Toshiko enjoyed her work at Torchwood – at least those parts of it that weren’t terrifying or involving alien bodily fluids. But she was always glad to leave it behind for a few hours and enjoy a little of the normality everyone else in Glasgow enjoyed – the people who lived in blissful ignorance of the reality of a world on the edge of alien invasion and unimaginable horrors from unknown dimensions.
Sunday afternoon at the mother and child swimming club was one of the places she went for a relaxing dose of normality. Genkei was learning to swim confidently with the aid of his water wings and Toshiko enjoyed the social interaction with the other mothers of pre-school children.
The first time she had gone to the club, she had felt self-conscious and shy. She didn’t know any of the other parents. She didn’t watch any of the soap operas they talked about. She was the only mother among them that had a full time career, not a part time job in a shop or factory just to help with bills.
She was the only English woman of Japanese extraction among a group of Glaswegian women. Not that there was any prejudice against her for being either English or Japanese, but she wondered if she would ever fit in with such a patently homogenous group.
But gradually she started to talk to them, mostly about the children and their progress in the swimming club at first, then widening out into other subjects. She found their conversation limiting but refreshing. It was nice not to have to think about aliens and abnormal energy readings, UFO sightings, or even the feeding habits of the Loch Ness Monster for a few hours.
Sometimes it occurred to her that she was living a lie for those hours, but it was a lie she could deal with.
This afternoon was as enjoyable as any other. She changed Genkei into his bathing trunks and helped Etsuko put on her favourite flowered costume with a frill of a skirt around the waist before getting into her own one-piece Speedo, black with a diagonal silver stripe from shoulder to hip. She glanced around the changing room and noted that she almost certainly had the best figure in a swimming costume of all the mothers in the group – and after two children that was something to be proud of.
There was an extra member of the group today. The buzz of conversation in the changing room softened noticeably as a woman came out of the private cubicles carrying a three or four year old girl in a Barbie pink costume. Both mother and child had natural blonde hair, a rarity in Scotland where the gene pool tended towards brunettes and red-heads. But that wasn’t what was causing everyone to talk in lowered voices.
“Caroline, it’s grand to see you,” Margie Anderson said to the blonde, the first to rise above the whispers and speak to her. “You’ve been missed around here.”
“Thanks,” Caroline answered. “It’s… good to be back.”
Caroline was obviously known to the other mothers, but she had stopped attending the swimming club before Toshiko joined it. Strangely, she seemed as shy and distant of the crowd as a new member of the group. She didn’t talk to anyone very much, and when she did it was very vague, quick answers.
She mostly paid attention to her little girl, Sally, who was just getting to grips with the dog paddle with water wings. She praised every little achievement the child made effusively, calling her things like ‘precious child’ and ‘best little girl in the world’.
“Caroline was always a doting parent,” somebody said. Toshiko realised she had been watching the woman and her child more than she had been watching Genkei. But he was busy having his turn at the turtle shaped inflatable that all the kids liked to play on. Etsuko was in the other pool practicing for her first full ‘width’ which meant a certificate and a sew-on badge for her costume.
“WAS?” Toshiko questioned. The woman who had spoken was Moira Fisher. Her eldest son, Adam, was at school with Etsuko and her toddler, Francesca, was hoping to get on the turtle next.
“Her little girl died, a car accident,” Moira explained. “Two years ago, now. Her husband died just after Sally was born, and she pretty much doted on the child. When she lost her, too, she was completely devastated. Her whole world had collapsed in on her. Everyone tried to help, stick by her, you know what I mean. But she stopped coming to the swimming club and the pre-school centre, of course. I haven’t seen her for months, and that was just down at the supermarket.”
“Her little girl that died was called Sally?” Toshiko questioned. “But….” She looked at Caroline again.
“She must have started fostering,” Moira added. “They let single people do it these days. It seems to be doing her good. The last time I saw her, she was a basket case, turned inwards with grief, you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” Toshiko agreed. “But that child is called Sally, too. That’s….”
“It’s a coincidence, isn’t it? I’m not sure I wouldn’t find it a bit creepy. If I’d lost a child and then fostered one with the same name….”
