Ianto suppressed a sigh as he lay on the hard, narrow bed and listened to the other men in the room sleeping. He was weary and dispirited and sleep would have been a welcome relief, but he couldn’t, yet. There was something more he had to do, first.

It sounded as if he was safe enough, now, anyway. He sat up and carefully climbed off the bed. He walked soundlessly in his bare feet to the adjoining bathroom. It was a spartan room, matching the clean but sparsely furnished dormitory. There was one small mirror over the cold water only wash basins. He looked into it and then blinked four times. Seconds later he saw a text message imprinted on the inside of the contact lenses he was wearing.

“Missing you already, sweetheart.”

“I hope that’s not Jack,” he replied, mouthing the words soundlessly. The software that made his eyes into a webcam also interpreted lip movements so that his comrades could communicate with him.

“It’s me, Alun,” the message replied.

“Love you,” Ianto mouthed. “Missing you, terribly. I wouldn’t mind if it was worth the trouble. I haven’t seen or heard anything, only that it’s complete bullshit. I hope Jack can stop the deposit going out of our account.”

“He promised he would,” Alun replied. “So, how has it been?”

“Bloody boring,” Ianto answered. “And completely bogus.”

He had arrived at the Pont y Cym Spiritual Retreat at nine o’clock this morning. He was one of a dozen young men and women who came for the induction at the purpose built complex. He hadn’t really shared the enthusiasm of the others in the minibus about the architectural style of the centre, though it was impressive in a way. It was built on the basis of inner and outer circles. A seven foot high wall formed the outermost circle. Apart from some regulatory fire doors locked from the inside, the only entrance was the ‘Outer Portal’ – a single storey building that vaguely resembled the entrance to the Shaolin Temple of Henang in China. Beyond that, was an unbroken ring of low roofed buildings that were dormitories, bathroom facilities, lecture rooms, common rooms and refectory for the acolytes and staff.

In the middle of it all was the Meditation Hall, a wide, circular structure with a domed roof that looked as if it was trying to cross St. Paul’s Cathedral with the Golden Dome. But both of those buildings were made to stand out from their surroundings and proclaim the supremacy of the religion they represented. This dome was scarcely visible except from the top of the hills that surrounded the valley or from space. Jack Harkness had enough pull in certain quarters to get an observation satellite retasked for an afternoon and Torchwood had some really good quality photographs of the site from space. But they didn’t really tell them anything other than that they needed somebody on the inside.

Ianto had always been interested in comparative religions and could quote from memory passages of the Bible, Talmud, Koran and any amount of the writings of Buddha and other eastern prophets. But curiously he was the most sceptical of all about Spiritual Retreats that made the sort of promises this one did. Consequently he was judged to be the right man to make an objective observation of what was going on inside the Outer Circle.

The induction began in the Outer Portal where the twenty new acolytes paid their deposits of two thousand pounds each and set up their direct debits. Then they left all their personal belongings behind and embraced the spiritual life by taking a cold shower and putting on a plain, grey linen robe that might have been styled on a grain sack.

Then they were conducted to the Middle Circle where began the day long introduction to the ‘philosophy’ of Madam Vivien Allaby for which he had paid so much money. Ianto found it to be a mish-mash of vague ideas with a bit of Buddhism, Hinduism, ancient Egyptian and Native American beliefs thrown in. There was a lot of talk about the Six Chakra – the elemental forces that promoted the mental, spiritual and physical health of the body, and something called The Third Eye, which Madam Allaby promised to be able to open in all of her acolytes, letting them see into a paranormal plain hitherto hidden from mortal Human sight.

It was this promise of some kind of miraculous revelation that had brought most of the people to the Retreat. Ianto listened to them talk as they shared what they were told was an ascetic meal to purify their digestive systems. He thought it was a rather watery rice soup with just about enough nutrient in it to get them through a day sitting in a room watching slide shows and listening to lectures.

“If your third eye is opened, you can see angels,” said a slightly built young man called Robert whose enthusiasm for the philosophy was unbounded.

“Or devils,” said another man called Ellis. “Depending on the purity of your thoughts.”

“Ghosts... the spirits of our loved ones who have gone to the eternal plain. We can see them through the third eye.”

