Ianto and Alun, with Sam, were the first to arrive at the Hub on Monday morning after a quiet, uneventful weekend of domesticity. Sam was enjoying living a relatively normal life with his own bedroom in the Grangetown apartment. At this time of year he was able to spend a lot of time out in the evenings. His adopted parents took him to the park and around the shopping streets. He had even gone into a Chinese take away last night. With his hood up his face was partly obscured. In a voice that was almost ‘normal’ after so many operations on his jaw and augmentations to his larynx he asked the man behind the counter for a bag of prawn crackers and two spring rolls and handed over the money for himself.
By summer, when it was light until nearly eleven o’clock, they hoped that the plastic surgery might be complete and his face much less startling. Perhaps, then, he could enjoy some real social activities.
But now it was Monday morning and he settled down in his corner with the books he loved to read and his maths and geography lessons. Alun made coffee while Ianto checked the messages from over the weekend.
Closing the Hub at midday on Saturday was a new and surprising change to how things worked. The Rift had been steady and predictable for some time, and the number of alien incursions in the Cardiff hinterland covered by Torchwood Wales was down. Jack thought it was safe for everyone to have a little normal life on a Sunday.
In truth, Jack wanted that normality, and Ianto and Alun had come to the conclusion that they needed that sort of quality home time, too, rather than living almost continuously at the Hub with Sam. Gwen certainly wasn’t going to take time out from parenthood to work Sundays, and Beth wasn’t ready to man the place on her own. Without actually recruiting part time weekend staff, closing the Hub and letting aliens, Weevils and other supernatural forces to their own devices for a day was the only way to accommodate the domestic needs of the team.
And for three weekends in a row now it had worked. Nothing had happened that couldn’t be cleared up on a Monday morning. When Gwen got in she could grab a coffee and then go and check out a possible Graske shoplifting in the mini-market in Splott. It was probably a hoax or mistaken identity. If not there was a cell in the vault they had especially adapted for ugly midgets with their own biological transmats. Everything else could be added to the database of UFO sightings and left at that.
A routine Monday morning.
“Ianto, didn’t you open a fresh packet of Columbian on Friday afternoon?” Alun asked. Ianto turned to see his partner holding a nearly empty packet of ground coffee. “Jack couldn’t have gone through THIS much before Saturday lunchtime?”
“He was doing the monthly reviews for the MoD,” Ianto answered. “He drinks a hell of a lot of coffee when he’s stuck with the paperwork.”
“Even so….” Alun shrugged. “And when he gets in, I’m going to tick him off for not cleaning out the filter and switching the machine off at the wall. Lazy sod.”
Alun went back to making the coffee. Presently he left a cup with a dash of milk at Ianto’s side and gave Sam his own beaker with very milky, very sweet ‘coffee’ that made him feel grown up and independent. When Jack arrived, briskly sweeping along the balcony and calling out cheerful good mornings, he brought the very strongest brew of all into him.
He mentioned about the coffee and the state of the machine. Jack was puzzled.
“I emptied the filter,” he protested. “And I definitely switched everything off in the kitchen. The last thing we need is a domestic appliance fire down here. I would never leave anything on.”
Alun believed him. When Jack lied it was big lies, like the story about the orgy he had with three Venusian hermaphrodites in zero gravity. He wouldn’t lie about not cleaning out the coffee machine when it was his turn.
And he swore he had only made up one pot on Saturday morning. Even with his extra strong preference that shouldn’t have taken more than two scoops from the three kilo bag.
Alun went back to the kitchen and looked into the bin. That had been emptied Friday night, too. There should have been nothing in it but the remains of Jack’s Saturday morning breakfast.
But there were at least four loads of soggy, smelly coffee grinds in the bottom of the bin liner, and the cartons from a takeaway, three banana skins, an apple core and five coke cans.
“Weird,” he said aloud. But what was he supposed to do about it? Jack wasn’t interested in the mystery of the bin bag. He finished tidying up in the kitchen and then got on with the more important work of defending the planet from alien invasion.
