Gwen looked at Jack. He was concentrating on driving. It WAS raining very hard, and it was dark. He NEEDED to concentrate. But even so, she knew he was deliberately NOT talking to them.
“Jack,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. But…”
“Don’t blame Gwen,” Owen said down the communicator where he had been listening to the conversation from his own car in the rear of the convoy of two behind the SUV. “We’ve ALL been thinking the same thing. That’s why we asked Gwen to look him up. To make sure he was on the level.”
“THAT’S the point,” Jack replied coldly. “What the fuck gives any of you the right to think ANYTHING about my private life? Do I question yours? When the two of you were having your bit on the side and sniggering about it all around Hub – when you broke up and the rest of us were walking on eggshells around both of you and it could have screwed the whole team – I never said a word. I let you work it out for yourselves. Ianto, Alun! I know you’re listening, too. Have I EVER come between the two of you?”
There was an embarrassed silence from the occupants of the middle car.
“None of us were shagging an MI5 agent, a MARRIED MI5 agent who is obviously only trying to get information about Torchwood,” Owen pointed out.
“He’s NOT,” Jack answered.
“Not what?” Owen retorted. “Not married or not trying to get information?”
Gwen shifted uneasily in the passenger seat of the SUV and wished SHE was in one of the other cars, a bit further away from Jack’s seething anger. He was pissed off at all of them, but she was the one in the immediate fall out zone, and she really didn’t want to be.
“He’s not trying to get information about Torchwood. He has NEVER asked me anything. He hasn’t tried to rifle my pockets when my pants are off, look at the texts on my mobile… And I’ve never tried to do the same to him. And he’s NOT married. He’s divorced. I know about that. He showed me the pictures of his kids. He hasn’t seen them for two years. The ex took them to live in southern Ireland. She left him because of his job. She couldn’t stand the uncertainty of it, the constant need for secrecy.”
“Are you SURE?” Alun asked him. “Jack, he could have just told you that. MI5… it’s their job… making up cover stories.
“He’s right,” Gwen ventured. “Maybe…”
“NO!” Jack cut her off with an angry exclamation. “No, he’s on the level. And in future stay out of my private life. All of you. Just because Torchwood gives you access to information, doesn’t mean you have to…”
“We were thinking of you. To protect you… from being hurt…” Gwen began.
“I don’t need anyone to protect me. And if I get hurt… I’m a grown up. I make my own choices…”
“If anyone is INTERESTED,” Toshiko’s voice called from her desk at the Hub where she was monitoring the situation. “The UFO is moving rapidly south-south-west. You’re on a direct intercept with it.”
“You mean we’re going to crash into it?” Gwen asked in alarm.
“No, silly,” Toshiko answered her. “You’re on the road. It’s in the sky. Or it is at the moment. There must be something wrong with it. It’s losing height far too fast for a controlled landing in a ship of those sort of dimensions. It’s going to crash somewhere ahead of you.”
“If it hard lands out here, in the middle of nowhere, then it’s no threat to planet Earth,” Owen commented. “We just have the joy of picking up mangled and crispy burnt pieces of alien and alien ship in the middle of the night. I vote we call U.N.I.T. and let them do the dirty work.”
“Over-ruled,” Jack answered him. “It won’t hurt you to get your hands dirty, Owen Harper. Same goes for the rest of you.”
“Let’s hope it soft lands then,” he answered. “Then we just arrest the buggers and bring them back to the hub for interrogation. That could be fun, too!”
“Just in case we have a fight of it,” Jack said in a rather less emotive cadence. “Let’s get back into focus. We’re a team, and I don’t want to lose any of you. Keep your weapons where you can reach them in a hurry.”
Gwen gave a soft sigh of relief. The unpleasantness was behind them. At least for now. Jack was the Captain again, focussed on the job they had to do. His grievances were buried - or at least set aside for now.
“There it is,” Ianto called. “Jack, Gwen, do you see it?”
“Couldn’t miss it,” Jack answered. The road ahead glowed with the light of the craft that came lower and lower as they headed towards it. Jack slowed the SUV. Behind him, Alun and Owen matched his speed. It was almost surreal as their ground vehicles approached the oncoming spaceship. They were going to pass under it in a few moments, with barely feet to spare as it lost altitude.
The SUV passed under it, and so did Alun and Ianto’s car.
“What the hell was that!” Gwen shrieked as a bright light flashed behind them. Jack stopped the SUV. Alun had already braked. All four of them jumped out of the two cars, their weapons at the ready. They were in time to see Owen’s car bathed in an eerie green beam of light from the ship. Jack pulled his gun and started to approach cautiously. The others did the same.
