“I won’t think of Jack!” Gwen told herself as Rhys’s lovemaking reached a familiar crescendo. “I won’t think of him. I won’t compare them. Jack’s just a friend, a wonderful friend, but just a friend. I love Rhys. He’s my man and I love him. I WILL keep my eyes open and I won’t think of anyone else.
“I love you, Rhys,” she whispered as he held her tightly and reached what he called, in the terminology of a transport manager, the ‘final destination’. Then he sighed happily and slid beside her, hugging her tightly as the ‘engine cooled down’ after the journey.
“I love you, Gwen,” he answered her. He caressed her face and hair gently. “What did I do to deserve a gorgeous girl like you?”
“I’m not gorgeous. My eyes are too big and my teeth have a gap in them, and I’ve got freckles.”
“I love your freckles,” he argued. “You’re gorgeous. And you’re clever. I’m just a fat thicko. What do you see in me?”
“A man who loves my freckles.”
“You could have any man, though,” he said. “Like the ones in your work. They’re all handsome hunks. Not like me.”
“Three of them are gay,” she told him. “And the fourth…”
“Not your type?” Rhys ventured.
Funny, but she didn’t feel any guilt any more about Owen. It felt as if it happened to another person in another life. As for Jack, she really didn’t feel ANY regret at all. That DIDN’T happen at all. The timeline changed. In the new reality they hadn’t spent the night together.
The memory of what hadn’t happened, that sensational night of love, of sex with a man who knew just how to push every button she had, was one that she liked to think about in the warm moments just before she fell asleep. It was a nice dream to have.
But she would not think of it when Rhys was making love to her.
They were both just slipping into that warm stage just before sleep when they heard a scream in the corridor outside their hotel room. Gwen sat up and began pulling on her nightdress and bathrobe.
“Don’t,” Rhys told her. “It’s nothing to do with us.”
“I’m a police officer, Rhys,” she answered. “Of course it’s to do with me. It was a woman. She might be hurt or…”
The ‘or’ appealed to Rhys’s chivalrous side, at least as far as Gwen was concerned. She might be a police officer, but it was his job to protect her from the ‘or’ kind of dangers. He got up out of bed.
Gwen looked back at him from the door. She smiled.
“Put your pants on, love. I don’t want her to scream again.”
She opened the door and stepped out onto the dimly lit landing. There were three other doors, four rooms in total on this floor. At one end was the firedoor and the emergency stairwell. At the other were the ordinary stairs and a big window looking out over Porthcawl’s seafront. The window was open, the curtains flapping in the breeze. Gwen headed towards it. She looked out. They were on the third floor. It was quite a drop. If somebody fell or jumped, or was pushed, they’d be lying there. But there was nothing. The short garden front of the hotel was empty. All was quiet at a little after midnight with the pubs all shut and not much else happening in January in a town that really only got going in the summer season.
There was nobody lying injured on the ground. Rhys looked up and down the back stairs and reported that it was all quiet.
But they HAD both heard a scream.
“There WAS a scream. It sounded frightened, blood curdling!” Gwen insisted.
“Yes, there WAS,” Rhys agreed. “But there’s nothing now. I mean, we could knock on the other doors, but I don’t think people would be too happy. Or we could call the manager…”
“I don’t know. Maybe…” She looked around again. She shivered. But then she was wearing a little silk nightie and a robe and it was January and the window was wide open. Nothing especially sinister about that. She closed the window and reached out for Rhys’s hand. “Let’s go to bed.”
She turned and went with him back to their room.
As their door closed, a shadow slid down the wall, across the floor, and through the door opposite to theirs. If she had seen it, Gwen would have been breaking the promise she made to Rhys when she came on this ‘work free weekend’ without her mobile phone and without leaving a contact number with her office.
Because she would have known it was something that Torchwood should be dealing with.
