Contrary to popular opinion, Jack Harkness wasn’t an insensitive bastard. He actually did care about the well being of his friends and colleagues. He certainly cared about Ianto Jones. He loved him dearly, even though that love was expressed platonically rather than physically these days.
Despite that fact, or perhaps because of it, he had asked Ianto to accompany him on this field mission which was never going to be easy for him.
The three hour journey to London had been uneventful. Jack did his best not to let his friend brood too much. For that reason he let him talk about his Rift Line Theory until they had left Wales far behind. When that subject began to trail off Jack launched into a string of tall tales about adventures in future times and on distant planets, including some that involved very unlikely sexual exploits with beings that it shouldn’t have been possible for a Human to have sex with,
“You... never went all the way with him, did you?” Ianto ventured after Jack had talked for twenty minutes about that mysterious extra-terrestrial called The Doctor who had somehow touched the lives of everyone at Torchwood even if they didn’t know it.
“He was tricky,” Jack replied. “He isn’t like other men I’ve been attracted to. It’s not that he’s straight. I don’t think anyone is THAT straight. He just... I don’t think... If I’d scored with him, I think it would have changed both of us so much we wouldn’t have been the same people afterwards.”
Ianto nodded as if he fully understood that sentiment.
“Being with you changed me,” he said. “I never had a relationship before that started with sex and became love afterwards. Usually it was the other way around for me.”
“I’ve had plenty that went both ways,” Jack admitted. “And some that were all about sex, and that ONE that was just about love. Been there, done it.”
“You’re happy, now, though, with Garrett?” Ianto asked.
“Yes, I am. And I know you and Alun are the real thing. I’m glad for you both.”
“I love Alun,” Ianto said. “But loving him doesn’t make the love I had for... anyone else... any less. And it doesn’t make this job any easier.”
They were reduced to a crawl in the London traffic system. For the past half hour their destination had been visible ahead. Ianto had tried not looking at it. He had tried looking at it deliberately. Neither helped very much.
“It’s the first time I’ve been back,” he said. “I haven’t seen it since. I even try to avoid television programmes set in London so I don’t have to see that building in the background. This isn’t easy for me. But... well... maybe you’re right. It’s time to lay some of my ghosts.”
“You’re the only person I can trust who knows the layout of Torchwood One,” Jack reminded him. “If it gets too much for you, I’ll understand, but if you could hold it together I’d appreciate it.”
“I’ll do my best,” Ianto promised. “You’ve got to understand... when hell broke loose up there a lot of people died. I knew most of them. I was close to some of them. But I’ll do my best not to let you down, Jack.”
That was good enough for him. Jack turned the SUV down the ramp to the underground car park that served the building known to most Londoners as One Canada Square and to a few people in on the secret as Torchwood Tower. He showed his ID at the barrier where he was given a day pass and told to park on the second level. It was as easy as that.
“Torchwood only used the top twenty floors,” Ianto confirmed. “The rest was let out to all sorts of businesses – mostly banking, stockbrokers, that sort of thing. I used to take the lift every morning with guys dressed in Armani suits who wouldn’t have given me the time of day because my clothes weren’t sharp enough. Nobody ever asked what went on at the top of the building. They were all so wrapped up in their own lives.”
“Yeah, I saw the report. Most of them survived,” Jack noted. “Somebody sounded a fire alarm just before the shit hit the fan. The stockbrokers and bankers evacuated their offices. But Torchwood was in lockdown. Nobody could get out. They were caught in the middle of a war between Daleks and Cybermen and...”
Jack stopped talking. Ianto’s feelings were unusually hard to gauge just now, but he didn’t need to read any reports about what happened. He had been in the thick of it. He was one of a handful of survivors left standing in the aftermath of the event known as The Battle of Canary Wharf. Jack had never asked him how he had managed to be one of the lucky ones. He was aware of a half page witness statement Ianto had made at the time. Jack was also aware that most of it was a lie, since Ianto had been occupied in the midst of the battle with trying to extract his partially cyber-converted girlfriend, Torchwood employee, Lisa Hallett. Exactly how he did that, Ianto had never fully explained and Jack had never prompted him to do so.