“You can see the invisible aliens that are all around us,” a girl called Emily told the crowd around the table.

“What invisible aliens?” Ianto asked. He had no special knowledge to prove or disprove angels or devils. He knew for a fact that ghosts DID exist. He had no reason to dispute that.

But invisible aliens needed to be challenged. That was just too absurd for words.

“They’re everywhere,” Emily insisted. “Watching us all the time. They’re studying the Human race, to find out our strengths and weaknesses, to understand our culture and our technology.”

“To invade us?” asked a young man called David. The others were agog to learn about the aliens, too.

“No, not really,” Emily answered. “They just want to live among us, but they can’t do that until they know us fully. Until then, they’re just there... invisible. And... wow, wouldn’t it be fantastic to actually see them, as they really are, before they assimilate our culture?”

Most of the table agreed that it would be a wonderful thing, the exceptions being the ones who were expecting to see angels, devils or ghosts. They rejected the idea of aliens in favour of the Earth-borne paranormal.

A row almost broke out. It was only the intervention of Madam Allaby herself that settled them all down again. She floated in an ankle length dress made of several layers of gauzy silk and lots of long necklaces of ‘healing crystals’. She had long, natural blonde hair down her back and the palest blue eyes Ianto had ever seen outside of a cataract clinic. She spoke in a soft voice filled with conviction that she was right and the rest of the world was crooked and wrong.

“There is a dissenting aura among you,” she said. “There is no need for it, my friends. If we are open to the chakra, the wonders of the universe will be revealed to us. Let your hearts and souls be pure and blameless and the Third Eye will be opened.”

That settled them down. It gave Ianto some thinking time. And the question occupying his mind was simple. Just what WAS it about Madam Allaby that attracted so many people? There were at least fifty acolytes in the refectory. They all fully and completely believed in the nonsense they had been listening to all morning. They really believed their lives would be enhanced and fulfilled by something Madam Allaby had to teach them.

It was nonsense and a financial scam. Ianto was quite sure of that even before he arrived. He was even more certain after spending the afternoon compiling his own horoscope using a cardboard perpetual calendar and a pre-printed chart and listening to more lectures about the joy of opening his soul to the spiritual plain.

Another ‘ascetic’ meal was followed by an evening of ‘meditation’ in which Madam Allaby again talked about her philosophy, but this time recorded Tibetan singing bowl music accompanied her and the novices were encouraged to lie on thin mats and let their minds wander free of their corporeal bodies as they relaxed and let go of worldly cares. Emily and David were among those who appeared to experience some kind of ecstatic experience, crying out in excitement several times in the course of the session. But Ianto wasn’t convinced. They were both far too open to suggestion to be completely believable.

“Allaby is a fraud,” Alun told him. “Gwen’s been digging and found that there’s an arrest warrant out for her in the state of Arkansas, for failing to attend a hearing into financial irregularities at a centre she used to run there. The American Society for Holistic Medicines revoked her licence. She has absolutely no right to be practicing alternative medicines in the UK.”

“She doesn’t call it medicine,” Ianto replied. “She calls it spiritual renewal. She says it is the true path of enlightenment which established religions with their corruption and hierarchy cannot give.”

“Bollocks.” Alun responded. “You’re not buying that rubbish are you?”

“Not in the slightest. It is utter rubbish. She’s just pulled together a few mystic ideas from different religions and mythologies and called them a philosophy, promising miracles. If anyone fails to have their third eye opened, of course it will be because their negative auras are stopping it! But there are no refunds.”

“We guessed as much. But all the same, something is going on there. The Meison energy readings coming from the compound are off the scale. Especially around that inner dome. Madam Allaby’s bogus scheme is a front for something that falls into our ballpark.”

“I know,” Ianto sighed. “That’s why I’m stuck here, missing you like crazy. Missing a good cup of coffee. They drink herbal infusions here... purifying herbs they call it. I could kill for an espresso.”

“When you get back, I’ll have a gallon of it brewed just for you, cariad,” Alun answered. “You’ll need it to stay awake while I catch up on all the loving I’m not giving you, right now.”

“We’re supposed to eschew physical desires of that sort,” Ianto pointed out. “Not that we’ve all managed it. Before he went to sleep I heard the bloke in the bed next to me trying to wank himself without making a noise.”