Then the light snapped off, and the spaceship took off vertically, so fast it was a moving dot in the night sky before they realised what it had done. Gwen was the first to run to Owen’s car. She yanked open the driver’s door.
“Owen, are you all right?” She began. Then, to her surprise, Jack pulled her away from him. He had his gun out and was pointing it at Owen.
“Get out of the car, slowly,” he said. Keep still. Keep your hands where I can see them, and don’t DO anything until I tell you.”
“Come on!” Owen protested. “I nearly pissed myself when that thing caught me. Keeping still isn’t an option…”
“Ok, that sounds like you,” Jack conceded as he used his mysterious and multi-functional wristlet to do a body scan of Owen. “As far as I can tell, it IS you.”
“Who were you expecting?” Gwen asked. “Or WHAT?”
“Absolutely bloody anything,” Jack answered. “He was scanned by an alien ship. They could have substituted him for a shapeshifter… taken over his mind…”
“Excuse me,” Owen cut in. “Urgent need to pee…”
“Go on, then.” Jack nodded, satisfied. He turned his scanner on the car. There was a slight residual trace of gamma particles, the active component of scanner beams. It looked like Owen had been selected as the token member of the Human race by aliens who wanted to know what made them tick.
If they were just cataloguing species, that was ok. Although it would have been polite to ask. But if this was some way of finding out the vulnerabilities of Humans, prior to an invasion, then that was another matter.
“Jack,” Toshiko said over the communicator. “There’s no trace of the ship, now. I think it left the atmosphere.”
“Just dropped in to scare the crap out of Owen?” Jack wondered aloud.
“Just the piss,” Owen called out from behind a tree. “I’ve got the crap under control.”
“Too much information, thanks, Owen,” Gwen replied.
“Either way, that makes no sense. But there’s sod all we can do now.” Jack looked at the ordinary wristwatch on his other arm. The illuminated dial told him it was past midnight. And it had taken them two hours to drive this far out into the South Wales countryside following up the seventh UFO sighting in the area in as many days. “Toshiko, go home. There’s nothing else we can do tonight. When Owen’s done scaring the squirrels we’ll do the same.”
“We just drive back to Cardiff?” Ianto asked. “After we came all this way?”
“Yes,” Jack answered with a hint of impatience. “Sod off home. Have a lie in tomorrow, if you feel you deserve one. Just try to get in some time before lunch!”
“Too bloody right,” Owen said, yawning theatrically. “We should get bonuses for working unsocial hours.”
They all went back to their cars. Gwen sat in the passenger seat of the SUV, hoping that Jack was feeling generous enough to drop her off at her flat before he went wherever he planned to spend what was left of the night. She was too tired to go all the way back to the Hub for her own car and then drive home.
To her relief, Jack said he WOULD take her home first. Then before he started up the SUV he speed dialled a number on his mobile.
“Garrett, keep the bed warm. I’m going to be there a little after two.” He smiled at the reply. “Yes, I think we DO deserve a lie in tomorrow. In fact, I think for once I’ll take the morning off. I’ve had it up to here with Torchwood today!”
“Jack…” Gwen tried to say as he secured his seatbelt and started the engine. He had said all that deliberately, to show her that he DID still have an issue with them all about Garrett.
“Don’t say anything,” he replied. “I don’t want to hear it. Just sit there quietly until you’re home with your man. And then I’m going to mine. And that’s the end of it.”
Gwen said nothing. She sat still and quiet and watched the drizzle in the headlights ahead of them. What else could she do? It was the most uncomfortable two hours she had ever spent in Jack’s company. And she knew it was all her fault. She had run the background check on Jack’s lover. Ok, the others had asked her to do it, but she was the one ultimately responsible. And she hated herself enough as it was. She didn’t want him to hate her too.
“Please forgive us,” she thought, risking a glance sideways at Jack and seeing the muscles in his neck twitching with the effort to control his feelings in her presence. “Jack, please forgive us.”
Beth let herself into the Tourist office under the boardwalk at a little after 8.30. She had never been told exactly what her working hours were, but she usually got in about then. She would get a coffee while it was still quiet and then get on with some admin while the Torchwood team arrived one by one, some using the office, greeting her with a good morning, some coming down the strange pavement lift that she still hadn’t plucked up the nerve to use on her own. It was too scary when you looked down from the top. Sometimes they arrived through other entrances she didn’t know about. Secret underground tunnels.
She was sure that Jack had some way of materialising in his office. That, or he never left it.