The lift door opened. They stepped into it. Jack took a biometric card from his pocket and inserted it into the slot partway up the long panel of buttons. Without that the lift only went to floor thirty of the fifty floor building.
“Jack...” Ianto said in a curious monotone. Jack turned to him, but he had nothing else to say. He reached out and clutched his hand briefly. Whatever reassurance he took from that physical contact Jack was happy to give to him.
Then the door opened on floor thirty-one, Torchwood Reception and Hospitality. It must have looked an impressive space once, with the long desk in polished sandalwood and cool cream walls, floor and ceiling. Now, the desk and all the other fittings were covered in thick plastic wrap and the flush fitting overhead lights weren’t working. In fact, the only light at all was coming from the windows. They, too, were covered in plastic wrap, but the grey light of an overcast day filtered through.
Jack couldn’t help thinking that it would have looked better in pitch darkness.
“So you’re the great Captain Jack Harkness?” There was a heavy dose of sarcasm in the way that sentence was expressed. “And one of Yvonne’s pretty boys.”
“You must be Mr Willis,” Jack replied, ignoring the less than respectful greeting. The caretaker left in charge of the disused Torchwood facility didn’t make much of a first impression. He was pale faced with watery eyes, a slack mouth and a comb over. He had a brown overall over an ill-fitting suit. Despite all of that, he was doing a surprising job of looking down at Jack and Ianto, especially Ianto, who was doing his best not to rise to the ‘pretty boy’ comment.
“Well, I’ve got better things to do than give you the grand tour,” Willis commented. “Your key card will open any doors you choose. Just make sure you lock them again when you’re done.”
“Whatever,” Jack replied. He started towards the nearest door, anxious to get his task started. Willis called him back. “What?”
“You need to sign the firebook,” he said, pointing to an A4 size hardback pad that looked as if it actually had been in a fire. Jack opened it and noted that it still had the signatures of every visitor to Torchwood Tower right up to the last day. At least, those that had arrived through reception. He turned to a clean page and wrote his name and designation, as well as the date. He passed the pen to Ianto who looked at it and noted it actually had the Torchwood logo embossed on it. They used to do things like that at Torchwood One. He signed his name and designated himself as a Torchwood Field Agent.
“Was he here back when...” Jack began as Mr Willis turned away and disappeared through a door marked ‘authorised personnel only’ behind the reception desk.
“Oh, yes,” Ianto replied with just the ghost of a smile on his face. “We... the clerical staff... We used to laugh at him behind his back. We called him Old Man Willis, the Creepy Janitor.”
“From Scooby Do?” Jack guessed.
“Seems even more appropriate now that he’s the only one left, caretaking a ghost building.” Ianto shrugged and sighed. “The ‘pretty boy’ comment... It’s not far from the truth. Yvonne liked to keep a certain type of men around her... twenty-something, generically good looking. Afterwards... I told myself I would never wear a business suit again.”
Ianto had worn a suit since the first day he came to work at Torchwood Three. The irony wasn’t lost on Jack.
“From ‘pretty boy’ to ‘tea boy’,” he commented.
“You were never just that.”
“Yes, I was. Truth be told, I only got to be anything more because I let the boss shag me. There were rumours you could get promoted here by doing the same. But I don’t know if it was true. Yvonne never noticed me. I guess I was a bit too generic.”
“Yvonne’s loss,” Jack told him. “In every way.”
“Let’s get on with what we came here to do,” Ianto appreciated Jack’s reassurances, but what he had said was only too obviously true to anyone who knew anything about the team dynamics in Cardiff. He had been little more than a mail clerk and general dogsbody until he started having sex with Jack. Perhaps there might have been better ways of getting himself noticed, but he blew all of them when the team found out about Lisa. Sexual favours were the only way he could preserve any position at all in Cardiff.
“Stop thinking that way,” Jack told him as they took the private lift, accessible only by Torchwood personnel, to floor thirty-five, designated Archive Four. “Having sex with you was fantastic. But I wouldn’t have made you a field agent if I didn’t think you were capable of doing the job. And you were. As for Lisa...”
