As Quinn ran to assist, Ianto laid the young man on the floor. He began to pull off his already torn shirt and look for injuries.
“I don’t think this blood is his,” he commented as Quinn began to give first aid to the other man. “There’s no sign of bleeding out on him. He does have a burn mark across his chest, as if he was whipped by something either hot or with an electric charge. His pulse is low… heart beat irregular… and he’s not breathing properly…” Ianto began chest compressions, counting carefully. He noticed that Quinn was not the only one looking at him curiously. “Watch and learn, Doctor Quinn,” he said. “This is called CPR – cardio-pulmonary respiration. It’s not going to come into common use for another fifty years, but you could save a lot of lives by getting a jump ahead. I’m going to save this boy’s life right now. Alun, don’t let Carter interfere. He’s going to take this all the wrong way.”
Ianto stopped the compressions and tilted the boy’s head back before covering his mouth with his own. Gerald Carter’s shout of indignation and disgust echoed around the Hub, but Alun stood in front of him and stopped him from getting near. Lydia and Harriet both spoke up in his support. He doubted either realised exactly what he was doing, but something, maybe it was just feminine instinct, made them trust him.
Quinn trusted him too. As he returned to the chest compressions Ianto saw him copying the procedure. “Not too much pressure on the sternum,” he warned. “You could crack a rib and even puncture a lung. Easy, steady, count the compressions. Clear the airways and blow gently, inflating the lung. Repeat the process…”
“Yes, yes, I see,” Quinn responded. “It’s… unusual… but I see how it would work.” He compressed his patient’s chest, then copied the mouth to mouth procedure. “They both look as if they’ve been subjected to an electric shock. But what would do that? And where does all the blood come from if not from them?”
“Save their lives they’ll be able to tell us,” Ianto answered. He gave a relieved sigh as he felt the boy breathe in deeply, if raggedly. He felt his pulse quicken. The boy opened his eyes and screamed once as if the last memory he had before he lost consciousness was a terrible one. He struggled to sit up. Ianto supported him in his arms.
“Calmly,” he told him. “Calmly. Tell me what happened. What’s your name?”
He tried to tell him, but all that came out was a terrified stammer.
“His name is Colin,” Lydia said as she remembered she was still holding the now silent telephone receiver and put it back in the cradle. “Colin Shaw… he’s… He was Neville’s brother. He brought him into Torchwood before the war. Of course he couldn’t go to the front… So he worked for us…”
“Colin,” Ianto gently said. “Tell us what happened? What attacked you?”
“I’ll ask the questions,” Carter said brusquely, stepping past Alun and Harriet and standing over Ianto and Colin on the floor. “Colin, what happened? How did you and Caldwell get hurt? Where are the others?”
The same questions Ianto had already put, but delivered in a brisk, no nonsense, unsympathetic way as if getting the answers out of the boy was more important than his recovery. Ianto was reminded that this was the era when soldiers with shell shock were executed for cowardice rather than treated for their mental wounds. Right now, Carter seemed the sort who would have signed the death warrants.
“They’re all….” Colin shuddered as he tried to speak. Ianto held him around the shoulders gently but firmly. “They’re all dead… the creatures…”
“What creatures?” snapped Carter. “Calm down, Colin. Be a man, not an hysterical woman. Stop babbling.”
“Monsters!” screamed Caldwell as he sat up suddenly, surprising Quinn who was about to give him mouth to mouth again. “Monsters from hell.”
“Is unmanliness infecting the whole staff?” Carter demanded. “Talk sense, man. Monsters…”
He strode across the floor, towards the door Ianto had brought the two men through. Then Alun moved swiftly, bending to grab a revolver that Caldwell had in a hip holster. Harriet gasped as he seemed to turn it on Carter. Even Ianto wasn’t quite sure for a moment. Carter turned and his face paled as he saw the deviant he had repeatedly condemned aiming a gun at him. He paled even further when a bullet whistled past his head.
“Keep still,” Alun commanded him as he fired a second time. “Ok, move, now. Get the door closed. Secure it.”
Carter looked down at his feet and murmured another oath he would not normally use in the presence of a woman. Alun held the gun pointed towards the floor, tight in his two hands as he moved closer. Carter yelped as he fired at something that still moved – until Alun’s shot turned it to pulp.
“But there was nothing there…” Harriet managed. “You shot past Gerald at nothing…”
“I saw a shimmer in the air,” Alun answered. “I guessed that it was cloaked. Obviously when they die, the cloak fails.”