“Is that even possible?”

“No. The bed rattled like crazy and his heavy breathing was pretty damn obvious.”

“Did it make you want to do the same?”

“No. It just reminded me that I won’t get to shag you until this is over. Hang on. Somebody is coming... and I don’t mean in that way.”

He turned on the tap and made it look as if he was washing his hands as one of his room mates came into the bathroom. It was the one who had given himself the illicit pleasure earlier. After using the urinal he came to wash his hands thoroughly.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked Ianto.

“Not really,” he replied.

“Excited about tomorrow? We should get our first chance to explore our sixth chakra in the afternoon meditation session.”

“It sounded like you were exploring yours already,” Ianto replied. He saw the young man blush and hurriedly dry his hands. When he was alone again Ianto turned back to the mirror.

“Tomorrow... stay in contact with me all day. I know it’s a drain on resources monitoring the lenses constantly, but I... I really don’t want to be alone. If there is something sinister going on here, I need Torchwood to be ready... to extract me if it gets too hairy.”

“I’ll be with you all the way,” Alun promised. “So will everyone else. The outpost is fully set up. Just hang in there.”

“I’m hanging in there,” Ianto promised. “Talk to you soon. Nos da, cariad.....”

Alun turned away from the computer screen where Ianto’s last words hadn’t displayed properly.

“We need a Welsh language parser for this software,” he said. “It didn’t pass on Ianto’s love message to me.”

“You know what Ianto’s love message to you is,” Jack replied. “But we’ll see what we can do in future. Is he ok? I wish we could have got online to him sooner. But setting up a remote operations centre in a Welsh valley with no wi fi coverage was a hassle, even with some handy alien communications tech to help us out.”

“He should be safe until morning, anyway,” Alun conceded. He put the computer into low power mode and headed for the kitchen where Gwen was still up and made him a cup of cocoa to take to bed. She asked Jack if he wanted one but he refused.

“I’m not a cocoa man,” he told her. “I’m going to take a walk before I turn in. I’m sleeping alone tonight for the first time in months. Feels a bit odd. I’ll get restless if I’m not tired out first.”

He smiled warmly at Gwen and stepped out into the fresh, cool air of a late summer night. He felt the cobbles of the farmyard beneath his feet and then turned and headed up the low hill behind Torchwood’s remote headquarters for the duration of this operation that Ianto was embedded into.

The air was very different to Cardiff. He breathed in deeply and appreciated the smell of upland grasslands, gorse and heathers. They pricked his memory of when he was a boy living in a rural community. He missed the smell of the sea that went with it at Boeshane, but the smell of the countryside had a very old redolence for him.

All the same he was restless. He missed the Hub more than he thought he would. Working out of the lower levels didn’t quite seem the same as his old office. Even when the repairs were finished it wasn’t going to be exactly as it was. There was a sense of an era having passed and gone even though Torchwood as a body, as a group of people working together, was still as strong as ever.

And he was uneasy about this particular operation. There was something that worried him, though he couldn’t have said what it was even if anyone asked. He just really wanted it to be over. He wanted Ianto back where he was safe.

Because Jack had a strong, overwhelming feeling that he wasn’t safe where he was.

There was more to Madam Allaby’s operation than getting money out of weak minded idiots. There was more to it than Meison energy readings.

Jack wasn’t psychic. He didn’t have any special superhero powers beyond his ability to come back to life even from the most extreme deaths possible. But the alien energy that allowed him to do that had all kinds of properties he didn’t fully understand. And right now, it felt like it was sounding alarms in his head. If he only knew what they meant.

He could see the Centre from here. It was the only place in the valley where there were any significant electric lights. Here and there in the darkness were little glowing yellow-orange rectangles that were windows in farmhouses. Most of them were going out now as hard working people turned in. Far off, there was a string of white lights that were the dual carriageway back to Cardiff through the Welsh wilderness. Light pollution was at its minimum in this valley, except for the harsh white glow of strong lights that illuminated the Inner Circle. He wondered why a spiritual centre needed the sort of lights that would be overdoing it even in a maximum security prison. How important was it to keep the acolytes away from the Inner Dome until they were ‘ready’ for the experience? What did they have to hide? How was Ianto going to uncover their secret if they were that security conscious? These questions troubled him and kept him from reaching that point where he could go back to the rented farmhouse and sleep for a few hours.

