It was five o’clock, still an hour to sunrise. Darius was on his way back to the Hub after spending a quiet night among the rooftops of the city centre. He didn’t hunt on these forays. He had no blood lust to satisfy. But the urge to be at large under the night sky brought him out of the underground lair that could otherwise be a claustrophobic prison for him.
Owen Harper justified letting him have such freedom to roam by calling it ‘patrolling’, and sometimes he did spot things going on in the dark that came under Torchwood’s remit. Last month, when the winter was at its most bitter, Shelter and other charities looking after the welfare of the homeless had been concerned about the number of sudden deaths among that population. They criticised the Scottish Assembly for not doing enough to provide night shelters. But Darius was the only one who had seen the hellish creature that rode through the streets harvesting the souls of those unfortunates trying to sleep in shop doorways and bus shelters. Munroe Macdonald had called it a Nucklelavee, digging up an image from his database of Scottish mythology of something like a half-man-half-horse with no skin over the flesh and sinew of the body and fearsome teeth on both the ‘man’ and the ‘horse’ head. In the folklore of the Hebrides they were encountered by people gathering kelp on the seashore and were known to prey on those close to death. Munroe surmised that the sea-born creature had followed the Clyde and been attracted to the vulnerable souls within the city. Torchwood ran the creature down with a combination of advanced technology and Vampire instinct. Owen’s conclusion at the end of the autopsy was that it was of extra-terrestrial origin. The body was in cryogenic store until he had time to investigate how it came to be a part of Scottish folklore for millennia.
Yes, his roaming could be useful. But tonight Darius was pleased to have had a quiet time under the stars. He had considered heading towards Shona’s flat to see her and the baby, but she got cross when he arrived unannounced, so he had contented himself with a solitary wander around the rooftops of the city.
The smell of burning and the sound of a fire tender drew his attention and made the night a little less uneventful. Of course, it was nothing to do with him, personally, or of interest to Torchwood, but he followed both the smell and the Doppler sound of the siren. It was only a quarter mile from the Hub by a vampire’s direct route across the rooftops. The fire was in the fourth floor flat above a laundrette in one of those once genteel but now gone to seed areas that Glasgow had plenty of. It was burning fiercely despite the efforts of the fire brigade. The flames were already coming up through the roof.
Below, amongst the evacuated residents of the flats below and next to the burning one he heard somebody crying and calling out a name. There was somebody inside, still. The fire fighters redoubled their efforts to bring the fire under control knowing a life was at risk. Darius, watching from the gable of the building opposite, wondered if there was anything he could do to help. Vampires could burn as easily as any organic being could. But he could climb much better than most humans and he didn’t need to breathe. He could rescue the missing soul….
He didn’t have to. There were shouts of excitement from the swelling crowd of onlookers as a fireman emerged from a gutted window carrying a child in burnt shreds of pyjamas very carefully. Once he was clear of danger other hands reached to lift the boy. He was put onto a stretcher and given oxygen. An ambulance waited to take him to hospital along with the near-hysterical young woman who tried to get close to him.
Darius was not the only one who was surprised when the young woman grabbed the child up off the stretcher and pushed past the paramedics and firemen, fighting off civilians who tried to stop her disappearing into the warren of dark alleyways behind the shops and flats.
Darius followed her until she halted, exhausted and frightened, hiding behind an industrial waste bin outside the back entrance to a grocery store. He jumped down in front of her so that there was no escape.
“It’s all right,” he said to her. “I can help you.”
The girl looked at him with wide, fearful eyes. He noted that she was wearing an overall with a Tesco name badge. There was a twenty-four hour store not far away. That was why she wasn’t in the flat when the fire started. It explained why the boy, who couldn’t have been much more than four years old, was alone when the fire started.
“It’s all right,” he repeated. “I can help.”
The girl said nothing, but the boy spoke to her, his words tumbling over each other in his misery. The girl responded, telling him to be quiet.
Darius was startled. The boy had spoken in Lithuanian. The girl had responded in the same.
He smiled in what he hoped was a friendly way, keeping his thin lips over his sharp incisors, and spoke in his own native tongue that he rarely used these days except to teach Gabrielle odd words and phrases. The girl gasped in surprise. She had obviously not heard anyone address her in Lithuanian for a long time, either.
“I CAN help you,” he said. “I promise. You’re cold, and you’re in shock. Let me take you somewhere safe, with food and warmth.”
Being addressed in her own language slightly reassured the girl, but she was still reluctant to trust Darius or anyone else fully. She asked him if he was with the police.