He and Carter both looked down at the two creatures, moving their feet away from the pool of dark, foul-smelling liquid that must have been their blood. The creatures seemed to be a hybrid of animal and vegetable, at least at first guess. What Alun had seen momentarily before they fell, had stood about seven feet high, in a formless way, not even remotely humanoid. What was on the ground seemed to have lost all form altogether. It was all flesh, no skeletal structure at all. The flesh was pale grey, limp and rubbery with hairy bumps like a cactus plant. One of the creatures had a single eye near the middle of the formless mass. The other didn’t. Alun’s shot had gone straight through it. There were tentacles rather than limbs. Lots of them, long and whiplike. Some ended in barbs that arced as if charged with electricity. Others were flattened and looked razor sharp. Alun swallowed bile as he saw Human blood glistening on the blades.
“What are they?” Carter demanded. “And where did they come from?”
“I don’t know what they are,” Alun answered. “But I am hazarding a guess… they came through the rift when your man there opened it…”
“That’s not…” Carter began, but Caldwell was struggling to his feet, helped by Quinn. Colin Shaw was still being attended to by Lydia and Ianto. He was in deep shock and still unable to say anything coherent, but what he did manage to say seemed to confirm Alun’s guess.
“It was the rift,” Caldwell said. “We activated the manipulator, and a portal opened… it was beautiful, shimmering orange light… a hole in space and time… I could feel its power… then we heard a terrible noise from it. A scream like a banshee… and… and then Sallins…” Shaw whimpered and put his hands over his ears as if the scream was still echoing in his head. Caldwell gulped and paused as if he couldn’t go on. He was a capable looking man, well into his 40s. He must have seen and done much that was disturbing as a Torchwood agent. But he was having trouble relating what he saw today in the bowels of the Hub.
“Sallins was cut in half,” he said. “At the waist. I saw him look at me. His eyes were filled with pain. He knew he was already dead… then his body collapsed… the two halves… blood everywhere… blood and guts… Then Hill… he was decapitated. Roger Dean and Peter Norris were behind me as we started to run. The boy… Shaw… he was ahead of me. I told him to run, but he can’t… he’s not that fast. I tried to protect him. We both reached the lift… I heard Dean scream once. Norris… he didn’t even have time. His blood… his blood spurted all over us. Over the creature, too. I saw its outline… Norris’s blood made it partly visible… I saw the tentacle whip towards us. It hit us both… I suppose that dissipated the effect… Then the lift door closed…. I thought I was dying. I thought Shaw already was… And… ye Gods…. Those things…” He looked at the visible creatures, bleeding over the floor.
“You’re alive,” Carter assured him. “These creatures are dead… This… this man…” He waved towards Alun. “Quick thinking… good shot… owe him… thanks… my own life…”
It wasn’t exactly heartfelt gratitude. Carter looked as if he was having trouble accepting that his life had been saved by a deviant. But it was something close to thanks. Not that Alun asked for any such thing. He stepped around the alien remains and checked that the door was closed, then finally holstered the gun now he was certain there was no immediate danger.
“Caldwell,” Harriet said. “Is the rift still open?”
“I…” Caldwell seemed surprised by the question. “I… yes, it must be. We had no time... We just ran for it.”
“You mean more of these abominations could get through?” Carter asked.
“They must have,” Alun reasoned. “Because Caldwell’s men were all dead. Those screams for help on the phone came from somewhere else.”
“Oh, no!” Harriet gasped. “That’s terrible. But apart from that… we have to close down the machine. I estimated that the rift should be open for no more than five minutes at a time. I don’t know what might happen if it is allowed to remain open…”
“It’s already been longer than that,” Lydia pointed out, glancing at the clock on the wall as she helped Ianto bring Shaw to the sofa and make him lie down again. Ianto turned from that task and headed towards the place where the armoury was. It was the same now and in his own time, even if the guns were different. He loaded a twenty round magazine into what he recognised as a Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol. He made a note to ask later why Torchwood, founded to defend the British Empire, had German made guns. Right now, he was simply satisfied to be holding what was the best personal defence weapon that this era offered.
“Lydia, you carry on taking care of Shaw. He’s in shock. He needs to be kept warm and given liquids. Not alcohol. Tea. He’ll be all right in a bit. Caldwell, you come with me. I know the way, but you know your machine. You can shut it off.”
“Wait a minute,” Carter demanded. “Who do you think is in charge here?”
