jack stepped onto the lift and rose up to the surface. He stepped off the perception filter and mingled with the crowds as he headed down to where the SUV was parked. He drove through the city and up towards Pontprennau. Connie was waiting for him and he saw her safely into the passenger seat before setting off again. She chatted happily with him, appreciating the custom built SUV’s comfort as well as its hi-tech features.
“Very nice. In my day we had a couple of Ford Prefects. Black, of course. They looked quite impressive when we turned up anywhere. But this is very nice, indeed.”
“Glad you appreciate it,” Jack answered her. If he could keep her to small talk like that, perhaps she wouldn’t start talking about other things.
Small hope. She glanced at him as he concentrated on his driving.
“I DO remember you, Jack,” she said. “Back then you did the job that young Ianto does now. The fetching and carrying. You organised the archive. You made sure the field agents were properly equipped. It was a bigger organisation then. I think most of the agents probably didn’t know your name. That didn’t bother you. You had a look of somebody who was just biding his time. And you NOTICED everything. Those sharp eyes of yours took in everything going on and I always thought your head must be just like the archive. All filed and organised.”
Jack said nothing.
“You looked a LITTLE bit younger then. Your face is a bit thinner now. But you’re about the same. None of the terrible things you’ve experienced tell on your face, do they, Jack?”
“Somewhere in the archive there’s a portrait of me that tells the story my face doesn’t,” he joked.
“I could well believe it,” Connie answered. “I remember….” Her eyes dimmed as she remembered something unpleasant. “I remember… not long before I was dismissed. I had known my days at the Hub were numbered at the time. There was a fire down in the lower archive. The smoke spread through the old ventilation system they had back then. Even though the fire was contained we had to evacuate the whole place because of the smoke. There we all were down by the old dock where the marina is now, Fergus calling the roll. Everyone a bit scared and worried. You weren’t there. He called for you several times. And I remember feeling so dreadful. We all did, when we realised… somebody had been left behind. When it was safe to go back in, when the automatic system had killed the fire and the air conditioning had cleared the smoke, we searched. We found the seat of the fire. We found a burnt body. There was a funeral service. We all went. Afterwards we went to a bar. Everyone was saying you were a nice bloke. Good at your job. Funny thing was, nobody knew very much about you. They didn’t even seem to remember your face very clearly. And by the time I was made to leave, I think most of them had forgotten you were ever there.”
Jack still said nothing. But he was remembering. The fire had been an accident. Nobody noticed until it was too late that the crate was getting hotter. By the time it actually started to smoke it was too late. It exploded like an incendiary. He had tried to run, but his clothes were already on fire. It had been awful. He had felt all the pain of first degree burns over his whole body. He had been a Human fireball as he ran from the room. He knew he had lost consciousness for a while. He woke up completely naked, with the smell of burning flesh in his nostrils, but not a mark on him. He had found a body in the morgue and shoved it back into the burning room and sealed it before he went to find some old clothes and slip out the back way.
Fergus knew, of course. It wasn’t the first time he’d faked his own death. He’d done it fifteen years before when Fergus got the area leader’s job in his place. Then he’d come back and started again as the office junior and nobody ever put two and two together. Fergus laughed. He thought it said something about Human nature that even the most intelligent people in the country, recruited for Torchwood from the cream of industry and education, were too dumb to notice there was a group photo in the office with the same face grinning in the back row.
So anyway, the fire was an accident but it was a good way of writing him out of Torchwood history for a while. When he came back two years later some of the personnel had changed. Connie wasn’t there. A few others had moved on. But anyway, nobody noticed the one who cleaned up after then, who kept the archive, locked and unlocked the doors, who was first there and last to leave and taken for granted by them all. If they had been asked his name they would have had to think about it long and hard and if they were asked to describe him they would recall a nice smile and blue eyes and that was it.
The 1950s had been busy for Torchwood, he mused as Connie chattered on. Quite apart from the false alarms due to cold war paranoia, there had been a lot of genuine alien activity in that decade. Roswell was the only one the public knew much about. That was the biggest double bluff of them all. The American government came up with a totally unconvincing explanation that only fuelled the speculation, but it meant that anyone who believed in aliens became automatically labelled a fruitcake and that actually meant that a great deal of what went on then and now could be covered up far more easily.
