It wasn’t a full moon night, so technically Ray didn’t need to be at the Torchwood Hub. He had come to keep Beth company for the last hour before she shut up the tourist office and went out with him for the evening. There were very few tourists coming into the office at this time of the late afternoon when the bistros and bars were opening up and far less people were interested in buying postcards and keyrings or picking up leaflets about Welsh castles. Beth stuck to the advertised closing time anyway, just in case.
“Who’s on duty tonight below?” Ray asked.
“Just Ianto and Alun,” she answered. “Those two hardly ever sleep anywhere else these days. They spend all their spare time with Sam. Martha went home with Una. Of course, Gwen is still on maternity leave. Jack left early. He’s spending the weekend with Ashley. It’s his first free weekend since he started his RAF training, and Jack is desperate to know how he’s getting on.”
“So the boss is away?” Ray grinned meaningfully. “Any reason why you can’t shut up shop early and me and you go and get a pizza?”
“I’ve still got to do the till,” Beth answered. “And after that you can buy me something better than a pizza.”
Ray was still smiling. He knew he was lucky to have a girl like Beth and if she wanted to be treated special on a Friday night, then he would be up for it.
He stood by the open door and watched the evening activity on Mermaid Quay while she did the last jobs around her workplace. He noticed a man pushing a heavy duty trolley on which a large wooden packing crate was precariously balanced. The man, trolley and crate were heading towards the tourist office. He alerted Beth, who in turn called down to Ianto.
“I wasn’t expecting any delivery,” she pointed out as she watched the man heave the crate over the threshold into the office. He extricated his trolley from beneath it and made sure it was fully upright before waving a clipboard towards Ray. Beth took it instead and looked at the delivery note.
“There’s no address for the sender,” she pointed out. “Just a couple of strange symbols. Where has this come from?”
The delivery man shrugged.
“I just need a signature,” he said.
“I’m not sure I should accept it without more information than there is here,” Beth argued. “It could be ANYTHING.” She glanced suspiciously at the crate. It was taller than she was. It had only just fitted in through the door.
It could be something simple like a new piece of office furniture, a filing cabinet or something.
Or it could be something sinister, something alien.
It was probably fortunate that it didn’t have airholes for live cargo.
“Look, miss,” the delivery man said with a note of impatience. “It’s nearly the end of my shift and I’m buggered if I’m going to take it back to the depot. It took me long enough to get it down onto the boardwalk. Just sign on the line and figure out where it came from for yourself.”
Beth still wasn’t sure. Ray was examining the crate carefully but he didn’t work for Torchwood. He couldn’t take the decision to accept it or not.
“It’s all right, Beth, I’ll deal with this,” Ianto said, appearing from behind the rack of holiday brochures where the concealed door was. He took the clipboard and examined the paperwork carefully, then signed it. He accepted the top copy of the double carbon delivery note and sent the man on his way. “It’s all right, love,” he added. “I know who this is from. It’s not likely to be anything dangerous. At least… I don’t think it will intentionally be dangerous.”
He peeled off an envelope firmly attached to the outside of the crate. It was addressed to Jack Harkness. As acting Director of Torchwood for the weekend, Ianto took it upon himself to open the envelope and read the note inside.
“Jack, old friend, I was having a clear out of the TARDIS junk room and thought you might be able to find a use for this at Torchwood. See instructions enclosed.”
“The Doctor?” Beth and Ray had met The Doctor very briefly on one of the rare times he had come to Cardiff to meet his friend, Jack Harkness. They had picked up a few more details about him from Hub gossip. They knew he was a very unique person and even more of a mystery than Jack Harkness was.
But this was the first time, as far as they were aware, that he had contributed to the Torchwood inventory.
“How do we shift it out of here, then?” Ray asked, giving the crate an experimental shove and wondering how the delivery driver had managed to get it this far.
“No problem,” Beth answered with a grin. “Lock the door and put the closed sign up while I find the anti-grav clamps.”
Even though Ray was aware of Torchwood’s secret nature he was bemused by the casual way Beth talked about ‘anti-grav clamps’ and watched curiously as she attached what looked like four small car hub caps to the crate. He was surprised when it hovered a few inches from the ground and moved easily when he gave it a small push with his fingers.
