Owen viewed the Human remains in the dim light of pre-dawn. He did so dispassionately. There was very little he hadn’t seen by now, and the gruesomeness of the badly mangled body didn’t bother him. He was sorry that a man had died, of course. He had never lost that compassion. But he was able to view the body without undue emotion.
Dougal Drummond did so, too. Owen knew his colleague had seen plenty of mangled and dismembered bodies in the aftermath of combat. It wasn’t something he was used to, something he was blasé about. But it was something he could deal with.
“What do you think?”
“What do I think about what, exactly?” Owen asked with a wry smile. “The list of things I could have a thought about around here is lengthening by the minute.”
“Is this something for us to investigate or some sort of industrial accident that we should leave to the HSE?”
Owen looked around at the building site. There were some dangerous looking pieces of equipment used in the process of building up the foundations of the new industrial development. He didn’t know a lot about the construction industry, but he knew what a pile driver was. He could imagine what that huge machine could do to a Human body if health and safety rules were flouted. Failing that, the monstrous yellow machine with an eight foot wide roller at the front could certainly have caused the sort of damage he was looking at right now. So could any number of the assorted machines he didn’t exactly know the name or function of.
But the pile driver was silent and still. There were no tracks from an industrial roller anywhere near the victim. None of the potentially lethal construction equipment had been involved in the incident.
“I think we’re going to have a bugger of a time scraping him into a body bag,” Owen answered. “He’s been flattened into the ground.”
To be exact, the body which was now something like half an inch thick but considerably wider than it use to be, was flattened into what had been a section of newly laid concrete yesterday. A slapstick image of a body falling into wet concrete passed through Owen’s mind, but it wasn’t exactly like that. If it had been, quite possibly the man would have survived. As it was, the concrete had been almost set. It had just enough give in it to leave the body as an inset relief. He tried not to imagine peeling the organic remains away to leave a Human shaped concrete mould.
“Perhaps we ought to...” Dougal added. “I don’t know... could we... it’s concrete. It could be cut around the body. We could take the whole thing.”
It sounded stupid when he said it, but Owen realised it was probably going to be the only way.
“We’re going to need a lot more people in hard hats than I’d want to see involved in this,” Owen replied. “And it’s going to take time. There’s no way this is going to be done discreetly. The police are going to have to lock down the whole site and screen it off. It’s going to be a bloody circus.” He sighed deeply. “And no, I don’t think it’s an industrial accident. I’m buggered if I know what it IS right now, but it’s definitely Torchwood weird shit.”
The two of them walked back to the building site entrance where Munroe MacDonald was talking to the scene of crime police officer and the site manager with the name of the construction company on his ID badge. There was a security guard sitting in the back of an ambulance. He was in deep shock after finding his colleague’s body. He was saying something under his breath over and over. Owen tried to listen but he couldn’t understand a word.
“WHAT a plague is this o' mine, Winna steek his e'e, Though I hap him ow'r the head As cosie as can be. Sleep! an' let me to my wark, A' thae claes to airn; Jenny wi' the airn teeth, Come an' tak' the bairn....”
“Come again?” Owen turned to look at Munroe. He thought he recognised maybe three or four English words in there. But he failed completely to understand their context among the Scots dialect.
Everyone else, the police officer, the site manager, the paramedic trying to persuade the security guard to lie down in the ambulance, all clearly did understand what Munroe had just said. Owen felt like a foreigner.
“It’s what he’s saying,” Dougal explained. “The security guard. He’s reciting a poem. ‘Jenny with the Airn Teeth’.
“With the what teeth?” Owen still felt as if he ought to nip back to the Hub and pick up one of the many alien language translation devices they had.
“Iron,” Munroe told him, his broad Scots accent reverting to the softer one he usually used. “Jenny With the Iron Teeth. It’s a poem. Alexander Anderson, 1879. It’s about a creature that grinds the bones of naughty children. Up until the namby pamby generation we have now, parents around these parts would threaten their bairns with Airn Jenny if they didn’t go to bed.”
