Jack and Gwen walked cautiously through the container park. Jack was constantly checking his wristlet as they honed in on the signal that had brought them here straight after lunch. It was definitely non-terrestrial in origin. Nothing made on planet Earth resonated in quite that way. But the signal was difficult to pin down. The phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ was appropriate.
“We don’t even know how big this thing is,” Gwen pointed out. “It could be as big as one of these containers or the size of a wristwatch. Or any size inbetween.” She sighed. “What a way to spend my birthday.”
“Sorry,” Jack apologised. “But Torchwood work goes on, even on birthdays. I remember my hundredth birthday. It was in 1929. Spent it trying to stop an alien shapeshifter from assassinating the Prince of Wales while he was on a royal visit to Cardiff.”
Gwen laughed. She always did when he said outrageous things like that, even though they were almost certainly true.
“You look good for a man of…” She did the maths very well. “One hundred and eighty.”
“And you smell very pretty today,” he answered, returning the compliment. “Is that a new perfume?”
“Present from Rhys,” she answered with a smile. “It’s called Allure, from Chanel. There was a whole bath set with it.”
“Yeah, I recognise it. Expensive. Rhys is trying to impress you.”
“I’m impressed,” she answered. “Mind you, I think… I mean, he’s a transport manager. Things really do fall off the back of lorries in his direction. He probably didn’t pay the full price for it.”
“He was still thinking of you,” Jack assured her. “You doing anything special tonight.”
“Dinner, dancing and a room… no, a proper suite, actually. At the Royal Dragon Country House… you know, that posh place just outside Penarth. He’s ordered a limousine, too. A white one. He’s going to meet me in the Plas in a white limousine after work and whisk me away. I’ve got my posh frock and new shoes at the Hub and Tosh is going to fix my hair and make up.”
“There you go, then. All that didn’t come off the back of a lorry. Was it his idea?”
“Yes, it was. Rhys is great that way, you know. He thinks of things like that. He’s fantastic. And don’t you look at me like that. I know most people think Rhys is an overweight prat. But they’re wrong. He’s gorgeous and he’s mine.”
Jack was surprised at her suddenly defensive tone. What brought that on?
“I’ve never…” he began. “I know how you feel about Rhys. I’m glad the two of you are happy.”
“I didn’t go with him because I was desperate, you know. He’s not second best or some kind of consolation prize.”
“Gwen, I’ve never said that.”
“But you’ve probably thought it. I know Owen has. And Andy thinks….”
“I haven’t. Honestly. And Owen can be an insensitive bastard at times. But he says stuff about everyone. It’s not personal and it’s rarely true. And nobody else at the Hub would. As for Andy, bugger him.”
“My mum thinks I should have married a stockbroker. She thinks I should have a bayfront apartment and two cars and…”
“Never mind what your mom thinks. You love Rhys. And apart from possibly dodgy perfume deals, he’s an honest, decent bloke. He’s worth fighting for. But you don’t have to fight me. I’m already taken. I’ve got a dinner date tonight, too. Garrett wants to treat me.”
“That’s nice. I like Garrett. Nice man. He’s good for you. You’ve been a lot happier since you started going steady with him.”
“You think?” Jack smiled warmly. It was probably true. Monogamy wasn’t bad when it was on the sort of easy terms they had. “Anyway, back to business. I think I actually have a fix on this thing, now. We’re close.”
He held up his arm and turned around once before heading down another line of almost identical containers stacked three high. Gwen hoped that the thing they were looking for was in one of the bottom ones. She had no desire to climb any ladders today.
“This one,” Jack confirmed. Gwen was relieved. It was a bottom one. She reached in her pocket for the alien lock picking device and the padlock dropped off the door easily. They both had their weapons ready as Jack pulled back the metal door. They had no idea what to expect inside and were taking no chances.
What they didn’t expect was nothing.
“It’s empty?” Gwen stepped inside, her torch held in the same grip as her gun, so that anything she might want to shoot at was illuminated. Jack followed, equally carefully.
“Wait…what’s that?” Gwen jumped visibly as her torch reflected off something on the far wall. “A mirror? Who puts a mirror on the wall of a shipping container?”
They both stepped closer. Jack looked at his wristlet. The energy source was on the container wall. It wasn’t a mirror exactly. At least that didn’t seem to be its primary purpose. It wasn’t glass if he was any judge. More like a microthin polymer with a reflective surface.
“That’s funny,” Gwen said as she studied the reflection. “It’s not… I mean… look. Jack… that’s odd, isn’t it?”
“Very odd,” he confirmed. “That’s not a true reflection of us. We’re standing in opposite places. You’re looking at me, and I’m looking at you. That’s one hundred percent weird shit. But I don’t…”
Gwen reached out towards the reflection of Jack that faced her. The reflected Jack raised a hand and reached out. Her fingers touched the surface where Jack’s reflected fingers were.