Jack had already forgotten about the mystery of the missing coffee. He was busy checking the veracity of the weekend’s UFO sightings. Most of them were mistaken identity. One of them was a deliberate hoax. That was the third one since Christmas. He made a note to deal with those. A dose of Retcon and a long, cold walk home from the middle of nowhere usually did the trick. Hoaxers who suddenly thought they HAD been abducted by aliens tended to keep a low profile afterwards.
One of them looked real. The flight path, the traces of ion radiation in the atmosphere, the eye witness descriptions, all pointed to it being a genuine alien incursion.
The eye-witnesses were a farmer and his son who were looking for early born lambs on a hillside farm beyond Merthyr Tydfil. They needed to be interviewed then Retconned while the team checked out the area and removed any genuine evidence of an alien landing.
“Jack….” He looked up to see Gwen standing before his wide, busily cluttered desk. She was holding a shampoo bottle. Before she could explain what that had to do with anything in Torchwood’s remit Beth hurried in bringing Detective Inspector Kathy Swanson with her. Jack stood and reached to shake the DI’s hand. When they first met he was more cavalier towards her, but she had proved a friend to Torchwood and if there was something Torchwood could do to help her he was perfectly amicable to the arrangement.
“Thanks, Beth,” he said. “Ask Alun to rustle up some coffee for our visitor. Gwen, you might as well grab a seat. You can translate any police jargon I don’t follow.”
Gwen sat at the side of the desk, literally and figuratively the link between Torchwood and South Wales Police.
“I need you to look at this, Captain,” Kathy said, handing a USB memory stick to Jack. He pushed it into the slot on his desktop computer and waited for the virus checker to complete before he could open the file and send the images to the wall screen.
It was a copy of the CCTV from inside a bank vault. For several minutes absolutely nothing happened except that the digital time stamp in the corner indicated the passage of nearly an hour at one frame every three seconds. Then Jack and Gwen both sat up and watched in surprise.
“Wait a minute… was there….”
“Hey… how… that’s not….”
“Watch it again slowed down to one frame every ten seconds,” Kathy said. Jack adjusted the media player and replayed the footage. Even then he was astonished.
“Is the recording damaged?” Gwen asked.
“No, it’s working perfectly. It recorded one frame every second, just like any standard CCTV recorder. Normally that’s enough, even for a bank vault.”
“But you’ve got a thief here who only appears in one frame out of the three thousand six hundred it recorded in the course of an hour,” Jack said. “He must be very fast.”
“She,” Gwen and Kathy both said at once.
“Jack, you may sleep with a man, but surely you know what a woman looks like,” Gwen told him. She drew a curve in the air with her finger. “That’s a woman wearing some sort of black Spiderman costume type of thing.”
“Zentai,” Kathy said. Jack resisted the urge to say ‘bless you’. This wasn’t really a joking matter.
“A woman who can move so fast the CCTV can’t pick her up, walks into a bank vault,” Jack said summing up the situation as he saw it. “How?”
“Through the wall as far as anyone can tell,” Kathy answered. “And then she turned off the security system and opened the door for her accomplices, who cleaned out the vault, including fifty private boxes with undisclosed valuables inside.”
The CCTV went blank. Kathy explained that it had been sprayed with black ink to cover the robbery itself. The same had been done to the rest of the CCTV cameras in the bank.
“That’s the only bit of visual evidence we have, and all it tells us is that the vault was cracked by somebody who ought to be in one of your cells.”
“I’m just wondering how we’d keep her in one of them,” Jack responded. “It looks as if she can walk through walls and move faster than light.”
“You don’t have any super-tech that could hold onto somebody like that?” Kathy asked in a disappointed tone. “I was rather hoping you had a gadget or… I don’t know… a containment field… a tank… a Ghostbusters style of thing you could trap her in.”
Gwen suppressed a giggle. Jack put on a severe scowl.
“A Ghostbusters style of thing?” he repeated. “Even if we HAD such a mythical piece of equipment, how would we know where to set it up? Do you have any idea how many banks and building societies there are in Cardiff? How can any of us possibly know which one might be targeted next? Neither Torchwood nor the police have the resources to guard all of them. The best I can do is study this CCTV footage and try to spot something your lot missed. Other than that….”