“Do you have a better idea?” Ianto replied. “Caldwell designed the machine, from Harriet’s notes. One or other of them needs to go. Somebody needs to back them up. I’m volunteering…”
“You’re not an agent… not one of MINE, anyway.”
“Gerald,” Harriet said. “There isn’t time to argue…”
“All right,” Carter snapped, knowing she was right but not accepting that particularly gracefully. “Go.” He reached into his own hip holster and passed Caldwell his gun, since Alun had already expended several rounds from his revolver. Ianto nodded and turned for the door. Caldwell followed him. Carter looked around at the Hub. Lydia was helping Shaw to drink a cup of tea as Ianto had instructed. Harriet looked as if she wasn’t sure what to do next. Quinn, now his live, human patients didn’t need him, looked at the two dead creatures.
“We’ll need them moved down to the mortuary,” he said. “I will have to do an autopsy later.”
“See to it,” Carter said. Without Ianto in the room, he seemed to have regained his authority a little, But he seemed uncertain how to proceed.
“Gerald, we need to contact the personnel in other sections of the Hub,” Harriet pointed out. “They need to be aware of what has happened. They need to be ready to defend their departments against more of these creatures…”
“You need to secure the exits,” Alun added. “There must be no chance of these creatures, if there are more, getting out into the streets. They would be uncontainable out there. How many people work here in the Hub now, anyway?”
“There are only thirty-five just now.” Harriet answered him. She swallowed hard as she remembered the four men already dead, then she turned and picked up Lydia’s phone. She began contacting the other sections of the Hub. Alun had not thought about it until now. He was used to the sum total of the Torchwood team being in single figures. But Harriet called up the head of a secure, clean room where they tested alien bacteria, then a library with a full time librarian and two rooms where Torchwood employed academics to study old manuscripts and documents to determine what alien incursions occurred before any scientific study was properly made. There was also a kitchen where meals were made for those thirty-five staff members, and a chapel. Where that was in the present day hub, Alun hadn’t a clue.
He helped Quinn to move the two aliens down to the mortuary. Even wrapped in tarpaulin, they were gross. His suit was stained with the pungent black blood. That wasn’t unusual, of course. On average he ruined a suit a week in his duties for Torchwood. He wasn’t worried about that. He was worried about Ianto, going back into the place where people had already died. He had to hope he would be all right.
Ianto and Caldwell got their guns ready as they descended in the lift. They didn’t know what they might expect to find when they got down there.
At least Ianto didn’t.
“There are bodies down there,” Caldwell said in a strangely dry voice. “They’re… bad. Have you…”
“Yes,” Ianto answered. For some reason his mind flipped over to the time when they found the carcasses left by the cannibal villagers. There were other times when he had witnessed unpleasant things. For somebody who was derogatorily called the tea boy, he had seen more than his share of gore. But that one stuck in his mind for the moment.
“Yes, I’m used to bodies,” he said. “I’m sure you are, too. But… Look, it’s not me you need to worry about. They weren’t my friends and colleagues. You’re the one who needs to be ready to go back out there…”
Caldwell nodded. He said something about serving in Africa, and fallen comrades. But Ianto was right. he had to steel his nerve as the slow lift came to a shaky halt on the lowest floor of the deep complex of rooms, cells, bunkers, chambers and miles of corridor.
They stepped out into a congealing pool of Human blood and tried not to look at the dismembered bodies. It was difficult not to. Caldwell swallowed and told Ianto these were the remains of Dean and Norris and he took consolation in the fact that they died quickly. He mourned the fact that their deaths were so needless, though. It was hardly a glorious death in defence of the Empire.
Glorious death? Ianto wondered. When was it ever that? Surely anyone who had lived through the 1914-1918 war should have realised there was nothing glorious in death, no matter where and how it happened.
“It was my fault,” Caldwell added. “I opened the rift. And I ran. I led the retreat. We had weapons. We could have made more of a show of ourselves. Maybe they needn’t have died like this?”
Ianto didn’t comment. He wasn’t sure what to say. He could have told him not to blame himself, console him. But then again, Ianto had a feeling it WAS his fault. The way he told the story it might well have been. He could have told him to pull himself together, but that would have been cruel.
He said nothing.
“Wait…” he said, pulling Caldwell back. He pointed to the stairwell that was the longer way back up to Hub Central. The firedoor was hanging in shreds of splintered wood and there was a trail, as if something that didn’t walk on feet in the accepted meaning of the word had dragged through the blood that spilled from the pitiful bodies and left smears up the steps.
