Jack dashed out of his office, taking in all of Hub Central at a glance. Toshiko was hugging Etsuko, who had been frightened by the sudden noise. Gwen was hurrying to her workstation to find out what had triggered the alarm that was splitting the air. Owen was running back from the bathroom, still pulling up his fly as he ran to hit the override and stop the noise.
“It’s the cryogenic store,” Gwen said. “Something is wrong there.”
Jack touched his communicator and spoke Ianto’s name clearly. The voice activated circuit should have automatically connected with Ianto’s own in-ear communicator. There was no answer. He didn’t even get the sight hiss that told him the connection was live. He touched it again. “Alun? Come on, guys, there’s a time and a place.” He knew that the two of them did sometimes have a cuddle in the dark recesses of the archive, but the alarm ought to have sounded there, too. The lack of response was disturbing.
“Jack,” Toshiko called out to him as she operated her computer one handed and held the baby safely on her knee. “Alun and Ianto… they’re not in the Hub. Their communicator signals have been cut off. And I’m not seeing their lifesigns anywhere. And…”
She flicked quickly between the CCTV cameras around the vast subterranean Torchwood HQ. There was no sign of Alun and Ianto anywhere.
“Jack,” Owen reminded him. “The cryo-store. That’s our first priority. It could be a power failure. There’s Michael to think about and….”
Jack nodded. He told Toshiko and Gwen to keep searching for signs of the two missing team members. He ran after Owen and was only a step behind him getting into the lift down to the cryogenic storage facility.
It wasn’t a power failure, anyway. They were quickly assured of that. A cursory glance at Michael’s walk in chamber told them that he was all right.
“It’s those two,” Owen said. “The sealed chambers.”
“They’re unsealing?” Jack couldn’t help his gasp of surprise. After all these years, Torchwood was about to reveal a secret even he hadn’t been party to. “It’s today.”
“I’d better get the defibrillator ready,” Owen told him. “Those subjects have been frozen for nearly a century. They might need a jump start.”
“Do that,” Jack said. He stood by the two cryo-units and remembered. They had been sealed into these chambers ninety years ago. Not quite a century. They were there when he got back from duty in the British Army in mid-1919. He was one of the last to be demobbed. He returned to his civilian life – to his job as a junior operative in what had, then, been a big organisation. When he had asked about the sealed chambers he had been told it was nothing to do with him. FAO the Director of Torchwood Cardiff. By the time he had become Director all he could find out was that the units contained two adult Human males who would be revived automatically at the appropriate time. A temporal lock, deadlock sealed, prevented any interference meanwhile.
He was curious, to say the very least.
“Ok, I’m ready,” Owen said. He passed Jack a syringe. “Adrenaline. Inject your one as soon as the green light flashes. It’ll help him get back to the land of the living.”
They both stood aside as the cryo-units slid out from the wall. They were a simple box style unit. The one Michael spent his years in had been upgraded from time to time. But these were unchanged from the original cryo-chambers that the late 19th century Torchwood team had developed from found alien technology. Jack wished they didn’t look so much like coffins and wondered how the two subjects had felt about lying down and seeing the lids slide over their faces.
The lids slid back, now. Jack and Owen both yelled out in shock as they looked at the steadily warming bodies inside.
“Oh, shit!” Owen swore. “How the fuck did they…”
“Ianto…” Jack whispered, reaching to touch his cheek. It felt cold, still. He moved his hand and pressed it over his chest, through the thin hospital style gown he was wearing. He couldn’t feel a heartbeat. He looked up anxiously.
“The adrenaline shot,” Owen said. “Then CPR.”
Jack did as he was told. He injected the adrenaline into Ianto’s body and then began the chest compressions and mouth to mouth. Owen was doing the same for Alun in a calm, professional way. Jack tried to stay calm and professional, too. But he couldn’t help remembering that he had kissed Ianto’s mouth out of love so many times. He was desperate to feel a warm response instead of the cold lifelessness. When he felt him breathe deeply and his heart jump into action he could have cried with relief.
“Jack!” Ianto opened his eyes and looked up at him. “Jack… what time is it?”
“13.47,” he answered.
“What day? What year?”
“Monday, April 27th, 2009,” Jack told him. “You and Alun picked up Chinese take out for lunch an hour and a half ago. I can still taste the sweet and sour. So how the hell…”
“Alun!” Ianto tried to raise himself up. Jack reached around his shoulders and helped him to stand up on his own feet. They both watched as Owen grabbed the defibrillator paddles. “Oh, no!” he murmured. “No. I told him it would be ok. I promised him it would just feel like going to sleep and when we woke, we’d be together.”