Jack had drunk a couple of glasses of wine at dinner and a brandy before bed and that was only two hours ago, just before midnight, so he had taken a taxi to the road haulage yard. He paid the driver and stepped towards the open door of the reception, where the fire investigation officer waited.
“You’re Torchwood?” the officer asked. “I expected a few more people.”
“It’s two a.m. on Saturday morning. You’ve only got me because I have a very understanding boyfriend.” He smiled his toothpaste advert smile and tried not to think about how warm and cosy he had been fifteen minutes ago in a bay view room of the St David’s Hotel. One of these days he and Garrett would get a date that ended with both of them enjoying breakfast in bed. But they were neither of them in 9 to 5 jobs. They didn’t take anything for granted.
“Ok, never mind my love life,” he said as the fire officer showed him into the office. “What happened here that you think needs Torchwood’s services?”
“The automatic alarm registered a fire in this office. A tender was dispatched, but when my officers got here there was no sign of a fire. They were going to put it down as a false alarm, but then they noticed that.”
The officer walked around one of the workstations in the open plan office and pointed to the floor space which the desk had screened from his view.
“Wow!” Jack looked at the burnt patch on the wooden floor. He knelt and felt it. It was warm to the touch, as if a very hot fire had raged not so long ago. But there was no smell of smoke in the room. Nothing else was damaged. Even a huge prickly pear cactus in a plant pot on the floor just inches away showed no sign of scorching.
The only sign of anything unusual was the burn on the floor – in the exact shape of an adult Human body curled up in a foetal position.
“I’ve seen everything,” the fire officer said. “I even investigated a case of ‘spontaneous combustion’ a year or two back. The body was charcoal but the rest of the room was virtually untouched….”
“Yeah,” Jack answered as he looked around again, taking in every detail, fixing the scene in his head before he began to probe more deeply into what had happened. “I saw one like that. But there WAS a body. Not just a burn mark. There’s no way a body was removed from here?”
“The main door was unlocked when my crew got here. But they arrived within five minutes of the alert and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a body being dragged, or moved at all. Even if somebody LIFTED what was left, there would be some kind of disturbance. My guess would be that nobody has TOUCHED this.”
“I agree,” Jack answered, impressed by the logical way the officer had considered the question. He shifted slightly so that the officer couldn’t see his futuristic wristlet. He held his arm over the burn mark again and took a reading. It was faint. They had better equipment at the Hub that would confirm it. But he had something to go on.
He stood up and reached for his mobile phone, wondering which of his team would be less likely to be having a good night that he was about to spoil.
“Owen,” he said as the speed dial number was answered. “Are you sleeping alone?”
“Will you take the piss out of me if I say yes?” Owen answered.
“No, but if you are that’s only one of us with our sex life buggered up tonight. I need you down here. Parkside Haulage. Bring the SUV and a full substance analysis kit, spectrometer, radiation monitor - You know the score.”
“Parkside Haulage?” Owen queried. “Shit!”
“Is there something wrong?”
“That’s where Rhys works,” Owen answered.
“Rhys who?” Jack asked, his brain momentarily failing to make the connection. “Shit… Gwen’s Rhys you mean?”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Owen told him. He closed the call and turned to see the fire officer watching and listening.
“Radiation monitor?” he asked, picking up on the most important part of the conversation from his point of view. “Is there any likelihood… My crew… Do they need to be decontaminated? And WHAT do I put down on my report? Is this a fire or isn’t it? Was there a death?”
These were fair questions. The officer had a right to know. But Jack didn’t have any answers for him at the moment.
“Our SOP in unusual circumstances is to call Torchwood. The RUMOUR about Torchwood is that they deal with extra-terrestrial threats. Is that true? Is that what this is?”
“There’s no significant risk of radioactive contamination,” Jack assured him. “Your crew are safe. As for the rest, you’d better put it down as a false alarm, faulty reading on the equipment. The rest is for me to worry about.” He looked at the fire officer. He was an intelligent man who did a damn dangerous job every day of his working life. He tried to find a way of telling him to bugger off out of here and let him get on with his own job without sounding insulting and patronising to somebody who deserved his respect.
