Michael watched as Connie poured coffee for them both and put the right amount of sugar and milk in his cup. It felt so very right, as if they had been a couple for years.
If felt right to them. He was aware it didn’t look right to some people. This hotel advertised its function room for Civil Partnership ceremonies, but the receptionist had given them an odd look when they booked in. Apparently an older woman and a younger man was still a talking point in this anything goes society!
If only they knew, he thought wryly. Connie, though she looked a still glamorous fifty-five, was nearer eighty. As for himself, Torchwood in 1908 had estimated his age to be thirty-five. So he was now one hundred and thirty-six in linear time. Or in actual life experience thirty-five years and fourteen weeks. He had lived nearly four months one day at a time as a century passed by. And too few of them had any real joy. That was why he didn’t care what anyone thought about their relationship. This weekend was too precious to care about anything but each other.
“Do you want to look at today’s papers?” Connie asked him. “See if there’s anything you recognise?”
“No,” he answered. “I went through yesterday’s papers at the Hub while I was waiting for you to join me. Some of it was familiar. I recognised all of the children’s television programming. I do exist now. I’m about thirteen. So I probably watch most of it. But the news stories… nothing seems to change. The Middle East! I remember the early 1920s, Palestine, then the forties, Palestine again, and Israel. The 50s, Aden, Saudi Arabia… Iran in the 1970s. Libya in the 1980s. Then it was Iraq… And it all seems to be the same thing over and over again. I can’t work out whether I remember anything or I’ve just seen it all before. I don’t want to look at another newspaper all weekend. I want it to be just you and me.”
“It’s a little pointless anyway, I suppose,” Connie admitted. “Now that we know you’re somewhere out there aged thirteen, it’s obvious that whatever sent you back in time to 1908 won’t happen for at least another twenty years.”
“Jack knows that, of course,” Michael admitted. “He sticks to the arrangement so that you and I can be together.”
“This isn’t quite the arrangement. A whole weekend. Not just a day.”
“Forty-eight hour pass,” Michael joked. “Three nights, two wonderful days with you before I have to report for duty again.”
“Oh, goodness!” Connie exclaimed. “I wonder if that’s a clue? Maybe you’re a soldier in the future. That’s why you thought about forty-eight hour leave?”
Michael thought about that, then shook his head. “No, it doesn’t feel right. I’ve seen a lot of films in my time. Everyone who babysat me over the years thought the latest film might amuse me. During the forties and fifties they were almost always war films. And there was one a few weeks back… Years back I should say. An Officer and a Gentleman. They had a lot of weekend passes.”
“That film was in the cinema in 1982.”
“Yes, that would be about right. It was on one of the satellite channels last night. But we had other things to be doing…”
Connie blushed as she remembered last night. They certainly hadn’t been interested in films when they came into their hotel room, mellowed by good food and a fine bottle of wine at dinner and glad to be alone at last. She certainly hadn’t felt eighty when he took her in his arms. She hadn’t even felt fifty-five. He had made her feel like she was still that young woman who had first fallen in love with him so many years ago.
They had both wondered if it would feel the same. Not the physical part of it. There was no problem there, but the love between them. would it still be the same? They had both been through so much. The years had changed them both, yes, even Michael, for whom the years went by in such a strange way. But yes, their feelings were the same.
Michael reached out to hold her hand across the breakfast table. She remembered the passion of the night before, but just the touch of his hand on hers was as precious. It would be moments like this that she would treasure when they were apart. Their relationship was about passion, it always had been. But it was also about the small, precious moments, ever one of them, every touch, every smile, every sigh.
She stopped that train of thought before it ended up crashing into the sort of romantic fiction she disdained even when she was a young woman with a bit of a ‘pash’ for the handsome mystery man of Torchwood. But it was true that they had to make the most of every moment together. They had so few of them. There was no happy ever after for their relationship. They had these stolen days, few and far apart. And one day, even those would be over. One day she would have to accept that Michael wasn’t hers. he wasn’t even Michael. He was somebody else, with another name, and perhaps other loved ones who he would go back to and learn to love all over again.
But until then…
This time her train of thought was derailed for a different reason. She and Michael were both distracted from each other, as were most of the guests at their breakfast as one of the waiters reached to turn up the widescreen TV that had been quietly broadcasting the morning news programme to those who were interested. The local news bulletin was on now and there was an item that caught the attention of all watching.
“The parents of thirteen year old Matthew Steele, Alan Whitaker and Nathan Edwards will be making a joint appeal for the safe return of their sons in a press conference later today. The three boys disappeared from different parts of Cardiff city in the past week. Nathan went missing on the way home from school yesterday afternoon. They are all the same age, all dark haired and blue eyed, and police are now working on the possibility of a common abductor in all three cases. Volunteers will be handing out leaflets in the city centre today, with pictures of all three boys, in hope of jogging the memory of a possible witness. There is a hotline number, 0800 978 676 if anyone has any information…”
Connie noticed a change in the tone of the conversations around the restaurant as the news item finished and the sound was turned down again. The subject of child abduction and what punishments ought to be dealt to those who did such things was hotly debated.
