Gwen Cooper needed a shower – desperately. She had been standing between Alun and Ianto when the fifteen foot Almarian Bile Slug defended itself by turning itself inside out and showering them all with its innards. She took the full force of it. The boys were heading for the bathroom next door to the ladies with the same intention. There was, Gwen knew, only one shower in the rather less well equipped men’s facilities, but they weren’t too bothered about that.
She stripped her ruined clothes and left them where they dropped. Later they would all need to be incinerated. And she really LIKED that blouse, too. She stepped into the shower cubicle then stepped out again. There was a really big spider by the plug hole. Compared to the thing she had helped remove from Sully Beach this afternoon it was nothing to worry about, just a common and garden British spider, but she didn’t like them. She had hated them ever since her first year at high school when she had to cope with being a first year and in the middle of puberty at the same time. One of the class bullies had grabbed her and dropped something inside her blouse. It was only when she changed for PE that she saw the spider, perched on her first training bra all the time she had been in registration and English lessons. She had screamed and brushed it away, while the bully and her pals laughed. Ever since then she had hated spiders as well as bullies.
But she wasn’t the sort of person who killed them. As long as she didn’t have to touch the thing she was ok. She got a glass and a toothbrush to coax it in and dropped it into the end wash basin where it could crawl into the overflow and make its way through the water pipes to wherever the Torchwood waste water went to.
She went back to the shower and turned it on. At first the water felt refreshing. She rubbed shower gel over her body and the stench of alien bile was washed away.
Then she yelled as something black dropped from the shower head to her feet. It was another spider. The water and suds caught it up as she moved away from it.
Then another spider dropped onto her shoulder. She tried to brush it away but it wouldn’t go, and when she pulled her hand back there was one sitting on her wrist.
They were coming out of the shower head, squeezing themselves through the spray holes and landing all over. She screamed as she felt them running down her back. One of them crawled over her face and then over her neck. They were everywhere. She could feel them all over her body. She could see their black bodies swarming all over her skin.
She screamed and screamed, unable to move as her hysteria rose.
The outer door crashed open and the shower curtain was yanked aside. Ianto, dripping wet and wearing nothing but a towel around his waist wrapped a huge bath sheet around her body and held her gently but firmly while Alun, who had managed to put on a pair of underpants, ran up the stairs to fetch Martha.
“Go on get out of here,” she told them both as she ran into the bathroom. “Go and get yourselves dressed. I’ll handle this.”
Gwen had stopped screaming, but she was shaking and whimpering and hardly seemed to notice Martha’s presence. She rubbed her dry with the bathsheet and wrapped a towelling robe around her.
“Come on, up to the medical room,” Martha told her. “Whatever it is, we’ll sort it out.”
Gwen walked like somebody under deep hypnosis, but at least she walked. Martha guided her to the lift back up to Hub Central. When they emerged, Jack was waiting, looking anxious.
“Push off for now. Let me sort out this out. If there’s anything you need to know, I’ll tell you.”
Jack retreated to his office as Martha brought Gwen down the steps to the medical room. He tried to concentrate on the confidential mail in his in-tray, but he hadn’t got very far before Ianto and Alun, fully dressed now, but looking a little pink in their faces and with hair still slightly damp, came to join him. They told their side of the story. Not that there was much to tell. They had both heard Gwen screaming as if she was under attack and rushed to help. They found her in the shower cubicle, naked, wet and making no sense at all.
“She was convinced there were spiders all over her,” Ianto explained. “She was clawing at her own skin, giving herself horrible scratch marks with her fingernails, but there was nothing there. The only spider I could see was minding its own business in the hand wash basin.”
“Gwen isn’t usually given to hallucinations,” Jack noted. “She’s too down to earth for that sort of thing. Something must have triggered this. The crap that slug spewed all over you… have you had it analysed?”
“Not yet,” Alun answered. “But we were covered in it, too and we didn’t see anything that wasn’t there.”
“Check out the possibility anyway,” Jack told them. “And if you start seeing spiders where they’ve no business being, don’t start screaming.”
“I’m not scared of spiders,” Ianto replied. “Not ordinary size ones, anyway. I’ve read a couple of confidential files about alien arachnoids that could give anyone nightmares. But my pet hate was always maggots. Ever since I was six and knocked a box of them over myself when I was fishing with my dad. He always had to bait my hook after that. I wouldn’t touch them.”
