Jack was watching the helicopter pilot and daydreaming of being at the controls himself, his mind straying to planes, helicopters, space ships and many other flying machines he had enjoyed being in control of at some point in his chequered past. He tore himself back to the present and looked across the aisle to where Ianto and Alun were talking quietly to each other, heads close so that they couldn’t be overheard. He smiled appreciatively. By his side, Garrett nudged his elbow and grinned.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he whispered. “Those two look really hot in battle fatigues.”
“They look like two different men,” Jack said. “I’ve hardly ever seen Ianto in anything but a suit. Well… apart from the times when he wasn’t wearing anything at all for me.” He grinned apologetically at his lover. “You look pretty hot like that, too, by the way.”
Garrett squeezed his hand surreptitiously and leaned closer.
“And you. Something about a man in a uniform!”
“Yeah. Only we’d better stop thinking about that sort of thing. We’re not going to get any at all for the next seventy-two hours.”
“Cold showers for everyone, then. Mind you, I don’t think there are any other kind of showers at this place. That’s one of the things we’re supposed to put up with.”
“Sweetheart, your idea of a romantic weekend leaves a lot to be desired,” Jack said to him.
Garrett laughed. It had been his idea, in point of fact. Training courses like this were mandatory for MI5 operatives and he had suggested to Jack that Torchwood could use the experience, too. The Torchwood men, anyway. The armed forces of Great Britain were slowly coming to terms with women having parity with men, but they still drew the line at having them on these sort of exercises. The official reason had been that the facility had no bathroom provision for women.
The Army Air Corps Eurocopter that took off from St. Athans nearly an hour ago, had included the four Torchwood men, as well as Garrett and five men from the Cardiff MI5 Headquarters, and three of the instructors who were going to be putting them through some gruelling paces on what was described as an extreme endurance weekend. The man in charge, Major McLennon, sitting just behind the pilot, was a dour looking Scotsman who looked like he could make ‘extreme endurance’ hurt badly.
As they reached the South coast of England and started to cross the Solent, another Eurocopter kept pace with them. The third arm of this joint services exercise was a group of U.N.I.T. men who had come down from Herefordshire. Jack wondered if there was a less homoerotic atmosphere in that helicopter, then forced himself to stop thinking about sex. It was only going to make things uncomfortable in a minute or two.
“Lifejackets, kit packs and harnesses on,” barked the Major, standing and looking at them all with a rather scathing expression. He had already voiced his opinion that both Torchwood and MI5 agents were too soft for this exercise and that he was going to wipe the floor with them all. He glowered at them as they got ready for the drop. “Landing Zone in four minutes. Anyone not ready gets pushed out over the water and they can swim for it.”
He probably meant it, too. Jack got his equipment on easily enough, anyway. So did Garrett. They had both done this kind of thing before. So had Alun. Owen and Ianto fumbled with their harnesses. They both looked nervous. This would be their first time exiting a helicopter in this way. Alun had taken them both on an intensive abseiling course last weekend, including some static jumps in a wind tunnel that simulated the helicopter drop, but this was for real. Neither of them, in any case, were soldiers in any concept of the word. They were military ‘virgins’ who had no clear idea what to expect of the next few days even if they did manage to survive the landing.
Garrett’s group looked more fitted for the task. Not that it was, in any way, supposed to be competitive. But U.N.I.T. were an elite armed force. MI5 were all military trained. Jack wanted his people to hold their heads up among them.
Ianto really looked scared as the Major announced one minute to the ‘LZ’. Alun put his hand on his shoulder and whispered a reassuring remark to him. He managed a smile back at his lover, but that was the most he dared in the way of acknowledgement. Jack had warned them both about being too tactile with each other this weekend. They were going to be in a party of twenty-six men, more than half of them regular army. There was bound to be at least one homophobe among them who could make the weekend even more difficult than it was meant to be if it was known that they were a couple.
The same applied to himself and Garrett. From here on, they had to forget about being lovers. They had to be soldiers.