“Michael?” She turned back to her lover and was shocked by his pale face and stunned expression. “Michael, what is it?”
“Nathan Edwards,” he answered. “Thirteen year old Nathan Edwards.”
“One of the boys who disappeared….”
“I am Nathan Edwards,” Michael said. “Aged thirteen… I recognise myself.”
Jack stood by the hotel window, idly looking out at the view over Cardiff Bay. Connie and Michael sat on the bed, hands clutching nervously. Jack wished he had something to say to them.
His mobile rang and he reached for it quickly. Michael and Connie watched and listened to his side of the conversation, but there were few clues to be had.
“Owen,” he said, finally. “Thanks for your help.” He closed the call and turned to them.
“Owen got into the police reports. They took a DNA sample from Nathan’s bedroom – his hairbrush or something I suppose. They have the results on record. We have Michael’s DNA, obviously. They’re a match. Michael, you were right. You are Nathan Edwards.”
The two of them clutched hands even more tightly.
“I always thought,” Michael said. “When I found out my real name it would be something to celebrate. But…”
“Hardly the way we expected it to happen,” Jack agreed.
“Does this mean…” Connie began. “Does it…”
Jack knew what she was trying to say.
“It means one thing for sure,” he told them. “The police are going to find at least one of the boys – Nathan – alive. Because Michael is here, now, aged thirty-five and a bit. He didn’t die at thirteen.”
“So I’m not going to start fading away or anything?”
“Don’t tell me, one of the team took you to see Back to the Future on your 1985 day out?” Jack smiled faintly. “Doesn’t work that way. Nathan is alive. And he’s going to stay that way. Torchwood are on the case now. He’s going to be home with his mum and dad soon.”
“You’re going to get involved?” Connie asked. “I hoped you would. But it’s not really Torchwood business….”
“I say what’s Torchwood business. And Michael is our responsibility. So Nathan is, too.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Michael asked.
“Do what you planned to do,” Jack answered. “Have a lovely weekend together, enjoy every minute of it and don’t think about anything else.”
“We’ll try to do that,” Michael answered. “Although I can’t help wondering. Jack… three boys… all looking alike. All very nice looking, blue eyes and all that. Do you think… were we….” He shook his head. “I can’t remember anything about my life. If I’d been sexually abused by a pervert at age of thirteen, do you think I would have recollected something?”
“I don’t know,” Jack told him, honestly. “Don’t let that stop you trying to remember any clue to your past. Especially anything that might tell us where you are right now.”
He reached out and took both their hands in his. He didn’t want to make a promise he couldn’t keep. But they needed some reassurance.
“Torchwood are on the case,” he repeated. “Trust us.”
Then he turned and left the room. He walked down the stairs. He felt the need to move his legs, not stand idly in a lift. He thought about the situation as far as they knew it.
The question Michael asked was a disturbing one, the more so because it came as no surprise. From what he had seen of the police operation so far, they, too, were going on the assumption that the boys had been taken by a paedophile. The thought appalled him. He was, he admitted freely, something of a sex maniac. He had done it every way possible, with every combination. But always fully consenting adults of whatever species and whatever gender. The thought of anything else made his blood run cold.
He stepped out of the hotel and walked back towards the Hub around the waterfront. The cool salt air from the Severn estuary blew in his face. It reminded him of the sea air in the village where he grew up, and set him thinking about when he was thirteen years old. He had looked, he recalled, much like Nathan and the other two boys. Dark hair, blue eyes, an innocent face and an innocent mind, a soul yet to be darkened by experience. He had coloured that soul by his own free choice. Nobody had robbed him of his innocence but himself. And not until a good few years later.
Connie and Michael had tried to do as Jack had said. They had tried to carry on the day that they had planned. That mostly involved spending a day in the city both of them were born in as if they were tourists, exploring the old and the new in a Cardiff that was changing year by year.
“It is starting to look like the Cardiff I know,” Michael admitted as they sat in the café in the beautifully restored Norwegian Church, one of the most popular of the tourist attractions on the waterfront. “In 1908… when I found myself thrown back there with no memory of how I got there or where from… I remember walking around the docklands. I was so confused. This church was actually something I found that I recognised. Of course, it was in a different place then. They moved it, didn’t they… in the 1990s. But I somehow recognised it as something that existed in my life. That’s where I was when Torchwood found me. The sailors were kind to me. They gave me tea and let me sit in the corner of their reading room. I remember Norwegian voices all around me. Then English accents – funny, but the people in charge of Torchwood in those days all had ‘educated’ English accents, not Welsh. Or… whatever it is Jack’s accent is meant to be. They looked after me. But I was a curiosity to them. a live specimen that came through the rift. Then they made their deal with me. Cryogenic freezing. One day a year awake to see if anything seems familiar. I saw the city go through so much. World War I began a week later for me. It was so sad. The docks… soldiers going to war. Wounded and dead returning. I remember when I went back to sleep in 1918, I told them not to worry. The war would be over when I talked to them again. They got excited, thinking I had remembered something about myself. But I hadn’t. I suppose everyone knows the dates of the wars. It’s on war memorials and things that we see every day and take for granted. Imprinted on the mind. It was the same in 1939. The one who minded me that day, in the spring of the year. I told him that the war was coming. The papers were all talking of appeasement. But when I woke again… The blitz…”
“I was a girl,” Connie said. “I was evacuated to the country. But I saw it in the papers. So much of Cardiff was hit. Especially around here, the docks, of course.”