“This isn’t the first time there’s been a big parcel delivered to the office,” Beth explained. “Ianto brought the clamps back from London Torchwood as a souvenir for me. Not the prettiest gift I’ve ever had, but REALLY useful.”
Ray accepted that as a fact and pushed the crate easily through the concealed door into the corridor beyond. The lift was at the far end. He thought briefly about taking the stairs. The anti-grav clamps would probably make it. But in the end he decided the lift would be easier.
Anything else that was such an unknown quantity would have been taken to an isolation room and thoroughly tested, but since it came from The Doctor Ianto thought it was probably safe to bring straight to the Hub before starting to break open the crate.
“What exactly IS it?” Ray asked as the wooden pieces broke away to reveal something for which the odd phrase ‘steampunk’ might have been coined. It was circular, the outer rim made of steel or chrome, with buttons and lights around it. An inner ring was made of a duller metal like bronze with a brushed patina, and in the centre was a circular glass panel that was curved like the screens of old-style TVs from before the fashion for flat-screens and the onset of the digital age made them redundant.
“According to the instructions it is a Time-Space Visualiser,” Ianto said. The instructions were on three sheets of A4 paper, hand-written in small, neat copperplate. There were beautifully drawn illustrations in the same ink.
“Which means what exactly?” Alun came to look at the curious addition to the Torchwood collection of alien technology.
“It’s a sort of television for looking at the past, it says here,” Ianto replied.
Alun looked sceptical, not so much that it might do what it said it did, but that there was any possible use for such a thing. He said so and then announced that he was taking Sam for his evening walk around the Bay. Sam was dressed in an oilskin coat with hood and would pass for one of the hardy types who went fishing at all hours of the day and night.
“Pick up pizzas on the way back. For five. I think Beth and Ray are intrigued by this, too. They’ll be staying late.”
It was true. All thoughts of going to a restaurant had flown from their thoughts. They both wanted to see what this machine could do.
Ianto consulted the instructions and then pressed a large button at the top of the machine. The screen lit up a reassuringly high definition blue. They had all been expecting the black and white snow of the old fashioned televisions that were going out of use in their childhood.
Ianto pressed a couple more buttons and then stood back and smiled in satisfaction. A rock concert appeared on the screen.
“The Manic Street Preachers at the Millennium Stadium on Millennium night,” he said. “I was sixteen. My mum and dad didn’t want me to go. They thought I was too young. I said I was going to a young people’s New Years’ party at the parish centre and got the bus into the city. When the gig was over, I walked home. Thirty-five miles in the freezing cold of the early hours of the new century. When I got home mum and dad were asleep in their armchairs by the fire. They’d been waiting up for me. It was nearly five. I knew I’d be busted. So I changed all the clocks in the house to one-thirty. I had to get up again at seven to change them all back again.”
“Ianto,” Beth said with a smile. “I thought you were a nice boy who obeyed his parents.”
“I was. But I REALLY wanted to go to that concert.”
“So is this the official video or something?” Ray asked.
“No,” Ianto answered. “This is how it looked from the mosh pit where I was. It’s picking up my memories. But not just in the fragments I remember them. It’s recreated the concert exactly as it was, the bits I’d forgotten and the bits I’ll NEVER forget, like that girl in front of me. At midnight she kissed every man she could reach.”
Ianto blushed. His friends looked at him and smiled knowingly.
“Your first kiss,” Beth said to him. “That’s so sweet.”
“She was wearing strawberry flavoured lip gloss. I really hate the taste of artificial strawberry. But it was… well….”
His blush deepened. It was probably a good thing that Alun was out of the room or he would have turned deep maroon. Beth kissed his cheek and repeated her opinion that it was a sweet story.
“So this thing can show us things that happened in the past?” Ray asked. “Anything, regardless of whether there was a TV camera there.”
“Yes,” Ianto answered. “There’s a list of codes here for great historical events – it includes Owen Glendower’s last battle, a thousand years before TV was invented.”