“Aye,” the police officer confirmed. “My sister used to go to bed and wet it in fear of Jenny being about. I remember.”
“He thinks that’s what turned his mate into flatpack man?” Owen asked. The paramedic succeeded in getting him secured in the ambulance and closed the door. Owen watched it go and then returned to the more salient point of ordering the extra manpower he thought they were going to need in order to remove the body from the scene. When that was done he turned back to his two locally born team members and questioned them about the iron-teethed bogeywoman.
“Either of you wet the bed over her?” he asked. Munroe and Dougal both strenuously denied such a thing. “The body was not ground up in iron teeth. It was flattened. Why was the guard rabbitting on about that? Granted he seems to have lost a few bricks from his hod in the shock, but what’s the connection?”
“The Gorbals Vampire,” Munroe answered. He looked around. The police were starting to close off the scene as ordered, but it would be a little while before the operation was complete. “Come with me,” he added.
Munroe led Owen and Dougal away from the building site. They walked a couple of hundred yards along the road until they reached an elaborate gatehouse shaped like a castle keep set into a long, high, stone wall. They stepped through the archway into an old, sprawling cemetery, the sort that you really wouldn’t want to visit at night when the headstones and granite crosses and seven foot statues of perfectly benign angels might take on sinister shadows.
Owen glanced at one of those angels and remembered something he had read in a Torchwood file once. He dared the thing to move so much as a wing feather and then gave his attention to what Munroe was saying.
“This is the Southern Necropolis,” he said. “A rather dramatic title for the Victorian cemetery that served this part of Glasgow for a time. It’s had a bit of work in recent years to make it look nicer, stop the vandalism and make it into a bit of an historical landmark, that kind of thing. And the one thing visitors will invariably want to know about is the Gorbals Vampire.”
“One of Darius’s chums?” Owen asked as Munroe paused for no reason at all except, possibly, dramatic licence.
“Not very likely,” he continued. “In September 1954 there was a major panic around these parts. Some of the local children became convinced that two boys had been killed and devoured by a seven foot monster with iron teeth. The story went around the school playgrounds like wildfire and one evening the police were called up to the Necropolis to find it full of children armed with stakes and knives. They said they were hunting the Gorbals Vampire. The police insisted there were no missing children in the area and the headmaster of a nearby school assured a horde of hysterical parents that it was some kind of game the youngsters had cooked up between them.”
“So there was no vampire?” Owen seized on that point.
“Doesn’t seem like it. There was a bit of a moral panic that went as far as an Act of Parliament down in London banning the sale of certain graphic comics to children. The authorities needed a scapegoat and decided that these American imports were corrupting the bairns.”
“Hah!” Dougal laughed. “What they forgot was that every one of the youngsters had learnt to recite ‘Airn Jenny’ in school, and their mums and dads were threatening them with her everytime they forgot to shine their shoes. They didn’t need American comics to put the idea in their heads. The parents and teachers were already doing it.”
Owen looked around the Necropolis. The image of the place swarming with boys in short pants and school jumpers came easily into his head. It was probably just luck that some innocent tramp sleeping among the old monuments hadn’t been bludgeoned to death by mistake.
All the same, moral panic, bad poetry, shonky imported literature aside, Owen was a great believer in the expression ‘no smoke without fire’. Was there anything in it at all? Could there be a connection between the incidents in 1954 and the body found on the building site a stone’s throw from the cemetery?
Or was he letting his imagination run riot as well?
The sound of jackhammers broke the peace of the early morning. They were starting to cut the body from the concrete. That was the salient reality right now. Everything else was just local colour unless proved otherwise.
“Dougal, you go up to the hospital and talk to the guard. Once he’s calmed down a bit he might be able to tell you something a bit more sensible.”
“Right you are, boss,” he said and turned away. Owen looked around the Necropolis once more and then shook his head.