The UK had been inundated, as he remembered it. Torchwood had sifted through the hoaxes and false alarms. It had sorted the dangerous from the lost and bewildered. The latter got sent on their way with a stern warning not to mess with Earth if they valued their alien hides. The former wound up at Torchwood, their weapons and craft reverse engineered for whatever could be useful, and the aliens themselves confined to the cells – all nine floors were often full – until they could be interrogated, analysed, and in a lot of cases, dissected. That bit he had never really liked, not that anyone ever asked his opinion on the matter. But it was true there was no law against it. There were HUMAN rights laws but nothing to stop them performing any kind of experiment on ALIENS.
And as usual, one particular alien came to his mind. One who hated all that Torchwood stood for. Jack remembered the look in his eyes, the betrayed, angry look, when he discovered that his friend was involved with them. That was the only time Jack had really felt ashamed of his work. When he had to look HIM in the eye and tell him that he was one of those who tortured and killed non-Humans for a living.
“You’ve got a lot of secrets, haven’t you, Jack?” Connie said as she noticed that the conversation had become a monologue.
“Yes, I have,” Jack answered, dragging his thoughts back to the present. “More than you could begin to know, Connie.”
“I’m not prying,” she assured him. “I just think… Back in history, alchemists used to drive themselves into early graves looking for the secret of everlasting life. They thought it was a prize to be cherished. But I wonder if you think different.”
“I try not to think about it,” he replied. “But I know a man who has been around longer than I have and I think I know how he feels about it.”
The SUV passed a sign saying “Welcome to Abergavenny” in English and Welsh and he was able to stop thinking about the past. He looked at the immediate future possibilities of parking in a small town with limited facilities. In Cardiff the police all knew the SUV and tended to leave it alone. The thieves were starting to get the picture and did likewise. But outside the city secure parking was a good idea.
Having acquired a parking space he walked with Connie to the Borough Theatre in the town centre where a crowd was actually waiting to be let in. Tickets were selling like the proverbial hot cakes.
“To see a fortune teller?” Jack looked at Connie sceptically. “Why?”
“Because she is VERY good,” Connie answered. “But there’s something else. You just watch for a while and tell me if you don’t think so. There’s something here that WE should look at.”
“We?” Jack smiled indulgently. Connie seemed to have found a new enthusiasm for Torchwood work lately. It wasn’t the first tip she had given them. He was a bit worried, though. She might start imagining aliens around every corner, or even make them up, just for a taste of the old life she was forced to give up.
“WE,” she insisted. “You never really LEAVE Torchwood and Torchwood never really leaves you. Those young people working for you, one day when they move on, they’ll realise that, whatever else they achieve, they will never do anything so wonderful as working for Torchwood.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse!” Jack replied. “I think Suzie might have thought the latter. Me, I always thought I WAS just biding my time. Waiting for something I knew would happen sooner or later. But I think now, I’m there to see it through to the end.”
“And you know where and when the end is going to be, don’t you, Jack?” Connie said. But Jack didn’t reply. He was joining the queue to get in to see “The Amazing Magred – She knows your future better than you know your past.” He paid the £10 each to get in and they found seats in the auditorium.
There was no set time for the ‘performance’ apparently. The Amazing Magred was on stage continuously except for short rest breaks and members of the audience were allowed to come up on stage to ‘consult’ with her whenever they felt like it. ‘Helpers’ in white trouser suits and t-shirts with ‘Amazing Magred Roadshow Helper” on them moved up and down the aisles and flanked the steps up to the stage. Those who wanted to know their future were guided by them.
Magred was a thin looking young woman, about eighteen years of age, possibly younger. Her face was pale as if she hadn’t been out at all in direct sunlight. She wore a white robe and a headscarf tied ‘gypsy-style’ at the back of her head. Her eyes were pale blue and seemed too big for her face. Jack’s first thought about her was that she looked HUNGRY. His instinct would be to take her to a good restaurant and buy her a good meal.
“Plants?” Jack asked as he watched one man come down the steps from the stage and a woman climb up the other end, directed by Magred’s helpers. Both had come from among the audience, apparently randomly. “Working to a pre-arranged script.”
“I thought that, too,” Connie said. “When my grandson brought me to see her the night before last. But after a while you start to wonder. THAT many people?”
“Mmm.” Jack said nothing more for a while. He watched as Magred deduced that the woman was called Anne and that she had recently had a bad love affair. Anne looked taken aback but relaxed when Magred assured her that a brighter future lay ahead.