“Frogs and toads with me,” Alun admitted. “You know how we used to have frogspawn in a tank at school and watch them develop into frogs. I never could stand to look. They just gave me the heebie-jeebies. The thought of touching one of them…. Uggh.”
Jack gave them both a quizzical look. They’d just faced down one of the biggest and ugliest things ever to slip through the rift. They regularly hunted Weevils in the sewers of Cardiff. But they were admitting to phobias about perfectly benign Earth-born creatures.
“Bugger off, both of you and make yourselves useful,” he said.
They went to do as he said. Jack returned to the paperwork, pretending for a little while that he wasn’t worried about Gwen. Until he knew more, there wasn’t any point in dwelling on it. But that didn’t stop him wondering. Gwen could scream for Wales, but only when there was something to scream at. She didn’t get into hysterics about nothing.
So something must have happened to put her into the catatonic state she was in when Martha brought her up from the rest room.
He looked up from the MOD memos he had read three times without really taking anything in to see Martha standing in front of him. She had a serious but utterly unreadable expression. Jack sat back ready to hear the worst.
“I’ve run every test I know, expect for the deep mind probe. There’s nothing physically or mentally wrong with Gwen except for a rather unusually high level of melatonin. It’s one of the hormones produced during sleep, the one thought to trigger dreams. But that is supposed to dissipate on waking. That’s why we can’t remember dreams.”
“Is it what triggered the hallucination?” Jack asked. “I assume it WAS an hallucination. There were no spiders in the cubicle.”
“It is what caused it,” Martha answered. “What triggered it…. Jack, there’s something else… when I said there was nothing physically wrong with Gwern… that didn’t include the fact that she’s pregnant.”
“What!” Jack couldn’t have reacted more surprised if he was her husband and just back from a ten month tour of duty in the Middle East. His eyes popped and he sat up very straight in his seat. “But…how…..”
“Well, I’m hoping in the usual way,” Martha replied. “But I make it about twelve weeks gestation for a normal foetus, which means Gwen must have known… which means she would have told me at least two months ago. Which leads me to think that this ISN’T a normal foetus. It could be something alien that invaded her body. This thing that she and the boys were tackling this morning… what was it? They came into contact with fluids… could it have….”
Jack shook his head.
“Almerian bile slugs don’t gestate that way. The eggs are laid in the sea of their world, millions at a time. They get eaten by fish. Mostly they’re digested before they can begin to grow. One in a million manages to hatch and then attach itself to the stomach lining and proceed to eat the fish from the inside until it emerges from the remains. Then they swim about in the water, preying on smaller marine life, but themselves prey for anything bigger than them – part of the food chain. The one that reached maturity in the bay was probably the only one to do so. It’s not the most efficient way of propagating a species, really….”
He stopped talking and looked up at Martha. She had a slightly revolted grimace on her face.
“That has to be the first anecdote about aliens I’ve heard from you that didn’t involve sex.”
“Yeah, well, they don’t actually have sex. They only have one species. The eggs are fertilised asexually. If you’d seen the thing, you’d know why. Even other bile slugs couldn’t possibly get aroused by the ugly bastards. But it’s the one creature that definitely didn’t impregnate Gwen. We might have to look twelve weeks back, to see what she was involved with then. Where is she now? Did you send her home?”
“No, I’m monitoring her for a bit longer. I wanted to see how long it would take for those hormones to dissipate. I’d like to do an amniocentesis test on the foetus, but Gwen would have to give her consent. There’s a risk of miscarriage from that test….”
“If it’s some alien thing, then all well and good,” Jack considered.
“But if Gwen simply hasn’t done her maths…. I’ve got a major medical ethics issue here either way.”
“I’ll trust you to do the right thing,” Jack told her. “Keep me posted.”
“As always,” Martha promised. She turned away to leave the room. Her way was blocked by Alun, breathless and flustered and with blood spattered across his shirt.
“Martha, it’s Ianto. Sam bit him. He’s….”
Martha was already running. Jack paused to pick up his revolver and check that it was loaded. He gained the seconds, though, and was with them when they reached the play area in the corner of the Hub where Ianto and Alun were teaching Sam to respond to the Human side of his nature and not his Weevil instincts.
