The four male Torchwood team members hiked across the sand dunes with varying degrees of enthusiasm for their outward bound adventure. Alun and Ianto looked as if they had gone all the way in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and were enjoying themselves thoroughly. They had swapped their usual sharp suits for jeans, jumpers and walking boots and shouldered their backpacks as if they were born in a tent. They walked a little ahead. Ianto supplied a running commentary about the local area’s history, topography, flora and fauna from his all-encompassing mind. Alun listened dutifully and appeared to be as interested as his lover was in the fate of the rare Fen Orchid that could be found in these parts.
Jack was having a bittersweet time of it. He didn’t know much about Fen Orchids, but he was more familiar with this sort of terrain than anyone could imagine. This part of the South Wales coastline, with its wide, long, curving beach and these miles of sand dunes above were so much like home.
Home. The word ought to be meaningless to him. It was so many thousands of years away in the future that it didn’t even exist yet as a Human colony. It was so far back in his own memories it was sometimes hard to remember at all. But the scenery here made that remembering easy. The beach was so much like the one that made Boeshane a desirable place to live. If his mind really wandered the power station in the distance could have been the outer walls of the futuristic community he grew up in. It was a stretch of the imagination, but his imagination seemed to want to be stretched by it today. He had been thinking as they walked along the strand and then turned up over the high dunes, about many happy summer evenings of innocent games on those far off sands. He had been happy there. Everyone was. At least until….
He closed that memory down quickly. It had been pleasant to remember the good times in more than brief snatches. But the bad times always crowded in and spoilt it. He knew he probably needed some sort of trauma therapy about that. With all that had happened in his adult life, the memories of his childhood shouldn’t hurt quite so keenly as they did. But any psychiatrist who started on his mind would have a long job on his hands.
Anyway, he told himself, blinking as he turned to look at the natural lake that had formed in one of the wider, deeper hollows in the dunes. It wasn’t THAT much like Boeshane. There were plenty of differences, including Fen Orchids. Stupid of him to get sentimental about it.
Owen wasn’t really enjoying himself at all. It wasn’t that he was weak, or unfit, but he really hated the countryside. He had said so plenty of times. He hated camping. He hated walking across uneven ground, wet sand, slippery, loose sand on the dunes. He hated getting his ankles stung, scraped and even bitten by the flora and fauna Ianto was so enthusiastic about. Give him a city and he was happy to walk or even run through miles of it to protect the Human race from alien interference. But he didn’t bloody well like sand. He had stopped saying so because nobody paid any attention when he said it. Ianto and Alun where having the time of their lives. Jack seemed to be in another place entirely. None of them cared that he was totally unimpressed by this place.
And that took some doing, because it WAS an impressive place.
“What do you make of this, then?” Ianto called out to him as they approached what looked from a distance like a random formation of sand and the choking weeds that bound it all together into these dunes. They had been heading towards this point as if it was significant, and even Owen had noticed that it was something you didn’t usually find at the seaside. The random formation was actually part of a stone built wall with a bit of an archway still standing and some bits that Ianto, who had once ordered a whole set of brochures on the castles of south Wales for the Tourist Office, could have identified as crenulations. It was the sort of thing that would have Tony Robinson and his crew planning where they were going to put their first exploratory trench.
“Come on,” Ianto baited him. “Surely this is worth the walk.”
“What is it?” Owen asked sullenly.
“Castell Cynffig,” Ianto replied. “Kenfig Castle to you, Owen. The last bit of it, anyway. This is the Norman fortress of the Earl of Gloucester who claimed these parts as his lands. This is the very top of the Keep. The rest is buried. The sands drifted in and buried it all half a millennia ago. There’s a whole village down beneath our feet, lost forever. It’s absolutely fascinating.”
Owen still didn’t look impressed.
“Most people think it’s fascinating,” Ianto added. “I do.”
“It’s fascinating,” Jack agreed. “Ignore him. He always gets cranky if he’s outside wi-fi range. Plus he had a hot date tonight that I made him break off.”
“I didn’t have a hot date,” Owen answered. “I was… I was just going to visit Tosh, actually. It’s not easy for her down with a sprained ankle and little Etsu to look after.”
“Beth and Gwen are taking turns to keep her company,” Jack told him. “She’s probably sick and tired of people trying to help her and just wants us all to fuck off and leave her alone. And it’s not as if there’s anything you can do professionally with a sprained ankle.”