“It’s ok,” Owen said, putting the paddles away again and reaching to hold Alun’s arm and check his pulse. “I think he was just holding out on me. I reckon he was just hoping for a bit of CPR from you, instead of me.”
Ianto’s limbs felt as weak as water, but he managed to move unaided and it was he who helped Alun sit up, though Owen and Jack both helped him to stand and they both stood close in case either of the two fell down again. Cryogenic freezing didn’t let the muscles atrophy like a long term coma did, but it obviously did make them more than a little dizzy. For choice Owen would have made them both lie down with oxygen masks for a while. But they had their own ideas about what they needed.
“Ninety years since I kissed you last, Alun,” Ianto whispered as he held his lover close.
“Seems like only a few minutes ago. But don’t stop. Don’t let go. Oh, my God! We did it. We made it.”
“When you two have finished,” Owen said, not unsympathetically. “I want blood tests and a urine sample. And later a CAT scan would be a good idea. And Jack is going to burst in a minute if he doesn’t get an explanation.”
“It’s a long story,” Ianto told them. “And I for one would really rather tell it with a cup of hot coffee in my hands.”
“I’ll make the coffee,” Jack promised. “Owen, get the blood and urine then let them have a hot shower and clean clothes. Then we’ll have the explanation in the board room, I’ll try to contain myself until then.”
When Owen brought them, looking flushed and damp from their hot shower, and dressed in slacks and t-shirts that seemed incongruous in place of their usual sharp suits, the whole team apart from Beth in the tourist office were waiting to hear what they knew had to be one hell of a story. Ianto clutched his lover’s hand reassuringly and cleared his throat.
“We definitely owe you explanations,” he began.
“That has to be the understatement of the century,” Owen retorted.
“First of all,” Ianto said. “There’s an artefact – no. 1470. It’s probably still there in the open drawer. Nobody touch it. Destroy it with an energy weapon. Something that reduces it to atoms. Don’t anyone go near it. It’s what caused our problem. We were lucky, this time. But the potential to cause a serious paradox…”
“I’ll get onto it,” Jack promised. “So… come on, what happened?”
“Inventory no. 1470 happened,” Ianto answered him. “It’s a random time manipulator. It flipped the two of us back in time.”
“Where to?” Gwen asked. “Or when?”
“February, 1919,” Alun said. “Not a particularly nice time around here.”
“Wow,” Gwen whistled. “Post World War One.”
“It bloody hurt,” Alun added. “It was like having every inch of my flesh stabbed with hot needles all at once.”
“It must be an undampened vortex field,” Jack said. “Very nasty. Believe me, I’ve travelled in a time vortex unprotected. Not nice at all. Owen… make sure they get a thorough medical check up later. Pay attention to liver and kidney functions. Keep an eye on them for a couple of weeks, just in case.”
Alun and Ianto looked at each other with worried expressions before Ianto took up the story again.
“One moment,” he said. “We were right there, in the early inventory store, getting ready to find out what 1470 was. We both reached to lift it because it looked heavy….”
The next moment they had found themselves in the dark, dizzy, nauseous and feeling as if they were being stabbed by hundreds of hot needles. They reached out to each other instinctively and managed to keep from falling down as the unpleasant sensations subsided.
“What the hell happened?” Alun asked. “Ianto… are you ok?”
“I seem to be in one piece. You?”
“One piece, but not a particularly happy piece. What happened to the lights?”
“I don’t know. Hang on. I’ve got a penlight torch in my pocket.”
“Course you have,” Alun teased him. “Last boy scout, always prepared for everything. Did you bring your stop watch?”
“Never leave home without it,” Ianto answered. They were both joking to try to shake off the uneasy feelings they had in the aftermath of whatever had happened.
It was Alun who tried first to contact the others using the communicator. Ianto wondered why he hadn't thought of it. Whatever came over them both had befuddled his brain. And that was worrying, because Ianto wasn’t usually befuddled. He had a tidy mind that went with his general tidy appearance and habits.
“There’s nobody there,” he reported. “The coms are dead.”
“Dead, or just unresponsive?” Ianto asked, pausing in his search for the torch as he considered that.
“Not sure. But if the coms are dead… and the lights are off… an EMP pulse?”