“Her name is Caroline and she will come to work in your office as a temp. At first you will be uncertain as you have not yet realised that you prefer women. But when you do, the two of you will be very happy together.”
Anne was startled by that vision of her future, but, Jack noted, not entirely unhappy with it. He wasn’t sure it was the best idea to have somebody outed before she even knew she was a lesbian, though, especially if there was no reason to do so expect to entertain an audience who wanted to hear something more than the usual ‘A tall dark stranger will come into your life!’ But if it was for real then he wished Anne and Caroline every happiness. True love in whatever combination it came in was something he liked to see, even if he wasn’t sure it would ever come to him.
“She’s very convincing,” he commented.
“Yes,” Connie replied. “But listen. And watch carefully. There is more.”
Some of the consultancies, Jack noticed, were done with the microphone turned off. One of the ‘helpers’ explained to the audience at these times that Magred judged carefully whether the future reading should be public or private.
“Really?” Jack thought as he watched the man whose future was being read jump up suddenly and run towards the exit. He didn’t get out of the door, though, because there were two police officers waiting for him.
“How did she know?” the man screamed as the police officers tried to read him his rights. “How did SHE know I did it? How does she know where I hid the body?” He broke free of the police restraint and ran up the aisle towards the stage. “I’ll kill her. The bitch. I’ll kill her. It’s her fault. Nobody would have known if she hadn’t opened her mouth. I’ll kill her.”
On stage, Magred seemed unperturbed, but her helpers ran and gathered about her protectively.
As he was taken outside the noise level among the audience rose considerably. Jack could FEEL the excitement around him as sceptics became believers.
“You know THAT could be a really elaborate stunt,” Jack pointed out. “Gets everyone talking. Everyone believing.”
On stage one of the ‘helpers’ called for quiet.
“Please,” she begged. “Magred needs a calm, conducive atmosphere to work in. I must ask you to be quiet. Yes, you have seen an example of her power. That unfortunate man came with something to hide and it was laid bare by Magred’s all seeing eye. Those who wish to have her reveal their future should be prepared not only to hear the good, but also the bad unfold before them.”
There was a queue now, all down the right hand aisle of the theatre. People were EAGER to know what their future held. Perhaps a few were anxious to know when their most guilty secret might be revealed, so that they could make contingency plans. Perhaps some just wanted to hear if they would ever get an even break in life, a better job, ANY job, a better sex life, ANY sex life! Jack smothered a laugh as the helpers reminded the audience that Magred would NOT use her skills to tell anyone next Saturday’s lottery numbers or the result of any horse race. He noticed at least half a dozen people drop out of the queue at that point.
Then he stood up and joined the queue.
He wasn’t sure. His first instinct was to dismiss the whole thing as a hoax. His second instinct was to believe it. His experience told him there were MANY things in the universe that defied explanation. A man who couldn’t die was one of them, and since he WAS that man he had to believe in THAT. Why shouldn’t a girl who could read other people’s futures be another?
The only way he could know was to consult Magred about his own future.
She spent about two, three minutes on most consultancies. Others a little longer. Some people chickened out and dropped from the queue and he shuffled forward little by little until the helpers smilingly guided him up the steps to the stage.
“Hello,” said Magred as he sat in the chair in front of her. “Give me your hand, please. And I will tell you your future.”
A whole bunch of smart comments with double entendres attached crowded his mind, but he didn’t use any of them. There was something about those big eyes in that pale face that didn’t deserve the full on Jack Harkness treatment. If there WAS a fraud here, it wasn’t this young woman who was doing it. He felt THAT in his soul. Though a cynical part of him waited to be proved wrong, waited to find out that a sweet, innocent face could hide deceit.
“You’re a very long way from your home,” she said. And that was true. But his accent usually gave that away to most people.
Except that he hadn’t spoken to her yet.
“A long way from home,” she repeated and she looked at him with eyes that widened a little more. “And… Oh…. Oh… I am sorry. So sorry.” She pushed the microphone away and leant closer to Jack. “You’re going to die. You’re going to die today. In a few hours.” She clung to his hand and her lips trembled. “You’re…. Oh… I don’t understand. You’re going to die next week, too. Oh, that one will be painful. And… and again… and…” She gripped his hand painfully tightly. “I can see so far. So much pain. So many deaths. Paradise spits you out every time. You are…. You are impossible.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve been told that before. Don’t worry about it. But this death that I’m going to have this afternoon…. It won’t be as painful as next week’s one then?”