“Ok,” the officer said, accepting his first answer and letting him off the hook for the rest. “You should know that we’ve not been able to get hold of the keyholder, the manager of these premises. A Mr Daniel Cassidy. That body that… isn’t a body, and that isn’t going into my report… If you want an identification, then you might want to start with him.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Jack answered him. Then the officer turned and left. Jack looked at the ‘body’ again, then while he waited for Owen he looked around the office more thoroughly. At another workstation, with the label ‘transport manager’ on the little wooden desk marker, he found a whole bunch of photographs of Gwen. He looked closely at these snippets of her life outside Torchwood that he knew nothing about; Gwen in her first police uniform, smiling proudly, Gwen in a pretty evening dress going off to some kind of do, Gwen in a swimming costume on a sunny beach. He had an idea that the computer, if it was turned on, would have a picture of Gwen as the desktop background. Rhys obviously adored her. Jack felt a little guilty about the times when Torchwood business had put a strain on that relationship.
He knew one thing, for sure. The traces of organic remains he had detected among the charred floor material wasn’t Rhys.
Because Rhys, whatever else he was or was not, was absolutely one hundred per cent Human.
And whoever had died here wasn’t.
Rhys had gone straight to sleep. Gwen had tried to, but she kept thinking about that scream. Blood-curdling was the right description. It sounded like somebody dying in acute agony. But there had been nobody there. Nothing.
Did she believe in ghosts?
Yes. She had seen enough working at Torchwood to believe just about everything. Aliens, fairies, demons, devils. Ghosts. Yes. Jack said that the souls of the dead are always around us. We just don’t see them. We’re not meant to see them.
That thought creeped her out at first. Then she rationalised it by thinking of all the people she loved who had died, like her granddad. He died before she graduated from the police training college. He never saw her do anything to make him proud. If he was around somewhere, then he knew she WAS doing him proud every day, every way she could, in her work at Torchwood. So that was all right.
But if it was a ghost, and we aren’t meant to see them, then something was wrong here, she rationalised. Something had to be put right.
She sat up in the bed. She felt around for her jeans and blouse and put them on quietly, so as not to disturb Rhys. With the sort of shifts she worked as a police officer, she got used to dressing quietly in the dark. He never stirred.
She stepped out of the room and looked around the landing again. It was dimly lit. She looked up at the light. It was an ordinary bulb, but dimmed down for night time energy saving. She went to the end of the landing and turned the dial until it was at the full 100 watt brightness and walked back along the carpeted floor paying careful and close attention this time, the way she was taught, first as a police officer, and then as a Torchwood operative.
There was nothing unusual except by the window. She looked down at what she had thought was soil.
What was on the floor was not soil. It was ash. And she hadn’t noticed before, in the dark, but the windowsill and the wall beneath the sill, had a scorch mark on it.
A scorch mark that looked like the bottom half of a person standing at the open window.
Owen arrived in the SUV full of kit. Jack helped him lug it all in and between the two of them they ran every test they could think of.
“This area…” Owen said. “I’m getting the sort of low level radiation from it that is found in Hiroshima sixty years on… or at least I was… It’s dissipating rapidly. Another few minutes it’ll be ‘normal’.”
“I was right when I told the fire officer his crew weren’t contaminated?”
“Yes. The rate of dissipation, and such a small area anyway…. This is a guess, you understand. And it’s going to sound wild even for US. But it looks as if a VERY localised nuclear explosion vaporised a body and then died away so quickly it posed no threat to anyone else. Which is impossible.”
“Splitting the atom was impossible until somebody did it,” Jack said. “It’s not impossible, just very unlikely. What about the remains, such as they are?”
“Humanoid, but not Human,” Owen confirmed. “Unless the state of the remains is confusing the equipment. Which I couldn’t rule out.”