“Through the Hub? That would mean…”
Ianto found his torch and switched it on. The small but bright penlight illuminated their immediate area. They were still in the archive, but it looked different. The built in wooden cabinets along three walls were the same, the ones that contained inventory items from all the way back to the Victorian era. But there should have been a bank of free-standing metal cabinets in the middle of the floor. Instead there was a large wooden table. The floor was different. This was just brown linoleum. Before they had been standing on a waterproof, anti-static, sealed polymer floor. He moved the torch around the ceiling. A ceiling was a ceiling. Nothing different there. Except…
“No CCTV cameras,” he noted. “Alun, I think…”
He gripped Alun’s hand tightly as he reached the most obvious conclusion. As he did so, the door opened. A hand reached for the switch just inside the door and a single light bulb illuminated above his head. A moment later the same hand was holding a Browning pistol. It belonged to a middle aged man in a tweedy suit who called out to them to stand still and put their hands up. A second man, young, thin, and with a calliper on one leg, grabbed an old fashioned telephone speaker and turned a handle on the box mounted on the wall outside the door.
“Tell Mr Carter, we’ve found two intruders,” he said.
“Carter?” Jack interrupted the narrative. “That would be…”
“Gerald Carter was in charge of Torchwood Cardiff from the beginning of the First World War until he died in 1942, doing his duty in the Second World War,” Ianto said as he and Alun sat at a plain wooden desk in what he recognised as the old interrogation room. They now used it as the document archive, but Ianto knew the Hub from top to bottom, including all the changes to it over the years. Even Jack, who had seen many of the changes first hand, was constantly surprised by his knowledge.
“So this could be any time between 1914 and 1942?” Alun concluded. “We’ve slipped through time somehow. I realise that. But…”
“I think sometime immediately post 1918,” Ianto further surmised. “The cut of the suits… hair styles…” Alun looked at him quizzically. “I grew up over a gentleman’s tailors,” he said. “Men’s fashions have always been instinctive… Also, I don’t think the hub is fully staffed. The little we saw of it looked too quiet. I’d say early 1919. It took a few months for all the soldiers at the front to get home after the armistice in November, 1918.”
“Well, those guns look about right,” Alun confirmed. “So you’re in the ballpark, but I don’t believe even you can be THAT accurate just by checking to see if double breasted jackets are in vogue!”
Ianto smiled. He managed to move his left hand until it was over Alun’s right hand. The handcuffs that tethered them together allowed for that much.
“You know, Jack would think us being cuffed together was kinky,” Alun said. “He’d want to hide the key somewhere embarrassing.”
“Let’s try to leave this out when we write up a report about our experience,” Ianto answered him. He squeezed his lover’s hand, then decided, since CCTV hadn’t been invented yet, he was safe to take his affection a little further. He turned in his seat and his free arm snaked around Alun’s neck as he drew him close and kissed him.
“We seem to be in deep trouble,” he said. “But we’re together. It can’t be so bad as long as we have each other.” He kissed him again. Alun’s arm moved around his back as the kiss lengthened. Yes, there was that one comfort in all this, Ianto thought. The touch of his lover’s hand, the feel of his arm around him, his kiss on his lips.
“What the bloody hell are you doing?” The loud and authoritative voice boomed out as the door was pushed open with a bang. “Filthy perverts, stop that.”
Ianto and Alun turned abruptly, the handcuffs pulling painfully as they momentarily forgot about them. They faced the neatly dressed man with hair carefully combed back from his face. Ianto recognised him from the photographs in the Torchwood personnel archive – Gerald Carter, Torchwood Cardiff’s director from 1914-1942.
“Sit up straight, eyes front,” he demanded. They obeyed. They had no choice. “Put your hands where I can see them.” They did so. Ianto put his cuffed hand over Alun’s reassuringly. “No TOUCHING,” Carter barked. “Now, who the bloody hell are you and how did you get past our security?”
“I am Ianto Jones,” Ianto replied. “Torchwood Agent 567. He’s Alun Llewelyn, Torchwood Agent 569. We didn’t come past your security. We seem to have accidentally slipped through some kind of time anomaly from the future.”
“Poppycock,” Carter snapped.
“It is not,” Alun told him. “You work for Torchwood. You know that there is a rift centred on this city. You know just about anything is possible.”
“All I know is that you two were found in a secure area, breaking into the archives.”
“We weren’t breaking into anything. I was looking for a light switch,” Ianto answered him.
“You’re spies. And under the war regulations that still apply, I can have you both summarily shot.”