He was surprised to see Ianto, despite a deep and painful bite wound under a shredded shirt sleeve, sitting on the carpet with Sam curled up beside him, Weevil head in his lap like a puppy. Ianto was singing a lullaby to him.
Jack pointed his gun. Ianto shielded Sam’s head protectively.
“It’s all right. I’ve put him to sleep.”
“You mean….” Martha began in a shocked tone.
“No, I don’t mean that,” Ianto assured her quickly. “I mean I’ve given him a sedative. He’s sleeping.”
She stepped forward with a first aid kit she had grabbed on her way down and began to treat his wound. The bite marks were deep, but they didn’t look as savage as Weevil bits usually were. The arm was still intact, for one thing, and none of the major arteries had been severed. He was going to need some stitches and a course of broad spectrum antibiotics, but he would be fine.
So would Sam. Martha carefully examined the Weevil and noted similar bite marks on him, almost as if he had been fighting another Weevil. She gave him the same first aid treatment with sterile wipes and gauze covers for the worst of the wounds while she questioned Ianto.
“What happened?” she asked. “Why did he turn on you, of all people?”
“He didn’t,” he replied, his voice dry as the shock of what had happened set in. “He was playing one of his games, then he suddenly started biting and scratching at himself, as if something was on his skin, something that he hated… only there was nothing there. He was biting himself. I tried to stop him, because he was hurting himself, and he accidentally bit me, too.”
Jack glanced at Alun, who confirmed what had happened.
“Bring him to the medical room,” Martha said. “I’ll run tests.”
Alun lifted Sam into his arms, cradling the full size Weevil like a baby and avoiding Jack’s sceptical expression. This incident seemed to have compounded his belief that their attempts to educate and civilise the half-breed creature was a mistake, but Alun just saw it as a setback, a lesson to be learnt for the future. Ianto, despite the fact that his arm was dripping blood all the way to the medical room, backed him up, insisting that Sam wasn’t responsible for what happened.
“That’s the whole point,” Jack argued. “Weevil’s AREN’T responsible for their actions. Animals aren’t. They act on instinct. And father-son instincts don’t count for much with them, even when they’re not adopted by humans.”
“You’re wrong, Jack,” Alun argued. “This wasn’t Sam, at all. He’s not like that. He’s gentle, sweet, loving….”
“The pair of you are cracked,” Jack responded. “You can’t see what’s right in front of your eyes. Sam is dangerous. He’s like a pet dog that’s got out of control and has to be….”
“They might be right, Jack,” Martha said in a quiet, even tone that commanded his attention. “Let me run my tests and try to find out what exactly happened. I’ll need access to the CCTV, and the atmospheric sensors, everything.”
“You’ll get it,” Jack promised. “Ianto, let Martha fix you up. Alun, after you’ve held his hand and given him a kiss for being a good boy for the doctor, I want a full written report on my desk. And I want the absolute truth. Don’t dress it up to make your pet look innocent.”
Alun started to protest about that, but changed his mind. He put Sam on an examination bed and didn’t object to Martha putting the restraints on him. When that was done he sat with Ianto and held his good hand while Martha stitched and bandaged and administered the antibiotics. Jack turned to look at Gwen. She was starting to wake up after a long sleep. He bent and kissed her on the cheek and smiled reassuringly.
“It’s kind of crowded in here,” he said. “Why don’t you come and have a coffee with me.”
She was dressed in a paper gown that didn’t fasten completely at the back. Jack put the robe from the bathroom around her and a pair of slippers on her feet before she came with him. There was no avoiding her questions about Ianto’s wounds and the unconscious Weevil. She, too, insisted that Sam wouldn’t turn on either of his foster parents without some good reason. Jack decided not to press the matter. As they drank coffee he asked some subtly probing questions about her home life with Rhys.
Maybe not as subtle as he thought.
“Oh, Martha must have found out,” she said. Then she glared angrily at him. “She had no right to tell you. What the fuck happened to patient-doctor confidentiality?”
“So you knew you were pregnant?” Jack answered, avoiding what was, in fact, a very important issue. In any ordinary situation Martha had no right to tell him anything about Gwen’s medical status without her permission. Torchwood, by definition, was never an ordinary situation, even on quiet days, and this wasn’t one of them.