“Yes,” Toshiko agreed again, but almost without thinking about her answer. She was looking at Caroline and little Sally again - a foster child with blonde hair and the same name as her dead child? Toshiko would have agreed with Moira’s assessment that it was ‘creepy’ except that her definition of the word was far more deeply coloured by her years at Torchwood.
For a brief moment she wondered if there was something more going on. Then she shook herself mentally and turned her attention back to her own children. Had she been working at Torchwood TOO long? Her view of the whole world was skewed. It probably wasn’t a total coincidence that Caroline’s foster child was called Sally and had blonde hair. Perhaps she saw pictures of the children who were in need of placements and fixed on the one who would most completely fill the tragic gap in her life.
Was that how it worked with fostering, she wondered? Did they show pictures and let people pick the children they wanted like buying a toaster from the Argos catalogue? Were you allowed to colour co-ordinate children?
“Stop it,” she told herself firmly. She was looking at Caroline again and she knew she shouldn’t. It was becoming an obsession now. And being looked at couldn’t be doing the poor woman any good.
She made up her mind to be friendly to her when they had coffee after swimming. But Caroline dried and dressed herself and her child in the private cubicle and then went home straight away. The women commented about it among themselves and agreed that Caroline wasn’t quite herself again, yet. She just needed time to adjust. She’d be fine next week.
And that was that. Toshiko chatted with her friends about clothes and shoes, stuff on TV, the price of healthy food as opposed to ready meals and junk food. Then she headed home across Tollcross Park for tea and a thoroughly domestic evening, bath night for the children, then bed, and a peaceful time for mum and dad. They were just like everyone else in the neighbourhood, except nobody ever knew what was on Owen’s mind and Toshiko turned hers to the alien space pod she was planning to reverse engineer tomorrow. She didn’t think any of the other swimming club mums had anything like that to look forward to in the coming week.
Every so often her mind slipped from alien technology to Caroline and Sally. She didn’t say anything to Owen. She couldn’t even adequately explain it to herself, but there was something about them that stirred her thoughts and made her want to know more.
Not that there was any opportunity to know more. The next morning it was business as usual. Etsuko was dropped off at her primary school, Genkei at his nursery. Toshiko and Owen carried on to the Torchwood Hub where they both had work to do. Toshiko got stuck into that alien spaceship to find out what secrets it held that might be of benefit to the Human race.
“What happened to the aliens that were piloting the ship?” she asked over the lunchtime take out pizzas. “Did they die?”
“They?” Dougal Drummond queried. “We found one dead alien in the pilot’s seat.”
“I autopsied it,” Owen added. “Bog standard alien. Short little bastard, skinny limbs, big head, goggly eyes. The sort the conspiracy freaks are always drawing pictures of.”
“You know, since there really ARE aliens like that, it proves that the conspiracy freaks are right,” Dougal remarked. Everyone laughed. Owen pointed out dryly that confirming the warped theories of conspiracy nuts definitely wasn’t in Torchwood’s remit.
“This one died because it doesn’t breathe our sort of air and the hull was smashed open on impact with Scottish soil. It was clutching a mask attached to a hydrogen tank, but it died before it could get it on.”
“I think there was more than one alien aboard,” Toshiko said. “There was a separate compartment, with a seat. I think there was a passenger - possibly a prisoner. The compartment was locked from the outside. It might have been a prison transporter.”
“Then there must be a dead alien in the near vicinity,” Shona Stewart pointed out. “If they need to breathe hydrogen, then sooner or later it would have run out even with a mask.”
“Good point,” Munroe MacDonald said. “Even the best breathing equipment we’ve seen on alien spacesuits give a few hours at most.”
“Assuming that the prisoner was the same species as the pilot,” Sandy McCoy added. He had brought the pizzas and joined the team for lunch. Owen looked at him sharply. It was unusual for him to contribute anything to a Torchwood discussion other than asking who wants coffee, but there was no reason why his opinion was any less valid than the official team members.
“He has a point,” Toshiko said, backing him up. “After all, we’ve had a few peculiar characters in the SUV. Why wouldn’t an alien spaceship have more than one species in it?”