“Yes, you can,” Ianto answered him in a surprisingly calm voice. “Torchwood was temporarily placed under the command of the military for the duration of the war. Your idea, no doubt. With your background in military intelligence you would want to be sure Torchwood played its part in the war effort. So, yes, you could have us shot. But I don’t think you really want to murder us, Gerald.”
“That’s Mr Carter to you,” he replied. “Or Sir would be appropriate. And I want to know how you know so much about me and my role in this organisation.”
“Well, you won’t find out if you shoot us, will you?” Alun pointed out. “So you’d better hold off on the executions.” He risked a sideways glance at Ianto and was glad when he did the same, smiling reassuringly at him.
“Eyes front,” Carter demanded again. “What is the matter with you two?”
“We are from the future,” Ianto replied. “This is what… February 1919? You said three months after the Armistice. That means we’ve gone back 90 years and a couple of months. It was summer of 2009 for us a few minutes before your people found us. I think it was something to do with an artefact we were examining…”
Carter didn’t call it poppycock this time, but he still had a look of disbelief on his face.
The door opened. A young woman entered, dressed in a severe black skirt suit and white blouse with sensible shoes that seemed to emphasise that she was a woman working in a man’s world. She passed a written message to Carter. He read it and his eyes flickered momentarily. He glanced just once at Alun and Ianto and there was a brief hint of uncertainty in his expression before he recovered himself. He put one hand on the shoulder of the young woman in what might, from a slightly older man, be called a paternalistic way. Ianto thought he was just patronising.
“Thank you, Lydia,” he said. “I’ll come and look at that, now. You return to your duties.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and retreated from the room. Carter turned to his two detainees.
“You will stay where you are and DON’T let me catch you doing any more disgusting touching.”
He left the room. For about ten seconds after they heard the lock turned on the door, Ianto obeyed the order not to touch, then he reached around and embraced his lover as best he could with one free arm.
“I don’t care if he does shoot me,” he said. “I need to hold you for a moment.”
“Bigoted bastard,” Alun murmured.
“No, he’s not,” Ianto corrected him. “Carter is a very good Torchwood director. He’s put his life on the line many times. He’s going to die courageously. I… I have always admired him. All that stuff… the reason he’s angry… It’s 1919. Homosexuality is very illegal. It’s still hard labour in prison for a conviction. It’s just not in his comprehension… he’s not bigoted. He’s just of his own time. We’re not.”
“Are we stuck here?” Alun asked. “Because if we are… We’re together… And I’m glad of that. But we’ll never be allowed to BE together.”
Alun was right about that. If they had to live in this time, they couldn’t do so as a couple. They would both be in their eighties by the time the first effort to decriminalise their relationship came about in 1967.
“Won’t stop me loving you,” Ianto promised.
The door opened again. They both turned around as Carter had demanded, but Ianto reached out to hold Alun’s hand.
“I still don’t care if he shoots me,” he whispered.
It wasn’t Carter who came into the room, but a young woman. She shut the door carefully behind her and stepped towards the desk. She had a notebook and a cardboard box with her. As she put it down, Ianto saw that the box contained their personal possessions confiscated when they were taken prisoner – watches, mobiles, security passes, earpieces. She was a year or two older than Lydia who had come in earlier. She was wearing a dress that, while demurely buttoned up to the neck, and with a skirt to her ankles, was nevertheless feminine. She, too, worked in a man’s world, but she did so with a woman’s style.
She clearly noticed that they were holding hands, but said nothing. She picked up several items from the box and held them up, perhaps expecting one of them to comment. Their security passes clearly puzzled her. They were, of course, biometric. There was a photograph and their names on one side, but all the important information was encrypted.
“It’s called a printed circuit,” Ianto told her as she looked at the reverse of his card. “They’re a long way off, yet.”
She set aside the box and its contents and opened the notebook. It was full of neat Pitman shorthand. Ianto read a full paragraph upside down before she noticed him doing it and tilted it away from his view.
“I-anto Jones and Alan Llewellyn?” she said.
“That’s C-Llewellyn,” Alun responded. “And his name is pronounced Y-anto. You are in Wales. You might have the courtesy of using the correct pronunciation of our names.”
Ianto was surprised by that. Gwen and Beth were the only other Welsh people at Torchwood in their time. Owen, Tosh and Jack all occasionally forgot the ‘cl’ sound in place names and had got Llewellyn wrong once or twice when they had reason to pronounce it. But Alun had never corrected them that way.
Then he realised why he had done it. It put the woman at a disadvantage. She lost a little of her poise.