“No, tauriuju vaikas,” he answered. “I’m not from the police, or immigration, social services, or any organisation that you need to be afraid of. My name is Darius Petkus, son of a nobleman of Dzukija, and on my honour I mean you no harm. Will you trust me, mano vaikai?“
The girl nodded hesitantly. Darius took hold of them both in a firm embrace and closed his eyes. Moments later they were a quarter of a mile away, near the entrance to the Hub. Using his ability to move at speed from one place to another was not the best way to cement the tenuous trust he had gained, but it was a way to get them all back to the Hub before dawn, and without attracting the attention of any of the authorities that the young woman feared.
“It’s all right,” he promised them as he brought them into the Hub through the still closed and quiet tourist information office and down in the lift to Hub Central. “We are here. You are safe.”
Munroe Macdonald and Toshiko Sato were on duty overnight. Owen Harper was at home with the children. He would be in later once he had dropped them off at the school and nursery where they spent their days. Darius hoped he could find time to give both of his refugees a thorough medical. Meanwhile he wanted to make sure they were both fed. He brought them to the rest area and made up two bowls of Ready-Brek instant oatmeal while he toasted bread and made scrambled eggs in the microwave.
“Do you need any help with that?” Toshiko asked. Something about a vampire making breakfast struck her as a little odd. “Who are these two, by the way? And why are they here?”
“They are Danukas and Laima Banis. They’re Lithuanian.”
“Your kind,” Toshiko noted.
“No,” Darius corrected her. “They are Human, and hungry for ordinary food.”
“I meant, they’re from your country, silly. They look scared stiff as well as hungry. What happened?”
Darius explained. Toshiko nodded as if she understood.
“I saw the preliminary police report on their system. The fire inspector suspects arson. The woman who left the scene is wanted for questioning. That would be her?”
“Then she probably should be handed over to the police,” Toshiko pointed out. “They’re not a Torchwood case. And just because they’re from your country doesn’t make them your responsibility. There are at least half a million eastern European immigrants in Great Britain these days, not counting vampires. They’re not your problem, Darius.”
“These two are,” he insisted. “I don’t know why, exactly, but when I saw them, even before I knew they were from my country, I felt I had to look after them. At least let me make sure they’re warm and fed, and perhaps we could find them some clothes. They’ve lost everything in the fire. After that….”
“You’re a softy, Darius,” Toshiko told him. “That’s your problem. All right, they can stay here for the time being. But if she’s an arsonist then we can’t protect her from the law. That’s not what Torchwood is for.”
“She’s not an arsonist,” Darius insisted. “Can I get some blankets? Laima got home from a night shift to find her home ablaze. She’s still in shock. She needs to rest. So does the boy.”
Toshiko brought the blankets. Darius made up beds on the sofas in the rest area. He spoke to Laima quietly in Lithuanian before putting off the light over them and stepping away.
“You ARE a softy,” Toshiko repeated.
“They don’t know what I am. They’d be afraid of me if they knew. I am sorry for that.”
“I won’t tell them. Nor will anyone else. Go and sit down. They’re safe where they are.”
It was the start of the day shift. Above, Marcia was opening the tourist office. Shona arrived with Gabrielle. Dougal Drummond came in and got on with his notes for an ongoing investigation of strange lights in the sky above Stranraer harbour. Owen was last to arrive. Toshiko briefed him on Darius’s pair of waifs.
“I’ll check them both out, physically,” he said. “But we’d better talk to the police about them, later. Darius has to understand that.”
As he turned towards the rest area the smoke alarm went off noisily. Shona grabbed Gabrielle back out of her play pen. Darius made sure his daughter was safe before turning towards his other charges. Dougal was already spraying the rest area with foam from the fire extinguisher. Laima was huddled in the corner holding Danukas in a protective embrace. Her eyes were wide with fear.
“What the fuck is this?” Owen asked as he surveyed the damage. “Was the kid smoking in bed? He set the sofa alight.”
He stared at the foam-soaked remains of the sofa cushions. The burn mark was in the shape of a curled up boy, as if it had burnt under his body. He turned and reached out to Danukas, peeling him away from his older sister. Etsuko’s old pyjamas that Toshiko had found for him were scorched, but his flesh was untouched. He wasn’t burnt.
“How?” Owen asked. “It’s not possible. He was carried out of a blazing flat without a mark on him, and now….”
Laima was crying loudly and saying something over and over in Lithuanian. Darius listened to her carefully then turned to his puzzled colleagues.
