Jack bought his first coffee of the morning from Bev at The Lunch Box and strolled along Mermaid Quay towards the tourist office entrance to the Hub. He was startled when Ianto and Alun ran out of the office, almost knocking him down in the rush.
“Sorry, boss,” Ianto said to him. “But there’s something going on…”
Ianto rushed on without completing his sentence. Jack looked at the open tourist office door and then turned and hurried after them.
Something was definitely going on further up the boardwalk. Ianto and Alun weren’t the only people who were aware of it. A small crowd was gathering around the jetty where sports fishing boats tied up. There was a boat there, now. The Swordfish, it was called. An unlikely name for a fishing boat that never went much further than the Bristol Channel.
But if it had caught a swordfish out there today, it would not have been much more surprising than what was being hauled ashore from the boat, creating so much excitement.
“What do you reckon?” Jack asked Ianto as they listened to overlapping guesses of how long the fish was.
“Two and a half metres,” Ianto replied with absolute confidence. Jack smiled triumphantly as somebody produced a tape measure and the fish was declared to be two hundred and fifty five centimetres from tail to nose. “It’s a Stethacanthus, by the way. A very big one.”
“Of course it is,” Jack responded lugubriously. He knew for a fact that Ianto was very good at estimating lengths at a glance. He had taken a vicarious pleasure in hearing that he was right about that. But when he came out with words like ‘Stethacanthus’ Ianto’s card index knowledge of just about anything started to get scary.
“You can identify it by its anvil shaped dorsal fin,” Ianto added. “And by the way, it should have been extinct about 300 million years ago.”
“It looks to me like it became extinct about half an hour ago,” Alun commented.
“It’s got residual rift energy around it,” Jack confirmed as he surreptitiously examined his wristlet. “Ok, I think we need to take control of this scene, now.”
Jack took off his distinctive World War II RAF coat and handed it to Ianto. Then he strode towards the steps where the two fishermen were attempting to haul their catch up to the quay. He held up a piece of blank paper in a plastic wallet and spoke with a cool, confident tone that exuded authority and dissuaded anyone from questioning his absolute right to say and do what he wanted.
“Environmental Health,” he said. “I’ve reason to believe this fish is contaminated with Streptococcal pharyngitis. I’m confiscating it under the Public Health Act. You two will have to come with me and give a full account of where and how you caught it.” He made a pretence of looking around the quay. “Bring it down to that old tourist office there. Good place to conduct the interview in private. Everyone else, move along please. There is absolutely nothing to see.”
“It’s a weird shit day,” Alun murmured as he and Ianto made a pretence of moving along, as an encouragement to the rest of the public. Jack, meanwhile, directed the two fishermen with their prehistoric catch hammocked on a tarpaulin between them down to the Torchwood Hub.
An hour later Jack managed to get his team into the boardroom with intent to rein in the weirdness.
“The two anglers, Bryn and Cledwyn Morgan have made a full statement about where and how they caught their big fish,” Gwen reported. “They had a nice cup of tea with a dose of Retcon and they’re currently having a snooze on one of the benches up in the Plas. They’ll wake up soon a bit puzzled but none the worse for their experience. As to the fish…”
“It’s a fish. Some kind of shark. Nothing funny about that apart from it was caught in the Bristol Channel.”
Jack looked at Ianto. He stood up with the control for the computerised slide projector in his hand. Owen groaned.
“It’s too early in the morning for Wales’s answer to David Attenborough, Ianto,” he said. “Keep it short.”
Ianto gave him a hurt look and began to talk about the artist’s impression of a very odd looking shark that appeared on the screen.
“From the class Chondrichthyes, which includes cartilaginous jawed fish with paired fins, subclass, Elasmobranchii, which specifically includes skates, rays and sharks, the order, Symmoriida, which includes three extinct families of shark, including Stethacanthidae, we have the genus, Stethacanthus.”
Owen made bored noises as Ianto went on to describe the shark in more pertinent detail.
Stethacanthus is an extinct genus of shark which lived in the late Devonian and Early Carboniferous epochs, that is to say, around 360 million years ago. The creature was usually no more than a metre long. It probably hunted small fish.”
“There goes the Cardiff Bay Angling Club,” Owen interrupted.