Anyway, they would all be arriving, soon. A new day at Torchwood, the best job she had ever had, with the nicest people she had ever worked with. She happily made her coffee and drank it while watching the CCTV images of the Plas outside and of different parts of the Hub inside.
She saw Owen arrive. He used the lift and went to his workstation. She put aside her coffee and turned to balancing the petty cash, marvelling at how a secret organisation that monitored alien activity still needed to buy rubber bands, paper clips, drawing pins – and lots of coffee!
She glanced again at Owen, hard at work down there. She thought she’d make him a cup of coffee. Whatever he was doing, it had to be important. He was a clever man, a doctor. But he could still use a cup of coffee in the morning.
Toshiko reached the boardwalk at half past nine. A bit later than usual, because she HAD been tired when she got home last night, and Etsuko had been fractious and hard to settle. Anyway, Jack did say the others were going to have a lie in, so it wouldn’t matter so much.
She carried the carry cot down the steps to the lower level where the tourist office entrance was. Then she noticed something not right.
The door was wide open, as if somebody had gone through it in a hurry. She ran, pushing the pram along in front of her.
The front office was empty. No sign of Beth. Some of the papers on the desk were blown about by the wind that came in the open door. It blew the bead curtain across the back room where Beth made her coffee, but that didn’t bother her so much as the fact that the concealed entrance behind the rack of guides to Snowdonia was wide open.
She closed the outer door and pushed Etsuko’s pram into the back room and then drew her gun as she approached the entrance of the inner sanctum of the Hub.
Jack ran down the stairs. The lift was too slow. He burst through the open bulkhead door and clattered noisily across the walkway, raising an indignant squawk from Myfanwy. Toshiko was at her workstation, the baby sleeping at her side. He noted that she was studying pictures from the internal CCTV. Alun was at Gwen’s desk with some kind of overlay on a map of the immediate area of Cardiff. He ran past them both without a word as he headed for his office.
Beth was lying on the sofa against the back wall. She was barely recognisable as Beth beneath the blood and bruises. She looked as if she’d been in the ring with a heavyweight boxer. Both her eyes were blackened and swollen, there was an ugly cut down one cheek. Her mouth was swollen and bleeding. Owen was carefully rebuttoning her blouse over a stomach and chest that was black and blue from being punched hard. Gwen cleaned the open wounds on her face. Ianto held her hand, which seemed to be a necessary service right now.
She was doing her best not to cry, Jack noted.
“Is she…” he began, then wondered what to say next. “Is she ok” was a stupid question. She clearly wasn’t. She wasn’t on her way to hospital, so perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it looked. But still…
“She’s better than it looks,” Owen replied in an oddly chilly voice. “Nothing broken, thank God. No internal damage. But she’s bruised and cut all over. It’s a wonder she hasn’t got a cracked skull or a ruptured spleen. The bastard laid into her…” Owen stood up and turned to Jack, almost, but not quite, out-staring him. “And where the fuck were you, Captain? Any other day, you’re here, like you’re joined to this place by an invisible rope. If you’d been here, you could have protected her. But you were off shagging your pet spy.”
“Owen,” Gwen cut in. “That’s not fair. He didn’t know. And we WERE all late in today. We’re all to blame, if he is.”
“He’s more to blame. He should have protected her. She’s not an agent. She’s a receptionist. She types…”
Jack ignored the accusations. It wasn’t fair to blame him, but he didn’t intend to argue about it right now. He went to Beth. Close up she looked even worse. His stomach churned as he thought about how much punishment her fragile body had taken. If he could have taken every blow for her he would have done.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he told her, touching her cheek gently, avoiding the bruised part. “I am so sorry.”
“I still love working here,” she assured him. “I got stabbed once in the dentist’s office. A customer panicked and grabbed a drill piece…”
“Yeah, dentistry is a dangerous job,” Jack answered her. “But this shouldn’t have happened here. I’ll get the bastard. I promise you that.”
“Jack… it was…” She groaned and swooned back onto the pillow that Ianto had put under her head.
“She needs rest, boss,” Ianto told him. “Besides, it’s all on the CCTV. Toshiko’s collating it now.”
“All right. You look after her. I’ll…” He looked around. Owen had walked away. He seemed agitated. And Jack noticed he avoided looking at anyone else as he headed downstairs to his lab.
“He’s upset,” Gwen said.
“We all are,” Jack answered. “Beth attacked inside the Hub…”
“It’s more than that. Go and look at what Toshiko has. It’s… Just go and look. You’ll see why Owen’s upset.”
