Gwen tutted loudly as the SUV passed yet another advertising hoarding with the same face grinning back at her.
“Whose idea was it for Cardiff to have an elected mayor the same as London?” she asked. “I’m sick of those campaign posters and leaflets through the door day and night. Abby barks every time she hears the letter box, drives Rhys up the wall.”
Jack glanced at the hoarding next to the road while he waited for the lights to change. The face of one candidate smiled a larger than life but doubly insincere smile back at him and implored him to vote Plaid Cymru.
“I’m not voting for him, anyway, I don’t like the look of him.”
Gwen was a little shocked. It wasn’t like Jack to be so judgemental.
“He’s a bit fat…” she admitted. “Ok, a lot fat. He looks like a pink toad. But.…”
“Remember Margaret Blaine?” Jack pointed out.
“She wasn’t exactly an underwear model, either,” Gwen recalled. “Even so….”
“She was an alien living inside a human. She had to pick a big human because her alien body was over seven foot high and half as wide. If it was up to me I’d check to see if Mr Ifan Mold farts more than normal and has a zipper in his head.”
“Jack… please tell me you’re joking,” Gwen said. “I don’t believe that for a moment.”
“Believe it,” Jack answered her. “I’m not in a joking mood this morning.”
“Why not?” Gwen asked. “You DO seem a bit… spiky. And I’m still not sure why we’re even doing this. It’s not a Torchwood thing. You saw the address on the police report and jumped out of your seat.”
“It’s the address,” he answered. “Check it out again on the computer.”
“The house belongs to Torchwood?” she asked. “Has done since 1905? We… make an income from the rent….”
“I gave it to them. The house was partially destroyed in a fire. They had it rebuilt. I’ve never been there since. I’ve not even thought about it in a long time.”
“It was your house?” Gwen was surprised. “In 1905?”
Jack wondered if he was doing the right thing, after all. But when he saw the house associated with a police file he felt he ought to….
Ought to what? Come and see if it had been contaminated by some seedy crime? How many tenants had lived there in over a century? Three of the rooms were completely restored. There was nothing left of his past there.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he and Garrett were house-hunting right now - only the second time in his life that he had looked for a family home. Maybe he wanted to put some ghosts to rest.
If so, that was a stupid, fanciful thing to want to do and he ought to know better.
When he turned the car into the street the pangs of nostalgia hit him. These late Victorian garden villas as the estate agents called them hadn’t changed very much since 1905. They had double glazing and satellite dishes now, multi-coloured wheelie bins for recycling, and a colourful array of reasonably priced cars parked on the side of the road. No smoke came from the chimneys now. Everybody had central heating. But apart from that, the street was the same. It was, if such things mattered, lower middle class for those with middle management incomes. The credit crunch had hit some of them. Estate agent signs were sprinkled around liberally.
There was a police car parked outside number 15 Australia Place, Gabalfa. Jack eased the Torchwood SUV into the space behind it and looked at the door for a long time, noting that it was a new door. His had been brown. Then he got out of the car and opened the little wooden gate. The tiny front garden that was paved over for convenience took only three strides to cover then he pushed the door open and stepped into the hallway. Gwen followed behind.
He stopped making mental comparisons. The hallway was different. Of course it was. How many times had it been redecorated since 1905, not counting when the kitchen and back parlour were both gutted by fire? He had to stop thinking of it that way.
“Andy!” Gwen called out to the uniformed policeman who stepped out of that back parlour. “They left you house-sitting?”
“I volunteered when they said Torchwood were on their way,” he answered.
“Any opportunity to see our Gwen?” Jack asked him with a suggestive grin. “Or is it me you can’t get enough of?”
“I wanted to make sure you guys were taken seriously,” he answered. “Some of the guys were joking about it. Torchwood turning up at a drug bust. They were taking bets about whether it was alien weed in the attic.”
“It WAS just a drug factory?” Gwen asked. “Nothing more sinister?”
“Nothing more,” Andy replied. “Although DCI Temple is calling it the biggest drug bust in the history of South Wales Constabulary. They’ve just finished clearing the stuff. There was cannabis growing in the attic, cocaine in the kitchen, more pills than a pharmacy in the dining room. The bedrooms were stashed with cash. These people had been making a mint here.”