“I apologise, Mr Llewellyn,” she said, getting it right this time. “I am Harriet Derbyshire. I am second in command here. At least… until some of the men get back. But… look… I just wanted to say… I believe you really are from the future. Not…” She pushed away the box containing their collection of anachronisms. “Not because of those… but because of what you said to each other earlier.” She didn’t mean to, but her eyes flicked upwards to a point behind Ianto’s head. He turned and spotted a small grill in the wall.
“You have a listening device. Of course. Why wouldn’t you?”
“You talked about the war just gone… as World War One… And you said Gerald was going to die in World War Two, in 1942…”
“Until this year, the Great War referred to the Napoleonic wars a hundred years ago,” Ianto noted. “History has a way of changing perspectives. Yes, there will be another war as nasty as the one you all lived through. And even that is history to the two of us. But I’m good at history. Especially Torchwood history…”
It must have been an effort, but she didn’t ask about her own history. Ianto was glad of that. He didn’t want to have to lie to her.
“I heard what you were saying about… being together… And Gerald was so angry with you.”
“We were kissing,” Ianto said, and he reached out and pulled Alun close as he demonstrated. When he looked back, Harriet’s mouth was open in surprise, but she wasn’t outraged or disgusted as Gerald had been. “We’re engaged.”
“You’re…” Harriet looked at them curiously. Her eye fell upon the rings on their two hands. Broad bands of gold such as men wore, but with diamonds inset into them like engagement rings. “How do men… how does it work?”
She blushed deeply. So did Alun. Ianto did, too, a few moments behind them. She had obviously not meant the sexual part of it, but her words could have that connotation.
“I meant, how do you get engaged?” she amended quickly.
“We bought the rings together,” Ianto said. “Then we had lunch at our favourite restaurant. I put one ring on Alun’s finger and he put the other on mine and we…”
It had been a good day when they bought the rings. A special one. It didn’t change their relationship with each other. It didn’t change their lifestyle in any way. It didn’t change what other people thought of them. But the unaccustomed heaviness of the gold on their fingers felt good. When they caught each other’s hands fondly they were aware of that step they had taken together, a promise of commitment and fidelity to each other.
“I didn’t mean that, either,” Harriet said. “I meant… Oh… I don’t know what I meant. But you can’t. It isn’t…”
“We love each other. Does that make sense to you? Don’t people love each other in 1919?”
“Yes, they do. At least… other people do. I’ve never… I had to work hard to get where I am. I didn’t have time… and it would be foolish to throw it all away… I want a career. I have to sacrifice… other things.”
“In 2009, women can have relationships and still have careers,” Ianto said. “I’m sorry it took so much of the 20th century to make that right. But Alun is mine. I’m his. We’re going to get married.”
“That’s so far in the future. No wonder everything is so different. But…”
The door opened. Gerald came back into the room. He looked at Ianto and Alun and his expression hardened again.
“I told you to stop that,” he thundered. “Holding hands. I’ve never seen anything like it. Disgusting, unmanly behaviour. It’s unthinkable. You claim to be Torchwood agents. It would never be tolerated. Torchwood is a respectable organisation. We were founded by Queen Victoria herself. We represent King and Country…”
“I know that,” Ianto said. He stood up and put his hand over his heart and recited the solemn oath of allegiance that had been a part of the initiation as a Torchwood agent when he went to work in Canary Wharf for Yvonne Hartman, a woman who believed very firmly in Queen and Country. Jack Harkness didn’t bother with it. He assumed that anyone working for them was loyal.
Alun stood and recited the oath he took when he joined the British Army. He couldn’t do it hand on heart because his right wrist was still cuffed to Ianto’s left.
“Neither of us will be found wanting,” Ianto added. “We are Torchwood agents. We are loyal citizens of Great Britain. We are ready to do our duty for… King and Country.”
“You need a thrashing, you pair of deviants,” Gerald snapped.
“Gerald,” Harriet began. “Sir… I think…”
“Be quiet, Harriet. I am dealing with this…”
“No, Gerald,” she protested. “I may just be a woman, but I took the same oath as you… or him. And I have faced many dangers already as a Torchwood agent. If I have to face any more, I would gladly face them with either of these two agents beside me.”
“You are being sentimental and foolish, Harriet,” Gerald replied.