“If it’s Human, that puts Rhys back in the frame,” Jack said.
“Don’t think so,” Owen answered him. “For one, Rhys is a fat bastard. This guy was slim. And for another, he and Gwen have gone away over the weekend. I heard her telling Tosh. A mate of his had won an all expenses weekend in some hotel, some sort of theme weekend, you know, like a murder mystery. And he couldn’t go, so he let Rhys have it for thirty quid or something like that. Gwen was excited about actually getting a bit of a holiday away from work, even if it was only in… oh where the fuck was it…. some place by the sea, anyway.”
“Porthcawl, by any chance?” Jack asked as he idly turned over a leaflet on the desk of the possibly late Daniel Cassidy, office manager, and presumably a ‘workmate’ of Rhys Williams. The leaflet advertised an ‘Agatha Christie Weekend’ in the three star Gwesty Caffyn overlooking the beautiful west promenade of Porthcawl. He couldn’t imagine it was the sort of thing that Gwen would get excited about. He couldn’t imagine Rhys would, either. The little he knew of the erstwhile boyfriend didn’t suggest he was a literary type. It was dirt cheap and a chance to treat Gwen in the way she ought to be accustomed, and for her to get away from work for a bit.
But had work followed her? Daniel Cassidy was meant to go on that weekend. And now he was dead.
Daniel Cassidy was possibly alien, and he was dead.
He had been killed in a way that was unknown to HUMAN science.
Torchwood business had followed Rhys to work, anyway. Obviously he had never suspected that his office manager and friend was an alien. Neither had Gwen, and she knew what to look for.
He picked up a photo on Cassidy’s desk. A slim man in a smart suit, with a woman. Wife, girlfriend. They had that same comfortable look as Gwen and Rhys had, that Ianto and Alun, even, were developing. The look of people who lived together and knew each other inside out, who would put the right amount of sugar in each other’s tea without asking, who didn’t mind picking up each other’s underwear from the bedroom floor and bunging them in the wash.
Jack recognised it, even if it was one of the few experiences he had never tried.
“Cassidy has a wife,” he said. “The fire officer said that nobody could contact him. So they must have tried his home phone. I think we’d better find out why nobody is answering.” A further search of the desk found Cassidy’s home address. He helped Owen carry the equipment out to the SUV then turned off the lights and locked the outer door.
Gwen went downstairs quietly. The reception was empty and dark. This wasn’t the sort of hotel that had night staff. There was just a middle aged couple who ran it and a couple of maids to serve the breakfast and dinner and clean the bedrooms. They’d met them when they arrived. An average couple, trying to drum up winter business in their hotel by running these ‘theme’ weekends. The ‘mystery’ wasn’t meant to start until tomorrow afternoon, when they were going to get a chance to dress in costumes and be given scenarios to play. Tonight had been a general ‘hello’ night with a nice meal and drinks in the bar afterwards. The twenty or so other guests had been decent enough people from all over the South Wales area. The only way in which she and Rhys had been ‘different’ was that the others all won the weekend in a competition or a raffle or something, she couldn’t remember which. She really wasn’t paying a lot of attention. But it seemed like it was a promotion to kick off these theme weekends. An expensive one, she thought, feeding all of them for nothing for a weekend, but they must have expected it to pay off.
She wondered idly about that as she looked around the back of the reception desk for something that REALLY should have been kept locked away, but fortunately for her, wasn’t – the pass key the chambermaids used to get into the bedrooms. She pocketed it and went back up to the third floor. She had no qualms about what she planned. If everyone was alive and well, she thought, then she could just back out quietly. But if not, then she was a police officer and it would be a crime scene, and how she found it wasn’t important.
She opened the door opposite to the room she and Rhys were in. She stepped in quietly, wondering what she would say if anyone DID wake up. Pretend she had the wrong room, maybe?