“It’s going to be a while before the body reaches my autopsy room,” he said. “Let’s go and have a look at the archive. See if there’s anything about this 1950s story at all.”
When the old Torchwood Hub burnt, Owen assumed everything had been lost. He was rather surprised to find that a deep archive had survived. The whole level was protected by hermetically sealed doors. The ceiling had been scorched by the intense heat of the fire above, but the paper archives within the fireproof cabinets survived.
It was a good surprise, because it meant the new Torchwood still had historical records to fall back on when they needed to. Darius was the unofficial keeper of these records. He felt at home in what everyone else referred to as the ‘crypt’.
But Owen called Toshiko and asked her to make a start on the research. He told Darius to get the autopsy room ready for the rather unusual remains that were being delivered soon.
Darius was in the crypt anyway, and he gave Owen a disappointed look when he came down to see if his wife had found anything.
“Didn’t you trust me on this one?” he asked. “Did you think the word ‘vampire’ made me incapable of remaining objective or something?”
“Not... at all...” Owen lied. “I need to do an autopsy in a half hour. I’ll need you to help. And Toshiko likes digging into old historical documents. It’s more her thing.”
Darius gave him a cold look and swept past. Owen sighed wearily. Darius had a point. He HAD left him out of this because of the ‘vampire’ connection in the 1954 story. But not because he mistrusted him or his objectivity. But because he didn’t want to hurt him. It was obvious that there were no vampires involved in the moral panic that had occurred. But there had been the sort of ‘grab a pitchfork and torch and storm the castle’ mentality that had frequently caused harm to vampires like himself.
“He’ll be all right,” Toshiko told him. “Talk to him later. Meanwhile come and look at this stuff.”
Toshiko had laid out the documents she found on a wide table. There were a lot of press cuttings from that 1954 incident. It had certainly been a big deal for a few weeks.
“That was the public face of it,” Toshiko said. “The authorities, police, teachers, local councillors, and eventually the House of Commons strenuously denied that there was a Gorbals Vampire with iron teeth. They put the blame firmly on those American graphic comics and banned their sale to minors. But...”
She reached for a faded paper folder with the Torchwood symbol stamped on the front. Owen groaned.
“Oh, you’re not telling me there really IS a Gorbals Vampire? They said there were no missing kids in 1954.”
“No missing kids from the neighbourhood. None reported to the police, nobody missing from the school registers. But around the time that the panic began there WAS a gypsy encampment on the old Govan Colliery – which is roughly where the body was found this morning. The gypsies were moved on by the council a day or two after this story hit the newspapers.”
“Are you telling me there were missing kids from the gypsy camp?”
“We don’t know. A Torchwood agent called Matthew Duncan tried to talk to them. But his report... it’s just one page. He says that most of them didn’t speak English – or at least pretended not to. He was met with a wall of Romany suspicion of the settled community. Probably with good reason. They have never been treated well. Duncan thought they expected to be blamed for the missing children. But he also thought there was an air of fear among the ones he did speak to. Something was spooking them.”
“They were living right on the spot where the rumours all came from,” Owen noted. “If there was anything there, they would have seen it. But if even our man from Torchwood couldn’t get them to talk, we’ll never know.”
“I agree,” Toshiko said. “This archive needs scanning onto a central server, by the way. Some of these documents are so flimsy I feel like they’re disintegrating by the minute all the time they’re out of their folders. Besides, there’s no way to cross reference. It took me forty minutes to root out other references to creatures with iron teeth in Glasgow.”
“Forty minutes?” Owen smiled. That was still pretty good going with a physical archive like this. But he knew Toshiko would have found the information in a few fast keystrokes if it was computerised. She had a point.
“I found references here and there all the way back to the mid 1850s, even before Torchwood was founded. The Charter was signed by Queen Victoria in 1879, as you know.”