“What about the basement?” Jack asked. Andy looked blank. “Cellar, whatever you want to call it.”
“I don’t think it has a cellar,” Andy replied. “Nobody went down into one.”
“There’s a cellar,” Jack insisted. Then he strode past Andy towards the kitchen. Before the kitchen there were two small steps down and a short piece of corridor with a door on one side leading to a pantry. On the other side it looked like plain wall, but Jack ran his hand at waist level until he found an almost invisible groove. He pulled the low door open to reveal a dark hole that resonated hollowly when he spoke.
“No light,” he said, flipping a dead switch just inside and then reaching for a torch in his pocket. Andy did the same. Jack ducked into the passage and started to descend the stone steps. This part of the house really hadn’t changed much –maybe a couple of fresh coats of whitewash on the brick walls. Below, he had used the space as a wine cellar and a workroom and a small museum of alien swords and daggers. Torchwood were only ever interested in the projectiles and ray guns. They let him play with the bladed weapons.
That was a dangerous enough occupation in the cellar of a private house, he considered as he stepped through the door at the bottom of the steps. But the last tenants had even more lethal ideas. All three of them looked in wonder at the science laboratory-cum-still set up in the coolest and quietest part of the house. Neither Gwen nor Andy, despite their police experience, had seen a drug making factory on this scale before. Andy was used to seeing a few Bunsen burners and bits of scorched glassware.
“Temple will be pissed,” Andy said. “He was hoping to find the centre of operations, and he walked right over it.”
“Modern houses don’t have cellars,” Gwen pointed out. “He forgot to look for one. It’s only because Jack knows this house that….”
She stopped talking. Jack held up a warning hand and pointed to one of the still boiling vats.
“Somebody should have turned the gas off when they were busted,” Jack said. “That’s going to blow… and when it does this whole room will go up. There are enough combustible fumes to….”
He turned. Andy and Gwen reacted quickly, running back through the door. They were beyond the strong, load-bearing cellar walls when the explosion occurred, but even they were lifted from their feet. Jack was in the doorway. Gwen half twisted as she fell and had a brief vision of his body in silhouette against violent orange, his greatcoat flared out around him, arms outstretched as if he was making himself as large a shield as possible to protect his friends from the full effect of the explosion.
Jack groaned painfully and pulled himself upright. He ached in every part of his body. He looked around the dim place and saw Gwen and Andy starting to come around.
“I think the building fell on me,” Andy complained.
“No,” Gwen said. “I don’t think it did. Look.”
Jack turned and looked back into the cellar. His first surprise was that it wasn’t on fire.
The second surprise was that it looked exactly as he remembered. There was a wine rack along one wall, a big wooden table in the middle with a partially disassembled alien particle transmitter laid out on old newspapers, and an impressively gleaming array of exotic weapons fixed to a panel at the far end, all illuminated by Pitner gas lamps around the four walls.
If there was a third surprise it was the clothes all three of them were wearing. Jack recognised his own jacket, waistcoat and trousers. Gwen was in a pink and white candy striped blouse with a lace collar and a brown linen ankle length skirt. Andy was in a police uniform, but one that dated around the turn of the twentieth century.
“We’ve gone back in time,” Gwen guessed. “The explosion threw us into the time rift.”
“That doesn’t explain the clothes,” Andy pointed out, looking at the sleeves and lapels of his jacket and noting that he was still a sergeant.
“I’m dead,” Jack said in a matter of fact way. “This happens, sometimes. My consciousness drifts and I find myself reliving parts of my life. Afterwards, when I come back to life, I can remember for a few seconds, then it all fades away and there’s just the darkness. But I know it happened a couple of times.”
“Like that TV programme, with the copper who’s in a coma in the twenty-first century and living in the 1970s at the same time,” Andy said.
Jack had lived in the 1970s for real. He didn’t need television to recreate it for him, but Gwen knew exactly what Andy meant.
“Jack… does that mean we’re dead, too?” she asked. “It hurt a lot when I fell. I think you might have landed on me.”
“We might be in a coma,” Andy suggested.
“Hold that thought,” Jack told him. “I’m really not sure. I don’t think anyone else ever got thrown into it before. We’ll have to play it by ear. Come on. Let’s go upstairs and get a cup of tea.”