“Stethacanthus is best known for its unusually shaped dorsal fin, which resembles an anvil or ironing board. Small spikes which were enlarged versions of the dermal denticles commonly covering shark skin, covered this crest, and the shark's head as well. Some scientists think the crest may have had a function in courtship; others think it may have been used for self defence….”
Owen had really had enough at this point.
“That’s where I’ve been going wrong with women all these years! Forget after shave. Just strap a shaggy ironing board to my back. What do the female Steths do? Compare boards and then press their smalls on the winner?”
Gwen giggled. Jack rapped on the table.
“The point is,” Ianto continued. “There’s no doubt about it. This is a prehistoric fish. They don’t exist any more. It shouldn’t have been here in the Bristol Channel in 2010.”
“There was a minor rift opening in the Bay four weeks ago,” Toshiko pointed out. “We forgot about it at the time because it was very small and very brief and we had a major rift surge immediately afterwards that threw up Diane and the others. After that, we were too busy fighting for our lives…”
“We didn’t overlook it, Jack,” Alun assured him. “As soon as we were free of the quarantine Ianto and I took the boat out and we scanned the Bay and the Channel for residual rift energy. From what we found, nothing bigger than a prehistoric tadpole could have got through. Certainly not anything like the Stethacanthus.”
“It’s obvious, though, isn’t it?” Gwen asked. “I mean, it must have come through the rift at some point. The same way as Myfanwy did. I mean, pterodactyls shouldn’t be in modern Cardiff, either.”
“This is true,” Jack conceded. “But we can’t have prehistoric fish swimming about in the Bristol Channel. Boys, you’re going to have to take the boat out again and make sure there’s nothing else out there.” He grinned at their faces. “Hey, it’s a lovely day for a boat ride. And I know you two love being on assignments together where I can’t see you.”
Jack grinned lasciviously at the two of them. Both blushed like newlyweds.
“Owen, I need you to analyse the stomach contents of the fish. That might tell us a lot. If its last meal was other prehistoric fish it’s a new arrival. If it’s mostly been eating brown trout, then it could have been here a while…”
“Sharks have very slow digestion,” Ianto said. “You should be able to get an idea of what it ate for the last fortnight, if not longer.”
“Makes sense,” Owen conceded, though even for him that didn’t sound like a fun way to spend his morning.
“Ok, Gwen and Toshiko, you were going to see off the Hogwarts Express at the railway station at eleven… was there anything else?”
There wasn’t, but as the team were filing out of the board room Beth handed Jack a note from a phone call she had taken. He read it and nodded.
“Ok, I’ll deal with this. You’re holding the fort here for a couple of hours, Beth. You ok with that?”
Beth was more than ok with that. She beamed with delight at being given responsibility for the Hub, even for a half a morning. She was determined to do a good job and impress Jack with her efficiency and initiative.
Ianto and Alun were perfectly happy with the idea of spending the morning out on the Bristol Channel in the Torchwood motor launch. It was a beautiful morning and there were few better ways to spend their time.
“Jack thinks we spend all our time shagging when we’re out of his sight,” Ianto said with a grin.
“We did that ONCE, down in the archive. And we weren’t out of sight. Not with Tosh running that infra-red programme. They all knew exactly what we were doing.”
“Anyway, I’m not going to shag you out here. We’ve got a serious job to do. That shark… imagine if it had attacked kiddies swimming in the sea over in Weston Super Mare?”
Scenes from Jaws and other killer shark films of various quality and realism came into their minds briefly. They didn’t want anything like that to happen on their watch. So they took careful soundings of the channel, noting anything bigger than a trout that might be swimming in it.
By eleven o’clock they had located the last resting place of some of the most recent suicides who had jumped from the Severn Bridge, but nothing else of significance.
“We’d better widen the search,” Alun said. “After all, sharks can swim a long way.”
“You know, it could have come hundreds of miles,” Ianto pointed out. “Thousands. If it followed the Gulf Stream, it could be from somewhere like the Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, somewhere like that.”
“Yeah, the Bermuda Triangle. Jack reckons there’s a rift like ours around there. The US Navy does research on it, but the CIA bury most of their findings. They’re a bit snotty about sharing the information with us. Pisses Jack off no end when they blank him.”
“He could ask Garrett to help, couldn’t he?” Alun suggested. “CIA are MI5’s chums?”