“The same year Alexander Anderson wrote “Jenny With the Airn Teeth,” Owen noted. Then he groaned theatrically. “This obsession with trivia we have around Torchwood is catching. Why the fuck did I remember that? Never mind. Lousy poetry aside, what do we have?”
“This,” Toshiko said. “From 1864, fifteen years before the poem.” Toshiko passed Owen a very delicate drawing carefully preserved inside a plastic cover. It was a line drawing of what anyone born after the coining of the word by Karel Capek in 1920 would call a robot. It was angular, with a more or less rectangular torso and a square head, elongated rectangular arms and legs and feet. It put Owen in mind of a robot built out of Lego or building blocks. The eyes were squarish holes that appeared to light up and the mouth was a slit. It was coloured the reddish brown of rusty iron.
“It’s an artist’s impression of a seven foot creature alleged to have been seen around the old Govan Colliery by night shift workers,” Toshiko explained. “Apparently so many workers either saw it or talked to people who had seen it, that they were on the verge of striking about it. This long before trade unions in the coal industry, it has to be said. They were prepared to risk the wrath of their capitalist bosses rather than the monster.”
“And this comes from...”
“The Glasgow Herald. A reporter spoke to the workers, and drew the image based on their accounts. But his article was never published. Either his editor thought it was nonsense or the capitalist bosses of the colliery put pressure on the editor. Anyway, it was buried in the newspaper offices until 1895 when a similar story sprang up around the Govan Ironworks – known as Dixon Blazes because of the glow of the furnaces burning day and night. This time a writer from the new paper, the Daily Record, talked to the workers. He didn’t draw a picture, himself. But he wrote down the descriptions of the creature and then used his initiative. He found the picture from 1864 and discovered that it matched his notes. He was ready to print his scoop about a legendary iron creature still stalking the streets of Glasgow when Torchwood got wind of it and had a quiet word. They took his notes and the picture and conducted their own investigation.”
Owen nodded. He turned to the official Torchwood report. It was very well written, but surprisingly unhelpful. It could not confirm or deny the existence of a seven foot iron creature.
“Of course, by then, Airn Jenny WAS a part of Glasgow culture,” Toshiko pointed out. “The report notes that the children of the foundry workers, playing in the terraced streets of the old Gorbals, would take it in turns to be the creature. It wasn’t called a Vampire, then, incidentally. It’s three years before Vampires really caught on in the public imagination with the publication of Dracula. But all the stories Stoker drew inspiration from, Polidori’s Vampyre, Varney the Vampire, Carmilla, were all well known. And cheap variations on the themes would be available as ‘penny dreadfuls’ – the predecessors of the graphic novels that were banned after the incident in 1954.”
“People knew what a vampire was meant to look like because they’d seen them in those books. And this didn’t look like a vampire. It looked like a man made of iron.”
“The same in 1923,” Toshiko added, pointing out another drawing that looked so similar to the one from 1864 that Owen put them side by side and compared them for a long time.
“This one was buried in our archive since the 1890s,” he said. “So there is no way the later one was a copy. Two generations later the artist’s impression was almost identical.”
“The Gorbals Vampire is a myth. But Airn Jenny exists,” Owen replied. “Speaking of Vampires, I’d better go and talk to our resident one. If he’s calmed down by now.”
Darius was in the medical room making a preliminary examination of the body that had been delivered to the Hub. It was still ‘mounted’ in its cement setting but that didn’t stop him from taking blood and tissue samples.
“I... owe you an apology, Doctor Harper,” he said as he passed Owen the slides he had prepared from the samples. “I was... sullen and angry. But you didn’t deserve to be the focus of that anger.”
“No,” Owen told him. “You have a right to be annoyed. I sent Toshiko to the archive to look up a moral panic story about vampires. The sort of thing that has to be hurtful to you.”
“A lot of things are hurtful to me... and my kind. There are laws protecting ethnic minorities, women, gays, from prejudice. I don’t think there will ever be a law protecting vampires from discrimination. We will always be the scapegoats - as we were in 1954.”