“Please be safe, Ianto,” he whispered to the night air. “If anything happens to you, I’ll never forgive myself.”

He watched the valley for another hour before walking back down to the temporary Torchwood base and finding the comfort of his bed, still with no answer to his questions.

Alun was awake before dawn and powered up the computer, determined to be there for Ianto as soon as he woke. To be truthful, he dozed off a few times sitting in front of the inactive remote-eye programme. About seven-thirty, though, the sound of Beth placing a coffee mug at his side roused him and a few seconds later he saw images on the screen. They were fuzzy at first. Ianto had slept with the lenses on his eyes and he needed to adjust them. He did so in the bathroom before stepping into the communal shower. Beth blushed pinkly and turned away from the sight. Alun drank his coffee and watched without either professional or personal interest. This was just a chance to make sure the lenses were working properly before the important parts of the day began.

Not that it seemed especially important at first. There was something like a tai chi session before breakfast, then more meditations lying on the floor and staring up at a ceiling with a strange swirling pattern on it. Gwen identified it as an abstract depiction of the sixth chakra. It was more of the pseudo-philosophy being pedalled by Madam Allaby.

The afternoon was more of the same. When Ianto slipped away to the bathroom and managed to give his side of things he told Alun he was bored rigid by the endless talk of chakra and inner harmony.

“That’s because you haven’t got any inner harmony, cariad,” Alun replied.

“Nuts to inner harmony,” Ianto answered him. “I’m still desperate for an espresso and a shag. But listen... later this evening... after supper... we’re actually going to be admitted to the Inner Dome for the first time. Madam Allaby told us. We’re to rest for the next few hours, to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for the opening of our Third Eyes.”

“Jack says be careful,” Alun replied. “He thinks there’s more to that Dome than all this bollocks you’ve been hearing so far. That goes for me, too. Be careful.”

Somebody else came into the bathroom. Ianto had to cut the conversation short. He washed his hands and went to the refectory for tea. The acolytes were all but frothing at the mouth with excitement. The language parser worked overtime as Ianto carefully paid attention to all of the speakers around him. But none of them said anything worth hearing. It was just more speculation about what they might see through their Third Eye.

“Invisible aliens!” Alun laughed as he listened to the parser synthesising the voice of Emily. “They’d have to get in line along with all the other weird shit on this planet.”

“Oh, that’s just the Ysaig,” Jack replied casually. “They’re the intergalactic equivalent of bird-watchers. They use cloaking technology to observe other races without them being aware of their presence. They shouldn’t be on a class five planet like Earth without local approval of their research project. But since there IS no Earth authority that approves that sort of thing, they tend to overlook the formalities. She’s wrong, incidentally. They don’t want to integrate with us. We’re too damn noisy.”

“Are you serious?” Beth asked Jack as she brought the coffee around to their desks. “Really, there ARE invisible aliens among us?”

Gwen and Alun both waited for his answer, too. But Jack just grinned inscrutably.

“Well, when I go swimming, there had better only be invisible girl aliens around the changing rooms,” Beth decided. “Or I’ll set Ray on them.”

“Anyway, there are none of them at Madam Allaby’s centre,” Jack confirmed. “You’d see interference on the screen where they are. The cloaking devices operate at the same frequency as the lenses.”

At that point, everyone gave up questioning the veracity of Jack’s information. If he was having them on, it was just too good a story. Alun continued to monitor what was happening at the centre. Very little WAS happening for a few hours. Ianto managed to grab a few more minutes in front of the mirror before he went to lie down in the dormitory along with the others. Supper was another of those ascetic rice soups. When it was over, they were escorted by Madam Allaby herself across the brightly lit courtyard into the Inner Dome. Ianto looked around with a pretence of the same awe the others had at the wide circular room with that mystic symbol of the chakra on the walls all around and on the inside of the dome above their heads. He was careful to take in every detail because he knew Alun would be monitoring.

