Dougal watched the lorry back up into the yard at the back of Torchwood Glasgow. It bore the ‘Harwoods’ livery, of course. The fact that one of Torchwood Cardiff’s operatives was married to a partner in that firm was very handy when anything large needed transporting up country.
This was the latest consignment to be sent up from London, part of the extensive archive of alien artefacts still stored at Canary Wharf long after the demise of the Torchwood organisation there. Jack Harkness was working hard at getting it all moved out, tested and fully catalogued. He split the artefacts by weight and mass between Cardiff and Glasgow, along with whatever documentation went with them.
Some of the artefacts were immediately useful. Owen was practically wetting himself over the medical advances he was going to be able to make with the tech he received. He had also filled in three blanks in the periodic table. It chafed ever so slightly that he couldn’t actually announce the fact to the scientific community. They were all elements that didn’t occur naturally on planet Earth.
Toshiko was enjoying the challenge of finding out what some of the more obscure pieces of alien objet d’art were for. Munroe and Darius were assisting her in that task. So far the only accident to occur was when Munroe stepped through what looked like an ordinary wooden doorframe and ended up in Norway without an overcoat or any form of ID. Owen asked Jack Harkness to pull a favour from U.N.I.T. and got him flown home again without even missing one of his appointments with Lady Heather’s girls, but he was going to take much longer to live down the embarrassment of being caught out that way. The doorway was labelled as a spatial anomaly and placed in the archive with ‘do not cross’ tape around it. Munroe stuck to cataloguing from a safe distance.
Today’s collection was impressive in its mass and bulk. Whether it proved to be useful was another matter entirely. The huge crate the size of a wardrobe could just be - a wardrobe. It could well turn out to be an alien wardrobe, of course, filled with textiles never seen on planet Earth that could be used to make bullet proof clothes as light as cotton….
….or just about anything.
It was a surprise for whoever opened it. Whether it was a good surprise or a bad surprise remained to be seen.
Dougal was betting on it being a bad surprise. He checked the box for eight different types of radiation and four active particles before putting it into the lift down to the isolation laboratory.
“Hang on, boyo, there’s this as well,” the Harwoods driver said, dragging a large cardboard box out of the back of the lorry. It was sealed up with brown tape and had ‘miscellaneous’ written on the side in black marker. In any other delivery to any other business it would probably contain staplers and box files, packets of drawing pins. Addressed to Torchwood it could be…. just about anything. He got ready to scan it.
“Come on, boyo,” the driver said impatiently. “This thing is heavy. Are you going to take it off my hands or not?”
“Do Welsh people REALLY say ‘boyo’?” Dougal asked, taking charge of the box and signing the delivery note on the clipboard thrust towards him. “I thought that was a cliché, like ‘hoots mon’ which I have never heard any Scotsman say unless he was taking the piss out of a tourist.”
The driver grinned and wished him luck in Welsh, at least Dougal supposed he was. It might have been ‘fuck you’ for all he knew. Anyway, he got back in his lorry and reversed out of the gate. Dougal brought the box into the lift with the crate and pressed the button for the fifteenth floor down.
Darius was waiting at the bottom. It was midday and he couldn’t come up to the ground floor. Down in the bowels of the Hub his unDead strength came in useful. He lifted the crate that had needed a trolley to get into the lift and carried it easily. Dougal brought the box and followed behind him.
“I’m going to go and grab a bite to eat before we get started,” he said when the artefacts were installed in the isolation lab. “If you want to get started unpacking, feel free. There’s nothing organic, and no obvious chemical dangers I can detect. You should be safe.”
“Unless there is a bottle of captured sunlight in the box,” Darius reminded him. He had got first degree burns on his hands from that curiosity a few weeks ago.
“Go careful, anyway,” he told him. “I’ll bring you a bottle of water.”
Dougal strode away, locking the door seal behind him. Darius heard the air system change to a localised circulation. If any contaminants got into the room, they wouldn’t get into the general air supply for the rest of the Hub – still less outside into the city itself.