“You know about that?”
“The Gorbals Vampire?” Darius smiled toothily. “Do you not think we have our own legends, our own urban myths? When I meet with my friends in the Undead community, we talk about this sort of thing.”
“So do the Undead have a theory about that?”
“It was a Mullo.... In the Romany community, when a person dies of neglect or at the hand of another, they are known to return from the dead as a Mullo. Among the Romanies who were living near the Southern Necropolis in September 1954, a man was killed by his wife’s lover. He returned to exact his revenge.... by killing her two children... two boys. The dead man was a metalsmith who was known to have fashioned himself a set of metal dentures. Iron teeth... though I suspect they might actually have been tin.”
“So... there was a vampire and it did kill children?”
“It wasn’t a vampire,” Darius insisted. “A Mullo is only Undead until his or her revenge is satisfied. After that, they return to the grave. A Vampire is... barring accidents... immortal. A Mullo would not be considered one of us. In any case, none of us are entirely sure it’s true. As I said, we have our own urban myths. It might all be as much nonsense as the Human version for all we know.”
“It sounds as good an explanation as any,” Owen considered. “Tell you what, though. This guy wasn’t killed by a Vampire... or a Mullo. Something flattened him all at once. The last time I saw anything like it was a worker in a freight depot in Cardiff who had a container dropped on him. It wasn’t even a roller. That would have been progressive. The blood would have been forced up from the flattened part to the unflattened part... like the toothpaste in a tube. There’s no sign of that. Something huge and heavy came down on him all at once.”
“Like what? There were no containers. And I didn’t think a tornado dropped a Kansas claim shanty out of the sky.”
“And failing those theories I’m buggered if I know,” Owen conceded. “There’s nothing more I can do here. I’ll write a death certificate... accidental death... then scrape what we can into a body bag. It’ll have to be a sealed coffin. Any loved ones he might have don’t want to see him like this.”
“You didn’t learn much from the body, then?” Darius asked.
“No, it just gave me a whole lot more questions. The blood and tissue have traces of some kind of unknown radiation. But there’s none in the concrete around him. I need to find out what that’s all about. But whether it leads to an answer to what killed him... I’m fucked if I know.”
And he had no time to investigate further. Dougal Drummond came to tell him there was trouble at the Southern Necropolis.
“What sort of trouble?” he asked.
Dougal glanced at Darius and sighed.
“Vampire hunters,” he said. “Rumours have got around about the death on the building site. Somebody mentioned the Gorbals Vampire and.... it’s not children this time, thank the heavens. But there are hordes of people swarming about the place. The damage is absolutely heartbreaking. Crosses and headstones tipped over, statues wrecked. Some of the idiots even started digging up graves. The police have made dozens of arrests. The press are having a field day.”
“I’ll bet they are!” Owen remarked. “But it’s nothing to do with us, really. Let the police handle it. We don’t need to be involved. How the hell did it get started, anyway?”
“The security guard,” Dougal responded. “The one who was so obsessed with Airn Jenny. Apparently he had stopped panicking by the time he got to the hospital. Perhaps the meds kicked in! Anyway, he started calling his pals, telling them there was a monster in the neighbourhood. And they called their pals...”
“And the next thing there’s a mob prowling the cemetery!” Owen shook his head. “Sometimes I despair of the Human race. I get more sense out of some of the aliens.”
“Thing is,” Dougal added. “I think there really IS something. I got him to talk at the hospital – actually getting him to stop talking was more of a problem. He told me he and the dead man were chasing something on the building site... he described it as a seven foot rusty iron robot with glowing eyes.”
“You’re kidding! Actually seven foot... glowing eyes.”
“Apparently they got a good look at it while they were chasing it across the building site.”
“They chased it? A seven foot robot.... two middle aged fat bastards stuffed into security guard uniforms chased it and it ran away from them?” Owen’s tone was best described as incredulous. “And yet, he was the one reduced to a quivering wreck afterwards...”