Nobody woke. Nobody was alive. In the yellow-orange street light from the window she could see a dark shadow on the bed. She snapped on the overhead light and saw clearly. It was more than a shadow. It was a burn that went right through the bedclothes, the pillow, even the top part of the mattress.
It was Human shaped.
And nothing else was damaged. Even the rest of the bedclothes were intact. There was some singeing at the edge and that was all. She looked up at the ceiling. There was a smoke detector. But it hadn’t been tripped. And in any case there was no smell of smoke in the room. There was a faint smell of burnt bedding, especially the nylon sheets that had shrivelled like plastic. But there was no other indication of a fire.
She thought about spontaneous combustion. She’d read about it. They had talked about it over pizza once in the Hub. Owen, the scientist, dismissed it out of hand. Toshiko was sceptical. Alun and Ianto were undecided. Jack said he had seen it, but he wouldn’t go into detail. Even so, all but Owen, who still refused to budge, started to think there was something in it, because there was something in the way Jack said it, not like his usual tall tales, that made them believe it.
But this couldn’t be that, could it? Even if it was, two of them? Because it seemed to be what happened on the landing, too. Somebody had been standing at the window when they were burnt. But SHE had stood there a little while after and there was no heat.
What could do that?
Owen and Jack found the shadowy remains of Mrs Cassidy burnt into the linoleum of the kitchen floor. It didn’t take Owen long to ascertain that the organic remains were possibly non-Human, and that the radiation level in that spot was now at a level no worse than it was on the beach at Sellafield and diminishing by the minute.
Owen noted also that the domestic smoke alarm in the ceiling had not tripped.
“What the fuck does this?” he asked. “And why?” It was a rhetorical question. He didn’t expect Jack to have an answer. But he had one, all the same. At least for the second part of the question.
“Nothing else is damaged. No other lives were at risk, here or at the office,” he said. “This was an execution. A very accurate execution.”
“So who executes a possibly alien haulage firm manager and his possibly alien wife?” Owen asked.
“Fucked if I know,” Jack shrugged. “Gwen’s the one who’s gone on a mystery weekend. Maybe we should ask her!”
Then he froze. He turned slowly and looked at Owen as his mind turned over what he had just said. Then he became suddenly animated. He ran from the kitchen without another word. Owen threw all the equipment back into the two cases and dragged them along after him. Jack was already in the SUV, seat belt on, and revving the engine as Owen chucked the cases in the back and climbed into the passenger seat.
“What’s your hurry?” he asked, struggling with a twisted seat belt as Jack reversed out of the cul de sac at speed.
“Agatha Christie,” he answered.
“What about her?”
“Gwen and Rhys are in trouble,” he added.
He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense, but Owen could feel Jack’s agitation like a solid entity as he pushed the SUV to the maximum speed limit and flicked on the gadget that cleared the traffic lights ahead for them.
In the other two third floor rooms it was the same story, except that there were two shadows of dead people in the double beds. Two more of the couples they had met at dinner.
Gwen ran back to her room, heart pounding. But Rhys was ok. She could see the bulk of him under the duvet and hear him snoring as he always did after either drink or sex, or both. She closed the door and turned towards the stairs.
The second floor was identical to the third except that the walls were painted a different colour. She unlocked the first bedroom door and found twin beds, rather than doubles, but the story was the same. Both beds had burnt body shapes in them. In the second room, one of them had tried to escape. The burn mark was through the carpet and partially burnt through the floor.
The third was another double room with the same scenario - victims killed in their beds. It didn’t look as if most of them knew anything about it. That was good, she told herself. They didn’t feel any pain.
But it didn’t make her feel any better. And to say that she was scared, walking through the hotel, looking into these rooms and finding nothing but ashen outlines on the beds, was an understatement. She was petrified. And she felt very alone. She just wished one of these rooms had somebody alive in them.
Of course she could run back to Rhys, wake him up. The two of them could get out of there. But she kept on opening bedroom doors. She went on down to the next floor, where there were six doors – two double rooms and four singles.
