Shona smiled as her mobile phone played the theme tune from Twilight. The tune itself annoyed the hell out of her, and she regarded the film series as beneath contempt, but the ring tone indicated a call from Darius.
“Gabrielle is impossible without you to calm her down,” she said in reply to the affectionate opening from her Vampire lover. “How much longer are you going to be up there in the Arctic Circle?”
“The Shetland Isles are NOT in the Arctic Circle,” Darius answered. “And we’ll be here for a few days more. Obviously I can only investigate after nightfall, but Dougal is doing a lot of work during the day.”
“Dougal is a soldier, not a forensic anthropologist,” Shona pointed out. “It’s a waste of his talents. And you’re not actually qualified for anything. What do you both hope to find?”
“The truth about the Baltasound ‘vampires’,” Darius answered. “Burying people with their hearts pierced after death to ensure they don’t return from the grave is common in Eastern Europe – my part of the world – where vampire legends abound. But nobody has ever seen them in Scotland, before. It is possible these really WERE Vampires. It is important to me. We are so few in number compared to humans, we are all kin….”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shona answered. “Just don’t get yourself staked.”
“My heart belongs only to you, Przyjaciólka,“ he answered and Shona knew he would be smiling toothily as he called her his ‘girlfriend’ in Lithuanian. Her own lips turned up at the edges just a little.
“Only a Vampire would think that was romantic. Go on, you crazy bloodsucker. Get offline. I’ve got work to do.”
After he had closed the communication she allowed herself a wider smile, though only because she thought she wasn’t being observed. Even while driving the Torchwood van through dark streets, however, Munroe MacDonald had sharper eyes than anyone ever gave him credit for. He saw the smile and read her lips when she whispered ‘I love you’ to the mobile phone screen. There was a photograph on the screen. It was supposed to be a picture of Gabrielle sitting on her father’s knee, but her father was a vampire. He couldn’t be photographed. It looked like a clever piece of Photoshop trickery with a baby apparently levitating above a chair.
It was the oddest relationship in more ways than one.
Shona put her phone back into her pocket before turning her eyes back to the road ahead and the tail-lights of the Ford Escape driven by Owen. It was just gone eleven o’clock, early in the night shift, and already they were on their way to a possible UFO landing.
“I hope you brought your wellies, children,” Owen announced over their in-ear coms. “Apparently we’ve got a muddy field to cross before we reach the crash site. I told the police to cordon off the area and keep out of the way until we get there.”
“Surely Hazmat suits would be a little more appropriate than ‘wellies’?” Shona queried. “We’ll need the radiation gauges and gas monitors.”
“All the usual kit,” Owen confirmed. “And keep your stun guns charged and pistols loaded in case of hostiles – or coppers getting too nosy.”
That was a joke, although Owen had come very close to stunning a fireman who insisted on investigating the site of a UFO crash landing last week. He settled, after some gentle persuasion from Toshiko, for a short term dose of Retcon in the officer’s coffee.
It was a well-practiced drill, by now. There had been a rash of UFO’s in recent months, not counting the fakes and the genuine mistakes. Toshiko was trying to find out if there was some kind of natural energy that might be giving false signals to passing space craft – or a non-natural one being sent out by resident aliens with mischief on their minds. Meanwhile the team went out and collected the evidence and sterilised the landing site while quashing any possible media interest in the unwanted arrivals.
The Bedford van with a fake removal company logo on the side had become essential for transporting larger pieces of evidence. Owen could have travelled with them and saved some petrol expenses but he said he liked the chance of a peaceful journey without a lot of inane chatter going on.
Shona wasn’t given to inane chatter. Munroe did like to chat, but she usually kept things strictly business. On this trip the topic of conversation was the nature of the UFO.
“Dechmont Woods, off the M8 at Livingston,” Munroe noted. “The site of the 1979 Incident – Scotland’s only publicly RECORDED alien encounter. Torchwood have successfully suppressed all the rest. Lothian and Borders Police had already started an official investigation before our people arrived. Of course, the authorities have done their best to play it down and explain it as a reflection of Venus or black ball lightning. It’s a magnet for conspiracy theory nuts and hoaxers.”
“I suppose it’s going to be another canvas and balsa wood affair,” Shona sighed. “I’m going to raid every DIY centre and hobby shop in Glasgow until I find the twat supplying the stuff. What kind of an idiot gets off on building battery-powered UFO’s, anyway?”
“Somebody who desperately needs a new hobby,” Munroe agreed. “I rather suspect it’s some sort of ‘club’. Doctor Harper will come down hard on them when he tracks them down.”
The presence of a fire tender and police around the southern edge of those notorious Dechmont Woods suggested that it wasn’t just a convincing toy moving across an evening sky. Something had come down hard enough to fell trees and set fire to the undergrowth. They parked alongside the emergency vehicles and donned the white Hazmat suits and hoods before climbing over a stile and walking across the very muddy and recently ploughed field to the edge of the copse of Douglas firs.
There was a smell of damp ashes. The fire was thoroughly out. Even so, the fire crew were waiting outside the police cordon that was moved aside for the three ghostly figures who passed by without a word.