“She says it has been this way all his life. When he is frightened, things burn. He has a velnias – a devil - within him that causes fires, but protects him from being harmed by it.”
“I don’t believe in devils,” Owen responded. “But this kid is definitely something Torchwood needs to investigate.”
“Some THING?” Darius rounded on him angrily, his face greying visibly and his eyes glowing. “I brought them here to protect them, not so that you could treat them as specimens to put under the microscope.”
“Human beings don’t do THAT,” Owen pointed out. “At least they don’t do it more than once. Even those that spontaneously combust DIE in the process. We need to know WHAT he is, and how dangerous he is. So you tell him I need to give him a full medical examination. Tell him he isn’t going to come to any harm and he doesn’t need to set fire to my lab over it, but he has to come with me.”
“I’ll be with him,” Darius insisted. “You don’t speak Lithuanian for one thing. How are you going to make him understand you mean him no harm?”
“Fine. Tosh, you talk to the girl. She must speak some English. She’s wearing a Tesco overall. Even on their graveyard shift their employees must have some language skills. If not, use your translation programme. It sorts out alien gabble. I’m sure it can manage Lithuanian.”
While Darius coaxed Danukas away from his sister’s protective embrace, Toshiko fetched the portable version of her translation device. She had used micro-technology to build a wristlet version that could be hidden under her sleeve.
“How old are you, Laima?” Toshiko asked first of all after settling her on a chair beside her workstation. “Twenty, twenty-one?”
“Twenty-two,” she answered.
“You look much younger than that,” Toshiko added. “It’s a wonder you managed to get a job at all. You must have the proper Home Office paperwork. A company like Tesco wouldn’t be employing illegals.”
Laima looked down at her hands, clenched together in her lap, then back at Toshiko, whose dark eyes bore into her and stripped away the pretence. She slowly admitted that she had forged papers.
“So is Banis your real surname?” Toshiko asked. She had already hacked into the central register of births in Lithuania and searched for that surname.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Then you’re not twenty-two, you’re eighteen. The only Lamia Banis registered in Lithuania was born in 1994. Your false papers make you older than you really are. I suppose that helped you find work to support you and your brother?”
The Lithuanian word for brother was ‘brolis’. Toshiko knew that from listening to Darius with Gabrielle. He often read baby books to her, translating the English to his own language. It annoyed Shona for some reason. Toshiko, who often did the same thing, translating reading books into Japanese for both her children, wondered why she objected to Gabrielle having two cultures.
Anyway, she knew a couple of basic words in Lithuanian. She knew that the word ‘brolis’ didn’t mean an awful lot to Gabrielle because she was an only child. The Japanese equivalent, – otouto in the nearest western spelling – made Etsuko smile because it meant her little brother, Genkei.
The Japanese words musuko and musume – son and daughter - made her own eyes light up, and she knew that the Lithuanian word for daughter - dukterine - had a profound effect on Darius.
But ‘brolis‘ was not a word that rated even an eyeblink from Laima.
“When did you and your sunus come to Britain?” she asked.
“Six months ago,” Laima responded before she realised what she had said.
“He’s your son, not your brother,” Toshiko confirmed. “But we’ve already established that you’re eighteen. And Danukas is… what… four, five….”
A vile thought crossed her mind. She thought about what she knew of eastern European culture, mostly from Darius. He had never mentioned that what western Europe classed as paedophilia was common there.
“He is four,” Laima admitted.
“That would make you fifteen,” Toshiko answered. “Nearer fourteen, when he was conceived.”
Laima nodded with her eyes downcast as if she knew just what people thought of her.
“I’m not judging,” Toshiko assured her, trying to sound kind. “Young girls make mistakes. Besides….”
Laima sobbed as her story came out in a jumble of words that the translator had to untangle. Toshiko listened as she described growing up in an orphanage in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. When she was fourteen, she had struggled to fend off the unwanted attentions of a boy who had recently come to live among the community. Eventually the boy had raped her in her bed. The next day he was reported missing. The police had searched for him, but no trace was ever found. A few months later it became obvious that Laima was pregnant. When questioned by the orphanage directors she told them about the rape. Instead of reporting it to the police, they panicked, not wanting a scandal to emerge about their institution. She was taken out of school and kept in the orphanage for most of her pregnancy, then sent to a home for unmarried mothers under a false name, address and age. She gave birth in the natural course of time to an apparently healthy boy.