“Don’t talk about her here,” Ianto told him. “It’s too close to home. It was up here, on these floors, that the Cybermen had their conversion plant hidden away. I was one of their prisoners, too, awaiting the conversion. Then... as if seven shades of hell hadn’t already broken out...”
“The void was opened and the Cybermen and Daleks were dragged back into it, where they belonged,” Jack said. “That wasn’t in the official report. I heard what happened, later. That was how you managed to pull her out?”
“I didn’t get here until four days later,” Jack added. “U.N.I.T had sealed everything off. I was allowed in under armed escort to try to compile a list of the dead... to identify some of the bodies that remained... including some of the partially converted. After that, it was all locked up. Nobody stayed here except the creepy janitor. God alone knows how he spends his time.”
Several lurid thoughts occurred to both men, neither of whom lacked imagination. They shook them from their minds as the door opened on floor thirty five. The room was as wide as the tower itself, with the ceiling supported at regular intervals by concrete pillars that were functional rather than decorative. The windows were all blanked out by screens and the huge floorspace was covered by row upon row of metal cabinets where alien artefacts collected by Torchwood One during its years of operation were archived.
For the first time since he stepped into the building, Ianto felt on familiar ground. He had been little more than an inventory clerk when he worked in this archive. It was none of his business what the artefacts were. He didn’t need to know what they did. He just had to make sure the index was up to date so that, should the scientists working in the laboratories or in the testing vaults need a catalogued item, it could be sent down to them without delay.
He and Alun took pride in keeping the Cardiff archive fully indexed, but they were more than just clerks. They knew exactly what each artefact was, where it was thought to come from, and what it did. They had tested most of them to find out what they did. Jack trusted them both to do that and took their advice about which artefacts could be used to further the cause of the Human race and which, for the sake of the Human race, ought to be melted down in furnaces, encased in cryo-ice or pounded to dust and scattered to the winds.
Jack was impressed by the way Ianto did the job he always did best, now. He carefully consulted the inventory list and then found the right aisle. He moved quickly until he came to a set of four wide, deep drawers. They were electronically locked, but Jack pressed a couple of buttons on his wristlet, sending out a sonic signal that activated the locks all at once. The four drawers slid out with only a slight sound of well-greased runners to reveal four sinister devices shaped like a cross between a torpedo and a harpoon.
“Demat Missiles,” Ianto said. “If one of these was launched at a small city, the city would cease to exist in about thirty seconds. They were aboard the UFOs that came down on Salisbury Plain in the 1970s.”
“Yep,” Jack confirmed. He knelt and pressed his fingers against the smooth gunmetal grey surface of the first missile. A panel opened up and he extracted a memory chip. He repeated the operation with the other three missiles before standing up. He kicked the nearest drawer and all four slid closed again.
“The smallest and most advanced guidance systems anyone on this planet has ever seen,” Jack said as he sealed the four chips in a plastic container and placed it into his inside coat pocket. “I’ll send one of them up to Glasgow. Toshiko will wet herself when she sees the technology. U.N.I.T can have a look at one of them, as well. But if I’m right, these can be used to make the Rift Manipulator work safely and reliably.”
“We’ll be able to open and close the Rift when we choose, not when it surges randomly. We can send the Weevils back where they come from.”
“Or open the door to a mass migration if we get it wrong. Still a lot of work to be done on that machine. But this is a step forward.” Jack smiled warmly at Ianto. “Job done. Let’s get out of here. I’ll buy you dinner at the Ritz before we head home.”
“Is that a date?” Ianto asked.
“Yeah, it is,” Jack answered. “As long as we don’t tell our other halves.”
“In that case, it isn’t a date,” Ianto told him. “I don’t keep secrets from Alun.”
“Then it’s just dinner and our other halves have nothing to worry about.”
They stepped into the lift and Jack pressed floor thirty-one, the lowest floor the lifts within the Torchwood floors went to. They had to sign out in Mr Willis’s firebook and then take the public lift to the car park.
At least that was the intention. They were both aware that the lift was going up, not down.
“Weird,” Jack commented. “It’s not as if anyone could have pressed a button on another floor.”