“I think he feels awkward about pulling favours from Garrett. He believes in keeping business and pleasure separate. If we could connect our shark with something international, though, he might have to swallow his pride.”
Gwen and Toshiko arrived at Cardiff Central railway station, noting the long row of coaches that were taking passengers to meet connections at Bristol Parkway and other stations outside of Cardiff.
“What’s the excuse for closing the station?” Toshiko asked. “Not unexploded bomb, surely?”
“Suspected asbestos found while renovating the central platform toilets,” Gwen answered. “Bit lame, isn’t it!”
“Just a bit. It’s a wonder anyone believes anything in this city. There was a road closed near Etsuko’s nursery yesterday and I thought it was something to do with us. It was just ordinary workmen checking the phone lines.”
“Easy to get paranoid. But most of the time, road closures are just ordinary stuff. I like ordinary stuff. It’s reassuring. It’s nice to think the weird stuff we deal with isn’t the NORM.”
They stepped into the unusually quiet railway station. There were modern trains stationary at all the platforms. They made their way down the central platform, beyond the part where the public usually waited for their trains. Further down there were no seats, no coffee machines, no public toilets.
There were lots of old locked rooms with grimy frosted glass that still had “British Rail” and the old logo from before privatisation etched on them. Even further down, there were relics of pre-nationalisation. The words ‘Great Western Railway’ were to be seen in the brickwork above an old archway. Toshiko and Gwen both remembered what Jack had said about the ‘Hogwarts Express’ as they passed under it to find Cardiff’s equivalent of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
“Wow,” they both said at once as they looked at the steam locomotive that stood there, hissing slightly as its fires were stoked and the pressure built up. Neither were sure exactly what sort of locomotive it was. Train spotting certainly wasn’t their thing.
“Jack would probably know,” Gwen said. “He’d get all misty eyed and nostalgic for the war looking at this.”
“It’s pretty. So are the carriages. Those old fashioned compartments. The whole thing looks so much more solid than modern trains. Like you really could go on a long journey in one of them.”
“Not so long as the passengers on this train have been on,” Gwen noted. “Poor sods.”
Gwen’s mobile phone buzzed in her back pocket. She answered the call.
“Yes, we’re ready for them. Bring them in, now,” she said.
“Poor sods,” she said again.
Jack presented himself at the front desk at the central police station. He was recognised by the duty sergeant and very quickly admitted. Most of the other officers knew him by sight, and those who didn’t were filled in quickly and strained to look at him as he passed them by. He heard a susurration of whispered voices with the word ‘Torchwood’ coming up time and again.
As secret organisations went, they were a bit of a giveaway.
“Captain Harkness!” He was greeted at the entrance to the custody suite by Sergeant Andy Davidson, popularly known at the Hub as PC Andy or by a few less polite euphemisms. He rang Torchwood whenever he thought there was anything unusual happening. Nine times out of ten he was wasting their time. Jack usually sent Gwen along and she would treat him to a cup of tea in the staff canteen and put it down as a wasted afternoon. But Gwen was busy today, on an assignment he didn’t want to get involved with. And it actually did sound as if there was something of interest to Torchwood in the cells this time.
“You have got to see this woman!” Sergeant Andy said to him. “She ate her husband. On their wedding night… She actually…”
“Oh,” Jack murmured. “One of those. I haven’t seen a Black Widow for… wow…”
Decades, he thought as he stood at the door and looked at the woman through the panel. That was as close as he wanted to get to her. He knew she wouldn’t want to feed again, not yet. But even so, that was close enough.
She would have looked comical if it wasn’t so gruesome. She was wearing a long white silk nightdress, the sort a bride might choose to wear briefly on her wedding night, but it was straining at the seams where it came over her distended stomach, and there were patches of blood here and there where she had been a bit messy about her meal.
Her stomach was distended because it had most of the edible parts of a grown man inside it still. It would take another forty-eight hours to digest him completely. By that time, of course, her fertilised egg would be well and truly nourished.
“She actually went to the trouble of marrying him?” That was the bit that Jack was having trouble getting his head around. “They don’t usually do that. I mean… they’re called Black Widows, but usually they’re satisfied with seducing a man into bed and doing the nasty. Seriously, she MARRIED him?”