“I saw it. Terrible. Torchwood lost a lot of their people. They suffered like everyone else. It was painful. Familiar faces disappeared. The city changed. It kept on changing after the war.”
He stopped. The fifties and sixties had been emotional. First his love for Connie, then the pain of separation. He went back to talking about architecture. It was safer. He talked about emerging from the Hub in the most recent decades to see all the new work being done to make Cardiff into a bright, vibrant, exciting city. When he saw the Millennium Centre for the first time he felt as if he really was coming home, very slowly. Each new building on the waterfront was a piece in his personal jigsaw puzzle.
And yet, it was all just background. He still knew very little about himself.
“We know one thing more now. Nathan…”
“No,” Michael stopped her. “No, I can’t… when you say that name, it means nothing. I’m Michael to you. I always will be Michael to you, Connie, my love.”
“You will always be Michael to me,” she answered. “But try saying it. Nathan Edwards. That’s you. Feel the name. Try to remember something associated with that name.”
He shook his head.
“There’s nothing. And… I think… I think it’s in my subconscious. I don’t think I really want to remember right now. Knowing that Nathan is… it’s been a whole night for him. He must be so scared. I feel as if deep down I don’t want to remember that fear. I’m sorry. I’m such a coward. You must think the worst of me.”
“Nothing of the sort,” she assured him. “But do try. That fear… I know it must be hard. But something as strong as that in your memory. It might be easier to remember than ordinary things. And if you could think of something that Jack could use…”
Michael looked around the café that had replaced the reading room. It was still a place where he felt safe. Remembering a time when he didn’t feel safe while he was here – perhaps it wouldn’t hurt so much that way.
Jack felt proud of his team. They had got straight into the case of the missing boys. They knew as much as the police did in only a short space of time.
Sadly, it wasn’t a lot of help.
“The boys have nothing in common apart from a superficial resemblance – the hair, eye colour,” Toshiko reported as she, Alun and Ianto discussed it around the boardroom table. “They go to different schools, come from different parts of the city –Whitchurch, Leckwith, Llandaff – different social class, support different football teams. They don’t know each other. There’s nothing to link them except that they all went missing within the past few days. That’s why the police are considering them to be all the same case. And I think they’re right. But…”
“Matthew never arrived at school Tuesday morning,” Ianto continued as he spread photographs of the boys around the table. “Alan was on his paper round. The newsagent got worried and drove his route, found his bicycle and bag of papers. Nathan was at football practice with the school team. He was only ten minutes walk from home when he left his mates and went on alone.”
“He plays football.” Jack picked up the picture of Nathan, a school picture of him, in uniform, hair neatly combed. The others knew what Jack was thinking. One more piece in Michael’s puzzle. But it was no help in knowing what happened to him when he was thirteen.
“They all vanished in areas where there are no CCTV cameras,” Alun noted. “People complain about the ‘Big Brother’ scenario. They don’t want to be on camera 24/7. But then something like this happens and you wonder which is the greater evil…”
Beth came in with coffee for them all. She glanced at the pictures and sighed. It was on the radio all about the search for the boys.
“We’ll do it,” she said. “I know we will.”
“Sure we will,” Jack told her. “And the police will take the credit! They always do.” He smiled warmly at her as she turned and went back to her work. Then he sighed as he looked at the accumulated evidence. “We have nothing. Neither do the police. And the clock is ticking. What are we doing?”
“Absolutely sod all,” Ianto answered. “Because there’s sod all to do until we have something more to go on. Gwen is the only one doing anything. She’s out with PC Andy doing the leaflet handout and interviewing shoppers in Queens Arcade. And that’s about the most practical thing any of us could do. Unless we get the paedophile register and go and kick them all where it hurts until one of them talks.”
“Nice idea,” Jack agreed. “But have you seen the list of known paedophiles in Cardiff? We don’t have the manpower.” He sighed in frustration. Connie and Michael, and Beth, bless their hearts, all thought that Torchwood, with its resources, its technology, would be able to get a jump ahead of the police. But their resources and technology weren’t designed to track down missing boys. They were for measuring rips in the fabric of reality or spotting UFOs. There wasn’t much they could actually bring to this investigation that the police weren’t already doing.
“Boss,” Owen appeared at the boardroom door. He was wearing his labcoat. “I think you should take a look at the body I have down there on the slab. It’s not connected with the missing kids, but it’s in the weird shit section.”
“Weird shit goes on,” Jack answered him. “And at least we’re equipped to deal with that.”
As he stood up to follow Owen his mobile phone rang. It was Connie. He listened to what she had to say. “Ok, honey.” He told her. “One of us will be with you in a few minutes.” He turned to Toshiko. “It’s a nice afternoon. Why don’t you take Etsuko for a stroll around to the Norwegian Church and meet our two friends. Connie wants to try something with Michael. Ianto, go with her. And take inventory No. 30456 with you.”