“You don’t drink tea,” Gwen told him. “I’ve NEVER seen you drink tea.”
“In respectable middle class Edwardian houses, people drink tea,” Jack said as he led the way up the cellar stairs. “I used to keep a small pack of coffee, but Vicky only let me have one cup a day. She had heard that it was a stimulant and reckoned I was stimulated enough.”
“Vicky?” Andy and Gwen looked at each other and decided there was no point in asking. They allowed themselves to be steered through the narrow kitchen corridor to the drawing room with French windows that had looked out onto a plain and slightly overgrown lawn. Now there was a small but neatly kept garden. The room itself was darker than it was before. There was brown wooden panelling all the way around at waist height and the wallpaper above it was a trellis of brown flowers. The carpet and furniture was all dark and heavy, too. The Pitner lamps weren’t on. The only light was the sunshine from the garden.
Jack went to the mantelpiece and examined a wooden object that turned out to be a perpetual calendar.
“It’s April 29th, 1905,” he said. “Saturday of the May Bank holiday weekend.”
“Neither of us had any idea that all this would soon be gone. We were happy.”
“When you say we….” Gwen began. Then the light from the French window was briefly blocked as somebody opened it and stepped inside. She left the window open in surprise as she looked at Jack.
“Jack, my dear,” she said as he approached her. “I didn’t expect you home until late. You said you would be at your work until then.”
“I didn’t expect to be here at all,” he answered. He embraced her in his arms and kissed her on the lips passionately. She responded for several seconds before firmly pushing him away.
“Not in front of your guests,” she told him, blushing deep red with embarrassment. “What will they think of you, or of me, for that matter?”
“They’ll think I love you madly,” he answered. “And you love me just as madly.”
“I do,” Vicky told him. “But stop it, now, and introduce me to your friends.”
Jack held her around the waist as he turned and formally introduced her.
“Gwen, Andy,” he said. “This is Mrs Victoria Harkness, my wife. Vicky, my dear, these are colleagues of mine from Torchwood, Miss Gwen Cooper and Mr Andrew Davidson. They are in need of somewhere to stay for a few days. I thought our guest bedroom….”
“For both of them?” Vicky looked scandalised. “Certainly Miss Cooper can stay in there comfortably. But Mr Davidson will have to make do on the couch here in the drawing room. Really, Jack, you are so forward, sometimes. One would think you have no morals at all.”
“Of course,” Jack amended. “You are quite right. Will that do for you, Andy?”
Andy could hardly refuse.
“I shall ask Brona to air the bed,” Vicky said. “While I make tea for our guests.”
She scuttled away again. Jack watched her go with a strange expression on his face. He looked delighted to see her, but there was sadness in his eyes.
“Jack, sit down right now and tell us everything,” Gwen told him. “Victoria Harkness….”
“She’s my wife. Right now, she is. In May… when the house caught fire, and she was trapped….”
“Oh, Jack,” Gwen said, reaching out her hand to him. “Oh, I am so sorry.”
“I have a chance to be with her again for a little while, to live as her husband again. I love Garrett so much, don’t think I don’t. But Vicky was special to me. If we’re stuck here… for however long… at least I have her.”
“Good luck to you,” Andy said.
“Jack…” Gwen’s gentle tone had a warning note in it. “Are you sure this is all right? I mean… she expected you to be somewhere else. What if the real you turns up?”
“I am the real me. This isn’t the same as time travel. I’m… kind of… occupying my own body in the past. That’s why it’s complicated this time with you two here. I’m pretty sure that never happened before. But basically… I’m here instead of me. And when I wake up again… the me from now will be back. I’m not sure what that version of me is going to think about it all, but he’ll just have to live with it.”
“But that means you’ve changed your own history,” Andy pointed out with surprisingly clear thinking about this unusual situation. “Things are already happening differently for you. You’re home instead of at Torchwood. What did you do there, the last time?”
“Not much,” he recalled. “I was pissed off because I’d been expected to work on a Saturday and there wasn’t even anything important going on. My boss back then was a sadistic lesbian called Emily Holroyd. She knew I wanted to spend time with Vicky and made me come in to the office.”
