Ianto smiled blissfully as he looked around the best parlour of his mother’s house. It wasn’t the home he knew from childhood, of course. When his father retired and sold the shop they had moved from the flat above it into a modern bungalow with all the conveniences two people who were getting on a bit in years could want – double glazing, central heating, fitted kitchen, no stairs to climb. All the old familiar furniture was here, though, especially his mother’s pride and joy, a big glass fronted cabinet full of the most precious china ornaments collected in a lifetime.
The top of the cabinet had a broderie anglaise cloth almost hidden beneath the framed photographs that told the story of that lifetime. At the back, now, was a large picture of his mother and father’s wedding, back in the early 1970s when colour photographs in natural sunshine had a slightly yellow tinge to them. Then there was his christening photograph, ten years later, when they had almost given up hope of having a baby. There were pictures of him at every stage of his life. Baby photos including the obligatory bathtime one that he really wished Alun hadn’t seen, holidays in Barry Island and more exotic places like Llandudno or Weston Super Mare. His school photographs; he cringed as he remembered that royal blue jumper and tie and blazer that he wore from eleven to sixteen. Then there was his graduation picture. That was proudly displayed in a sterling silver frame. The son of two people who had always been in ‘trade’ getting a degree was something to boast about.
But centre stage now was given over to his own wedding photo. A big, high quality photograph of himself and Alun with their hands entwined, their wedding rings glittering on their fingers. It was taken outside the hotel, with Cardiff Bay in the background. They were both happy, both so much in love, and after the night they’d had before the wedding day, just glad to be alive. There was a copy of the same picture in their own flat, of course. But there was something very significant in the fact that his mother had put that picture in such a prominent spot in the best room of the house.
“Don’t people wonder about it?” he asked. “I mean… Reverend Davies still visits you, doesn’t he? Did he see this?”
“He saw it,” his mother answered. “He says it’s a shame you don’t come to chapel any more.”
“I’m sure he said more than that, mam,” Ianto commented. “Reverend Davies used to do hellfire and damnation sermons about the sins of the flesh. He can’t possibly have seen that picture and not said anything.”
“You’re my son, Ianto,” his mother told him. “I love you, no matter what other people think. Including Reverend Davies.”
“Anyway, I do go to chapel sometimes. If I’m not working on Sundays. They have churches in Cardiff. And apart from loving Alun, I have never done anything I’d be ashamed of in chapel. Not that I’m ashamed of loving Alun, for that matter. But I know what people around here would think. I know how many people didn’t come to the wedding.”
“I know, bachgen,” his mother told him. “But your wedding was lovely. I look at that picture all the time, and all I think is how happy you both look. My two boys.” She positively beamed at Alun and passed him a plate of home made cakes she had baked for their Sunday afternoon visit. Ianto couldn’t help smiling as he saw her. She really did adore Alun. That was why, even though her religious beliefs, her old-fashioned values, told her that they were wrong, she just couldn’t condemn either of them. She really did think of it as gaining another son.
She poured more tea and reached for the wedding album that was on the glass table between the sofa and the armchair, where any visitor to the house could not fail to notice it. Of course they had an identical one at home, but all the same, Alun politely submitted to being shown the pictures.
But something puzzled him about them. He looked more closely at the group photograph of all the guests lined up outside the hotel. All the Torchwood team were there, of course, plus those few friends they knew through work, like Kathy Swanson. There were a very few Jones cousins and aunts and uncles, most of whom had turned up out of curiosity, wondering if it was really true that Ianto was getting married to another man. He had talked to most of them at some point in the reception. He could put a name to each face with a little effort. But the man standing next to Mrs Jones puzzled him.
He turned the page in the album and there was a picture of Ianto in his wedding suit, standing with his mother and that same man.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“That’s Ianto’s father, silly,” replied Mrs Jones. Alun looked at her curiously, then he turned to Ianto, who was looking at his mother in surprised shock. He stepped closer and looked at the picture in the album and his face paled.
“Mam,” he said. “That’s….” He stopped. He wasn’t sure what to say. It WAS his father, as he looked before Alzheimers had robbed him of the intelligence in his eyes and turned him into a lost soul who needed a nurse to remind him when to go to the toilet and to help him work out which door led to the bathroom. It was his father before he got to the stage where he couldn’t even recognise his wife and son when they came to visit him in the hospital.
It was his father, as he was in the pictures of their last family holiday before Ianto went to university and started to live a life of his own, separate from his parents. There were pictures of that holiday among the frames on the cabinet. They had actually gone as far as Edinburgh that year – a foreign country to his parents. There was a picture of him and his dad against the wall in the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle.
Ianto looked over Alun’s shoulder at the impossible photographs as his mother turned the pages. He felt Alun’s hand reach to grip his and hold on tight. He was glad of that. He felt as if he was in a surreal dream and the reassuring touch of his lover’s hand was his anchor in reality.
“Mam,” he began again, biting his lip fearfully. He didn’t want to say what he knew he had to say. He felt as if he was bursting a bubble. “Mam, dad is dead. He died six years ago. How can he be in our wedding photos?”