All of the singles told the same story. So did the first of the doubles. Then she opened the last double room in the hotel and her pounding heart nearly stopped in shock.
The people in the bed were still alive yet. But there was something standing over them. A shadow – that’s what it looked like, anyway. A shadow, darkness, moving independently, like the dancing shadow in Peter Pan.
That nice, sweet, fairytale image was driven from her mind a moment later as she saw the shadow reach out a dark, claw-like hand and put it against the forehead of one of the sleepers. There was a flash that left an after-image on her retina and there was a whiff of burnt bedclothes as the sleeper was reduced to a shadow on the bed.
Gwen screamed. She couldn’t stop herself. It was just too much. Her nerve snapped. The second sleeper stirred, but it was already too late. Another blinding flash reduced that body to nothing, too.
Then the shadow turned and looked at her. ‘Eyes’ of actinic white glowed as it glided towards her. She stepped back, knowing that she should have been RUNNING, knowing that it would have been useless to run. She cringed back, whimpering stupidly, expecting to die any moment, and hoping she was right about it not hurting for long.
Then the creature drew back from her. It looked at her for a long moment before it slid down through the floor.
Gwen turned and ran, working out that the room below was the dining room and bar. She took the steps two at a time until she reached the ground floor and ran into the bar in time to see the shadow creature slide along the roof and down the wall. She saw Mrs Caffyn, the hotel manageress standing by the window, looking out at the lamplit promenade.
“Look out!” she yelled. “That thing. It will kill you.”
The manageress turned, slowly, smiling benignly. Gwen watched as the shadow glided towards her and then seemed to meld into her. For a moment her eyes glowed and then she looked normal again.
“No!” Gwen murmured softly as she realised what she had just seen. It was like the moment when the Scooby Do team reveal that it was the janitor or the hotel manager.
In this case, it WAS the hotel manager.
“No…” she said again. “Why? What did you kill them for?”
“Justice,” Mrs Caffyn answered. “Swift, final justice.”
“What?” It was a dumb response. And again, she had a feeling in the back of her mind that the SMART response was to run upstairs, wake Rhys, and then take the fire escape exit from this place. But something kept her rooted to the spot. Something made her listen.
“We’re the dispensers of justice,” said a male voice behind her, and she turned her head as Mr Caffyn walked past her and stood with his wife. A second shadow slipped past her, and melded with him. “We mean you no harm. Or any other Human. But do not try to stop us, or we shall be forced to take drastic steps. Your mate is still upstairs, is he not? If you wish him to remain safe, then do not interfere.”
“You KILLED all of them,” Gwen answered. “You burnt them alive.”
“They were executed quickly and cleanly,” Mr Caffyn answered. “Which is more than they did to their victims.”
“What do you mean?” Gwen asked. “Who are they? Who are you? I mean, obviously you’re aliens. The thing with the shadow… But why… what…”
“These who have paid the price, evaded it the first time,” Mr Caffyn said. “They were the directors of a mining company who went to Calicx II from the neighbouring planet, Calicx III, seeking mineral wealth in the soil. The government ordered them to resettle the township. So they put every man, woman and child onto a ship, to send them to the farming colony on Calicz IV. The journey would take four weeks, they said, but when they arrived they would be on a paradise planet where crops grew easily in fine weather, and rivers ran fresh and clean, not like the desert world they were leaving. But the company used an old ship, and they didn’t check its safety certificates. Two days into the journey there was a radiation leak. Everyone aboard died painfully and slowly. The ship was quarantined in space because it wasn’t even safe to land. And when everyone was dead they blasted it to atoms.”
“That’s terrible,” Gwen said. “I am sorry. But why… what does it have to do with us? I’ve never heard of your planet. None of us have. Our scientists have not even identified any other planet that sustains life in the whole universe.”