There was a change in the engine tempo as the helicopter began to hover and a wind gusted through as the doors were opened either side. The three trainers secured the abseiling ropes before two of them, including Major McLennon, dropped first. Then two of Garrett’s people, both experienced abseillers, went next. After that, it was Jack and Owen’s turn. The remaining instructor checked their harnesses. Owen looked down at the Landing Zone on the lower deck of the sea fort some sixty feet below.
“It looks hard,” he commented. “Don’t fancy hitting it head first. Skull would crack open like a soft-boiled egg.”
“Hitting the sea would be bad, too,” Jack told him. “The Solent in January is a cold place to take a swim.”
Owen looked even more worried.
“Just keep pace with me. You’ll be all right.”
There was no time for much more of a pep talk than that. Owen would just have to manage. They both stepped up to the edge and on the count of three dropped down, controlling their descent, aiming for the white stone deck that stuck up from the sea around it. They made it down safely. Owen got his harness caught up in the line in his haste to be free of it. Jack helped him.
“You should have let him figure it out for himself,” said Major McLennon acidly. “How else will he learn?”
“In the force I served in, we helped each other out of difficulties,” Jack answered.
The Major got ready to reply to that, but there was a commotion. Ianto had come down next along with another of Garrett’s MI5 men. As with Jack and Owen, they sent an experience abseiller down with an inexperienced one. Ironically, Ianto made it safely. It was the MI5 man who was still caught up in his harness when the helicopter shifted its position slightly. He was pulled towards the edge of the deck where he slid down the line and was dashed against the concrete as he struggled to pull himself up.
McLennon did nothing. He signalled to his fellow instructor to stay put. Jack glared at them both then ran to help the struggling man. Owen followed and between them they pulled him to safety. Owen examined him quickly and declared that there was no internal damage, but he had some bruises that would take a while to mend and he ought to go down to the sick bay and lie down for a while, just in case.
“If no bones are broken and he’s not bleeding to death he’s fit to carry on,” McLennon replied, dismissing Owen’s diagnosis. “A namby-pamby civilian medic is all I need. Clear the area. We’ve got more men waiting to descend.”
“Let’s get him below,” Jack said to Owen. Between them they helped the bruised and battered man to climb down the companion way to what passed for living quarters.
Living quarters was a loose term for it. The Sea Fort of St. Helens was built – as Ianto had explained earlier in the journey – in 1867, as protection for the Isle of Wight against foreign naval enemies, possibly anticipating problems with the Prussians in the future. It had been used again in World War II, but since then had been left with only occasional maintenance. It was almost derelict. The room designated as a dormitory for ten men had plain metal walls with rust marks trailing down from the rivets where the panels were welded together. There was a concrete floor that was, at least, dry. On that floor, ten makeshift beds had been set up. Some of them were just mattresses on the floor. Some were fold out camp beds with a thin piece of foam on top. Everyone had one pillow without a case and one rough grey blanket. There was a wooden box by each bed for the few possessions they had with them. A metal door led through to what passed for a toilet facility and Jack, having inspected it, knew exactly why the women didn’t do this sort of thing.
The room was cold. Not freezing, but cold as if it had never been heated in its whole history.
“Make sure Morgan gets one of the good beds.” Jack said. “Let him rest. We have an hour before we have to muster on the top deck.”
Owen made Morgan lie down and reconfirmed his opinion that the man should have been in the sick bay.
“Endurance training,” Jack told him. “We’re supposed to manage as if we were behind enemy lines in hostile territory.”
“Fuck enemy lines,” Owen replied.
“He’s right,” said one of the U.N.I.T. men who was billeted with them. “Your man’s injuries aren’t bad enough to slow him down in combat. And if they were… Major McLennon would probably shoot him so he doesn’t slow the rest down!”
“Yeah, I bet he fucking would.” Most of the U.N.I.T. men agreed with that assessment and none of them were happy about it.
Jack looked around as Ianto came in and dropped his kit on the camp bed next to his. He looked nervously around as the rest of the men billeted with them arrived. Most were ‘real’ soldiers from the U.N.I.T. contingent. Ianto felt rather inadequate around them.