“They’re learning,” Owen commented as they approached the dark bulk of the UFO – or simply UO - Unidentified Object now it was no longer flying. This looked like the real thing. It was roughly oval, about a metre wide and a little taller, with a texture like wood bark making it look almost organic. Tests for radiation revealed the usual background stuff picked up in space plus a thin coating of slightly acidic water vapour from coming through the cloud layer. There was nothing dangerous on the outside.
They all pulled off the stifling hoods while they continued their examination of what they called a pod for the sake of calling it anything.
“It could contain a humanoid about our dimensions,” Munroe concluded. “Sitting down, anyway.”
“Or a couple of dozen midgets,“ Shona ventured.
“Or an army using tissue compression to travel light,” Owen added from experience. He was unpacking a portable but still rather unwieldy ultrasound monitor. He hoped to get an idea of what, if anything, was inside.
He was disappointed. The ultrasound just bounced back from an inner shell made of something a little like lead – the one thing that x-rays and ultrasound couldn’t penetrate.
Shona reached out a thermal-gloved hand and rocked the pod onto its slightly longer side.
“I think we could lift it,” she said. “There are plenty of other methods of scanning back at the Hub. “If all else fails, we’ve got the plasma drill.”
“As a last resort,” Owen conceded. “Accidentally lobotomising an alien isn’t professional.”
Shona took one end of the pod, Owen the other. It wasn’t featherlight, but no worse than lifting a stretcher with a patient on it. Munroe scanned the furrow it had ploughed into the soil for radiation and passed a flashlight over the area for visual confirmation. The locals might speculate about what caused such a disturbance, but without any evidence other than a muddy hole they couldn’t get the media interested in another UFO story in that location.
The police and fire officers looked on in awe as they passed by. Owen paused to remind them of the Official Secrets Act and told them to clear the scene as quickly as possible. He helped to stow the pod safely in the van, tied it down with safety straps, then took the lead again in their inconspicuous convoy of two vehicles travelling back to the Hub.
“Well, it’s a real alien craft,” Munroe noted, looking back in his seat to the dark bulk that wobbled slightly as the van went over a rural cattle grid. “But is it hostile or benign? Is it the vanguard of an invading force or just lost?”
“Sometimes I think we shouldn’t make a distinction. If they’re dumb enough to land on Earth they should get a cage in our vault and think themselves lucky that Doctor Harper is against vivisection.”
“You’re a hard woman, Lieutenant Stewart,” Munroe commented.
“That’s how I got to BE a Lieutenant,” she answered. “Women have to work twice as hard in the army to be recognised as equal to men. And there’s no point in complaining about it. You just have to grow the balls, metaphorically, at least.”
“Possessing a pair of balls, metaphorical or otherwise doesn’t mean you have to be tough all the time. Hard people, male or female, are allowed a softer side, too. Besides, we all know you’re a fantastic mother to Gabrielle. You HAVE maternal instincts, too.”
“That doesn’t make me soft. Have you ever seen a lioness defending her cubs? That’s the real maternal instinct. Women who go gaga over babies are just a waste of space.”
“Oh, I agree with you there. Mrs MacDonald turned into a real lioness once in Sauciehall Street when somebody tried to walk off with the pushchair and our wee lad in it. When the police arrived she had the woman on the floor and was hitting her around the head with the greengroceries. The celery was destroyed.”
“I’d hit anyone who touched Gabrielle with a sight more than vegetables,” Shona confirmed. “But good on Mrs MacDonald. That’s exactly what I mean.”
Munroe smiled at the compliment to his late wife. Then he forgot about Shona’s fierce brand of feminism as he caught sight of something in the rear view mirror. He turned and looked at the pod. “Lieutenant, stop the van. The UFO, it’s glowing.”
Shona looked in the mirror, then sounded the horn and put her foot down on the accelerator as soon as Owen speeded up in front.
“Stopping is the last thing we need to do. Let’s get this thing back to the Hub and into isolation as soon as we can. Check that it isn’t radioactive.”
Munroe confirmed that there were no dangerous emissions of any sort, radioactive or gaseous. Then, to Shona’s surprise, he took off his seatbelt and climbed over the seat. She glanced back and saw him sitting beside the pod, stroking the rough surface gently. She was curiously reminded of the images of men stroking their wives during childbirth that she had thrown away in disgust during the later stages of her pregnancy.
Why did she need a softer side when Munroe was like a Human marshmallow?
He stayed with the pod all the way back to the Hub, and had to be told to leave when Owen got ready to seal the door to the isolation room.
“She’s not dangerous,” Munroe insisted as he reluctantly stepped away. “The journey upset her a bit, but she’s settled down again, now. She’ll be no bother until the morning.”
“What happens in the morning?” Owen asked.
“She?” Shona queried. “What makes you think it’s a ‘she’?”
“I could tell,” he answered, but he couldn’t give any better explanation than that. Owen wasn’t pleased. He counted on Munroe to be the sensible one of the team, not given to fanciful ideas.
“If you want to monitor the pod, suit yourself,” he said. “But do it from out here.”