Nobody especially wanted to see Owen Glendower’s historical defeat. But Beth certainly wanted to try the machine. She did as Ianto instructed, standing close to the machine and concentrating on a memory she really wanted to see again.
It wasn’t a concert or her first kiss. It was a day at the seaside when she was ten years old. It was just Penarth, nowhere special, but she was happy. So was her brother, Celyn. Her parents indulged them both with sticky and unhealthy treats like toffee apples and candy floss and they rode all of the rides on the pleasure beach.
A stray tear rolled down her face. Her parents were dead now and so was her brother. Torchwood were her family, now. But it was worth the tears to see that day recreated.
“That was wonderful,” she said. “Could I do that anytime I wanted? Is there any chance of saving the memory, like a home video for replaying?”
Ianto wasn’t sure. He promised to try to find out if there was a function of that sort.
Ray had a different request.
“A couple of full moons before Torchwood discovered my little secret I had a really bad night. When I woke in the morning I was naked and covered in blood. Some of it was my own, some of it… I don’t know. I never dared tell anyone. Jack Harkness has only ever really tolerated me. If he thought I’d killed somebody he might….”
He paused, uncertain whether to go on with his narrative, even though his silence had filled in most of it in the minds of his friends anyway.
“I think I need to know for myself. Would this machine show us things I don’t REMEMBER happening?”
“We can try,” Ianto answered. “If you really want to.”
“I think I have to,” Ray said. “If I’m going to ask Beth to marry me, then I think… first of all, we both have to know the absolute truth about me.”
Beth looked at him and half-smiled. Marriage was something they had both thought about, even talked about from time to time, but hardly dared to make into a firm plan because there were so many problems, not the least checking the phases of the moon before setting a date.
This wasn’t exactly a proposal, but it was the closest they had come, yet.
“Beth, I know you don’t want to watch,” Ray said. “But please do. I need you to know just as much as I do.”
It was a darker scene in every way to Ianto’s concert or Beth’s day out in the sunshine. They were seeing what Ray’s wolfman eyes saw, from an eyeline closer to the ground than a human, moving through the undergrowth of some park, growling low but menacingly, pouncing on an unsuspecting rat. The sound effects as he devoured the creature were stomach-churning. They all knew that his diet when he was turned was an unpleasant one. Ianto always left a couple of bloody meat bones in the cell with him on those nights of confinement, but seeing and hearing him as a carnivore was another thing.
“Sorry,” he whispered to Beth. She tightened her hold on his hand reassuringly.
The low growling continued as a background sound all the time. But now there was another sound, another snarling animal was in the vicinity. The wolfman’s eyes turned left and right. His ears were picking up the direction, nose sniffing out a rival.
Then Beth yelped as she saw another creature, another wolfman, this one more Human than wolf, standing nearly upright on nearly Human legs but with a curved spine and a dog-like jaw. There was hair on the back and arms, but the legs and front were naked white flesh. Beth tried not to notice the very Human genitals.
She couldn’t help noticing the dead body that this other wolfman had been bending over. It was a tramp with his shopping trolley full of worldly goods overturned and spilling out onto the ground. She noticed the thickening pool of blood that had spurted from his torn throat and the gore all over the muzzle of the killer creature.
It turned and looked at the creature that was Ray. It snarled loudly. Ray snarled back. Then the fight ensued. The sound was terrible to hear. Beth thought she knew what the outcome was going to be, but even so it was horrible and it went on for nearly ten minutes before it was over. They all saw the other wolfman fall beside his victim. Ray sniffed at them both and then turned away in pursuit of a fox in the undergrowth.
Ianto wasn’t looking. He was at a workstation checking the Torchwood records.
“Found it,” he said. “Two bodies with animal wounds were brought into the city mortuary. We diverted them to here. Owen performed the autopsy and concluded that they were killed by a Weevil. I guess he misjudged on that occasion, but we were in the middle of a Weevil migration. We were processing bodies every day for nearly a month. I wouldn’t blame him for one mistake.”
“Did Torchwood find out who the men were?” Beth asked.