In fact, Jack and Gwen both sat at separate workstations and watched, as well. This looked like being more important than any of the flim flam before. They couldn’t afford to miss a single nuance of what was happening. They all observed

“It really would help if we had sound,” Gwen pointed out as the parser translated Madam Allaby’s introduction to the Third Eye opening. The synthesised version of her American accent grated on the ear far more than the Welsh ones of the acolytes. “This only works if Ianto is looking at the person doing the talking.”

“Martha is looking into the possibility of a cochlea implant that would transmit sound,” Jack said. “But she won’t let us use it, yet. She thinks even a day or two with it operational would cause permanent deafness.” Jack grinned naughtily. “I wouldn’t object to risking one of you lot going deaf if the safety of the planet was at stake, but apparently the Health and Safety Executive have some issues.”

This time they knew he was joking. But Madam Allaby was finished speaking and the lights were turned down in the meditation room. Alun switched the lenses to night vision mode and they saw the room in shades of muddy green. The acolytes were all lying on the floor, their heads pointed towards the centre and fanning out like a flower or the spokes of a wheel. They looked up at the ceiling where there was something distinctly odd happening. The ‘chakra’ image stood out in the green light as if it was painted in phosphorescence. Alun switched back to normal vision and confirmed that it was luminous in the dark. And it was moving. The ceiling was revolving slowly and the pattern swirled around hypnotically. He switched back to night vision and they could all see where the top section of the dome was actually on a sliding rail.

“It’s getting smaller,” Gwen said.

“No, it’s getting higher,” Jack answered. “The floor is sinking.”

“Sinking into where?” Alun wanted to know. “What the fuck is this?”

“I don’t know,” Jack admitted. “But I don’t like it.”

“Ianto, close your eyes,” Alun typed. “Don’t look at it. We don’t need to know what it is. Just don’t let it hypnotise you into doing something foolish.”

“No,” Jack protested. “We DO need to know what this is.”

“Not at the expense of Ianto’s sanity... or his life,” Alun responded fiercely. “Don’t make him do that.”

The screen went blank as Ianto closed his eyes. Alun bit his knuckles as he waited, wondering what was happening.

“We’ve got to improve this system,” Gwen said. “We’re blind and deaf, now. We don’t know what’s happening to Ianto, at all.”

Ianto didn’t know what was happening to him, either. He kept his eyes tight shut and his back pressed against the floor, noting the vibration and the feeling of slow downward motion. Around him, people were making ecstatic noises as if all their dreams were coming true at once. He heard Madam Allaby speaking in a low ethereal voice about the Third Eye opening and the joy of enlightenment. He heard male and female voices around him proclaiming that they could see, and that it was beautiful, everything they had ever hoped. Angels and ghosts, creatures of the ethereal plain, were appearing before their eyes to renew and refresh their spirits.

There was another sound, like a wind rushing around the room, but he couldn’t feel any displacement of air at all.

He risked opening his eyes just once, long enough to look around at the others.

“What the fuck was that?” Alun exclaimed. “What’s inside that room with them?”

“I don’t know,” Jack replied. “Whatever they are, they’re not angels. And I don’t believe they’re devils, either.”

“They looked like glass skeletons,” Gwen said.

Ianto opened his eyes again. Alun screamed. A translucent skull, glowing with the same eerie luminescence as the ceiling was leaning close to Ianto’s face. It stared sightlessly at him for a long time, then lurched away. Ianto closed his eyes again.

The others were quieter, now. They weren’t crying out in ecstasy. They weren’t saying anything coherent. Their voices were weak, weary sounding, as if the experience made them very tired. The wind sound was less, too. Then he was aware of a faint vibration, and a sensation of movement – the same he had felt when the dome began swirling around, except now it was an upwards movement. He risked opening his eyes again and saw the luminous chakra symbol becoming larger again. It wasn’t revolving now, so he thought it was probably safe to keep watching it, to try to get an idea of just how far down the floor had sunk.

Alun suggested that, too. But Jack said it wasn’t possible to make a calculation without knowing how big the symbol was, how high it was from the original ground level and how fast the floor was ascending.

“It was a good idea, though,” he added.

Ianto blinked as the lights came on fully. He heard the acolytes around him slowly struggling to sit up. They all groaned dizzily and complained of blinding headaches and aching limbs.