“It will be… Oh…. Oh, my friend. You’re going to die for me.” If her eyes got any wider they would pop out of her head, Jack thought. And then her voice dropped very low and she said two words. Two words in a language that translated in his head as all languages did. Anyone who hadn’t travelled in the time vortex in a semi-sentient and semi-psychic travelling machine would have heard what sounded like a double click of the tongue. But to him it was a message.
“Sir, I am sorry, but Magred is tired. She must rest now. Please return to your seat.” A woman who seemed older than the rest and clearly the chief ‘helper’ took him by the arm with a vice-like grip while two others flanked Magred and lifted her to her feet. She didn’t look tired. She looked scared. She clicked her tongue again, a little louder, before she was turned away and led backstage. Jack got THAT message, too.
“Hey, don’t be so rough with her. She’s your meal ticket, after all,” he said. “Give the girl a break.”
“Please return to your seat,” said the one who was holding his arm and managing to pull him towards the side of the stage without it appearing that any force was being used. One of the ‘helpers’ was telling the audience that Magred would be back on stage in ten minutes, and asked them to be patient. Meanwhile, far from resuming his seat, Jack was being pushed towards a fire exit at the side of the stage and presently found himself in an alleyway beside the theatre.
“Hey,” he demanded. “What gives? I’m a paying customer.”
“You’re a troublemaker. What were you saying to Magred?”
“I was just asking her for a date,” he replied. “She’s not bad looking for a freak and I thought she might enjoy a pizza and a glass of wine and I promise to have her in bed by midnight. Didn’t say WHOSE bed mind you…”
He knew that a comment like that would get him a kicking in most circumstances. In MOST circumstances he wouldn’t say anything that crass. But he wanted them to think he was just a lech and not somebody who intended to make REAL trouble for their strange little set up.
Because he knew now that ‘helper’ was a euphemism for ‘jailor’ as far as Magred was concerned.
For such pure looking people they kicked hard, he noted, as he sprawled on the floor and made only the lamest attempt at defending himself. They didn’t damage any internal organs anyway. But his arm hurt where one of them stamped on it and he would be bruised for days.
He stayed down for a good five minutes after they went back inside then he picked himself up and walked along the alleyway to the bustling market street in front of the theatre. He got his bearings and headed towards the car park where he had left the SUV.
“I waited until Magred came back on stage and then headed for the car,” Connie said from the driver’s seat as he slipped into the passenger side. “Oh, Jack. You’re bleeding. Did they hurt you SO much?”
“It’s nothing,” he said as he found a packet of antiseptic wipes in the glove compartment and cleaned his face. “I’ll live. And the bruises will make me look ruggedly interesting for a while. Probably pull like it’s going out of business.”
Not that he could do much about it, he reflected grimly. He’d had such a kick in the groin he doubted his ability to do any of that sort of business for a while.
And what a tragedy THAT was.
“You don’t have to pretend for me,” Connie told him. “You’re hurt.”
“I’m going to be hurt worse before the end of the day,” he answered. “Magred told me so.”
“She IS real, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is. And I’ll tell you something else, too.” He rolled up his sleeve and looked at his wristlet. It had beeped quietly as Magred had held his hand. And he knew what it had detected in such close proximity to her.
“She’s an alien?” Connie guessed. Jack grinned. All these years and she was STILL a sharp thinking Torchwood agent!
“Yep. 100% extra-terrestrial. Humanoid, of course. Only an actual internal medical examination would show any fundamental difference. But she’s alien. Not sure what planet she’s from. We’d have to look at her closely at the Hub, but…”
He stopped himself. He remembered his earlier thoughts, about how much he HATED dissecting aliens just to find out about them. And those were the ugly bastards like Weevils and Zygons and Krinnins. Of course he knew something as sweet looking as Magred could be just as deadly. He wasn’t naïve about such things. But she had asked for HELP. And even bearing in mind that fangs and claws might lie beneath the sweetness, he was still inclined to HELP.
Apart from anything else, it was what HE would do, every time. Even if it WAS the wrong thing. HE would never turn away from a cry for help. And somewhere along the line, somewhere in that strange, unrequited relationship, Jack Harkness, cold-hearted son of a bitch who cared about nobody because nobody cared about him, developed the same sort of conscience.