“We identified the tramp as a former inmate of Gloucester prison and the naked body found beside him as a single man from Splott. Neither had any known relatives so they were sent to the crematorium and joined the thousands of people who go missing without a trace in the UK – with or without our help.”
“If they’d had relatives….” Ray asked.
“A body would have been pulled out of the bay some time with the face messed up but enough identification to let the loved ones to arrange a funeral,” Ianto answered.
“The point is, you didn’t murder anyone,” Beth told Ray. “You were fighting for your life against somebody who was like you… infected by a werewolf bite. It was him or you. And… in the end… you did him a favour. He’s dead. He can’t hurt himself or anyone else, now.”
Ianto agreed wholeheartedly with Beth’s assessment of the situation. Ray looked partially reassured.
“You didn’t murder anyone,” Ianto insisted. “And since you came to us you’ve been on a strict diet of beef bones. Put it behind you and don’t think about it again. As for marrying Beth, I hope you intended to ask me to be your best man?”
“He still has to ask ME to be his fiancée, yet,” Beth pointed out, but she was smiling as if one obstacle to them being together had been crossed.
Alun returned with Sam and the pizzas. They pulled out the soft chairs from the rest area and placed them in a rough half circle in front of the Time-Space Visualiser. They ate supper while Alun’s memories of his and Ianto’s wedding day played out on the screen in perfect high definition. Everyone had been there, of course. They remembered the same scenes on that happy day. Ianto glanced at his husband and wondered at his life before Torchwood. He really had been lonely and mostly unhappy for a long time, and had no wish to bring any of that up for viewing now. That day had been the start of his life as far as he was concerned.
“We should use this for Michael the next time he comes out of the deep freeze,” Ianto commented. “It might be able to fix on some of his missing memories and give us a clue to what happened to him.”
“It seems like it can do just about anything,” Alun agreed. “I don’t remember you and Jack snogging at the reception, but it came up there, plain as day.”
“Jack was wishing me the best for the future,” Ianto said. “No need to be jealous, cariad. I have been all yours from that day forward.”
“I know,” Alun answered with a private smile. Then Beth exclaimed loudly. The screen was showing something else. Perhaps Ianto thinking about Jack, had triggered it because Captain Harkness appeared on screen. He was in the Hub. It was late evening, with most of the lights turned down. There was another man with him. They were holding hands. Jack was assuring him that everyone else had gone home for the night. They were quite alone.
“Who is that?” Beth asked. “It’s not Garrett, that’s for sure.”
“Is Jack playing away?” Ray wondered.
“Absolutely not,” Ianto insisted. “He’s completely monogamous these days, and I don’t think any of us would have expected to say that about him.”
All the same, Jack was taking another man to his lair under the office. The stranger was young and good looking, of course, with sandy-brown hair and green eyes. He was dressed neatly in a dark blue suit with a mauve shirt and bold-striped tie. Ianto bit his lip and noted that it was a similar outfit to the one he was wearing right now. Jack was taking a man with many of his personal traits into the place where they had so often gone when they were casual lovers, before he met Alun and Garrett came into Jack’s life.
“This isn’t the past,” Alun commented. “Or even the present. It’s the future. Did you look at some of the technology around the Hub when they walked through? Those wafer thin computer screens, floor standing hologram projections – and it looks like the whole place had a make-over. All that smoked glass around the workstations.”
Ianto agreed with that assessment. How far into the future, though? Technology was no clue. Toshiko Sato was working on hologram projections up in Glasgow. Both Torchwood Hubs would have them as soon as she perfected the programmes. Computer monitors were getting thinner with every generation that was released by the commercial manufacturers. This could be next year.
Or it could be fifty years in the future.
“I thought it only showed the past,” Beth said.
“With Jack, maybe the rules don’t apply,” Ianto guessed. “He was born in the fifty-first century. Anything before then IS the past.”
“Can we fast forward or something,” Ray suggested. “I know I’m the only straight man here, but surely even you two don’t want to watch Jack on the job. And Torchwood porn is not the sort of thing Sam wants to be exposed to at his age.”