“Seeing his pal flattened by an invisible death ray would do that, I suppose,” Dougal answered. “That’s what he said happened. They had the giant robot cornered by the perimeter fence, then there was a bright light in the sky and a noise. And the next thing your man was flattened. The other one screamed the place down. The robot hopped it. The light disappeared. And that was that. I’ve got his whole testimony recorded. I’ll make a full report later.”
“Do that,” Owen said. “I think I’ve got an idea what happened to flatpack man. And I’ve got a bit of a theory about the rest of it, too. Can’t do anything about it until nightfall, though. Better leave it for a while, anyway. Give the police time to clear out the vampire hunters before we go robot hunting.”
“We’re taking this seriously, then?” Dougal asked. “To be honest, boss, if it wasn’t for the body I’d put this guy down for a CAT scan.”
“Somewhere underneath the nonsense and the urban myths there’s something tangible here,” Owen answered. “And I want to know what the fuck it’s all about. Darius, are you up for it, my son? Maybe it’s time the vampire did a bit of hunting, instead. Dougal, you get your head down this afternoon and be ready to come out after dark, too.”
That was exactly what he planned to do, as well. It had been a long day already. He left the task of preparing the body for removal to Darius and headed for the long, comfortable sofa near Toshiko’s workstation.
Toshiko was taking a break from her work to nurse Genkei. Owen watched her as he settled himself on the sofa with a cushion under his head. She was singing a Japanese lullaby to the baby. Owen had no idea what the words meant, but it sounded pleasant. He could happily drop off to sleep to it.
“Just don’t teach either of our kids Jenny With The Airn Teeth,” he said.
“I certainly won’t,” Toshiko replied. “It’s horrible, isn’t it! What kind of ideas did people have about parenting back then if they taught their kids that stuff?”
“Munroe thinks we’re the namby pamby generation because we didn’t go to bed scared stiff of Airn Jenny.”
“Munroe took his son to meet the Loch Ness Monster when he was a baby,” Toshiko pointed out. “By the way, do you know I’ve got a UFO trace from last night. Something came down for about an hour then left again. The computer automatically tracked its energy signal.”
“I bet I know where it landed,” Owen said. He told her. Toshiko was impressed by his deduction. Owen smiled smugly and closed his eyes.
A few hours sleep and a Chinese take out supper set Owen and Dougal up for their nocturnal mission. Darius had rested, too, but he didn’t eat Chinese. He had once remarked that he wasn’t particular about the racial characteristics of blood, but that he found himself hungry again half an hour after drinking Chinese.
Nobody was sure if it was a joke or not.
Anyway, Darius was ready to join his colleagues when they set out in the Ford Escape. He kept the window open and his nostrils dilated as he breathed in the night air of Glasgow.
“It’s a quiet night,” he commented as they approached the Hutchinstown area of the city. “Any locals not hauled off by the police for vandalism and carrying offensive weapons in the cemetery this afternoon are staying indoors. They think the creature will be roaming again tonight.”
“It probably will be,” Owen answered him as he parked the SUV next to the entrance to the Southern Necropolis. “So a self-imposed curfew for civilians suits us fine.”
“Do we need special weapons?” Dougal asked.
“Only our wits about us,” Owen replied. “And Darius’s powers of deduction. If I’m right, there’s nothing dangerous around here. Just something very incredible.”
Dougal nodded and made sure he had his sidearm loaded anyway. Darius rarely carried a weapon. There was a school of thought that he could be pretty dangerous without one. Owen, of course, was a medic. By long tradition he ought to carry a gun only for self-defence.
The Southern Necropolis was a sinister looking place at night. It was lit only by the street lights beyond its walls. The signs of vandalism during the day made it even less appealing tonight.
“In the old days,” Darius said. “The furnaces of the Dixon Blazes ironworks would light up the sky. So some of my friends tell me. The ‘City of the Dead’ would look as if it was at the gates of Hell already.”