“No!” Jack called out. “Gwen… the energy is building. Don’t….”
There was a blinding flash. Jack felt as if his head was going to explode. He heard his own voice as if at a distance. Blindly he reached out and grabbed Gwen’s hand. He dragged her away, backwards, until he felt a breeze on his face and knew they were outside the container. He felt Gwen fall against him, dead weight. She had fainted. He groaned as his own legs gave way under him and he blacked out.
He woke to see fluorescent yellow in front of his eyes. Somebody wearing a safety jacket was leaning over him. He seemed to be lying on some kind of sofa and there was a cold compress on his forehead.
“Gwen,” he murmured. “Rule number one… don’t touch the source of an unknown energy without protective gloves.”
He sat bolt upright and stared around. The first thing he saw, apart from a broad-shouldered man who looked good in a hard hat and fluorescent yellow, was his own body lying on another narrow sofa in the portacabin that served as a rest area for the container park staff.
He looked down at the feminine body in a smart navy blue blouse with a black skirt and sensible but stylish shoes. He lifted a feminine hand to his face. Gwen’s hand, with Gwen’s favourite rings on. Gwen’s wristwatch. The face he touched was soft and feminine and the voice he had spoken with before was that of a Welsh female.
“Oh, fuck,” he swore in Gwen’s voice, which somehow seemed wrong, even though he had heard Gwen swear just as much as anyone else.
“How did we get here?” he asked the man in the hard hat. “What happened?”
“No idea. You were found lying on the ground beside an open container. Your friend seems to have banged his head as he fell. I’ve called an ambulance, just in case. And I’ll need to make a report for Health and Safety. But otherwise…”
“Never mind the ambulance,” Jack said. “We’re… Torchwood. We… we have our own medics. Just…” He swung a pair of legs that felt curiously lighter than he was used to off the sofa and stood up. He swayed slightly, but not because he was dizzy, rather because Gwen’s centre of balance was different to his own and he wasn’t used to it. Walking was strange, too. He tried not to think about the fact that Gwen was wearing sheer nylon tights and silk knickers under her skirt. Cross dressing was the one sexual variation he had never indulged before. The feeling was unexpected. But right now there were other things to think about. He leaned over his own body and examined the nasty bruise on his forehead. He didn’t remember hitting the ground, but it must have been hard. Gwen was going to have a headache when she came around.
She was starting to wake. And Jack knew there was no way to break the news to her gently. He watched his own eyes open, sapphire blue and widening in shock. He put Gwen’s hand on his own cheek.
“It’s ok, honey,” he assured her. “Or at least it will be. Don’t say anything, yet. Can you stand? I’d like to get us out of here and back to the Hub, fast.”
Gwen nodded. He reached out and helped her – him – up. Gwen had the same disorientating feeling as he did when she put masculine legs on the ground and stood nearly a foot taller than usual. She managed to walk with him out of the portacabin, despite the protests of the site manager about Health and Safety.
“I’ll fax in a report,” Jack promised as he spotted the SUV parked blissfully close to where they were. He reached into his own trouser pocket and found the keys. He opened the passenger door and helped Gwen to fold his body into the seat. He went around to the other side and sat in the driver’s seat. While Gwen adjusted the seatbelt around his masculine chest, he moved the seat forward to allow Gwen’s feet to reach the pedals. He fastened his own belt, trying not to touch any more parts of her body than were absolutely necessary.
“Owen,” he said. “Owen can help.”
“We have to tell him?” Gwen groaned. “This is… just too embarrassing. And… Jack Harkness, just promise me one thing right now. No jokes about being able to look at yourself naked.”
“Ok,” he answered. “As long as you promise the same thing.”
Neither said very much on the way back to the Hub. The sound of the words coming out in the wrong voice was too unnerving. And Gwen had a point. Explaining this to Owen was just going to be embarrassing.
Owen, to his credit, did his best not to make light of the situation as he gave them both a thorough medical examination.
“I can’t find anything physically wrong with either of you,” Owen told them. “At least nothing much. You both have slightly high blood pressure. But given the emotional stress you’re both under, that’s only to be expected.”
“No shit,” Jack replied in Gwen’s voice.
“You think?” Gwen replied in a sarcastic tone. Jack’s body wriggled on the examination table where she was sitting. “I feel… really uncomfortable…. I think… I need the toilet.”
“So do I,” Jack added in a worried tone. They both stood and looked at each other. Their eyes both widened in alarm as they contemplated the embarrassment they faced in the next few minutes.
Jack reached out a feminine hand to his own masculine one and squeezed reassuringly.
“Come on, honey. We’ll get through this. We’ve had worse scrapes.”