“We need to get her away from that lot. Get her to the Hub, where she’ll be safe.”
“Just tell me what I can do to help,” she said.
“For the moment, just stay here, keep the engine warm and be ready,” he said. “I’m going back in there for her.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out something he had kept for a while now. He had the feeling he probably should have given it back, but he was glad he hadn’t been asked to do so. He wanted to keep it, not just out of sentimentality, but because he had an idea it might come in useful some time.
It looked like an ordinary key on a piece of string. Pretty ropey string at that. But it was far from ordinary. Apart from the fact that it opened the door to something very EXTRA-ORDINARY it had some interesting properties itself. He slipped it around his neck and was amused by Connie’s reaction.
“Jack?” she queried. “You are… you are there aren’t you?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you ARE. I think I can see you. Because you ARE supposed to be there, sitting next to me. But… But I have to tell myself that you’re there. And it’s hard work. It would be so much easier to think that you’re not there.”
“It still works then.”
The passenger door opened and closed as Connie gave up trying to concentrate on seeing him and instead watched the people in the street look around as they were jostled by a runner whose footsteps they heard but who they failed to see. She thought about some of the things they’d confiscated from aliens in her day and didn’t worry too much about Jack having some kind of invisibility device. She just wondered why it was so lo-tech looking as a Yale key on a piece of string.
Jack slipped past the doorman at the stage entrance and quickly found the dressing room where The Amazing Magred rested between sessions on stage. It was guarded by one of the ‘helpers’ but he didn’t even look around when Jack stepped in quietly. He noted the low bed there and a table with various pill bottles that looked prescription as well as a bottle of mineral water and some energy chew bars for sustenance. He glanced at the pill bottles and noticed that some of them were varieties of sedatives which taken together would render a Human very docile. Others were pep pills designed to keep the mind and body awake when it ought to be sleeping.
What were they doing to the girl?
He was there another twenty minutes before Magred was again brought into the room for a rest period. He watched as they laid her on the bed and gave her chew bars and water.
“It’s still packed out there,” said one of the helpers. “Word got around after yesterday’s performance. They’re still queuing, too. We should think about charging more. We don’t know how much longer the girl will still keep coming up with the goods.”
“We could charge twice as much and they’d come,” said another.
“We might just do that,” said the ‘chief helper’. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll come up with the goods all right. It comes natural to her. And she’ll keep on doing it if she wants her family to keep living in peace.”
“Please, Annette,” said Magred, pushing away the water. “I’m very tired. Let me rest.”
“Ten minutes and then you’re back on stage,” the one called Annette, the ‘chief helper’ answered.
“I need longer,” she protested. “I am VERY tired. It drains me. Each one of them that I touch. Especially the ones whose deaths are close. It hurts.”
“Just do as you’re told.”
“Let me have five minutes alone, quiet,” she said. “Please. Just five minutes. Then I’ll do whatever you say. But PLEASE….”
“We’ll be outside the door,” Annette said, picking up the tray of medication and putting it out of reach. The door was left open. That made it much easier in a way. But it was going to be touch and go anyway.
Jack stepped forward and picked Magred up from the sofa. As he did so he put the string of the perception filter around both their necks and held her close. She was very light, and no trouble at all. The nerve wracking thing was walking out through that door, carrying her past the ‘helpers’ who stood either side. His footsteps on the wooden floor, the sound of her breathing and his own, the sound of their heartbeats, must surely give them away.
They were at the end of the corridor, not far from the stage door when one of the “Helpers” turned and looked inside and saw that Magred was missing. There was another half minute of confusion when they ran to the window, time enough for him to get outside. Then he ran as fast as he could. He didn’t worry about where he was running and he was leaving a trail of market customers with spilt carrier bags and cries of outrage and confusion. But his objective was to get back to the car park as fast as possible.
He was being pursued. He knew that as he reached the car park and pulled the perception filter off so that Connie could see him. She reversed the SUV out of its parking space and did a half handbrake turn to move towards them. She didn’t stop as Jack grabbed the back door and jumped in with Magred. He lay across the seats, covering her with his own body as Connie alerted him to the pursuers running through the car park. She slammed on the footbrake but kept the accelerator hard down so that the back wheels span on the spot and started to smoke. As the thick, acrid smokescreen billowed up she released the brake and the SUV accelerated forward with a screech of tyres.