“They were in the honeymoon suite at the Marriot,” PC Andy answered. “The chambermaid went in by mistake. The ‘do not disturb’ tag had fallen off. She saw your woman there… asleep on a bloodstained bed with… bits… of her husband… I mean… his head… feet…”
“Yeah, they always leave the head,” Jack commented. “Feet are kind of troublesome, too. All those little bones and gristle.”
“She’s… not Human, is she?” Andy added. “Like… she can’t be. No Human could…”
“No,” Jack said. “She’s not Human. That mouth… the jaw dislocates. Did you ever see a boa constrictor swallow a whole pig?”
“Er… not in Cardiff,” Andy pointed out.
“On Discovery Channel or something. Anyway, that’s how she swallows the tasty bits of her meal. At least he would have died happy. He’d have had the best shag of his life before she did him in. That’s what it’s all about, of course. She needs to procreate. Once he’d impregnated her, the instinct was to feed, to nourish the young…”
Andy was looking disgusted, and just a little bit sick.
“So… there are women… out there… good looking women… who… are really aliens… who…”
“They’re rare,” Jack answered him. “You’ll probably never see one again. But a word to the wise. If you’re on the pull and a woman who’s hotter than your usual expectations is coming on to you, check her teeth. They have fifty eight instead of thirty-two. If you see the extra dentures run for it.”
“Er… right…” Andy looked like he wasn’t entirely sure whether Jack was yanking his chain about that.
“I mean it,” he said. “Tell your mates if you want. Be prepared. Meanwhile, there’s only one way to deal with this sort of thing.”
Andy looked horrified as Jack pulled his gun and held it in both hands carefully.
“What! You’re going to shoot her.”
“Damn right, I am,” he answered. “It’s a pregnant alien man eater. Would you like to guess how she sustain the young during the gestation or how she feeds it when it’s born?”
“Yes, but…” Andy protested. “I mean… can’t you do it back at your own place… don’t you have a facility?”
“What… like an execution chamber?” Jack looked at him meaningfully. “What do you seriously think we do at Torchwood?”
“I don’t know,” Andy answered. “But we don’t….”
Jack fired through the observation hatch. The noise echoed up and down the corridor. There were disturbed cries from some of the other cells and no less than four uniformed officers came running. Andy told them all to back off. It was Torchwood business.
“Look,” Jack said to him. Andy looked through the hatch. The alien woman was lying on the floor, a neat bullet hole through her forehead. The blood that poured from it…
“It’s not blood,” Jack said. “Not what you’d call blood, anyway. That greenish-black stuff… it’s highly toxic, highly corrosive, and when it stops pumping around the body, it starts to eat it from the inside. Her stomach is full of it, of course. Mixed with the digestive juices. In about two hours, you can send in a cleaner to scrub the cell floor. The body will have eaten itself away and all you’ll have left is a really nasty puddle of something with a noxious smell. Make sure the cleaner has a face mask. He won’t want to breathe that in. And rubber gloves. It’ll give him a skin irritation if he touches it. But, basically, no problem any more. Just keep everyone away from there until the process is complete.”
Andy looked as if he was going to be sick.
“You need a cup of tea,” Jack said to him. “Let’s go down to your canteen.”
Ianto and Alun still hadn’t found anything conclusive when they got a call from Owen.
“This fish of yours,” he said. “It’s been eating cod.”
“Ok,” Ianto replied. “So… cod is a modern fish. And it’s common in the Bristol Channel. So… it’s been here for at least a couple of days.”
“Yeah… but…” Owen added. “Cod isn’t the only fish in the channel. The ONLY food I found in its stomach is cod. If it was swimming in the channel it ought to have eaten different fish. This shark… I’d swear it was domesticated. It’s been fed by somebody… on cod.”
Ianto and Alun looked at each other. What could this information possibly mean? Was somebody breeding sharks?
“Where’s the nearest fish farm?” Alun asked, knowing that Ianto would have the answer.
Gwen and Toshiko watched as the khaki coloured army lorries backed into the freight entrance of the station and began to offload their Human cargo. One hundred and fifty men wearing British army uniforms from World War II formed ranks neatly under instruction from their commanders and headed down the platform. Gwen and Toshiko directed them through the archway to where the train waited. Some of the men said things to them as they passed. Mostly they were appreciative of a pair of attractive women seeing them off. The two women smiled reassuringly at them.