“At least one more got away,” he said. Then he turned as he detected a very slight sound – a squelching – and he saw something invisible dragging through the blood on the floor. He judged the height of the invisible creature and fired the Mauser twice. The creature screamed and became visible as it collapsed in on itself. He fired again into that eerie eye, which he judged to be close to what passed for a brain.
“You get to your damned machine,” he said to Caldwell. “Shut it off. Keep a lookout… watch the floor. Shoot even if you’re not sure…. But get that thing shut off and the rift closed.”
Caldwell did as he said. Ianto turned and grabbed the phone on the wall. He turned the handle to make a connection and waited. He was relieved when he heard Lydia’s voice.
“It’s me, Ianto,” he said. “Mr Jones, I mean. Lydia, tell Carter… there ARE more of the creatures. Tell him he has to get his people to fall back to the Hub. Issue weapons…”
“Mr Jones,” she replied. “Mr Carter and your friend have already gone down to the kitchen. We didn’t get any reply from there. We think… That is, Mr Carter thinks… Oh, Mr Jones… there should have been six people in there… We think they’re dead...”
“Lydia,” he said as calmly as he could muster himself to be. “Mr Carter and Alun are both military men. They know what they’re doing. They’ll be fine. But you and Harriet… do you know how to use a gun, Lydia?”
“Yes, Mr Jones,” she answered. “Well, target practice, anyway. Mr Caldwell taught me…”
“Get weapons. Colin and Quinn, too. Then all of you, get down into Quinn’s medical room. It only has one way in, and that’s down the steps. Block it if you can. Stay there until I come and get you. Be brave, Lydia. And don’t let anyone ever call you ‘just’ a secretary or a tea girl.”
Lydia thanked him for that before she cut the call. Ianto put the receiver back into the cradle and turned. He fired at the air again, but that time it must have been his imagination. He hit nothing. He swore under his breath and reminded himself that the magazine only had twenty rounds and he didn’t want to have to reload in the heat of a fight if it came down to it. He ran to catch up with Caldwell.
He saw the glow from the open portal even before he entered the room where the experiment had been set up. Caldwell was right when he said it was beautiful. But it was potentially deadly, too. He didn’t know what or where it had opened into. He was sure it was no point in space or time in this planet’s history, anyway.
“Close it,” he yelled to Caldwell.
“I’m trying to,” he answered as he pulled at the lever on the box-shaped, metal and ceramic contraption. “It IS closing. I’m seeing lower energy readings here. But it’s going slowly. I think things might still be able to get through.
“I think you’re right,” Ianto confirmed as he heard the screech Caldwell had described as a banshee wail. He raised his weapon. He had no reason to know if anything had come through the rift, except his gut feeling. But he fired twice at the height of one of the creature’s eyes. He saw it become visible as it screamed its death scream and fell backwards, half in and half out of the glowing portal it had emerged from. Ianto heard Caldwell give a cry of triumph, saying that the rift energy was beginning to dissipate quickly now. Then there was a crack as if lightning had struck in the room. The portal vanished to a pinpoint and disappeared completely, leaving half of the creature bleeding black blood that mingled with the red Human blood from the first two victims.
“Ok, you did it,” Ianto told him. “But we know there is at least one more of the creatures out there. Maybe more. We don’t know. Maybe two or three, maybe a dozen. Damn it. In my time we would be able to calibrate lifesigns monitors to detect anything anywhere in the Hub… any form of organic life. Toshiko… my friend, Toshiko… She developed hand held sensors using… Oh!” He rubbed his head. Why hadn’t he thought of it? He should have done. “Yes… that might work.” He turned and headed for the stairwell. Caldwell followed him.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “You can’t just run amok in the Hub. You’re not authorised…”
“Yes, I am,” Ianto answered him. “I’m a Torchwood agent. Fully sworn in. And I need inventory No. 1747.” He stopped, his foot on the first stair and signalled Caldwell to freeze with him. Then both fired at the same time. As the creature on the stairwell landing above collapsed into a dead, quivering mess, Ianto flattened himself against the wall. One of the electrically charged, barbed tentacles was snaking towards him. It fell, limp, onto the stairs and he stepped across it as they made their cautious way up. One down… but how many more to go? Ianto thought he knew a way of finding out, at least.
“We have something in our inventory that can help us fight an invisible enemy with such deadly intent?” Caldwell asked him, sceptically.