Gwen turned and sat with Beth, too. There was probably something more productive she and Ianto could have been doing. But then again, maybe not. Beth needed them both.
“Are you holding it against me, too?” Jack asked as he approached Toshiko’s workstation.
“I’m not blaming anyone,” she answered. “Though it IS true that any other day, SOMEBODY would have been here. She wouldn’t have been on her own.”
“Ianto said you had something on the CCTV…”
Toshiko nodded and pressed several keys faster than his eye could follow. “I’ve cut two frames in three to speed it up. It’s a bit jerky but you don’t miss anything.”
Jack watched the CCTV pictures that showed Owen arriving to work down the pavement lift. He noted that it was just after 9.45 when he got there. Not bad, Jack thought, for somebody who was moaning last night about wanting a lie in. He watched Owen sit down at his desk and begin accessing files.
Everything seemed normal for about ten minutes. Then Beth came down to him with a mug of coffee. She offered it to him and then drew back suddenly. She said something to him and then threw the cup, coffee and all, at his face. The mug bounced back, smashing on the floor as the hot coffee scalded his face.
Except it wasn’t Owen’s face! It wasn’t anyone’s face. If Human faces were manufactured on an assembly line, and this one had missed the finishing processes then it would have been about right. It was as blank as a shop window dummy, but it wasn’t plastic. Not even living plastic – and there was a huge file about THAT in the database. It WAS living flesh. But it wasn’t Human. And it definitely wasn’t OWEN.
Beth backed away but the creature was faster than her. It grabbed her and threw her across the room. But that wasn’t the end of it. It strode after her and punched and kicked viciously until it was sure she wasn’t moving. Then it looked around and snarled in a way that reminded Jack of the Weevils, except the mouth that opened was a dark void inside, with no teeth, tongue, palette of any kind.
It turned and ran for the open bulkhead door. Toshiko had compiled pictures from the other cameras that showed it running up the stairs and out through the tourist office. It paused in the office and shimmered slightly as it reformed its face to resemble Owen again, then ran again. Toshiko had been able to follow it all the way across Roald Dahl Plas on the external cameras.
“I lost it there,” she said. “It didn’t show up on any of the traffic cams. It might have gone down back streets that aren’t covered by the cameras.”
“Well, it wasn’t Owen, was it? You saw the face. You saw what it did to Beth when she disturbed it.”
“Last night,” Alun said from the desk where he was working. “The aliens didn’t just scan Owen. They ‘copied’ him, somehow?”
“Looks like it,” Jack answered. “Not just his body, but his memories, too. Where he works… how to use the lift…”
“Beth is sleeping,” Ianto said as he stepped out of the office. “I’m going to change all the passwords and access codes and the electronic locks. I know that should have been my first priority, but Beth…”
“I’ll help you,” Jack said. “Sooner that’s done, the better.” The two of them found chairs at Owen’s workstation and pushed aside the assorted junk. They worked together quickly. It was a long job. Electronic codes and passwords and pulses operated every door in the hub except for the toilets. Every single one of them had to be changed.
And yes, it SHOULD have been Ianto’s first priority. Internal security had always been his responsibility even when he ostensibly ‘ran’ the tourist office and made coffee. But Jack didn’t blame him for putting Beth first. Even though he had chosen Alun as his lover, he still cared for her as a friend. Jack understood that. He just hoped the delay hadn’t cost them any more dearly. If the aliens now had remote access to Torchwood….
“I think we’ve closed the door in time,” Ianto said at last. “But I’ve found which files the alien accessed before Beth disturbed it. If you want to…”
Jack looked at the list and swore. Then he stood up quickly and went to the armoury. Ianto saw him load his revolver and then pick up a modern automatic pistol to go with it. He slotted a full magazine into it.
“I’m going out,” Jack said. “I’ll be back… later…”
“Going where?” Ianto asked. “You’re expecting trouble. That’s why you’ve taken a gun. But you’re going alone…”
“I’m expecting a LOT of trouble,” he said. “But I’ll deal with it.”
He said nothing else. Ianto watched him go then turned back to the file list. Jack didn’t even have to open the files. Just the sight of one of the filenames had been enough.
Ianto stood up. He, too, went to the armoury and loaded an automatic. Then he turned and ran after Jack. He was already driving away in the SUV by the time he got there, but Ianto got into his own car. He pressed a button next to the Satnav that tuned into the homing beacon in the SUV. He followed Jack’s route easily.
“Ok, what was all that about?” Owen demanded as he climbed the steps from his lab.