Not that it mattered for Darius. He didn’t breathe. He turned towards the large crate with a crowbar. The sound of plywood splintering filled the room as a large, elaborate cabinet was revealed. It had Chinese markings on it and looked very much like the sort of thing a magician would use to make somebody vanish off the stage.
He looked at it carefully. There was an obvious door on one side. He scanned it with the radiation detector. There was nothing that appeared worrying. He pressed the door in several places, expecting it to take a bit of time to find the trick that opened it. Chinese puzzles were notoriously difficult in that way.
It took ten minutes before the door sprang open. He looked into a dark space, but not the space inside the box. He wasn’t sure whether to be surprised or not. It was alien technology of some kind. Why would it be an ordinary space inside it?
Then he noticed something about the space inside. It wasn’t fully dark. There was a low-level ultra-violet light in the room that took up far more floor area than a mere cupboard. It looked oddly familiar. He stared, allowing his eyes to process that tiny amount of light. He could see far more with it than any mere mortal, of course, and he could soon make out shapes in the dark.
One shape looked, at first glance, like a man standing there. Then, as he stared, he realised it was far from that, even though it had the essential shape of a man.
And he knew where the space was, now. He stepped into the cabinet and stepped out into another place, though one not so far away as it was intended to be.
When Dougal came back from his lunch break, bearing a bottle of mineral water for his colleague he found Darius opening up the cardboard box marked miscellaneous. He had a wide grin on his face.
“I found out what the cupboard is for, and why Munroe ended up in Norway when he went through the doorway the other week.”
“Do tell,” Dougal responded.
“The doorway is the other end of what I think we could call a static transmat. But it only works if the cupboard door is open. I went in there and came out in the archive on floor eighteen, right in front of the empty Cyberman shell that was left down there after the 1967 invasion attempt. That’s where we stored it, along with everything else with no obvious practical use. I came back through to here, no problem. But when I closed the door and went down there, it wouldn’t work.”
“You obviously didn’t go to Norway,” Dougal pointed out.
“I sent one of those little robot spider things we couldn’t find any obvious use for, either – with a string tied to one leg. I pulled it back after a few seconds, before the portal had time to close. It was just long enough for it to take a photograph.” He showed Dougal the small but surprisingly sharp and detailed image he had managed to get by that method. It was the place known as Daleg Ulv Stranden – or Bad Wolf Bay in English – where Munroe had wound up the last time. Dougal made a mental note to suggest a field trip to that spot, to find out if it was significant in some way.
“We’ll have to do a ton of tests on it,” Dougal pointed out. “But there are some real possibilities with this. The doorway could be left on the moon if we wanted. Or dropped off by the next Mars probe.”
“I was thinking of sending it down to Cardiff so that we have an easy way of doing joint conferences,” Darius suggested. “The moon can wait until they actually build a Torchwood office up there.”
“That’s a possibility, too,” Dougal agreed. “Anyway, I hope you realise how much paperwork you’ve let yourself in for. And Doctor Harper will tick you off for doing a field test without a qualified First Aider on stand by. Yes, I know, you don’t need First Aid, but you know what a stickler for the rules he is.”
“I’ll deal with Doctor Harper,” Darius answered. He was in a cheerful mood. His incisors showed long and sharp when he grinned. Anyone who didn’t know him might be worried.
“You do that,” Dougal told him. “Meanwhile, what sort of alien miscellaneous do we have here?”
It looked, to the untrained eye, like bric-a-brac from any car boot sale. But these were TRAINED eyes. Both of them had spent plenty of time in the archive as well as reading the carefully compiled photo-records from the Cardiff office. They easily recognised that the little brass bell with curious symbols on it was an alien barometer. It was cold to the touch, exactly as cold as the temperature outside on a blustery mid-November afternoon. They confirmed that it absolutely WAS the same temperature. Even fifteen floors down, in a sealed room, with its own air filtration system, it was possible to know the outside temperature at Torchwood.