Kathy sighed and stood up. Torchwood was a last resort. She had hoped for more from them, all the same – something a bit flash, a bit clever, but something effective, all the same. She had hoped to have the bank robbers rounded up with alien energy lassos or something. But it looked like there would have to be some ordinary patient and methodical police work after all.
“If you find anything at all, PLEASE let me know,” she implored him. “This is a big case. I really wish I could wrap it up quickly.”
“No promises,” Jack replied. “Gwen, show Kathy out by the scenic route.”
The meeting was over. Gwen took Kathy out of Torchwood Three by the lift that went up through the high roof of Hub Central onto the ‘invisible’ paving stone by the fountain in Roald Dahl Plas.
Gwen came back down after seeing her off and stood by Jack’s door until he noticed her there.
“How many banks and building societies ARE there in Cardiff?” she asked.
“I have no bloody idea,” Jack answered. “And there is no way we can possibly monitor them even if we had a wall full of screens and Toshiko’s best CCTV hacking software.”
“Do you think we ought to try, all the same?” Gwen suggested. “Perhaps we could narrow it down to a few likely targets – the ones with the biggest vaults, the strongest security. Maybe Garrett’s people could help. Besides, isn’t it intriguing… the women who can walk through walls….”
Jack shrugged. It would only be intriguing if he could get her in the interrogation room and demand to know how she did it.
“WHY are you carrying a shampoo bottle around?” he asked.
“It’s empty,” she answered. “And it was only half empty on Friday. Somebody used it over the weekend.”
“Not another one,” Jack complained. “Ianto with his bloody coffee, now you with the shampoo. If this is what happens when I give everyone Sunday off I’m going to reintroduce 24/7 shifts.”
“Yes, but….” Gwen protested. Jack scowled, and when Jack scowled it was an expression laden with dark meaning. She tossed the bottle in the nearest wastebin and put her complaint out of her mind.
“Go and deal with the shoplifting Graske,” he said. “The details are on your desk. I’ll take Alun with me to interview the UFO witnesses. Ianto can hold the fort and finish filing these MoD reports for me.”
Ianto didn’t mind ‘holding the fort’ while his former lover and his husband went out on a field trip. He wasn’t that fond of the Welsh countryside that he wanted to be tramping through it on a freezing day in February. Besides, being in charge of the Hub was a responsibility that Jack trusted him with.
Jack had trusted him since he first came to work there, he recalled as he sat behind the big desk in the Captain’s office and watched Sam slowly reading a children’s book while Una, Torchwood’s other adoptee, did advanced calculus at a desk next to him.
Of course, he had betrayed that trust when he hid Lisa in the basement and tried to make her Human again right under everyone’s noses. When that went so fatally wrong he had almost expected Jack to kill him when Lisa didn’t. At the least, he expected to be fired. Jack gave him a second chance and eventually forgave him for his one desperate mistake.
Jack’s capacity to forgive was one reason why he had come to love him so deeply. The physical part of their relationship – when he gave himself to Jack to use as roughly or as gently as he chose – began as his way of thanking him for his kindness. Later, as the chapel-going valley boy lost the last vestige of sexual innocence he might have had, it became much more about give and take. He learned about a secret side of Jack that wanted to be possessed as much as he wanted to possess others and enjoyed that side of him to the full. By the time Alun came into his life, he was the one with the experience who taught his lover how fulfilling a gay relationship could be.
Ianto pushed the memories away and brought himself back to the present. Una and Sam were still doing fine, but he was slacking on those MoD reports. He got on with the filing with the conscientiousness that probably had more to do with his being kept on after Lisa than any sexual attraction.
He turned from putting the digest copy of the reports in Jack’s secure cabinet when he noticed a disturbance down in the ‘reading corner’. Sam had dropped his book and stood up from his bean bag seat. Una looked up from her work and spoke to him gently. He sat back down again but seemed agitated. still.
Ianto came down the metal stairway fast, but not appearing to be panicking. He spoke quietly to Sam and helped him find his page in the copy of George’s Marvellous Medicine.
“What happened?” he asked Una. The girl looked up again from her work.
“I’m not sure, Mr Jones,” she answered. “Sam said he saw a girl. But he must have been imagining it. There’s nobody else here.”
“You didn’t see anything?” he questioned.