“I’ll keep monitoring the police,” Alun said as they went to their appointed tasks. With something to do, they all looked a lot less defeated. The tension in the air seemed to ease a little.
“What do you have then?” Jack asked as he looked over the railing down into Owen’s autopsy room. He could see a body on the slab. It looked Human from where he was looking, but that proved nothing. He came down the steps for a closer look.
“The police passed this onto us because they’re tied up with the three kids. Have a word with the chief sometime about that, would you, Jack. We’re not their reserve force. But as it happens, this one is interesting.”
Jack regarded the body without undue emotion. He had seen worse, and much that was more immediately labelled as ‘weird shit’. So far it looked like an ordinary autopsy in progress.
“I haven’t even made an incision, yet,” Owen told Jack. “This body was found like this, in a cardboard coffin at the mortuary. It didn’t have the proper paperwork so the alarm was raised. Three others were found in the ‘stock take’. All the same. All with the torso cut open and the ribs cracked to remove the heart. All of which was done while the victim was still alive – and almost certainly conscious. Blood analysis shows no trace of any anaesthetic and high levels of adrenaline. The poor bugger was scared shitless and in agony.”
Jack swore softly and revised his list of cruel and insane things that Human beings did to each other far too often. “Anything else?”
“Yes,” Owen continued. “It was done with surgical precision. Whoever did it, knew what they were doing. But look… the ribs had surgical staples in them and there’s scarring on the abdomen. The heart that was taken out was transplanted into the body at some early date. It’s like… the heart was repossessed.”
“That’s not as dumb as it sounds,” Jack said. “There was a case in America. A crackpot from one of those religions that don’t believe in blood transfusions and transplants, tracked down all the people who received his mother’s organs and took them back. It was very messy. Especially the bone marrow recipient. You don’t want to know…”
“You think that’s what this is about?” Owen asked.
“It’s a theory. And definitely in the weird shit ballpark.” He looked carefully at the face of the dead man. He was old. Maybe seventy or seventy-five. Frail looking, certainly unable to put up much of a fight. He had grey hair that might have been dark once and his eyes were blue. “No identity, of course? And all four are like this?”
Owen nodded and pointed to the cadaver cold storage drawers. Jack opened them one after the other. All four men were of the same age and roughly alike in appearance. All had their hearts removed.
“Who kidnaps four old men and takes their hearts out?” Jack wondered aloud.
“The world is full of sickos,” Owen answered. “Some murder old men, some kidnap young boys. Hang on… I didn’t see that before.”
Jack turned back to the table. Owen was holding up the victim’s arm. He pointed to a pale blue tattoo on his inside wrist. An identity number.
“This man was in a German concentration camp as a child,” Jack said, doing the maths. “Poor bastard. But at least we can identify him. There are people with records of those numbers. I’ll make some calls. And…”
He wasn’t sure what made him think of it, but he looked closely at the old scar tissue that Owen had referred to.
“First successful heart transplant…” he said.
“December 3rd, 1967,” Owen answered as if the date was seared in the inside of his skull. “Doctor Christian Barnard, in Cape Town, South Africa… Successful is a moot point, though. The patient died eighteen days later.”
“1967. Forty two years ago. This scar tissue… from the heart transplant this man had… how old do you reckon it is?”
Owen looked closely. His answer was a guess. But a highly educated one.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was done when he was a juvenile. The way the skin has stretched since… with growth. But that would mean he had a heart transplant in the 1940s.”
“We could be talking about some nasty experiment done to him in the camp? I’d better get that id number traced and find out about him. If we know who he is, it might help us know what happened to him. And there’s nothing I can do for Michael’s case right now. I might as well do what I can for that poor soul.”
Ianto and Toshiko walked along the waterfront with Etsuko in the pram. They looked like a couple out with their baby in the spring sunshine, not two Torchwood agents on a mission. They gave the impression of being relaxed and happy. So did Michael and Connie when they met them. They all sat down together at a picnic table in the grounds of the Norwegian Church and seemed to be four friends having a chat. And for a brief time, as Connie petted the baby and commented on how she’d grown in the month since she last saw her, they were.
Then Ianto reached in his pocket for inventory no. 30456. It looked like a Nintendo DS at a quick glance. But the four of them knew it was a piece of alien technology that was added to the archive in the late 1940s. With a nod to JK Rowling, Ianto and Alun had labelled it the ‘Pensieve’. Because it literally did sieve through the memories of the subject and displayed them on the mini screen. When Ianto and Alun had tested it, they got what looked like a rather grainy porn movie, with the two of them as the stars of the bedroom high jinks. Ianto’s blush as he handed it to Michael went unnoticed.
“Jack tells me that it was tried on you several times in the past,” he said. “It never worked?”
“Yes,” Connie confirmed. “Fergus sat with him for hours three years in a row. We got nothing. But now we’re in the time when Michael actually lived. And we aren’t going to be pressing him for Michael’s memories, but Nathan’s. We thought it might be worth a try.”