“That is sometimes a side effect of opening the Third Eye,” Madam Allaby said triumphantly. “But you all did it. I am proud of you. Come along. You all need to sleep now, after your experience. Tomorrow, we will come together again and talk about what you saw.”

Ianto stood up with the others, trying to look as if he was just as tired and aching as they were. After lying on a hard surface for an hour he was fairly stiff so it didn’t take very much acting. Everyone else seemed to be having a much harder time of it, though. Some of them could barely stand. He copied their stumbling, groaning efforts as they stepped towards the exit from the Inner Dome. He did as they did, screwing up his eyes against the bright security lights outside. Alun sent him a text message to tell him not to do that. They needed him to observe as much as possible. He opened his eyes wide and, on pretext of half fainting, he twisted his body and looked back at the dome. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual about it. At least nothing more unusual than a dome stuck in the middle of the Welsh countryside was to begin with.

Back in the dormitory most of the acolytes just wanted to crawl into their beds. None of them had the energy to talk about their experience. One by one they dropped asleep. But it wasn’t a deep sleep of people exhausted by physical or even mental exercise. All of them seemed fitful, tossing and turning in beds that rattled as if the whole lot of them were surreptitiously masturbating in their sleep.

Ianto got out of his bed and went to his nearest roommate, the young man called Robert who wanted to see angels. He touched his forehead and noted the cold sweat. He wondered what it meant. What exactly had happened to everyone in the Inner Dome?

What were those creatures he saw? They weren’t any kind of optical illusion or conjuring trick. He wasn’t under any hypnotic influence. He had seen with his two good eyes a transparent skeleton – a fully animated skeleton. It had looked at him – and decided he was no use for its purpose.

The dormitory light snapped on. Robert turned fitfully and pressed his face into the pillow against the brightness. Around him the others did the same. Ianto swung around to see Madam Allaby and four men dressed in long grey, shapeless robes but carrying guns.

“That doesn’t quite seem in keeping with the ideal of inner harmony and peace,” he said as two of them flanked him and he had no choice but to go with them. They said nothing in response. Neither did Madam Allaby. He didn’t bother to say anything else. He put his faith in the text message that flashed in front of his eyes telling him to stall them.

He wasn’t alone. Torchwood was on the case. He WOULD get out of this alive.

He was taken to the Inner Dome and forced to kneel in the centre. He was flanked by the four men who kept their guns trained on him. Jack would probably know how to take out all four of them at once. Alun had enough military training to give it a try. Ianto considered his chances of grabbing Madam Allaby as a Human shield and telling them to get out of his way. But even if he got out of the Dome, he would still be in the Inner Circle. He had no chance of reaching the Outer Circle without them shooting him.

“How is it that you weren’t under the influence of the Chakra?” Madam Allaby demanded. “Why are you different?”

“I’m short-sighted,” Ianto replied. “I couldn’t see your light show properly. I saw the thing you’re hiding down in the basement, though. So I guess my Third Eye isn’t quite so myopic.”

“You did not have your Third Eye opened,” Madam Allaby responded.

“You say that with such certainty,” Ianto countered. “Why is that, I wonder? Is it because you KNOW that it’s a lie? There’s no such thing as a Third Eye, and if there WAS, this set up has nothing to do with it. The people you conned into coming here, you hypnotised them into thinking they could see angels and devils, ghosts and whatever. But that was just... I don’t know... what was it for?”

Madam Allaby clearly forgot that she was meant to be the one asking the questions. She leaned forward, her face close to Ianto’s as she replied.

“The Ancient Ones can only feed on the life spirit when it is open.”

“Life spirit?” Ianto laughed softly. “Right... let me guess. Those things down there are some kind of alien life form. They need some kind of essence of the Human soul, brain waves, God knows what. So you sucker in the kind of people who believe in chakra and healing crystals, Third Eye and all of that. You give them a psychedelic show that they buy into... and these things feed.”

“These ‘things’ are Ancient Ones who possess power and wisdom beyond all Human understanding,” Madam Allaby answered him with something like indignation in her voice. “I am their humble servant. You... are nothing. You are merely food for their glorious beings.”