‘Out here’ was a carefully constructed observation room with a wide polarised window that looked like a section of wall on the other side but allowed a full view of every part of the room where the pod had been left. It was a spartan room containing nothing but a narrow bed with a bare mattress and one pillow in case the subject in isolation was capable of using a bed, and a door to a small bathroom facility in case the subject had those kind of needs. The floor, walls and ceiling were a special kind of tough but spongy material that absorbed impact in case the subject felt like bashing its head - or whatever body part its brain was kept in - against them.
There were monitors registering every form of radiation known to Torchwood – including some that weren’t known in any other scientific circles. The air was monitored for any change in its constituent elements and the temperature for any significant variation.
There were also X-ray, ultrasounds, thermal, sonar and gamma scanners that had never, yet, failed to look inside any mysterious object that wasn’t solid all the way through.
Well, only one – the Void ship that Torchwood One had in its vaults just before the destruction of Canary Wharf. They failed completely to recognise the danger within on that occasion. Details were sketchy, of course. Nobody was keeping research notes in the middle of a war zone, but it seemed that the Void Ship was impossible to scan because its interior was in a different dimension to the exterior, and who could have designed a scanner to work that one out?
“I’m going to crack this crib,” Owen murmured to himself as he tried all of the scanners at the same time. Munroe watched anxiously just in case he LITERALLY cracked it. He knew the pod wasn’t ready to open, yet.
“What the….” Owen swore. “The monitor has sound coming from inside the pod. That wasn’t there before. What’s going on? What is that noise?”
“A heartbeat,” Munroe answered. “She’s got a heartbeat. So be careful. Don’t hurt her.”
“Her?” Again Owen questioned how Munroe could possibly know that there was anything that could be described as a ‘her’ inside the pod.
“Her,” Munroe confirmed. “Don’t hurt her. It would be a terrible thing to do.”
“Munroe, I think you need to spend less time at Lady Heather’s emporium and get a bit more sleep when you’re off duty.”
“I get plenty of sleep,” Munroe countered. “Doctor Harper, don’t ask me to explain. I just feel, very strongly, about the being inside that pod. She is vulnerable just now, so be careful with your probes.”
Owen was on the point of making a Jack Harkness style lewd comment about probes when he noticed the thermal reading and swore generally instead.
“What the hell is that?” he demanded as he stared at the computer generated image based on heat levels within the pod.
“It’s her,” Munroe answered. “She’s curled up tight, protecting herself.”
It wasn’t obvious at first, but as Owen stared at the image he started to see what Munroe was getting at. The different levels of red and orange indicating heat formed the shape of a humanoid folded up in a foetal position.
That it was a female, with the curves of breasts in the right place and the right dimensions, and the appropriate genitals elsewhere was also perfectly clear.
“She’s a hottie,” Owen stated. “In more ways than one. Those temperatures are near boiling point.”
“She’s still generating,” Munroe answered. “Just be patient for a few more hours.”
“You made some sort of contact with the subject?” Owen said to him. “Or are you just going crackers?”
“When I touched the shell in the van, I could feel her mind. It wasn’t quite fully formed, but the reason for her existence, and for coming here… to Earth… I understood it all. Doctor Harper… Owen… believe me, she’s not hostile. She’s… in need of refuge, a quiet place to rest.”
Owen was in three minds. Munroe was making a good case for the alien refugee, vulnerable and in need of protection.
But Shona Stewart’s view that planet Earth wasn’t a rest stop for the waifs and strays of the universe had merit, too. There was a limit to just how many of them they could give asylum to. Some day that limit would be reached.
And there was the third possibility, that Munroe was being bamboozled by a VERY fatal femme fatale that would eat his face off at the first opportunity.
“Please,” Munroe pleaded. “There’s no danger. Let me go back in there and let her know she doesn’t have anything to be scared of. You can deadlock seal it behind me. I’ll stay in there with her if you want, but let me be near her.”
“Fucking hell, Munroe,” Owen swore. “What is the matter with you?”
“Nothing. I just want to look after her. She needs somebody… just like my wife needed somebody when she was dying. Only this time… this time life waits at the end not death.”
“Go on, then,” Owen conceded. “But I AM locking the door, so if you plan to spend any length of time in there, take some snacks and drinks and loo paper for the bathroom.”
Munroe took an emergency isolation kit that contained all of those essential items and some others into the room with him, but he didn’t bother to open the box. He left it in the corner and sat on the floor next to the pod, stroking it tenderly and talking in a low murmur that the microphones picked up along with the heartbeat of the alien.
Owen sat down in front of the window and watched for a while. The monitors registered slight fluctuations in the temperature of the being inside the pod, but nothing significant. He got bored and drifted off to sleep.
He was shaken several hours later by Shona Stewart. She had brought him a cup of coffee. That in itself was unusual enough to cause the sky to fall in. Shona didn’t do coffee making duty, usually, but with Dougal and Darius on their field trip there was nobody else.
“It’s seven o’clock,” she said. “Toshiko is on her way in. I’m going off duty when she arrives. I need to get back to my place and send the babysitter home.”
