Gwen looked at the CCTV image coldly. The man who stood in the corridor behind the tourist information office waiting for the turbo lift doors to open looked like he was born to wear a pinstripe suit. He was thin of face and body and suffered from male pattern baldness. He held a briefcase in his hand and if he smiled Gwen thought his face would probably crack.
“Why do I have to deal with him?” she complained.
“Because you’re sweet, honest Gwen Cooper with the reassuring smile who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and this stuffed suit will believe everything you tell him,” Jack answered. “And... frankly, I can’t be bothered with him. I’m going down to the deep archive with Ianto to test out an alien device that’s been filed as ‘unknown’ since 1897. Beth will do the coffee routine. Just answer his questions with the appearance of honesty and make sure he fucks off without any complaints about how we do things, here.”
Gwen gave a resigned sigh. Jack had long regarded her as his second in command. She often took charge of Torchwood in his absence. She coped with dangerous alien incursions, phone calls to and from the Ministry of Defence, and any amount of tedious paperwork coolly and professionally. He trusted her. She couldn’t tell him that the idea of showing a man from the government around the Torchwood facility scared her to death.
“He... can’t close us down, can he?” she asked. “I mean... we never had an inspection before... what do you think he’s looking for?”
“They can’t shut us down,” Jack assured her. “We exist by Royal Charter. Our funding is ring-fenced at the Treasury. But I think there are some bastards in government who would like to find a good reason to replace me as Director.”
“And you think that’s what...”
That was even worse. Now she could get Jack fired and almost certainly raise herself into his position in doing so. She felt guilty on top of every other misgiving.
“He’ll have to be a lot smarter than he looks,” Jack told her confidently. “Some mornings, mind you, I wish they bloody well would fire me.”
“You don’t mean that!” Gwen was astonished. “What would you do without Torchwood? What would Torchwood do without you?”
“Let’s not have to find out,” he said. “Go and meet his lift. I’m not having him wandering around our corridors unaccompanied.”
Gwen stepped out of Jack’s temporary office on the next floor down from the wrecked Hub Central where rebuilding work was ongoing. Jack walked the other way as she headed to the turbo lift and waited for it to open.
“Mr Gregson,” she said, holding out her hand to shake politely. He took hold of it with cool, slightly clammy hands. “I’m Gwen Cooper, deputy director of the Torchwood facility in Cardiff. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Is the Director himself not available?” Mr Gregson asked.
“He is involved in some important work, at present,” Gwen answered. “I’m afraid I can’t be more specific. As you know, Torchwood operations are subject to a level one Ministry of Defence code clearance.”
“I have level one code clearance. And I will need to speak to Captain Harkness at some point in the day. But I have every confidence in your competence, Miss Cooper.... or is that Mrs Williams?”
He looked at a clipboard he was carrying.
“It’s Miss Cooper when I’m at work,” Gwen told him. “Though generally we only use first names among the team. We’re not civil service, after all. There is no need for formality.”
“Indeed, Miss Cooper,” Gregson commented. “Well, I don’t need to tell you that I expect to see everything. I was guaranteed absolute transparency.”
“Torchwood Cardiff consists of fifty levels of offices, laboratories, power generators, stand by generators, temperature and humidity controlled computer server hubs, medical facilities, accommodation, nuclear bunkers, emergency food supplies, secure cells, kitchen, cryogenic suite...” She paused for breath and continued to name several other sections of the complex that lay beneath Roald Dahl Plas. “You would need a week to look at even a quarter of it. You’ll just have to trust me to show you what is most relevant to your inquiry.”
“Very well,” he conceded. “Let us begin with the medical facility and then that... er... cryogenic suite...”
Two hours later, Gwen had shown him as much as she thought Jack wanted him to see. He wrote down a great deal on his clipboard, carefully angling it so that Gwen couldn’t see what he had done.
Then he made the one request she had dreaded.
“I... should like to inspect the ‘vaults’,” he said. “I understand that is where you incarcerate alien creatures of various kinds...”
“This way,” Gwen said. She tried not to look worried. But she really didn’t want to have to go in there, today, especially not with a government inspector in tow.