“Name one,” Gwen retorted. But she appreciated Jack’s consideration. And she knew this was just as difficult for him. They walked together up the stairs from the medical room and through the passage that brought them to the two toilet doors with the usual stylised male and female symbols. They looked at them, wondering which they were supposed to use. Jack considered the question carefully. The men’s toilets were one cubicle and a long row of porcelain urinals. The women’s had a row of cubicles, baskets of potpourri by the hand wash basins and a small changing room where Gwen, Toshiko and Beth all kept spare clothes, toiletries and make up in lockers. He pushed open the door to the ladies and stood aside to let Gwen step inside first.
“It’s not as difficult as you might think,” he told her as she hesitated. “Just… hold on and aim for the bowl.”
He saw his own face flush with embarrassment. But she pushed open a cubicle door and stepped in, locking it behind her. Jack went to the one next to her. He heard a series of frustrated sounds and guessed she was having problems with the combination of zipper and boxer shorts beneath. He fervently hoped that she got it right afterwards. Getting his penis stuck in the teeth of the zip would be an excruciatingly painful introduction to masculinity.
He heard the sound effects that told him she had worked out the first part of the operation and turned to his own problems. His hand automatically reached for a zip before he remembered and hitched up the skirt and pulled down the tights and knickers. He sat down and let nature and gravity take over. On balance, it was all just a bit easier for women, he thought. When it was over, he stood up and tried to sort out the reverse process with the underwear.
“Oh, fuck,” he swore, again thinking it sounded odd to hear swearing in Gwen’s voice.
“What’s wrong?” He heard his own voice across the cubicle.
“I’ve split the tights. At the crotch. What do I do?”
“Don’t try to put them back on,” Gwen advised. “There’s nothing more uncomfortable than split nylon. Hang on.” He heard the cubicle door open and then one of the metal locker doors. Then there was a tap at his own door. He opened it a few inches, feeling stupid about standing there with underwear around his knees. He saw his own hand reach in with a pair of women’s slacks with an elastic waistband.
“You can get rid of the tights and skirt,” Gwen told him. “You might feel better in trousers. I’ve got a pair of flat shoes you might prefer, too.”
“Gwen, you’re a star,” he said. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
The women’s trousers were a much lighter fabric than he was used to, but he really did feel a lot less vulnerable in them. As he tucked the blouse into the waistband he heard Gwen washing her hands. Then he heard something else.
It was strange, hearing himself crying. And crying in a feminine way, at that, all sniffles and sobs and gulps of breath. He unbolted the door and stepped out. Gwen was leaning over the handbasins, his forehead pressed against the mirror as she cried. Jack quickly washed and dried his hands before going to her. He put his arms around his own body comfortingly. Looking at them both in the mirror, the shock of what had happened was renewed. He understood why she was upset.
“It’s okay, honey,” Jack told her. “Ianto and Alun are at the container park. They’re going to find the mirror and get to the bottom of this. We’ll be sorted out, soon. Back to normal.”
“What if we’re not?” she asked. “Jack, it’s my birthday. In two hours time, I’m supposed to be getting ready to meet Rhys and go out for a fabulous evening… an evening that’s meant to finish with…. Jack, Rhys is expecting that we’re going to have a night of hot sex in a posh hotel suite.”
“Come to that, Garrett’s expecting much the same from me,” Jack pointed out.
“Yes, but… if you cancel Garrett will understand. You two have that sort of relationship. But Rhys… not tonight. If I tell him I’m working late on my birthday, instead of enjoying the treat he’s been planning for weeks, he’ll be devastated. He’ll think… Well, I don’t know what he’ll think. But… the only alternative… is that YOU go to the hotel with him… and… and... No, I can’t even bear to think of it. No, you can’t… You can’t have sex with Rhys instead of me. Even if he thinks it’s me, even if it’s my body… you just can’t.”
Jack hugged her tighter. He fully understood. He looked at himself in Gwen’s body. She was pretty, feminine, sexy, with all the right curves in the right places. He tried to imagine being in that body, being caressed and aroused by Rhys, being made love to by him…
No. His imagination shut down and refused to go further. He couldn’t. The thought of experiencing sex as a woman was just impossible. Besides, he couldn’t do that to Gwen.
“We’ll sort it out before then,” he promised. “Come on. Let’s get a cup of coffee and… I don’t know. Coffee. And we’ll figure out the rest after that.”
They were drinking the coffee, together, on the long sofa under the Torchwood sign, when Toshiko called to Jack, telling him that Ianto was on the telephone. She blinked as Gwen stepped forward to take the call. This switch of identities was confusing.
Ianto didn’t sound at all surprised to hear a female voice responding to him. Trust him to take it all in his stride.
“Jack,” he said. “We’ve got problems here. The container is gone. Eight of them have been booked out of the yard in the past hour, including the one with the alien artefact aboard.”
“They’re at sea?” Jack asked. “What ship?”
“No, they’ve gone the other way,” Ianto explained. “They’re on the road, on the backs of lorries.”
“Damn!” Jack swore. “But they must have a record of what went out, and where it was going to?”