“I know he’s dead,” his mother answered. “I remember… the funeral. You cried so much, Ianto. You told me you were sorry you spent so much time away at university and didn’t come home to see us often enough. But the trains between here and Aberystwyth are so difficult. We knew it would be hard for you to get home. Besides, your dad hardly even knew you weren’t there. And then he went into the hospital… and… I remember you crying at the graveside. You were so upset. And then a few days after that you said you were going to work in London… you’d been offered a really good job there. You worried if I was going to be all right. But I told you not to worry about me. You went off to London. And you were happy. You wrote to me about Lisa, the girl you were so fond of. Then she died… and you came home to Wales. And you got a new job and a flat. And you were seeing that nice girl, Beth, for a while. Then you met Alun…”
Alun and Ianto looked at each other. There was clearly nothing wrong with her recollection of events in their lives over the past few years. She wasn’t losing her mind. Besides, the sort of delusions Ianto’s father had in the last years weren’t corroborated by photographic evidence.
“Mam…” Ianto burst into tears. His father’s funeral had been a hard time for him. He had felt guilty about not being around in those last years. He had gone to university because he wanted to get away from the village, chapel going, the rural monotony, and stretch himself in ways he knew he was capable of stretching himself. But his father’s death had made him feel so selfish for wanting to do that, for dreaming of London and the unusual but exciting work that was offered to him. His tears had been partly for his dead father, partly for his mother who was alone now, and partly for himself, caught in the middle of it all.
And now, it seemed as if he was going through all that heartache and frustration again, just when his life had seemed so full of happiness.
He looked at another picture in the album – himself, Alun, and his mother and father. He could see Mermaid Quay in the distance, across the bay – where the entrance to Torchwood was, the tourist office that his mother thought he and Alun worked in. The picture was beautiful. It looked exactly as he wished it could have been on his wedding day, with both of his parents at his side.
But he remembered that picture being taken. There was only his mother there. She had talked about his father, regretting that he couldn’t be there, telling him that his father would have been proud. Ianto had wondered if he would have been. His father was an old-fashioned man in every way. He had an old-fashioned job, a trade that was almost gone before Ianto was born. He had old-fashioned hobbies like fishing and making model aeroplanes. And he had old-fashioned ideas about what marriage was and was not. He had never heard him condemn homosexuality. But that was probably because his father almost certainly thought it was something that happened in strange, foreign places like Los Angeles or London, not in South Wales, and not in his family.
Ianto really would not have wanted to explain his relationship with Alun to his father. And if he was alive, he really didn’t think he would have been at the wedding.
These pictures weren’t just wrong. They were impossible.
“Mam,” he managed to say. “If dad died six years ago, before I went to London, how could he have been at the wedding a few weeks ago?
That was a logical question. Mrs Jones looked at her son and his life partner with a puzzled expression as she tried to answer him.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I really don’t understand it. But he was there. He was at your wedding, Ianto. And he’s been here, too. Sitting there reading the paper, doing the crossword, cutting out clipping of interesting facts. You remember him doing that, bachgen? His scrapbook of interesting facts from the paper. He always read them to you when you were a boy. Things like the height of the Eiffel Tower and how many tons of steel went into building it, and the length of the Severn Bridge and…”
“Yes, mam,” Ianto said. “I know. I remember. But that was a long time ago. His scrapbooks are all in a box in the loft. I put them there. You said you couldn’t bear to see them around the room.” Ianto cried again, big, bitter tears running down his cheeks. Alun held him tightly by the shoulders.
“Mrs Jones,” Alun said. “Don’t talk any more about this. It’s really upsetting Ianto.” He kissed his cheeks tenderly, whispering softly to him in Welsh, the language they both used when they made love. The effect on Ianto was calming. But he was hurting still. Alun knew there was very little he could do about it. The best he could do was ask Mrs Jones to make another pot of tea. With her out of the room, he closed the album and slipped out to the hall and put it with his and Ianto’s coats. “We’ll show that to Jack tomorrow,” he said as he came back into the parlour and sat next to his lover on the sofa. Mrs Jones returned with a fresh pot of tea and more cakes and they talked about safe subjects like the weather and how much rubbish there was on television until it was time for them to head off back to Cardiff.
Jack had spent the night with Garrett. They had both lingered over breakfast longer than they should and he was just a little bit ashamed that Beth had already opened up the tourist office before he got there. He stepped into the bright, inviting shopfront and had to wait for a few minutes. There was somebody buying picture postcards of Cardiff that she had on a rack by the desk. She also had display boxes with keyrings, pens and souvenir bookmarks on the counter and the brochures on the shelves were up to date. It was a real cover for Torchwood now. But it did mean there were these hiatuses occasionally before she could open the inner door.
“Hi, Jack,” she said as the customer took her postcards and headed out. “Did you have a good weekend?” Jack’s suggestive smile said it all.
“How about you?” he answered, knowing that she enjoyed talking to him and the other team members before they disappeared downstairs and left her at the front end.
“Yes, it was great,” she answered. “I went up to Porthcawl with my brother.”
“Nice,” Jack said. Then with the coast clear she pressed the button that opened the secret inner door. He stepped through. He walked down the steps and into the Hub Central, noting that somebody needed to clean up the remains of dead birds and other assorted wildlife that Myfanwy had kicked out of the nest after the chicks had finished with them. He had got as far as his office door before the significance of what Beth had said to him actually sank in.