Beth, the only woman in the group, was deliberately avoiding the screen, tidying up the pizza boxes and giving the left over crusts to Sam to nibble while Jack and his friend were whispering to each other in the dark and clothes were being slowly removed.
Ianto consulted the instruction manual. He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about watching Jack have sex with somebody who looked like a new version of him. He was slightly aroused by the sounds of their preliminaries. He thought Alun was, too. But he really didn’t want to watch it go any further.
He reached out and touched one of the buttons. It did exactly what they all wanted it to do. Jack’s night of passion was skipped over and they watched the two men emerge from the lair in the morning. The Ianto doppelganger was fully dressed, but Jack went in his desk drawer and took out a necktie. He swapped it with the one his lover was wearing, kissing him on the cheek as he tied a neat Windsor knot.
“Nobody will know you didn’t go home last night,” he told him.
“Thanks, boss,” his lover answered. Ianto remembered he still called him that when he was dressed for the office even when he had spent that sort of night in Jack’s arms.
“Call me Jack when we’re alone, at least,” Jack told him. “Gerry, you’re not just a one night stand. I adore you. I want… I need you, sweetheart.”
Anything but ‘I love you’. Ianto wasn’t the only one who noticed that. Those words didn’t come easy to Jack even when he meant it. And for all his legendary promiscuity, he never said it when he didn’t mean it.
“I’m here to be needed,” Gerry promised. “In any way you need me. I understand… six months since you lost your husband….”
“I didn’t LOSE him,” Jack insisted. “He died. He was ninety-four. His body was breaking down and he didn’t want to be kept alive any longer by artificial organs. He asked the doctor to switch off the machine and he died peacefully in my arms....”
“I know,” Gerry told him.
“No, you don’t. You can’t possibly know. But it’s not your fault. You’re young and sweet and… I don’t want to stop holding you. But in a minute Anwen will be coming in through the main door and she’ll give me that LOOK, as if she can read my mind, and she’s too much of a lady to see what’s in my mind right now.”
Gerry laughed. They kissed one more time then broke apart as the klaxon announced that somebody had entered the Hub through the round metal door from the boardwalk entrance. The mature woman who took off her coat and hung it on a peg near her workstation before sitting down and getting to work right away looked hauntingly familiar to everyone watching. She was a dark brunette with deep brown eyes in a pale complexioned face and a distinctive gap in her teeth when she smiled.
“Anwen?” It was Beth who remembered that Gwen’s three week old baby daughter was called that. The woman they were looking at was about fifty years old, and they had already done the maths and realised that it was Garrett who had died of old age fifty years from now.
“Gwen’s daughter came to work for Torchwood?” Ianto queried. “I don’t know if that’s wonderful or… rather tragic.”
“It’s wonderful,” Alun assured him. “Another smart Welsh woman to keep Jack honest.”
“We must all be dead,” Ray pointed out.
“Or retired, at least,” Ianto suggested. He didn’t want anyone dwelling on their own deaths. Thinking of Garrett as an old man of ninety-four, on his deathbed, was hard enough. He and Jack were a handsome, perfectly matched couple right now. The idea of Garrett getting old and sick while Jack was still Jack was disturbing.
Watching Gerry go and make coffee, the role he had always played in the Hub, jolted Ianto a little, too. But Anwen came into Jack’s office with a hand held hologram that she placed on the desk in front of him. It was a medical report from St. Helen’s Hospital.
“Another two victims overnight. The same symptoms – acute dehydration, iron deficiency and absolute zero brain activity – as if everything has been erased from their minds. The doctors are at a loss. All they can do is keep them on life support until their families agree to switching off and letting them die.”
“Yes,” Jack read the report. “Both university students, like the others. This is too much of a coincidence.”
“But they’re not all from the SAME university,” Anwen pointed out. “Three were from the University of Glamorgan, two from Cardiff Metropolitan University, four from Cardiff University, three from the University of Wales in Cardiff and one from Swansea University.”
“Why does a city as small as this need that many universities?” Jack asked. Anwen didn’t answer that. “What do students all have in common, then? What’s their link?”