“Yes, I knew. I did a home test as soon as I suspected. Then I went to my own GP. I do have one, you know. He asked me about my work – it says I’m a police officer on his records. He suggested I talk to my immediate superior about light duties.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Because I don’t want light duties. I don’t want to be treated like I’m made of glass by you, not to mention Ianto and Alun. It’s going to be bad enough when I tell Rhys. Between the four of you, you’ll drive me barmy. I like my work here. I’ve been careful, kept the running to a minimum and tried to avoid anything chemical…. I could have done without the bile slug innards this morning, but I don’t want to stop being a field agent.”
“Do you want the baby?” Jack asked.
“Yes. Oh, absolutely, yes,” Gwen answered emphatically. “But not at the expense of what I love doing. Jack, please….”
“Oh, hell, Gwen!” He reached out and hugged her. “You daft Welshwoman. What am I supposed to do with you? Martha thought you’d been impregnated by some alien bug.”
“Rhys is a bit of a twat at times, but he’s definitely Human,” she answered with a teary smile.
“I HAVE to restrict some of your work,” Jack told her. “As your boss, I’m legally required to take care of you. As your friend, the last thing I want is you and the baby hurt by some bloody alien. I’ll try not to pin you to a desk, but you’ve got to let me decide what’s safe for you. And when you get home, the first thing you do is break the news to Rhys. If he finds out we know before him, he’ll get one of his strops on and we’ll never hear the end of it.”
Gwen agreed to that.
“It’s just what you two need,” Jack told her. “To be a family. You’ll love it. Take it from me. A family to go home to at the end of the working day is fantastic.”
“I never thought I’d hear that from you, Jack,” Gwen told him.
“I never expected to say it. Torchwood isn’t supposed to be a family orientated job. We’re supposed to die young and alone, with nobody to miss us. But I’ve got Garrett and the boys, and you’ve got a Gwen or Rhys junior on the way.”
“Alun and Ianto have Sam,” Gwen added. “Funny sort of family, but it works for them.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Jack answered darkly. “And I don’t know what would happen if Beth and the Wolfman decided to procreate, either.” He added that comment just to avoid the subject that was worrying him most. “You and Rhys are our only chance of a ‘normal’ heterosexual Torchwood family.”
Gwen laughed. The scare she had earlier was gone. She looked her old self again.
Beth came to the table with a fragrant bag of take out that had just been delivered. Jack was surprised to realise it was lunch time. It had been a hell of a morning. He took the bag from her and started to open the foil covered packets from the Chinese restaurant.
The next thing he knew, Alun was lifting him up from the floor. He had a splitting headache and he seemed to be covered in soft fried egg noodles. Beth was cleaning the rest of the carton up from the floor. Martha was standing by anxiously.
“What the fuck happened?” he asked, sinking into a chair and gripping the table as if he was at sea and needed to anchor himself.
“You started screaming about sand worms and threw the noodles all over the place,” Gwen told him. “Then you fainted. You hit your head on the edge of the table, but it wasn’t fatal.”
“Sandworms?” There were silvery lights blinking on and off in his vision, but he also felt he could remember being covered in the long, slimy creatures. “We used to see them on Boeshane beach after high tide. They burrowed down after the sun dried the surface sand. It was safe to dig and make sandcastle like kids do. But I remember once… when I was really small… some bigger kids tried to make me eat them. I never could stand the sight of the things after that. But I haven’t thought about them for years… decades.”
“You’re head’s ok,” Martha told him. “Eat your lunch, then come down to the medical room and I’ll run some tests on you.”
“What tests?” he asked.
“Tests that will help me get to the bottom of what’s wrong with everyone today,” she answered. “Gwen, Sam, now you. Something affected the three of you, but not me, Alun or Ianto, or Beth, either. Something connects the three of you specifically.”
“When I know, I’ll tell you. Meanwhile, pass me the sweet and sour pork and let’s all try to relax. It’s been a fretful morning. We need a breathing space.”
“Save some of the prawn crackers, please,” Ianto said. “Sam likes them. They’ll cheer him up a bit after this morning.”