He turned and was about to go back when he heard the sound of somebody sniffing loudly. Gwen was at her workstation, trying not to cry. By her side was a bag of groceries she must have picked up on her way in to work – ever the organised, domestic one. As Jack approached she looked up at him with her big eyes glistening with held back tears. She reached in her groceries and pulled out a tin of dog food.
“Do you think if we put this out Myfanwy would feed the chicks with it?” she asked.
“It would be less messy than pigeon,” Jack answered. “But why…”
“I bought it for my dog,” Gwen said, swallowing hard and sounding emotionally choked up.
“I didn’t know you had a dog,” Jack said to her.
“I don’t. I used to years ago. Before Rhys and I were an item. Bonnie… we had her from a pup. She was 16 when she died of a liver problem. She’s buried under a rose tree in the garden at mum and dad’s.” She paused. Jack waited for her to reach some relevant point. “When I was in the shop this morning, I bought dog food, because… I thought she was still alive and living with me and Rhys. I could remember feeding and walking her. And I felt I had to buy dog food. I can remember yesterday morning, the two of us in the park with her. But as I was walking across the Plas, I started to wonder why… because it can’t have happened. She’s long gone.”
“You had a vivid dream about being with your old dog?” Jack suggested. “And when you were shopping, the dream was still fresh in your mind.”
“Yes, that makes sense,” she said. “Except..” She switched on her computer screen and pointed to it. The desktop wallpaper was a photograph of herself and Rhys, in a park, with a golden labrador dog.
Gwen burst into tears. Jack reached out to hug her. As he did, Beth came into the Hub. Her face was pale and she walked in a daze. He reached out one arm and she ran to him. He hugged them both until their emotions were controllable.
“Both of you go and sit in the boardroom,” he said. “I’m going to send the others up when they get in and we’ll talk about this.”
As they did so, he turned to see Owen coming in, lifting Etsuko’s pushchair over the awkward gap in the floor where the big round security door rolled back. Toshiko was behind him. At the same time, Ianto and Alun came down the pavement lift. He told them all to go to the boardroom while he went to the rest area to prepare a pot of coffee. He had a feeling they were all going to need it.
He little knew how much. When he reached the boardroom with the refreshments they all stopped talking, but the atmosphere could have fed Toshiko’s mood pebbles for a month. As he passed the coffee around Beth was trembling so much that she would have dropped her cup if Alun hadn’t gently steadied her hand. He and Ianto looked distressed. So did Owen. Toshiko, with Etsuko on her knee, was the only one of them who seemed untroubled.
There was a strange collection of artefacts on the table. The tin of dog food, a brightly coloured envelope from a 24 hour photo shop and a pair of cream coloured photograph albums.
“Ok,” Jack said as he sat at the head of the table and hugged a coffee mug. “Where do we start?” He looked around and then told Gwen to repeat her story about the non-existent dog. Then Beth, with her voice rough and fresh tears about to descend any moment, described her weekend.
“It was wonderful. Celyn drove the car. We had a picnic on the beach, in an old fashioned wicker basket with the plates and cups and cutlery in the lid. It was just like old times when we were kids. I talked about working here. He joked that it wasn’t fair. He was the one who researched aliens and I got the job actually capturing them. I told him I mostly filed the reports and I’d never captured an alien. He didn’t mean it, anyway. He’s proud of me. At least…” She stopped talking and looked around at the Torchwood team. The proper team that she was only a sort of addendum to. “It’s not real is it? My brother is dead. You have his body frozen in the cryostore.”
“How do you…” Jack began. She wasn’t actually supposed to know that.
“I type all the files,” she reminded him. “I know where he is. I thought of asking Ianto to show me later. Because then I’d know that it was all a dream. But then the nice memory might go away. And it was nice. It was like a holiday out of the reality of knowing he is dead. So even though I know, I don’t want to see. And I don’t want to lose the memory of yesterday. But I do want to know why it happened.”
“You hold onto the good memory,” Jack told her. “And please, don’t ask any of us to take you down to the cryo-store. That’s not a good place for you, believe me. Gwen, don’t buy any more dog food, but hold onto your good memory, too.” They both nodded, still slightly glassy eyed. Then Owen coughed meaningfully and pushed the photo envelope towards him. Jack opened it and looked at the pictures.
They showed two people having a good time at a fairground. Jack wasn’t a person who knew about fairgrounds but he assumed it was some seaside resort in South Wales. Anyway, one of the people was Owen. The other was a pretty young woman who seemed vaguely familiar but he wasn’t sure where and how. The pictures showed them on various rides, especially the sort where Owen got to put his arms around the woman in some intimate way. There was a particularly good picture of the two of them on a carousel horse, Owen behind her with his arms tight around her waist as she clung to the horse’s reins. They looked like people for whom love is a carousel horse with two saddles.
The fact that one of the people was Owen jarred with that idea. Owen’s idea of showing a woman a good time was two or three drinks in a noisy bar where you could barely exchange names and say ‘your place or mine’ then a grope in the taxi and a night in his bed. He rarely looked for a second date. He didn’t do love. He didn’t do romance. He didn’t do carousel horses.