“Ok,” Owen answered her. Then both of them glanced at the window and Owen nearly spilt his coffee over the computer bank in surprise.
The pod was open – split in half like the plastic shell inside a Kinder egg. There was a soft kind of material inside with the impression of where the alien had been curled up.
The alien wasn’t inside the shell any more. She was sitting on the floor, wrapped in a silver foil emergency blanket from the box Munroe took in. She was glowing from within like a pearl-coloured electric light bulb and eating an energy bar that Munroe unwrapped for her.
Apart from the glowing she looked like a normal, although completely bald, Human female.
“When did that happen?” Owen asked, though it was a rhetorical question and he didn’t really expect an answer from Shona. He accessed the solid state video recorder and played back the last hour of activity within the isolation room in fast forward. He slowed it down as the pod opened and Munroe gently helped the glowing woman to climb out of it. He confirmed that she was anatomically female in every way before Munroe covered her with the blanket and provided her with her first Earth meal.
“Munroe, why didn’t you contact me when she started hatching?” he asked through the in-ear communicator.
“Because I was too busy looking after her. There’s nothing to worry about. She’s quite healthy, just hungry after her long night generating this body. She’s not quite finished yet. These high protein bars will give her the boost she needs to finish the job.”
“Come out here, right now,” Owen said. “I need to speak to you, without her listening in.”
Munroe leaned towards the glowing alien and kissed her on the cheek before whispering something that was picked up, nevertheless on the internal microphones.
“I’ll be back, soon, sweetheart,” he said. He stood and went to the door. Owen met him there. He didn’t look at all pleased.
“Sit down right here and tell me EVERYTHING you know about the alien subject – and yes, you’re being recorded. This is important.”
“I called her Molly,” Munroe said. “She doesn’t have a name that’s pronounceable in our language. She is a queen on the planet she comes from. She was sent to our world for safety, because there are enemies who would destroy her, and through her, the whole of her people. She… doesn’t really look Human. Her species have the ability to adapt their form. She took in the information about humans from me while she was in the pod and began to create a body that would be pleasing to my sight.”
He was looking at her all the time through the window, and Owen finally relented and let him go back to her on condition that he found out more about the alien’s background and the nature of the threat to her.
“Good job it wasn’t Dougal who got the protective feelings for her then, or she’d be a ‘he’,” Owen commented as he watched Munroe sit back down with the alien woman and hug her tenderly. “And a bit of a shock later if he felt amorous.”
“Dougal wouldn’t,” Shona said. “He’s hooked on Sandy. For that matter, I’m ‘spoken for’. At least, I’m really not interested in sex with anyone other than Darius. Why go to all the trouble of looking for it if it’s already on offer. And he’s pretty hot stuff after all. Why would I need anybody else?”
“TMI, Lieutenant,” Owen commented, though the nature of the passion between her and Darius was well known in the Torchwood Hub.
“My point is, Munroe is the only one of us not in a relationship. I know he gets a certain satisfaction from Lady Heather’s girls, but it’s not the same as… you know….” Shona sighed and shook her head. “He called her MOLLY.”
“Yes?” Owen was obviously missing something.
“That’s his late wife’s name!” Shona explained.
“I thought it was Margaret,” Owen answered. He only knew that from the personnel files in his office. He couldn’t remember Munroe ever mentioning his wife as anything other than ‘Mrs Macdonald’.
Then the penny dropped.
“Oh, of course. Molly is the Scots short version of Margaret. I’m still thinking Welsh where they’re usually called ‘Meg’.”
He looked at Munroe and the alien again. She was glowing much less, now, and her features were changing. Both observers recognised the new face. The picture was on Munroe’s desk along with photos of his son and grandchild.
“His wife,” Owen noted. “She’s made herself look like his late wife – in her youth, when he first fell in love with her… the way he remembers her best.”
She had grown hair as they watched - curling dark brown on her head as well as eyebrows and other places that Human females usually had hair.
“Shona,” Owen said. “Would you go into the ladies locker room and find some of Tosh’s clothes. If she is going to look THAT Human it would be more appropriate if she was dressed.”
Shona quickly did as he asked her, returning not only with clothes, but two foil covered packs that had just been delivered from one of the few early morning cafes in Glasgow that delivered breakfasts. It was a perk of the graveyard shift – a hot breakfast before clocking off.
“Since she’s making herself appear Human, I figured she might need to eat,” Shona explained. Owen watched her step into the isolation room with the clothes and food and then step out again after sharing a few words with Munroe.
“I don’t think he’s moving from there,” she confirmed as Owen watched his colleague dress the alien in his wife’s clothes. “I’m going to get my breakfast then I’m going home to feed my kid and get some sleep.”
“Ok,” Owen told her. He watched for a little longer. After showing the alien woman how to eat bacon and scrambled eggs with the plastic cutlery supplied with the take-out food, Munroe settled down again to cuddling and talking quietly to her. She, so far, hadn’t spoken to him. Perhaps language took longer to assimilate.