“If we make it there alive, I’ll show you,” Ianto answered.
Alun and Carter moved cautiously down the steps towards the kitchen from where there had been no reply to Lydia and Harriet’s repeated attempts to make contact. They were both edgy. The possibility of sudden attack by something they couldn’t see coming was unnerving. But neither could sit and wait while their comrades were in danger.
Alun thought of them as comrades. They worked for Torchwood, just as he did. Their lives mattered as much as Ianto’s, or Jack’s, or any of the team he knew.
They turned a corner, and Alun saw something out of the corner of his eye. He fired. Another creature lay in a formless mess on the floor. They walked on.
“It isn’t just luck, is it?” Carter said as they carefully opened the stairwell door onto the service corridor. “Your shooting, I mean. Up there and… that one just now. You’ve had military training?”
“Yes,” Alun answered. “Royal Welch Fusiliers, officer training at Sandhurst. Commissioned Lieutenant. Transferred to U.N.I.T. – it’s a section of the army that does the same work as Torchwood,” he added.
“Lieutenant…” Carter was impressed. It was the only reason Alun even brought it up. “Then you must have proven yourself. Why did you leave?”
“Because bigoted sods like you made it impossible to stay,” he wanted to say. But he didn’t. There was no point.
“I still serve my country as a Torchwood agent. I’m proud to do so. I work with good people who do brave things every day without reservation and without complaint. I’m sure you can say the same.”
“Yes,” Carter answered. “Yes, we have a good team. The discipline is not as tight as in the Army. A lot of them come from civilian life… academics… And the women… They do tend to be emotional about it all. They would never… Lydia is very capable, of course. And Harriet… she has a spark of courage in her. I’ll give her that. She’s seen some dangerous times. And she doesn’t baulk at it. But a woman doesn’t have the same…. She can’t… She shouldn’t be exposed to such things. She should be married, tending to a good home… away from all this. If she would only…”
Carter stopped. He was on the verge of some emotionalism himself. He visibly pulled himself up before continuing.
“Still, everyone does their job. And they do it well. They wouldn’t be here otherwise.” He paused and looked at Alun. The doubt was still there in his eyes. “What I don’t understand… you and your… friend. The world you come from… How can somebody like you… one of your sort…”
“My sort,” Alun answered calmly. “Right here and now, in your world… My sort fought and died in the same trenches as your sort, Mr Carter. And Mr Quinn’s sort. And women like Lydia and Harriet picked up the pieces as frontline nurses. Duty isn’t just the prerogative of straight white men. Ianto and I know our duty. We do it. Here, for you, or in our own time, for our Captain.”
Carter began to reply, but Alun silenced him. He could hear something. A noise coming from inside the kitchen. Something was trying to open the door. It was a sliding one, and whoever or whatever, was trying to push.
“Get ready,” Carter said. Alun had just told him he would do his duty. He did it. He took up position, his gun ready, his mind prepared for the split second moment when he could stop his finger pulling back the trigger if it wasn’t the enemy in there. Carter released the catch and slid the door back. They both suppressed exclamations as one of the creatures stumbled out. It was not fully cloaked. It seemed to be in some distress. Its eye was blinded and the flesh around the ‘head’ scalded by what, from the smell, had been a large saucepan of boiling cabbage. It was disorientated by its injury but its tentacles as they reached out blindly, were just as deadly.
Alun fired a shot through its blinded eye, feeling as if he was actually putting this one out of its misery. Then they stepped over the body and cautiously entered the kitchen.
It was a gruesome scene. All of the staff, non-combatants, Carter called them, were dead, mostly cut to pieces by those bladed tentacles that whipped out and sliced through flesh and bone. Alun sought the source of a sickening smell of burned flesh and reached to turn off the hotplate and move the upper torso of the man who had fallen across it. He had been dead before he started to burn. There was that much mercy in the way these creatures killed.
“What’s that now?” Carter asked as he looked around the room. “Do you hear?”
“Over there,” Alun said and moved carefully towards a steel cabinet, a cold store for food. He wondered if the creatures could survive in cold. Again, both he and Carter were ready not to fire.
This time their fingers relaxed on the triggers. The boy screamed as the light poured into his cold, dark hiding place and brandished a carving knife. Alun grabbed his hand firmly and made him drop it before he realised they were Human and sagged into his arms, crying with a mixture of relief and anguish.