“I’m not entirely sure how we can use that for the protection of the Human race from alien invasion,” Dougal admitted. “I think I might ask if I can give it to Sandy for an anniversary present.”
Darius laughed and pulled out several more peculiarities with limited but clearly alien functions. Then he reached into what he thought was the bottom of the box and noticed something flat wrapped up in newspaper. It was a copy of the Evening Standard from March 2005, a year before the London Torchwood was devastated by a war between Daleks and Cybermen. When he opened that wrapping, he noticed an even older paper inside, the London edition of the Times from 1949. The paper was creased in odd places as if it had been unwrapped once, then wrapped again in the original paper and that paper covered with a new wrapping.
“In another thirty years both pieces of paper could be historical artefacts,” Dougal commented. “What’s inside?”
“Something delicate, I think,” Darius answered. “Glass, I think, by the feel.”
He unwrapped the old paper carefully, trying not to tear it, though in truth it was just an old bit of newsprint which the local library would have on a facsimile reel. Inside was a mirror, roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper, surrounded by a simple metal frame that was a little bit tarnished, proving it wasn’t any kind of precious metal. Darius lifted it and then put it down again very suddenly. He stepped back in shock. Dougal was startled to see him shivering with fright.”
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I saw… my own reflection in the mirror,” Darius replied.
“But you can’t. You’re a vampire. You don’t have a reflection in anything.”
“Nothing made on Earth. But this wasn’t… At least I don’t think it was. It….” He took a step forward and gingerly picked up the mirror again. He stared into it. “I haven’t seen my own face for… over two hundred years. I look… younger than I deserve.”
“You’re a devilishly good looking man,” Dougal told him. “If I wasn’t hopelessly in love with Sandy I’d have jumped you long ago.”
Darius grinned. He noticed just how much his fangs protruded when he did and pushed his top lip down a little as if to hide them. It didn’t work. He put the mirror down again, then picked it up and looked at himself again.
“I never took you for vain before,” Dougal told him. “We’ll have to run some more tests on that, I think. We need to know what else it does apart from give vampires something to comb their hair in front of.”
“I ought to show it to Lady Moira,” Darius said. “She is the oldest vampire in the city. If anything of the sort was ever seen before, she would know.”
“That’s worth a try. Do the paperwork first, though, and sign it out if you’re going to go down there.”
“I’ll do that,” Darius said. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was two o’clock. It would be dark enough for him to leave the Hub in another two hours. Time to get all the new artefacts fully recorded in the database and then he could go out. After seeing Lady Moira he could head up to North Kelvinside and spend the evening with Shona and Gabrielle. It was a pleasant prospect to see him through the dull part of being a Torchwood operative – that damned paperwork.
He could have taken a taxi, of course. Or caught a bus. Any method of public transport was open to him after the sun went down. He preferred to walk. He enjoyed the feel of the wind on his face and strode confidently through the winter streets with his collar turned up around his neck but otherwise no protection from the elements at all. Vampires didn’t suffer from the cold. The mirror was in a carrier bag with ‘Next’ on the side that Toshiko had discarded after a lunchtime shopping trip.
He hadn’t reached Lady Moira’s genteel and leafy part of the city when he was surrounded by three men who had robbery on their minds. One of them grabbed the carrier bag and demanded his watch and wallet while the other two pinned him against the crumbling red brick façade of a long abandoned Victorian factory. Opposite there was nothing but a rusty chain link fence where redevelopment of an empty site had been delayed by the credit crunch. The street lamps that should have illuminated the scene were out of action and even at a little after five in the evening it was a lonely place where there was nobody to come to his aid.
Of course he fought back, and the three men who thought he was an easy target soon thought twice about it. They were especially disturbed when they found that their victim was no longer in front of him, but standing above them on the jutting sill of the bricked up factory window. They saw his eyes glow red and his face turn grey, his lips curling back over his elongated teeth just before he descended on them, snarling angrily and clawing at their faces with his long-nailed fingers. The three men screamed in horror as they became the ones fighting back, struggling to escape from an angry fiend.