Owen shrugged again. He wondered if Jack had guessed that it wasn’t exactly professional interest alone that brought him to Tosh’s house in the wake of the mishap involving the pushchair and an incautious jogger down on the boardwalk on her way to work. Not that anything was ‘going on’ between them. He just ordered in supper from a delivery service and opened a bottle of wine. They talked over dinner, mostly about Etsuko and her continuing development. She seemed to enjoy his company.
There had, of course, been the night before last when he had slept on her sofa. Etsuko was being especially fractious, possibly suffering from a bit of colic and Tosh’s ankle was aching and she was grateful when he offered to stick around.
They had a weird kind of relationship, he had to admit. He had never taken anything this slowly in his adult life. He had never been involved with any woman for so long without regular sex being a part of the deal.
And then again, most of his sexual relationships would have run their course by now and he would have been looking for a way to end it without bitterness. Staying friends, not letting it get that far, was for the best. Besides, he had been lucky with Gwen. A major crisis that might have caused the end of the world came along just at the right moment to stop the end of their ‘office romance’ from causing friction in the team. But he couldn’t rely on that happening again, and the last thing he wanted was for Tosh to consider leaving Torchwood because it was too awkward being around him.
Yes, staying friends was the best.
Besides, sex wasn’t everything.
“Fucking hell,” he thought. “Am I getting old? Did I just think that?”
“This is the place, then?” Jack asked Ianto. “Where the phenomena have been reported?”
“Right here,” Ianto confirmed. “There have been sporadic reports going back years. But most of them were dismissed as nonsense. This isn’t exactly a popular night spot. There aren’t that many people around here after sundown. But two nights back there was a botanical survey team from the University of Glamorgan working up here and they got some good photographs. Something a bit more than the usual double exposures and fuzzy shapes that could be anything.”
“Yeah, we’ll have another look at those after we’ve put up the tents and made some coffee,” Jack said. “Then we’ll take some readings, see if there’s any obviously natural explanation of what they saw. You know, eliminate the possible and what we have left, however improbable….”
“Marsh gas, weather balloons, little girls making fairy pictures,” Owen remarked as Jack opened his backpack and pulled out the rolled up tent. Ianto and Alun were already working on their own one. Sooner or later, he knew, Jack would expect him to take a hand with pegs and ropes, but he was standing well clear of the whole bit with poles and groundsheets. Give him a nice alien autopsy any day in preference to that chaos.
“It would make a refreshing change if this was something normal,” Alun commented. “Normal for the rest of the world, that is. Before I joined UNIT I thought most UFO sightings were hoaxes or mistaken identity. Even when I joined them, nine out of ten reports they investigated were rubbish. But now, since I came to Torchwood, it’s the other way around. Most of them are real UFOs.”
“That’s South Wales for you,” Jack told him. “The real aliens come here more. The rift is a beacon for them. Plus, the people are a bit more clued up and call in the genuine ones more often. And that’s why we’re here, of course. To sort out the interstellar tourists from the troublemakers.”
“You make it sound like we’re airport security for aliens,” Alun laughed. “Should Beth run a Duty Free counter as well as the tourist info?”
“No,” Owen answered. “We don’t want to encourage the buggers. Earth isn’t an alien tourist attraction. Send them all back. The arrivals lounge is closed.”
“It’s not as easy as that,” Jack noted as he finished constructing the tent and passed the mallet and pegs to Owen. “Because sometimes, on top of invaders and tourists we have poor little sods like Terry wandering out of the bay, or cases like Princess Adele and Magred who need the peace and protection of Earth and of Torchwood. Our job is far from simple at the best of times. If there is a genuine alien interest in Kenfig Sands we have to find out if they’re hostile, curious, stupid or desperate and deal accordingly.”
Alun carried on pegging out the tent he and Ianto were going to be sharing if they actually got any sleep tonight. Owen, with rather less precision was doing the same. Ianto was actually making coffee, real coffee, with a portable percolator that ran on calor gas. A familiar aroma mingled with the warm smells of scented flowers – possibly fen orchids - and sea salt on the slight breeze that came over Kenfig dunes from the sea. Jack thought it was as near to contentment as he could imagine.
“The only way to camp,” he said. “With unlimited supplies of Ianto’s coffee.”
“My pleasure,” Ianto answered and passed him the first cup. Jack sipped it and gave his seal of approval as he set out an al fresco board room under the awning in front of his tent. He sorted out the blown up copies of the photographs sent from that department of the MOD that collated UFO reports and sifted out the obvious hoaxes. They had been troubled enough by this one to pass it over to Torchwood.
The team sat down with their coffee and a box of home made biscuits that Ianto’s mum had given him on her last visit. They studied the photographs and the brief notes that went with them.
“Bloody good photos,” Owen agreed. “These botanists came well equipped.”