“It’s sad,” Gwen said quietly as the last of them boarded the train. “Even if they get back where they’re supposed to be, their future is so uncertain… the war…”
“Yeah…” Toshiko sighed. “But it’s the only thing we can do..”
Jack hadn’t meant to talk about it. The last person in the universe he could imagine unloading his feelings to was Sergeant Andy. Afterwards he couldn’t remember exactly what started the conversation. In the midst of the small talk over a cup of canteen tea, Andy had said something vague about making hard decisions. Jack had laughed coldly.
“You have no idea,” he said. “Shooting that alien bitch in the cells… that was nothing. It was nothing more than stamping on a cockroach. Ridding the world of a piece of vermin. That wasn’t a hard decision. A hard decision is…”
He broke off. He turned his face away from Andy’s gaze. He didn’t really want him to see the look in his eyes right now. He hoped the stupid bastard would change the subject.
But he didn’t.
“Captain,” he said. “If you want to talk about anything… you know… if you need…”
“Why would I need to talk to you?” he asked irritably. “What makes you think you’re somebody I could trust?”
“I suppose I’m not,” Andy replied. “But… for what it’s worth, I trust you. I owe you my life a couple of times over. That time at the reservoir… you’re the one who pulled me out… I’m alive because of you. And… if there was a way I could repay you… But I’m not a hero type like you. I’m just a copper. The only thing I know how to do is listen to people. That’s what being a copper is mostly about. Listening. So… if you need to talk, I can listen.”
“You’re a sergeant… in an unarmed police force. You’ve no idea… what it’s like… to give people orders that will get them killed.”
“I didn’t think that was a part of your work, either, Captain,” Andy answered.
“It is today.” Jack looked at his watch. It was a quarter to eleven. If everything went to plan…
“Today, I’ve sent one hundred and fifty men to their deaths,” he said. “I had a couple of choices. But the option I went with… the choice I made…”
Andy looked at him curiously, and slightly shocked. Captain Jack Harkness looked as if he was on the verge of tears.
“Three weeks ago,” he said. “A train arrived in Cardiff Central. An old steam train. It had aboard a driver, fireman, a guard in the caboose, and one hundred and fifty soldiers. They had set off on January 21st, 1942. They were heading to Bristol to board a boat taking them to fight in Europe. But they got caught up in the damn rift and the train turned up in 2010. Of course, we dealt with the situation. For the past three weeks they’ve all been billeted in an old army camp up near Merthyr, kept away from TV, radio, newspapers, anything that gives away to them that they’re not still in the middle of the war. My people have been monitoring rift activity and right about now…” He looked at his watch again. “In fifteen minutes, the train will be pulling out of the station. The rift should open up a few minutes later, just as they pass under the old railway bridge, and they’ll be gone back to where they belong.”
“Well… that’s good, isn’t it?” Andy said. “I mean, I don’t know much about these things, but time travel… isn’t it better if people go back where they belong?”
“Yes,” Jack answered. “Yes, it is. Except…” He sighed deeply. “I have a list of all the names… all the men on the train. And… I looked them up… in the lists of casualties. All but eight of them were dead by the end of 1942. Four of them actually survived the whole war.”
“But that’s not your fault,” Andy told him. “I mean… it was the war.”
“A war I sent them into. I could have done something else. I could have… I don’t know… arranged for them to stay here… integrated them into modern society. We’ve done it before. Not for so many men. It wouldn’t be easy. But I could have tried. But I decided… I decided sending them back would be better.”
“But… maybe it was,” Andy insisted. “Even if they did die… it’s you know… fate… destiny… they had to go back. You did the right thing.”
“Then why couldn’t I look any of them in the eye?” Jack asked. “I sent Gwen and Tosh to make sure they got on their way. I couldn’t face them. I couldn’t look at any of them, knowing what I know.”
That was an admission to make to somebody like Andy. Jack turned his face away again. He couldn’t even look Andy in the eye after admitting what he had done.
“I’m a coward,” he said. “I did that, and I couldn’t even look at them. I’m a fucking coward.”
Andy said nothing for a minute. Then he looked at his own watch. Then he stood up decisively. “Come on.”
“Come on where?”
“From here to the railway station in under fifteen minutes? Torchwood aren’t the only people around here who don’t have to obey traffic lights.”
Jack hesitated for a few seconds, then he stood and followed him.