“You might have a point,” Toshiko agreed. “But why here? Why not back at the Hub where we can control it?”
“I don’t want control,” Michael answered. “I want to try it in a familiar, pleasant place where I feel safe, where I feel free. Where I’m not scared. Right here, with the open sky and the bay. Not down there in the Hub where I’m a specimen for observation. Here, I might be able to penetrate the fear that’s holding me back.”
“Go ahead,” Ianto told him. “Connie… you prompt him. You know the routine.”
Michael held the ‘pensieve’ in both hands and tried to focus his mind on the memory he didn’t have of when he had lived through this day the first time. Connie sat close to him and he heard her voice talking to him softly.
Or rather not talking to him.
“Nathan,” she said. “Nathan Edwards. Remember, Nathan. Remember this day. You were scared. Of course you were. You didn’t know where you were or why. You were missing your mum and dad. You wanted to go home. Remember that, Nathan. I know you don’t want to, but try.”
“I can’t remember,” Michael answered. “I keep feeling I should. It’s on the edge of my mind. Like a shadow. But I can’t…”
But to his astonishment, that fleeting, edge of his mind, recollection was enough. On the screen in front of him, a shadowy picture formed. It was a dark room, and the figures within were indistinct. But they were there.
He wasn’t cold. If anything the room was stuffy and too warm. But he shivered anyway, from fright. They were all frightened, but they could do nothing to comfort each other. They couldn’t talk. They couldn’t reach out to each other. They were each frightened in their own dark, private way and he could only guess that the two other boys were going through exactly the same feelings of despair and fear as he was.
The other two were already here when he was brought into the room. They shied away from the man who brought him. They had duct tape on their mouths to stop them screaming, and were tied with their hands behind their backs. They were left in the dark for hours and hours. Sometimes they had slept a little. Sometimes they cried, muffled sobs beneath the tape. But there was no point in crying. Nobody would help them. The man that had brought them to this horrible place didn’t care, and the others they had glimpsed, he didn’t know what they wanted, but he was sure it wasn’t good.
They had been fed twice since he was brought in. A sort of porridge that they ate with plastic spoons, their hands unbound and their mouths free for just long enough. Four times, they had been allowed to go to the toilet in a bucket that was brought into the room. The rest of the time they were alone in the dark.
He tried to think how long he had been there. It was hard to tell. He didn’t know how long he had managed to fall asleep for. He didn’t know if it was night or day outside. If the two meals had been supper and breakfast, then it might be some time Saturday morning by now. Or if the two meals were both suppers, it was Saturday night and more time has passed than it felt. Had a whole day gone by?
He was scared. He wanted to go home.
He wanted his mum.
He was thirteen years old. A teenager. He played football. Wanting his mum was soft. He had read a porn magazine that went around the school playground. Crying for his mum was stupid, baby stuff.
But right now, he wanted his mum. He wanted to be hugged by somebody who loved him and told it was all over and he was going to be all right.
He tried not to think about why they had been taken. He was thirteen. He had seen things on TV. Those post watershed American programmes like CSI and Law and Order – they were always on about things like paedophile rings. They never actually said what happened to the kidnapped kids in those storylines. But he was thirteen. He could guess. And it terrified him.
He wanted to go home.
Michael blinked suddenly. The sunshine and the wide open space he was in startled him after such a vivid recollection of being in that stuffy darkness. The fear of a thirteen year old boy who didn’t want to be sexually abused by a stranger made him shiver even though it wasn’t cold. He wondered what had broken his concentration and brought him back to the present. A motor boat going by on the water? A seagull overhead making a sudden squawk?
“Try to get it back,” Ianto coaxed him. “I know it’s hard, but we need something that tells us where you are. Something we can use.”
He did as Ianto said. He concentrated on that memory, even though it was a dreadful one he would willingly have forgotten. He felt himself again as that thirteen year old boy. He felt again the stifling warmth and the darkness closing in on him. He tasted the tape over his mouth. He shivered with fear of what might happen to him in the hands of these strangers.
He heard somebody outside the door and fear gripped him. He whimpered with fright. So did the other boys. He watched as the door opened and a figure was silhouetted against the light of the room beyond their dark cell. It wasn’t the same man as before, but maybe this was the one who would….
Ianto gasped softly as he saw the silhouetted figure on the tiny screen. Connie shook her head as if to remind him not to break Michael’s concentration. He bit his lip in anticipation, knowing that the very clue they needed might be revealed in the next few minutes.
Nathan was moving. He was being led out of the dark room, into the other place that was fuzzy and indistinct in his memory, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was when he stepped out of there, into the light. After so many hours in the dark he was dazzled by the sunlight. The image on the screen was indistinct at first, but as it cleared Ianto couldn’t help crying out this time.
“That’s it!” he said. “Michael, you’ve done it. I know where Nathan is.”
The screen went blank as Michael looked up from it, his concentration gone. Connie was puzzled. Toshiko was puzzled, too, and just a bit irritated. She didn’t see anything that they could use.
