Jack wondered if it said something deeply psychological about them all. With every bar, hotel and nightclub in Cardiff to choose from, Ianto and Alun had decided to have their bachelor party in the Hub where they worked every day of their lives.
That meant, of course, that it was a rather more circumspect bachelor party than most. For one thing, it reduced the number of non-colleagues that could be invited to two - Rhys and Garrett.
Maybe it said something about how difficult it was to have real relationships outside of an organisation like Torchwood. Neither Ianto nor Alun really had anyone but each other. Alun lost his parents when he was seventeen, and if he had any relatives he didn’t talk about them, and none of them had been invited to the Civil Partnership ceremony tomorrow. Ianto’s side of the room was going to have his mum and a handful of maiden aunts from his father’s side. The majority of the guests, though, were going to be people they both knew through Torchwood. Outside of the team itself that included PC Andy, DCI Swanson, Connie and her grandson, Michael, who they had promised to unfreeze tomorrow morning to join them, and a half a dozen other people who were in on their secret identity.
Well, he thought, at least nobody was going to end up naked and chained to the railings outside the National Assembly wearing a traffic cone on their head.
And it had been, for all that it sounded unpromising, a good party so far and had every indication of carrying on into the small hours. They had food and drink and music. There was dancing going on right now. Jack drank from a bottled beer and watched from the railing outside his office. Tosh and Owen made a surprisingly nice looking couple. Rhys and Gwen had the cosy, slightly smug look of a married couple who had done all of this long ago, even though they weren’t actually married. Garrett had got into the spirit of it and danced with everyone. He currently had Beth in his arms. Jack smiled and thought he might go and claim him back in a minute.
The happy couple weren’t dancing at the moment. Ianto was standing by the metal fountain base where the signal worked best, talking on his mobile. Alun whispered something to him that made him smile, kissed his cheek and strolled away, grinning widely. Jack drained his beer and descended the steps. He took hold of Alun and danced with him.
“You seemed a bit neglected,” he said. “And you’re too handsome to be a wallflower. Especially at your own party.”
“His mum called,” Alun explained. “She’s been ringing every half hour. She’s a bit excited.”
That seemed an understatement if there ever was one. Jack hadn’t yet met Ianto’s doting chapel going mother, but he had a pretty firm mental picture of her.
“She’s really ok about the two of you getting married?”
“Yes, she is. It’s amazing really. She’s not exactly a modern woman. I’m not even sure she fully understands how two men can be getting married. But she really is happy that her son has found somebody he loves. I suppose she probably would have preferred he met a nice girl who was going to keep house and make her a granny. But failing that… She likes me. She always has. That was never a problem. I think she’s glad Ianto wants me for keeps.”
“Not so much losing a son as gaining a son-in-law?” Jack laughed softly.
“That’s about the size of it. This afternoon when we met her off the bus and brought her to the hotel, she was a traditional weeping mother, going on about how proud she was and how she was sorry Ianto’s dad wasn’t alive to see him get married, and how proud he would be, too.”
“Ianto’s mum has a serious case of denial,” Jack commented. “But bless her heart. I’m happy she’s going to be there for him.”
“I’m glad you’re going to be there,” Alun told him. “Ianto was yours… You loved him before me. I’m glad you don’t resent us…”
“I’m not the marrying kind,” Jack admitted. “At least, not any more,” he added cryptically. “Ianto is an old fashioned boy. He needs an old fashioned boy of his own to look after him. And you’re the one to do that. I don’t resent a thing.” He kissed Alun’s cheek briefly. “You be good to each other, and I’ll be happy.”
“We will,” Alun promised. “I…”
His words were cut off abruptly. Everyone put their hands over their ears as a shrill sound filled the air. Ianto dropped his mobile phone in shock. The noise was coming from it. Jack ran and picked it up. He switched it off, but as that noise stopped, another started. The klaxon horn that indicated an automatic Hub lockdown. At the same time, the lights flickered and the music on the CD player juddered.
For a brief moment it ran through almost everyone’s heads that this was some sort of stag party trick. They expected to see a couple of strippers dressed in mortuary shrouds come up from Owen’s lair at any moment. But the look on Jack’s face dispelled any such notions. He was pale, his blue eyes wide and strangely glassy, and his expression was one of deep, deep shock.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ianto stammered as Owen shut off the klaxon and Gwen reached to stop the CD that was still playing a romantic love song. “One minute my mum was talking about wedding flowers and I was trying to tell her that neither of us would be carrying a bouquet, and the next…”
“That,” Jack said, very slowly and carefully, his voice sounding strangely monotone. “That was the sound of the microphone in a telephone receiver melting in the heat of a nuclear detonation.”