Owen got bored. Munroe was telling the simulacrum Molly about his courtship of the real Mrs MacDonald. It mostly seemed to involve long walks over heather-covered hills. When he was in the dating game Owen had preferred a good Indian restaurant and then home to his place.
“Munroe,” he said over the in-ear com. “If she grows fangs and tries to eat your face off, that’s your own look out. I’m off to get my breakfast and a chance to talk to MY wife.”
Toshiko had just arrived when he got back up to the Hub and opened up the last foil package to accompany a cup of strong black coffee. She sat with him and listened to his account of events overnight.
“I think that’s… sort of… romantic,” Toshiko said. She glanced at the portable monitor Owen had set up at the table. Munroe and the alien were still cuddling. “He really loved his wife, and losing her was traumatic. It looks as if he’s reliving some of the good times.”
“Romantic, it may be. But it’s a whole heap of problems,” Owen answered. “And it would help if the rest of us could be a bit more objective about this. Even Shona looked like she was softening over them, and I always thought she wore cast iron knickers when Darius wasn’t around.”
“I think they’re ok,” Toshiko insisted.
“You didn’t see her when she was glowing. She’s not Human. Munroe said her species don’t even really LOOK Human. She ‘cooked’ in the pod until she looked like that. The whole thing is a deception.”
“But Munroe KNOWS about it, so he’s NOT being deceived. And WE all know, so we’re not being deceived, either. She needed care and protection so she took on a form that would guarantee that Munroe would give her all of that care and protection. I think….”
“I think Munroe has lost his marbles,” Owen said. “Look.”
“Stop looking,” Toshiko replied. “It’s not a peep show.” She switched off the monitor which was now showing Munroe and the alien who looked like his wife undressing each other passionately.
“I’ve got to put a stop to it,” Owen insisted. “He can’t do THAT with an alien woman.”
“Why not?” Toshiko answered. “I have.” Owen gave her a pointed look. Occasionally, in the bedroom, she would tease him with choice details her short-lived lesbian affair with the alien serial murderer, Mary, but she didn’t usually bring it up at work. That was strictly between them.
“And Munroe does it regularly with Lady Heather’s girls,” she added. “Leave them alone. Or give them somewhere more comfortable to do it in. I can’t believe you made him stay in the isolation room with her, sharing one miserable single bed with an emergency blanket over them. What kind of honeymoon do you call that?”
“The best he’s going to get,” Owen answered. “Seriously, I SHOULD break it up.”
“Leave them alone. I’ll monitor from my desk. There are sensors for changes in body temperature, respiration, hormone levels, that will tell us how they both are without actually watching them have sex. You go and lie down. You’ve been up all night monitoring the alien.”
“I got a bit of sleep, actually,” Owen admitted.
“Well, go and write up your report about the UFO,” Toshiko told him. “Just leave Munroe and his lady friend alone.”
Owen conceded the point. He didn’t exactly take any pleasure from watching Munroe ‘on the job’ and there really wasn’t any obvious reason to break up his ‘honeymoon’ as Toshiko described it. He fully intended to have strong words with Munroe later, but for now he had to accept the situation.
Toshiko kept a close eye on those various sensors. After an appropriate length of time she noted that the body temperatures and hormone levels changed. They were relaxing in the aftermath of sexual activity, falling asleep.
She noticed something else, but she decided NOT to tell Owen, yet. He was going to go ballistic when he found out.
It was about mid-morning and Owen had given up on work and gone for a lie down when Toshiko was distracted from what was happening inside the Hub by reports coming in from the ‘real world’. She woke Owen and told him the bad news.
“There’s been another UFO sighting at Dechmont woods. Only, this time, there are people dead. The police went to investigate and they were attacked. According to the reports, one of the officers survived. He reported half-Human green creatures with tentacles coming out of their shoulders emerging from a ball shaped flying saucer and killing two of his colleagues with some kind of heat rays from their eyes. They took the police car.”
“Aliens took a police car?” Owen asked. “HOW do they know how to drive?”
“That’s not as important as the fact that they’re apparently on their way into Glasgow. The police have GPS tracking on their cars and its already evaded two road blocks set up to stop it. Owen, I think it’s coming to us.”
“I think it is, too,” Munroe MacDonald said in a surprisingly calm voice. Owen and Toshiko turned to see him walking into the Hub in MOST of his clothes. His shirt was not properly fastened and he was carrying his shoes, socks and necktie in one hand, while holding onto the delicate feminine hand of the alien woman in the guise of his late wife, wearing Toshiko’s spare skirt, blouse and shoes. “Molly sensed them, even though we’re down here in the Hub. They’re Jagadesans, the dominant species of the twin planet to Erion - where she comes from. They want to kill her.”
“Then you ought to get back down there in the isolation room,” Owen pointed out. “It’s nuke proof.”
“Yes,” Munroe said. “But Glasgow isn’t. Molly told me… these two… these will just be scouts. There will be more waiting in orbit – maybe a whole death squad – at least thirty, maybe as many as two hundred. When they locate her, the rest will come – and they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way.”