“No, I’m not.” She answered him. “Gerald, you believed me capable of being your second in command. Yes, of course I realise it was only because Duncan and Neville were killed at Ypres and Hugh was so badly wounded he had to retire. And I expect when Gordon and Harold return from the war you’ll give my job to one of them. But I’ve proved myself to you, time and again. I may still be six years from being able to vote alongside a man, but my mind is as clear and as sharp. I can fire a pistol as well as any man in the Hub. I know more about the rift and its probable causes and effects than anyone – including you, Gerald. And I will not be told to be quiet, or dismissed as sentimental or foolish. I won’t. Now, listen to me for once. These two… they are from the future. They are Torchwood agents. They seem to have been affected by the rift. We know that happens sometimes. I think we should try to help them. And maybe there is something they can do to help us.”
“All right, you’ve made your view very clear,” Gerald said with a sigh. “Caldwell confirmed, there was an anomalous energy reading just before they were found. It may well be that they are telling the truth. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.” He reached in his pocket and brought out a bundle of keys. He approached the desk. “Hold out your arms. I’m prepared to remove the cuffs. But if you try anything… I am a more than competent boxer…”
“We’re not going to do anything,” Ianto answered him. “We just want to go home.”
“I don’t know how we can do that,” Carter told him. “You’ll have to be patient. Anyway, our medical officer should examine you. What little we do know about time travel tells us that it is very hazardous to the health.”
The medical room was the same place it always had been and always would be. The only difference was that it was fitted out now with far less technology. In 1919 there were no computers, no life support monitors, no laser guided surgery.
And the medical officer was a young man of what Ianto guessed to be South African origin called Charles Quinn. He was full of praise for Gerald Carter as he examined the two new arrivals.
“I owe him a great deal,” Quinn said. “I owe Torchwood my life, but Mr Carter is the one who arranged for me to go to medical school. And… well, I don’t know what it’s like in your time, Mr Jones, but here and now, can you guess how many people of my colour become doctors?”
Ianto didn’t want to guess.
“As for getting a job afterwards… And here at Torchwood they call me Doctor Quinn, not ‘boy’. I have respect. Mr Carter respects me. And that’s a lot to me.”
“So… it’s only our sort he’s prejudiced against?” Alun noted. “And women who think for themselves too much.”
“He’s a good man,” Quinn repeated. “He’s got a lot on his mind at the moment. Then again, when doesn’t he? Or any of us? There’s always a lot to do, here.”
“That’s the truth,” Ianto conceded. “So, Doctor Quinn, am I passed fit?”
“Your heart is a bit fast,” he answered as Ianto fastened his tie and slipped his jacket on. He turned to give Alun the same full examination. “I’d like to have a look at you again after you’ve rested and eaten. You should get some food with plenty of protein… red meat, cheese… Lydia can fetch something for you.”
“Lydia has enough to do,” Ianto said. “Carter gave her a pile of filing earlier. And I added to the burden by asking her to find out something for me.”
“Lydia knows this place better than anyone,” Quinn told him. “The files, the archives, personnel. Whatever it is, she’ll have it at her fingertips in no time.”
That seemed to be true, because Lydia appeared at that moment on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Ianto left Alun in Quinn’s more than capable hands and went to join her. She brought him back up to Hub central and invited him to sit down on the big sofa underneath the tiled Torchwood sign exactly where they had a more modern sofa in the Hub he knew.
“You were right about the artefact. Archive no. 1470.” She gave him a thin paper file that had the very sparsest of notes in it. She didn’t need to refer to it as she told him that the artefact was found in 1903 at the site of a crashed space craft. It didn’t appear to do anything much and was archived as ‘unknown purpose’. Then in 1908, two agents, Nigel Beattie and Philip Hammond, were moving the artefacts to a new customised archive facility and they disappeared.
“They vanished from the very room you were in. And the drawer containing no. 1470 was open. There was no trace of them found. Except…” She handed him a second file, neatly typed – by her, he guessed. Attached to it was a blown up photograph of a newspaper cutting. It was dated August 19th, 1867, and described the mysterious drowning of two men in the coal dock at Cardiff. They had papers on them that identified them as Nigel Beattie and Philip Hammond, but apart from that, nothing was known about who they were, where they came from, or how they got in the dock.
“The coal dock that was here before the Hub was built,” Ianto said. He had seen pictures of it. A dark, deep pool of water. He shivered as he thought of himself and Alun, instead of in the archive, suddenly underwater, their lungs filling with freezing water while they fought those disorientating symptoms that had afflicted them in the first moments after slipping back in time. Even good swimmers would be in trouble.