“This is true. Your people are primitive. That is why this place was chosen to exile the ones responsible. They each claimed to be personally innocent. But the judge ruled them collectively responsible…”
“Yes, we call it corporate liability,” Gwen told them. “We’re not THAT primitive. So…”
“So they were found guilty, and should have been vaporised. That is the penalty for murder in the Calicx system. But the court was lenient. It has long been suspected that political influence was exerted. A rich, powerful company being held responsible for the deaths of mere peasants… They ‘died’ only so far as their knowledge of who they once were was erased. They were exiled on this planet with new identities. They didn’t even know each other, apart from the mate they were paired with for ease of dispersal. They were left here, believing they were humans, to live out the rest of their lives.”
Mrs Caffyn sobbed. Mr Caffyn gave a sarcastic laugh.
“They were allowed to live out their lives. Our families weren’t. My children and their children, all perished in agony.”
“For ten years we fought an appeal. We fought for justice. For the deaths of those who had caused us so much pain. At last, we were granted it. The death penalty was retrospectively applied. We were given leave to apply it. The dark soul within us was allowed to separate and carry out the sentences.
“Yes… but…” Gwen knew she was repeating herself. “But… NO. That’s not right. I’m sorry for what happened. But on this planet, that would NEVER be allowed. Appeals sometimes DO impose longer sentences, but to impose a DEATH PENALTY after all that time, NO. That’s not right.”
“Your primitive views do not signify,” said Mr Caffyn. “We were chosen from among the relatives of the victims to come and carry out the sentence. We identified the condemned. We tried to ensure that no innocent would be harmed. That is why we tried to bring all of them here. All came but the two which I dealt with separately. You and your mate were a complication. But we meant for you to be unharmed. Except now… I am sorry…”
“Sorry for what?” Gwen asked.
“Sorry that we must now destroy the evidence. You know too much. We must destroy everything.”
“But…” She thought about telling them that nobody, apart from her friends at Torchwood, would believe it anyway. But it was too late. She stared in horror as Mr Caffyn’s eyes glowed again and the ‘shadow’ from within him – the dark soul as he called it – enveloped his body. Mrs Caffyn screamed a shrill, cold, theatrical scream as she did the same. Gwen saw their ‘Human’ bodies within the shadow begin to smoulder as she backed away in terror. She saw the two figures turn into Human-shaped fireballs. The one that had been Mr Caffyn rose up from the ground and glided around the room, setting light to the curtains, the soft furnishings. Mrs Caffyn – or whatever her name might have been where they came from – ran for the stairs. Everything she touched began to smoulder and burst into flames. The stairs burnt as she ran up them.
“I am sorry,” said a hoarse, dry voice that emanated from the fireball that had been Mr Caffyn. “Go now, while you have your life.”
“But Rhys is up there,” she screamed. She ran to the stairs, but they were already alight. She couldn’t get up that way.
“Gwen!” She turned as a familiar voice called her name. The front door burst open as Owen applied the patent alien lock-buster they used when there was no time for the subtlety of the alien lock-picking device. Jack ran in and pulled her out of the way as burning ceiling tiles began to melt onto the floor, setting fire to the carpet.
“Rhys is upstairs,” she told him. “He’s….”
“Owen, get her out,” Jack said, thrusting her into Owen’s arms. “Call the fire brigade, if they’re not already on their way. Gwen, what floor, what number?”
“3c, the top floor,” she answered. “But you can’t!”
“Top floor! It would be,” he grinned as he took off his greatcoat. “Look after that. I don’t want it scorched.” Then he ran for the burning stairs. He ran through the flames as if they weren’t there, though before he reached the first landing and turned out of sight Gwen was certain he was hurting.
“Come on,” Owen said, taking her by the hand. There WAS already the sound of a siren carrying on the cold night air as it got closer, but as they looked back at the hotel and saw how quickly the fire had taken hold, they knew it couldn’t get there in time.