“My mother’s been nuked?” Ianto’s voice was as shrill as Gwen’s could be when she was over-excited. “Jack… That’s….that’s not funny.”
“I’m not joking,” Jack replied to him. “Ianto… your mother is dead. We’re in a holocaust lockdown.”
Ianto looked as if he was about to fall down. Jack reached out to steady him.
“I'm sorry,” he said. “But we have to… We all have to hold it together right now…”
“Jack!” Gwen said in a demanding tone. “What’s happening. What are you saying?”
“Can I make it any plainer?” he asked, his voice sounding weary. “There has been a nuclear attack or an accident of some kind… The Hub is in lockdown for our own protection. It’s an automatic emergency protocol. And… There’s no two ways about it. Anyone not in this room right now, is dead. Your mum and dad, your auntie, your milkman… They’re dead.”
Toshiko’s anguished scream split the air. Owen was the one who reached out his arms to comfort her, but there was little comfort to be offered. Jack remembered with a sinking heart that she had actually arranged a babysitter for Etsuko tonight so that she could enjoy the party uninterrupted.
Jack swallowed bile as he thought of Toshiko’s baby vapourised by a nuclear explosion. He had been there at her birth. He had held her when she was minutes old. He had loved her from that moment almost as much as if he was her father. He had cared for her. She had slept in her cot in his office while Toshiko was busy. He had fed her, hugged her, even done his share of nappy changing.
And now she was dead, along with countless more innocent people whom he would mourn when the shock of it all wore off and he was able to grasp the enormity of it. Later he would think of other people he knew who didn’t deserve to die. For now his thoughts were fixed on Etsuko. She was the one who seared his soul right now.
Toshiko sobbed uncontrollably in Owen’s embrace. Beth and Gwen were both crying. Alun was hugging Ianto and they were both in tears. Rhys was gabbling on about how it wasn’t possible and it had to be a mistake, while reciting the names of people he knew. One of them might well have been the milkman. Random and ridiculous names like Daff, Taff and Banana Boat kept coming into his monologue.
“Rhys, shut the fuck up,” a commanding voice called out through his babble. “Banana Boat, whoever the hell he or she is, is DEAD. Anyone not in a nuclear proof bunker is DEAD. It’s fucking awful. But it’s real and it’s happening. So just shut up and let us deal with it.”
It was Garrett who had spoken. Even Jack was surprised by the commanding tone in which he took control of them all. Of course, he had not properly seen Garrett in anything but a social setting before. In bed, he tended towards the submissive side of their relationship - although he had his moments. But when it came right down to it, Garrett was an MI5 agent. A professional.
As they were all supposed to be.
Jack,” he added. “Let’s pull this together. You must have rehearsed Doomsday Protocols with your staff. You’ve all got to put your personal feelings aside and act appropriately.”
“Doomsday Protocols?” Owen looked at Jack. He was the next senior to him in years of service at Torchwood. He had never ‘rehearsed’ any such thing. They had fire drills from time to time, in which his role was to go down to the cells and flood them with a quick acting anaesthetic gas so that, if the fire spread down there, the weevils and whatever else might be locked up at the time would burn to death without undue suffering. But he had never done any kind of nuclear attack drill. They did one at the hospital he worked in once. But never at Torchwood.
“Garrett’s right,” Jack said. “I’m… I’m sorry. All of you… you all have friends, loved ones… but right now the best we can do… the only thing we can do, is our job. Alun, we need to know the extent of the damage. But the computers will tell us nothing. The internet, all digital broadcasting, will have gone down. You know where the analogue equipment is stored. Ianto… can you go down to the generator room and make sure our internal power supplies are fully online and likely to stay that way? Owen get the medical room ready in case we have any casualties. Gwen…. you help him, please. Beth, Rhys… can you put all the alcohol away and get the party food into the fridge. There’s enough perishable food there for about two days before we have to break out the emergency food stores. Tosh…”
He looked at Toshiko. She was wrecked. His heart went out to her.
“Tosh… can you…”
She looked at him. He struggled to think of something to say to her.
“Toshiko, we’ll need constant maintenance of the Hub to ensure the lockdown is complete,” Garrett said. “Make sure the radiation detectors are online and that the water supply is locked off and uncontaminated.”
That was what Jack felt incapable of doing right now. Giving her an order, telling her what she had to do without any emotions attached. He was grateful to Garrett for taking it out of his hands.