“That’s right. It was Harriet who put together the two incidents and suggested they were connected. She believes the artefact threw them back in time… to when the dock was here. Of course, they died. Horrible, terrible. But nothing anyone can do about it. As you can see, Mr Carter made a notation. He says it is pure supposition and there is no evidence to support the theory.” She looked around and whispered close to his ear. “I think that’s why Mr Carter is so cross about you and your friend. He will have to admit now that Harriet was right and he was wrong. And he’s a stubborn sort, set in his ways.”
“One day,” Ianto remarked. “Gerald Carter’s ways will be in the past. Yes, he’s a very good man. I believe that. But he’s a dinosaur.”
Lydia giggled at the idea of her boss being a dinosaur, then did her best to put on a straight face as Carter and Harriet passed them by on the way to his office. Unfortunately, she failed. An uncontrolled explosion of laughter escaped. Carter turned to her with an expression of pure disdain.
“Control yourself, Miss Childs,” he snapped. “Conduct yourself as a professional operative, not a silly schoolgirl.”
He swept by. Harriet followed. Ianto saw the hurt look in Lydia’s eyes. He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She seemed surprised by such an intimate gesture from a stranger, but did not stop him. She managed to smile warmly at him.
“You work here in the future?” she said. “What’s it like?”
Ianto looked around at the Hub. It was the same room, but it was a lot different now. There were two obvious things missing. The base of the steel fountain with the rift manipulator built into it wasn’t there. Nor was the pavement lift. They both came with the redevelopment of the bay area, with Torchwood working secretly with the architects to come up with those additions. Now, it looked more like a private library, with long polished tables and straight-backed chairs, bookcases and filing cabinets. The office was still in the same place. He saw Carter and Harriet going up there.
“It’s more…. modern,” he said in answer to her question, but was at a loss to explain what he meant by ‘modern’ to a woman who lived in a pre-computer age.
“What do you do here in your time?” she asked, letting him off the hook.
That was much easier.
“Actually, I do your job,” he told her. “Filing, archiving, keeping everything tidy and shipshape… making coffee…”
“But you’re a man,” she said. “I expect it’s different for you. I expect people don’t look through you as if you’re not there… and still expect you to do four jobs at once. They don’t take you for granted… like part of the furniture. And I expect they thank you for your efforts. Nobody says ‘good girl’ as if you’re a pet dog.”
Ianto smiled ironically. “Actually, apart from the ‘good girl bit’ I think you’ve summed up my life. At least it used to be that way. I do a lot more field work now. But there was a time… My boss, though. He’s the best. No, he never takes me for granted. He’s terrific….”
That reminded him of something.
“Actually, I know you’re busy, but I wonder if you could tell me… Mr Carter might not like it, but… would you know somebody who might have worked here about this time… Jack Harkness…”
“I know everyone,” she said. “Well, by name at least. I do all their salary slips, of course. And their expenses. Jack Harkness? Yes, I know who you mean. He’s not here now. He joined up. The war. Of course, most of the under 35s were conscripted after compulsory service came in 1916. But he was one of the ones who volunteered right at the start. He must be all right. The ones who died or were wounded… I would remember. I remember all of them.”
Her eyes looked sad. Ianto wondered if there was one in particular who she mourned, or was it general sorrow for all those wasted lives. He hoped it was the latter. He wouldn’t wish that particular grief on her. He knew it only too well. He knew about carrying on, doing this job, after Lisa died. He was glad, then, that he was the invisible man in the Hub. He didn’t mind that nobody acknowledged him. He hadn’t wanted their pitying looks, their sympathy.
“Neville Shaw,” she said out of the blue. “He was… at least I rather hoped he would be. Before he went away, he took me to the pictures. We held hands. I…” She broke off. Ianto could see her thought processes in her eyes. Why was she saying these personal things to a stranger?
Because they weren’t strangers, he thought. They were doppelgangers. They were the same. The same job, the same struggle for recognition, the same tragedies. She even dressed like him. That severe skirt and buttoned up blouse and sensible shoes were the same defence mechanism against the world as his own suit and tie ensemble.
Did Torchwood always have somebody like them? Was there always a Lydia or a Ianto, or an Alun? Was the whole organisation underpinned by people like them throughout time?
She went to put away the files she had shown him, and a huge stack more. Without thinking about it, he started to help. She didn’t stop him. It felt right, somehow. They were his filing cabinets just as much as they were hers. He would inherit them in the course of time.
“Stop him doing that,” Gerald Carter said as he looked down on the Hub from his office. “I don’t want him working here. Either of them. I don’t want them here.”