“Jack went somewhere. Ianto went after him,” Toshiko answered. “They BOTH have guns.” She was also monitoring the whereabouts of the SUV's homing beacon. “They’re both heading towards Whitchurch,” she added.
“Keep an eye on them,” Owen said. “See if you can figure out what they’re up to.”
“Ok. But… Owen… Look… nobody blames you. You should know that. That thing… it could have copied any one of us. You just happened to be… Beth doesn’t blame you. She knows it wasn’t….”
“You sure about that?” Owen asked. “What if I WAS the alien, still?”
Tosh remembered his response when she phoned and told him he was needed urgently, and the way he rushed to the hub, the way he had looked after Beth so tenderly and gently. The way he had, nevertheless, been so angry at the one responsible for her injuries.
“I know you, Owen,” She answered. “That thing might have copied your face, but it couldn’t copy YOU.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said.
“Jack! Telephone,” Gwen called from the office above the sound of the phone ringing.
“Jack’s gone out,” Owen called back. “I’ll take it.” He strode into the office and grabbed the receiver. He identified himself as the deputy director of Torchwood and listened to the message.
“Ok,” he said, finally. “I’ll be right there.” He put down the phone. “Gwen, with me. Alun… you’re in charge. Look after the ladies. Keep your gun handy just in case…”
“I can look after myself,” Toshiko protested. “And I’ve been here longer than he has. Do you think because I’m a woman I don’t count?”
“Ok, ignore me. I’m a male chauvinist pig. Just… look after each other and if anyone turns up that looks like me and isn’t, shoot the bastard.”
Toshiko watched him and Gwen go then turned and glanced at Etsuko. She was sleeping through all the drama as usual. She looked at the mood pebbles on her desk. They were a darker shade of muddy brown as they soaked up all the tension. They were like an emotional barometer. Except today they were surplus to requirements. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Ianto caught up with Jack as he turned the SUV onto the housing estate. He parked his car behind the SUV, which in turn was parked behind a police car. Jack barely broke his stride as he ducked under the police incident tape around the front of the three bedroom semi with garage. Ianto did the same. Neither were challenged. Walk right in as if you have a right to be there, Jack always said.
“Gloria!” Jack called as he recognised the DCI in charge of the case.
“I’ve been here three minutes,” she said. “How did YOU know…?”
“How many dead?” Jack asked ignoring her question.
“Two… Mr and Mrs Talfryn, we think. I haven’t had time to positively check ID’s yet.”
“There are three teenage girls… their foster children…”
“There are no dead children,” DCI Swanson assured him. “If there were, I wouldn’t be wasting time talking to you. I don’t even know why you’re here. This is a murder scene, Jack. Nothing sinister. Leave it to us.”
She turned and walked back towards the house. Jack started to follow her but Ianto stopped him.
“Jack,” he said to him. “It’s eleven-thirty on a Friday morning. They’ll be at school.”
“Shit!” Jack looked at Ianto, then back at DVI Swanson, then he turned and ran to the SUV. Ianto was ready for him this time and ran faster, getting to the driver’s seat first. It was the surest way of making sure Jack couldn’t go off on his own.
“Ok,” he said as he fastened the passenger side seatbelt. “St. Fagan’s High School… Quickly.”
“Three teenage girls?” Ianto queried as he checked the route on the Satnav. “Why?”
“Two ordinary Human girls who just happened to be fostered by Mr and Mrs Talfryn. One princess from a planet in the Alpha quadrant you would never be able to pronounce. She was left in our care when she was a baby. When I say OUR, I mean Torchwood. We promised to protect her until she was of age. That file… It was in case anything happened to me… or if I had to go… anywhere. Owen was the only one who should have been able to open it. He’s been here the longest after me. If the bastards had scanned you or Alun, or one of the girls, they’d have got nowhere. They got lucky. And now…. God damn it we were all stupid. We went rushing out there, chasing UFOs. It was a ruse, to get one of us in their sights. And now they have all the information they need to kill Adele.”
“They went to all that trouble to get to a teenage girl?”
“She’s not just a teenage girl. She’s not just a princess. She’s also their spiritual leader, their living goddess. Like… you know… Emperor of Japan or…”
“Dalai Llama?” Ianto suggested. “And somebody wants her dead… Wicked step uncle, grand vizier type of thing?”
“Sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it?” Jack admitted.
“From a man who can’t die, who was born in the 51st century, to the guy whose girlfriend was a Cyberman,” Ianto noted dryly. “Far-fetched would have to be VERY far for us. But down on planet hard cold reality – we’re armed to the teeth and heading towards a school full of children, which might already have been infiltrated by aliens who are also armed. How do we resolve that without traumatising a classroom full of kids?”