Toshiko seemed to feel the same way. She rubbed her watery eyes and nodded to Garrett before going to her workstation and pulling up the Hub schematics and sensor arrays on her computer.
Jack watched as they all went to their appointed tasks. Then he turned and walked up to his office. He sat in his chair and stared numbly at a rather beautiful aerial photo of Cardiff Bay on the wall. It included Roald Dahl Plas with all its distinct landmarks, and was the nearest thing he could get to a picture of the ‘office’. He wondered what it looked like up there now. How many of the buildings were standing? None of them had heard or felt anything. Ianto’s phone and the lockdown klaxon had been their first indications of a problem. So the Plas might not have been at ground zero. Even so, an attack on Cardiff would have devastated it.
They weren’t even especially deep here in Hub Central, but they were safely cut off from the outside world. There was a good five foot between the roof of the Hub and the pavement of the Plas, and those five feet included a layer of radiation proofing, EMP shielding, even sound proofing. Even if the Plas was hit, they wouldn’t have heard much more than a distant rumble.
They were dancing to a slow love song while the city was destroyed.
“Jack!” Garrett was standing at the office door. He looked grim and serious. It really was a side of him that Jack hardly knew. He had always kept business out of their relationship.
“Why are your team so ill-prepared?” Garrett asked with a note of censure in his voice. “Torchwood has the same duty as MI5, the military, government, to be ready to assist the public in the event of this kind of attack. And it was your responsibility to ensure they were prepared.”
“Because I knew we didn’t need it,” he said. “Garrett… I'm from the future. The twenty-first century is history to me. I knew there were no nuclear strikes in this time. I knew that playing war games, pretending we were in an attack situation, testing everyone’s reactions was pointless. I’ve seen the protocol programmes. There’s a dozen of them on the central computer server. Atomic bombs, dirty bomb situations, government killed, population rioting, plagues wiping out the country, nuclear fallout… There’s even a scenario where the ice caps get melted and the sea levels rise overnight. Though what the fuck we’re supposed to do about that in a base that’s below sea level, I don’t know. But I have never run the protocols. I never put them through the stress… the pointless, stupid, unnecessary stress of pretending their world was falling apart because… because it was never going to happen.”
“But…” Garrett’s eyes softened from the hardness that he had seen before. “But, Jack, it HAS happened.”
“I know,” he answered. “I don’t know why. It shouldn’t have. It should never have happened. And I don’t know what…”
Jack broke down. He cried like he had never cried before – or at least not for a very long time. He cried self-indulgently, self-pityingly, because of his own misery and despair. Usually when he was driven to tears it was in empathy for somebody else’s pain, not for his own.
Usually, there was nobody to see him cry, nobody to comfort him. For once, he had a shoulder to lean on, and he did. For a long, terrible time he lost all control of his emotions and he cried as Garrett held him in his arms.
Slowly, very slowly, he resurfaced from those depths of despair. He felt Garret’s hand pressed against his cheek, his lips kissing him. He saw the clock on the office wall behind his lover’s head. Ten minutes had passed while he was lost in his own desolation. He straightened up. Garrett leaned back from him as he rubbed his eyes and managed a watery smile.
“I’m… I’m okay,” he said. “I can handle it, now. I’m… I’m okay now. Thanks.” He noticed that the office door was closed. His breakdown had not been witnessed by any of the people he had to lead in this, their most desperate crisis. His authority hadn’t been undermined by his lapse. “Thanks for that, too. I…”
There was a tentative knock at the door. Garrett went and opened it. Alun stepped into the office.
“Boss, I’ve got the analogue system set up. We’re getting a broadcast. You’d better come and look.”
He and Garrett both came down to where Alun and Ianto between them had set up a pre-digital television and an analogue radio receiver and transmitter. The TV was broadcasting on one channel only – BBC2. The picture was only intermittently clear and the sound kept dropping out, but it was obviously the emergency programme that had first been devised in the 1950s when nuclear war first seemed likely. In the event of an attack, the channel was used to broadcast information to the general public and to the emergency services and military.
From the broadcast, they gleaned that there had been four separate but co-ordinated explosions. One in the centre of London, one in Cardiff, one in Edinburgh, one in Belfast. Central government and the three devolved assemblies were all destroyed. The safety of the Royal Family could not be established yet, and civilian casualties in the four devastated areas could run to millions. A state of martial law had been declared in the rest of the UK and members of the public were being told to stay in their homes until further notice.