Jack decided to say absolutely nothing about Sam. Instead he invited Gwen to share her news with the others. That kept them all talking throughout the meal. It allowed him to drop out of the conversation. He was still trying to work out how he had allowed himself to be overwhelmed by such a deeply buried phobia about sand worms. He’d faced nastier, uglier things time and again. Why had he freaked out like that now?
He asked the same question of Martha in the calmer environment of the medical room. Alun had taken Sam back to his play area and Ianto was feeding him prawn crackers. He was perfectly normal now, or at least as normal as a Human/Weevil hybrid could be. Jack was the subject of Martha’s investigations, now.
“You’ve got the same raised levels of melatonin in your bloodstream that Gwen and Sam both had. I did control tests on Alun, Ianto and myself to be sure. We’re all normal. You three….”
“I’m not sure Sam should be included in ‘you three’ along with Gwen and me,” Jack protested.
“Yes, he should,” Martha argued. “You three have one thing in common that the rest of us don’t. Duality. Gwen is pregnant… two lives in one. Sam is half Human, half Weevil – two species. Your Human body is infused with Time Lord artron energy – the reason for your immortality. Duality, like I said. I bet if Ray had been staying the night he’d have had some kind of ‘episode’, too. Half Human, half wolf….”
Jack thought of getting him in and trying the experiment, but the thought of what a wolfman might do if he experienced the same sort of problems was just too disturbing. Perhaps it was just as well it wasn’t full moon and he was out of the way.
“I was talking to Owen before. A while back they had a sort of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ situation in the Glasgow Hub. It turned out to be an alien in the vaults affecting their minds. This is different in that only three of you are affected, and you weren’t asleep at the time, but….”
“We don’t have any alien Freddie Kruegers in the vaults at the moment. Just a bunch of Weevils and a Funduan tourist waiting to be deported back to his home world.”
“What’s a Funduan?” Martha asked.
“A humanoid with really bad personal habits – like stuffing his face at Cosmos’ ‘all you can eat buffet’ and then puking it all up again across the table. The manager called the police and he puked all over the van on the way to the station, and then crapped in the corner of his cell. Shortly after that they realised he wasn’t Human and left him with us. He’s on dry bread and water with a cork up his ass until his people come and get him.”
The revulsion on Martha’s face matched his own.
“Yeah, just be glad you weren’t there. But it leaves us none the wiser about what caused us to flip out. If you’re sure Sam was affected the same way as me and Gwen, then it has to be something within the Hub, because he hasn’t been outside.”
“Um….” Martha looked a little disconcerted.
“Ianto and Alun have been taking him for walks down along the quays at night. He needs to get out in the fresh air sometimes. He can’t stay down here in the Hub like a caged animal.”
“He….” Jack started to protest then he stopped. Martha was surprised by the expression on his face. If he was a character in a cartoon strip there would be an illuminated light bulb above his head.
“What?” she asked. “What are you thinking?”
“Caged animal. How could I have forgotten? I mean, ok, it’s been seventy odd years. But even so, I should have made the connection sooner. Come on.”
He caught her unawares with ‘come on’, and he was always going to be a faster runner than she was. He was already at the top of the stairs before she mounted the first step. She caught up with him at the lift which he was holding for her.
He said nothing as he pressed the very bottom button, the thirtieth floor below the Hub level.
“I’ve never been down that far,” Martha commented.
“Neither have I for a very long time. There’s nothing much down here. Most of the rooms are sealed. Most of them just because we don’t need them now that we’re a smaller organisation than we were in the past. But there’s at least one sealed for other reasons. I forgot all about it.”
Jack laughed and flashed her one of those toothpaste advert smiles that were so hard to resist, though she managed it most of the time.
“It’ll blow your mind, Martha honey,” he said.
The lift came to a halt and he dashed out as soon as the door opened, his Timberlands echoing on the concrete floor of the corridor. Martha’s flat-heeled sensible shoes made a counterpoint sound as she hurried to catch up.
He was standing in front of a metal door that had obviously been closed for a very long time. There were rust marks that continued down the metal and onto the concrete that had been undisturbed for decades. There was no dust, of course, or cobwebs. The sterile air in the lower levels of the Hub didn’t allow for either.
Jack opened a small cupboard on the wall and punched a long code into the keypad inside. He hesitated twice, repeating the code with moving lips and a look of intense concentration. Then he nodded in satisfaction and pulled a lever. The door slid back with the tortured sound of machinery that badly needed greasing.