“It might be a glitch,” Ianto suggested. “These lifts probably haven’t been serviced for a while. When it stops... maybe we ought to use the stairwell back down to thirty, just to be on the safe side.”
“That’ll work up an appetite for dinner,” Jack said. He wasn’t especially worried, just a little annoyed that it was going to take that little bit longer to get out of Torchwood Tower. He had seen enough of the place and wanted to shake its dust from his shoes.
The lift stopped on floor fifty, the very top level, right under the distinctive glass pyramid roof. Ianto was closest to the door when it opened and stepped out first. He saw the terrible contraption in the middle of the polished floor at the same time as the psychic wave hit him like an invisible wall. He screamed a warning to Jack and turned to get back into the lift. Ianto had one glance of Jack pressed against the back wall of the lift before the doors snapped shut. Then he heard it starting to descend at breakneck speed.
Jack knew he was going to die. The lift was in freefall. None of the safety features had engaged. Nothing was going to stop it except the concrete bottom of the shaft, in the foundations of the building, more than fifty floors below.
He braced himself for the impact. This was actually a new experience for him. He’d never died in a lift before. He knew how it would happen. His bones would all be crushed when the lift came to a sudden halt. His brain might even be shaken out of his skull. His internal organs would be pulped. It would be nasty.
Ianto turned away from the lift doors. He didn’t know if he would hear the impact or not. He didn’t know if he wanted to hear it. He hoped Jack would be all right, but he had enough to worry about for himself right now.
“What the hell IS that?” he demanded as he stepped closer to the machine. The central column looked a little like the Rift Manipulator at the Cardiff Hub, but around it were six tables, tilted at an angle. On each of the tables was a body, connected to the machine by conduits. There were metal headpieces over their skulls with led lights blinking on and off.
They weren’t dead. He was fairly sure of that. But they didn’t seem completely alive, either. As he drew closer to one of the bodies, he saw staring, sightless eyes, the irises milky with cataracts. He reached out to check for vital signs, but drew his hand away again. He felt as if making physical contact with one of these living corpses would be perilous.
He knew all six of them. They were people who had worked at Torchwood Tower just as he did. The one he looked closely at was Gerald Fisher. He was another of the generically good looking men in suits that Yvonne liked to have around her. Ianto hadn’t known him well. He had exchanged pleasantries in the coffee room or at the water cooler. That was all. He didn’t know anything about his family, his hobbies, his life beyond Torchwood.
And now it was obvious the man didn’t have any life beyond this sinister room on the top floor, a room where nobody was supposed to work. Everything was supposed to be shut down and packed away until further notice. Nobody ought to be here except...
He turned slowly, knowing there was somebody there, knowing it could only be one person...
“I’m sure they’d be happy to see you, Mr Jones,” Willis the Creepy Janitor said to him. “One of their own who made good in the aftermath of the tragic events here. They’d be pleased for you, I’m sure. They’d be thrilled about your success.”
“They probably wouldn’t remember me, even if they COULD,” Ianto replied. “What is this? What’s it doing here? What are they doing here?”
“They are carrying on Torchwood’s work,” a voice said that didn’t come from Mr Willis. It was half electronic, half organic, and definitely female. It was a voice that yanked painfully at Ianto’s buried memories of working in this place.
“It can’t be!” he gasped. “No. She’s dead.”
Jack groaned out loud and pushed aside the debris from the wrecked lift car. He stood and looked up at the fifty floor high lift shaft and tried not to think about it too much. What he had to do now was get back up there. Ianto was in danger. He wasn’t sure what kind of danger exactly, but he had felt a presence there on that top floor and it was far from benign.
The first possible exit from the shaft was fifty feet above his head. He was going to have to climb. It was the last thing he wanted to do when he still ached in every newly reconstructed bone in his body, but he gritted his teeth and got on with it.
As he climbed, slowly, he couldn’t help wondering why a complete lift failure had not registered on some security panel somewhere around the ground floor. There ought to have been paramedics pulling his body from the rubble and a whole team of health and safety inspectors on the scene.
In fact, the only person who noticed him crawling out of the shaft through partially opened lift doors was a cleaner with a buffing machine who stared at him curiously. He waved his day pass to the building at the man, who accepted that he was authorised to be there and carried on with his work.