“If Westminster is gone,” Garrett said. “Then Thames House is gone, too.” That shook him badly. Before his transfer to Cardiff he had worked out of MI5’s London headquarters. He had friends there whose fate he could only guess. But then something else caught his attention – something that caused him further anguish.
A map of the British Isles came up on the screen. It looked like an ordinary weather map, but it wasn’t showing weather, as such. It was showing how the prevailing winds were likely to drive the fallout from the explosions. Garrett put his finger over a location in south-east Ireland and watched as the graphic of an expanding cloud covered it.
“Wexford,” he said. “By tomorrow the fallout will have reached Wexford.”
Nobody else realised why that was significant at first. Then they remembered that Garrett had an ex-wife and three children who had gone to Ireland after the divorce.
“They have time to evacuate,” Jack assured him. “There’s still a government in Dublin. They’ll have their own protocols. They can evacuate.”
“If they don’t…” Garrett looked at Toshiko as he spoke again. “Dying instantly at ground zero… is better than dying slowly, painfully… from contamination.”
“He’s right,” Owen added. “My gap year at medical school… I went with a voluntary group to Chernobyl….”
“Jack’s right.” Ianto cut into Owen’s anecdote. “They’ll evacuate. Your children will be all right. You’ve got to hold onto that hope.”
Garrett nodded. Then he seemed to pull himself together visibly. That was his moment of despair. Now he was ready to do what he had to do.
“I should try to contact my office… any office. If there’s anyone there… or GCHQ, I need to know if there are any specific orders for me…”
“You do that,” Jack told him. Alun pulled a chair up for him and began to tune the transmitter, searching for the secure frequencies Military Intelligence would be using. Jack left them to it. The others went back to their assigned tasks. He was the only one with nothing to do. He went to the kitchenette and made coffee for everyone. As he found the milk he absently picked up a sausage roll from one of the party food plates left in the fridge. As he ate, he thought about how long they might be in lockdown. He knew there was a storeroom in the lower level of the Hub with emergency food supplies. Army rations in tightly packed boxes. They were intended to feed a much larger Hub staff for six months. There would be enough to last the nine of them for years.
And as far as he could tell, on the information they had so far, that was the only thing they could do. They were below ground zero of the Cardiff bomb. They were sealed in, and it was unlikely that anyone would even consider trying to reach them for months.
After that, what would happen? While they were sitting it out, the survivors above ground would act, he supposed. A new government would be formed, of course. Law and order would be re-established. Life of a sort would go on.
Torchwood would have to go on, too. Because there were worse things than nuclear bombs taking out the capital cities of the United Kingdom. There were alien races that could do worse things to this planet than Humans could do to each other. He had to make sure there was still an organisation that were ready to fight that threat.
He still didn’t understand why this had happened. Not who had done it, or their political motives. He didn’t especially care. Domestic terrorism of one form or another was always around. This was just the most extreme piece of extremism yet. What he didn’t understand was why it had happened at all. It shouldn’t have happened. He knew the history of the twenty-first century. Nothing of the sort should have occurred. Later, some of those worse things would happen. They were still a century and a half away from the big Dalek invasion that he knew Torchwood would have to fight against. There were several attempts by the Cybermen to conquer Earth, and some other nameless horrors with the subjugation of the Human race in their plans.
But THIS shouldn’t have happened. Unless there had been a paradox of some kind, history changed….
“Hi… er…” He looked around to see Rhys hovering near the fridge. “Gwen and Tosh have gone to the bathroom. It’s that old thing about women going to the loo in pairs…” He laughed at the lame joke, then his expression changed. “No, that’s not true. Owen told Gwen to go with her. He’s worried she might… you know… I mean… we’ve all had a shock. But her baby… I mean… that’s rough. And he thought she might do something…”
“I don’t think Tosh would,” Jack said. “She’s made of stronger stuff.” But then he thought about it, and he wasn’t entirely sure of that. You could only push people so far, and Rhys was right. Tosh couldn’t have had a worse blow.
“Anyway…” he said. “Can I get you anything… was there…”
“I know it seems daft, in the circumstances,” he said. “But I’m feeling a bit hungry. I was wondering if it would be ok… there were some chicken wings…. Or do we have to save the food?”