“There’s no need to put him through any more of that,” Ianto insisted. “Michael, don’t worry. Nathan will be with his mum and dad tonight. But understand, you can’t be involved. You can’t be near him. That’s absolutely imperative. So… what were your plans for the rest of the day?”
“Lunch, a pleasure boat tour of Cardiff Bay,” Connie answered for them both. “Then a bit of an afternoon nap – or something involving a bed, anyway. Then tea, the theatre, a late supper, and back to bed.”
“Sounds great,” Toshiko told them. “Have a wonderful time. And take good care of each other.”
“Good luck,” Connie answered as Toshiko and Ianto stood up. “I suppose you don’t need it? We know it’s going to be all right. Thank you. All of you. Torchwood. You’ve done what the police couldn’t have done.”
Again, as they walked back along the waterfront, Ianto and Toshiko looked like a couple with their baby. Connie and Michael watched until they were out of sight before going to the restaurant where they planned to have lunch, hopeful of a resolution to the one anxiety that slightly marred their perfect day.
Jack ran from his office, shouting. Alun was the only one of the team at his workstation, but Owen came from his lair in answer to his call.
“There’s going to be another kidnapping,” he said. “There should be four. Another boy will be grabbed. Probably today.”
“What makes you think that?” Alun asked.
“The dead man. His name is Ira Abramovitch. We were right. He was in a concentration camp. All his family died. But he came out of it whole. He came to Cardiff in 1946, adopted by a Jewish family here. A new life. But three years later, in 1949, when he was thirteen years old, he disappeared, without a trace… until now.”
“You’re absolutely sure of that?” Owen asked him.
“The tattoo ID is unmistakeable. The people who recorded those things made sure they were correct. Owen… the operation scar… could it have been done to him when he was thirteen?”
“Yes, except nobody knew how to do that kind of operation in 1949.”
“They didn’t know how to do it in 1889, either,” Jack commented. “But now that I knew what to look for… 1949, 1889, sixty years between, but in those years four boys aged thirteen, dark haired with blue eyes, went missing, never to be seen again. I tried to look further back, but 1829, there weren’t the same sort of newspapers then. And there are no police records. But I did find a penny dreadful that reported finding bodies with the hearts cut out. I think it’s a pattern. And 2009 – sixty years on. It’s repeating itself. Nathan and the other two boys… and one more…”
“Oh my God!” Alun exclaimed. “That’s why they were taken? It wasn’t sexual?”
“I almost wish it were. That wouldn’t be as terrible as mutilating them this way.”
“Kidnapped and given heart transplants?” Owen was sceptical. “Why for fuck sake?”
“I don’t know. But the pattern fits. I’m right. I’m sure I am. I know it’s just a hunch. A gut feeling. But we’ve got to do something to find the three and protect the fourth…”
“How?” Alun asked. “Jack, do you have any idea how many thirteen year old boys there are in this city? And where are they all? It’s Saturday. They’re at football, swimming, ten pin bowling, down the shopping centres, in the park, outside the Spar cadging cigarettes, going to see Cardiff City playing at home. How do you think we can protect them all?”
“We don’t,” Ianto said as he stepped through the round bulkhead door, carrying Etsuko’s pram over the gap. Toshiko was behind him, along with Gwen who was looking tired from a morning of fruitless leafleting and interviewing.
“Jack,” he continued. “We’re going to get Nathan and the other kids back and put a stop to this, today.” He went to the nearest workstation and clamped the ‘pensieve’ to the monitor. The recorded memories from Michael’s befuddled mind appeared on the screen. The others gathered round, amazed at what they were looking at.
“Wait…” Alun spotted the same detail that Ianto had. “Yes, I see it.”
“I don’t,” Jack admitted.
“I know where they are,” Ianto said. “Right now, I know where the boys are. We can get them.”
Jack looked at Ianto and Alun, who both seemed equally excited.
“You’re sure? If you’re wrong, those boys are in terrible danger. Michael’s life depends on it. Maybe not just his. If he dies at thirteen, the paradox would reverberate through the time continuum…”
“I’m sure,” Ianto said. “Trust me, Jack.”
“I’d trust you with my own life, Ianto,” he answered. “Come on. Weapons, everyone. I don’t know what we can expect to find…”
“Plasicuffs, stunners,” Ianto suggested.
“Bring a first aid kit,” Gwen said. “The boys may have cuts and bruises. And orange juice. We’ve got some in the kitchen. Cartons of orange juice. If they’ve been locked up all this time, they may be dehydrated.”
“Do it,” Jack said as he loaded his pistol and holstered it. Ianto acted as quartermaster and handed guns to the rest of the team as they prepared to go into action.
“So where are we going?” Gwen asked as the SUV crossed the River Taff on the A4119. What was the clue you found, Ianto?”
“JJB Sports superstore on the new Capital Retail Park,” he answered as he checked that the traffic lights ahead were turning in their favour. “You know, where the new soccer and rugby league stadium is being built. We were doing a bit of shopping there last week.”
“You and Alun shop at JJB Sports?” Owen answered. “I didn’t think they did suits?”