“No, Mr Jones,” she confirmed. “But I wasn’t really looking.” She waved towards the book of maths problems to be solved in explanation. She had been deep in concentration despite the occasional squawk from Myfanwy in the rafters and the bleeping of computers running complicated programmes by themselves that would definitely have distracted Ianto from maths when he was her age.
“That’s ok,” he said. “Why don’t you take a break and go and get a couple of cartons of orange juice for you and Sam. It’s near enough time for a mid-morning break.”
She went to the kitchenette to fetch the drinks. Ianto sat beside Sam and carefully questioned him about what he had seen. He pointed to the upper balcony that led to the hothouse. He had seen something move inside the window, but the Torchwood collection of alien plants included a couple of species that could move their stems or leaves surprisingly quickly. A meat eater had probably polished off an insect.
“Girl went into the flower room,” Sam insisted. Of course, Martha was on the premises, doing an alien autopsy of some sort. Beth was around, too. But Sam didn’t call either of them ‘girl’. He had learnt to say their names clearly and without the trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ sound that had held him back before the surgery that reshaped his teeth and jawline.
“Did she come out again?” Ianto asked but Sam wasn’t sure.
“Mr Jones,” Una called to him. She was carrying two beakers of cold milk, one with a safety top to prevent spillage. “There wasn’t any orange juice so I brought milk instead.”
“That’s strange,” Ianto remarked. “Alun put a pack in the fridge this morning.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Jones, I didn’t see it.” Una looked so worried that she had made a mistake. Ianto immediately reassured her.
“Milk will do fine. The calcium is good for Sam’s teeth, anyway.” He passed the safety cup to his adopted child. He gripped it in both of his big hands and drank happily, leaving a milk moustache on his face when he put the cup down. Una drank a little slower and certainly less messily and then got on with her maths. Ianto wiped Sam’s face and gave him an electronic toy that made pleasing noises when he got simple sums right. That would keep him busy until lunch.
He went up to the kitchenette and checked the fridge. Una was right. There was no orange juice in it. But he knew for certain there WAS a pack of four cartons in there a short time ago.
“What is going on around here?” he wondered aloud. He looked in the bin, but there were no orange cartons.
He came back out and went up the steps to the upper balcony where he headed to the hothouse. It wasn’t yet the luxuriant alien jungle they used to have. A lot of the plants were destroyed when the Hub was bombed two years ago. But a new collection was thriving. He avoided the flytrap that might very well have come from Venus for all anyone knew about it. The thing had a habit of lunging at bare arms.
The hothouse was devoid of Human life. The only movements were the semi-sentient plants.
He was on the other side of the wide room when the flytrap snapped. He turned at the sound and noticed the glass door swinging closed by itself.
Avoiding the flytrap’s quick ‘mouth’, Ianto bent and examined a drop of blood on the floor beneath the carnivorous plant’s pot. There was another by the door. They didn’t come from him. He found a sample phial and scooped up some of the blood. He wasn’t sure what use it would be, but it was the most positive clue yet that there was somebody else in the Hub.
Somebody invisible? That wasn’t impossible. They had encountered both humans and aliens who had mastered that concept.
It was serious. An invisible intruder in the Hub could infiltrate the most confidential archives, steal dangerous alien technology. So far the only things missing were food and shampoo, but he couldn’t rule out more serious issues.
He went back to Jack’s office and pulled up the internal security system on the computer. An obvious irony occurred to him as he did so. When he had committed that betrayal he was thinking about earlier he had been caught out because he had altered the internal CCTV record removing the evidence of his actions. Those same records might show him somebody else’s unauthorised activity in the Hub.
It almost did. Unlike even the best security systems used by banks the Torchwood cameras recorded four frames a second.
When he found the stored images from the camera aimed at the hothouse balcony, one frame in every four showed a figure moving across the landing and slipping into the hothouse. He watched himself walk up there to investigate and a short time later he saw a figure run out of the hothouse, holding the arm that had been grabbed by the alien flytrap.
“It’s a girl!” he exclaimed to himself. He adjusted the playback so that it showed every fourth frame and achieved a continuous image that he could look at more carefully. The figure was dressed in a dark skin tight suit, including a hood, but the shape beneath was perfectly obvious. He said ‘girl’ rather than woman because she was petite, about five foot two, slender, with the athletic build of a gymnast.