The pride of the series showed the same view they were looking at now, the remains of Kenfig Keep silhouetted against a deep blue twilight sky, about ten o’clock on the evening two nights ago.
And in that deep blue sky were four glowing globes. They were sharply defined in a picture that had none of the camera shake and blurring of pictures taken hastily and in a panic. They were definitely globes. They were glowing. They were suspended in mid air with no obvious strings.
But there was no scale or perspective. It was impossible to say if they were football sized and just above the Keep walls, or car sized and floating above the sea, or pea sized and close up to the camera lens. As one, the team turned to the statements of the eye witnesses for clarification.
“The globes floated towards us, appearing to be a very large size. They glowed too bright to see clearly, but there seemed to be movement, as if there was a creature, maybe a person, within.” Owen looked at the name at the bottom of the statement. “So says Professor Anwyl Carew of University of Glamorgan. ‘They hovered over each one of us for several minutes before moving away over the dunes. Oliver Pask and Phillip Nevett, who are both cross country runners, gave chase, but returned several minutes later to say that the globes had disappeared.’”
“Not a lot to go on,” Jack admitted. “They sat around watching the skies for a few hours and then went to their tents and slept. I’m not sure if the detail Professor Pask added to his statement is relevant or not.”
They all read the last bit and laughed at the incongruity of it. Pask had described having a very erotic dream during the night with consequences that he had not experienced since puberty.
“He actually admitted in a statement about a UFO sighting, that he had a wet dream in his sleeping bag!” Owen sniggered.
“The MOD officer who interviewed them asked for anything unusual,” Jack pointed out. “Apparently that was unusual.”
“I think that tells us more about Professor Pask than about the possible aliens,” Ianto said, trying to keep a straight face. “These globes do look impressive. There’s nothing in Torchwood’s archives about anything like this. If they are aliens, they’re a new species to us.”
Jack took his word for it. Ianto had read almost every file in the archive by now. He would know.
“I’m getting no readings of any residual energy,” Jack admitted as he examined the LED screen on his mysterious wristlet. “But it has been two days, prevailing winds, I wasn’t holding out much hope.”
“So we’re camping out, waiting to see if the globes come to visit us?” Owen said unenthusiastically.
“I promise I won’t make you sing any camp fire songs,” Jack told him.
“Small mercies!” he answered.
With not much else to do until nightfall, they DID make a campfire, though, and in addition to Ianto’s coffee they made a passable supper with the dehydrated ration packs they brought with them. And afterwards they did sing. Alun knew quite a few raucous and distinctly male only barrack room songs that seemed at odds with his usual quiet demeanour. Ianto, surprising nobody, knew several Welsh language folk songs and sang them with a clear voice that hung on the evening air. Owen flatly refused to get involved, but Jack surprised everyone by singing a very beautiful song that nobody else had ever heard before. They wouldn’t have. It wasn’t written until the year 5081. It was another snippet from his far distant past that had drifted to the forefront of his mind in this place.
“I think it’s time Owen had a go,” Alun said when the last notes of Jack’s song drifted away on the evening air. “It’s not fair he should get away with it.”
“Yes, come on, Owen. You must know something. Didn’t your mother ever sing you nursery rhymes, even?”
“No, actually,” he responded and refused to be drawn further. “Look, I’m not bloody singing, all right. I wish these bloody aliens would turn up. Then maybe we could all pack up and go home and sleep in proper beds.”
“You really hate camping that much?” Ianto asked him. “Why?”
“Look at the last couple of times we did it? Cannibal nutters and brain eating aliens.”
He had a point about that, of course. But all three of his colleagues looked at him curiously, wondering if there was something more to it. He refused to be drawn and got so antagonistic about it they all backed off. Owen in anger meltdown wasn’t pretty. Jack remembering being shot in the head by him when he had been pushed especially far.
Owen’s anger was headed off, though, by an excited shout from Ianto. He was standing in the archway of the castle keep, slightly higher than the camp site and looking over the rise. The others scrambled to join him. Owen brought a video camera to record what they hoped to see, Alun had a stun gun in his hand. Jack pressed buttons on his wristlet to monitor any energy sources or chemical changes in the atmosphere.
He was getting plenty of energy readings, anyway. But he forgot to look at them as the things that had attracted Ianto’s attention drew closer.
Four globes, just as the botanists had reported, just as they had photographed. In real life, their scale was immediately apparent. At the diameter they were as tall and wide as an average man. They hovered over the keep for several minutes, glowing brightly. They looked beautiful, and less cynical minds than the Torchwood team have might have just enjoyed looking at them. But they had all seen beautiful things that turned out to be deadly. They weren’t going to be taken in easily.