“But that night… when he was only a day old,” Laima explained. “He must have had his first nightmare. Look on your computer. You will see what happens when Danukas is frightened.”
Toshiko looked. It didn’t take very long. The story of a fire in the maternity unit of the nursing home in Vilnius had made the international newspapers.
“A nurse and two of the mothers died trying to rescue the babies,” Laima said in a voice that shook as she remembered. Toshiko read about the tragedy on a news archive. It listed three mothers who had died, and four babies.
“They thought you and Danukas had died in the fire… the fire that began in his cot…. He… a newborn baby… started the fire.”
“The velnias within him. It starts the fires. It happened everywhere I went. I got away from the city with my baby, hiding in the toilet cubicle of a train when the ticket collector came by. Later, I made some money from… from men who….”
A blush of shame coloured her cheeks. She didn’t want to talk about how she raised money for food and shelter. Toshiko didn’t need to know. What she did need to know about was the spate of fires in cheap rooms and even cheaper hotels all the way across Europe as well as one that started on a cross-channel ferry from Rotterdam to Hull.
There was a similar pattern in towns between Hull and Glasgow. There had been casualties sometimes. Cheap hotels, boarding houses and lodgings sometimes skimped on health and safety. Fire alarms didn’t work, escape doors were locked, extinguishers were faulty. In total, Toshiko reckoned at least thirty people had died and fifty more injured in the two years that Laima and her child had been travelling through Europe looking for some kind of sanctuary.
“It has been hard,” she said. “I keep hoping that the demon will leave him and we may have some peace. But….”
She stopped talking as Owen came to the desk. She looked at him fearfully.
“Where is my son?” Laima asked him. “What have you done to him?”
“Son?” Owen looked at Toshiko in surprise. “How….”
“Long story. I’ll explain later.”
“I’ve done nothing to Danukas,” Owen continued. “Darius is sitting with him, reciting a Lithuanian counting song that seems to amuse him.” He looked at Toshiko again. “I need a saliva sample to compare DNA. I was going to check if they were genuinely brother and sister. Now I know I have to look for a mother and son relationship. That will save some confusion, at least.”
Toshiko gently explained what Owen needed to Laima. She reluctantly allowed him to take the sample. She said nothing more until he was gone.
Toshiko watched the girl carefully. She sympathised with her. She even partly understood her plight. Etsuko had been conceived against her will, but she had grown to love her even before she was born and she treasured her little girl as soon as she held her in her arms. Laima had been raped but her baby had promised to be a happy result of that ugly action. Except the baby was a new and terrifying burden on her.
“What will happen to us?” Laima asked.
“I can’t answer that,” Toshiko answered. “Owen is trying to help. He’s a good man. He will try, that’s all I can promise.”
She wondered just what help he could offer. What would become of them both? Every time Danukas was scared he would create an inferno around himself. People would die. Laima and her son would keep running away from the consequences of his involuntary action. The nightmare would never end for them both.
“Darius is a good man,” Laima said. “He has helped us.”
Toshiko stopped. It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that Darius was not, strictly speaking, a man. But what good would that do? Laima trusted him. So did Danukas. He came from the same country they did, and they could talk to him. It seemed to do Darius some good to talk to them, for that matter. He had been an exile from his home for a very long time. Setting a wedge between them for no good reason would be cruel.
“You are his friends,” Laima added. “I will trust you.”
“Don’t…” Toshiko began. She wanted to say “Don’t trust us. We’re Torchwood. We’re here to save the Human race from things that aren’t Human. Danukas is one of those things. We’re here to stop him, not protect him.”
But she didn’t. Even though she had seen with her own eyes what happened when Danukas’s ‘inner devil’ was angered, even though she had seen the trail of destruction right across Continental Europe and counted the casualties, she couldn’t blame either Laima or her child. They were victims, too.
“We’ll do our best,” she said.
Laima nodded. She accepted that vague promise.
Toshiko wondered what else she could do. All she could offer right now was coffee and biscuits and a sympathetic voice. Laima needed something more concrete than that. Even if Owen found a way to control Danukas’s fire-raising they were still illegal immigrants. They would probably have to go back to Lithuania, and if Tesco didn’t have a branch in Vilnius then there wasn’t much of a future for them there.
She was shaken out of her dismal thoughts by the sound of Danukas screaming. He could be heard all the way along the corridor from the medical room. Laima immediately leapt up from her seat and tried to run to him. Munroe MacDonald caught her in a firm but gentle grip.