Owen stared at the alien woman. A stray thought urged him to throw her out on the street and let the Jagged Edges or whatever Munroe had called them have her. The side of him that had taken the Hippocratic Oath, however, crushed the thought immediately. His first principle was to preserve Human life – and anything that looked Human enough and was asking for help.
Molly opened her mouth as if she was speaking, but no sound came out. Toshiko and Owen both pressed their hands to her ears, aware of a pressure on them.
“She understands English, but her voice is pitched higher than Human hearing,” Munroe explained. “I can understand her because she made a kind of mental contact with me while she was still forming. She said there is a place we should go to. She went there the last time she came to Earth. It’s SAFE there.”
“Where?” Owen asked.
Toshiko glanced at her workstation. A map system like Google Earth but with added features had opened up without her touching it. A route was planning itself out.
“But that’s only half a mile south of Dechmont Woods,” she pointed out. “The rest of the alien army are THERE.”
“No, it’s perfect,” Owen contradicted her. “Absolutely perfect. Tosh, you don’t have to be a part of this. Tell Marcia and Fiona to close the shop upstairs and go home. You go, too. Look after our kids until this is over. Munroe, take your lady friend to the garage and wait for me in the Ford. It’s faster than that old heap you drive, and it has all those added extras like bullet proof windows.”
Munroe and Molly did as he said. Toshiko watched them go before breaking the other news to Owen.
“We really do have to look after her. She’s pregnant. Our scanners picked up the chemical changes in her body. She’s even more vulnerable than we thought.”
“Fuck,” Owen swore. “Ok, I’ll drive carefully. You do the same. I’ll call you as soon as I can.” He kissed her once, trying not to make it seem as if he might be kissing her for the last time, then she hurried upstairs.
Owen turned to the final preparations he had to make for evacuating the Hub. By the time he was done, Toshiko had left the Tourist Office along with the two girls who maintained the pretence of an ordinary business. He looked around the Hub one last time then picked up the bonsai Torchwood tree off Toshiko’s desk and headed for the garage.
“Lockdown in three minutes,” he said to his two passengers in the back as he fastened his seatbelt. “Let’s get out of here.”
It was a disheartening feeling, leaving the Hub by the back exit, knowing that the building was going to seal itself behind them, steel bulkhead doors coming down, cutting off every section and every level from each other and removing the oxygen from each section, replacing it with halon gas to make the Hub completely inimical to almost any organic lifeform that might break into it.
Owen gave the bonsai tree to Molly to hold onto. All the other plants that brightened up the Hub would be killed off before they returned and restored the air, but Toshiko was fond of that little tree.
It felt as if they never WOULD return.
“Molly says they’ll follow us,” Munroe said. “The Hub doesn’t interest them. They want her. That’s what you hoped, of course? To draw them away from the city. The lockdown is just a precaution in case they try to break in, anyway.”
“WHY?” Owen asked. “Just what is all this about?”
“She’s the Erion Queen,” Munroe answered. “The Jagadesans want to kill her in order to wipe out the Erions and take their planet.”
“How does killing her wipe out the species?” Owen asked, mainly for something to think about while he was driving. They had nearly an hour’s journey, even with the red lights turning green for them until they hit the motorway. “Explain that fully, please.”
“They’re a hive species. As Queen she is mother to all of the Erions. She gives birth a hundred times in her lifetime to a thousand eggs at a time. All the other Erions are sterile. Only she, the Queen, can reproduce.”
Owen glanced in the rear view mirror at the woman with peaches and cream complexion and dark brown hair and wondered exactly what she looked like in reality. Hive Queen conjured up images of bees or ants – things utterly unlike Human beings.
“So WHY did she come to Earth? We don’t have any special way to protect her. We don’t have global defences against Jagadesan invasion. All she’s done is put the population of this planet at risk.”
“She came… BECAUSE all the other members of her species are sterile. In order to reproduce, she has to mate with a compatible race – one that fertilises eggs internally. When that’s done, she can return to Erion and give birth. Her people will send a capsule for her. She’s done this fifty odd times before now, with different species, different planets. This is her second visit to Earth. But this time the Jagadesans tracked her here. They’ll keep looking until they kill her.”
“They’ve found her,” Owen commented. They were just passing the Baillieston interchange where the M8 met the A8, A89 and M73 in Scotland's own Spaghetti Junction when he saw a police car racing towards them. He glanced at the onboard computer and confirmed that it had the GPS tracking signal of the missing car. In the back seat Munroe gripped Molly’s hand and reminded her that the Ford Escape had bullet proof windows.
The aliens didn’t have bullets, but their heat rays bounced off the windows and the simonized surface of the car just as effectively. When they found that ineffective they used the stolen police car to try to push the Ford Escape off the road.
Owen put his foot down and exceeded the speed limit by another ten miles per hour as they passed under a railway bridge with a sign advertising Jammie Dodgers across it. He clung to the absurd ordinariness of that as the police car drew level with them again and the alien in the left hand seat extended two thick, green tentacles that gripped the driver and rear side windows of the Ford with the suckers on the end of it. Molly cringed away and Munroe put his arms around her protectively.