Jack tried not to glance up at Toshiko, but he couldn’t help it. She was getting ready to feed Etsuko. Owen was actually warming the bottle in a hand held bottle warmer. The one crack in his emotional armour was Etsuko. He adored her, and the affection extended to her mother. It hadn’t escaped his notice that the two of them had arrived together this morning. As far as he was aware that was still a close, platonic friendship. But if Owen was going to take anyone to the fair and ride a carousel horse with them, Jack would have expected it to be Toshiko.
“Owen,” he said. “Who is this woman you’re with?”
“Katie,” Owen answered, then looked away as he gave the warmed milk to Toshiko and kept his eyes on the baby. He was avoiding looking anyone else in the eye.
“Oh.” Jack looked at the pictures again. It wasn’t a secret as such, but Jack was probably the only Torchwood member who knew that Owen wasn’t always a hedonistic one night stand man. Before Diane, before Gwen, before Suzie, and however many other woman whose names he didn’t bother to ask or remember, there was Katie Russell. They had been engaged. They were both doctors. They were about to have an ordinary, respectable life; marriage, mortgage, two car garage, maternity leave...
Then Katie died, in circumstances that led to her brain being stored in the same place as Beth’s brother’s body. That was why Jack recognised her. From the case notes he had filed just before he persuaded Owen to join Torchwood and help stop that happening to anyone else.
“Owen, these pictures…” He looked at the date stamp on the envelope. They were developed on Friday at a laboratory in Bute and sent back to him by first class post. “They’re new? They’re not from…”
“Look at the one with the bears,” Owen replied without looking up. Jack shuffled the pictures and found one of Owen and Katie sitting on a bench between two colourful life size fibreglass bears holding up a banner on which the date appeared on a perpetual calendar, changed each day. A souvenir of the day out. It was Saturday a week ago.
“Katie…” Owen said, finally looking up. “I was over her. She was a memory. But one I could deal with. I thought about the good times, sometimes. She loved fairs. I used to go to them because she wanted to go. She loved carousels. I had got to the point where I could remember stuff like that, and not remember her illness, her death, the fucking funeral. I was doing ok. I was managing to live an ok sort of life. Then those arrived today and I suddenly remembered spending last weekend at the fair with Katie. And then I remembered that she was dead. And all the shit came back into my head.”
“What did you really do on that day?” Gwen asked. “Sorry. I know that’s a bit personal. You don’t have to answer. But it might help.”
“He was with me,” Toshiko answered. “I mean, not on a date or anything. Not WITH me as such. We formed a mother and baby group… the other women.. Cally and the rest. We found it easier than joining other groups with ‘ordinary babies’. We took them all to the swimming baths for the first time. Swimming is good for babies. Gets them used to water from an early age. Owen came along to observe, in a sort of professional capacity. Afterwards we all had coffee in the café at the leisure centre and he checked over all the babies like he always does. And he drove me and Etsu home.”
“Yes,” Owen confirmed. “That was what really happened. But I can also remember… the fair, with Katie. As if I was living two lives at the same time.”
“Same here, Jack,” Gwen said. I mean, I’m not comparing my dog to Owen’s girlfriend. But I do remember two different versions of the weekend. I remember a normal weekend with Rhys. We went to his mum’s for lunch on Saturday. Then in the evening we went to the cinema. Sunday, we stayed in bed until 10.30. Then we had a pub lunch with Big Dai and his wife and watched telly in the evening. But… I can also remember… being woken up early on Sunday by Bonnie jumping on the bed, wanting to be walked… going out when it was still quiet and wearing a cardigan because it was a bit nippy in the shade. And….” She bit her lip. “It was a nice memory. I wish it was real. The flat’s big enough and we could organise walking and stuff. We should get a dog.”
Gwen looked around. Her last comment was totally trivial and irrelevant, but nobody really seemed to mind. It did seem, though, as if it was time for her to shut up. Alun reached for the two photo albums that he and Ianto had brought to this surreal Show and Tell session. He opened them both at a certain page and pushed them into the middle of the table. Everyone craned to look before Jack pulled them closer and studied the two albums carefully. It was like one of those ‘spot the difference’ games. In the wide group photos the difference was subtle. But in the smaller groups it was obvious.
“Hywell Lloyd Jones,” Ianto said. “Born 1940. Died, 2003. My father.”
“You remembered your dad being at your wedding?” Owen looked at him with a sympathetic expression. He had felt the pain of being forced to remember his long dead fiancée. He could imagine how Ianto was feeling.
“Not me,” he answered. “Those are my mother’s copy of the photo album. Ours… is the real one. Mam thinks dad has come back as an angel to watch over her.”
“Oh, bless,” Gwen said. “That’s sort of… nice. I don’t suppose… No, why would my poor old dog be an angel… or Beth’s brother… or Owen’s….”
She stopped talking.
“We don’t believe in angels, I suppose? They’re probably aliens from some planet where people wear white and have wings.”