As the globes hovered closer to them, Alun raised the stun gun and his real gun in each hand. His colleagues knew he was equally proficient with either hand. They knew, too, that he would be able to decide in a split second whether to stun or to use deadly force - or to hold his fire and do neither.
Jack reached for his gun, too. His reflexes were as sharp as Alun’s and he was ready to take a judgement call.
“They’re coming for us,” Owen said. “Look… they’re… zoning in on us. Oh, fuck, I hope it isn’t another bloody clone scanner.”
“Don’t shoot,” Ianto called out suddenly. “I really don’t think they… they don’t seem hostile. I feel….”
“Yeah, so do I,” Alun said, though his trigger fingers didn’t yet relax. “Wow!”
“Wow from me, too,” Jack added. “WOW!”
Owen said nothing, but his eyes went very glassy.
The globes did, indeed, zone in on each of the four. They hovered over their heads for about a minute, though it seemed longer. They seemed to be doing nothing sinister. There were no beams of light, no sense of being probed or scanned in any way – and most of them knew what that felt like usually.
They were doing something, though. Every one of them was aware of it.
Then the globes began to float away. They rose up over the keep and then dropped low behind the dune.
The botanists had given chase, but to no avail. Now, the Torchwood team did the same. All of them, even Owen, were physically fit, though he had more trouble running on sand. Jack and Alun took the lead as they chased the globe down into the ‘valley’ between two rises and back up again. At the top of the next rise they witnessed the globes sinking down into the lake that lay beyond.
“Maybe there’s a ship hidden in the lake?” Alun suggested as Ianto and then Owen caught up with them. All four sank down onto the loose sand to rest after the chase and their other experience.
“We’ll look in the morning,” Jack said. “No point trying now, in the dark.”
“It DID happen to all of us?” Owen asked, knowing that one of them had to ask the question and it might as well be him. “It wasn’t just me?”
“It happened to all of us,” Ianto confirmed. “We all….”
“Got sexually aroused….”
“Bloody inconvenient,” Owen added. “Especially when we had to do all this running.”
Ianto and Alun looked at each other and laughed.
“Yeah, it’s ok for you two,” Owen remarked. “You can go back to your tent and do something about it. I’ve got to spend the night with Jack.”
Jack winked at him and made a suggestive comment. Owen knew it was just a joke not a genuine come-on and took it in the spirit it was intended.
“So….” Jack reasoned as they all four lay back in the sand, looking up at the stars and letting their pulses – among other things - return to normal. “What we seem to have here is a bunch of aliens who hang around a remote beauty spot until a group of people come along. Then they treat them to a brief bit of excitement?”
“That would seem to sum it up,” Ianto noted. “But why?”
Jack looked at his wristlet. It had picked up traces of ionic particles. They were usually found in the aftermath of a transmat beam, but he had an idea they were something to do with the way the globes had hovered so effortlessly. As far as he knew, the wristlet had no way to trace pheromones or whatever had made them all so excited.
They didn’t know very much more than they did before that rather strange close encounter.
“When we get back to town,” he said. “I’m going to go and interview those botanical professors. I think there’s something they didn’t tell the man from the MOD about their experience.”
“Well, it wouldn’t do for it to get about the university, I suppose,” Owen replied. “The sands would be knee deep in students looking for a cheap thrill and the bloody fen orchids would be trampled in the rush.”
“Come on,” Jack said. “Let’s go back to the camp and see if Ianto can make cocoa as well as he makes coffee. Then we’ll get some sleep.” He glanced at Ianto and Alun, who still had a glint in their eyes. “Or something else done horizontally in a sleeping bag, anyway. Try to keep the noise down, won’t you, boys? Owen blushes easily.”
Owen swore good-naturedly and they made their way back to camp in good spirits even if they still had no idea what was going on.
“There is one thing,” Alun said as they drank Ianto’s cocoa and finished the biscuits. “When everyone got… aroused… was there… who were you all thinking of? I mean… I thought of Ianto, obviously….”
Ianto immediately confirmed that Alun had been in his thoughts.
“Well, no surprise there,” Alun continued. “But what about you two? I don’t know how it fits in… maybe it doesn’t. But… Jack, I suppose you were thinking of Garrett?”
“I… actually… no….” Jack answered, seeming strangely disconcerted for one who was usually so forthcoming about his love life. “No, I wasn’t. I don’t know why… but it was somebody else… somebody from way back… who was always rather creative in bed… or any horizontal surface… any surface.…” Jack’s voice trailed off. He shook his head. “Some things are best left in the past,” he added.