“It’s Mitchell,” Carter said. “Ben Mitchell. It’s all right, lad. We’ve got you.” He was softer in his tone than he had been with Shaw earlier, even though Ben was acting in a thoroughly unmanly way just now. “He’s fourteen,” Carter added. “He came to work for us last year. His father was one of us… killed in France. We gave the boy a job to help support his mother. Nothing to do with what we do here. He cleans floors, empties bins. He shouldn’t have been exposed to…”
“Chef pushed me into the fridge,” he managed to say. “He said I’d be safe.”
“And you were,” Alun told him. “In fact, you were far safer there than out here with us. We still have work to do. If you’d rather go back in there… I promise we won’t forget to get you when it’s all over.”
“No, sir,” the boy answered. “It’s cold and dark. I’d rather…”
“Good lad,” Carter praised him. “Come on. We’d better get him back up to Hub Central. He’ll be all right with the ladies and Quinn. Stick with us, lad. But be careful. And listen. If we tell you to get down and keep still, you do that.”
Ben nodded. Alun held his arm as they moved back out of the kitchen. He was, naturally, distressed to see the bodies of the people he had worked under. The sight of the dead creature was equally distressing. But he rallied himself. He kept up with Carter and Alun as they made for the stairwell. Carter took the lead as they moved slowly up the steps. Ben came behind him. Alun was in the rear, walking backwards, looking out for any tell tale sign that one of the invisible creatures was coming up behind them.
“Wait,” Carter ordered as they reached the next landing. “I hear…”
Gunfire, close by. Alun pressed Ben down on the floor and covered him as he cocked his gun and got ready for just about anything.
The fire door burst open. Caldwell was moving as quickly as the injured man he was supporting could manage. A wound in his leg spurted blood. He put him down on the landing and Alun holstered his weapon and grabbed the apron Ben was wearing to rip up into clean field dressings.
“Ianto!” he cried as his lover backed through the door last of the crowd of men and women they had found on various levels of the Hub. The survivors. Alun remembered that list of dead. The first four were on the lower level where the creatures first broke through. Then there were the kitchen staff, and those Ianto and Caldwell had been unable to reach. There was another name on the list, but he tried not to think about it. He watched as Ianto fired the last two bullets in his magazine and slotted in a new one. He fired twice more and then slammed the door closed. He turned to Caldwell.
“How many left?” he asked. “Where are they?”
Caldwell looked at the screen of a box-like device slung over his shoulder on a makeshift strap.
“Five more alien lifesigns,” he said. “They’re heading towards the Hub Central…the women…”
“Harriet,” Gerald Carter murmured.
“It’s ok,” Ianto said. “They have weapons up there. they’re not completely helpless. But I think we should leave the non-combatants and wounded here. They’re safe now we’ve cleared the lower levels. Caldwell, Carter, Alun… how are you for ammunition?”
“I’ve got enough,” Alun answered. “Is that inventory No. 1747? It works?”
“It works perfectly,” Ianto replied. “It does just what I said it would do. 1908 Torchwood put it down as a portable x-ray machine. But it’s actually more like ultrasound and it can be calibrated to give back an image of the whole Hub. We used it to locate and kill all but these last. It’s nearly over.”
“Come on,” Carter insisted. “We’ve got to get up there…”
“The lift,” Ianto said.
“Stairs,” Caldwell replied. “It’s quicker.”
He was right about that. The four of them moved swiftly without the others slowing them down. But Caldwell confirmed that the creatures were moving faster. They were almost at Hub Central, the highest level before they reached the open air and caused devastation to the population of Cardiff.
Carter moved faster than any of them. He kept murmuring ‘Harriet’. Alun and Ianto drew the obvious conclusion. Carter had stronger feelings for Miss Derbyshire than merely professional. They looked at each other. Ianto shook his head, sadly.
They were almost there when they heard gunfire. Caldwell confirmed that one of the creatures had disappeared from the lifesigns monitor, but he also said he was having trouble reading all the Human signs. One at least was failing. Carter looked at him and began to run even more swiftly. He burst into Hub Central ahead of the other three. They heard him fire rapidly until he was out of bullets. Ianto and Alun both sprinted after him. They raced past him, guns ready. But apart from finishing off one twitching mass of alien flesh there was nothing for them to do. The enemy was neutralised.
But at what cost? Carter gave an anguished yell as he headed down the steps to the medical room. Alun and Ianto, and Caldwell as he caught up to them, stood on the balcony and looked down. There was another putrid alien body sprawled on the steps, and at the bottom, Harriet was lying. Quinn had his hand over a bloody wound in her stomach. Carter knelt by her side.