“They don’t,” Ianto replied. “I don’t always wear a suit. Neither does Alun. We both have plenty of casual clothes. But the point is, there are some unlet units opposite. I remember seeing them. And in Nathan’s memory, when they came out of where they were being held, the first thing he saw was the big logo on the front of the JJB store.”
“That means they’re going to get out ok,” Gwen said. “We’re going to succeed? Michael remembered being freed?” She looked at Jack in the passenger seat. “It does mean that, doesn’t it?”
“It should,” Jack assured her. “It has to.”
“We’ll do it,” Ianto confirmed.
“Will we be in time?” Alun asked over the communicator from his car with Toshiko at his side. “What if the boys have already been operated on?”
“Then we still have a paradox,” Owen answered him. “Because I’ve given Michael enough physicals. He doesn’t have any major surgical scars.”
“Satnav makes this an eight minute journey,” Ianto said. “With all the lights on green and clear roads ahead, its closer to five. We’ll be in time. Stop worrying, all of you.”
Ianto was right about the location. The retail unit opposite to the sports store was unlet. Or it appeared to be so.
“They’ve got CCTV,” Alun pointed out.
“Not now, they haven’t,” Jack said, doing something on his wristlet. “They’ve just experienced an unusual power spike that fried all their cameras. Ready, on three.”
All six of them exited the two cars at once and took up their positions. Jack and Alun flanked the double door as Ianto applied their lock busting tool. They burst through the open door with real guns in one hand and stun guns in the other and stunned the two guards just inside the door.
“Hands up, all of you, where I can see them,” Jack called out as the team poured into the main shop floor section of the retail unit. They were all rather surprised by what they saw inside, but they didn’t let it distract them from what was important as they surrounded the ten bald-headed men in deep red robes who knelt in front of a curious looking altar.
There were strange symbols on the robes, the altar, and tattooed on the face and bald heads of the worshippers. Jack felt as if he understood what they meant. His exposure, in past times, to a semi-sentient space ship that automatically translated both written and spoken languages meant that this ideogram language was being translated in his head. But he wasn’t concentrating particularly hard on the meaning. He was too busy looking at what was on the altar.
Four clear glass jars in which four hearts were beating as if they were alive. But they weren’t connected to anything, either organic or mechanical. By all that was logical, they should be dead meat. But they weren’t.
As Gwen, Alun and Toshiko stunned and plasicuffed the worshippers, he glanced at the two doors that led off from the main room.
“Ianto, Owen,” he said. “You take the one on the right. I’ll take the one on the left. Stun if you can. Shoot if you have to. Don’t risk your life or the lives of the boys.”
Ianto and Owen nodded and stepped towards the right hand door. Jack approached the left. Together, they fired at the locks and kicked the doors open.
The room was windowless and unlit and extremely stuffy. In the light from the main room, Jack saw three boys lying on the floor. Their hands were bound and they had duct tape over their mouths. They looked up at him fearfully. He holstered his gun and held up his hands.
“I’m here to help you,” he said as he pulled off the tape and unfastened the bonds from the first boy. “It’s Nathan isn’t it? You help me with the other two. And I’ll get you all home to your mums and dads very soon.”
Nathan nodded and dealt with the duct tape and the ropes binding the boy called Alan Whitaker while Jack freed Matthew Steele. They all stood up, stiff and having difficulty speaking. They had obviously been gagged for hours.
“I’ve got orange juice in my car,” he said. “Come on, boys.”
They came with him. They looked around the outer room curiously, but their real focus was on the sunlight that lay beyond the outer door. He stepped out with them and they blinked as if the light was painful and stared at the blue and white logo of the JJB Sports shop that was so wonderfully mundane and ordinary after the things they had seen inside that building. Jack brought them quickly to the SUV and sat them on the back seat while he passed around cartons of orange from a cool box.
“Thank you,” Nathan managed to say after his throat had been cooled by the juice. “We were scared. Those men…”
“Don’t think about it,” he told the boys. “It’s all over now. I’m going to check up on my friends, and then you three will be going to the hospital, just for a quick once over. And your parents will be with you soon.”
“Sir…” the boy called Alan said. “That van…”
Jack looked around as a blue Ford Transit pulled up outside the building. He pressed his communicator and warned the team.
“Sit tight in here,” he said. “There’s air conditioning. And more juice if you want it. I’ll be back.”
As he crossed the space between the SUV and the Transit, he heard an exchange of gunfire. His heart skipped a beat as he wondered about his team. Had one of them taken a bullet? But he shot the lock off the van and pulled the door open.
A boy with dark hair and blue eyes, his mouth covered with duct tape and hands and feet bound blinked up at him as he looked inside. Jack pulled off the tape and unfastened the ropes.
“It’s ok,” he assured him. “I’m a good guy. It’s all over. What’s you’re name? I’m Jack.”
“Gethin Yorath,” he answered.
“Please to meet you, Gethin. See the black SUV over there. Run to it. There’s a bunch of other kids in there. They’ve got orange juice.”
The boy nodded and ran. Jack turned and moved quickly and quietly to the open door of the sinister building. He looked in and then sighed with relief. All his people were unharmed and had the situation well under control.