“Yeah... whatever. But other than not buying into the power and wisdom bit, I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Keep Madam Exposition talking,” said a message on the lenses with a smiley emoticon after it that told him Gwen was doing the typing, now. He wondered where Alun was, but he had no way of asking.

“How come you picked Wales, by the way?” he asked. “After the American authorities caught on to your scam?”

“I did not ‘pick’ Wales. The Ancient Ones are scattered around this planet. They are hidden beneath the soil, waiting for the time of awakening. I was not able to complete my work in America. But they told me where to find their brothers in this valley. When they are strong enough, they will help me awaken their kin beneath the soil of Spain and in the Black Forest of Germany. Then they will return in strength to rescue their trapped brethren beneath the rocks of Arkansas.”

“Ok...” Ianto drawled slowly. Gwen’s message flashed in front of his eyes again. “So... one more question. Why are you telling me this? You must have realised... I’m... I’m a journalist. I infiltrated your little gathering to expose you. And now I know the whole thing.”

“What newspaper would print such a far-fetched story?” Madam Allaby responded.

“Fortean Times?” Ianto ventured, conceding to himself that she had a point.

“The ordinary fools who buy newspapers for the half naked women and the bingo numbers, who watch ‘reality’ television and soap operas, who worship those with the ability to kick a ball through a set of posts... they wouldn’t believe the truth if it was put in front of their faces.” Madam Allaby glanced around and nodded to her henchmen. They stepped closer. Ianto felt the barrel of a gun against the back of his neck.

“Besides,” she added. “You’re not going to be able to tell anyone. You won’t leave this place. The Ancient Ones take only a small part of each life spirit offered them. The donors recover their strength after a little time and leave my sanctuary satisfied that they have experienced the Opening of their Third Eye as they hoped. But you... your whole life spirit will be offered to them to feast upon. It will hasten their full awakening. What remains after they are done... if you live... it will be as a mindless vegetable who will never speak again.”

The henchmen grabbed his arms and legs and pinned him to the ground. Madam Allaby leaned over him with a syringe containing a clear liquid. She inserted it into his neck. He felt the numbing effect straight away. His face was frozen. He couldn’t even blink. And as the paralysing drug coursed through his body he was equally powerless to struggle. The henchmen backed away as he slumped down on the floor. He was aware of Madam Allaby arranging his limbs, stretching his arms and legs out as if he was pinned onto a saltire. But he didn’t need to be restrained in any other way. He was helpless.

The lights went out. The luminous Chakra began to swirl around and he couldn’t close his eyes this time. He would be mesmerised by it before the floor descended to the level where the alien creatures waited. And he would be so bamboozled by it all he would think he was seeing angels, not creatures that wanted to suck the life out of him.

“We’re coming for you!” The text message flashed in front of his eyes, with another hopeful smiley. Then there was a bright, painful flash that brought tears to his paralysed eyes. The lenses went dark. For a moment he was just confused. Then he realised what had happened. Gwen had sent a low level EMP pulse to the lenses. It blanked them out. He was blind until he could take the lenses off his eyes.

That was slightly terrifying, even though he knew Gwen had done it to stop him being hypnotised. He knew those alien creatures that Madam Allaby called Ancient Ones were going to be there when the floor stopped descending. If she was right about him needing to be hypnotised for them to take his ‘life spirit’ then he was probably safe, but he wasn’t banking on that, and the thought of them closing in on him in the dark was not a happy one.

The worst moment was when he heard the wind sound without any air displacement. He knew that was the creatures moving towards him. His paralysed body was powerless to offer up any defence. It was powerless to stop the involuntary bladder response, too, and he felt very embarrassed about that. He hadn’t wet himself from fear of the bogeymen in the dark since he was about two and a half.

Then there were some other noises. Blind and helpless Ianto had no idea what was happening or whether his own situation just got better or worse. The first sound was a crunching, grinding noise. That was shortly followed by Madam Allaby screaming in rage and panic and a loud noise like the rotors of a very beefy military helicopter. He wasn’t sure what sort. A Chinook, possibly. Alun knew about this sort of thing more than he did.

He could hear gunfire and shouting, too. It wasn’t inside the Dome, but it was close by.