“It’s too late,” Quinn told him. “She’s dead…”
“She’s not,” Carter replied in a choked voice. “Harriet… Harriet, you’re going to be all right. Quinn can operate.”
“No,” she managed to say, though she was obviously in pain. “No, he can’t. He’s right. I’m dead. Or I should be…”
The creature took us by surprise,” Lydia said. “Harriet was ripped by it. She managed to shoot it, but…”
“She’s only alive because I’m applying pressure to the artery,” Quinn explained. “If I let go, even for a moment… Carter… she’s in agony. The easiest thing for her is for me to let her go…”
“Not yet,” he answered. “Not yet.” He leaned forward, close to her and whispered something. Quinn might, possibly have heard it, but he would never have repeated it to anyone else. She said something in reply. Carter leaned closer and kissed her once. Then he gripped her hand and held it. He nodded to Quinn, who drew his hand back. She was dead in a few seconds.
“She was on the list,” Ianto whispered to Alun as they clutched hands in shared grief. “We knew… but there was nothing we could have done. She was going to die.”
“He wanted her to marry him and stay home,” Alun replied. “She would have been safe…”
“She wanted to do her duty for Torchwood,” Ianto answered him. “He couldn’t…” He looked at his own lover. They shared the risks together, equally. They knew either one of them could be killed in the course of their duty to Torchwood. They accepted that risk. Carter hadn’t accepted it. He had expected Harriet to be all right.
A few days later there was a memorial for all they had lost, down in the chapel that wasn’t used any more in the modern Torchwood. Carter spoke about duty and courage, about dying bravely and with honour. Ianto thought there was a lack of conviction in his eyes as he spoke. He had seen one death too many to believe in honourable sacrifice in the cause of duty any more. He recalled a set of personnel notes that stated that he blamed himself for Harriet Derbyshire’s death. But that wasn’t entirely right. He had nothing to blame himself for. He took responsibility because he was the head man. The buck stopped with him. The reason Harriet’s death weighed so heavily on him was a more personal one. But he would never let anyone who hadn’t witnessed her last moments guess that his interest in her was anything but professional.
After the service, Carter nodded to Alun and Ianto. They came with him. He had discussed it with them. They knew the risks. But they had to try.
“Cryogenic freezing is our only way to get home,” Ianto said as he looked at the two chambers prepared for them.
“You could stay here,” Carter suggested. “We need good men…”
“You’ve got plenty of good men coming back from the war, soon,” Ianto replied to him. “One of them… is the best you’ll ever have.”
The door opened. Lydia stepped into the room. She looked on the verge of tears, but a stern glance from Carter made her pull herself up.
“Mr Jones, I’ve done as you said with the report on… the incident,” she said. “It’s in a time locked container, along with all your things that you brought. And your clothes.” She blushed slightly as she saw the thin cotton gowns both were wearing. “It will open an hour after you get back. You’ll be able to… finish the filing.”
“Thank you, Lydia,” Ianto said. “I… this is goodbye. But… I’ll think of you whenever I do the filing.”
“I’ll… think of you, Mr Jones,” she answered shyly. Ianto smiled. He reached out his hand and drew her near to him.
“Nobody calls me Mr Jones except my dentist,” he said. He hugged her briefly and kissed her even more briefly on the lips. She seemed surprised, but not displeased.
“Goodbye, Ianto,” she whispered. Then she turned and ran from the room. She didn’t want to see him in what, to her, was too much like a coffin.
“Would you…” Carter said. “Would you let me shake you both by the hand.” They let him. He tried to say something more, but the words died on his lips. Then Ianto turned to Alun. He pulled him close and kissed him for a long, long time.
“It’s going to be ninety years before I can do that again,” he said. “Don’t worry. It won’t feel like it. We’re just going to go to sleep… and when we wake… it’ll be all right.”
“I know,” Alun answered. They both looked at Carter, who was trying to accept that it was possible to like and respect two men who insisted on touching each other all the time. They accepted his help to climb into the coffin sized chambers. His was the last face either saw as the lids closed over their faces. Carter operated the alien machinery that had been installed long before he arrived at Torchwood, Cardiff. He sealed the two chambers with a time lock according to Ianto’s exact instructions. He watched to make sure the process was complete then turned away and turned off the light in the cryogenic store.