Martha gasped as light from the corridor spilled into the room beyond. There was something there – something she hardly expected to see even in Torchwood.
“It’s a dragon!” she said. “An actual dragon.... like something out of Harry Potter.”
It was impossible to describe the creature inside the sealed room as anything else. It was something like eighty feet long, from its snout to the tip of the tail that was curled around the side of its body. It had deep red scaly flesh.
It was asleep, snoring loudly. Martha half expected smoke to come from its nostrils when it breathed, then wondered if that was just plain silly.
“She came out of the Rift,” Jack explained. “She flew through a mid-air opening in 1937, scared the living daylights out of the population until Torchwood managed to bring her in. She was only a baby, less than twenty feet long, more scared of humans than they were of her.”
“Poor thing,” Martha commented. She reached out her hand towards the creature then pulled it back hurriedly. Her sympathy for it had overruled her sense.
“It’s ok,” Jack told her. “She won’t harm you.”
To prove it, he knelt and stroked the creature on the long snout. Martha crouched beside him and reached out, too. The skin was dry and cool. It was very thick. She wondered if the creature’s brain would even register the relatively light touch of their hands. She felt that it could, and that the contact was reassuring to her.
“She’s sleeping,” Jack explained. “Has been for decades. That’s why she’s down here. She’s hibernating.”
“What happens when she IS fully grown?” Martha asked.
“Somebody will have to bring in a lorryload of beef carcases to feed her,” Jack answered. “That’s what we did when she arrived. After she’d eaten she was ready to sleep. When she wakes, having processed that food, she’ll give a whole new meaning to the word ‘hungry’. Hopefully by then we’ll know enough about the Rift to send her back. Since we haven’t got a lift big enough to take her up to the surface in, we’d damn well better have something. But we’ve got time. She should sleep for at least another century before she’s fully grown.”
“So she’s not waking up now?”
“No. She’s dreaming. She’s in a full REM cycle and having vivid dreams. Just like anyone else she goes through periods of deeper and lighter sleep, periods of dreaming. One of them must have been a bad one. It upset her. But I think she’s over it now. She’s settling down again.”
“Let me guess,” Martha commented. “If I was to do a blood test right now she’d be mainlining melatonin like a junkie?”
“She must have been exuding it like hormone perspiration. The air vents carried it through the Hub, and we were affected by it.”
“How does that fit with the theory about the three of you… Gwen, Sam and you….”
“Because she’s a hybrid, too. Our scientists back in the 1930s, before anyone knew how to map DNA, realised that right away. Wherever she came from, dragons aren’t natural. They’re bred by combining the DNA traits of two different creatures. There’s a file somewhere with some artists impressions of the animals she might have been born from, but that was all guesswork.”
“It… makes some kind of sense,” Martha admitted. She was still stroking the sleeping dragon absently, though it still felt like an incredible thing to be doing.
“Funnily enough, that fits with Human mythology, too. Dragons are supposed to be winged serpents. The Egyptian serpent goddess Isis and her son, the Hawk God Heru in one combined being. Even the Welsh dragon, Cymur, derives somewhere along the way from Isis-Heru. Ianto can talk about it for hours if you ask him. Anyway, one way or another, me, Sam and Gwen seem to be empathising with her at the moment. We’ll have to work out some sort of filter system to clear the air of melatonin hormones next time she’s dreaming.”
“And she just stays here for the next century, sleeping?”
“That’s what she needs. She’s doing fine. Nothing to worry about. Let’s close the door and head back upstairs again.”
Martha reluctantly stood and backed away from the dragon. Jack closed the door and sealed it again. They walked back to the lift.
“I thought it was going to be something really sinister attacking us all,” Martha admitted as they were heading up in the lift. “It was a relief to know it was… just a dragon having daymares.” She laughed. “JUST a dragon. Between The Doctor, U.N.I.T. and Torchwood, she’s just one more thing I’m able to take for granted that ordinary people wouldn’t even believe!”
“I know the feeling,” Jack agreed. “You’ve got a nice, normal pregnancy to monitor for the next few months, at least. That’ll be an antidote to all our Torchwood weird shit.”
“Yes,” Martha answered. “Just what the doctor ordered!”