Jack didn’t say anything. He reached for his mobile phone and called the school. He told the headmaster he was DCI G Swanson and he was calling because Mr and Mrs Talfryn had been killed in a car accident. He asked the headmaster to take the three foster children to his office and wait until he arrived to break the news to them.
Owen looked through the grill at the alien sitting in the police cell. It was the spitting image of him, except that he’d changed his clothes since last night and the alien hadn’t.
“What was he arrested for?” he asked.
“Assaulting a police officer,” replied the custody sergeant. “When he was fingerprinted the computer flagged him with a code 777 - Torchwood. So we called you. Is he… your twin or something.”
“Or something. Open it up. We’ll take him off your hands.”
“I don’t think…”
“Obviously you don’t,” Owen answered. “Or you’d know that Torchwood has priority over any prisoner with a 777 flag. We’ll take him.”
The custody sergeant decided he wasn’t paid enough to argue and opened the door. Owen took a set of electronic cuffs from his pocket.
“This one goes on your wrist,” he said, slipping one over the aliens’ arm. “This one goes on mine. If you move more than five feet away from me, you get enough volts to power my wide screen TV for a year. You understand?”
The alien nodded and walked out of the cell flanked by Owen and Gwen. They brought it to the car and put it in the back seat. They drove off back towards the Hub.
“We’ve got a nice cell for you,” Owen said. “You’ll like it. And later, I’m going to give you a kicking like you gave our friend. And then our boss is going to kick you some more until you tell us what’s going on.”
“Owen!” Gwen protested. “Haven’t you ever read P.A.C.E.?”
“No,” he replied, “I’m not a copper, and the Hub isn’t a cop station. We can do what we fucking like to scum like that.”
“But…” Gwen began. She glanced around at the alien, then she gave a shrill cry.
“Fucking hell, that WAS my eardrum,” Owen remonstrated.
“Stop the car. He’s melting!”
Owen stopped the car and turned. The alien didn’t look like him any more. It looked like a Human shaped candle that was going runny.
“It’s ACID!” Owen yelled as bits of melted alien dripped on the upholstery and hissed. “Gwen, get the fuck out of the car…”
Gwen didn’t need to be told twice. Owen was already diving out of the driver’s seat side. They ran for it as the acid ate through the back of the car until it reached the petrol tank. Then what was left of the car exploded.
“Shit!” Owen swore. “I LIKED that car.”
“Do you think we got here before the alien?” Ianto asked as they stepped inside the school entrance and were assailed by the combined smell of old books, disinfectant and gym bags.
“Yes,” Jack answered, checking his wristlet. “The aliens might have travelled thousands of light years, but we know the streets of Cardiff better than them.”
And he was right. The lifesigns monitor told him there were 250 humans in the building, two half Oolon Collulans who probably didn’t even know that one of their parents was from another planet, and one Princess from the Alpha quadrant.
“This way,” he said, finding his bearings. “Poor kids. This is going to be hard on all three of them. The Talfryns were a nice couple. Great with kids. They’d been fostering for twenty years.”
They found the headmaster’s office and stepped inside. The headmaster was sitting behind his desk. The three girls were sitting quietly on chairs. They all looked around as Jack and Ianto entered. The eldest of the girls stood up as she saw Jack.
“Mr Harkness… Why are you here?”
“I’m sorry, Adele,” he told her. “I’m afraid I have to find you a new foster home. I’m going to take you somewhere for a couple of hours, and my friend here will go and get your clothes and things… But it’s best you don’t go back to the house.”
“Oh!” The girl currently registered at the school as Adele Talfryn, although she had had many other surnames in her young life, ran to him. He hugged her as she started to cry.
“I’m really sorry, sweetheart.” He looked at the other two girls. It took a few more seconds before they realised what he meant. Then they, too, burst into tears.
“We should get them out of here as soon as possible,” Ianto reminded him.
“Yes, I know,” he answered. “They’ll have to come back to the Hub for now. It’s the safest…”
Jack’s wristlet beeped urgently. Two of the aliens they sought were right outside the door.
“Girls, headmaster… get down behind that big filing cabinet and keep still. Ianto…. You’re watching my back…”
Ianto crouched behind the headmaster’s desk, keeping his gun trained on the door. Jack stood pressed against the wall beside the door, his gun at the ready, too. They waited.
The door opened. The two aliens came in. They looked Human. They looked like OWEN. The occupants of the space craft had obviously ALL taken his pattern. Jack wondered briefly what they REALLY looked like.