“Don’t break any speed limits, drive normally,” he told her. “We’re better if we’re inconspicuous.” He looked down at Magred’s scared face. “Are you ok, kid?”
“My family. They will be betrayed. You must help them, too.”
“What’s their address? I can get somebody to them.”
“What do you mean betrayed?” Connie asked.
“Annette…. Annette Morgan. She’s the one who makes me perform every day. She knows that we’re not Human, not from Earth. She’s the one who made me do all of that. She said if I didn’t perform for them she would have my family taken by some people called Torchwood. They…. They kill aliens and dissect them. We’ve lived here for many years. Ever since I was a child and we fled the regime on our home world. We have never done any harm. We have lived as humans. But Annette says that Torchwood would not care. They exist to destroy alien life.”
“Tell me your family’s address,” Jack repeated. “It’s all right. We’ll look after them. They’ll be just fine. So will you. I promise you, Magred. Your family will be looked after.”
Magred looked at him and smiled weakly.
“I believe you, Jack,” she said. “I saw that you are a good man. I believe you.” She gave him the address. It was in Swansea. He sat up beside her and pulled down a computer screen and keyboard. The GPS tracker showed that Owen was just coming across the M4 Severn bridge on his way back from Kent. He called him up and gave him the address.
“Bring them back to the Hub. Tell them not to be scared, but their cover is blown and they have to come now. DON’T tell them you’re from Torchwood.”
Magred’s scream as he said that rang in his ears and Connie almost lost control of the SUV. He grabbed hold of her as she tried to open the door while the vehicle was moving still.
“Magred,” he told her calmly. “Magred, listen to me. You saw into my timeline. You recognised that I was somebody you could trust. You just said I was a good man. That hasn’t changed. Please believe that. Believe in me. And believe that all you have heard about Torchwood from Annette is wrong. We don’t murder aliens. We don’t intend any harm to your family. We exist to protect the innocent of this planet from extra-terrestrial threats. But that INCLUDES your family. We’re going to LOOK AFTER YOU.”
At first she didn’t hear him and she struggled and kicked. Jack’s groin took another bout of undeserved punishment. But he held her hand and whatever her natural gift was she clearly saw his honest intent to help her and it overcame the fear planted in her by her jailor.
“You won’t kill them?”
“Of course not. What made you think we would do that? Who told you about Torchwood?”
“Annette,” she answered. “Many years ago, when she found out about my family. That we were not from Earth. She… she made my father pay her money from his wages. And then she found out about my “talent”. She told me I had to do as she said or they would be handed over to Torchwood.”
“How did ‘Annette’ know about Torchwood?” Connie asked. “I know there are a few rumours about us. But there aren’t very many people who REALLY know what we do.”
“That ‘WE’ again!” Jack commented. “But you have a point.” He put another call through to the Hub. “Tosh, can you look through the personnel files for an Annette Morgan. The name sounds familiar but I can’t place her.”
“Ok,” Toshiko replied. Then the communicator crackled and he heard Ianto’s voice over hers.
“Look in Torchwood One’s records,” he said. “I know that name. She worked at Canary Wharf the same time I did. She said hello a couple of times because she was Welsh, like me. But we were FAR from friends. She was FIRED from Torchwood in 2005 for stealing alien technology from the archive. She was Retconned and her flat searched. ALMOST everything was recovered. Everything except for a DNA identification device.”
“If she was Retconned…” Jack began.
“We never relied on Retcon in my day,” Connie said. “It wasn’t always effective for long term memory. I suppose you’ve improved the recipe by now, but It’s always possible she was able to break through it and remember enough. And by the way, we’re being followed. White van. It’s been tailing us for a mile. I’ve taken a couple of last minute turns at traffic lights and we’ve been through this housing estate for no reason at all, and it’s still right behind us.”
“Yes, I clocked it, too,” Jack said. “As soon as we’re clear of the traffic forget what I said about speed limits and put your foot down. You’ve done advanced driving, I presume?”
“In the 1950s when the average pedestrian on Welsh roads was a sheep,” she reminded him. “But I think I can manage.” Jack saw her eyes reflected in the rear view mirror. She looked more alive than a woman her age could hope to look. She was reliving her youth and the adrenaline still ran in her veins.
“Ianto, have you and Gwen finished with the crop circles?” he asked over the communicator.