“Alun is getting that from them now. But we can’t chase eight articulated lorries with one car. It’s going to have to be a judgement call.”
“Ianto,” Jack told him softly. “I trust your judgement. Do your best. And… thank you.”
He closed the call and turned to Gwen.
“The boys are on it,” he assured her. “They’re doing their best.”
“I hope their best is good enough.”
“They’ve never let me down before.”
“Where do we start?” Ianto asked as Alun read through the list of lorries that had picked up containers along with their registrations and destinations. “We’re going to have to make a very good guess here. Jack and Gwen don’t have time for us to get it wrong.”
“We can rule out these four,” Alun answered. “They’re all heading for MOD St. Athans. Probably materials for the new defence training academy there. These four… Two are going up to Llandudno. The final destination is the funfair. But look at the weight they’re carrying. It looks like they’ve got most of the funfair aboard. I think it has to be one of the other two. One is going to Barry, the other to Abercynon.”
“Which is the lightest?” Ianto asked. “Jack said the container had nothing in it but a sort of mirror fixed to the wall. That would be the lightest.”
Alun studied the information on the clipboard. All the lorries went through a weighstation before they left the trailer park. The information was recorded.
“The one going to Barry. Although… it’s not as light as you might expect. Perhaps the artefact has unusual gravity?”
“That’s possible. Anyway, Jack said make a judgement call. So that’s what we’re doing.” Ianto looked at his car, a black Volvo XC90. It was a good, reliable car, in the same way that he was known to be a good, reliable person. But it wasn’t what they needed for chasing a container lorry to Barry.
He looked around as an unladen lorry pulled out of its parking place not far from where they were stood. It was obviously heading out somewhere to pick up a container. Ianto flagged it down and rather agilely climbed into the cab. He spoke to the driver quickly and then leaned down and called to Alun. He climbed up and sat beside Ianto on the wide passenger seat. As they set off, the driver looked at the two of them and gave a wide smile.
“Could be my lucky day,” he said in a suggestive voice.
“Sorry,” Ianto told him. “We’re already married. To each other. But I’m sure your assistance will be rewarded some way or other.”
Gwen was pacing up and down anxiously, glaring at every telephone as it failed to ring. Jack felt the same way, but he was handling the impatience a little better. Usually he was the one who couldn’t stand having to wait. Gwen had the patience of a saint. But he didn’t think it was anything to do with their switched bodies. It was just because it was getting close to five o’clock and she was supposed to be getting ready for her big evening with Rhys.
Come to think of it, he still had to let Garrett down, he remembered.
“Gwen, is my mobile in your pocket?” She reached and held it up. “Call Garrett for me, will you. Tell him I’ve got a problem here at the office and I’ll have to take a raincheck on our romantic night out.”
“Me… Oh… I suppose I’ll have to, won’t I? But there’s no way I’m cancelling OUR evening.” She hit the speed dial button that connected with Garrett’s mobile, noting that it was the first number on Jack’s phone, before the Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Minister of Defence. She had heard Jack talking to his lover once or twice and did her best to copy his manner. She had it more or less right, she thought.
“All right,” she said at the end. “I’ll call you tomorrow, I promise. I love you.”
She closed the call and looked around at Jack. He seemed surprised by something. Or perhaps she was mistaken.
“Anyway, that’s you sorted. But if the boys don’t get back in the next half hour, you’re going to have to start getting ready for my date.”
Jack nodded grimly. It wasn’t a happy thought for either of them.
“You realise that he’ll already be there by now,” said their driver helpfully as the lorry made good progress along the A4055.
“You can contact him, though?” Ianto said. “You’ve all got CB radios?”
“That we do,” the driver said. He reached for the hand set of his own radio and asked Alun for the registration of the lorry they were pursuing. He nodded and smiled and then began to talk into the handset using that peculiar language that CB radio enthusiasts the world over uniquely shared. Alun and Ianto smiled wryly to discover that they were travelling with a man whose ‘handle’ was ‘Gentle Giant’ and that they were in pursuit of a ‘Cats Eye’.
“You’re in luck,” ‘Gentle Giant’ told them a few minutes later. “He hit the rush hour traffic and he hasn’t got to Barry yet. I’ve told him a couple of nicely dressed lads want a word. He’s going to wait for us.”
“Thanks,” Ianto told him fervently. “Tell him he’s not in any trouble, won’t you. But there might be a problem with his cargo.”
The lorry was waiting for them in a lay-by next to a mobile café. ‘Cats Eye’ was having a cup of tea. He waved to his colleague as he got out of the cab. Alun and Ianto climbed out too. He made an innuendo laden remark to ‘Gentle Giant’.
“No such luck,” he replied. “They’re married to each other. I don’t know what it’s about, but they reckon there’s something up with your cargo. They need to see inside.”
“It’s supposed to be car parts,” Cats Eye responded. “If it isn’t, it’s nothing to do with me. The container was sealed before I left the terminal.”