Jack headed for the stairwell, then he changed his mind. He had thought of another way to reach the top of the building.
“Yvonne?” Ianto murmured as he watched the central column open up with just a little too much theatrical slowness. “Yvonne Hartman? But... she’s dead.”
“No, not quite,” the voice replied. “Not quite. The cybermen took away my soul, my body. But my brain...”
Ianto was looking at the brain, fixed inside a clear plastic bubble within the central column. There was liquid of some kind surrounding it. Ianto didn’t bother to wonder what it was, exactly. He noted the way the brain pulsated. It was still living. There was conscious thought.
Whether it was entirely sane thought was another matter.
“You were one of mine, weren’t you?” the electronic voice of Yvonne asked. “I think I recognise you.”
“This is Ianto Jones, Miss Hartman,” Willis said in an oily and obsequious voice. “He was one of your archive clerks.”
“I worked in the archive,” Ianto pointed out. “But I was never one of ‘your’ clerks. I don’t belong to you, or to Torchwood. I’m a man, not a slave.”
“Precious little difference,” Yvonne responded. “All of you who came into the Tower every day, wage slaves, scurrying about your appointed tasks... slave is just another word for employee. The rest is just PR.”
“Whatever,” Ianto replied. “But what is this? Why are you still here? Why is this here? What are they doing? What did you do to them.”
“So many questions, Ianto Jones. You never asked them when you were getting a salary from me every month. You never had any qualms about what we did here...”
“I had plenty of questions,” Ianto responded. “But what would have happened to me if I’d asked them? Would I be one of them? Having the life sucked out of me?”
“They’re not dead,” Yvonne said. “These six are far from dead. They’re the best and brightest we ever had. I hand picked them, based on aptitude tests, on their loyalty to Torchwood, and their proven extra-sensory abilities....”
“Then it was true!” Ianto’s memory stirred. There were rumours among the staff even back then, about certain employees who were still on the payroll, but hadn’t been seen for a while. There were whispers about what happened to those Yvonne noticed. And it was nothing to do with getting their own office or access to the executive bathroom.
“This was here even before...”
“An organisation like Torchwood... it’s just like a body. It has a beating heart, a soul, a lifeblood flowing through it. And it has to have a brain. The brightest and the best were the brain of Torchwood, up here on the top floor, locked off from the rest of the complex. Even the cybermen didn’t know about it. The Daleks didn’t find it. And afterwards... Mr Willis found me... what was left of me... and I became the most important part of the Torchwood brain. Being a cyberman, even for a brief time, helped. I understood that my life as an individual didn’t matter. This gestalt existence was bigger and better, and I could do so much more.”
“Do what?” Ianto asked. He was aware of Willis close by. The man was a long streak of piss, but he was clearly deranged if he actually served this atrocity. And deranged men were dangerous. He tried to keep him where he could see him and be ready to defend himself. At the same time he kept his eyes on the brain of Yvonne and kept it talking. He had a feeling if he didn’t something very bad would happen to him. He had no illusions that Yvonne thought him worthy of joining her ‘elite’ group. He wouldn’t pass her idea of an aptitude test and his loyalty to Torchwood stopped at the point when it enslaved people’s minds. She would probably kill him in some way. And he really wanted to avoid that happening.
“I am doing my job,” Yvonne replied. “Protecting the British Empire from dangerous aliens.”
“How?” Ianto asked. That wasn’t just to keep Yvonne talking. He really did wonder how she thought this macabre set up was doing any good for the British Empire, or for anyone at all.
“Information gathering. Who needs the International Space Station or any of those ridiculously expensive satellites when our minds can reach out and see everything out there. We observe every alien intrusion into our airspace. We record them. We....”
“That’s impressive, if you really can do that,” Ianto cut in. “But there are a couple of flaws in your plan. For a start, what’s the point in recording it and not telling anyone. You’re sitting here, all brain and no brawn. You didn’t think to give us a buzz down in Cardiff and warn us that something was coming our way. And I still have a huge, huge problem with the fact that there are six\people here being used as memory chips for an organic computer. It’s a real problem for me. And it ought to be for you. After what you saw the Cybermen doing to people, how can you possibly think this is a good thing to do? You’ve got to let them go... if it’s not too late for them.”