They got away, but only because one of them pulled a knife from his pocket and plunged it into Darius’s shoulder. He howled in pain and relaxed his grip on the mugger’s neck just long enough for him to get away, his friends running after him. He reached to pull the knife from his unDead flesh and was surprised just how much it hurt. It was only a penknife and it hadn’t gone in very deep, but it was more painful than anything he could remember for a very long time.
He reached inside his shirt to touch the wound and was surprised to feel the blood flowing from it. Warm blood. That was the odd thing about it. His blood was never warm. It wasn’t pumped around his body by a working heart. It got into his body second hand from packs that he kept in the fridge. It was often months since it had been in the veins of a living, breathing Human being.
“Sir, are you all right?” He heard a voice and a flashlight blinded him momentarily. When it was lowered he caught a glimpse of fluorescent yellow and heard the crackle of a police radio as the officer called for an ambulance for a mugging victim and reported three suspects on foot running away from the scene.
“It’s all right,” the policeman said, reaching to help him. “The ambulance is on its way. You’re going to be fine, sir.”
“I….” Darius murmured. Then his vision blurred. He started to lose consciousness.
He came around twice momentarily in the ambulance. He heard somebody talking about his pulse being ‘thready’ the first time. He slipped back into oblivion feeling more than a little puzzled. He hadn’t HAD a pulse for more than two centuries. The next time he woke the same voice was talking about cross-matching his blood type. That was a strange notion, too. The last time he had a blood type of his own was a hundred and twenty years before a German called Karl Landsteiner identified the different groups.
When he woke again he saw plastic curtains in a rather distressing blue and pink flowered pattern around him. He was lying in a bed with a drip attached to the back of his hand and his shoulder curiously numb. He reached out with his good hand and noticed that the shoulder was bandaged.
“Darius….” He heard Shona’s voice and turned his head. She was sitting beside him in the hospital cubicle. She was pale except for red rims around her eyes, but if anyone accused her of crying she would no doubt deny it fiercely.
“Mano mylimoji” He whispered hoarsely. She reached and poured a glass of water from a jug left by the bed and helped him to drink it. “What happened? Why am I in hospital? HOW could I be in hospital?”
“You were mugged,” Shona said in reply to the first question. “As for the rest, all I know is the hospital called me last night. My number was in your wallet, along with pictures of me and Gabrielle. They assumed I was your wife. I had to get a babysitter at short notice and come on over – just to watch you snoring your head off all night with nothing but a flesh wound on you.”
Shona reached for the chart at the end of the bed and showed it to him. It was a few moments before he took in what it said about him.
“Heart rate, respiration, blood count….”
“All the normal Human lifesigns.”
“They can’t be,” he protested. “I’m unDead. I was born in the eighteenth century. I died when I was twenty-seven in the year 1790. I’m a VAMPIRE.”
“Don’t talk so bloody loud,” Shona snapped at him. “Do you want people to hear? I don’t know what the fuck happened, but it happened. You’re Human. You’ve got a heartbeat and you’re breathing. Your breath is disgusting, by the way. If you want me to come anywhere near you, get a packet of mints or something.”
“Mints?” The very idea was impossible to him. He hadn’t even brushed his teeth in two centuries. Even mouthwash was inimical to his unDead existence.
“Mince?” Owen Harper pulled back the curtain and took the chart from Shona. “A good steak would be more like it, sunshine, as in sirloin rather than through the chest. I’ll order one in for after I’ve finished the tests I’ve got lined up for you back at the Hub.”
“Tests? What tests?”
“To find out why you’re back in the land of the living after so long,” he answered. “It’s a new one on me.”
“It’s new to me, too,” Darius answered. “But I’m not going back to the Hub. If this is true, then I’ve spent enough time underground. I want to go out in the daylight… feel the sun on my face.”