“Sounds like it,” Alun commented. “Owen… what about.…”
“Just… a woman I know,” he said. “None of you know her.” But he didn’t sound very convincing in either statement. “Does it really matter?” he added. “I really don’t see how it’s relevant.”
“I thought it might be,” Alan said. “But maybe I was wrong. Sorry, everyone. I think it just all sounded sordid and voyeuristic. I didn’t mean that.”
“You’re forgiven,” Jack assured him. “Come on, let’s all get to bed. First thing in the morning we’ll check out the lake. And we’ll take it from there.”
They didn’t take long making the fire safe and retiring to the two tents. Alun and Ianto went so quickly into theirs that Jack and Owen couldn’t help calling out some positively obscene comments that they would never have used if any of the Torchwood women were around – not out of chivalry but fear of being slapped. Ianto and Alun grinned and waved and fastened the tent flap securely. Owen went to his sleeping bag and tried to make the best of it, still not enthusiastic about camping. Jack was a little longer, and when he did get into his sleeping bag he was re-reading the notes on the case and adding some of his own by torchlight.
“You’re a workaholic, Jack,” Owen told him after he had been at it for about an hour and Owen had failed to get to sleep.
“I don’t sleep as long as most people,” he replied. “It’s… to do with the same thing that makes me immortal. My mind and body don’t tire as much as they should.”
“I could give you something for that,” offered Owen, the medical man with a selection of alien pharmaceuticals at his disposal as well as everything passed by the Medical Council.
“Lived with it for more than a century now,” Jack replied. “I’m used to it. Tried a lot of alcohol at first. But that just tended to get me into the sort of trouble where I needed the immortality. Now, I tend to just get on with the paperwork until I’m ready to get a couple of hours. If it stops you from sleeping… I’ll go take a long walk instead.”
“No, it’s ok,” Owen answered. “I wasn’t exactly expecting to get much sleep tonight, anyway. So have you got any theories about our glowing aliens?”
“Not a bloody clue,” Jack admitted. “They don’t seem dangerous. I’m not going to go out on a limb and say they’re completely benign, but they’re not invading the planet, either. The only thing they did when they found us, was… bombard us with some very suggestive pheromones. And we don’t even know if that’s deliberate or just an accidental side effect of their presence. I just don’t know.” He sighed and closed the file, hooking his pen on the corner. “I think I better had take that walk. You go to sleep, Owen. Sleep well… or as well as you can.”
“Thanks, boss,” Owen answered as he turned over in his sleeping bag and turned the inflatable pillow around to try to find a comfortable spot to lay his head on. Jack tried to put his shoes and coat on quietly in the dark and slipped out of the tent.
Ianto had dozed off after he and Alun had given in willingly to the urges the aliens had invoked in them. They had been intending to do that anyway, even without the extra stimulation, but they enjoyed the extra frissance to their love-making. Now, waking blissfully, he was warm and cosy with Alun lying close to him, sleeping soundly. He would have been content but for a more and more urgent pressure in his bladder. He gently extricated himself from his lover’s arms and pulled on his clothes before he went out into the cool night, shivering a little. He had been very warm in the double sleeping bag with Alun and even though it was a summer night, he felt the difference immediately. He looked around for a suitable place to relieve himself and headed up and around the side of the castle Keep, wondering idly whether Normans had introduced the concept of a ‘gardrobe’ at the time when they built Kenfig Castle.
He had finished the job and was turning to go back to the camp when Alun stepped towards him, smiling in a way that Ianto knew well enough by now. He put his arms around his neck and kissed him fervently, pressing him back towards the keep wall.
“Careful,” Ianto said. “This is a protected monument. We don’t want to break it. And… let’s move a bit to the side. That’s where I was peeing a minute ago. Otherwise… an encore under the stars… fine by me.” Alun grinned widely as they made that adjustment to the arrangement and carried on.
In the tent, Alun had been aware that Ianto had left his side. He felt a little colder without his body heat, and a little lonely. He knew his lover was just answering a call of nature, though, and waited patiently for him to come back to his arms. He would enjoy warming him up again.
His patience was rewarded when Ianto slipped back into the tent and quickly divested himself of his outer clothes before sliding into the sleeping bag next to him. Alun felt his surprisingly warm hands reach for him.
“Anything for you, cariad,” Alun whispered happily. “Mau gwr.”
Jack had noticed the two figures shamefully mistreating a thousand year old Norman wall and walked in the other direction so as not to disturb them. He found himself heading towards the lake where the globes had disappeared, and naturally his thoughts turned to the few possible explanations that even his active imagination could come up with.