“Steep Holm Island,” Ianto said. “On the English side of the Channel. We have Flat Holm with its birds and a secret facility for looking after the mentally disturbed and physically scarred victims of the Rift. The English have Steep Holm with more birds and some old cannons from the war. And… God alone knows how they got planning permission for it… but the biggest fish farm in the Bristol Channel.”
They both looked at the facility through binoculars. It looked normal enough. The buildings were low, single storey, built from local stone that didn’t clash with the natural environment. Its raison d’être was to increase and improve fish stocks in the channel.
“But what sort of fish?” Alun wondered aloud.
“See that boat, there,” Ianto said, pointing to the small jetty where a motor launch a little bigger than theirs was moored. “See the name on it.”
“Selachimorpha is the Latin for a superorder of animal life – namely sharks.”
“COULD be a coincidence!” Alun suggested. “But I doubt it. Let’s take a closer look.” He reached in his pocket for a selection of identification cards. “Environmental Health inspectors?”
Andy had taken the advanced driving test and he handled his police Peugeot well. They made the journey from the police headquarters to central railway station much faster than they should have done. But was it fast enough? Jack jumped from the car before it had barely stopped and ran towards the old Victorian entrance that still had the words ‘Great Western Railway’ engraved on it.
He was too late. He got there just in time to see the train pulling away from the platform. The soldiers looked cheerful. Most of them were waving and shouting things to Gwen and Toshiko as if the two of them were sweethearts to each and every man. They, for their part, waved back to them enthusiastically, smiling as if they were going to be the last friendly smile the men would see. Jack reached them as the train disappeared through the tunnel that, if the Rift opened, would bring them into their own century, and if it didn’t, would bring them to a siding near the Millennium stadium.
“Did it work?” Gwen asked anxiously. Toshiko reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out an old newspaper, dated January 21st, 1942. She found the personal ads and pointed to one that hadn’t been there when she looked the last time.
“Hogwarts Express arrived on time,” she said with a giggle.
“I asked the train driver to place the ad,” Jack said. “He didn’t understand what it meant. Nobody from that time would. But it proves they got to Bristol as planned.”
He didn’t sound happy about that. Gwen and Toshiko turned to look at him and were shocked to see his expression. They had both, occasionally, seen him close to tears, and it was always shocking when the person they both turned to when they were in need of emotional support was the one breaking down.
“Jack…” Gwen reached out her hand to him. Then they all heard a voice echoing in the now silent station.
“Captain!” It was Andy. He wasn’t alone. An elderly man walked beside him, dressed in a military blazer and cap, medal ribbons on his chest. He leaned on a stick and Andy slowed his own pace so as not to be hurrying him. “This gentleman was by the ticket barrier. He said he needed to talk to you, Jack.”
“Captain Harkness,” the old man said, and then they were all astonished when he stood up straight and saluted him. Jack was so disconcerted he almost forgot how to salute back for a moment. The old soldier smiled at the two women. “Prettiest two pairs of eyes I ever saw,” he said. “I remember when you waved us off… it was seventy odd years ago for me. A few minutes for you…”
“You were supposed to forget,” Jack said. “We gave you pills…”
“Some of the lads took them. Some of us… we guessed what had happened, you know. The bits of Cardiff we managed to see, what with you bundling us into trucks and driving us out to the middle of nowhere… we guessed we’d travelled in time, somehow. And we didn’t want to forget that we had seen a future when Britain wasn’t at war any more. The Germans didn’t invade, did they?”
“No, they didn’t,” Toshiko admitted. The old soldier smiled especially at her.
“I often thought about you, miss. I knew there would be a time when your people wouldn’t be our enemy. I think it was what kept me going when it was roughest.” He looked at Jack, noting his RAF coat and nodding to him as one war veteran to another. “A lot didn’t make it. Most of us…”
“I know,” Jack managed to say in a heavy voice. “I’m sorry. I knew… even before you left… I knew. And I still let you go…”
“It was our duty,” the old soldier said. “We had to go and fight so that you would live in peace. If we hadn’t… maybe Hitler would have had his way. Maybe you’d all be speaking German now. And what kind of world would that be? We were needed to fight.”
“I should have given you the choice,” Jack answered him.
“And if we had chosen to stay, what would that have made us? None of us were cowards. We did our duty. As you’ve done yours, Captain.”