The vault was not her favourite part of Torchwood at the best of times, it had to be said. There were always two or three weevils in there. They never failed to give her the creeps. Their utterly inhuman faces with all those teeth looking back at her through the reinforced plexiglass doors were enough to make her want to run back upstairs. Then there were all the other assorted things they kept under lock and key. They could vary in size and viciousness. Some of them were more grotesquely inhuman than the weevils.
And some of them looked completely Human, but they were worse monsters than the creatures with two heads and claws instead of hands.
“What are they?” the inspector asked as he viewed the creatures kept inside a huge tank of seawater within one of the cells. They looked back at him and bared sharp double rows of teeth.
“Gandian Lungfish,” Gwen replied. “They tried to hide their aquatic space ship in the Bristol Channel, but we had them on radar and picked them up before they could damage fish stocks in the estuary. Their ship is still down there at the moment. Jack and Ianto have been diving down and reprogramming their navigation computers to send them back where they came from. They’ll be off our hands in a few days.”
“I... see...” the inspector said. “And... this...”
“This is a Flaccian,” Gwen told him. “Keep away from the door. He’s nothing but trouble.”
“He... it... It’s... only three feet tall,” the inspector pointed out. How can it be...”
The small, squat, ugly humanoid that put Gwen in mind of the dwarf Rumpelstiltskin in a childhood book of fairy tales sneered at her and then dropped its chamois leather trousers before waving its surprisingly large genitals at her. She turned away, blushing. The inspector watched for several seconds longer before he, too, turned away.
“Don’t ask,” Gwen said. “Just don’t ask. Doctor Jones reckons some form of chemical castration might be possible.”
“That... would be against every concept of... of humane treatment of prisoners,” the inspector protested.
“Yes, Jack said so. But if you can think of another way to stop him exposing himself to little old ladies in Victoria Park, we’d be glad to give it a go.”
She walked straight past the three weevils. The inspector stopped to look more closely at them, noting their overalls with the Torchwood logo on them.
“These are.. long term prisoners?” he asked.
“Yes, if you want to call them that,” Gwen answered. “Weevils are...”
“What arrangements are made for their exercise?” the inspector asked. “You cannot keep them cooped up here twenty-four hours a day. It is... it is completely illegal.”
“They get taken down to the old nuclear shelter on level fifty twice a day after feeding.”
“They don’t get any fresh air?”
Mr Gregson put his hand on the plexiglass door of the middle cell. On cue, the weevil inside ran at him. So did the other two, roaring loudly while exposing all of their fangs at once. The inspector jumped back nervously.
“No, they don’t get any fresh air,” Gwen replied. “They don’t actually LIKE fresh air. They live in the sewer systems of Cardiff and feed on detritus. Do not ask me to be more specific about the word ‘detritus’. I haven’t had my lunch, yet, and neither have you.”
There was an empty cell next to the weevils. It was usually best to leave a buffer zone between them and any other creatures that were spending the night. The inspector looked carefully at the inmate of cell 15b. It looked like a slim Human male in his twenties, except for the pure white eyes with no discernible irises. He turned a stare upon Gwen and the inspector that was utterly chilling.
“Mr Garreth Arnold of Butetown,” Gwen explained. “Possessed by an Arcanian entity. He’ll be all right in a few days. The entity can’t survive without consuming large quantities of salt, and we’ve been feeding him on green salads for the past week.”
“He was arrested in Burger King at the Red Dragon Centre. He tried to eat all of the salt sachets on the condiments rack... paper and all. He knocked two security guards unconscious before the police subdued him with tasers and handed him over to us for safekeeping.”
“And what will happen...”
“Once the entity starves to death and is expelled from his body we’ll give him a Chinese take away and a light beer with a large dose of Retcon in and then take him to St. Helen’s. When he wakes up with no recollection of the past week, they’ll tell him he was knocked over by a car and was in a coma all that time.”
“The hospital co-operate with you in such... subterfuges?”
“Yes, they do.”
Gwen didn’t elaborate on that matter. She sighed deeply and waited for what she knew would be the very worst conversation of all about the inmates of the vaults.