“So we either have a dead alien decomposing in suburban Glasgow or we have a live one lurking around – possibly a criminal one.”
“Possibly?” Shona Stewart queried.
“Innocent until proved guilty,” Owen said. “I don’t know what constitutes a crime on whatever planet they came from. They might put people in prison for wearing blue or something. It’s just possible that there’s an alien who might want to claim political asylum on Earth.”
Owen paused. He knew that was a peculiarly charitable thought for him. Usually he was a grumpy bastard who trusted aliens about as far as he could throw them and wasn’t interested in their excuses, still less their politics.
“Well, we’re going to have to search the area where we found the ship,” he added, redeeming his reputation by sounding pissed off about the inconvenience. “Everyone check weapons from the armoury. If in doubt shoot first, ask questions later. Take no chances. Toshiko, you and Munroe pick a cover story and go around the houses in the area. Ask people if they’ve seen anything – or anyone – unusual in the last few weeks. I know, it’s a long shot, but you never know. We might get lucky.”
“Maybe one of them has it in their shed as a pet!” Dougal joked. “If we’re REALLY lucky.”
“SSPCA inspectors, then,” Munroe suggested as their cover story.
“I really hate it when the weird stuff comes close to home,” Toshiko commented, looking out of the window of Munroe’s old-fashioned Volvo Amazon at the south entrance to Tollcross Park. She spent a lot of time in that park with the children. They loved the Children’s Farm, having milk and cakes in the café in the ‘winter garden’ – the huge glasshouse full of flowering plants all year round. They played on the swings and climbing frame in the playground and enjoyed walks around the rose beds. And of course the leisure centre where Etsuko and Genkei went to swimming club was on the far side of the park.
“Sometimes we can’t avoid it,” Munroe answered. He stopped the car at the junction with Wellshot road and Braidfauld Street, then carried on along Tollcross Road, then a left and a couple of right turns that brought them into the area known as Shettleston. They passed along an avenue of semi-detached houses with box hedges and tracts of lawn separating them from the traffic. Further along the houses were newer and smaller, but still quite nice.
Then they turned into a street that progress had forgotten. Toshiko counted five houses in the terrace. They were three stories high, like most of the older houses in Glasgow, with a basement accessed by concrete steps behind rusty railings. Rows of four doorbells each showed that the houses were divided into flats.
Behind them was a kind of communal area with sheds, washing lines, a chicken coop, a children’s swing and a couple of garden chairs.
In front and either side was a wasteland where everything else had been demolished with the intention of building a retail park. The credit crunch had put the project on hold before it had begun.
“Did these folk actually sell the land to the developers?” Munroe asked. “Have you noticed how many really expensive cars are parked outside these ‘moderate homes’, to say nothing of a rash of satellite dishes and other signs of affluence?”
“That’s a McLaren MP4,” Toshiko said about an impressive orange-red sports car that almost glowed in the sunshine. “It was on Top Gear.” Munroe looked at her quizzically. She laughed and shrugged. “Owen watches it, not me. The point is that car costs about £200,000, and there was a waiting list for the first of them to come off the assembly line.”
The rest of the cars parked in front of the row of houses were equally impressively priced and given favourable reviews by Jeremy Clarkson and friends.
“Either they all won the lottery or there is some really huge benefit fraud going on around here,” Munroe noted.
The Ford Escape with the rest of the Torchwood team preparing to scan the wasteland for alien lifeforms passed them by. Dougal Drummond waved cheerfully.
“Either way, it has nothing to do with our mission, here,” Toshiko added. “Except if we ARE talking about benefit fraud, it will make everyone VERY difficult to talk to, even posing as SSPCA officers.”
She was wrong about that. The residents of the block of houses popularly called the Fauld were perfectly happy to talk, mostly about their big, wall mounted, flat screen, High Definition TVs and the new kitchens they were having put in next week. It was difficult to steer them around to the possibility of a wounded animal in the vicinity.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” replied Mrs Duncan at 3b who was fond of potted plants. Her living room resembled an indoor garden and smelt vaguely of Baby Bio under the scented candles that burned on the mantlepiece. “I’m having a conservatory put in at the back, with a water feature that keeps the air humid.”