Vicky came back into the room, carrying a heavily laden tray. Jack hurriedly took it off her and made her sit down on the sofa. He put the tray on the low table in front of them and she began to pour the tea, inviting her unexpected guests to take sandwiches and biscuits from the tall silver stand. Jack didn’t bother with either, but he sipped half of his cup of tea before reaching out his arm around her shoulder. He leaned sideways and kissed her on the cheek. She blushed deeply again and shrugged him away.
“Not in front of your friends,” she said. “Please, behave, Jack. You really are scandalous sometimes.”
“But you love me that way,” he teased her, and stole another kiss before sitting up politely as she wanted him to do. He took a sandwich just for something to do with his hands instead of groping her through the several layers of clothes she wore in all weathers.
“You work with Jack at… his office?” Vicky asked Gwen after a while. “Are you a secretary?”
“No,” she responded. “I’m a field agent. I do the same things Jack does.”
“You pursue creatures that come from beyond the stars?” Vicky was surprised. It wasn’t that she was against women who work. She had been a shop girl when Jack started courting her. But she gave that up when she got married. Jack provided her a good home. She liked to keep it for him. The loneliness when he was called out at strange times of night to do dangerous and worrying things that he rarely told her about was fully balanced by the love and affection he showed her when he was home.
If only he didn’t show quite so MUCH love and affection in such persistent ways.
Vicky regarded Gwen carefully. She seemed a very different kind of woman than she was used to. A field agent? When Jack went on field missions, he carried a gun. Did Gwen have a gun?
Gwen was a far more interesting woman than she was. That thought occurred to Vicky. She glanced at her husband. He turned to her and smiled, his blue eyes shining with love. But they had been married barely a year. He was still enjoying being with her. Was it possible that he might become bored with an ordinary woman like her, one who kept house, made tea and sandwiches, and stray to somebody like Gwen who shared the danger of his work?
And what of the young man who sat quietly in her other armchair? Vicky came from a simple, chapel going family. There was much she didn’t know about what her mother called ‘bedroom intimacies’, despite quite a lot of practical experience with her so very passionate husband. It was from her husband, who had patiently explained these things to her, that she had come to understand that some women, like the one in charge of the Torchwood office, shared ‘bedroom intimacies’ with other women, and that some men did likewise. She had often suspected that Jack was interested in those kinds of intimacies, even though he contented himself with the sexual consummation she permitted him within their own marital bed.
Could this man wearing a police sergeant’s uniform be a rival for his affections?
Almost as if he knew what she was thinking, Jack grasped her hand in his and kissed it. He had been admonished for his forwardness and was behaving properly now, but he did as much as she would permit in company to assure her that she was the one who occupied the proper place in his heart.
“Would your friends like to join us at the theatre tonight?” she asked, simply because she didn’t know what else to say. She really didn’t want them to talk about work. She couldn’t join in such a conversation and she didn’t want to sit silent and listen to such a topic.
“Remind me what we’re going to see,” Jack answered. He knew he often took her to see performances of all sorts at the weekends. Left to her own devices she would spend Saturday evening hymn singing in chapel. He was expanding her imagination by trips to the theatre, music hall, concerts, anything going on in Cardiff on a Friday or Saturday night.
“We were going to see the Circus Gloriana,” she answered. “At the King’s Theatre.”
Gwen and Andy looked at Jack questioningly.
“It’s acrobatics and trapeze, high wire, that sort of thing,” he said. “Bit like Cirque du Soleil but without the light show.”
“Sounds all right,” Gwen said. Andy looked doubtful, but this was long before the age of television and he wasn’t sure what else he could do for entertainment.
“I’m not sure whether it’s the sort of thing I would like,” Vicky admitted. “Two weeks ago we went to see Houdini at the same theatre. I really didn’t like it at all. When he went into that sack, chained up, and they lowered him into a vat of water… I was so sure he would be drowned right in front of our eyes.”
“This isn’t like that at all,” Jack assured her, though he wasn’t entirely sure. Actually, in his first recollection of this weekend he had arrived home from the office too late to get ready for the theatre and they’d had a quiet night in, which would have started with smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches and Vicky playing the piano, and ended with cuddling on the sofa, his hands gradually working into her blouse, and finally persuading her to come to bed and surrender to his passions.