“Ye Gods,” the inspector exclaimed as he looked into the very last cell in the row. He stared at what looked like a child’s bedroom recreated inside the grim grey walls, with a bed covered in a Barbie pink duvet and a collection of toys on the floor. What looked like a three year old girl sat among the toys, singing a tuneless song as children do. She had a pink dress on and white socks and patent leather shoes. The left leg had a very small but strong manacle on it. The chain was fastened to the back wall of the cell and prevented her from reaching the plexiglass door.
“What is this?” he demanded. “How can you keep a child... an innocent child... in this house of horrors... surrounded by these hellish creatures.”
Gwen said nothing. She knew perfectly well that the ‘hellish creatures’ were scared witless of this ‘innocent child’. She stepped back against the empty cell on the opposite side of the central aisle as the inspector drew closer.
The child turned her head to look at the visitor. Innocent blue eyes fixed upon him. Then the pale pink lips twisted into a grimace and the child let out a laugh that was utterly chilling to hear. It was like a staccato snarl and it was filled with menace.
“Did you read about the fire at St. Edmunds children’s home last night?” Gwen swallowed hard before she spoke. She would have preferred not to have to remember what they saw when the Torchwood team went into the building. The bodies of the three house parents gnawed by the flesh eating alien creature were a sickening sight. The other young residents of the home had locked themselves into the dormitory while the creature killed the adults and feasted upon them. All fifteen were now relocated to a facility in Bristol and receiving counselling for the shock. Meanwhile, the building had been set on fire as a way of explaining the deaths and the ‘child’ was in Torchwood’s custody until somebody could figure out what to do with her.
“She’s NOT human,” Gwen added as she finished her explanation. “Not even remotely. There is no part of her DNA that corresponds to Human biology.”
“What will... what do you intend to do with her... with... it?”
“Jack hasn’t decided, yet. She’s a killer. She can’t be allowed out among unsuspecting humans. He might have to euthanize her, if there’s no alternative.”
The inspector looked at the strange child again. He was appalled at the almost casual way Gwen had talked about euthanizing her. Then he heard that chilling laugh again and turned away.
“Hold on,” Gwen said as they headed towards the exit door. “Stand back. Alun is coming in with a prisoner.”
She took hold of the inspector’s arm and pressed him back against an empty cell. The bulkhead door opened and Alun dragged in a well-built male with maddened red eyes. He held a taser against the prisoner’s neck. It struggled against him, but its hands were pinioned behind its back and it was going nowhere except the first empty cell past the man-eating child.
“What’s that?” the inspector asked. “It looks Human enough...”
“It’s not,” Alun replied. “We’re not sure what it is, yet. But it’s definitely not Human. Humans don’t feed on the iron in the blood of other humans.”
“That’s what was killing all those people on the caravan park in Penarth?” Gwen asked.
“Posing as a gardener,” Alun confirmed. “Not very bright, really. That many sudden deaths in one place were bound to raise suspicions.”
“Have you seen enough?” Gwen asked the inspector. “Because I have.” She almost pushed him through the bulkhead door and told him to keep moving towards the turbo lift. She took him down to the archive floor and showed him the rows of filing cabinets where every case since Torchwood Three was established in 1880, the year after the 1879 Royal Charter founded the Institute, was recorded. She opened drawers at random and let him read whatever file took his fancy.
“This is... all very remarkable,” he said after a while. “The work that is done here... I can see why it has such high code clearance. But... may I ask... I understand that there is a somewhat casual attitude to personal relationships in this establishment.”
“Excuse me?” Gwen looked at the inspector curiously. “What is that...”
“I’m told that there are at least three homosexuals working here. And that they regularly commit lewd acts on the premises.”
Gwen frowned. She wondered how they got from the 1983 case of an alien shapeshifter in Cardiff Castle to lewd acts on the premises.
“If they do, I’ve never seen any evidence of it,” Gwen answered. That wasn’t strictly true, in fact. When Jack used to sleep in the room underneath his office, it was perfectly obvious that Ianto frequently spent the night with him. And Ianto and Alun had several favourite parts of the deep archive where they would go to indulge in what Gwen euphemistically called ‘heavy petting’ when she referred to it at all. Nobody minded. Beth sometimes had Ray with her on non full moon nights when she was on the night shift and nobody commented about the double sleeping bag rolled up under the table in the conference room.