“Yes,” he answered. “They’re real, by the way. We’ve got readings you would not believe. But the culprits are long gone. We need to be watching the skies in case they come back.”
“We’ll do that. But right now can you and Gwen head towards us. And can you get onto Alun and ask him to drive this way, too. With an ‘extra’ passenger.”
“Right, boss,” Ianto answered. Jack turned to check on the van. It was still behind them. Which was about where he wanted them for now.
“Ten pounds a go?” he said looking at Magred. “Couple of thousand tickets a day. That’s not bad money. But there must be overheads. Hotel bills, food, transport. The Amazing Magred Roadshow can’t be making much more than your average cabaret act on the nightclub circuit. It hardly seems worth the effort.”
“She makes me do more,” Magred answered. “When I touch somebody I see everything about them. I touch a bank manager and I know the combinations to the vaults. I touch a businessman and I see how he has embezzled money from his company or a politician taking backhanders. Annette uses information like that to steal, or to blackmail. Last week we were invited to a private party at a big house. There were lots of important people. Lords, politicians. There was a man there from the ministry of defence and I saw secrets in his head…. And there was another man who was doing dreadful things to his own children….” Magred shuddered in horror remembering that one. “Annette is blackmailing both of them.”
“When we get where we’re going, tell me the names of both those men,” Jack said. “The MOD need to know they’re compromised and the other one can have a visit from the police. As for Annette, we’ll deal with her.”
“I just want to stop doing what she makes me do,” Magred said. “Every time I touch somebody. The things I see. The dirty secrets so many people hide. And the terrible things some of them will do. And… and their deaths. Everyone I touch, I see their death. Some a long time to come, some very close. When I touched you…. I felt my soul screaming. Jack… Annette is going to kill you.”
“I rather thought she might be involved. Don’t you worry, sweetheart. Nobody is going to make you do anything you don’t want to do, EVER. If they try, they’ll have me to reckon with.”
“They’re still following,” Connie reminded him. Jack looked at the GPS. Owen was in Swansea. Ianto and Gwen and Alun in his car were both heading towards them. Ianto and Gwen were slightly ahead, between Merthyr Tydfil and Tredegar on the A4060 and Alun a few miles behind, coming up to Merthyr on the A470. He contacted Ianto and told him to turn onto the romantically named Heads of the Valley road and then keep turning around the streets of Merthyr until the SUV caught up with him.
They kept the van behind them until Jack was ready. Then he told Connie to turn left, then right, then right again and they came into a narrow side street flanked either side by the sort of little local stone built miners cottages that used to have families of miners in them but now tended to be owned by businessmen who liked the simple life away from the hustle and bustle of the city and who thought ‘mine’ was the personal possessive pronoun.
Ianto’s car was already there, facing back down the road. Connie, with Jack carrying Magred ran for it. He put Connie in the back seat with the perception filter around her neck and Magred lying down beside her. He put Magred’s headscarf on Gwen and wondered if it was fate that she was wearing a white blouse today. She got into the passenger seat of the SUV and Jack drove. He reversed back down the street quickly. The white van passed along the wider road at the top. As he reversed into the road he saw the white van trying to turn and getting into problems with the traffic coming the other way. It was soon on the tail of the SUV, though. Which was fine. Because the white van driver and passengers didn’t notice Ianto’s car turning the opposite direction behind them.
“Straight back to the Hub,” Jack told Ianto, as if he needed telling. “Owen, what’s your stat?”
“I’ve got the family in my car. Mum, dad and baby brother. I took the liberty of calling Gloria and arranging some back up. Just as well because some people in flaky looking white trouser suits turned up and wanted to make trouble. They’re getting a lift to Cardiff in a police van.”
“DCI Swanson can have fun with them,” Jack said. “You look after the family. And no matter what any scanner says about where they come from, they’re the innocent victims here. Take them to the boardroom and give them tea and sympathy.”
“Right, boss,” Owen answered. Then he switched to Alun and asked him where he was.
“Half a mile, heading towards you, boss,” Alun answered. “I’ll be glad to rendezvous. My passenger isn’t very talkative.”
“Yeah, I know. I owe you one, Alun. And if this plan works Torchwood will owe you a new car.”
“I wasn’t particularly fond of this one,” he answered. “There’s a turn off coming up. Leads into a small coppice. Should do for what we want.”