With Gwen in the spare room and Andy on the downstairs sofa she would probably be too shy to go to bed without her drawers on underneath her nightie, let alone consent to sexual intercourse with him. They might as well go to the theatre if there wasn’t going to be any sex tonight.
After an early supper, Jack ordered a cab to take them to the theatre. Vicky was dressed up especially nicely in a linen dress with a mint-leaf pattern all over it and a straw hat with white silk flowers in it. Gwen was in Vicky’s second best dress in navy blue spotted linen. Andy was wearing one of Jack’s spare suits. It was a little loose on him, especially across the chest, but he didn’t look too bad. Gwen and Andy were prepared to enjoy the experience of travelling by a horse drawn cab to an Edwardian theatre performance.
They were close to the city centre when Gwen gave a sudden cry. She grasped Andy’s hand tightly.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just felt… a little strange,” she answered. “As if I was too close to a very hot fire.”
Jack frowned. That sounded as if she was experiencing what was really happening to them in the future. The basement had to be an inferno after that explosion, and they were lying by the stairs outside the cellar door.
If Gwen and Andy burnt to death in the present, while their consciousness’s were here in the past, what would happen to them? Would they remain here when he came back to life in a body bag and went home to Garrett and the boys?
“I’m ok, now,” Gwen assured him. “It was just a moment.”
“My mother sometimes has hot flushes,” Vicky said. “She splashes her face with eau de toilette and it makes her feel better.”
“It wasn’t a hot flush,” Gwen responded, trying not to rise to the possibly unintentional implication that she was menopausal.
Jack relaxed. Gwen did seem to be all right now. The cab was at the theatre, anyway. He paid the driver and stepped down first before reaching to help his wife to the pavement. Andy took his cue and made an effort to be as chivalrous to Gwen. In an ankle length skirt and climbing between the wheels of a horse drawn cab she felt she needed the help.
“Ohh!” Andy groaned, letting go of her hand momentarily. Gwen reached out and steadied him.
“Are you all right?” she asked him. She glanced around. Jack and Vicky were looking at the posters outside the theatre. They hadn’t noticed the problem.
“I am now,” he assured her. “Just for a moment I felt a little dizzy. And no, I’m not having hot flushes either. Come on, let’s go and see this circus thing.”
Jack was in a generous mood. He bought chocolates at the kiosk, a box each for Gwen and Andy and a large one that he shared with Vicky as they sat in their seats and watched the performance on stage. It was, Jack thought, a rather odd kind of thing, even by the standards of 1905. There were, indeed, acrobats and hire wire acts, a girl on a trapeze, even. But a recurring theme of the show involved getting members of the audience onto the stage to interact with a sinister character dressed a Pierrot clown who performed various sorts of ‘magic tricks’. The earlier ones were just sleight of hand stuff, pulling coins from unsuspecting ears or flowers from his Pierrot hat. But as the performance went on he had more elaborate ideas until finally a cabinet was wheeled on stage. A woman in a spangly costume went down the aisle looking for a volunteer for the ‘grand spectacle’. She paused beside their seats and beckoned to Vicky. She turned her face away, and Jack put a protective arm around her. The woman looked at Gwen instead, but Andy again took his cue from Jack and made it clear that they weren’t interested.
“Find another victim,” Jack growled. The woman passed down the aisle and chose a woman in a red bonnet who was excited to be invited onto the stage. Jack hugged his wife close to him and watched uneasily. Something more than Vicky’s shyness disturbed him even before his vortex manipulator beeped alarmingly. Several people around him looked to see where the strange noise was coming from.
He concealed his arm under his coat and lifted the leather coverlet. The gismo had detected a build up of ion energy in the vicinity. That was something it most certainly shouldn’t have done. Nobody in 1905 knew how to produce ion energy. Nobody in the twenty-first century knew anything about it, either. It would take another four centuries for it to be discovered and another fifty years after that to develop a use for it.
He pressed a button that stopped the beeping. Instead the Vortex Manipulator vibrated against his wrist, the pulse getting steadily faster as the Pierrot put the woman into the cabinet and closed it. He waved his hands theatrically and there was a burst of stage smoke, then he opened the cabinet again to show that the woman was gone. In the seat next to where she had been sitting a young man stood up and called out her name. Jack thought he would have done more than that if it had been Vicky who had been the volunteer. He didn’t like this at all. It looked just like an ordinary trick where the cabinet had a false bottom or something, but he was sure there was something more. The pulse from his vortex manipulator was faster than the pulse of his heart.