Significantly, it was the gay relationships the inspector wanted to know about.
“What the hell do you think you’re up to?” Jack demanded. Gwen jumped as visibly as the inspector at the sound of his voice. “You’re supposed to be here to assess the cost effectiveness of our operations here at Torchwood, not to poke your nose into the sex lives of my team and myself.”
“I... er...” The inspector looked at Jack Harkness and shrank back from him. Even Gwen was impressed by how imposing he managed to look.
“I haven’t had sex with anyone on these premises for years,” he said. “But I am having regular sex with a senior MI5 agent. I’ve never asked a favour from him, but I’m sure he’d be happy to investigate you, Mr Government Inspector. If Her Majesty’s finest can’t find some embarrassing little indiscretion on your part, they can probably manufacture one.”
Even Gwen looked at him in stunned surprise. There was a cold edge to his voice that made her think he really would do that. The government inspector blustered for a minute and then gave up.
“I think you’ve seen enough,” Jack said. “You can clearly see that Torchwood funding is well spent ensuring that this country, this planet, is safe from dangerous alien incursions. Time to go back and write your report giving us a glowing recommendation to the Treasury.”
Almost as if summoned telepathically, Ianto and Alun arrived, flanking the inspector in a surprisingly menacing way.
“We’ll show you out, sir,” Alun told him.
“Jack,” Gwen said when the inspector was out of earshot. “I’m sorry. That question totally threw me. I didn’t expect...”
“My fault. I should have warned you. They try that all the time. I think it’s a game they have in their office. Extra points for finding out a tit bit about the sex life of Captain Jack Harkness. You did ok, Gwen. Especially in the vault. Our little freak show in there was just the thing to let him know we mean business.”
“I just showed him what he wanted to see,” she pointed out. “Hang on... you could hear us?”
“I was watching on the CCTV. And you left your earpiece on again.” He reached and touched the small, lightweight device that all Torchwood personnel got used to wearing. Gwen was so used to hers that she often forgot it was ‘live’. He pressed it gently and she noticed the slight static noise stop. His voice seemed louder when he spoke again.
“Really, you did a good job. A nuisance is out of our way and we can get back to what really matters. In your case, co-ordinating with Jodrell Bank about that possible UFO sighting over Salisbury Plain last night. Those guys are way more co-operative to you than they are to me. A good telephone manner is more useful than overactive pheromones with scientific types. And I need to go look at the creep Alun brought in.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Gwen promised. “Jack... the prisoners... I was wondering... What ARE you going to do about that child?”
“I probably will have to shoot it,” he answered. “Gwen, when... if.... We ALL need to remember that she isn’t a child. She isn’t even a ‘she’. It’s a murdering fiend that slipped through the rift from some hellhole. I’ll be doing what I have to do to protect ordinary people from it.”
“I know,” Gwen assured him. “It’s just a bit.... The way it looks.... I don’t think I could....”
“Don’t imagine for one minute I don’t feel the same way,” Jack told her. “I have feelings, too. It’s going to feel like the shittiest thing I ever had to do. But you know....” He put on an exaggerated John Wayne drawl. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, honey.”
Gwen laughed. Jack hugged her briefly and then turned and headed towards the vault. Gwen watched him for a moment before turning and heading towards the turbo lift to their temporary administration centre. She sat at her desk and put the call through to Jodrell Bank, where her Welsh accent was well known to the receptionist and to the head of department she eventually got to talk with.
Life at Torchwood settled down into an ordinary day at the office. The soundproofing between floors meant that she couldn’t even hear the work going on above to restore Hub Central after the explosion that devastated it. Beth brought coffee. Ianto collected their take out lunch, including a good square meal for Mr Arnold who was feeling a lot better, now. Alun was detailed to take him home afterwards.
And the afternoon settled down into more of the same until just after four-thirty when they were all starting to think about going home. Gwen took a phone call and Jack was summoned to the vault to look at the new prisoner. When he returned to the temporary Hub he looked like he didn’t need any more bad news.
“The Penarth blood sucker is dead,” he announced. “It just shrivelled up and died in the cell.”