“Got to be REALLY quick this time,” Jack said to Gwen as he saw Alun’s car turn off ahead and got ready to do the same. “You ready?”
“As ready as I’m ever going to be.”
“Better than catching pickpockets in Queen Street Arcade!”
“Miles better,” she responded with a nervous smile.
Alun’s car was parked by a ditch. Jack pulled up and told Gwen to duck down. As she did so he grabbed the headscarf off her and dived out of the SUV. Alun ran to take his place and the SUV did a neat U-turn and carried on back towards the A470. Jack put the headscarf on the still frozen body of a young woman about the size and age of Magred that was seatbelted into the passenger seat of Alun’s car and drove off in the same direction. The white van was parked in a lay-by on the south side of the A470. It had ignored the SUV, knowing that they had made a switch. It was Magred they wanted, and they thought they saw her in the car they were pursuing.
Jack increased speed as he came off the A-road and made them chase him along the winding B-roads. He looked like an accident waiting to happen as he swerved onto the grass verge several times around oncoming traffic. He was an accident waiting for the right moment to happen, in fact. A moment when he could make sure nobody else was involved.
Around a hairpin bend he saw the opportunity. He aimed the car at the five bar gate that led onto a public footpath into another little coppice of trees. As the car careered towards the trees he reached for the cigarette lighter that Alun had left prominently on the dashboard and lit it. The body went up straight away. Alun had bravely driven all the way from Cardiff under his instructions, next to a body doused in flammable liquid. Jack had not bothered to put on his seatbelt when he swapped cars. Now he opened the door and jumped. Landing was painful. The bruises he already had got bruises on top when he rolled. But he kept still and quiet and watched as the car smashed into the trees and exploded.
The white van turned up a few minutes later. Jack kept his head down and kept still. But he could see the burning body in the wreck of Alun’s car. He heard Annette scream as she ran towards it, knowing it was too late. Then she turned and stepped towards him.
“You bastard!” she screamed. “You stupid, interfering bastard. You’ve ruined everything. That kid was worth millions to me. And you….”
“Annette, NO!” yelled one of her accomplices. “No, you can’t kill him.”
“Yes, I can,” she answered and Jack looked up to see the gun in her hand. Well, he had half expected that. Magred had told him Annette was going to kill him. He braced himself as she fired four shots into his chest before the others wrestled the gun from her hand and forced her back into the white van. He heard the sound of it driving off at speed as the blackness of oblivion folded over him.
He woke half an hour later with backache and the side of his face stinging from the patch of nettles he was lying in and Gwen’s face blocking the sun as she looked down at him anxiously. Otherwise he was as good as new, as he always was when he came back to life!
“So, are you going to lie around there all day?” Gwen asked. He grinned and reached out to her. She helped him to stand. He looked around and saw Alun touching his ear as he listened to a message.
“Ianto says they’re back at the Hub and Magred and her family are fine. And by the way DCI Swanson called to say her lot intercepted the white van and they’ve arrested the rest of the crowd at the theatre and could you drop by later and explain exactly what they have fifteen people in custody for apart from bad taste fashions.”
“Tell Ianto to tell Gloria it’ll be worth the wait. Kidnapping, extortion, attempted murder. You name it! She’s going to love it.”
“What about Magred and her family?” Gwen asked as they travelled back to Cardiff in the SUV.
“I can pull a few strings, get them into a witness protection programme. They’ll have a new life, new home, new identity. They’ll be all right.”
“Are they really aliens?”
“Yes, they are,” Jack answered. “But they’re not the sort of aliens we’re here to protect Earth from. I dare say Queen Victoria, when she gave Torchwood its charter would have wanted them locking up for good. But she was wrong. Not all aliens want to take over the world. Some of them just want a quiet life. To live in peace and not cause any trouble to anyone. And some of them just need to stop off and refuel once in a while.”
“Huh?” Gwen looked at Jack but she knew he wasn’t going to explain that last comment. Sometimes Jack said these things, knowing it would drive everyone else nuts trying to work out what he meant.
“Never mind,” she said. “Do you want to hear about these crop circles?”
“Bugger crop circles,” Jack answered. “Just give me a half hour’s quiet drive back to Cardiff.”
“Do my best, boss,” Alun told him from the driver’s seat. “But don’t blame me if aliens decide to abduct us on the way. The sort of day it’s been I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.”
“Let them try,” Jack said. “Just let them bloody try.”