“Help yourself,” Jack told him. “We can only keep the perishable stuff for so long anyway. You might as well take what you want. Put the bones aside when you’re done. Myfanwy… she isn’t in her nest. She would have been out hunting. She…”
He thought about it. They tagged the pterodactyl ages ago. They monitored her hunting. She travelled as much as twenty or thirty miles in a night hunt. She might still be alive. But she wouldn’t be able to get back to the Hub. She would die if she tried to fly through the hot zone, and anyway, the tunnel she flew in through would have sealed. They would have to find a way to feed the still unfledged eaglets. Chicken bones, maybe. Tinned meat from the ration packs. Or would it be better to gently euthanize the poor things?
“Save the bones for the baby birds,” he said, putting off that task for now.
Rhys filled a paper party plate and ate where he stood, leaning against the fridge door, watching as Jack finished making the coffee.
“I didn’t believe it until I saw it on the TV,” Rhys said. “I really thought it was… I don’t know… one of those drills like your bloke said. The firm I work for was involved in one, once. They used our lorries to simulate a major chemical accident scenario. I thought it was bloody bad timing, right in the middle of a party. But then... the TV… They don’t fuck around with this sort of thing. Not on the BBC, anyway. Fucking hell. It’s real. Cardiff is gone. All except us down here. But the funny thing is… I don’t feel anything. Not scared or sad or anything. My mum and dad… they’re dead. But… well, like Owen said, it was quick. They wouldn’t have known and I just don’t feel…”
“It’ll hit you,” Jack told him. “Sooner or later it will hit you like an emotional ton of bricks. Some small thing… something will set you off, and you’ll feel it all. But that’s ok. You’re allowed to feel it. And… you have Gwen. She’ll be there for you when it happens. We all will. That’s the one thing we do manage to get right at Torchwood. We’re here for each other.”
"That’s what Gwen tells me when we talk about her work. She tells me what a team you all are. Sometimes… it really does piss me off. She goes on about it too much. Torchwood this, Torchwood that. And Jack said this… Jack did that. I once accused her of shagging you when we were having a big row. That was before I knew you were into blokes. I hated Torchwood. but… fucking hell, I’d be dead, too, if I wasn’t here.”
And that was when it hit him. He dropped a half eaten chicken wing on the floor and turned to Jack, shaking with emotion. Jack was wrong about only one thing. Gwen wasn’t there for him. She was still in the bathroom, being there for Toshiko. Jack, who not long before had been the one who needed a shoulder to cry on, was the one who was there for him. He knew it was something Rhys was going to feel embarrassed about later. Rhys came from the rugby and beer kind of world where men didn’t cry in front of other men. They didn’t hug each other when they were crying. And they certainly didn’t hug gay men.
But that world had crumbled and Rhys had nobody else to turn to. No Daff or Taff, Big Dai, Little Dai, no Banana Boat, or any of his beer-drinking mates who would be shocked if they saw him now. He cried his unmanly tears as he grieved for his friends, for his parents, for the pub he drank in, for an old girlfriend he knew before Gwen, for the Millennium Stadium.
“Shit,” he said as the tears ran out. “Fuck…”
“You’re alive,” Jack told him. “You and Gwen. You’re alive, together. And… that’s got to be better than being dead.”
“Yeah,” Rhys agreed as he pulled away from Jack’s embrace, looking a little less embarrassed than he might have been. “Yeah… that’s something.”
“Give me a hand with these coffees, would you?” Rhys nodded gladly. There wasn’t much he could usefully do here. There was nothing a transport manager could do when there was no transport. But he gladly carried a tray of coffee to the rest area where they all gathered. Rhys sat with Gwen. Alun and Ianto were together, clutching hands with each other reassuringly. Toshiko still looked rough. Who could blame her? Owen sat close to her and she seemed to take a small comfort from that. Jack thought he was holding up better than any of them, and he realised that Owen was the one member of the team who really didn’t have anyone out there to care about. Torchwood was his whole life.
“Jack,” Ianto said after they had drunk coffee in near silence for long enough for it to start to feel awkward and uncomfortable. “Exactly what sort of a captain are you? Or were you. What were you captain of?”
Jack was surprised by the question and not sure how to answer it. He had picked up the name and the rank in the Second World War. But he earned the right to be called Captain during another war in another time. It was one part of him that wasn’t fictitious.
“Why do you ask?” he responded.
“Because…” Ianto slid one arm around Alun’s waist. “I was thinking… you know how ship’s captains used to be able to marry people…” He opened his free hand. Two gold wedding rings glittered in the light. “Could you…”
“I’m not that sort of Captain,” he admitted. “Besides, even a ship’s captain has to be in international waters. A filled in coal dock doesn’t count.”
They both looked disappointed.