“The pubs,” Ianto said to the screen. But Jack dismissed that possibility almost as if he had heard him. If there was any one thing Cardiff had more of than universities it was pubs, but the campuses of all those institutes of learning were far apart. They all had their own pubs and clubs within easy reach. Of course, there were plenty of venues in the city centre, neutral territory, but they were not exclusive to the student population. There had to be some connection between the student bodies of different campuses but excluding other citizens of Cardiff.
“Sir!” Gerry placed a cup of coffee next to him. Jack looked surprised to see him there. The group watching the scene fifty years in the past wondered how long he had been standing at the door before he was noticed by either of the senior Torchwood staff. Ianto knew only too well what it was like to be ‘invisible’. His empathy with the young man who was playing his role in so many ways in that future deepened.
“Sir, I think you need to check out the sports centre,” Gerry continued, proving that he had heard a lot of the conversation between Jack and Anwen - and that he was more than just a pretty face who knew how to make coffee to Jack’s exacting standard.
“Sports centre?” Jack queried.
“The Universities Centre for Sports Excellence,” Anwen prompted. “At Cathays Park. It opened three weeks ago to students from all recognised higher education institutes in Cardiff and Swansea.”
“Including the Open University,” Gerry added. “I’m doing my Masters through the OU. I’ve got a membership card for the centre. I went swimming there last weekend. I’ve never swum in a full fifty metre pool before. It was fantastic. But sir… it’s the one place ALL students from the different universities would go to. And….”
“And these victims all started appearing in the last three weeks,” Anwen concluded. “Gerry, I think you’ve got it.”
Gerry smiled proudly. Jack met his smile with a nod. The young man blushed and turned his head away, but not so quickly that Anwen didn’t notice the blush and look back at the Torchwood Director suspiciously.
“Tell Harry Harper to get his troops together. Check out weapons from the armoury for them,” Jack told him. “Handguns with live ammo and electronic stunners, I think. Sign a gun out for yourself, too.”
Gerry looked surprised. So did Anwen.
“You passed firearms training last week. Time you had some field experience.”
“Sir, thank you.” Gerry’s excitement told on his face. He all but skipped out of the office, calling out to the leader of Torchwood’s ‘SWAT’ team, a wiry Anglo-Japanese man, as he headed to the armoury.
Anwen gave Jack a withering look – the sort Gwen turned on Jack regularly when his devil-may-care attitude to life got too much for her. Anwen was definitely a chip off the same block.
“What?” he asked as he stood up from his desk and put on a shoulder holster and then a familiar grey-blue 1940s RAF greatcoat.
“Do you seriously think he’s ready for a field mission?” she asked.
“He’s keen, and he HAS passed firearms training.”
“Only because you kept him back every night for three weeks for extra ‘coaching’. And I know full well what that means. Mum told me how you trained her – she said it was like Dirty Dancing with guns. I didn’t totally get what she meant until it was MY turn - when you got me down there on the firing range with your hands all over me….”
Jack’s eyes twinkled and his mouth turned up in a way that all of the watchers except Ray had been subjected to at some point. Ianto guessed just how much history there was between Jack and Gwen’s daughter.
“It’s not funny,” Anwen told him. “I’m surprised you’ve never been charged with workplace sexual harassment.”
“That was just teasing,” he protested. “I’ve been a one man guy for half a century. But you… were always special to me. I remember when you were born… when you were a toddler and you learnt to crawl out there on the walkway. You called me ‘Uncle Jack’ most of your childhood. When you came to work for Torchwood I was so proud of you.”
“I know,” Anwen answered. “When I was a teenager you were my first ‘crush’. But I got over it. I knew nothing could come of it. By the time you groped me that night I knew exactly what it was – continuing a family tradition.”
“I didn’t mean….”
“Yes, you did,” Anwen told him. “It doesn’t matter. You learnt to respect me. I came to respect you. I’ve come to think of you as a friend. And you’ve needed a friend this past year. I’ve seen you at your most fragile. I’ve helped you put on a brave face to the world while you were in rags emotionally. I understand why you feel the need, now. And Gerry is within easy reach. You know he’ll do anything to please you - including sex. Yes, I know what you got up to last night. It’s written all over his face, and yours is giving away quite a bit, too.”