“If you see anything at all unusual, please contact us,” Munroe said, passing her a card with a number on it that would activate an answering service purporting to be the SSPCA and flag up anything she might report on the Torchwood database.
“Well, thank you for your time, Mrs Duncan,” Munroe added. “Do you know if your neighbours in the flats upstairs are in?” Toshiko checked the list from the Register of Electors on her clipboard. “Miss Renfrew in 3a and Mr McLeod and Mr Johnston in the top flat….”
“Fiona will be at work. The gentlemen are away for the fortnight,” Mrs Duncan replied. “They’ve gone on a second honeymoon… a Caribbean cruise.”
“Very nice,” Toshiko commented. “Well, we’ll just leave them a card, I expect. What about the resident in the basement flat?”
“Miss Docherty,” Mrs Duncan added, helpfully. “She’s got three cats. If there was a fox or the like hanging about she’d….”
Mrs Duncan stopped mid-sentence and frowned. She squinted at the two people she had invited into her home. “Aren’t the SSPCA officers supposed to wear uniforms?” she asked with a new level of suspicion.
“Only when executing warrants for animal cruelty,” Toshiko answered quickly. “This is just routine. Anyway, we’ll be off now.”
“Was it me or did she turn decidedly chilly just then?” Owen asked as they came out of number three and went to knock at number four. The brand new McLaren was parked there. Toshiko had already checked registrations and knew that it belonged to Mr Shaw McIntyre who lived in the ground floor flat.
Mr McIntyre was in. He was sitting watching the biggest screen Toshiko had seen outside of a cinema, mounted across the whole of one wall of the living room. He paused the Blue Ray disc while Munroe and Toshiko interviewed him.
“I’m not really much of an animal person,” he admitted. “My job used to take me away from home too much. Couldn’t really keep a pet.”
“Used to?” Toshiko asked, noting that it was mid-afternoon and he was watching a film.
“I was a lorry driver,” he answered. “But I don’t need to work now.”
“You were part of the lottery cartel along with your neighbours, then?” Munroe asked. “It must have been a big win. Which lottery was it? The Euromillions?”
Mr McIntyre hesitated a few seconds before answering. Toshiko nodded. They had all said Euromillions. Either it was true or they had all agreed on the same story.
After all, somebody was bound to ask questions sooner or later about a row of houses where everyone was suddenly rich. The tax office or the DWP would certainly want some straight answers.
But she and Munroe were neither, and the source of sudden wealth was nothing to do with Torchwood. Munroe steered the conversation back to wounded animals.
Mr McIntyre knew nothing about that.
“Is this a waste of time?” Toshiko asked as they prepared to knock at the last house. Everyone so far was happily and relatively newly rich, but that was the only thing that distinguished them from any other Glaswegians. None of them had seen anything unusual. “The alien could be in Australia by now. All it would have to do is hitch a lift to the airport and stow away in the luggage hold.”
Munroe sighed and agreed. But a door-to-door was a tried and trusted method of finding information. Ordinary people who didn’t believe aliens existed and would have been shocked to discover that Torchwood also existed could often drop innocent remarks that led to extraordinary results. But it was a painstaking job posing as gas inspectors or social workers, or whatever, trying to recognise that chance remark among all the ordinary, everyday unimportant conversation.
At number five there were only two bells. There was no answer at the basement flat. The rest of the house was one dwelling, perhaps a family home rather than a couple or single person living there.
When the ring was answered Toshiko fought to remember where she knew the woman from.
Then it came to her.
“Caroline?” she said. “You were at the swimming club yesterday, with your little girl, Sally? I nearly didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.”
She smiled along with the daft joke, but it didn’t disarm Caroline as she had hoped. Rather, the woman turned chalk white in shock and backed away, stammering. She had almost pushed the door shut when Munroe stepped forward, blocking it. Toshiko slid her slender frame around the door quickly.
“Caroline, it’s all right,” she told her. “There’s nothing to be scared of. We just want to talk to you.”
“Don’t take her away from me,” Caroline cried out loud. “Please don’t take her away from me.”