“I know,” Ianto said as he stepped towards the back of the lorry with the alien lock picking device. He pushed open the door and looked inside.
“Oh, shit!” He counted a dozen adults and as many children sitting on the floor of the container. They all shrank back from the sudden light and the four strange faces looking in on them.
“Not the sort of illegal aliens we deal with,” Alun remarked. He heard one of the people speak in a frightened voice and spoke quietly to him in the same language. He nodded.
“They’re Iraqi Kurds – the ones that had a shit time under Saddam and aren’t doing much better since.” He looked at the rather frightened group of people and sighed. “We can’t help them. This is a matter for the police and immigration.” Ianto agreed and reached for his phone to make the call. Alun turned to ‘Cats Eye’ and spoke to him. The driver seemed to be genuinely surprised and shocked. Alun believed him. He hoped the police would, too. “Look… we have a more serious matter to deal with,” he said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. “Get them some food and drink and hold tight till the authorities reach you. That’s all we can do.” He turned to ‘Gentle Giant’ and asked him if he could get them to Abercynon from here.
“Now you’ll be owing me a very big favour,” he replied. “That’s a good hour’s drive in this traffic.”
Jack and Gwen both looked hopeful when the phone rang. But when Ianto told Jack that they had followed the wrong lorry and had to head on up to Abercynon, now, their hearts sank.
“Even if that’s the right container, we’re talking a couple of hours, minimum,” Jack said dismally. “I’m sorry, Gwen. We’re going to have to…”
He stopped mid sentence and stared as the round door from the tourist office entrance swung open and Garrett came into the Hub. Jack watched him kiss Gwen and knew exactly why it was that she was so upset. It hurt to see those kisses from a third person perspective.
“Are you ok?” Garrett asked. “I was worried.”
“I’m…” Gwen began. “I… No, everything is all right. I told you… we’ve got some problems here. I can’t make our date tonight.”
“You said ‘I love you’ when you closed the call,” Garrett said. “You never say that, except when we’re in bed. You certainly don’t say it when we’re both in our offices. I thought… it was some kind of coded way of telling me you were in trouble – like, I don’t know, alien terrorists invading the Hub… So… I came over… to make sure…”
“That was so sweet,” Gwen said as she saw her own eyes widen in surprise. “Rhys wouldn’t think of that.”
“Rhys doesn’t have the paranoid imagination of an MI5 man,” Jack replied. “Garrett… Sit down. There’s something we really need to talk to you about. I didn’t intend for you to know, but seeing as you’re here…”
Garrett looked puzzled. That was only the first of a series of expressions that crossed his face as he listened to them explain what had happened to them.
“This isn’t a wind up?” he asked, looking from one to the other. Jack reached out and took hold of his hand. It felt strange doing that with Gwen’s small, feminine hand. He was used to having slightly bigger hands than Garrett. He turned to look at him. But the usual loving expression that Garrett had for him wasn’t there. He knew Gwen as a friend, that was all. “Jack… it really is you?”
“It is,” he answered. “I know… I’m not exactly what you fell in love with right now. But it’s me… Gwen is… stuck in my body and she…”
Garrett turned to Gwen and gave her a reassuring smile. He reached and touched the face of the man he loved, flicking his kiss curl with his finger. Then he reached and hugged both of them and Jack and Gwen felt his kiss on their cheeks.
“You’ve got Ianto and Alun out on the job? This will be sorted out as soon as that artefact is located and brought back here?”
“Yes,” Jack answered. “At least we hope it will. But Gwen can’t wait that long. She has to meet Rhys for a special birthday dinner.”
Garrett considered the problem for a few seconds then nodded.
“Ok,” he said. “Then you’ll have to go and wine and dine Rhys and stall for time. Think of it as an undercover surveillance job.”
“Yes, but… what if Rhys wants to skip dessert and….”
“He won’t,” Gwen assured him. “He’ll want to do the whole thing right. Dinner, then dancing, THEN bed. But that still only gives us a couple of hours’ grace. If Alun and Ianto are wrong about this second lorry, we’re all in trouble. And… besides, if Jack is at the hotel with Rhys and I’m here…”
“Well,” Garrett answered her. “I was thinking – if Jack doesn’t mind, seeing as he broke off our date – I could take you to dinner.”
Gwen looked confused at first. Jack understood. It made sense. But he didn’t like it, still.
Gwen got changed down in Jack’s lair, into a very smart black silk suit with silver thread woven into it so it glinted in the light. Garrett helped her tie the silk tie. Meanwhile, in the boardroom, Jack was getting ready. Gwen went up and looked in at him. She felt sick in the pit of her stomach as she saw herself in the deep red halter neck dress with fluted skirt that went down to her ankles. Toshiko had done her hair up beautifully and was now putting the finishing touches to the make up. She looked exactly as she hoped she was going to look.