Jack’s face registered surprise. He obviously thought he was being inscrutable.
“All right, you’ve got an office sweetheart. I’m glad for you. Just as long as you take care of him and don’t break his heart if the romance doesn’t last. But he’s NOT ready for a field mission and just because you shagged him all night doesn’t make him ready.”
“You’re wrong,” Jack argued. “He’s ready. Do you expect me to hold him back BECAUSE I’ve shagged him? Would that be right?”
“No, it wouldn’t. But I’d PREFER that,” Anwen answered. “At least he’d be safe.”
“Do you think I’m deliberately going to expose him to danger?”
“No, not deliberately. But danger follows you around. People HAVE suffered from being too close to you. Have you forgotten about….”
“I haven’t forgotten anyone.” Jack cut her off quickly. Those watching fifty years before all glanced at each other, wondering if one of them had been a victim of Jack’s undeniable recklessness, wondering how they would feel if he hadn’t stopped her mid-sentence and they had heard their name mentioned.
The argument continued for fully ten minutes. It only stopped when Harry came to the door and told Jack that the team were ready to go.
“You’re not his mother,” Jack told Anwen, settling the matter as far as he was concerned. “Or mine. He’s a Torchwood agent, and I’m bringing him along. He’s the only one with a student pass for the centre. Call it local knowledge.”
“I call it stupid,” Anwen answered. “Just you take care of him. Prove me wrong, please.”
Jack didn’t say anything else. He swept out of his office, his coat tails flying as he picked up speed along the walkway and out to the garage where Torchwood kept their mid-twenty-first century vehicle pool. Anwen sighed and closed the door behind her as she returned to her desk, ready to monitor the operation by remote camera.
Fifty years before it all unfolded, her predecessors watched with her, vaguely wondering why the point of view had shifted from Jack’s to Anwen’s.
When the SWAT team broke into the secondary boiler room beneath the swimming pool at the Sports Centre and encountered the alien creature installed there, they were glad to be removed from it all by two layers of technology.
“What IS that thing?” Ray asked, recoiling in disgust from the image of the image on Anwen’s computer screen. He glanced at Sam the Weevil. He was asleep with his head on the arm of the chair and Alun’s coat over him. Just as well. In his reading material he was on the works of Roald Dahl. He didn’t need to be watching video nasties of the Torchwood team firing bullets into what looked like an eight foot high pulsating purple brain which fought back with long tentacles that snaked out and dealt agonising electrical shocks to those it caught. The Torchwood team were winning the battle. The creature was dying. But at a terrible cost on their side.
“Oh, God!” Anwen whispered as she watched helplessly. “Please don’t let me be right.”
“No, not that,” Ianto echoed. “Don’t do that to him.”
In the pit of his stomach, though, he knew what was going to happen. He watched sickly as Anwen left her workstation and went to tell the future Torchwood medic to get ready to receive six of their own as casualties.
“Dead?” he asked.
“Not quite,” Anwen answered. “The alien fried their brains, left them as vegetables, just like the other victims. Jack thinks… he said… that’s what it wanted – their minds… their brain waves. That’s why it took students… clever young people with their heads buzzing with ideas, with hopes, with….”
Anwen cried. The medic did his best to comfort her, but it was a black day for Torchwood and the survivors would have to find a way to cope with the grief while business continued as usual.
The sound of Jack’s office door slamming brought Anwen back up to the Hub. She found him behind his desk swallowing a glass of amber coloured liquor as if it was water. His sapphire blue eyes were glassy with tears as he looked up at her.
“One of the side-effects of my immortality is that I would have to drink a dozen bottles of this stuff to start to feel drunk… and a dozen more to get insensible.” He pushed the glass away. “You were right. I shouldn’t have taken him. I shouldn’t have taken ANY of them. That thing didn’t give them a chance. One touch of those tentacles and they were gone.”