They let the two aliens get into the room fully before Ianto opened fire on one from the front, a classic double tap to the forehead that he had honed in practice with Alun. At the same time, Jack took out the second alien with a point blank bullet in the back of the skull that exited messily at the front, obliterating the Owen Harper features. The two bodies fell to the floor and their blood hissed as if it was acidic, scorching the floor beneath them.
“Shit!” Ianto commented as the acid spread across the floor, burning through the carpet and giving off a noxious vapour.
“Not in front of the children,” Jack said. He looked at his wristlet again. “There’s two more to deal with. They’re at both ends of the corridor out there. We can’t get past them. And…” Jack coughed. The vapour was getting thick in the closed room.
“We’ve got to get them out of here,” he said. “Hang on…” He punched the glass in front of the fire alarm by the door and set it ringing. Soon the corridor outside the headmaster’s office was loud with students and staff making their way to their fire assembly points. “Ianto, go right and take out the one that way. Without traumatising too many kids. Headmaster, girls, you’re with me.”
The aliens must have had some kind of lifesigns monitor, too. Localised, perhaps. That was why they couldn’t locate Adele without the information Torchwood had. But once they found the school the two had come straight to the headmaster’s office.
It meant that, even though the corridor was full of children in the same school uniform the three girls wore, Adele was going to be easy for them to identify. Jack WAS going to have to use his gun in front of the children. There was no way of avoiding it. He wasn’t happy about the idea. Guns and schools weren’t something that went together in Britain in the 21st century. It was one of the good things about living in this time and place.
Ianto walked along steadily, behind a group of girls in aprons who must have been in the middle of a cookery class. He could see the target standing by the door. Another duplicate of Owen. Ianto stopped walking and let the girls and their teacher walk on. Sixteen innocents between him and the target. But once they were gone, the corridor would be clear. Then it came down to who could raise their weapon fastest. Ianto held his gun by his side and hoped that none of the children looked back and saw him before they turned the corner and were gone through the fire exit doors to the playground.
The alien saw him, of course. They made eye contact across the length of floor. Ianto counted the seconds as the last of the children was gone and the corridor was empty. He raised his gun as the alien raised his…
Then the door to the toilets to his left opened and a boy of about fifteen, tall, acne-faced, stepped out. He blocked Ianto’s line of fire as he stared in astonishment at the gun.
“Down!” Ianto pushed the boy to the floor as he fired. The alien fired too, but it was a reflex action as Ianto’s shot pierced his forehead between the eyes. The alien blaster fire destroyed the cabinet containing the inter-schools football cup.
“Was that a terrorist?” asked the startled boy as Ianto helped him up from the floor.
“Something like that,” he answered. “Go on, get out of here. Don’t look at the body. Just run past it.”
The boy nearly did as he said. He ran, but he DID look at the body. Ianto heard his startled cry as he noted that the terrorist was bleeding acid that was disintegrating the body and burning the floor. That was one kid they had failed to avoid traumatising. But all the same, they were getting off lightly so far.
Ianto turned and ran to catch up with Jack. There were still a few more groups of children making for the wider main entrance door. Again, they could easily see the alien standing there, an Owen clone, watching the crowd stream by and glancing at what looked like a very sophisticated wristwatch. Ianto saw him fix his gaze on the girl who walked at Jack’s side. The blonde haired girl called Adele who was so much more than she looked.
Jack and Ianto both saw the alien raise his weapon. They raised theirs. Around them children and teachers alike shrieked as they took in the scene.
“Everyone back down the corridor,” Jack shouted. “Get out the other way. This is nothing to do with you. Keep moving. Headmaster, take the girls.”
“The Princess stays,” the alien demanded as the headmaster took hold of Adele’s foster sisters and ran with the rest of his staff and pupils to the other exit door. “She is the prize I have sought for a decade. You will not stand in my way.”
“But I WILL,” Jack said, and he pushed Adele behind him. “You want her, you have to shoot me, first.”
“That deal is acceptable,” the alien replied and aimed his gun at Jack.
This time a large, multicoloured pottery elephant from the first year craft class suffered the consequences as Ianto and Jack both fired and the alien’s reflex action in its death throes sent a shot wide.
“Is that the lot?” Ianto asked. “Have we got them all?”
“Yes,” Jack answered, looking at his lifesigns monitor. “Aliens dealt with. School fire drill almost complete. Adele… run along and join your class out in the playground for the roll call. I’ll come and get you and your foster sisters in a few minutes.”
Jack and Ianto made their weapons safe and holstered them as they stood and looked at the rapidly disintegrating alien.