“You… look fantastic,” she managed to say to Jack without her heart breaking.
“So do you,” he replied. “Very handsome. Be gentle with Garrett, won’t you?” He smiled reassuringly at her. “The boys will come through for us. I believe in them.”
“So do I,” she answered, “But… If they don’t… Maybe you could tell Rhys you feel sick, or you’ve got a headache or…”
“If it comes to the crunch,” Jack said. “I could put a fast acting Retcon pill in his champagne. He’ll wake up tomorrow thinking he had such a good time he can’t remember.”
“Poor Rhys. The things we put him through.”
“Poor me,” Jack retorted. “The tights were bad enough. But now I’m in suspenders and stockings and a lace basque.”
Garrett came up behind Gwen and smiled as he heard that last comment.
“If you get to like it, I could buy some in your size, for special occasions,” he said. Jack laughed. So did Gwen as she tried to imagine the body she was currently occupying wearing lingerie. “Here, you need to put this in your ear.” He passed Jack a very small ear piece, much smaller than the ones they used at Torchwood. It would be invisible once inserted. “Courtesy of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We’ll be able to keep you advised of the situation.”
Jack put the earpiece in and stood up. He wobbled at first in the strappy high heeled shoes but got the hang of it by the time he reached the boardroom door. Garrett kissed him on the cheek as he passed.
“Good luck,” he said to him as he went to step onto the pavement lift to the Plas above, where the limousine with Rhys already aboard, was just arriving. Garrett turned to Gwen in Jack’s best suit and took her arm. “Sorry you missed the chance to ride in a limo,” he said. “But if it’s any consolation, my car is a very nice Jaguar convertible.”
He was doing his best to help. Gwen appreciated that. And Garrett was a good looking man, very charming and polite. She was sure that Jack would normally enjoy going out with him. But these were far from normal circumstances. She felt like she was in a surreal nightmare. And she wished it could be over.
‘Gentle Giant’ was worried. As they got closer to Abercynon he had put out messages on the CB, asking for ‘Road Dog’, the driver of the lorry they were searching for. There was no response, and no other driver on the road had seen or heard from him.
“That’s not good,” he said to Ianto and Alun. “He should have reached his destination at least half an hour ago. He ought to be on his way back by now. But nobody has passed him at all.”
“He could be delayed at the destination?” Ianto considered. “Or stopped somewhere?”
“Maybe,” Gentle Giant conceded. “But even if he was parked, he would still respond to the CB. There are at least a dozen others calling for him now. They’re all worried, too.”
Ianto looked out of the window as they approached a junction and was surprised to see a Bedford lorry across the intersection. Its lights flashed as they passed by and Gentle Giant acknowledged the help in ensuring that the road ahead stayed clear for them.
“They’re stopping traffic for us?”
“A comrade may be in trouble,” Gentle Giant said. “We are speeding to his rescue.”
The pattern was repeated all the way through to Abercynon. Gentle Giant never exceeded the speed limit or drove dangerously, but they made the best progress because any traffic that might obstruct them was held at bay by his comrades.
“Where exactly was Road Dog taking the container?” Ianto asked as they approached the village.
“Ap Cwyllm House,” Alun answered, checking the list on the clipboard.
“I know it,” Ianto said. “It’s just the other side of the village. Funny place to make a delivery to. It’s a private house.”
“Sounds like we’re on the right track. Unusual cargo, unusual destination. I just hope the driver is all right.”
Garrett kept several cars between the Jaguar and the Limousine as they headed out towards the Royal Dragon Country House Hotel. When they arrived he made sure they were seated in a discreet place in the restaurant, where he could observe Jack and Rhys. Gwen almost blew their cover, turning continuously to see what they were doing as well as listening in on the discreet receiver in her ear. Rhys was doing his very best to impress her this evening, with lots of sweet compliments about how nice she looked, as well as under the table caresses of her legs through the silk of the dress.
“Damn it,” she swore. “Why can’t he at least keep his hands to himself?” But it was meant to be a romantic evening, after all. Of course Rhys was going to be as amorous as he knew how to be.
It bothered Garrett, too. He watched and listened to Rhys’s efforts for a while before he turned his eyes towards Gwen. He sighed deeply.
“Looking at you, like that… Jack…. He’s….”
“Totally drop dead gorgeous,” Gwen agreed. “I know. I’m not surprised you love him so much.”
“It’s not just that,” Garrett pointed out. “Jack is more than just a good looking man. He’s a wonderful person, a fantastic, mysterious, infuriating and frustrating, passionate, kind, terrific Human being. And that’s…. that’s the part of him that is over there with Rhys instead of here with me. It’s what I don’t feel when I look at you. Gwen, you’re a nice girl. And it’s obvious that Rhys is nuts about you. But I need Jack back in his own body as much as you need to be in yours. This is… dear God, this is a relationship problem I never imagined in a million years before I met him. Torchwood… so many crazy things happen around you all. It makes my work seem normal. How do you all cope with it?”