Jack started to say something else, but the old soldier shook his head and saluted him again. Jack responded. Then he turned and walked away. Andy looked at him then back at Jack and the two women.
“I’ll… take him home in the car… if you’re ok, now, Jack?”
“I’m ok,” Jack managed to say. Andy caught up with the old soldier and again slowed his pace to match him. Jack watched them go, breathing deeply, saying nothing. He felt Gwen’s hand slipping into his.
“You are a soppy old thing sometimes,” she told him.
“Yeah, I am,” he admitted. He reached out to Toshiko and held her around the shoulders as he squeezed Gwen’s hand. He kissed them both on their foreheads. “Come on. Our job here is done. Let’s get back to the Hub and see how Beth’s getting on.”
Alun and Ianto entered the fish farm from the jetty where they tied their boat alongside the ‘Selachi’. There didn’t seem to be anyone about. But they didn’t need to be. Alun pointed to the CCTV cameras that were monitoring the open corrals full of fish. Somebody knew they were there. It was probably only a matter of time before some kind of security guards arrived.
“These are all ordinary fish indigenous to the Bristol Channel,” Ianto confirmed. “Cod, whiting, turbot, spotted ray…”
Ianto stopped naming the fish when he caught Alun’s expression. His point was made, anyway. There was nothing unusual here. But the low-roofed building that blended so nicely with the environment was built with a shuttered entrance right over what looked like an empty fish corral until they saw something blue and beautifully streamlined swim under the shutter and into the outside part of the pool.
“A shark,” Alun commented.
“Blue shark,” Ianto said. “They’re surprisingly common in the open water just beyond Milford Haven. Porbeagle Sharks, as well. They’re practically indigenous.”
“Dangerous?” Alun asked. “To humans, I mean?”
“The International Shark Attack File lists thirteen recorded attacks on humans by Blue sharks,” Ianto replied. “Of which four were fatal… that’s… in total since statistics were kept.”
Alun looked at the very small pool in which the shark was swimming. He was willing to bet that the four fatal incidents happened in much larger expanses of water. Even so…
He kicked off his shoes and left his gun on the side as he dived into the pool. He heard Ianto’s horrified yell as he swam under the steel shutter. As he broke the water’s surface inside the building he felt something brush past his body. It was a second shark, but it didn’t seem to have recognised him as anything edible. He swam for the edge of the corral and pulled himself out onto the concrete floor. He stood up and looked around. There was still nobody there, but he saw the control that raised the shutter. He pressed the button and let Ianto in.
“You scared the bloody life out of me,” Ianto said as he handed him back his gun. “You…”
Then he forgot what he was going to say as he looked around inside the long, low building. There was very little floor space at all, only concrete paths between more artificial fish corrals. They walked carefully between them and Ianto identified pools of young Blue Sharks and Porbeagles, the two he had identified as innhabiting the local waters.
“This isn’t right,” he said. “The numbers of these fish in the channel and the Irish Sea are small… because they’re supposed to be small. They’ve only started to come this close to the British Isles because of climate change. They don’t really belong here. But if somebody started artificially introducing new specimens into the sea, they’d impact on the natural fish stocks. They could completely change the natural ecology of the channel. And…”
Ianto made a horrified sound in his throat as he looked into another corral. He easily identified the Stethacanthus swimming in an elongated circle by its unique dorsal fin. He watched it for a minute or so before reaching for his mobile phone and contacting the Hub.
“Owen,” he said. “That shark, did you identify its gender?”
“Male,” Owen answered. “Does it matter?”
“I don’t know,” Ianto replied. “Might do. I’ll get back to you.”
“Why does that matter?” Alun asked.
“Because I reckon that one is female,” he answered. “I’ve got an idea what this is about...”
A gunshot echoed around the building. Alun yelped and stumbled into the Stethacanthus pool. Blood from the bullet wound in his shoulder bloomed out into the water and Ianto saw the shark beginning to turn around to investigate. He knelt and reached to Alun as he struggled to tread water with one good arm. The shark was bearing down on him. Ianto didn’t have any statistics from the International Shark Attack File about fatal attacks by Stethacanthus because humans were never meant to be in the same water as they were, and his eclectic knowledge of just about everything failed him right then as he tried to remember what sort of carnivores they had been before they were extinct.