“Quite possibly,” Jack considered. “But I don’t think your loved ones are angels. For Ianto’s mom’s sake, I wish they were. What bothers me… If it was just us… the things we deal with, the rift, all sorts of psychic influences, I would put it down to us being exposed to something. But it looks as if it’s wider than that. Mrs Jones doesn’t even live in Cardiff. She’s well away from the rift…”
“And besides,” Toshiko pointed out. “Only three of us are affected. Owen, Gwen and Beth. I’m not. You’re not, Jack. Neither are Alun and Ianto. It was his mum who saw his dad, it’s his mum’s album.”
“Then there’s some other factor to consider,” Jack said. “Gwen, what about Rhys? Has he had any memories of old girlfriends?”
“If he had, I don’t think he’d tell me,” Gwen pointed out.
“I think I’d better have a chat with him. Gwen, call him and ask him to come down here for a few hours. Tell him it’s nothing to worry about. Meet him up on the Plas and bring him down here…” Jack paused and looked at Ianto. “Your mum doesn’t know what you do for a living, does she?”
“She came to the office once, and I took her out for lunch. She thinks I work in tourism.”
“Go and get her. Bring her here. Break it to her gently on the way. Owen, try to find some kind of way of examining everyone’s brains for anomalies. Something that isn’t going to traumatise a nice, chapel-going lady who thinks her husband is an angel. Toshiko, check the rift predictor. See if there was anything over the past couple of weeks that explains all of this. If you can, check right back to the wedding. Those pictures seem to be the earliest evidence we have. Beth, sweetheart, I know this has been upsetting. But do you feel up to running the office, still?”
“I can do that,” she promised. “But when you know what this is all about… please tell me.”
“You’re completely in the loop, I promise.”
She stood up to go back to her work. Alun and Ianto stood, too. Everyone went to their assigned tasks. Jack picked up the strange evidence. Owen’s packet of photos, Ianto’s wedding pictures. He brought them all to his own office. He sat and looked slowly through them all and thought about what was apparently happening. He wondered why only certain people were affected. He wondered why he, himself, wasn’t. There was a long list of people he might have remembered spending the weekend with. People he had loved and cherished in the past. It would be nice to have a memory of a pleasant couple of days with some of then.
Of course, he did have a nice weekend with Garrett. He had absolutely nothing to complain about. Maybe that was it. He was content with the present. So were Ianto and Alun. They didn’t need any old memories. They were too busy stocking up on new ones. Toshiko was happy being a working mother with no particular regrets and no yearnings that she had expressed to anyone. Maybe contentment with the present was their guard against whatever was doing this.
Or there was something else that he’d missed.
“Jack,” Gwen called to him. He stood up as she stepped away from the door. He saw Rhys sitting on the sofa under the Torchwood sign. He wasn’t alone. DCI Kathy Swanson was sitting next to him. Rhys was pointing out some of the unique features of the Hub, such as the arboretum full of alien plant life, the rift manipulator, the pterodactyl nest with the adopted family of eagles.
“She was on the Plas,” Gwen said. “Looking for Torchwood. She has something worrying her. Jack, I think it’s to do with the thing we’re already working on.”
“If you laugh at me, Jack Harkness, or make any kind of joke out of this, I will swing for you. I swear I will,” Kathy Swanson said. “But I didn’t know who to go to apart from… you lot. And if you call me Gloria…”
“Rhys, you come into my office for a chat,” Jack said. “Gwen, you take Kathy to the boardroom.”
“Me, interview…” Gwen looked nervous suddenly. She had left the police force while still a humble PC, a beat copper. Kathy Swanson was a DCI. There was a protocol issue there.
“Above the law,” Jack whispered in her ear. “You outrank her, now.”
“Ok,” Gwen nodded. “Kathy… it’s a lot more comfortable up there.” Kathy Swanson followed her without question. She needed answers, and it seemed that Torchwood was the place to find them.
“Thanks,” she said as she sat down. “And…. Thank Jack, too, please. He isn’t so insensitive after all. I think I would rather tell you than anyone else. A… a…”
“No… I mean… you’re a woman. I feel a bit… This is crazy. I think I’m going out of my mind. Or somebody is playing sick games with me.”
“Take your time,” Gwen said. “And don’t worry. Nothing you say will go beyond Torchwood. And Jack won’t laugh. I know you think he’s a bit of a…”
“Pushy, arrogant, self-centred tosser who thinks he’s God’s gift to women – and men…”
“Something like that. But he’s not really. He’s actually a really decent man. All that is just his… act… his mask, against people guessing he’s actually a sweetie. But don’t tell him I said so.”
Kathy laughed and managed to relax a bit. Then she reached into her coat pocket and put something on the table. Gwen picked it up. It was a small silver badge. She was no expert on such things but she recognised it as the regimental badge of the Parachute Regiment – one of the more easily identifiable designs, with a parachute and outstretched wings.
“It was on my bedside table this morning, along with a white rose.” Kathy swallowed hard. “And I remembered spending the night having really great sex with a guy I totally adore. Who might have been…”
“He left you this…”
“He was never there. The bed… I slept alone. I’m a DCI. I’ve done scene of crimes. I know when somebody has had sex in a bed. But yet… I know when I’ve had sex. There’s a morning after feeling. You know what I mean... when your body can still feel him there….”
“I know what you mean,” Gwen told her.
“Well, I had that feeling this morning. As if we had a fantastic night together. Everything I could remember... good, satisfying sex with a man who knew how to push all the right buttons.”