“Well, does it really matter?” Gwen asked. “We don’t even have a government right now. And I don’t know where they keep the list of people who are licensed to perform marriages, but it’s probably in ashes. Who’s to say you can’t? Jack, do it for them. At least that would be something… Do it.”
Jack looked at his watch. It was nearly 1 am. It had been about half past ten when this all began. It was their wedding day.
Ever since Ianto had asked Alun to marry him, they had talked about it, the three of them, over coffee, over beers at the pub, over pizza in his office. They had all agreed that there was nothing about the Civil Partnership that would change one iota of the relationship. They wouldn’t love each other any more or less, or in any different way. It had been a mere gesture. But the closer to the day, the more the arrangements had been finalised, the more it had come to mean to them.
It still meant something to them, even though everything else had ceased to matter.
He stood up.
“Come here…” he said to them. “Give me those two rings.” Ianto and Alun stood and approached him. Ianto handed him the rings. He looked at them in the palm of his hand, then gave one to each of them. He pressed their hands together.
“Take care of each other,” Jack said. Then he told them to say the vows they had prepared for the ceremony and exchange rings. Solemnly, Ianto slid a ring on Alun’s hand. Alun slid one on Ianto’s. They said their vows. “There, you’re married,” he added. “Alun Llewelyn Jones, Ianto Llewelyn Jones… you can kiss each other.”
Their friends looked on as Ianto took Alun in his arms and kissed him deep and passionately.
“We should celebrate,” Rhys said. “Wasn’t there a bottle of champagne in the fridge?” But that proposal was met by an angry glare from Owen. “What?”
“Have you no consideration? I mean… those two… I don’t blame them for wanting… but champagne… celebrations… what’s to celebrate? We’re stuck down here and… for fuck sake… do you think Tosh wants to celebrate? Does she want champagne?”
“I don’t mind if anyone has a glass of champagne,” Toshiko said. “I’m… Ianto, Alun… I don’t mind you wanting a small bit of happiness… Bless you both. I just want to sleep. I want… a few hours peace… before I have to think about it all again… About Etsu… dying alone, without me…”
“I can give you something that will help you sleep,” Owen said. “But when you wake up…”
“I know. Nothing will have changed. But… please…”
“Let her lie down in the boardroom,” Jack suggested. “It’s quiet in there.” Owen nodded. Jack and the others both watched as Owen took Toshiko, holding her arm as he walked with her. All through her unexpected pregnancy Owen had looked after her that way. Now he was ready to care for her again, but this was beyond his medical abilities. All he could do was be her friend.
“I think sleep is a good idea for everyone,” Jack said as he watched Owen settling Toshiko down on the boardroom sofa and then sitting on one of the chairs at the table to watch her as she slept. “Alun… Ianto… it’s no kind of honeymoon suite… but take my bed down under the office. Make what you can of it.”
They thanked him quietly and did as he suggested. The others found a place they could be something like comfortable. Gwen and Rhys made the best of the sofa under the Torchwood sign. Beth curled up on an easy chair in the rest area. Jack and Garrett were the only ones who didn’t sleep. Jack watched the depressing statistics on the continuous TV broadcast while Garrett tried again to reach somebody on the radio transmitter. The fact that he was getting nothing but static on every channel he tried was worrying.
“I don’t think there’s anything to keep watch for,” Jack said after a while. “We might as well grab some sleep, too. The only place left is under the table in the rest area, but it’s better than nothing...”
“Any other time, under the table with you would be an offer I can’t refuse,” Garrett answered. “But I just don’t think… I don’t know if I’m on or off duty right now. I think I’m on. I think there are things I ought to be doing.”
“Me too,” Jack said. “But… we can’t do any of them right now.” He smiled wryly. “I never felt less like having sex, either. But I would like to cuddle up with you for a little while.”
Garrett nodded. He turned off the radio transmitter and Jack spread his big, woollen greatcoat on the floor under the table. It was a poor bed, but both of them could have thought of worse ones and at least they were able to lie close together, taking comfort from each other. They kissed a little, but for reassurance, not out of passion. They let their tired, hurt, emotionally drained bodies relax enough to doze, not quite awake and not quite asleep, just enough for time to pass without them feeling its passing.
A sudden noise made Jack sit bolt upright, narrowly missing cracking his head on the table. Garrett jerked awake, too. They looked around. It was six o’clock by the clock on the wall. They had slept about three and a half hours. It would be morning outside, if there was any outside. If there was a morning.
“What was that noise?” Jack asked.