“Nobody is taking anyone away,” Toshiko assured her. “Come on, let’s all sit down and talk.”
Caroline was still crying as Toshiko led her into her own drawing room and sat her down. The blonde haired child called Sally was lying on the hearthrug colouring in a picture of a spotted dog in a book. She looked up in alarm at the two strangers and ran to her mother. She hugged her tightly and repeated her plea not to take the child from her.
“Seriously, nobody is TRYING to take Sally away,” Toshiko assured her. “That’s not why we’re here. Come on. You’re scaring her.”
Mother and child were both crying now. Toshiko felt ill-equipped to deal with such a situation.
Munroe suggested ‘tea’ and headed for the kitchen. It was one of those times when an emotional crisis was somehow supposed to be averted by drinking tea.
The normality of the suggestion surprised Caroline enough for her to stop crying, though. She accepted a tissue from Toshiko and sniffed noisily into it.
Toshiko glanced around the room, taking in all the detail at once. She noted that there wasn’t a huge TV screen here. It was the only living room in the block that didn’t have one. The TV that was there was two years old at least. Beside it was a DVD rack with a selection of children’s favourites like Ballymory and Bob the Builder. There was nothing unusual there. Genkei was a major Bob fan.
There were pictures all around the room of a blonde haired girl from birth to four years old, all of her important progressions from sitting up to crawling, to walking, to reading her first proper book.
Which would all have been quite normal if she hadn’t learned yesterday at the swimming club that Caroline’s own daughter died a year ago and that the little girl colouring in on the rug was a foster child.
There was no expensive new furniture here at all, Toshiko noted. Everything was clean and well cared for but it was a year or two old. Caroline and her child were both dressed in good clothes, but nothing designer label. There had been no shopping sprees in recent weeks.
“I guess you weren’t a part of the lottery syndicate,” Toshiko said, trying to sound casual about the question.
“Lottery?” Caroline looked surprised at such a turn of questioning. “What does that….”
“Sorry,” Toshiko’s mobile phone rang. She reached for it and noted that it was Owen’s number. “I need to take this out in the hall. Please stay there, Caroline. I’ll be back in a tick.”
She stepped out and closed the door before she answered the call.
“Tosh, where are you?” Owen asked abruptly, not bothering with any greeting at all.
“I’m in 5b,” Toshiko responded. “The resident is a little bit upset. Munroe is making her a cup of tea.”
“Come and open the front door,” Owen told her. “It’ll save us busting it down. We’ve got a lock on the alien with your patent lifesigns monitor. It’s in the fucking attic.”
“It’s what?” Toshiko was stunned by that revelation but she responded to his request, standing well back as Owen, Dougal and Shona poured into the hallway dressed in the white coveralls and masks used in possibly hazardous situations. They barely stopped to say hello to her before they headed for the stairs.
Toshiko went back to the living room. Munroe had brought the tea for three and milk in a Bob The Builder non-spill plastic cup for the child. Toshiko marvelled at the normality of that scene while there was an alien in the attic.
“Caroline, we are from an organisation called Torchwood,” she said calmly. “We monitor and regulate alien activity on Earth. You understand what I mean by alien - extra-terrestrial lifeforms that could be dangerous to the Human race.”
“I… understand what you mean,” Caroline answered. “But I don’t understand why you….”
“My colleagues tracked an alien to the attic of this building. Did you know it was there?”
“I….” Caroline’s eyes were wide in either astonishment or shock. It was impossible to tell which. She clung to the child so tightly she was starting to struggle and ask to go back to her colouring in.
Then a new element was added to the situation. The front doorbell was rung insistently, the knocker knocked rapidly and the letterbox rattled while agitated shouts accompanied the urgent need to enter the house. Munroe set down his tea cup and went to find out what was happening. He was surprised to see all of the residents of The Fauld outside, Mr McIntyre was the one who had rung the bell while Mrs Duncan was obviously responsible for the knocking and rattling. Behind them Miss Docherty from the basement flat of number three, the professional couple from 1c, the lesbian interior decorators from 4c and the body builder who lived in the top flat of number two were all talking at once very loudly.