“I know that kind of man,” Gwen added, and tried not to let anyone other than Rhys into her mind at that moment. “What about the badge…”
“I used to have one like that. It was given to me by a man called Brian Hopkins before he went off with his regiment to Afghanistan. He was killed there. I went to his funeral. I wore the badge on my dress. The pin was loose. I think I lost it in the car on the way back from the ceremony. I cried more about losing the badge than about losing him. It felt as if I had let him down by losing the token of his love that he gave me before he went off to war.”
Gwen looked at Kathy Swanson carefully. She was wearing glasses with a tint in them. And she had eye make up on behind them. But neither quite disguised the fact that she had done some crying today.
“You have a strong memory of Brian… your lover… in bed with you all night… and you woke to find this… Sorry, I’m just recapping…”
“I’m not making it up, I swear.”
“I believe you,” Gwen assured her. “I really do. We might need to have Owen do a sort of examination… sort of a brain scan… to see if…”
“Even if I dreamt it… the badge is real. Even if I had some other man in bed and thinking it was Brian was some kind of side effect of a Rohypnol trick… the badge… is real.”
“That’s why Owen should eliminate anything like that,” Gwen told her.
Jack stepped out of his office with Rhys. They had had what could be called an in-depth man to man talk. He was satisfied he wasn’t affected by any visions of anything that Gwen could be jealous of, or anything else, either. Rhys wasn’t affected by whatever had made Gwen go and buy dog food for a dog they didn’t have.
“You and Gwen…” he said as he told Rhys to sit back down on the sofa for a while and passed him the day’s newspaper to read. “You’re not planning to have kids just yet?”
“We’re saving for a mortgage. The flat isn’t really right for a baby.”
“Do they allow pets in your block?” he asked. “If they do, I think Gwen would love you forever if you got her a puppy. A golden labrador if you can get one.”
“You think?” Rhys considered the idea. “I know she had a dog when she was a girl. Never really thought about it. You really think she’d like it?”
“Trust me,” Jack told him. Then his earpiece crackled. “Excuse me. Have to go. Owen will be with you in a bit. Whatever he does, don’t worry. It won’t hurt, and it won’t stop you having children!” He touched the microphone. “Ianto, yes, I’m on my way down.”
Mrs Jones was in the hospitality suite. Apart from wanting to keep the potential victims separate until they knew what was going on, it was the most pleasant part of the Hub and he really didn’t want Ianto’s mother distressed any more than necessary. But she was the one who seemed most thoroughly affected by these strange goings on, and he needed to talk to her here, in as controlled a situation as possible.
Ianto had done his best to make her comfortable. He had made a pot of tea and found biscuits to go with it on a plate. Sitting in the drawing room of the suite was about as normal and domestic as possible. Only the fact that there was a two-way mirror instead of a window made the scene false.
“Mrs Jones,” Jack said, reaching to shake hands with her before he sat down in the armchair opposite her. “I don’t know if you remember me…”
“You were Ianto’s Best Man,” she said. “Jack, isn’t it? You kept calling me ‘ma’am’ all the time and I told you to call me Blodwen. You’re with that other young man. Another couple that Reverend Davies wouldn’t be happy about.”
“Thanks for the ‘young’ bit,” Jack said. “I’m afraid my young man and I are both older than we either look or feel. I’m Ianto’s boss, as well as his friend. I run this place… Torchwood. Did he tell you what we do here?”
“Secret work for the government,” she answered. “I was surprised. But I always thought that little tourist shop wasn’t really what Ianto wanted to do with his life. And he always seemed to have more money than something like that would bring in. And he would work strange hours. I’m relieved. I was a bit worried he was into something illegal. Now it makes sense. And…I’m proud of him. Both of them. My boys, doing important work for their country.” She smiled widely at Ianto and Alun. “We’re both proud of them.”
“Both… you mean you and your husband?”
“Ianto’s father. I know that’s what you want to talk to me about. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s a blessing. It really is. I know he’s always near me. It’s a good feeling. It’s kind of you to take an interest. But I’m quite all right. I only wish Ianto could see him, too. He loved his dad. I wish he could sit and talk to him like he used to.”
“I don’t need to do that, mam,” Ianto assured her. “I’ve got plenty of good memories of him, still. Nothing can change that. But we ARE worried about this. It’s not natural. Dad is dead. And it’s not good for you…”
“Ianto, your mom can decide for herself what’s good for her,” Jack told him gently. “Blodwen... what worries me, is how you would feel if he wasn’t there again. If it all stopped again and you were left with just the memories.”
“I’d count my blessings that I had him for this little time,” she answered. “I did wonder if it would last. Do you think it won’t?”
“I don’t really know,” Jack told her. “I’m going to try to find out. I would like you to stay here in these rooms for a bit. Later, our doctor might want to examine you. Owen… he was at the wedding, too.”
“He was the one with the Japanese lady and the baby. Very nice couple.”
Jack nodded. Mrs Jones seemed to share her son’s quick memory, anyway. She remembered people. And she wasn’t the only one at the wedding who thought Owen, Toshiko and Etsuko were a family unit.