“As if it wasn’t bad enough,” he said quietly to Jack. “Alun is in the other room. I don’t even have his company at night… not even to talk to.”
“Garrett is in the other room, too,” Jack replied.
“They split up the two gay couples? Was that deliberate?”
“Could be in your case,” Jack said. “You do have each other listed as spouse on your papers. I don’t think they know me and Garrett are an item. And it’s probably for the best. McLennon is an unreconstructed bastard who would take pleasure in bullying queers. And he’s already got it in for you and Owen for being civilians with no military training.”
“Somebody should explain the concept of ‘joint services’ to him,” Owen pointed out. “You’re all right, Ianto. Seventy two hours without a shag won’t kill you.”
“Anyway, you’re not the only ones not getting any bedtime comforts,” Jack told him. “There are plenty of married men here who’ve had to leave off their wedding rings before they came on this trip.”
“Yeah, it’s just as hard for the straights,” Owen teased.
Ianto looked at his own hand. Personal jewellery had to be left behind. He and Alun still had identical white marks on their fingers. He noticed the man at the bed next to him, trying to fold over the thin pillow to make it a bit thicker under his head. He had a ring mark, too.
Garrett came into the room. He had heard about Morgan and wanted to make sure he was all right. He swore loudly about the callous way his man had been treated. Morgan assured his boss that he would be ok by the time they were called to muster.
“The helicopters have gone,” Garrett said. “We’re all stuck here now for seventy-two hours with nothing but an emergency radio in case something goes badly wrong. It’s a cold mile swimming against the tide to the Isle of Wight for anyone who can’t hack it.”
“Let’s all just do that now,” Owen commented. Several people, including some of the U.N.I.T. men laughed.
“By the way, Jack,” Garrett continued. “As of the muster, any existing command structure doesn’t exist. Morgan isn’t my responsibility. Ianto and the others aren’t yours. We’re all under Major McLennon – in a very non-gay sense of the word.”
Jack nodded. He had expected that. But if anyone imagined he could just stop feeling responsible for his team, or that Garrett, who had come down here to check on his own man, could do the same, then they didn’t understand about the nature of command in any organisation.
“I’d better go,” Garrett said after reassuring himself that Morgan was recovering. He looked around at Jack but there was nothing in his face that betrayed them as a couple. Jack expected that. He wouldn’t be any use as a spy if he wore his heart on his sleeve all the time. They had made love last night, and cuddled up close in bed this morning and joked about being ‘straight’ for the weekend before they set out for St. Athan’s to rendezvous with the helicopter.
But Jack hadn’t reckoned on hating it so much as he did already. He clung to the memory of that warm intimacy so many hours ago, and looked forward to Monday night when this was all over.
Morgan did look a lot better by the time they went up to the gun deck. He managed to stand to attention neatly in the double line they formed up, and Major McLennon and his fellow officers in charge could find nothing to criticise about him.
Nor could he find fault with the presentation of any of the Torchwood team. Ianto had dressed in the cold weather battle fatigues with the same careful precision he had when he put on a suit every day. He could not be picked on for any sloppy civilian ways. Alun had slipped into consummate soldier mode easily enough. Owen’s standing to attention was an insolent parody of military precision, but he got away with it.
Jack knew how to be a soldier. He had been one in many armies and many times. There was nothing the Major could pick on him for.
He wasn’t their Captain now. He wasn’t responsible for anyone. But he was relieved when his team made it through the first ordeal of this weekend of hell.
“You’re an undisciplined rabble,” Major McLennon barked to them all collectively, having failed to pick on anyone individually. “But you’ll toughen up or die while I’m in charge. There’s still three hours of daylight. Don’t think there’s any ‘getting to know you’ barbecue or cushy entertainment laid on. The discipline starts now.”
They were split into four teams of five for a series of exercises. Jack found himself with Morgan from Garrett’s MI5 contingent and three U.N.I.T. soldiers set to run around the lower deck of the wedding cake shaped sea fort until the digital pedometers on their belts said they had done five miles. Garrett, Alun and Owen were part of a group doing target practice on the upper gun deck. And if anyone thought that was an easy option, they had never lain flat in a freshening wind and a January drizzle and tried to hit a target buoy bobbing up and down on the swell a hundred yards out to sea. Ianto was with one of the other teams sent to do something below. The fact that it was inside probably didn’t make it much less arduous.