“I don’t know about the others,” Gwen answered. “But I usually leave all the crazy stuff under the Plas and go home to a nice, normal man who loves me like mad. Only… tonight… I can’t even do that.”
She blinked back tears. She didn’t want to cry in front of Garrett in Jack’s body. But it was an effort to hold herself together. Garrrett reached out and took her hand – Jack’s hand, of course. That tender gesture almost undid her efforts. It was kind of him to offer such comfort to her when he was a victim of this current piece of Torchwood madness himself.
Jack glanced once at the table where Garrett was holding hands with Gwen and put on what he hoped was a sincere smile as Rhys took his hand and stroked it gently. At least that was easier to cope with than what his hands had been doing under the table. But it was all leading rapidly towards the part of the evening Jack was dreading.
What if he had to go through with it? His heart flipped as the thought ran through him again. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? He liked sex. He had enjoyed plenty of variations of it in his time. And this was a unique situation. Maybe he could, possibly, enjoy it.
But then he glanced around and remembered two good reasons why he couldn’t even think of that option. Gwen, who would feel so betrayed, and Garrett, who was just coming to realise how much weird shit went with anyone connected to Torchwood. So far, bless him, he was coping with it. But just how much could he expect him to take?
No, it would have to be the Retcon in Rhys’s nightcap.
Gentle Giant stopped his lorry by the gate of Ap Cwyllm House. Beyond the gate was a driveway leading up to a large, possibly Tudor, manor house. The missing lorry and container was inside, parked on the gravel turning circle in front of the house. The container doors were open, and so was the driver’s door.
“That doesn’t look right to me,” Gentle Giant said as he backed up the lorry and turned it to face the wrought iron gates. “The container shouldn’t have been opened while it was still on the flat bed. And where’s Road Dog?” He revved the engine and pushed it into first gear.
“You can’t…” Ianto began to say. But Gentle Giant was already taking the law into his own hands. He accelerated towards the gates. They fell beneath the heavy duty wheels, making it a bumpy ride for a few seconds. He applied the brakes as he drew level with Road Dog’s lorry. He jumped down even before Ianto and Alun and went to examine the body that lay below the open driver’s door.
“Let me see,” Alun called as he dropped down from the cab with the first aid kit from under the dashboard. He bent over what was obviously Road Dog. He confirmed that he was alive, but out cold from a blunt force trauma to the head.
“There’s another body at the back here,” Ianto called. Alun left the unconscious lorry driver to Gentle Giant’s care and came to look. This one looked dead, but he double checked anyway.
“He looked like he died of heart failure,” he told Ianto. “But it could have happened any time, I reckon. Look at him. If he’s less than ninety I’d be surprised.”
“What’s he doing here?” Ianto asked. He looked inside the trailer and was relieved to see that it its cargo was some kind of mirror on the wall. That part of their mission was accomplished. But now there was another mystery.
And maybe the man who stood there, in front of the mirror, watching them in the reflection, held the answers. Ianto drew his gun, surprising Gentle Giant who obviously didn’t guess that his passengers were armed.
“Turn around slowly, and don’t try anything clever,” Ianto said to the man. “Who are you? Did you attack the driver and the old man?”
“The driver was in the way. The old man… well, that’s another story. Who are you? Not police, I think. Let me guess. Torchwood? You traced the energy source from the Bloemfontein Mirror.”
Ianto didn’t even bother to ask how he knew about Torchwood. People seemed to have ways of finding out about them.
“Torchwood,” he confirmed. “And, I repeat, who are you, and what did you do to him?”
“I AM him,” the young man replied. “Or I was. I used to be Miles Nash the Second. Now I’m Miles Nash the Fourth.”
“Your grandson? You killed him….”
“I didn’t intend that to happen. I was going to make sure he had the best private medical care money could buy. But the shock of the mind transfer was too much for him.”
“You killed him.”
“He was a worthless little shit anyway. All he cared about was gambling and seducing silly young women. I can do so much more with this body, his life before me. All the things I never had time for in my own lifetime, when I was too busy trying to make my fortune to enjoy it.”
“But…” Miles Nash the Fourth – or Second – moved forward. Ianto tightened his grip on his gun.
“Stand still,” he said. “You killed your grandson… to take his body… that’s so… so… wrong.”
“Wrong? Morally, perhaps,” Nash laughed. “Legally, I doubt there is a statute that covers it. You can’t do anything about it. You think there’s a court in the world that you could present this evidence in? The worst I can be charged with is hitting a lorry driver who parked on my driveway instead of going to the trade entrance.”
Ianto’s own moral senses reeled. The despicable man was right. He glanced at Alun and Gentle Giant and noted that they were helping Road Dog to stand up, leading him towards Gentle Giant’s rig. He was looking all right.
“We’re taking the mirror,” Ianto said. “Confiscating it.”