“Well, I don’t know what else we can do with them.” Harriet answered. “I don’t think there is any way to get them back to their own time. We can’t possibly repeat the circumstances… we don’t want two more bodies pulled from the dock…” Gerald made a sound in the back of his throat. “You don’t mean that,” she protested. “Whatever you think of them, they’re Human beings.”
“You really are sentimental, Harriet. They don’t belong here. They’re a pair of deviants from a future that… well, I’m glad I’ll be dead and gone long before then. Whatever it takes, I want them gone from here. There’s no place for them. We’ll be fully staffed again in a few months. We’re getting some new recruits as well as the returning men. Fine young officers being let go from the army now the war is over. In fact… I wanted to talk to you, Harriet…”
“You’re not replacing me with a man,” she protested. “I like working here, Gerald. And I’m making good progress… understanding the rift. I feel I am on the verge of a breakthrough.”
“A career is all very well for a plain girl like Lydia,” he said. “But you, Harriet… I wish…”
“No, Gerald. I told you. The answer is no.” She stepped back away from his hand as he reached towards her. “No,” she said again. She turned and looked at Lydia and Mr Jones and thought Gerald was completely wrong about him. He DID have a place here. He belonged. So did his friend, Mr Llewellyn. She watched as he came up from the medical room and they stood talking together. Mr Jones glanced up at the office before putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Leave them alone, Gerald,” she said wearily. “It isn’t catching.”
“He says my heart is racing, too,” Alun told Ianto. “Not surprising really. We’ve had a few shocks today.” He watched what Ianto was doing and idly flipped open one of the files.
“We read this one a couple of weeks ago,” he told Ianto. “Do you remember… we went through all this section in an afternoon. You said it was because they were so beautifully filed, just the way you would do it…”
Ianto paused as he filed one of the folders and smiled. Of course, he WAS doing the filing. But he wasn’t the only one. Much of it was Lydia. The contents of most of these files were down to her, too. She had typed them all so clearly and concisely. How many of these reports had he read, never knowing who the ‘LC’ was who pencilled her signature at the bottom of each page. When he got home – if he got home – he promised himself he would never take that signature for granted.
Then he thought of something else. He rifled through the latest case notes, noting the dates. Then he turned to Lydia. Alun noted the expression on his face. Shocked, disturbed, horrified, all those would describe it.
“What’s today’s date?” he asked. “I know it’s early 1919, but what is the exact date?”
“February 19th,” she answered.
“Oh, fuck,” Ianto swore, before apologising quickly to Lydia, who had obviously never heard anyone say that word in her presence before. “Alun… February 19th, 1919… we looked all through the cabinet, thinking there was part of the file missing. There was just one page in it. With….”
With a list of the dead.
Alun looked at him. He didn’t have to say anything more. He remembered the list. It didn’t say how they had all died, or where, or how. But it said when.
February 19th, 1919.
“Lydia,” Ianto said quietly. “I am sure Mr Carter won’t want you to tell me, but please… what’s happening here, today, apart from the two of us turning up? Is there anything unusual… unusual for Torchwood, that is?”
Lydia glanced up at the office. She saw Mr Carter and Harriet both looking down at them. She turned around so that her back was to them.
“Mr Caldwell and some others are down in the basement, testing a device he built… using Harriet’s notes about the rift. They want to see if they can stabilise it… so that time travel can be controlled. It’s very exciting. It might even help you, both. You could get home..”
“No!” Ianto told her. “No, something is going to go wrong. Lydia, quickly, where is the basement room – exactly…”
“It’s… Wait…” She went to a wide drawer that contained maps and plans. Like him, she always knew what she was looking for and where to find it. A moment later she was pointing to the location on a blueprint of the hub.
“What is it?” Alun asked, seeing the expression on Ianto’s face.
“That room… in our time… it’s been bricked up for decades. On the plans… it’s marked as… No, we’ve got to stop them.”
He turned and ran towards the lift to the lower levels. As he did so, the telephone at Lydia’s desk rang. She grabbed it. Standing only a few feet from her, Alun heard the screams in the background as somebody cried for help. He saw the colour drain from her face. He turned and ran towards Carter’s office, to alert him to the crisis. Quinn was racing up the steps from his medical room, dragging his doctor’s bag with him.
Harriet was already on her way down. It was she who screamed when Ianto staggered back into the Hub, half carrying the thin young man who walked with the aid of a calliper. His shirt was covered in blood, his own or someone else’s. Behind him, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a military moustache took three steps forward before he fell to the ground.
Gerald Carter, taking in the scene, used a swear word Harriet had never heard him use before.
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