Then it stopped. On stage the Pierrot opened the cabinet again and the woman was there. She stepped out and was escorted back to her seat. Jack saw her boyfriend holding her hand and reassuring himself that she was all right. Was it his imagination or did the young woman look dazed, as if she had come out of a trance.
Of course, he was more than a bit suspicious of stage magicians after the trouble with Jason Reid not so long ago. But the signal from his vortex manipulator more or less confirmed that something dubious was going on.
Something Torchwood should know about.
Something that wrecked his Saturday night with his wife.
The first time around he had enjoyed a peaceful night. Nothing unusual had happened. But the first time around he hadn’t come to the theatre. He hadn’t spotted the trouble.
At least the damn show was over. He made a pretence of clapping then as soon as the curtain went down he stood up, reaching his hand to Vicky. Gwen and Andy followed them out into the cool evening air. He didn’t hail a cab right away. They walked a little way down the street, away from the theatre, away from the crowds.
“Something was wrong with that show,” Gwen commented. “You thought so, too, didn’t you, Jack?”
“Yes,” he replied. He quickly explained about the ion energy. “Usually it’s found in transporter beams. We get naturally occurring traces when the Rift has been active, too. But this wasn’t natural. Somebody was using advanced technology in that theatre.”
“So what do we do?” Andy asked.
“Go back there and have a good look around,” Gwen said.
“Oh, no,” Vicky pleaded. “Oh, Jack, don’t. I’m scared. I don’t want you to go back there.”
“Honey, I have to,” he told her. “It’s my job. Look, Gwen can take you home. Andy and I can handle this.”
“No,” Gwen contradicted him. “Looking after Vicky IS your job. She’s scared and she needs you. Andy and I will go and find out what’s going on around here. You go home.”
“I’m a Torchwood agent, not a tea girl,” Gwen reminded him. “I’m just as good as you. Andy is a policeman. He can arrest them all if he chooses. We can deal with this.”
Jack looked at Gwen. She was right. He had trained her up to be a very smart operative.
He looked at Andy. What he lacked in intelligence he made up for with courage. Jack credited him with that much. And he cared about Gwen as much as anyone at Torchwood did. He would watch her back.
He looked at Vicky. She wanted to go home. She wanted him with her.
“Ok,” he decided. “Be careful, both of you. Don’t forget, you’re on your own here. There’s no back up, nobody you can call, no way to call them.”
“We know that, Jack,” Gwen told him. “Just trust us.”
“I do trust you,” he told her. Then he summoned a cab from the stand nearby and helped Vicky up. He sat close beside her all the way home, teasing her with kisses and his hands wandering above her clothes in suggestive ways. She would insist on them having cocoa in the drawing room when they got into the house, but after that he intended to take her to bed.
And he did so. Of course, she undressed behind a screen, as she had done every night of their married life, including their wedding night. She emerged shyly, dressed in a long cotton nightdress that left everything to the imagination. She blushed as she saw Jack waiting in the bed. He was obviously naked beneath the coverlet. He reached out to her and drew her onto the bed beside him. He reached to unfasten the laces that closed the top of the nightdress as he kissed her.
“Every night is like the first time,” he said with a smile. “Will you ever get over being shy of me?”
“You frighten me,” she said.
“No, I don’t,” he answered. “You love it. But you were brought up to believe you’re not supposed to like it.”
It was always like that. She was reluctant at first, but his caresses and kisses always won through. She submitted willingly to his love-making and enjoyed it as much as he did.
Afterwards, she fell asleep easily, lying in his arms. Jack stayed awake, warm and comfortable beside her, but not ready to sleep. He wanted to savour every moment of being with her. If he did the maths, he would have to admit he was far more gay than straight. When he sought sexual fulfilment it was most often with a man. But women like Vicky made him glad to be bi-sexual, if that was what he was. The brief time he had been her husband had been one of the truly happy times in his turbulent life. He was treasuring this chance to relive it.
He knew it couldn’t last. Twice as he lay there he had felt the heat of the inferno on his back and heard voices calling. Soon he would have to leave her.