When he saw a figure lounging against a sloping dune suddenly stand up and approach him he was immediately wary, reaching for his gun.
“You’re not going to shoot me, are you?” asked a laughing, slightly mocking, voice that he recognised a moment later.
“Depends what you’re here for,” Jack replied, putting the gun back in the holster but keeping his hand close to it. “What ARE you here for, John, and why now?”
A thousand memories crowded his mind as his former partner from a different life, a different world, before so many other things had happened to him, stepped closer. Captain John Hart! Jack was never entirely sure why John called himself Captain. Possibly to annoy him by pretending to have earned the same rank as he had. He was grinning. Jack wondered how it was possible to look at somebody and have, at one and the same time, the urge to punch the grin right off his face, and to kiss him like there was no tomorrow.
John took the decision out of his hands by stepping forward and kissing him in the ardent, erotic way he remembered they had always kissed. There was never any soft foreplay with John, no quiet moments such as he treasured with Garrett. It was always hard and fast and unambiguous.
It was fantastic. He had to admit that. The sexual relationship they had shared for so many years was hot, exciting and dangerous, just like the work they did for the Time Agency. It was one hell of a time, and the memories flooded back to him for the second time tonight as John pressed him down on the sand and reached for his zip.
Second time… Yes, John had been the one he had thought of when the alien globes had worked that strange and unusual effect on them. He had remembered having literally hot sex on the roof of a burning building, with the sounds of the fire crackling, destroying, working its way up towards them. They had finished in the nick of time and made their escape in the two man hover-copter. He remembered that they had torched the building because it was the headquarters of an alien gang who were selling a very nasty hallucinogenic drug around fifty-first century London. He told himself that they had accidentally inhaled some of the stuff and that was why they had been acting so recklessly. But it wasn’t that. They had no such excuse. They were both permanently high on the thrill of the chase back then. And the sex was their way of releasing the energy, the adrenalin, pent up inside them both.
Amazing days. Days that were past and gone, now, and though monogamy wasn’t something Jack usually embraced, he felt a twinge of guilt right now as he felt John’s hands and lips and other body parts doing things to him that he was, admittedly, enjoying thoroughly and responding to enthusiastically. He felt as if he was betraying Garrett. As his former lover reminded him of the heat of former days, all he could think of was the warmth, the tenderness, of the lovemaking he shared with his twenty-first century lover.
“Why are you here?” he asked again as his fingers tangled in John’s hair and he breathed hard and deep in sensual pleasure. “Tell me….”
John wasn’t actually physically able to tell him anything. His mouth was full. As his enjoyment deepened Jack forgot what the question was.
“No, stop!” Age must be catching up on him, Jack reflected as he put out his hand and stopped what was a very exciting experience. He pulled himself back up into a sitting position and looked at John carefully in the moonlight. Something else had occurred to him. Something that put the very thought of sex right out of his mind and put him right back onto Torchwood business, instead. He looked at his ex-lover’s features, his slim but well developed body. His eyes dropped lower and, yes, everything there was familiar, too. It looked like John. But he wasn’t a hundred per cent certain.
“Wait a minute…” He grabbed at John’s arm. Even under the moonlight he could see what was different, the missing detail. He wasn’t wearing a wristlet. All Time Agents had one. After a year or two they felt like a part of the body. When Jack removed his, the skin underneath was lily white, glossy and imprinted with the texture of the leather.
There was no sign on John’s flesh of him ever having worn so much as a wristwatch on that arm.
“You’re a fake,” he said. “You’re not John. I ought to have caught on quicker than this. You’ve got some kind of pheromone thing going on, or maybe a low level hypnotic effect, dulling my senses. It’s too much of a co-incidence. A couple of hours ago when those aliens were giving us all their ‘surprise’ it was the first time I’d thought of you in… in decades. I don’t know… maybe we were scanned, after all. They found my most passionate love affair. And yes, I admit, John was the most passionate. Garrett is fantastic. But it’s not like it was with John. I don’t think I’ll ever know anyone like him. But he’s past and gone and I don’t want or need that again, not from him, and not from some fake… some alien pretending to be him. So… whoever, whatever you are… you might as well show your true form.”
Just in case the true form had more teeth than he liked, Jack reached with his free hand and pulled up his zip. But he kept a tight hold of the counterfeit John Hart. He kept his Human shape for now, but a different voice came from the lips when he spoke again.