Jack’s group found out very quickly that they weren’t actually running around in a circle. The lower deck didn’t go all the way around. The former gun emplacements facing out to sea cut it off. What they had was more like a horseshoe with blank walls either end that they ran right up to before turning around. It stopped them from getting dizzy going around and around, but it also meant that none of them could get into a proper rhythm for long distance running and that made it so much harder.
And on top of that, Major McLennon had organised another hazard. They had run a mile back and forward when they saw him on the gun deck, ordering two of his officers to turn high pressure hoses onto the lower deck. The water was pumped up from the sea below so it was freezing cold as they ran through it. And the more water poured down, the more they ran back and forwards through it, the slippier the deck became. When the men fell McLennon laughed and called them names. One of the U.N.I.T. men, a slim blonde called Lacey, fell so often that he was becoming a stock joke for the instructors. He had twisted his ankle badly the last time, but kept on going. The whole group slowed to let him keep up, despite wanting very much to have this particular ordeal over and done with. McLennon called down to them to pick up the speed, saying that Lacey was slowing them down and reminding them that behind enemy lines he would get them all killed unless they left him behind.
McLennon was a total bastard, Jack decided. Abandoning comrades wasn’t done in any army he had served in. He remembered two occasions when he was a Time Agent and he had carried an injured man on his back. And once when he was the fallen one, hauled back to safety by a colleague. His experiences of twentieth century warfare were much the same.
There were only two possible circumstances where leaving a comrade behind could be stomached. Where his injuries were so bad that he wouldn’t make it back alive, and the enemy observed some equivalent of the Geneva Convention and would give him medical attention as a prisoner of war.
The other was when his injuries were so bad that he wouldn’t make it back alive, and he still had the strength to take down as many of the enemy as possible before using the last bullet on himself.
Jack had experienced both those situations and didn’t ever want to do so again. But McLennon would have thought those men were excess baggage to be discarded.
Bastard, Jack thought as he put out his hands to stop himself smashing into the wall at the end of another circuit of the fort.
Then he heard his fellow team members shouting, and somebody pushed him up against the wall, pulling his arms behind his back. He heard McLennon’s voice saying ‘he’ll do for an example’ before telling the others to carry on running. Then a sack was put over his head and his hands secured tightly. He guessed what was going to happen next.
He was held by two men, either side, and half guided, half pushed down three flights of steps. He knew he was inside the fort by the echoing sound of their footsteps, and he guessed he was below sea level by the time a metal door was slammed open and he was pushed into a room. He could hear grunts and yells and sounds of fighting. He guessed that the two teams that came inside were engaged in some sort of unarmed combat exercises. They sounded rough.
“We’ve got a traitor here,” McLennon said. “He’s going to be interrogated later. But first he needs softening up. You… over here and give him what’s coming to him.”
Jack heard a gasp from the individual chosen.
“That wasn’t a request. Get over here or you’ll get the same.”
Jack was pushed to his knees. He steeled himself for some pain.
Then he felt somebody touch his shoulder and a voice whispered next to his ear.
“Sorry, boss, but I have to make this look real.”
“That’s ok, Ianto,” he whispered back. “Do your worst.”
He didn’t do his worst. Jack could tell. He’d been on the receiving end of Ianto in a temper. He knew what he was capable of when he was really trying. He was an unstoppable ball of rage. This was painful as he kicked and thumped him, but nothing like it would be if he was really giving him a beating.
“That’s not how to do it.” He heard McLennon’s voice close to and then Ianto gave a yelp of pain and fell against him. Jack rolled and protected him with his own body, taking a vicious kick in the kidneys for his effort. Then they were both hauled to their feet. The sack was pulled from his face and he saw McLennon striking Ianto in the head.
He knew enough about military discipline. He shouldn’t have reacted. But he had just about had enough of Major McLennon already. He twisted and brought his knee up and caught him in the groin.