He didn’t want to. If he could stay, just for another month, until the end of May, knowing what was to come, he could stop it. He could be there when the fire began and save her. She was beautiful, the most harmless creature he had ever known, and she loved him. But he had been powerless to save her. If he only had a little more time, he might be able to change history.
Yes, he knew that was against the rules. A face floated against his mind’s eye, and it was shaking its head. He knew he couldn’t, if no other reason, because that was one man he didn’t want to disappoint.
But he so desperately wanted to.
“I love you, Vicky,” he whispered. “I always will. No matter how many people I love in the future… you’ll always be in my heart.”
Garrett’s face drifted into his mind, the man whose touch inflamed his passions, whose soft Irish accent set his mind into irrational paroxysms even if he was discussing a grocery list. God, he loved him - so much it hurt to be parted from him.
But he pushed thoughts of him away right now. Garrett belonged to that other life that he didn’t want to return to yet. He wanted to lie here with Vicky just a little longer. He knew he couldn’t change anything. He wasn’t going to get the time he needed. He felt his grip on this reality loosening by the moment. He could feel the heat again. He could smell his own burnt flesh. He was going to wake, soon. And when he did, it would be over. He wouldn’t even remember how wonderful it had been, this brief chance to be a husband again, married to a sweet, tender woman who was snatched from him by a cruel twist of fate.
That heat again. The voice calling him. He didn’t quite recognise the voice. It was muffled somehow. But it was urgent. He would have to answer it soon.
When he went, the other him, the one that belonged here, the one that didn’t know what the future held for them, would remain, lying in this warm bed with a woman in his arms. She wouldn’t be frightened. She wouldn’t be alone. It would be all right. He had that much comfort.
“All right!” he cried out. “I’m coming. Just give me one more minute.”
He reached to kiss her one more time. She didn’t wake up, but she stirred slightly. She responded to his kiss, perhaps dreaming of their lovemaking as she did so.
“Goodbye, sweetheart,” he told her. Then he let the heat, the noise, the smell of disaster overtake him.
It was Andy calling to him. His voice was muffled because he had wrapped a piece of cloth around his mouth. The stairs were full of smoke. The light was orange and flickering. Behind him, fire was engulfing the drug factory in the cellar. Andy was dragging him up the stairs, or trying to. He didn’t quite have the strength to lift him. His desperation told in his voice as he begged him to wake up.
“I’m awake,” he answered, coughing as he breathed in smoke filled air. “Gwen?”
“She’s safe,” Andy managed to reply. “I got her out, first.”
Andy had got out once and come back for him. That fact didn’t escape his notice.
“Then let’s get the fuck out of here,” he said. He scrambled to his feet, holding onto Andy’s arm. They half ran, half crawled up the stairs and out through the door to the kitchen hallway. Jack slammed the door shut. It would contain the inferno for a little while, long enough for the fire engine he could hear in the distance to arrive.
Gwen was sitting on the living room floor with Andy’s police radio in her hand. She had called the emergency services. The sirens were getting closer. As the three of them came out of the house a pump tender and an ambulance arrived in convoy with two police cars.
The paramedics took charge of their lives for a little while. All three of them were made to sit in the ambulance and take oxygen while their vital statistics were checked.
“You got us both out,” Jack told Andy. “That was… bloody heroic for a Cardiff plod. Thanks.”
“He was a hero twice today,” Gwen said. “Do you remember it, Jack? Being in the past?”
“Yes,” he said in a heart-lurching moment of realisation. “Oh, God, yes. I do remember it this time. Why? I never could before.”
“You weren’t dead this time,” Gwen explained. “The explosion blew the door off. It slammed into the back of your head and floored you. But you weren’t killed. Anyway… back then… me and Andy… the theatre. The Pierrot was an alien. You should have seen him without his make up. He would make a Weevil look pretty. That vanishing cabinet of his… it took something from the humans he put in it… some kind of life essence… just a bit each time, so that nobody died… they were just worn out and anaemic for a while. But he was still taking it against their will. He had to be stopped. We told him that, He didn’t take kindly to the suggestion, of course. He grabbed me and tried to get me into the cabinet. But Andy was brilliant. He got an axe. I don’t know where he got it from….”
“On the wall backstage… next to a fire extinguisher,” Andy interjected, but he let Gwen tell the rest of the story.