Then there were shouts and a burst of gunfire inside the Dome, too. Madam Allaby shrieked and then stopped abruptly. The sharp crunch sounded as if somebody had dealt her a knockout blow to the jaw.

Then he felt hands touching him, caring hands that felt to see if he was injured. Gentle fingers peeled back the blanked out lenses and through watery eyes that still couldn’t blink Ianto made out Alun’s face close to his. He covered him with his own body and kissed him gently. He felt the pressure of his lover’s lips on his even if he couldn’t respond, and it was a blissful feeling.

He heard the rattle of a Heckler and Koch on automatic fire as if the whole of the meditation room was being strafed, and something like the tinkle of glass breaking. But his eyes were full of stinging tears and he couldn’t see anything other than vague shadows and flashes of light.

“Ok,” said the familiar voice of Jack Harkness when the guns finally went silent. “Those alien bastards aren’t going to suck anyone else’s life force. Get that stupid bitch handcuffed. Make sure none of her lackeys are dumb enough to put up any resistance, and see that the other victims are looked after.” A clipped voice responded in military style and Madam Allaby made only a token sound of protest as Jack’s instructions were carried out.

Ianto felt Alun move off him. Then he was lifted onto a stretcher and strapped down carefully. He felt himself being lifted. He was aware of the stretcher swaying and somebody steadying it. He felt cool night air on his face and wondered vaguely what happened to the dome before he was hauled into the helicopter he had heard all along – or possibly a second one, something like a fast Westland Lynx. Ianto didn’t really care what it was, only that he was safe, he was alive and Alun was there, wiping his eyes so that he could see him clearly at last.

Later, lying in a bed in the infirmary at St. Athans military base, Ianto listened as Alun filled in what to him had just been a lot of noise and confusion. And it had been an operation Hollywood directors would have died to have as the denouement of their blockbuster action movies. Jack had called up the military back up as soon as he knew Ianto’s situation was compromised. He had a plan worked out ever since he knew that the dome was a separate piece to the rest of the building. U.N.I.T men had abseiled down from the Chinook onto the roof and secured lines. The powerful helicopter, capable of carrying tanks into war zones, had no trouble lifting the dome from the tracks it revolved on. Once it was clear, Alun and Jack had dropped down into the Inner Dome on lines from the Lynx that flew in under the Chinook. Meanwhile, U.N.I.T men dropped down and rounded up the henchmen outside.

“After that, it was all over bar the shouting, as they say,” Alun told him cheerfully. “I was worried about you, for a while. I wasn’t sure what she’d injected you with, whether the paralysis would be permanent. You pissed yourself again in the Lynx. I wondered if I was going to have to get rubber sheets on our bed. But it wore off by the time we got you back here.”

“What about the aliens?” Ianto asked ignoring the details of his bodily functions.

“They weren’t immortal, and they weren’t invulnerable,” Alun answered him. “Jack fired at them... shot them to bits. There was a sort of glow from them for a few seconds... like the stolen life force was released, and then they were just piles of crystal glass. Jack’s kept some bits for analysis. They’re definitely alien, so there might be something in their composition that helps us defend the Human race from aggression. But the rest... Madam Allaby could make fashion jewellery out of them in the prison workshop. That’s about all they’re good for now.”

“She said there were others, around the world. Arkansas... Spain, France...”

“Jack will be having some long interrogation sessions with her. He’ll get the details, and the agencies in those countries that do the same work as us will deal with them. They CAN be killed, after all.”

“And what about the victims... Robert, Ellis, Emily...”

“They’re all well enough to complain about the way they were treated,” Alun replied. “They think the authorities have come down too hard on Madam Allaby. They insist she isn’t a fraud and she really did open their Third Eyes. They don’t even want their money refunded.”

“Some people need to open the two eyes they have before they worry about a Third Eye,” Ianto remarked. “They were nice people. Just... stupidly deluded to begin with. I’m glad they’re ok. But if I hear one more word about Third Eyes and Chakra... I’d rather be in a room full of alien conspiracy theorists. At least we know they’re RIGHT. There really ARE aliens out there.”

“Even invisible ones,” Alun thought. But he decided not to worry Ianto with that for now. He leaned over and kissed him and was glad to feel his lips respond now that he wasn’t paralysed.


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