“Touch one of my people again and I’ll fucking kill you,” Jack said. And he knew that was stupid of him, too. He knew he was going to get some sort of punishment now.
McLennon straightened up much faster than a man who had been kneed in the balls should have done and looked at him and Ianto coldly.
“I knew you two were a pair of queers as soon as I saw you,” he said. “Why you’re on this course, I don’t know. There’s no place for your sort in any force loyal to the crown.”
It was probably just rhetoric, Jack thought. This weekend was about endurance, about pushing themselves to the limits. McLennon obviously enjoyed making it as ‘real’ as possible. The verbal abuse went along with the physical endurance. It was meant to teach them what to expect in enemy hands.
Even so, he still wanted to kill the bastard.
He was shocked to find that Ianto was made to share his punishment, and even more so when he found out what the punishment was. They were both made to climb down a ladder on the side of the fort itself and into the water. About three feet below the sea level their feet touched a stone ledge about a yard wide that jutted out from the wall. They were told they had to make two complete circuits of the fort on that ledge, and that they needed to do it in the next hour before the tide started to come in.
They were up to their waists in cold water as it was. The prospect of a rising tide was terrifying.
“Shit,” Ianto swore. “Does he want to drown us?”
“Move fast,” Jack told him. “Come on. You can do it. It’s not as bad as it seems.”
He lied. It was worse than it seemed. The water wasn’t freezing, but it felt like it, and even the cold weather clothes they were wearing couldn’t fully protect them. Their legs and lower torso began to feel numb after a very short time. Ianto suffered from the start. He wasn’t exactly unfit. But Torchwood was far from on a par with the sort of elite military fitness that this kind of exercise required.
“I’m sorry,” Jack told him. “I thought this was a good idea. I thought you could all learn from the experience.
“I’m… learning… from it,” Ianto answered. “I’m learning to hate that bastard.”
“You’re not alone in that,” Jack assured him.
They moved on quietly for a while, single file, reaching out to the wall beside them to steady them. Neither wanted to fall into the deeper water.
“Is this what you expected it to be like?” Ianto asked after they had done about half of the first circuit. “When you signed us up for the course.”
“Well… sort of,” he admitted. “I’ve done endurance courses before. Last one was in a desert though. Buried up to the neck in sand, running up sand dunes with full kit pack on my back. Managing without water for as long as possible.”
“I could manage without water right now,” Ianto managed to joke.
“I don’t mind the endurance idea,” Ianto added. “But being told to beat up my… my best friend. That was too much.”
“Yes. After Alun, of course.”
“That’s appreciated,” Jack told him. “I appreciate you trying not to hurt me, too, by the way. I’m sorry McLennon was so bloody nasty about it.”
They completed the first circuit. McLennon was at the top of the steps, watching them. Jack glanced up once and saw his cruel smile. He urged Ianto to keep on going and not look up at all.
Ianto was really struggling now, though. He was moving slower and slower. Jack stopped and waited for him to catch up and then let him walk ahead so he could keep an eye on him.
“I can’t…” Ianto cried out when they were about halfway around the second circuit. He stopped and leaned against the wall, tears spilling down his face.
“Come here,” Jack said, urging him to walk three more steps that brought them to a sort of recess in the wall. It might have been a door of some sort once, but was bricked up now. They were still standing in water, but they were out of the wind. Jack put his arms around Ianto and held him close.
“You’re not weak,” he told him. “You’re just not trained for this sort of crap. But you can make it. You will make it.”
“I can’t,” he repeated. “Jack, I’m sorry. I let you down.”
“No, you didn’t.” Jack held him even closer and put his hand on his cold cheek, turning his face towards his own. “Best friend. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me for a long time.”
He kissed him on the lips. Not amorously, but for friendship. For comradeship. Ianto understood that.
“You could never let me down, Ianto,” he assured him. “Are you ready to go again?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Jack… thank you.”
They moved on again, Ianto in front, moving a little faster now. The thought that the ordeal was nearly over spurred him on. Jack kept close behind him, ready to help if he faltered again. No doubt McLennon would think he ought to leave him behind. But he never would.