“You’re not going to take it from us,” Mrs Duncan said. “We found it. We took care of it. And it gave us what we wanted. You’ve no right….”
Mr McIntyre didn’t waste time with words. He pushed past Munroe, followed by the body builder. The others took their lead and charged up the stairs loudly.
“Get back!” Owen Harper’s most authoritative tone rang out above the noise. “I mean it. Get back, all of you. Get out of the way. This is Torchwood business. If anyone tries to interfere I’ll….”
His voice was cut off by the sound of a single gunshot fired into the air and the subsequent fall of plaster from the ceiling and a choice selection of swear words from Torchwood personnel and Fauld residents alike.
“The next one who comes near us gets it in a non-vital organ,” Dougal Drummond warned. “Back off.”
“Especially YOU,” Shona Stewart added. “One more move like that and you’ll be going to the ladies gym in future.”
Toshiko, standing at the door to Caroline’s drawing room could only guess what that bit was about. The residents were edging down the stairs again backwards, some with their hands raised. After them Shona and Dougal came with their automatic pistols trained on the crowd. Behind them Owen was walking slowly, his arm outstretched, holding something that looked, at a glance, like a laser pointing device. It was the remote control for an upgrade to the static portable ‘cell’ device that Toshiko had adapted from alien technology early in her tenure at Torchwood Cardiff. The problem with the static cell was that it enclosed the prisoner but it then had to be switched off to move them off the premises. This upgrade moved wherever Owen wanted it to move and the prisoner was forced to move with it.
The prisoner in this case was about four foot tall with grey-green flesh. It had one main head and two spares sprouting from a thick neck. All three heads were frog-like with big, dark-green eyes at the top, a flattened nose and wide lipless mouths. The body was curiously flexible, twisting in an ‘s’ shape as it walked. The arms and legs were double jointed but it didn’t seem to have either elbows or knees.
The alien seemed to be resigned to its capture. It gave Owen no trouble at all. It was the people who were making a nuisance of themselves, trying to stop him getting it into the back of the Ford Escape.
“Look, enough already,” he demanded. “Chummy here is coming to our HQ. Anyone who wants to go in the cell next door to him can carry on this way. Otherwise, go back to your homes and stop this nonsense.”
“Please don’t let him hurt it,” Caroline begged. “It’s not dangerous. It’s kind. It gave us so much, and all it asked of us was a warm place to sleep and a little food.”
“Come and sit down again and explain,” Toshiko said. Munroe was herding the last of the neighbours out of the house while the Ford Escape left with the rest of the Torchwood team and the alien secured in the back.
“We found it,” Caroline explained. “Out the back. It was making a racket late at night, wailing. Nearly everyone went out to see what it was. It told us… if we took care of it….” Caroline took a deep breath before continuing. “If we sheltered it, it promised to grant us a wish each – like a genie or a… a….”
“A Psammead,” Toshiko said. Her thoughts had turned to the book that Etsuko and her Victorian boy ghost friend, Bobo, were reading together. Five Children and It was in the ‘junior library’ at Etsuko’s school, but she was an advanced reader and Bobo understood the archaic style of the book well enough. Toshiko remembered thinking it was a bit stupid and pointless when she read it.
But then nobody had ever granted her a wish.
“That’s where all the cars and conservatories, world cruises and HD TV’s all come from,” she guessed. “But why didn’t you….”
“One wish,” Caroline said. “We were allowed one wish. What was the point of wishing for millions of pounds in the bank like the others? What would I do with money? I didn’t want money. I wanted….”
“Oh.” Toshiko looked at Sally. “Oh, Caroline, you mean… she’s….”
“I wished for my baby back,” Caroline admitted. “It was the first wish we saw granted. The others had to check their banks to find out if they had what they wanted. But Sally… there she was, sleeping in her room, the way I remembered her. The age she was when she died. It was as if the nightmare had never happened, as if those years of misery were just a bad dream. I could live again. Before it had just been existing, now I’m living again.”
“Oh, my God,” Toshiko groaned. “Caroline, that’s….”
Then she wondered what she would do in the same circumstances. If she had lost Etsuko, if she had grieved for two years, then been offered the chance to have her back again, to carry on where she left off, enjoying all those wonderful milestones in her life that had been cut off so terribly….