“Self-cleaning problem,” he said. “There won’t be anything left of the bodies in a few minutes. The headmaster can tell everyone it was a chemical leak, send everyone home.”
“There was a boy who saw me shoot,” Ianto admitted. “He’ll be telling all his mates by now. It’s too late even to Retcon him – even if we DID that to under sixteens.”
“Doesn’t matter. The parents will believe the chemical leak story,” Jack told him. “Parents do that.”
“Alun traced the ship,” Toshiko said as the team drank coffee together back in the Hub, in what was almost a normal mood for them. “It didn’t leave the atmosphere after all. It came back down at the back of Cardiff Castle in some sort of cloaked mode.”
“I’ll go up there after dark. Send it back into space on auto-pilot and a self destruct code,” Jack said. “There will be an unexpected meteor shower somewhere over the planet tonight.”
“What’s new?” Ianto commented. “What about the girls? Are they all right?”
“They’re in emergency foster care. Security vetted people who are used to taking in kids in traumatic situations,” Jack answered. “They’re as well as we can expect them to be under the circumstances.”
“The way you looked after Adele. She trusted you. Never thought of you as good with kids, Jack.”
“She’s known me since she was a baby. It’s just a miracle she LIKES me. I’m the man who comes and takes her away every time she forms any kind of emotional attachment. It’s a shitty life for her. And a shitty job for me, doing that to her. But she’s safe.”
“What’s to stop them coming again?” Beth asked. Jack turned and looked at her. She was still looking rough, but a good sleep had revived her spirits and she was determined not to be excluded. And she had asked a perfectly sensible question that deserved an answer.
“The ones who want to kill her don’t have much in the way of resources. It takes them ten years to get from the Alpha system to Earth without hyperspace travel. Even if they send another team, it’ll be too late. When she’s twenty-one, her own people will be here for her. She’ll be the ruler and spiritual leader of her planet and they won’t be able to touch her.”
“Two people died,” Alun said. “And Owen lost his car.”
“Is that what they call acceptable losses?” Beth asked. “Like on TV?”
“No,” Jack replied. “Torchwood doesn’t consider any loss acceptable. The Talfryns didn’t deserve that. You didn’t deserve to be beaten up by that scum. Owen didn’t deserve to lose his car, for that matter. But at least he can put in a claim for it. As long as he doesn’t think I’m going to authorise more than £15,000 for a replacement.”
Owen looked as if he might protest about that. His sports car cost considerably more that £15,000 after all. But he remembered the two dead people and shut up.
“It’s all over, then?” Gwen said.
“Nearly.” Jack reached for a pen and wrote something down on a scrap of paper. He slid it towards Gwen. There was a code written on it.
“What is this?” she asked.
“You wanted to know the truth about Garrett. That’s the highest possible level of British Intelligence access code. Beyond the Government, Above the Law. Put that into your computer and you can read his personal and service record. If you still don’t think I can trust him….”
“Have you read it?” Gwen asked.
“I don’t have to. I trust him.” He turned away and went back to his office. He closed the door. Gwen looked at the slip of paper then moved to her workstation. She carefully keyed in the code. She felt the others moving in behind her to look. She pressed the key that brought the encrypted file up on the screen. They read quietly for a long time.
“We should have trusted Jack’s judgement,” Owen admitted when they were done. “The wife was a cow, though. Dumping him in the middle of an assignment like that. Talk about kicking him where it hurts. No wonder he’s finished with women.”
“No wonder he moved to the Cardiff office,” Alun added. “A quiet life.”
“Not if he means to stick with the Captain,” Ianto answered him with a smile. “He wouldn’t know what to do with a quiet life if he had one.” He reached and took the slip of paper from Gwen’s desk, holding it with the tips of his fingers as he lit the other end with a lighter. He dropped it into an empty waste bin and watched it turn to ashes. Then he leaned over Gwen’s shoulder and typed in a code and pressed ‘send’. Gwen watched as the file dissolved away in front of her face and the computer cache was deep wiped of every trace of the password, the text files and images.
“We don’t talk about this,” Ianto said to them all. “Anyone who isn’t clear on that, I can mix up a short term dash of Retcon in the coffee and wipe out the past hour. Jack doesn’t want to know. We don’t need to know. It’s none of our business. It never WAS our business. And we all owe him an apology.”
Gwen stood up from her desk and walked to the office. She went inside. The others watched as she spoke to Jack. He stood up and let her hug him.
“He’s a very forgiving man,” Ianto noted. “Lucky for us.”