“Keep going,” he told him. “We’re nearly there. It’s almost over.”
“Yes,” Ianto managed to answer. “Yes, I know. I can see the ladder.”
They reached the ladder. Ianto clung to it for several seconds before he summoned up the urge to climb it. But McLennon had another dirty trick to play. The high pressure hoses were turned on them again. It made the climb so much harder. Ianto slipped twice and almost froze once. Jack’s voice called up to him.
“Go on, Ianto,” he said. “Don’t let that sadistic Scotsman beat a good Welsh boy.”
Ianto laughed through his tears of frustration and kept climbing. Jack came up quickly behind him. At the top he was in time to put a restraining arm on Ianto as he faced the two officers with the hoses.
“We’re done here,” he said to him quietly. “Let it go. They can’t do anything more to you.” He turned to McLennon, noting his gloating expression. “We’ve done your punishment. We’re still standing. What do you think you’ve proven?”
“That you Nancy boys aren’t as soft as you look,” he replied. “Get up top now. You still have to do half an hour of target practice.”
It was getting dark, almost too dark to do any sort of target practice. It was windy and cold up on the gun deck. And they were soaking wet. Jack knew they were not going to be allowed to change first. He turned and headed to the ladder. Ianto followed him. At the top, the group including Alun and Garrett were finishing off. They both looked at the state of their two lovers and were shocked, but Jack shook his head.
“We’re ok. We’ll see you later,” he said quietly.
Target practice in a headwind and fading light was hardly going to be a picnic even if they weren’t wet and cold. As it was, both of them struggled. Ianto’s hands shook so much he had no chance of hitting the buoys, let alone the targets on them. Jack’s aim was a bit better, but in any other circumstances he’d have been ashamed of the number of times he was off centre. As it was, he didn’t care. As long as they both got through this half hour and could be left alone afterwards.
At least it wasn’t McLennon supervising. The officer in charge of the range admitted that the light was bad and didn’t say anything about the fact that Ianto hadn’t got a single shot on target. He stopped the practice and told them they could go down to the recreation room now.
A hot shower would have been the best thing for them both, but there was no such thing available. They changed into the lightweight fatigues and hung their soaking cold weather clothing on a length of rope strung across the dormitory where the others had done the same. Then they went in search of the room that passed for both mess hall and recreation room.
It barely qualified as either. Their meal was iron rations from a pack. Alun made sure they both ate. Garrett brought two tin cups that contained a measure of whiskey each. They drank it gratefully and felt an inner warmth.
“You can thank that man, there, Forrester,” Garrett told them, pointing to one of the U.N.I.T. men. “He snuck the bottle aboard. If McLennon knew he’d have him strung up.”
Jack was very grateful to Forrester, and for the general consensus among all of the men that McLennon was a total bastard who ought to get what’s coming to him. He let himself relax for a while as he looked around the ‘recreation room’. The term was only very loosely applied. There were a couple of chess boards, a dozen books, none of which were particularly tempting, and an old analogue radio that only picked up the local stations. Garrett tuned it to the shipping forecast and nobody was particularly happy to learn that there were gale force winds expected after midnight in the Solent.
“This place has stood for nearly two hundred years,” Ianto pointed out as he recovered his old spirit. “It’s not going to collapse on us tonight.”
“I wish it bloody well would,” Morgan declared. One of the U.N.I.T. men agreed.
“I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking of, signing up for this. I want to phone my wife. But there’s no mobile reception and the radio room is locked.”
“Why is there no mobile reception?” Jack wondered. “It IS only a mile to the Isle of Wight. Something must be blocking it out.”
That struck him as odd, but everybody else seemed to accept it.
“You could start swimming, Ketteley,” Forrester told his comrade. “You might make it before the gales start.”
“I’m almost tempted,” Ketteley answered. “Fucking hell, this is a hole. Do you know there are two more forts like this one further up the coast that are luxury hotels. The ultimate getaway for the super rich. We’re stuck with a rusting hulk.”