“What happened?” Ianto asked him. “Did it kill itself or...”
“We deprived it of its iron source and it died,” Jack guessed. “End of problem, except for the disgusting corpse in the cell. Somebody will have to clean it up. And it’s not going to be me. I have dinner and the movies with Garrett later. Gwen, don’t forget you and Rhys are baby-sitting.”
“Gray doesn’t like the term ‘baby-sitting’,” she responded. “But there’s another problem you should know about. Our treasury inspector hasn’t reported back to his office.”
“He left here four hours ago,” Ianto pointed out. “His office is in the National Assembly Building, ten minutes walk away.”
“And he didn’t return to it. I told his manager he signed out of here at 12.30. I don’t think he believes us.”
“What? He thinks we did in the inspector, faked his signature in our visitor’s book and fed him to the demon child in the vault?”
“Well, hardly, since the inspector’s manager doesn’t know about the demon child,” Gwen reasoned. “But... well... I suppose everyone who knows Torchwood exists also knows that we DO cover up suspicious deaths on a regular basis. I think he might be harbouring suspicions. It’s not funny, Jack. If they really think we murdered the inspector to stop him giving us a bad report...”
“I’m not laughing,” Jack responded. “That’s a serious accusation, right enough. And we’d have a hard time proving we didn’t with our track record.”
“Oh, shit!” Alun exclaimed. Everyone looked at him because his expletive seemed so completely out of the blue. “The dead alien... what if it transferred itself to the inspector. It got pretty close to him. That would explain why the body in the cell died so quickly. If it’s in the inspector now...”
Jack uttered a swear word he learnt in a space port a long way from planet Earth. The meaning of it was obvious from his tone. “Martha, we need a DNA sample from the corpse. We can use it to trace the inspector if he’s been completely assimilated. That new software that recognises non-Human lifesigns...”
“It only has a range of twenty yards,” Ianto pointed out as Martha went to do as he asked. “We’ll still have to drive around Cardiff looking for him. And the clock will be ticking. He could have killed already.”
“I know,” Jack admitted. “But it’s our only hope of finding him. I had hoped to beta test the device before we used it in a hot pursuit. Damn, I really wanted a night out. It’s been a bastard of a week and I was looking forward to a break.”
“You could still go,” Ianto told him. “Alun and I had no plans. We can look for him.”
“No,” Jack told them. “You can help, if you’re volunteering for unpaid overtime on a Friday night. But if it’s out there and hungry in a newly assimilated body, I’m the only one of us who can recover from having all the iron sucked out of my blood. I’ll confront him.”
“Sometimes I don’t think it’s bravery that makes you put yourself on the front line like that,” Ianto said with the smile of one who knew Jack better than anyone else in the Hub. “I think you just like being the centre of attention.”
“Could be,” Jack freely admitted. He reached for the phone to tell Garrett the bad news while Ianto booked out the alien lifesigns detector and picked up the keys for the SUV.
“I’ll tell Rhys I’m going to be late,” Gwen told them. “And monitor the situation from here.”
Beth and Martha were the only ones whose Friday night plans weren’t turned around by this development. But Martha stayed on the off chance that a medic was needed and Beth decided she would keep Gwen company. Jack made the point several times that it was UNPAID overtime, but nobody would budge.
“Where do you think he might look for a victim?” Alun asked as he drove the SUV through the Friday evening traffic. “Do we check pubs and clubs or what?”
“The alien has taken over his body. It might also take over his personality,” Jack said. “It will go somewhere Gregson would characteristically go.”
“In that case, I don’t think we’re going to be searching among the nightlife of St. Mary’s Street. I don’t think our man is a clubbing type,” Ianto pointed out. “Not unless he’s a very different character when he takes his suit off.”
“Well, you are!” Alun told him. Jack laughed and agreed, then consulted the profile of the missing man, Arnold Gregson, Department of Treasury (Wales) that Gwen had prepared for them. “Try the Park Conservative Club, City Road. That’s his regular hangout.”
“Founded in 1904, boasts a sociable atmosphere, extensive bar, skittles, snooker, darts and golf teams and regular entertainment,” Ianto commented, reading the club’s webpage on his hand held computer. “What do you think, Alun? Shall we chuck in our premier membership of the After Dark Club and sign up there?”