Yes, she would have been tempted. Yes, with one wish, anything in the world, she wouldn’t have had to think about it for very long.
She would have done the same.
“The creature must have some way of affecting reality in a localised area,” Toshiko guessed. “Changing history, essentially - making people rich, bringing Sally back to you. What worries me is that there might be consequences. There is only so much money in the world. Giving it to your neighbours might have taken it away from somebody else. I don’t know… if it was somebody rich enough already – Richard Branson or the Aga Khan, then fair enough. But it could just as easily be from some small business that will go under without the money and land all its workers on the dole.”
Caroline understood. She looked at her daughter.
“Sally being alive… might mean somebody else losing their child?”
“We couldn’t know that for certain,” Toshiko pointed out. “But it’s possible….”
“I wouldn’t wish that on any mother,” Caroline said. “If that’s what happened, I’m sorry. I really am. But… Sally… I can’t give her up again. I can’t. If that makes me selfish, uncaring, then… I’m sorry. But she’s mine.”
“We understand,” Munroe told her gently. “But Caroline, you CAN’T keep an alien in your attic. We have to take it in.”
“I understand,” Caroline told him. “But what will you do to it? You won’t... experiment… on it?”
She said ‘experiment’ but her tone implied ‘vivisect’. Toshiko shook her head reassuringly.
“We don’t do that. Trust us. Everything will be all right. We need to go. But tell your neighbours… tell them they don’t need to worry. They’ll get to keep their big screen TVs.”
She held Caroline’s hands reassuringly for a long moment before she and Munroe turned and left.
“I hope that’s not a promise you can’t keep,” Munroe told her as he drove away from The Fauld. “About them keeping their TVs.”
“If it was just about those things I wouldn’t have promised it,” Toshiko answered. “But if taking back those wishes means taking Sally away from Caroline again then I’ll fight for them to keep their expensive consumer goods.”
And she did. The debate ran over most of the week, with Owen standing out for restoring reality. There were, he said, enough rich buggers in the world without aliens helping them. But he backed down eventually.
On Sunday afternoon, Toshiko met Caroline at the swimming club. She was still reserved around her friends and devoted all of her time to Sally, but afterwards, Toshiko persuaded her to stay for a coffee. They sat at a table a little away from the rest of the swimming club where they could talk.
“I was right about him changing reality,” Toshiko explained. “He told us that one in ten thousand of his species were born with the ability and were licenced to perform services for those who could pay. That was before his planet was destroyed by a comet. Now there are only a handful of survivors scattered around the galaxy.”
“So he WAS lost?” Caroline said. “We thought so.”
“Not exactly. He was the prisoner of another alien, being used as a weapon.”
“A weapon? How could he….” Caroline’s face paled. “Oh… I suppose he could. If somebody wished somebody else dead and he changed reality….”
“If somebody wished a whole planet would blow up,” Toshiko suggested. “That was what they were using him as – a weapon of mass destruction.”
“Surely he didn’t want to do that?”
“Whether he wanted to or not was immaterial. He does what he is ordered. He has no moral code of his own. He is just used by whoever commands him.”
“There are people on Earth… suppose the leader of North Korea wanted to nuke the south… or Al Qaeda wanted another 9/11?” The Torchwood team had all gone over the very same scenarios that now occurred to Caroline. “We thought his wishes were a blessing. But….”
“That’s why we had to take him in,” Toshiko explained.
“Are you going to kill him?”
That was another question that had been hotly debated before they came to the only conclusion they could have come to and claim to have any moral high ground.
“He’s going to stay in our protective custody,” Toshiko explained. “Yes, I am afraid that does mean he’s locked in a cell. But we’ve made it a comfortable one. We talk to him. He has everything he needs. He’s SAFE. We’ve given him a name. Sammy – from Psammead. If he’s going to be a permanent resident it seemed right.”
“Sammy?” Caroline smiled. “That suits him.”
“Being a mum suits you,” Toshiko told her. “I hope you’ll bring Sally swimming every week. It’ll be great to see you here.”