“Some sort of alarm,” Garrett answered. “I think it’s coming from…”
But Jack was already running, even before Owen shouted suddenly and ran from the boardroom, calling for Toshiko. He ran to the source of the alarm – Toshiko’s workstation. He noted the deep colour of the mood pebbles. They must have been feasting on the emotions sloshing around the Hub right now. He tried not to look at the space where Etsuko’s carry cot usually sat. He forced himself to concentrate on what mattered.
“There’s been a breach,” he said as he examined the Hub schematic on the screen. “Someone forced open the door to the garage…”
“Oh no!” Owen exclaimed. “Jack… It’s Tosh… She’s gone out. She…” He pushed a handwritten note into his hands. It simply said, “Nothing to stay here for.”
“She’s gone out?” But… she… it’s instant death out there. There must still be fires raging… radiation… she…Oh, fucking hell!”
Owen looked wrecked. He had failed to look after her. It was all he had wanted to do, and he had failed. She had slipped away from him when his guard was down.
“We’ve got to… to get her back…”
“We can’t,” Jack answered. “We can’t do anything. She’s already dead.”
“Fuck,” Owen swore. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He kicked the waste bin by the workstation and yelled in pain.
“Don’t wake the others,” Garrett told him. “Let them sleep. They don’t need to know this yet.”
Owen turned to Garrett and looked about to tell him to fuck off. There was a look on his face that Jack had learnt to be wary of, something like a Human equivalent of a smoking volcano. Then he looked around the Hub, at the low light in Jack’s office, the place where Gwen and Rhys were sleeping, the chair where Beth was curled up, still. He nodded. This was going to hurt them all, but let them have a little longer before they knew the whole of it.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Garrett said as Jack brought Owen to the rest area and sat him down. He watched his face carefully. The volcano analogy was appropriate. Owen looked ready to lose it completely. And Jack knew he was taking a risk by being so close to him when it did.
But he didn’t lose it. He was holding it in. Jack wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. He thought the latter. Waiting for a volcano to blow was a nerve-wracking time.
He drank the coffee Garrett brought, anyway. He said nothing, other than thanking him when he took the mug.
“What if…” he said finally. “Jack, the only plan we have is to sit here and wait it out… I don’t know. How long were we supposed to do that for? Six months? Longer? I mean… Nine… eight… of us… and a couple of weevils in the cells, just sitting here, trying not to hate each other?”
“Yes,” Jack admitted. “That is our only plan at the moment.”
“Well… why don’t we… why can’t we just… the cryo-store… let’s… go to sleep… until it’s over… I can programme it… Jack… let’s do that. Because… otherwise… I think I’ll be the next one to just open the door….”
“Jack…. Please… let’s…. let’s do this….”
“I’m thinking…” he answered. And he was. Owen had a point. They could all sleep out the crisis down there. They could wake up in fifty years if it was necessary. It was a good idea, except that, fifty years later, they would still have all the emotional issues to deal with. They would all wake up still feeling like shit because everyone else they knew was dead.
But he was thinking of something else, too. Michael, the one live occupant of the cryo-stores for the best part of a century. He was down there, still, oblivious to all of this. Oblivious to the fact that Connie was dead, too. And David, his grandson.
“Michael…” Jack turned and ran without another word. He kept running all the way down the stairwell to the cryo-store. He stopped for breath once as he reached the landing and then kept running again.
Because he had suddenly realised something. If everyone in Cardiff was dead or dying, then that included the teenage version of Michael. And if he was dead, then…
The cryo-unit still said it had one adult male occupant. But he wanted to see for sure. It took two minutes to open the door of the cryo freezer without initiating the defrost programme. It seemed longer.
Michael was there, still frozen, still waiting out the years. He looked at him just long enough before closing the door again and sealing it.
If Michael was still there, then there had been a paradox, or they had slipped into an alternative reality or…
Or there was one other, much simpler, much easier explanation.
He turned and ran again, back up to the Hub. He noted that the others were up, now. Gwen was crying in Rhys’s arms. Garrett was comforting Beth as he broke the news to them all. Ianto and Alun just looked stunned.
“Jack…” Garrett called to him. “What is it?”
“I think…” he said. He stopped. He really did have to catch his breath. He caught hold of a railing and breathed in deeply. “I think…”
His thoughts went unsaid. He spun around in surprise at the sound of the huge, heavy, round door into the Hub starting to open, accompanied by a flashing light and klaxon that indicated that it was being opened manually from the other side. He stepped towards the door and gave a choked cry as Toshiko stepped through.
She was carrying Etsuko.