“Stop right where you are,” shouted the man who had shot Alun. “Leave him.” Ianto was aware of his footsteps closing in, but he ignored him as he hauled his lover out of the water. Alun groaned in pain as his wounded shoulder made contact with the concrete, but he was alive and out of reach of the prehistoric shark. Ianto held him as he looked up and saw a gun aimed at him. He looked past the gun and took in a middle aged man with thinning hair and glasses. He was wearing a sweatshirt with ‘Steep Holm Fisheries’ embroidered on it.
“I don’t know who you are, or where you’re from, but give me one reason not to kill you both and cut you up for shark food…” he said.
“We have friends with bigger guns than yours who’ll turn your sharks into fish food, that’s why,” Ianto answered. “Does the name Torchwood mean anything to you?”
It didn’t. Which made a refreshing change, Ianto thought. Then he felt Alun move his uninjured arm. He knew what he was doing.
“No, Cariad,” he whispered. But Alun had pulled his gun from Ianto’s pocket and rolled, even though it was painful to do so. He shot to wound and to disarm, aiming at the arm that held the gun. Even injured, Alun’s aim was true. The fisheries man gave a yelp as the round entered his upper arm. His hand jerked involuntarily. A second shot rang out and there was a fizzing sound as the bullet entered the water. As Ianto pulled himself to his feet and disarmed the man, Alun rolled over and saw blood billowing in the water. The stray bullet had hit the Stethacanthus in the head, just before the anvil-like dorsal fin.
“Have you any idea how much money you’ve cost me?” the man complained as Ianto ripped pieces of his own shirt to make field dressings and Alun used his good arm to call for an air ambulance to pick them all up. “That was a female… my breeding programme…”
“That’s what it was about, wasn’t it?” Ianto said. “Money. There’s a growing business in shark fishing around here. You thought introducing a brand new species to the waters… that’s all it was about… money.” He looked at the dead shark, floating now in water that was tinted by its own blood. “Poor sodding beast. It’s better off dead. The way it should have been. I’ll need to know where you caught it later. And it’s in your own interests to be co-operative, because we’ve got a colleague who won’t think twice about shooting you somewhere other than your arm if you don’t. Needless to say, by the time you’ve been bandaged up at the hospital your licences to operate this facility will have been revoked.”
Jack hadn’t gone straight back to the Hub. He drove down to Cathays Park and brought Gwen and Toshiko to the war memorial in the Alexandra Gardens. It was a place both women had visited from time to time, but apparently not as often as Jack. He stood there for a long time, thinking his own private thoughts. When he turned from it, he smiled warmly at his two friends and took their hands once again. He seemed to have exorcised his demons by being there.
When they finally reached the Hub, Beth greeted them with the news that Alun was being kept overnight for observation in Weston General Hospital, Ianto was with him, of course. She added their report that both the male and female prehistoric sharks were now dead, and it wasn’t likely that any others came through the rift. Then she looked at Jack and took a deep breath.
“There’s something you need to see,” she said and took him behind the bead curtain where she kept stock for the tourist office and a coffee machine for herself. There was a blanket on the floor and a strange creature curled up asleep on it. It looked like a hairless dog with a slender neck at least twice as long as a swan and a rugby ball shaped head at the end of it. It opened round, endearingly sweet looking eyes and raised its neck as it became aware of Jack, Toshiko and Gwen all peering at it.
“It came into the office,” Beth said. “And spoke to me. It said it wanted to go home. I didn’t know what to do, so I made it comfy and said you’d help it when you got in.”
Jack knelt so that he was at eye level with the creature and spoke to it in a quiet, soothing voice. It replied, explaining that its space craft was parked on top of a tall building which, from the creature’s description, was almost certainly the Welsh National Assembly building. It had been attracted by the Rift and spent an interesting couple of days seeing the sites of Cardiff, but it really wanted to go home now.
Only it couldn’t get back up there for the simple reason that its legs were too short for the stairs and it wasn’t tall enough to reach the buttons in the lift.
Jack laughed softly. If all the problems that came to Torchwood’s door were as easy as this his life would be a lot simpler!
“It’s been a weird day all round,” he said. “This about caps it. Ok, I’ll call David Myers at the Sennad and ask him to keep the back stairs clear for half an hour while I bring our little chum back to his ride. Somebody order a take out while I’m gone. I’m hungry. Anything but sushi. I’m kind of off fish for a while.