“Yeah, I heard about those,” Forrester replied. “I wouldn’t want to stay in the hotel on No Mans Land Fort. That place has a history. People died there in the 1970s.”
“That’s classified information,” Garrett pointed out. “You shouldn’t be talking about it. Even the thirty year rule doesn’t count with that incident.”
Between Torchwood, MI5 and U.N.I.T., though, every single man was already party to plenty of secrets.
“Sea monsters,” Forrester said. “They attacked the fort when it was being used as a radar station. Killed everyone.”
“Some people even say it was aliens,” Forrester added with a laugh that was echoed around the room.
“It wasn’t aliens,” Jack said. Everyone looked at him. He was sitting on a battered arm chair, his feet propped up on the straight backed chair that Garrett was sitting on next to him. He had looked as if he wasn’t even listening to the chatter, but he was. And now there was something in the way he spoke that made them all sit up and listen.
“The creatures were designated ‘Sea Devils’. That’s what is says on the classified U.N.I.T. report. You’ve got a copy at MI5, too, Garrett. The public were told in the papers released under the thirty year rule that it was an accident involving carbon monoxide gas in an unventilated room. Nearly as pathetic as our stock unexploded bomb excuse. But the truth is Sea Devils. They’re intelligent reptiles that walk upright on two feet like Humans. But they’re not aliens. They are actually a species that had evolved to an advanced technological stage long before homo sapiens walked on this Earth. The entire race went into hibernation when they learnt of the impending global killer that wiped out the dinosaurs. When they came out of hibernation they found that Humans had taken over the planet. They were pretty pissed about that and declared war on humanity. Luckily for us, humanity won.”
“No shit!” Forrester spoke for all those listening.
“Don’t worry,” Jack added. “If the Sea Devils decide to rise from the depths this weekend we’ll throw Major McLennon at them.”
Everyone laughed, as Jack hoped they would. Scary stories before bedtime weren’t usually his thing. He had enough to give him nightmares. But it was what men generally did in situations like this. He could recall swapping ghost stories about haunted space stations while on duty in the Andromeda quadrant. He remembered in the trenches in 1916, men talking about the Angel of Mons who took the souls of the dead from the battlefield. He remembered airmen waiting to scramble in the Battle of Britain with their own tales.
The conversations continued in that vein as the evening wore on towards eleven o’clock, when they had been informed that all the lights would be put out and they had to be in their bunks. A little after ten thirty, Alun left the chess game he was playing with Morgan and went out of the room. A minute later, Ianto got up.
“Be careful,” Jack whispered to him. Ianto nodded in acknowledgement of that and walked out of the room.
If either of them thought they were being discreet, they reckoned without a group of bored men with nothing better to do than watch each other.
“I thought there was something about those two,” Forrester said.
“Good luck to them,” Ketteley responded. “At least they’ve got a bit of comfort. As long as McLennon doesn’t catch them in the act. He’ll cut off their balls.”
Ten minutes passed as ordinary conversations resumed once again.
“Do you feel like risking the wrath of Major McLennon, too?” Garrett whispered to Jack.
He smiled. Yes, he would like to. Even if they couldn’t actually have sex, a cuddle would be nice. A moment of loving companionship in this cold, dark place.
“We ought to be setting an example to the men,” he answered regretfully.
Garrett agreed with a deep sigh. Then he looked around at the men and turned back to Jack.
“Fuck it,” he said. “Here’s an example for them.” And he leaned forward and slid his hand around Jack’s neck as he kissed him on the lips. At first there was a shocked silence in the room, then a series of jeers and cheers of encouragement. A few men looked disgusted and turned away. But most of them recognised Garrett’s actions as a rebellion against the detested Major and fully supported him.
Jack suppressed a laugh as he imagined the homophobic Major walking into the room right now and enjoyed the kiss, as well as the element of showmanship that went with doing it so openly and unashamedly in front of the other men.
They were interrupted by the door banging open. It wasn’t the Major on the warpath against gays and strays.
It was Ianto.
“Major… McLennon…” he gasped. “He’s… dead.”