“Shit!” Owen swore as he tried to swerve and shake the tentacles off. Interestingly it wasn’t the fact that an alien had attached itself to the car that made him swear. A penny had just dropped about Molly’s story. “Munroe – YOU mated with her.”
“Yes,” he answered. “I was glad to do it. Even if she hadn’t chosen to look like my late wife… ensuring that I would love her with all my heart… even if she had chosen any other Human face… I would still have considered it an honour.”
“But….” Owen tried another evasive tactic. It didn’t work. The police car was matching the Ford Escape for speed and giving him no room for manoeuvre. Slowing down didn’t help. Speeding up was worse. He swerved onto the hard shoulder and the tentacles simply stretched longer and then pulled the Ford back as they retracted again.
“Yes, technically, that makes me the father of a thousand Erions,” Munroe said. “I am glad. Mrs MacDonald and I had our boy. We were happy. We didn’t really want a larger family. But… I am happy to have been a part of a miracle of nature once again.”
“I’m not sure what nature has to do with it,” Owen responded. “That doesn’t seem natural at all.”
“It does to me,” Munroe answered, smiling indulgently at the alien queen at his side.
“Fucking hell,” Owen swore again. Then he saw a way he could rid them of the immediate threat from the police car. A hundred yards ahead was the slip way onto the A752 Uddingston and Gartcosh road. He kept going straight on the M8 as the Satnav told him to do right until the last minute, then swung sharply left. The alien tentacles were stretched to breaking point before they let go. The police car was catapulted through the black and white arrow sign and across the triangle of grass between the on and off sliproads, narrowly missing an Iceland lorry coming onto the motorway before hitting the grass bank on the other side, turning twice and exploding into flames up against the fence in front of the car park for a MacDonalds restaurant.
Owen turned the steering wheel sharply right and drove across the grass to rejoin the M8 behind the lorry, leaving the flame-grilled aliens for somebody else to sort out.
“There will be more,” Munroe said. “And we’re driving almost directly towards the place where those two landed. They’ll know we’re coming.”
“I’m counting on it,” Owen answered as he slowed the car a little to safely make the wide half circle turn off the M8 and onto the A779 for West Livingston. He really hoped they didn’t run into any more aliens just yet. They were passing through a built up area of houses, shops, schools. He wanted the stand-off to be at the place of HIS choosing, where they would be ready to meet the Jagadesan on a more than equal footing.
“Look,” Munroe said, pointing to the grey sky above Dechmont Woods. There were a dozen round objects hovering there. They looked something like old-fashioned pot-bellied stoves. It was impossible to say if they were single-occupancy ships very near the top of the trees or further away and each carrying a small army.
“What is it about those bloody woods? Is there some kind of beacon for aliens?”
“Molly says it’s because of her,” Munroe explained. “She landed near the woods the first time she came to Earth. She went to the place we’re headed for, because there were a lot of people there. She found a mate and then left quietly after it was done.”
“That wouldn’t be November 1979, would it?” Owen asked, recalling the details of the infamous Dechmont Woods Encounter.
“Yes, it would. But the attack on the Human was nothing to do with her. She thinks a Jagadesan scout may have tracked her on that occasion, too, but she had already left when it arrived.” He listened to her speak again. “There were more than a hundred Hive Queens back then. Protected within the Hive they were safe, but the Jagadesans hunted them when they left the planet to mate. She is the only one left, now. She must survive. She intends for some of this brood to be raised as new queens, to make new Hives and restore the population.”
“Fucking hell,” Owen said again, keeping his eye on the hovering space capsules and wondering idly how they were going to stop the population of Livingston, to say nothing of countless numbers of drivers on the M8, all armed with camera phones, from taking pictures of the invading alien force. It was going to need some serious interference with the freedom of the Press to keep those pictures out of the news, to say nothing of You-Tube and the various other social networks that by-passed the D-Notices Torchwood used to rely on in the good old days before the Internet.
“We’re nearly there,” he said, slowing the car for the first time since they left Jamaica Street and turning off onto a narrow road between trees. There was a sign on the corner that said something about West Lothian NHS Trust, but the people who waited for them a few hundred yards down the restricted road weren’t doctors or nurses.
“Good old U.N.I.T.,” Owen commented. “Our best allies with the manpower and firepower to deal with alien invasions.”
“It’s the old Bangour Village Hospital,” Munroe noted. “Built in the Edwardian era as a self-contained ‘village’ for treating the mentally ill. They had wards made to look like houses, shops, leisure facilities, surgeries, gardens, all out of sight and sound of the sane folk, and safe and quiet for them to get well. This is where Molly came last time. She… seduced… a doctor here. He let her stay with him until she was ready to go.”
“Well, small mercies,” Owen commented. “I thought she might have gone to one of the bloody patients. Imagine the poor sod telling the psychiatrists that an alien woman shagged him in the night. They’d be upping his medication.”
“They closed the hospital down years ago, of course,” Munroe said, passing over that scenario. “Care in the Community replaced the need for places like this.”