“Are you challenging Miss Hartman, you jumped up piece of nothing,” snarled Mr Willis. “How dare you talk to her like that.”
“That’s not Miss Hartman. That’s an obscenity and you are demented,” Ianto replied. He had stalled as long as he dared. Now it was time to do something. He lunged forward and grabbed the bubble containing the brain. He had half expected it to be a suicidal gesture. He was full sure the thing would electrocute him or something as a last ditch attempt at self-preservation. He was more than a little surprised when he pulled the bubble free of the conduits and wires surrounding it and grasped it in his hands. For a few seconds, he stood there staring at the pulsating brain, aware of the fluid leaking out over his shoes.
Then two things happened at once. Willis launched himself at him and tried to wrench the brain bubble from him, calling him every obscenity under the sun, and the window caved in. As he grappled with Willis, Ianto was aware of a figure blocking the day light at the window he had shot to pieces with his Webley revolver. Jack Harkness in a slightly battered great coat that blew around his legs in the wind, seemed to be hovering fifty floors above the ground like some kind of day-loving vampire until Ianto noted he was standing on the window cleaning cradle.
“Jack!” Ianto yelled. He pulled himself free of Willis long enough to throw the bubble like a surreal rugby ball. Jack caught it neatly. “Get rid of it. Throw it over...!”
“No!” Willis screamed. He ran at Jack with the rage of an angry bull. Jack held the bubble and didn’t make the slightest attempt to defend himself. His only words were addressed to Ianto.
“I’ll be back up as soon as I can. You start cleaning up around here while I’m gone.”
“Jack! No!” Ianto cried, but it was too late. Willis launched himself at Jack, who fell backwards under the momentum. The bubble fell from his hands first, then he and Willis both toppled out of the cradle. There was a doppler scream from them both. Ianto knew there was no point in going to the window to see what happened. It was all too obvious.
It was nearly half an hour before Jack emerged from the second high speed lift – the one not smashed to bits at the bottom of the shaft. The first thing he saw was a man and two women sitting on the floor with their heads in their hands, obviously dazed and confused. Then he saw Ianto leaning over the limp and unresponsive body of a young woman, performing CPR desperately. Two other bodies were all too clearly beyond help.
“How long have you been trying?” Jack asked gently as he knelt beside him.
“I... don’t know,” he answered. “I saved three of them. But... but...”
He stopped the obviously futile resuscitation effort and let himself collapse back into Jack’s strong, reassuring arms. Tears ran down his face.
“I knew her. I knew them all. I couldn’t save them.”
“You saved three,” Jack assured him, stroking his fevered brow and kissing his tear-streaked cheek tenderly. “You saved three of them. Three less victims of this cursed place. That was good, Ianto. It really was. Don’t beat yourself up over the others.”
Jack let him cry a little longer, then he decided it was time to put emotions away and be practical. He wasn’t an insensitive bastard, but there was a major clean up operation to do here.
“I’ve called the cavalry,” he said. “U.N.I.T are going to be securing the area while they fly our people down from Cardiff to finish off here. Martha can look after these three, see to their immediate medical needs and then debrief them and help them adjust to the missing years of their lives. Gwen will make sure the right thing is done for the ones who didn’t make it. You and Alun can start a full inventory of the artefacts left here and arrange for them to be taken back to our Hub, where they should have gone in the first place. I’ll get this piece of madness dismantled. In a couple of days Torchwood can move right out of One Canada Square. We own the building, you know. Letting these floors out to bankers and stockbrokers will secure the budget for Cardiff and Glasgow for a couple of years, at least.”
“Alun’s coming down?” Ianto asked, seizing on the one part of all this that seemed relevant to him, personally. “So... dinner with you is off?”
“Dinner is off for everyone. We’re all going to be working overtime on this. Give me a kiss while it’s still quiet, though. And we won’t tell your lover or mine about it.”
“I’ll kiss you,” Ianto said, letting Jack enfold him closer in his arms. “But I WILL tell my lover about it. What you do is your business.”