“I don’t think that hotel has passed its fire safety certificate,” Owen commented as they stood by the SUV, parked on the other side of the promenade. “It shouldn’t have gone up THAT fast.”
“It can when there are a pair of alien fireballs setting it alight,” Gwen answered with a fearful sob in her voice. Owen held her tightly but there was little comfort he could offer as they watched the fire tender arrive and set to work, police and ambulance also arriving, the first to keep back the gathering crowds evacuated from neighbouring buildings, the second for any casualties of the fire that was spreading rapidly. She sobbed uncontrollably. Rhys and Jack were both in that inferno. She couldn’t be comforted until both were out of there.
Which one do you want more? Her inner voice taunted her. Your dull, everyday boyfriend or the exciting, dashing hero you’re secretly in love with.
I want them BOTH alive,” she told the inner voice. “I don’t want to choose.”
Then she saw them. Jack walked out of the burning building, his clothes burnt rags, his face and hair burnt. He was carrying Rhys over his shoulder in a ‘fireman’s lift.’ He didn’t let anyone help him. He walked across the promenade to where Owen and Gwen waited. He put Rhys down on the ground gently before he, himself, collapsed.
“Jack!” Gwen screamed and ran to him. Owen began CPR on Rhys, and she heard him say he was ok. He had inhaled some smoke, but he was otherwise unharmed. She was relieved.
But Jack was….
Jack was hurt. He had deep burns all over his body. One side of his face was unrecognisable. He breathed one ragged breath and looked up at her, but he couldn’t even speak. She put his greatcoat over his body as she turned to see the paramedics hovering, wanting to get Rhys into the back of their ambulance. She cried with relief as she saw him stand up and WALK to it, a little unsteadily, but on his own two feet.
“Go with him,” Owen told her. “He needs you. I’ll look after Jack.”
“Yes,” she said. She felt a little guilty. She should have been beside Rhys to begin with. But Owen WAS looking after him and Jack needed SOMEBODY.
As she got into the ambulance she looked back to see Owen holding Jack’s greatcoat while the paramedics put him onto a stretcher and into a second ambulance. Owen didn’t look worried. Gwen wasn’t sure. One of these days the man who wasn’t supposed to be able to die just MIGHT. And this could be the time.
No, she whispered, holding back her tears. No, I want them both. I don’t want to have to choose.
Rhys was confirmed to be suffering no more than smoke inhalation and some minor burns. He was made comfortable in a hospital bed. Gwen made sure he was sleeping soundly and safely – he was snoring, that was a good sign. Then she went to find Owen. She needed to know for sure.
She gasped with joy when she saw Jack in the waiting room with him. He had found some unburnt clothes somewhere. His face ws washed and his hair combed. He was drinking coffee as if nothing had happened. He was talking to Owen about how they were going to cover up the deaths of Daniel Cassidy and his wife so that aliens were not suspected to be connected with it. Business as usual at Torchwood.
“You could have died!” Gwen cried as she hugged him, glad to feel his strong arms around her shoulders as he reciprocated. “You could have died… this time.”
“The paramedic in the ambulance nearly did when he sat up and asked where his coat was!” Owen told her.
“Never mind that,” Jack said as if he had suffered nothing but a headache. “Sit down and have a cup of coffee. It’s from a machine, but it’s not bad.”
Gwen sat. It WASN’T bad coffee. Jack sat next to her as she told her side of what had happened.
“Shit!” Owen exclaimed as it fell into place. “Of course! Agatha Christie! That old film – where a bunch of people come to this house on an island, and one by one they’re bumped off. They’re all guilty of something or other and have got away with it…”
“And Then There Were None.” Jack supplied the title. Neither of his colleagues were THAT familiar with those old black and white movies. He had lived through the time when they were the main feature at the cinema. “In the original book everyone dies. In the movie, there ARE two people who are innocent and there by accident. They survive.”
“Lucky us,” Gwen said as she sipped her coffee and thought that she would never be able to watch an Agatha Christie film again after this!