“Sit ye down again, my wee girl,” he said. “Whatever they’re doing, it will be for the bairn’s own good. Don’t you fret about him.”
Laima didn’t want to sit down. She struggled against Munroe’s grasp, even trying to bite him once. Dougal added his efforts to restraining her, forcing her back into the chair. Toshiko regretted the necessity of brute force, especially from two men. She had been used by men often enough in her young life. But keeping her away from whatever Owen was doing to the boy was important.
Toshiko turned her computer monitor to the CCTV in the medical room. She watched as Owen aimed what she recognised as the ‘singularity scalpel’ at Danukas. Darius was holding him down as his body convulsed and spasmed. He – or perhaps the ‘devil’ within him – was fighting against whatever Owen was trying to do.
Then the camera lens shattered and the image blanked. At the same moment the fire alarm went off. A light blinked on the indicator panel showing that the fire was in the medical room. This time it was Toshiko who had to be restrained from running into danger. Shona held her back as the door from the corridor crashed open. Darius came first, carrying Danukas. Both of them were actually smouldering. Owen followed. He was nursing burns on both of his hands. Toshiko grabbed the first aid kit and tended to him. She was relieved to see that they were only minor burns. He would recover in a day or so.
Darius’s burns healed easily. He didn’t need any assistance.
But Danukas did. He was crying with pain. There were deep first degree burns on his arms and legs. Even as Toshiko was bandaging his hands, Owen was calling out to Shona and Munroe how to treat the dangerous, life-threatening injuries to the boy. Laima knelt by his side, grasping his hand, crying piteously, and frankly just getting in the way.
Dougal Drummond returned from examining the scene of the fire and reported that it was out, now. The containment bulkheads built into all sections of the Hub and automatic sprinklers had done their job. Even so, the damage was bad enough.
“We’ll have to call an ambulance for him,” Owen said. “We can’t do more than first aid here with me out of action and the medical room gutted.”
An ambulance came. Laima went with Danukas. There was no tearing her away from him now. Toshiko drove Owen to the hospital, too. On the way there, he started to explain what had happened.
“The boy is Human, fully Human,” he said. “There’s a DNA match to his mother, and an unknown father….”
“Also Human?” Toshiko asked, and quickly explained the circumstances of Danukas’s conception.
“Also Human,” Owen answered. “But I’m guessing the boy who raped her was ‘possessed’ for want of a better word, by the fire-starter. It WASN’T Human. It wasn’t of this planet. It was some sort of alien entity. It must have transferred from the boy to Laima, but instead of possessing her, it possessed her child.”
“It was dormant while she was pregnant,” Toshiko guessed. “Then when he was born… the first fire was in the maternity home. After that… anywhere he was scared. And that was a lot of places. Strange rooms where they tried to live in peace, buses, trains, the backs of lorries when they tried to get away, on the ferry to England when the engine noises frightened him.”
“I detected it with a simple body heat scan,” Owen continued. “Hunkered within his stomach cavity. We know it didn’t harm the boy. It made him the catalyst, untouched by the fires. But it had to go. It couldn’t keep using him like that. I’m sorry the process hurt him so much. The bloody thing didn’t want to let go. Exposure to air started to kill it as soon as the singularity scalpel yanked it out of him. But it set the lab on fire in its death throes, whirling about the place, anything it made contact with started to burn. The boy came off worst. It tried to attack him again and again. Darius fought it off. He was yelling, half in foreign gabble, half in English, telling the ‘velnius’ or whatever it was that it wouldn’t hurt the child anymore. It turned on him, but he grabbed the boy and ran for it. I burnt my hands on the door, getting it open. That was just stupid. Darius was the one who saved the boy.”
“He’s got very attached to them both, even though he only just found them this morning.”
“Yes,” Owen sighed. “I think we’re going to have to pull some strings to make sure they’re not deported, or Immigration will have a really pissed off Vampire on their case.”
“Can we do that?” Toshiko asked.
“We’re Torchwood, beyond the government, above the law. Now and again we ought to be able to make that more than just a slogan. The boy is going to need months of treatment in the burns unit, anyway, and his mother will have to stay with him. That’ll be enough for temporary stay on compassionate grounds. By then I’ll have found the right string to pull. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him, anyway. I need to make sure there are no after effects. I’ll try to arrange for Darius to visit them in the evening, after dark.”
“You are as big a softy as he is, aren’t you,” Toshiko told him.
“Don’t tell anyone. It’s bad for my reputation as a hard-nosed bastard,” Owen answered.