Not invisible, as such, but moving too quickly for the naked eye.
Or was she only ‘real’ intermittently?
“Ianto….” Martha spoke to him from the door. He looked up to see her holding a refill pack for a standard office first aid kit. “I filled all of the boxes this morning and marked them in the register. I just found the one by the turbo lift open and empty. Somebody took the whole pack.”
“She was bitten by the flytrap,” Ianto answered. Martha looked at him quizzically. “We’ve got an intruder,” he added. “A... squatter, I suppose we could call her. It looks like she’s been here most of the weekend, eating food, drinking coffee, using our first aid kits.”
He showed the images to Martha. She pursed her lips thoughtfully at Ianto’s two possible theories.
“She’s not Human either way, then,” she pointed out. “Even the Bionic Woman never moved as fast as that. And if she phases in and out of existence… that’s even less likely. She could have fallen through the rift.”
“Very probably. We’ve got to stop her.”
“She only seems to want food and shelter, basic needs,” Martha pointed out. “She doesn’t seem to be a threat.”
“I know. But even so, she’s not kipping in the bus station. She’s here in the Hub, with access to all kinds of secrets. We’ve got to do something. I’m just not sure what.”
“I wonder if she can keep up that speed all the time, or does she get tired? Where is she sleeping?”
“I’m not about to start searching the whole Hub. There are levels nobody has used for decades. Besides, she can slip past us any time she wants.”
“We have lifesigns monitors,” Martha pointed out. “We can track any organic being in the Hub.”
“Not her,” Ianto answered. “I tried. She’s invisible to them.” He overlaid every type of scanner Torchwood had on a multiple level schematic: heat sensing, infra red, gamma and three different alien technologies. The nearly invisible girl didn’t show up on any of them.
“She can project some kind of shield,” Ianto concluded.
“If she’s organic, she must have a cardiovascular system,” Martha suggested. “Don’t we have some sort of listening devices placed around the Hub? I’ve seen them around the medical room.”
“They haven’t been used since the mid-1980s when the in-ear comms were first developed,” Ianto answered. “I don’t even know if most of them work.”
“Worth a try?”
“Anything is worth a try,” Ianto concluded. “I don’t think I can do it from this terminal, though. We need Toshiko’s old workstation. She had EVERYTHING plugged in there.”
Gwen arrived back with the shoplifting Graske contained in a portable cell while Ianto was booting up the multiple screens and the three self-contained server units used by Toshiko Sato to conduct experiments with alien communications. Her desktop wallpaper with pictures of her little girl at various ages from birth onwards made him smile. He thought fondly nostalgic thoughts of Tosh and Owen and wondered how things were in Glasgow since their Christmas reunion.
Gwen deposited her prisoner in the vault and headed back to Hub Central just in time to watch Ianto open up all of the microphones in the underground complex at once. He immediately shut down those in the vaults. The grumbles of a captured Graske and the usual sounds from three resident Weevils were obviously not what they were listening out for. He also closed down the more pleasing sounds of Sam doing his ten times table and Una practicing a piece of Welsh poetry in a low whisper. Everywhere else in the Hub ought to have been quiet.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t. In empty corridors many floors below there were strange echoes. Some of them might have been the sound of water on the other side of bulkheads keeping Cardiff Bay from flooding in. Others couldn’t be explained quite so easily.
But none of those were the sound of a living, breathing, heart beating organic being.
“Wait… listen,” Gwen whispered. “Can you isolate that noise?”
There was something, a rapid drumming, an even more rapid hissing sound. Neither sounded like the sounds they were listening for, but Ianto gradually turned off every other microphone until they were concentrating on that one.
“If it was an organic being… a girl… an alien girl… whose metabolism was WAY faster than ours, who breathed really fast, whose heart-beat was quicker than a mouse, do you think it would sound like that?” Ianto asked Martha.
“Then she’s in the old chapel,” Ianto confirmed. “It’s one of the few rooms on that level that isn’t locked. I go down there sometimes. So does Jack. We both knew people who are listed on the memorial tablet. It’s good to sit quietly and think about them sometimes….”