“He attacked the cabinet with it, smashed it to pieces. A lot of smoke and weird light came out of it and the Pierrot screamed that it was killing him. He needed the energy he’d collected to survive. But Andy kept smashing until the cabinet was firewood and the Pierrot just sort of melted away into an ugly stain on the stage floor. After that… some of the other people from the show… they all said he’d put them under some kind of hypnosis, forced them to co-operate with him. Andy wasn’t sure if that was the truth or not. We were going to question them a bit more. But we both started to feel reality catching up with us. Andy found a policeman outside, and told him he needed to contact Torchwood about the circus people. He pretended not to know what we meant, but I think he did. So our people from back then will probably investigate and decide if there’s anything else they should know about. But we were done. We both knew it. We felt the fire and smoke again and the next minute we were back here.”
“Where we belong,” Andy admitted. “It was… interesting… but we had to come back. If we didn’t… if we’d been there much longer… our bodies would have been overcome by smoke. We’d have been dead before we burnt.”
Just like Vicky, Jack thought. He remembered what he had been told afterwards. She was dead before the fire reached her. She wouldn’t have felt it. He was told that to comfort him, but at the time it hadn’t really done that.
He looked around. The fire officers were reeling in their hoses. The fire was out. An investigation officer was going in to establish the cause. Jack pushed away the oxygen mask and went to pull rank with him. He wanted to see it for himself.
“Is he going to be all right?” Andy asked Gwen as he disappeared into the house.
“Is he EVER all right?” Gwen responded. “He has a lot of ghosts to lay. We met one of them this time.”
A woman came to the door of the ambulance. She looked like one of the neighbours who had been evacuated behind a police line until the fire was brought under control.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Is there somebody called Jack Harkness here?”
“He’s busy,” Gwen answered. “Why? What do you need him for?”
“Somebody… a man… asked me to give him this.” The woman held a manila envelope up. The name ‘Jack Harkness’ was written across it in marker pen. Gwen and Andy exchanged glances. There had just been an explosive fire in this street and the woman was handling something that could easily have been a letter bomb.
“Who gave it to you?” Gwen asked. “What did he look like? Where did he go?”
“He was… old… leathery kind of skin… sullen looking… a bit creepy,” the woman replied. “I wouldn’t have taken it from him, but he didn’t give me chance to say no. He went down towards Whitchurch Road.”
Andy was already on his radio putting out an alert for a man who sounded very much like Saul Galen, the man with the vendetta against Jack. Gwen took the envelope gingerly and checked it visually before carefully opening it, looking out for wires. The woman who had delivered it beat a hasty retreat when it suddenly dawned on her that the package might explode in their faces.
It didn’t explode. Gwen almost wished it had when she pulled out a glossy colour photograph that shocked her to the core.
It was a picture of the woman she knew as Victoria Harkness. She was lying on the floor of her drawing room, unconscious, possibly already dead. Smoke was billowing around her and there was a glow on the edge of the photograph that suggested fire.
She slowly turned the photo over and saw the words written on the back. She shuddered in horror and was glad of Andy’s comforting arm around her shoulders. He took the picture from her and looked at it carefully.
“Jack told us the fire was an accident.”
“Jack always thought it was. He thought his wife’s death was just rotten bad luck. But… it wasn’t. Saul Galen… he’s a time agent. He can move through time. He murdered her… and took a photograph of her dying… to taunt Jack with.”
“Bastard,” Andy swore. “Jack drives us all nuts sometimes, but he doesn’t deserve that kind of hurt.”
“Are you feeling better, Gwen?” Jack came back to the ambulance door. Andy concealed the envelope and its horrifying contents from his view. “If you are, we need to get back to the Hub. Ianto and Alun just brought Ifan Mold in for questioning. Apparently he IS an alien, though not the sort with the zip fasteners and the gas problem. He might be one of the benign ones who just want to live in peace on planet Earth, or another Margaret Blaine. I intend to find out before he gets anyone’s vote for mayor.”
“All in a day’s work,” Gwen answered, putting on a brave smile. She glanced around and saw Andy putting the envelope and picture into a receptacle for medical waste and thought she could have kissed him if Jack wasn’t there to make a suggestive comment about it.