“What!” Jack was only a few paces away, but it was Owen who got to her first. Jack swore his feet didn’t touch the ground as he ran to hug her and the baby.
“What?” That was the question they were all asking. Jack extricated her from Owen’s embrace and brought her to the table. Garrett offered her coffee, but she shook her head.
“What’s going on?” Gwen asked.
“Nothing,” Toshiko answered. “Nothing at all. Up there… it’s Saturday morning, and the sun is shining and everything is just fine. Nothing happened. There was no nuclear attack on anyone, anywhere. I… I stepped out of the garage… and… I went home. The babysitter was asleep on the sofa with the TV still on. Breakfast News… nothing but the usual rubbish. Etsu was in her cot… Jack, everyone is alive. It’s all right…”
“Then how…” It was Ianto who turned to look at the analogue TV that was still broadcasting a horror story of loss of life. Then he reached for his mobile phone. It was showing the ‘no signal’ sign. He turned and ran through the open door, up the steps and out through the tourist office. Alun and Jack were close behind him. He didn’t see either of them. He was staring across the Bay at the hotel where he had brought his mother to stay overnight. He reached for his mobile phone and speed dialled a number.
“Mam…” he said, trying to control the emotion in his voice. “Yes, I’m up. No, I’m not hungover. I hardly drank anything last night. I’m fine. I’m sorry about the phone. It just went dead on me. I’m… Mam… Alun and I will be with you in a bit. I want to have breakfast with you. I… I love you, mam…”
He turned, blinking back tears and saw Alun standing next to Jack. The others were there, too, now. All of them blinking and staring at the pale blue sky of an early summer morning as if they never expected to see it again. He reached out his hand to his lover. Alun ran to hug him. A group of elderly anglers heading down to the jetty to go out fishing for the day gave them a disgusted look, but they didn’t care. Jack turned from watching them and saw Garrett on his own mobile phone. He was angry with somebody, and then shocked by their reply. When he finished the call he looked around at everyone.
“We were all victims of a very tragic hoax,” Garrett said slowly. “It was perpetrated by a disgruntled operative in London… He had been disciplined for some misdemeanour or other… He set up the Doomsday simulation to lockdown Thames House, GCHQ, and several other offices… including Cardiff… And… And Torchwood, because your computers are linked with ours. The simulation was total. Once lockdown was engaged, nobody knew what was happening in the outside world. The analogue broadcasts were part of it…. The mobiles going dead… the whole scenario…”
“I’ll fucking kill him,” Owen growled. “What he put us through…What he put Tosh through.” He put his arm around Toshiko as he said that. “I’ll fucking kill him.”
“You can’t,” Garrett told him. “He’s dead. There was…” He laughed hollowly. “Jack, I accused you and your team of not being professional. At Thames House, three people committed suicide and one… Christ, I can hardly believe it. I knew the man for years. We’ve been on assignments together… He decided life wouldn’t be worth living in a post apocalyptic world and shot three of his colleagues – including the one who did it… then himself. And… it was only then that they found out that it wasn’t real…”
Jack said nothing. He leaned against the rail and looked out across that same bay. He breathed deeply. The air felt good.
“Jack,” Garrett said. “I’d better… I need to check in at the office. They’ve been trying to contact me all night.”
“Yes, you’d better do that,” Jack answered him. “But don’t take too long. We’ve still got a wedding to go to this afternoon.” Garrett smiled and kissed him on the cheek, further infuriating the anglers, and sprinted off in the direction of the nearest taxi rank. Jack turned back to where Alun and Ianto were still hugging each other tightly.
“You two… give me back those rings. If the registry office is still standing then you’re not married yet. Go and have that breakfast and I’ll see you later ready to be your Best Man.”
They grinned as they did so. He told the others to get themselves some breakfast and a few hours sleep and warned them not to be late for the wedding. It didn’t take long for them all to go their separate ways. Soon he stood alone on the boardwalk. He strolled slowly back to the Hub, noticing that Myfanwy was noisily feeding her adopted family. He noted that the simulation had cancelled itself out now. They were no longer in lockdown. After Ianto got back from his honeymoon, the two of them should spend some time making sure the connection between Torchwood’s computers and MI5’s was thoroughly firewalled.
Meanwhile, a bit of breakfast before it was time to get ready for the wedding was a great idea. He headed down to the cryo-store to wake Michael. The two of them could go to a really nice café he knew with the second best coffee after Ianto’s and the best hash browns he had eaten since he left the Boeshane peninsula. Right now that was the best way he could think of to celebrate being alive.