There was one man lying on the floor in a pool of blood, a gun in his hand. It was the one who had been in the van. The one who had grabbed the kids. He had been taken down by a clean head shot. He didn’t need to ask who had done that. Alun’s face could be read like a book.
So could the altar with its strange symbols. Jack concentrated on them now. He saw the whole story. It was far from the simple, Human, paedo case they had all thought it was. It wasn’t even a Human crime. At least not originally.
“This is a temple to the four ever living gods of K’Ekef-Uevri,” he translated for his team. “There’s a mouthful! Their corporeal bodies died when they were still boys. But their hearts, cut from their bodies, continued to beat. The worshippers of K’Ekef-Uevri chose from among their own people four boys who would carry the still beating hearts within their own bodies. They were installed in the temple and worshipped until they reached old age, when four new hosts were chosen. When a great plague decimated the children of K’Ekef-Uevri, and there were not four hosts to take, they sought a new populace…. They came to this planet… through the rift. Of course, they bloody did! In the year 1709. They took hosts, and they chose from among the population men who could be persuaded by promises of great wealth to become disciples of K’Ekef-Uevri and to choose hosts every sixty years. The secret of their technology, their medical knowledge was passed on… along with the wealth that rewarded those who were loyal to the cult.”
“So… these weird looking bastards are Human?” Owen said. “Sick humans. Through that other door there, they’ve got an operating theatre, fully kitted out to do the transplants…”
“Humans? Yes. I guess so.” Jack turned and looked at one of the worshippers. He rubbed at the bald head. The tattoos blurred. They were just body paint. “I’ll bet they’re all pillars of the business community under the war paint. Human beings were prepared to mutilate four innocent boys for an alien cult based on a creepy bit of voodoo.”
“Good God!” Gwen murmured. “That’s so sick.”
“Sick doesn’t begin to describe it,” Ianto said. “I’ve never seen anything so…”
“It ends,” Jack said. He turned and aimed his gun at the altar. His bullet shattered the first jar and pierced the alien heart inside. It pumped twice more before becoming still. He aimed again, but a shot from an automatic reached the second jar before he could fire. He saw Alun out of the corner of his eye, lining up another shot. He holstered his pistol and left him to it as he turned the remaining three hearts to pulp. Around him the worshippers moaned and wailed in dismay. “Shut the fuck up, you sick bastards,” he snapped. “This ends. Right now. You lot are going to jail. Not as worshippers of a weird ass alien cult. Because making that stand up in court would be too much hard work. Between us and the police and my contacts in MI5 we’ll manufacture evidence that you were a paedo ring. Still sick bastards, but ordinary, Human sick bastards, not this disgusting, murderous…” He ran out of words. But he seemed to have got the idea. “I’m taking the kids away from here,” he said. “Gwen, you come along with me. You can do the WPC Cooper thing with the parents. Ianto, you can get the police to send down a big van for this lot and let them know what we’ve decided happened here?”
“Right you are,” he answered. “See you later, boss.”
“It’s Saturday afternoon,” Jack told him. “You don’t need to see me. When you’re finished here, all of you do what you do on weekends. Wear casual clothes, have sex, play pool, whatever. Personally, I think I’m going to try all three.”
On Monday morning, before he had to go back to Torchwood and his sleep of ages, Michael invited the team to join him and Connie for breakfast at the hotel. They accepted, gladly. Apart from a break from the usual Monday morning, they all welcomed the chance to spend the time with their two friends.
The morning news was on the TV near their table. The big local story was getting a lot of coverage. They saw the parents and the four boys who had been rescued from a paedophile ring. The police were saying how pleased they were to have got the boys back and those responsible arrested so relatively quickly. The parents looked embarrassed by the limelight thrust on their ordinary lives. The boys all looked a little dazed, if anything.
“The police are taking credit,” Connie noted.
“Let them,” Jack answered. “What matters is that the boys are safe. We don’t need any medals for making that happen.”
Michael looked closely as the camera passed along the group and he saw Nathan Edwards sitting with his mum and dad in the city centre hotel where the press conference took place.
“I don’t remember any of that,” he said. “I remember the room, the dark. I remember Jack opening the door, leading us out. I remember being outside in the air, and sitting in a car drinking orange juice. But after that, it’s a blank again. The only part of my life I remember is the most traumatic part.”
“The rest will come eventually,” Jack assured him.
“Yes, I suppose so. Maybe next time I’m awake I can try the memory gismo again. Maybe we’ll find something else.”
“Next time you’re awake, it’ll be your birthday,” Jack told him. Michael was surprised. “Nathan’s birthday is July 16th. I thought you and Connie would like to spend the day. Now we know that it’s only going to be another twenty-odd years before you reach your sell-by date, we can afford to let you have some extra days. Connie’s birthday is in September. And then there’s Christmas. As long as we make sure we know where Nathan is and keep you out of his way. You can’t meet him, of course. But I don’t think that would be a problem for either of you?”
Connie and Michael squeezed each other’s hands happily. No problem whatsoever.