Jack had the sort of idea that should have had a light bulb appearing over his head, or a lightning bolt. He stood up and pressed his communicator. “Gwen, bring Rhys and Kathy down here to hospitality. They can keep Mrs Jones company. Then we need a team meeting.” He turned and looked at Ianto. “Your mum will be fine here. I need the two of you upstairs.”
Toshiko set up a CCTV link in the boardroom. They all watched as Mrs Jones, Kathy Swanson and Rhys drank tea and chatted amongst themselves perfectly happily, then the team settled down at the table to hear what Jack had to say.
“The wedding is the connection. It’s the only place all of us, Kathy, Rhys, Ianto’s mom, have all been together. That’s the link. But there’s something else. Some reason why only some of us were affected.” Jack opened Ianto’s wedding album and selected the largest group photograph with everyone who was at the wedding all smiling as naturally as anyone does when a photographer asks them to. He used a small alien device that could transfer printed matter directly from the page to a computer and then used a paint tool to carefully blank out the faces of everyone they knew to be unaffected. Himself and Garrett, Ianto and Alun, Toshiko and her baby, Rhys, Connie, Michael and David – if Connie or David had any problems they would have told him by now. The same applied to ‘Fox’ Mulder. He certainly would have called if he’d experienced anything like the others were reporting. He thought he could safely rule out all the cousins and aunts from Ianto’s part of the family. Mrs Jones would have probably mentioned if anyone else in the family had an ‘angel’.
“So what do Gwen, Owen, Beth, Kathy and Ianto’s mother have in common that everyone else doesn’t?” Jack asked. “What happened on that day that sets them apart? Let’s think about that day carefully.”
“The ceremony was exactly as planned,” Alun said. “Then we had the reception. It was a set menu with a vegetarian option. Only three people had that. Two of Ianto’s cousins, and Toshiko.”
“I’m not vegetarian,” Toshiko commented. “It was steak, and I don’t like beef.”
“It’s not the food,” Jack said. “So go on. What else happened?”
“After the dinner, we danced,” Gwen said. “Everyone except Rhys. He was worn out, poor love. After the night we had, then he’d had a few drinks, like everyone else. He just flaked out on a chair. David, Connie’s grandson, drove him home along with Toshiko because it was a long day for Etsuko. He came back to the party after he’d dropped them off. I stayed. I knew Rhys would be dead to the world till morning. So I stayed and enjoyed myself. Danced with both halves of the happy couple.”
“Ianto and Alun went to bed,” Owen said with a suggestive laugh. “They had the honeymoon suite.”
“Garrett and I got a room, too,” Jack added with a fond smile of remembrance. “Not the honeymoon suite, but you know, weddings, romantic mood…”
“TMI, Jack!” Owen replied. “Besides, you two weren’t affected.”
“My mum stayed overnight in the hotel, too,” Ianto confirmed. “We saw her off in a taxi in the morning before we took another one to the airport – for our proper honeymoon.”
“David drove Connie and Michael home just before midnight. Michael reported back at Torchwood on Monday morning. I saw him safely back in the freezer,” Owen continued. “Most of the aunts and cousins drifted off soon after. The last of us were me, Gwen, Kathy and Beth. I called a taxi to take us all home. We pooled the fare.”
“That puts you four together,” Jack said. “Nothing unusual happened on the journey? No lights in the sky? No blackouts?” Everyone shook their heads.
“Ianto’s mum wasn’t with us, anyway,” Beth pointed out.
“What taxi firm was it?” Ianto asked. “What did the driver look like?”
“A.B. Gallways,” Owen answered. “My mobile battery was flat so I called from a hotel phone. There was a card for them. The driver…”
“He was blonde,” Beth confirmed. “Very blonde, like a… Swede. Long hair. He reminded me of one of the men from Abba. That’s why I thought Swedish. His clothes seemed rather retro like that, too.”
“Yes,” Gwen confirmed. “That’s him, exactly.”
“That’s the same driver who took Ianto’s mum home,” Alun said. “I thought the same thing – Abba. But who really cares what a taxi driver dresses like? Ianto called to make sure she was home safe while we were at check in.”
“Get the address of that taxi firm,” Jack said. “Alun, you come with me. You can identify him. Ianto, Gwen, you go socialise with your loved ones. Tosh, concentrate on rift activity on the wedding day. Owen, we still might need to do a brain scan, but on the Abba lookalike. We’re going to bring him in.”
The driver was still protesting about his rights when they brought him into the interrogation room an hour later. He was starting to get on Jack’s nerves.
“Shut up,” he said irritably. “We’re not police. The rules don’t apply. There’s no lawyers, no phone calls. Owen, what do you reckon?”
Owen frowned at the reading on the device he had adapted from alien technology to take portable, convenient ECT scans.
“If these readings are correct,” he answered. “This geezer is Human, but he’s not from Earth. At least, not our Earth.”
“I agree,” Jack said looking at his wristlet. “Tell you something else, too. He’s been through the rift. There’s a strong trace. It’s almost an aura around him.”
“I don’t know anything about anything,” protested the driver, named on his taxi licence as Gary Crowther. “What rift?”
Jack shook his head slowly as another alien device lit up on the desk in front of him.