“And the military took it over for training purposes.” Owen noted the preparations for a stand-off being made – including ground to air weapons that might just take out those pot-bellied flying saucers if they tried an airborne attack. “Urban warfare training, special operations, nuclear or chemical attack drills… even alien invasion scenarios.”
They were waved to a halt outside a boarded up but still surprisingly solid brick building that had been the main hospital. Munroe helped Molly out of the back of the car as soldiers took up flanking positions. Owen followed them inside and all three of them were surprised to find that what looked like an abandoned building outside was clean and newly painted, strong electric lighting illuminating the corridors.
A man in a Colonel’s uniform introduced himself as Rathstone-Edwards, senior officer at the facility. He welcomed the Torchwood team and brought them to a decently furnished drawing room with bathroom and kitchen facilities en-suite.
“Please, make yourselves comfortable,” he said. “For as long as this emergency lasts.”
Owen was about to say something in return when the Colonel received a radio message. He tried to use codewords as much as possible, but it was obvious what was happening.
“They’re here, aren’t they,” Munroe said.
“They tried to penetrate the north perimeter,” the Colonel answered. “But our men repelled them. Three of the enemy were taken down – but we have a man seriously injured – hit by some sort of heat ray.”
“Molly is sorry that she has brought trouble to your door,” Munroe added. “She is distressed that your man has been injured protecting her.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” the Colonel said. “We’re trained for this kind of eventuality.”
He left then. Munroe settled Molly on a sofa with a blanket around her then investigated the kitchen. He made a pot of coffee and a plate of tinned meat sandwiches. There wasn’t much else to do.
“I suppose there’s little point in me examining her?” Owen asked. “I mean, she’s a pregnant lady of sorts. But what do I know about Hive Queens who can give birth to a thousand young at once?”
Molly spoke to Munroe in her ear popping way.
“There is no need to worry,” he said. “The birth won’t be for a thousand standard universal hours. That’s about six weeks, apparently. She expects to be back on Erion by then.”
“I bloody well hope so,” Owen responded. “We don’t have anywhere to put a thousand alien babies.” He took a sandwich and sat back in the comfortable armchair he had commandeered for himself. It chafed to have to sit and wait like this while U.N.I.T. took over the show, but he had no other choice. Torchwood Glasgow, even if Darius and Dougal were in town, amounted to five people, and a whole death squad was after Molly.
They were safe inside the old hospital. Outside in the grounds, soldiers were under attack from aliens with death ray eyes and deadly tentacles. Men were dying to protect Molly and her thousand incubating eggs or whatever was going on inside her.
Should he feel some kind of guilt about that? U.N.I.T. were a special part of the military trained to fight alien invasions, but the understanding was that they were fighting for the Human race and planet Earth, not for the Hive Queen of Erion - wherever in the universe that was exactly.
A long day dragged on and into evening. Munroe made more coffee and sandwiches, and opened a couple of tins of soup to go with them. Molly told Munroe more about her world, and he relayed it to Owen. It sounded like a place worth fighting for, but it still didn’t seem exactly right that the fight should take place here on Earth.
It was late evening when the Colonel came back to them. He looked a lot less neatly pressed than before. There was blood on his uniform and a black streak of soot across his cheek. He had been in the thick of the battle along with his men.
“It’s over,” he said. “The aliens on the ground have been eliminated, and the remnants of their mother ship is making a rather spectacular and unscheduled meteor shower. It was in synchronous orbit over Dechmont Woods, but we took it out with a new laser cannon the boffins down south developed.”
“How many men did you lose?” Munroe Macdonald asked. The Colonel told him. Molly gripped his hand. “We’re sorry,” he added. “Both of us – that it took so many lives to ensure our peace.”
“Yes,” The Colonel said with a deep sigh that came from a career long experience of those kinds of losses. “I understand that – the lady – is waiting for a ship to collect her – a friendly one.”
“Yes. She said it should be three or four days.”
“You can stay here within the facility. If there is another attack, we’ll be ready for them. Meanwhile we’ve put out a story about emergency drills in the area to quash any Media speculation. Our people are already corrupting any images of space ships that appear on the internet.”
“Very efficient,” Owen commented. “I couldn’t have done better myself. I think I’d like to get home to my wife and kids, now. Tomorrow I’ll have to cancel the lockdown and open the Hub up for business again. Shona will be pissed when she finds out how much she missed while she was at home being a single mum.” He paused and tried to think what else there was to say. “You know you’ll have to take this time in lieu of holiday entitlement,” he told Munroe.
He turned to go. Molly ran after him and gave him the bonsai tree that she had been looking after all day along with more silent words that Munroe translated as gratitude for her kindness.
“All in a day’s work at Torchwood,” he answered.
When he was gone, Munroe made up a bed for Molly on the sofa. He settled to sleep in the chair beside her. This was an even stranger place for a honeymoon than the Hub, but it would do just fine for those three or four days before her own people came for her. That was three or four days he could look after her, love her, make love to her, enjoy the smile on her face and the touch of her hand on his. When she had to go, he knew he would feel bereft, but he wouldn’t be sad. He would know that she was there, on her world, with the children that he had helped her to conceive. It was a joyful and comforting thought.