He was rambling unnecessarily. Martha and Gwen both knew why the chapel was left unlocked and kept clean and aired, with candles replaced in the holders regularly. Even the mostly atheist Torchwood team needed a place like that.
“You stay here and monitor,” Martha told him. “This is a job for the girls. Gwen, you’re not armed, are you?”
“Only a stun gun,” she answered.
“Leave it. We don’t need either for this.”
Ianto carried on listening to the sound of a possibly alien cardio-vascular system. A few minutes later he heard the sounds of a door opening and Gwen and Martha speaking gently and soothingly while another voice answered in a rapid, nervous way.
A little while later, they came back to Hub Central with the squatter. She was an astonishing sight, not the least because she was only there half the time. She looked like the flickering image in one of those old-fashioned children’s toys – a zoetrope Ianto thought it was called.
“Her name is Gilly,” Gwen said. “Or… at least… that’s the closest to it we can get. She wants to talk.” She glanced at the window that overlooked the interrogation room. “I think she could also use coffee. Why don’t we go to the kitchen?”
“Good enough,” Ianto agreed.
Gilly didn’t just have one cup of coffee. She had three mugs in a row, as well as a plate of sandwiches and two packets of biscuits. Martha came up with a likely reason for that.
“Her metabolism is far higher than any Human. She needs to eat far more than we do in order to survive.”
“That explains the coffee that she got through over the weekend,” Ianto decided. “Isn’t there anything we can do to stop her flickering? It’s really distracting.”
“Nothing right now,” Martha answered. “I could start a course of metabolism slowing drugs. But it would take weeks before she started to look normal.”
“I’m sorry,” Gilly said very quickly. She looked genuinely so. “I needed somewhere to hide. I didn’t want to do what they told me to do again. I ran away. I found this place… food, drink, warm place to sleep… and hidden. Please don’t send me out there again where they’ll make me do bad things.”
“What bad things? And WHO will make you do them?”
The story came out in a rush of words, some of them too fast to understand without getting her to repeat them several times. But eventually Ianto understood.
“Keep feeding her,” he said as he noticed Jack heading for his office. “I’m going to tell the boss what we know.”
“She IS alien,” Ianto explained. “On her own world, she was an aberration, a mutation… the way some people on Earth are born with dwarfism or colour blindness. Her father brought her here through the rift… apparently they’ve done that a lot of times. They’ve been on Earth before in different times, and on other planets… constantly moving.”
“Because her father is a thief… a bank robber. He uses her to get through locked doors. The other night she took a chance and escaped. By sheer chance she came down to the Bay and found Torchwood. She has a knack of knowing where the spaces are behind walls – and if she times it right and moves when her body is out of phase, she can walk through the walls. It takes a lot of energy. She prefers to use doors if she can, but if she chooses, there isn’t a prison that could hold her. She’s only here because she feels safe with us. She thinks she can trust us.”
Jack listened carefully and took his time thinking.
“Another waif at our door,” he said. “Another oddity for our collection, along with your talking Weevil and the Torchwood child.”
“Don’t talk about Sam and Una that way,” Ianto protested. “Or Gilly, either. Besides, you’ve got no room to talk – the man who can’t die. You’re the oddest one of all.”
“The point is, what are we supposed to do with her? If we can’t hold her….”
“Martha thinks she can gradually slow down her metabolism so that she will be normal. After that… we can find her a place to live, a job… maybe Garrett could help… don’t MI5 have some kind of witness programme?”
“You want me to take advantage of my personal relationship in order to help an alien girl?” Jack responded. “You HAVE remembered that Torchwood exists to protect the British Empire from aliens, not the other way around.”
“You’re playing with me,” Ianto retorted. “You KNOW you’re going to help her. You’re as curious as any of us about her.”
“I’m curious where her father and the gang who turned over the bank are,” he answered. “I’ll go down to the police HQ. I’d like to see Kathy’s face when I give her that info.”
“I’ll ask,” Ianto told him. “But if she helps out with it, will you let her stay here? Will you let Torchwood protect her?”
Jack smiled enigmatically. Ianto knew that meant yes.
“You’d better get a lot more coffee in,” Jack added, determined to have the last word. “I’m not going without when she drinks it all.”