“Fucking hell!” was Owen’s comment as Ianto came to the end of his tale. It summed up how they all felt about what they had just heard.
“Carter was a changed man when I got back there,” Jack admitted. “He became even more a stickler for proper procedure, doing things by the book. But I don’t think his heart was in it. I never could find out what happened on that day. None of the survivors would talk about it. And the file… all it had was a list of the dead.”
“You’ll find the official report will have unsealed itself by now,” Ianto told him. “It’s in your office safe.”
“Yeah,” Jack answered. “I’ll read it later. Right now… I’d better go deal with Inventory no. 1470. The guys who ended up in the coal dock. Nasty.”
“We’ll get on with the filing,” Alun said.
“You two, do whatever you like,” Jack told them. “You’ve already had one hell of a day. Go home and legally shag each other for the afternoon…”
“Might do that,” Ianto said. “Couple of other things I need to do, first.”
He didn’t say what they were, but on the way back from dealing with the sinister Inventory No. 1470, Jack noticed a door was open that he hadn’t looked into for decades. The old chapel. Nobody had used it for a long time. Too many of the Torchwood personnel had been cynical atheists who couldn’t believe God had anything to do with the stuff they dealt with. He stepped inside. It was still fitted out with chairs and a cross on the wall, a small altar. There were even a few stubs of candles. It wasn’t dusty. Torchwood doors hermetically sealed and preserved everything within.
Ianto was sitting on one of the chairs. Jack watched for several minutes before quietly approaching. He didn’t seem surprised by his hand on his shoulder and caught hold of it as he sat beside him.
“Were you praying?” Jack asked, remembering that Ianto’s mother, at least, was a chapel goer.
“Not exactly,” he answered. “Just thinking… reflecting. Even those who made it, they’re all dead now. Lydia died in 1941. In the blitz.”
“Carter died in the second war, too. A lot of them did. Another rough patch that Torchwood struggled through.”
“Do you remember Lydia?” Ianto asked. “The girl who did the filing?”
“Yes, I do. Nice girl.” He grinned. “I was a bit hedonistic after the war. Nice girls weren’t my thing.”
Ianto smiled. “You know, I did wonder if… She reminded me so much of me… I wondered if you’d always had a thing for the filing clerks.”
“Neither you nor her were ever just a filing clerk,” Jack answered him. “But no, she isn’t in my back calendar. You liked her?”
“She was… If I wasn’t with Alun… if I didn’t have him… I think she might have been a reason to take up Carter’s offer and stay. As it is… I really will think of her every time I see those initials on an archive report.” He looked around the chapel and sighed. “We should have a memorial. A Torchwood memorial. For all those who died doing their duty. Harriet… Sallins and Hill, Dean and Norris… all the others that day… Beattie and Hammond who ended up in the coal dock… Carter… all the ones who died in the wars… the ones at Canary Wharf… Yvonne, Lisa…”
“Alex, Margery, Gethin,…” Jack named people who were dead before he recruited Ianto. “Suzie, Fergus. Yes, we should have something. A way of remembering their names apart from files in the deceased operatives drawer. Trouble is, even a memorial… just becomes a list of names without faces sooner or later.”
“Not theirs,” Ianto told him. “Not for you and me, anyway. We’ll remember their faces.”
“Yes, we will,” Jack assured him. He looked at Ianto and then pulled him close. For old time’s sake, lots of old times, he kissed him on the cheek gently. “Go on, now. Go find your fiancé and take him home. You’ve got ninety years of loving to catch up on.”
Ianto did so. Jack sat for a few more moments in the silence of the disused room, then he stood and stepped towards the altar. He took something from his inside pocket. A copy of a picture of five people sitting on the sofa in front of the Torchwood sign. Three sitting, two standing. Caldwell, the engineer, who might have had a thing for Lydia if she didn’t always seem to have somebody else on her mind. Quinn, who Jack could rarely remember ever leaving the Hub, afraid his face wouldn’t fit in Cardiff society. Lydia, the invisible woman, doing all the jobs everyone took for granted. Harriet, who was probably the brightest mind they ever had at Torchwood, sadly under-appreciated. Even Oxford took till 1920 to recognise that brilliance and grant her a posthumous degree when their rules changed to admit women graduates.
Carter…. A man who did his duty. And that was the best compliment Jack could think of to pay his memory.
He stood back and squared his shoulders and saluted their memory, and the memory of all those who deserved to be on that memorial Ianto had suggested.
RDWF Supports Help For Heroes