“If I’d gone alone… It couldn’t have hurt me. I took three blows myself… it hurt like hell, but I just blacked out for a few minutes. The third time… Gerry was trying to pull me out of reach of the thing. I woke with him shielding me. I told him to get out of the way, but the goddamn bastard thing lashed out at him. I saw the life go out of his eyes right beside me. I held him. But he didn’t even know I was there. I couldn’t even tell him… that I love him.”
“That would have made things better?” Anwen asked.
“No, it wouldn’t, Jack,” she told him. “Because you didn’t love him. He was just a pretty face that appealed to your libido. You enjoyed his company. You enjoyed seducing him into your bed. Nobody blamed you for that. Nobody begrudged you the chance to live again after Garrett’s death. But you’re not grieving for a lover now. You’re feeling sick with guilt because I WAS right. I wish to God I wasn’t. But you killed him, Jack. You deserve all that you’re feeling right now, you stupid, stupid, selfish bastard.”
She turned and left him there at the desk, his head in his hands, trembling with emotion. That image was the last one the watchers saw before the Time Space Visualiser turned blue again. Alun stood and switched it off. He turned and looked at his friends.
“Poor Jack,” Beth whispered. “She didn’t mean that, I’m sure. She was in shock, too. I’m sure she’ll tell him she’s sorry after.”
“I hope not,” Alun answered her. “She WAS right. He DID kill Gerry by bringing him on a mission he wasn’t ready for. He should have been told.”
Ray didn’t say anything. Jack had never exactly been kind to him, but he had given him a chance of a nearly normal life. He had come to respect him as a man who made hard decisions for the right reasons. It was disturbing to see him brought to his knees by such a terrible misjudgement.
“It could have been me,” Ianto said in quiet tones. “It was all so familiar. I was… just the teaboy, the one who sorted the mail… until I let him screw me. Then… then I became visible to him. He started to take me on Weevil hunts, on field missions as his back-up. It could have been me up to my neck in something I wasn’t ready for. Jack doesn’t just make mistakes. He makes the same mistakes over and over, because he lets his cwd rule his head.”
“Ianto….” Beth put her hand in his. He smiled a watery smile through the tears he was holding back. Maybe you’re right. Maybe not. The thing is… what are any of us going to do about this?”
“What do you mean?” Ray asked. “What can we do?”
“I mean… what can we do so that we can look Jack in the eye on Monday morning, and not burst into tears or… or… or hate him like Ianto does.”
“I don’t hate him,” Ianto assured her. “I used to love him. I still do in a purely platonic way. But I know he could have killed me through the same stupidity we just saw.”
“We should do something,” Alun said. “Or you should, Ianto. The rest of us are going to swear a solemn vow, here and now, never to mention to Jack what we’ve seen and heard tonight. Ianto, you’re going to go into Jack’s office and find one of those time-locked boxes. Set it for… I don’t know, fifty years, forty-nine to be on the safe side. Write a letter, telling Jack whatever you think you ought to tell him that will convince him not to take Gerry to that sports centre.”
“But I can’t,” Ianto protested. “We’ve seen it happen. We can’t change it.”
“We can’t change the past,” Alun answered. “I know that better than anyone else here. But that was in the future, not the past. The future hasn’t happened yet from our point of view. We can change it. We have to. Otherwise what was the use in us seeing all of that? What use was that clunking machine if it can’t help us make things better?”
“Do it, Ianto,” Beth told him. “You’re the only one of us who CAN. You’re the only one of us he’s been that close to. He’ll believe what you tell him.”
“That’s why it should be you,” Alun told his husband.
“Yes, I know,” Ianto said. He stood up and walked to Jack’s office, slowly. He closed the door behind him and sat at the desk for a very long time before he was done. The others tidied up the Hub, putting the chairs back where they belonged. Alun woke Sam and took him to the kitchenette for a cup of cocoa before his bedtime. When Ianto returned he smiled at them all and nodded. Nobody asked him what he had written. That was a secret that would not be revealed until all of them were either dead or retired from Torchwood.
“We have no way of knowing if it will work,” Ray pointed out. “Jack might just ignore Ianto’s advice.”
“I know,” Alun said. “We have to leave that to chance. But the future CAN be changed. We’ve made it possible. That’s the best we can do.”