“Feel free,” Nash replied. “I’ve got what I wanted, now. I don’t need it any more. Be careful, though. It’s a very powerful piece of old magic. Comes from South Africa. That’s why it’s called the Bloemfontein Mirror. If two people stand near to it when it’s at full power… well, I think you know what it does. It’s why you’re here.”
“We’ll be watching you,” Ianto told him, wishing he could sound as convincingly menacing as Jack did when he said things like that. “If any other suspicious artefacts come your way we’ll know about it.”
“Suit yourself,” Nash said. “Just get that heap of junk off my driveway and don’t drive over the lawns on your way out.”
As Nash picked up his own discarded body and carried it towards the house, Alun came and secured the container.
“Gentle Giant is going to take Road Dog to hospital,” he said. “I promised I’d deliver his lorry back to the depot tomorrow.”
“You’re going to drive it?” Ianto was surprised.
“I passed the advanced LGV test when I was in the army,” he answered. “I can’t promise not to turn this around without buggering up the lawn, though. In fact I intend to plough a good long furrow through it, if I can help it. It’s not much of a punishment for the cold-hearted bastard, but it’ll do.”
Ianto grinned and jumped up into the passenger seat. He watched admiringly as Alun put the lorry into reverse over a lawn and a freshly planted flower bed before going forward down the driveway. As they turned onto the main road Ianto heard Gentle Giant on the CB radio telling his comrades to make sure the Pretty Boys in Road Dog’s rig were clear through to Penarth.
“Call Gwen,” Alun said. “Tell her we’re on our way.”
They had finished dinner and were relaxing with coffee when Jack heard the news he had been longing to hear all evening. He gently moved Rhys’s hand from his inner thigh and told him he needed to go to the toilet.
“Don’t be long,” Rhys answered. “I want to dance with you before bedtime.”
Jack thought fleetingly of the 51st century meaning of the word ‘dance’ – which rendered that sentence rather meaningless. He let Rhys kiss him on the cheek before hurrying towards the restaurant door. Gwen and Garrett were in the foyer and walked with him out of the hotel. Ianto met them there and told them that the lorry was round the side at the service car park.
When they reached it, Alun already had the container doors open. Ianto and Garrett went to stand with him as Gwen and Jack both looked nervously inside.
“What if it doesn’t work?” Gwen asked. “It’s been used twice today. What if it’s used up, like a battery?”
Jack reached and pulled up the sleeve of his best suit on her arm and flipped the cover on his wristlet. He noted the readings on the LCD panel.
“Plenty of energy building up. Come on. The sooner we get this over, the sooner we can get back to normal life. Or as near to normal as it gets for us.”
He took her hand as they climbed up into the container. They walked to the back and looked at their reflections in the mirror.
“It’s like before,” Gwen noted. “I’m looking at me… the real me. You’re looking at the real you.”
“Ok.” Jack took a deep breath and clutched Gwen’s hand as he reached towards his own reflection. He saw his own masculine hand reaching towards Gwen’s feminine one before the burst of energy overwhelmed him painfully. He heard his own scream and Gwen’s mingle as they were stunned and disorientated by the energy. He heard Garrett calling out to him through the confusion.
He passed out again. When he came round, only a few minutes later, a night breeze cooled his face. He put his hand to it and confirmed that it was his face, his hand. He looked up to see Garrett anxiously watching him.
“It’s me,” he whispered. “What about Gwen?”
“I’m okay,” Gwen said. Jack looked to see her standing with Alun looking a little cold in the silk dress but unharmed. Ianto was in the container. He reported that the mirror had smashed. It was in pieces on the floor. Jack checked his wristlet. There was no energy reading at all, now.
“Maybe reversing the process causes it to self destruct,” he surmised.
“I wonder if it reversed the process for Nash and his grandson?” Ianto considered. “That would mean the selfish sod was dead and his grandson would inherit everything. Poetic justice, if it did.”
“You can pull him in and ask him tomorrow, if you want,” Jack said. “Meanwhile, Gwen, go on back to Rhys, don’t keep him waiting.” He reached out and hugged her gently before she turned and ran as fast as her high heels would carry her. “Boys, I know you’ve had a heck of a night already, but you’d better get those fragments gathered up and secured in the archive. Then take the lorry back. After that you’re done for the night. Remind me I owe you a four star dinner some time. For your efforts tonight.”
“Can you make it a table for three?” Alun asked. “We owe our new friend, Gentle Giant, a reward for his efforts.”
“Whatever,” Jack answered good naturedly. “It’s the least I can do. Really, thanks, both of you. For saving me from a fate worse than death… spending the night in bed beside a Retconned Rhys.”
Alun and Ianto grinned and turned to secure the lorry. Jack turned to Garrett and reached out to hold him. It felt good. It felt right, at last.
“Shall we see if this hotel has any rooms available?” he asked.
“I think so,” Garrett answered.