Alun swore in Welsh and laughed. Jack told his two friends and colleagues about the club he used to frequent in wartime London and some of the conquests he made there, including a young army officer called Algy whose favourite song had the refrain ‘lay down your arms and surrender to mine.’ He never once took his eyes off the lifesigns monitor as he talked. He identified several non-Humans in the course of the journey northwards to the older, more established area between Roath and Cathays where street names were likely to end in ‘Gardens’ or ‘Park’ or ‘Avenue’ and there were, to Jack’s knowledge, two other Conservative clubs along with the Park Club that had been around for most of the time he had been a resident of Cardiff.
Extra terrestrial life living among the native Welsh had been going on even longer. That wasn’t a problem, usually. After all, Jack wasn’t born on planet Earth, either. The handful of peaceful aliens who got on with their lives and bothered nobody weren’t in his remit.
The creature that was so dangerous to Human life persistently failed to appear on the screen.
That would be too easy.
The steward in charge of the ‘extensive bar’ of the Park Club was pure Human. There was little doubt about that. He had not heard of Torchwood, but he co-operated fully with what he believed to be an inquiry in the interests of National Security. Nevertheless, all they found out was that Mr Gregson hadn’t been there since Tuesday night’s skittles tournament.
“What about the Friday night entertainment?” Jack asked. “Does Mr Gregson usually turn up for that?”
“He may well do so,” the Steward replied. “The young lady singing tonight is one I believe he has a liking for.”
“Ok, we’ll wait,” Jack said.
“Not in the private members bar, sir,” the Steward told him. “You’re not wearing a tie, and none of you are members. You will have to go outside.”
“Charming,” Alun said as they stepped out of the club. “Elitist wankers. Who do they think they are?”
“Gregson isn’t in there,” Jack said, ignoring Alun and Ianto’s solid front of working class Welsh indignation. “There’s no point in us being in there. We can either wait out here and hope he turns up, or continue looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack until we pick up a police report about a dead body with no obvious cause of death but signs of chronic anaemia.”
“And by then it will be too late,” Ianto concluded. “We want to get hold of him BEFORE he kills.”
“I think we should wait here,” Jack said. “If the alien wants a fresh supply of victims, then a place where Gregson is known and trusted is ideal. I think he’ll come here, sooner or later. I’ve got an instinct for this sort of thing. He’ll come here, to feed.”
“Um... maybe not,” Alun told him. “Boss... you should look at this. Gwen intercepted a police report....”
Jack looked at the file on the computer screen above the passenger seat of the SUV and again used a swear word he learnt in another place and time.
“Ok, my instinct is screwed. We’ve got it completely wrong from the start. How far to the council depot? How long will it take?”
“Nine miles, across town, on a Friday night,” Ianto calculated in his head while Alun fed the new location into the Satnav. “Twenty minutes, tops.”
“Fifteen, with the gismo that turns all the lights green and a couple of short cuts I know,” Alun contradicted him. “Stun guns only, do you think?”
“I’ll decide that when we see the silly bastard,” Jack replied. “I might just shoot him for wasting our time.”
“Maybe not a good idea when we’re already suspected of involvement in his disappearance,” Ianto pointed out as he opened up the secure panel in the back of the SUV and selected three non-lethal weapons.
“Ok, stun guns, then. But make sure they’re set to maximum charge so it REALLY hurts.”
“You don’t like this guy very much, do you, boss?” Alun commented as he drove through the first set of conveniently green lights, noting the frustrated looks on the faces of other drivers. They used this trick a bit too often. People were starting to catch on that most of the traffic jams in Cardiff city were caused by Torchwood.
“I don’t like pen-pushers who see nothing but the bottom line,” Jack responded. “They’ve always been around. Even in the war, there was somebody in a pinstripe suit calculating how much it cost every time the Germans blew one of our planes out of the sky – how much it cost to replace the plane, how much to train a new pilot - as if men were just a renewable resource, as if their lives were just numbers in the debit column.”
Alun and Ianto looked at each other and felt unable to make any response to a comment like that. They just felt, deep down, that Jack was right on the button about one of the fundamental problems with the entire Human race.