“Lie detector says you do,” he said. “Let’s not pretend any more. I never sleep more than two hours a night. I can interrogate you until you forget which way is up. If you piss me off too much I can get really nasty. So start talking. I want to know what you’ve done to friends of mine.”
“I haven’t done anything,” Crowther protested. “At least… not deliberately. Sometimes… when the rift opens… I can feel it. My world, my reality, seeps through. I’ve felt it. But I can’t control it. And I can’t find the way back. God knows, I wish I could. I don’t want to stay here.”
“Way back where?” Alun asked. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Cardiff, Wales, Earth. But not… not THIS Cardiff. This isn’t my world. I work for an organisation called Torchwood in my world. We’ve been experimenting with the rift. It opened. I fell through. Here, I’ve got no job. No family. Nobody knows me. I don’t exist. I want to get back to my wife and kids. I don’t want to be here.”
“You come from an alternative Earth, but subtly different?” Jack was watching the lie detector. This time Crowther was telling the truth. Jack knew such things were possible. But how did it tie in with…
“Did you feel the rift open on the night of June 6th,” Alun asked. “You were driving your cab. You took some friends of ours home from the St. David’s Hotel. Did you feel any of that ‘seepage’ that night?”
Crowther thought about it.
“There might have been,” he said. “About a month ago?”
Jack turned to a computer terminal with webcam and spoke to Toshiko. She had been watching and listening.
“There WAS strong rift activity that night. He could be right.”
“Your reality, seeping into ours, a world where people who are dead in this world are alive? Beth’s brother, Ianto’s dad, Owen’s Katie, Kathy’s Brian. A world where Gwen and Rhys bought a new dog and called it the same name as the one Gwen had when she was a girl.”
“I don’t know any of those people,” Crowther protested.
“You drove them in your taxi. There was a rift opening. You connected with it, because you’re from there. They were ‘infected’ by it. I’m not sure why it only manifested itself now, nearly a month later. Unless…” He turned to Toshiko on the webcam. She confirmed that a rift spike with the same resonance had occurred over the weekend. “Those already infected experienced the seepage of memories, of evidence like the photos, Kathy’s love token…”
“That’s what happened?” Owen was stunned. “That’s why… In his universe Katie is alive? We’re still together?”
“And you don’t work for Torchwood,” Jack added. “None of us do. I guess a lot of things are different there. Some good things, some bad. I’m not sure I’m happy with the way Torchwood are experimenting with the rift over there. When we get you back, you can put a stop to that.”
“Get me back?” Crowther looked at him hopefully. “How?”
“We didn’t mess with the rift. We just monitored it. We’ve almost perfected a method of predicting where and when. It looks like we can even make an educated guess of what’s on the other side. Toshiko can watch out for a repeat of the resonance that matches your world. We could be wrong, of course. You could wind up in prehistoric Earth or another planet. There are no guarantees. But if you’ve got the guts to try…”
“I’ll try,” Crowther said. “I have to try.”
“Right, then,” Jack said. “Sorted. Of course, you’ll have to stay here until we get the right resonance. Can’t have you infecting anyone else with these seepages. You’ll be quarantined. The hospitality suite will do. It’s quite nice. We’ll move you down there just as soon as we’ve sent our other guests home. That’s the best deal we can make. It’s that or a cell alongside our resident Weevil.”
Not surprisingly, Crowther took the first option. They left him in the interrogation room for now. Jack went to the boardroom and collected the various pieces of evidence and brought them down to the hospitality room. The rest of the team followed him.
“Kathy,” he said, giving her back the silver badge. “Keep it safe, this time. And never forget the man who gave it to you. Owen…” He gave him the packet of photographs. “Remember the good times, not the bad.” The two wedding albums he passed to Ianto. He put them on the coffee table and opened them. He looked through his mother’s one until he found the picture with himself and Alun and his mother and father. He swapped it with the one in his own album with just his mother in it.
“I want to keep that one, to remember… to remember dad… both of you… so proud and happy on that day.”
“You do that, bachgen,” Mrs Jones said. “Do you think… will I see him again?”
“I’m not sure,” Jack said. “You might for a little while, then it might stop happening. I’m pretty certain the physical evidence, the photos, Kathy’s badge, will remain. And that’s all right. You deserve to have those things. You deserve the memories, too. Hold onto them, all of you. Treasure all those wonderful extra moments you all had with your loved ones. Because I really envy you all. I wish…” He stopped. “Never mind. Just be assured, this is nothing anyone needs to worry about.”
They all accepted that. Ianto took his mother home. Gwen took Rhys and Kathy back to their offices. Jack transferred Crowther to the hospitality suite and made sure he was comfortable before locking him in it. When he came back up, Owen was showing his photos of Katie to Toshiko. He was smiling.
“Boss,” Owen called out to him. “We were wondering. If it was you… who do you think you would have wanted to have new memories of?”
“I wouldn’t know where to start,” he admitted. “I’ve lost too many people. I don’t know.”
Images flashed briefly through his mind; his mother, father, brother, his first girlfriend, his first boyfriend, Estelle, several other brief candles that had lit his life. Rose, The Doctor.
No, even if he had been given a choice, he couldn’t have made it.
“I bet the photographs would be x-rated, anyway,” Owen said with a laugh. Jack laughed with him. He was probably right at that.