“They called this the ‘City of the Dead’?” Owen laughed softly just to disguise the fact that he was a little creeped out about being in a cemetery late at night. Then his laughter died on his lips. He caught a movement in the corner of his eye.
“I saw it, too,” Darius confirmed. “It’s... not Human. I can sense no other living flesh in this place but the two of you. It’s... iron... rusting iron. I can smell it...”
They moved cautiously, spreading out as they approached one of the larger graves. It looked more like a sarcophagus, with an elaborately carved block of granite placed lengthways. The inscription on the slab declared it to be the last resting place of George ‘Blazes’ Gallagher who died in 1864.
“The year Airn Jenny was first spotted,” Dougal pointed out.
Owen had already made that connection, but he didn’t comment. To him what mattered was that the slab had been shifted to reveal the open grave beneath. He shone his torch inside and noted that there was at least an eight foot drop to hard packed ground. There were some fragments that might once have been a coffin, but it had long since decayed, along with the body, presumably.
“That couldn’t have been the vandals this afternoon,” Darius commented. “It would need superhuman strength to move it without lifting gear.”
“Just what I was thinking,” Owen agreed.
“Boss!” Dougal’s voice was deliberately and carefully calm as he shone his torch around the shadows by the Necropolis wall. The light caught the rusting red-brown of something made of old iron. Owen stepped closer to what he was definitely going to call ‘Airn Jenny’ until proven otherwise. She was the dead spitting image of her pictures, anyway. She was sitting, hunched up against the wall, but he would make her seven feet tall if she stood. He was using the feminine pronoun because it went with ‘Jenny’ but the angular body of the robot obviously had no gender.
Dougal had his gun trained on it. Owen shook his head and stepped tentatively closer.
“It’s all right,” he said. “We mean you no harm. And I don’t think you mean us any. Can you understand me?”
He was slightly unnerved when the robot head lifted and the eyes lit up as if there was a small furnace inside. It nodded.
“Can you speak?”
The head shook from side to side.
“I know you didn’t kill that man last night,” Owen answered. “But you were there. You were wandering around the building site.”
The robot’s angular arms raised. It moved them in a complicated gesture. Owen didn’t understand it. Dougal and Darius both gasped.
“Semaphore,” Dougal said. “Old fashioned semaphore. Somebody taught it... programmed it... to communicate with semaphore.”
“I hope you’re going to tell me you understand semaphore,” Owen told him.
“I do,” Darius replied. “I’ve been around for nearly two hundred years. You’d be amazed what skills I have. Just don’t ask why I know semaphore. Or what practical use it is to the Undead.”
“So what did she say?”
“She said yes. To your question about where she was last night.”
“Why?” Owen asked. The robot replied with a long series of arm movements.
“Looking for her home,” Darius translated.
“Home?” Owen was puzzled. “Tell you what, let’s not make her give any long answers.” He turned back to ‘Jenny’. “You were made in the old iron foundry, many years ago? In the 1850s, maybe?”
“Yes,” Darius said for her.
“By George ‘Blazes’ Gallagher.”
“I’m getting to know that one,” Owen admitted. “If I Google George ‘Blazes’ Gallagher, will I find out that he was some sort of brilliant engineer who had his own workshop at the iron foundry where he built experimental devices?”
Jenny was confused by that question. Owen tried again.
“George Gallagher is your father?”
Jenny gave the semaphore signal for ‘yes’. Darius didn’t bother to translate this time.
“He built you with some notion about you serving mankind... doing the hard, dangerous work in the coal mines or iron foundries?”
“But that would have put thousands of working men out of jobs. They weren’t ready for you. George’s bosses told him to dismantle you, melt your iron body down and build... I don’t know, railway locomotive parts or something?”
The question was a little complicated but Jenny seemed to get the gist of it. She answered with a longer message that Darius relayed.
“She was hidden in his workshop. At night, George would walk around the foundry and the nearby colliery with her. Sometimes they would walk through the Necropolis, anywhere they could avoid living people, anyway.”