“It’s not restricted to the Human race,” Jack added, almost as if he had seen what they were thinking. “Bean counters rule everywhere. There’s a planet in the Ceres sector... Gufekai V. People are BORN owing their grandparent’s death taxes. On top of their own birth tax, education tax, work tax...”
“Maybe we can send this bloody inspector there when we find him,” Alun suggested.
“I wish,” Jack responded. He reached for his communicator. “Gwen, tell the police on the scene to stand off and wait for us. If we’re right, he’s not dangerous. He won’t be armed. They don’t have to worry about that. But they need to leave him to us.”
“They’ll complain,” Gwen told him. “The police are getting a bit tired of us running roughshod over them.”
“Let them fucking well complain,” Jack replied. “Beyond the government, above the law. It’s time we put that to the test more often. Then we wouldn’t have to have inspectors doing cost effectiveness surveys and we wouldn’t have to REQUEST police co-operation. We could demand it.”
“I hear you, boss,” Alun said.
“Me, too,” Ianto added. “Loud and clear. But... I can’t help noticing... you’re rather... grumpy... today. You don’t usually...”
“I don’t usually have to decide whether to execute something that looks like a three year old with blue eyes and blonde curls,” he answered. “I know she isn’t. I know she’s an alien, and a killer, and I’m not emotionally attached in any way. But if any of you imagine I can just do that without... feeling something... then none of you know me at all. So... let’s just get this bloody nuisance sorted out and maybe I can have a couple of quiet days with people I am emotionally attached to before I have to make that decision.”
Ianto didn’t say anything else. He just wondered how it was that, years ago, when he first knew him, he had actually thought Jack was a cold hearted bastard who didn’t care about anything. Possibly because Jack cared a lot about many things but never shared his feelings with anyone. Now he did and yet, even those, like himself, who had been intimately close to him, still felt they’d only scratched the surface.
The sight of police vehicles parked along the rural road called The Alps for reasons lost in the mists of street naming history, told them that they were there. Alun drove past the cars and stopped the SUV right in front of the security barrier where, normally, a man in a fluorescent jacket with a Cardiff City Council logo on it would check passes. The police constable manning it now just nodded coldly as they passed into the extensive complex where the City Council kept their refuse lorries, gritting trucks, cherry pickers, vans, and all the supplies and equipment to keep a city running smoothly in all weather.
The senior officer on the scene filled them in on the situation.
“He’s in that warehouse, there,” the officer said. “Completely barmy. You won’t believe what he’s doing.”
“I think I can guess,” Jack said. “That warehouse, I believe, holds the city’s stock of road grit for winter highway maintenance?”
“Er... yes,” the officer conceded. “A man answering the same description has also caused a public nuisance of himself at two MacDonalds, a KFC and a Little Chef, all in a line, as the crow flies, from the city centre to here.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll sort him out,” Jack said. “You just keep the perimeter secure.”
“We got it wrong,” he added to his two colleagues as they headed for the warehouse. “He WAS infected by an alien, but the silly one, not the dangerous one. He’s got a massive craving for salt.”
“Stun guns ready,” Alun said, taking his from his pocket and checking that it was at full power. Unlike the tasers that the police used, the Torchwood stun guns looked like real guns and people quite often behaved themselves without having to be zapped.
Mr Gregson, under the influence of the salt-deficient alien entity, wasn’t ready to behave himself. As the three men closed in on him he continued to gorge himself on handfuls of rock salt from a huge plastic drum that he had broken open. When Jack ordered him to turn around he did so. His eyes were pure white and his mouth was encrusted with salt crystals. He snarled at them like a cat caught in the act of devouring an innocent bird and then sprang at them with surprising speed. There was a crackle and a blue flash as Ianto fired at him. The charge clearly halted him in his tracks, but not for long. He got up and took two more charges from Jack and Alun and still managed to run from them.
“Mr Arnold of Butetown was a lot less trouble,” Alun pointed out as they gave chase. “The ordinary plods had him under control before we reached Burger King.”