“Too clever. Too different. A different mind to all the others we have made use of.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Different. Smarter. So, come on, what’s it all about”
The simulacrum lips opened again and the fake John screamed hysterically and lashed out with his free arm. Jack blocked him easily, but he knew if an alien in that form wanted a fight of it, it would be a long and bloody one. They were equally matched for strength and equally good at hand to hand fighting. Assuming the alien had more than just the appearance of John, anyway.
It did. Jack wasn’t sure how so much of his personality had been absorbed from the fleeting memories that the aliens pulled out of his mind, but the fake John fought hard and fought dirty, and Jack was having to fight hard and dirty to avoid serious injury.
“Jack!” He heard a voice calling to him urgently as the fake John stunned him with a blow to the head and sent him sprawling in the sand. He felt his hands on his neck, choking him. But then Ianto was there, pulling him off, punching him hard and finally knocking him senseless.
Jack struggled to his feet and stood by Ianto, watching as the fake John melted into a genderless, featureless, vaguely humanoid shape, like a shop window dummy but with pale greyish-pink flesh. A hole that passed for a mouth opened in the face and it gave a grief-stricken howl. Jack reached for his gun again as he heard the howl repeated and three more figures appeared, one from behind the Keep wall, the other two from the general direction of the campsite. Two looked like Alun and Ianto at first but had already begun to morph into the default form. One was already turning before it stepped out of the shadow of the dunes, but Jack had a glimpse of a dark haired female that might have been familiar.
“All of you stop right where you are,” he warned. “Or I shoot this one in the head. I don’t know what sort of creatures you really are, but I find hot lead in the brain is bad for most variations.”
“Please do not do that,” said the one that had looked like Ianto. “We mean you no harm.”
“Oh, really?” Jack answered, making an obvious show of nursing a nasty bruise on his cheek.
“The personality that individual absorbed from your memory… had violent tendencies. That… was an error of judgement. We… apologise. That is not what we wanted.”
“What did you want?” Ianto asked. “What is going on? Why did….” His own activities of the past hour flashed in front of his eyes. He looked at the being that had looked like Alun. “You… came to me… We….” He turned to the one that had looked like himself. “You… did you go to the camp… Alun….”
Jack glanced at the one that had been female and then back to the former Ianto, who seemed to be a leader in so far as he had been the only one that had spoken.
“It was about sex… getting sex with a Human being… any kind of sex….” Jack pieced it together, wondering why it had taken him so long. He was more convinced than ever that some kind of dampener had been put on his mind to stop him thinking clearly. His mind flew back in horror to the creature they had defeated on Gwen’s first day as a Torchwood agent – the sex gas creature who absorbed the body of its victim like an alien black widow spider at the point of orgasm.
“No,” said the former Ianto, who seemed suddenly shocked. Of course, Jack reasoned. They could read their minds. “No, that isn’t our purpose. Nothing like that. We… simply want… to… procreate.”
“You want to… what?” Ianto’s response was in a rather sharp tone. “But… you… can’t… I mean… procreation… isn’t possible by that kind of sexual activity,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“It does for us,” replied the former Ianto. “We… only have to receive the… active ingredient into our bodies, by any means… it is enough.”
“But…” Ianto turned to the being he had made love to by the Keep wall. “But… do you mean that… you… are… going to have a baby… through me… Mine….”
“Through you, yes, but not yours biologically. Your part in it is only as a catalyst. The progeny will be of my DNA only. That is how it works… for us.”
“Oh.” Jack risked a glance at Ianto’s face. He looked just a little bit disappointed. Having committed himself to Alun as a life partner, of course, he had foregone the possibility of children. Maybe he was tempted by the thought of passing his genes on even if it was only to an alien.
“None of you were harmed,” the former Ianto continued. “None of you will suffer any consequences of what happened. Nor will any of the humans we have visited in this way before you.”
“How many have you… how long.…” Jack was having trouble phrasing the question. “There have been reports of strange lights around these dunes for as much as twenty years.”
“It has taken a long time. So few people come to this place. Our eggs have been kept in stasis. We have almost completed our mission.”
“Your mission is over,” Jack answered. “On this planet we call what you did rape.”
The former Ianto gazed at Jack and seemed puzzled by his definition.
“But those we used as catalysts have always found the experience pleasurable.”
“Well, yes,” Ianto agreed. “It was pleasurable. But only because I thought it was my Alun. I would not have let him… if I had known.”
“It’s still rape,” Jack said. He was angry. He was angry at the aliens for what they did, at himself for falling for it. He felt violated and humiliated, and at the same time guilty because he had enjoyed what was done to him. “Get out of here,” he said sharply. “Get out and don’t come back. Planet Earth is not your sperm bank. Go back where you came from and stay there. Otherwise, even if you don’t mean any harm, I just might. This is your one and only warning.”