“George died. He was buried here. You... missed him. You came to his grave... opened it up... hid inside with the body!” Owen thought he was doing ok so far. He was getting the ‘yes’ signal over and over. “God help us! I never figured Greyfriars Bobby for a seven foot robot.”
Jenny didn’t understand that. But she signalled again. Darius translated a tale of solitude. She had lain in the grave for months, years. Every so often, the loneliness became unbearable, though, and she would walk around the foundry as she used to do.
Then the foundry fell silent. The fires went out. The men went away. Jenny walked in the dark and cold. She returned to the grave and waited.
Then she heard noises, felt vibrations that reminded her of the old days. She came out again and walked around where the foundry used to be. She found strange lights, strange buildings, fences, dogs, alarms that sounded as she walked around. She found men who gave chase. She couldn’t find her home.
“It’s gone,” Owen told her. “The foundry is demolished. There are new buildings on top of it. In a few months the new development will be finished and there won’t be a trace of what used to be here. It’s gone.”
Jenny nodded. Owen thought she nodded sadly, though there was no earthly way she could express any emotion with an iron face.
“It will never come back... the world you knew. And this world... is no more ready for you than the one you were born in.”
Again the nod. Then a long series of semaphore signals. Darius sighed.
“She wants to die. If she can’t fulfil her purpose, if there’s nothing here for her, she would rather lie in there... in the grave of her creator.... and never rise again.”
“She wants us to kill her?” Dougal was astonished. “But... how?”
Jenny stood up. She really was seven foot tall. She was amazing. She made another signal and then pointed to a panel in her chest.
“There’s a switch, inside. We can turn off her core...”
“I can’t,” Owen said. “I’m a doctor. I... I preserve life. I don’t...”
“That’s not exactly the sort of life your Hippocratic oath covers, boss,” Dougal pointed out.
“I know. But... even so... I’m not exactly innocent... I’ve killed people... monsters... aliens... when I had to... I’ve been at the dirty end of Torchwood business. But in self defence... when there was no choice. I can’t just... cold-bloodedly switch her off. I can’t.”
“Then I’ll do it,” Dougal decided. “I’m a soldier. It IS my job. Besides, I’m not sure what else we can do.”
“All right.” Owen stepped back. He watched as Jenny lumbered towards the open grave. She sat on the edge. Dougal stepped forward and opened the panel. He pulled the lever. The lights in Jenny’s eyes started to dim. She had just enough power left to slide herself backwards into the grave. There was a distressing clang as she hit the bottom and when Owen looked down the lights had gone out altogether.
Darius stepped forward. He had said it needed superhuman strength to move the slab. He was superhuman. It was an effort, even so, but he closed the grave. The three of them stepped back and paused a moment, not quite in prayer, but in respectful silence.
“We’re done here,” Owen said, turning away. “Tomorrow, I need to check out George ‘Blazes’ Gallagher. There’s something more to him than we know. Gifted engineer, definitely. But he was a Victorian. Jenny there had a micro-atomic clean fusion reactor for a power source. I think her ‘father’ came across some alien technology. I’d like to find out what, and how. But that’s just mopping up. Nothing to worry about.”
“What about the dead man?” Darius asked. “How does he fit in with Jenny?”
“He doesn’t,” Owen replied. “He was just the unluckiest bastard in the universe. He was chasing a Victorian robot and got squashed by a cloaked alien space hopper. Jandean. They’re a pain in the neck, always dropping in on Earth. They monitor our TV. It gives them a really weird idea of what sort of people we are. Never mind our science fiction. The poor buggers think we all really live in Coronation Street. That one... Toshiko’s monitor registered it coming and going. It probably parked up to make the alien equivalent of a phone call. It was just sheer bloody billion to one coincidence that it landed on our man.”
“Fucking hell!” Dougal swore.
“That about says it for me, too,” Darius added.