“The amount of salt he could consume in those little sachets is nothing compared to what our man’s been able to swallow here,” Jack pointed out. “We need to catch him, quickly. However much the alien thinks it can consume, Mr Gregson is going to be very ill unless we get him to a stomach pump in a very short time.”
“And you’ll be happy to administer it?” Ianto asked, recalling Jack’s obvious feelings about the bean counters of the universe.”
“Delighted,” he replied. “But let’s get him first.”
Jack was not well pleased to discover that the combined police presence outside couldn’t stop one alien-possessed Human. He ignored their excuses and simply asked which way he went.
“Towards the quarry,” he was told. Jack carried on the pursuit on foot. Ianto and Alun took the SUV, followed by a convoy of police cars. They were only slightly surprised to find that the security guards at the quarry hadn’t been able to stop the desperate man, either. They ran after Jack who was still on the trail of the fugitive.
“Stop,” Alun called out, then he grabbed Ianto and pulled him back. The edge of the deep quarry was marked with warning signs, but Gregson hadn’t taken any notice of them. Neither had Jack. They stepped warily towards the precipice and saw the pinstripe suited man lying on a ledge something like twelve feet below. Jack was hanging over the edge of the deeper drop by one hand.
Alun dropped down onto the ledge carefully. He looked at Mr Gregson and noted that he was bruised and battered but conscious and beginning to vomit. He put him into a recovery position and left him to it.
“Jack, give me your hand,” he called out as he laid himself flat and looked over the precipice. “Grab hold.”
“I can’t,” he answered. “The Arcanian entity jumped from him to me while he was unconscious. I’m going to have to...”
Alun looked down, beyond Jack’s dangling form. It was the sort of drop that could be measured in so many double decker buses on top of each other. It was a lethal fall.
“You can’t,” he told him.
“Yes, I can. I wish I didn’t have to. Especially not for that bastard. Dying so others might live... a noble idea, isn’t it? Done it so often. I hate it when the others don’t deserve it. But I do it anyway. And I know this is going to hurt. Don’t let anyone near me for at least half an hour, to make sure the entity can’t get into anyone else. I’ll see you later.”
He let go. He couldn’t help screaming as he fell. Alun screamed with him. Above, looking down on the scene, Ianto did, too. They all knew Jack would be all right, eventually. But watching him fall, imagining his brain being pulped as he hit the ground, every bone in his body smashed, broken ribs piercing his heart and lungs, was distressing.
When Jack woke up, he was in the back of the SUV. Alun was driving and Ianto in the passenger seat. They were following an ambulance.
“Gregson is in the care of the NHS?” he asked.
“They don’t think he needs a stomach pump,” Ianto replied. “He vomited most of it up. But he’ll have to be kept overnight for observation. He doesn’t seem to know much about what happened. Do we still want to Retcon him?”
“I wouldn’t like to think how Retcon would react to the salt overdose,” Jack responded. “Better just leave him alone.”
“Welcome back to the land of the living, by the way,” Ianto added. “It took a while. You’ve bled on the back seat quite a bit. It’ll need steam cleaning.”
“Sorry about that, but you know I hate waking up in body bags.”
“We had a call from Gwen a few minutes ago,” Alun told him with a far more serious tone to his voice. “She shot the demon child.”
“How come?” Jack tried to sit up but Ianto had fastened him down securely while he was ‘dead’.
“As far as Gwen can make out, the iron mad entity got into HER, somehow. She started gnawing at her leg manacles. Martha tried to get near her with a sedative and she went for her. Gwen shot the kid to save Martha. It’s dead.”
“I suppose Gwen’s eating her heart out now about killing a cute child. Tell her not to go home until we get back. I’m going to have to talk to her. Damn, it really should have been me, not her. I have less of a guilt complex. Ianto, can you be on standby with hot coffee and old fashioned Welsh sympathy?”
“Of course I can, boss,” Ianto replied. “It’s what I do.”
“What would any of us do without you?” Jack asked. He laid himself back down on the seat and closed his eyes. He had a pounding headache and he felt a little bit physically sick from even the very brief presence of the entity within him, and mentally sick thinking about Gwen. It would need a lot more than coffee and sympathy to set them all to rights after this trauma. But he was confident that they all would. They were Torchwood and they’d seen and done worse.