As he spoke, he thought about something, knowing that the aliens would be reading his mind. It was the weapon Torchwood One had used a few years ago against the Sycorax. The weapon was destroyed along with Torchwood Tower, and Earth actually had nothing remotely like it now. But he carefully gave the impression that it did. He saw the shocked faces of the aliens around him. They got the message.
“I… understand,” said the former Ianto. “We will do as you ask.” He nodded to his two companions and they stepped forward and lifted the, still unconscious, former John between them. Jack and Ianto watched as they walked towards the lake. They walked straight into the water, their bodies glowing very slightly as they sank under the surface. They kept watching for several minutes more and then, just when they were wondering what they were waiting for, the whole lake was illuminated from below by at least a dozen of the globes. They rose up to the surface and bobbed on the water for a moment or two before rising up into the sky. Ianto raised his hand and waved. Jack gave him a disdainful look.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his arm down.
“They had no right,” Jack said, still seething with anger.
“I know,” Ianto added. “ But really… they… I do sort of… understand their motive. It was wrong… but… They didn’t do any harm at all.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Well, it is, sort of,” Ianto argued. “Jack… I know how you feel. When I realised that it wasn’t Alun… I felt sick. Humiliated. We promised to be faithful to each other and… But it’s ok. None of us were harmed.”
“I didn’t need to be reminded of… my past. And I never wanted… I haven’t been with anyone else but Garrett for months. And I feel like I’ve cheated on him. I would never have….”
“You’re mostly angry because you were tricked. You got stitched up like the rest of us and you thought you were smarter than that. I think you’d better let it go, Jack. The aliens have gone and beating yourself up over it won’t do any good.”
Jack looked at Ianto.
“You used to be the office boy who did what I told you to do and never answered back. Now you’re psycho-analysing me?”
“Yes. And I was never the office boy. You know that.”
“Yes, I do. And keep on analysing. I need that, Ianto. I really do.”
His anger was gone, now. He looked at his former lover in the moonlight and managed to smile.
“You still have to explain all this to Alun. You realise that while you were philandering behind the castle he thinks he had sex with you in the tent.”
“I could… not tell him. He’d never know….” Ianto thought about that for a moment. “No, I have to. We can’t have secrets from each other. Not like that. Besides… Oh… bloody hell. What about Owen?”
Good point, Jack thought. He’d forgotten about Owen, too, in the heat of the moment.
“Back to camp. Make some of your coffee. We’ll talk to both of them.”
Alun was upset at first when Ianto explained it to him. Effectively, both of them had committed adultery. Then again, since they believed they were making love to each other, they hadn’t. It was complicated. It was an emotionally charged issue.
In the end, they both decided to see the funny side of it and laughed, hugged, kissed, and promised that they would compare notes later and maybe recreate their individual experiences together.
“What I don’t get, though,” Alun said. “We thought it was each other. Jack thought it was his friend who has a vortex manipulator, so although unlikely he could very well have turned up. But Owen, surely you realised your friend was not likely to ramble over Kenfig Dunes to your tent in the middle of the night.”
Owen shrugged and sipped his coffee, and looked at his three colleagues.
“I knew it wasn’t her. I guessed it had something to do with the aliens… they’d made me think of her earlier, and suddenly she’s ripping my pants off. I knew. But… but I also knew that my chances with the real her… we’re both too scared of spoiling the friendship to do it for real. So… so… I… I decided to lie back and enjoy the fantasy.”
Owen was blushing. It cost him some pride to admit that much.
It would have cost him much more, Jack thought, if he’d been forced to admit it wasn’t just an ‘a woman he knew’. Jack HAD recognised the features of the woman in the split second before it morphed into default.
But he had no reason to hurt Owen by telling him that.
He wasn’t going to hurt Garrett with the sordid details of this, either. And he was going to try very hard to forget Captain John, especially when he was with his new lover. He would NEVER allow himself to mentally compare them. John was the past, over and done with. Garrett was now, and the future. And he wasn’t going to let anything ruin that.
“I’m still going to get another interview out of Carew and Pask and their pals tomorrow,” he said. “I want to see the buggers squirm when I tell them that it’s a criminal offence not to give full disclosure in a statement to the MOD.”
They all laughed, as he hoped they would. The laughter was cathartic and ensured none of them would dwell on this strange experience. Jack had one final thought, though, before they all retired to their tents to try to get a few more hours of uninterrupted sleep. Earlier, he had categorised the alien incursions on Earth as hostile, curious, stupid or desperate.
He wondered if he needed a new category for this lot, or would desperate cover it?