“In November? It’s pissing down out there. None of us have seen the sun since the beginning of October. Help him get dressed, Shona, and let’s get him out of here.”
“He can get himself dressed,” Shona answered. “I’m not his nursemaid.”
“I CAN dress myself,” Darius insisted. “But I mean it. I’m not going back to the Hub. I want to see my daughter. I want….”
Owen pushed him back down onto the bed and pulled the covering off his shoulder. He looked at the wound for a long minute then he replaced the dressing and tapped Darius’s inner arm until a vein showed up. He inserted a syringe and extracted a blood sample. Darius looked at it as if he had never seen such a thing before. He was even more surprised when Owen fastened a sterile plaster over the puncture. It was starting to bruise. He hadn’t bruised since the last drunken tavern brawl he had taken part in back in his living days.
“I’ll make do with that for now,” he said. “Shona, take him home with you. Bring him back to the Hub tomorrow morning to see if I’ve found anything.”
“Just what I need, an ex-blood-sucker under my feet,” Shona replied. “What am I supposed to do with him?”
“You never needed anyone to draw diagrams before,” Owen answered. “Go on, get out of here before I change my mind about signing him out and have him transferred to the psychiatric ward, instead. It wouldn’t be hard with him claiming to be a two hundred year old vampire and all.”
Darius got his clothes on with a struggle and very minimum help from Shona. She helped him put his coat on at last and he followed her out of the cubicle. He grasped her hand as they passed through triage and through the waiting area at the front of the casualty department. He looked at the windows. Owen was right. There was no sun. At just gone eight-thirty on a November day it was dull and miserable outside with a cold rain falling steadily from a uniformly iron grey sky.
But it was daylight, the first he had seen for such a long time. He looked up at the sky as he walked across the car park to the taxi rank. Travelling through the city centre, watching the people at their daily lives, work, shopping, leisure, was a new and wonderful experience.
“I can’t feel them,” he admitted. “I used to feel so much life around me in the city. But now I can’t feel anything outside of my own head.”
Shona glanced at the little red light that proved their conversation was private. The cab driver wasn’t listening in.
“You’re Human now,” she told him. “A lot of things will be different. You’ll have to get used to it.”
“Yes,” he sighed. He looked out of the cab window again. He had never seen Glasgow in daylight. He had never seen anywhere outside of his home town in Lithuania that way before. A grey, rainy day wasn’t, perhaps, the best way to begin his Human life again. He felt, not exactly disappointed, but a little flat, like the colours of everything in this grey world.
It was the first time he had ever entered the apartments where Shona lived through the front door. He usually came down from the roof, sometimes through the window, though she gave him hell for not knocking when he did that. The entrance lobby with the firedoors to the stairs and the two lifts was unprepossessing.
“It’s clean,” Shona pointed out as they stepped into the lift. “There’s no graffiti and it doesn’t smell of piss.”
“I didn’t say anything,” he protested.
“You were looking aghast. You’re not Lithuanian nobility, now. You’re an ordinary man – a homeless one, at that, so be grateful for a roof over your head.”
“I’m not homeless,” he said. “I still have Torchwood.” Or at least he hoped he did. His usefulness to the organisation was mostly as their resident vampire. His unDead senses, his near immortality were what they needed.
Did they need a two hundred year old Lithuanian illegal immigrant?
Shona let herself into her apartment. Darius followed her in. The babysitter greeted her politely and took the money for staying overnight at short notice.
While Shona saw the woman out, Darius went through to the living room. Gabrielle was dressed and playing with her toys in her playpen. He approached her with a wide smile and open arms.
“My kudikis,” he said, reaching to lift her. “Come here, my sweet.”
Gabrielle glanced at him and began to cry.
“It’s me, mano vaikas,” Darius said, trying to comfort her. “I’m your tevas, your father. I have loved you from the day you were born. Don’t you know me?”
“You’d better give her to me,” Shona said with a note of impatience in her voice. Gabrielle calmed in her mother’s arms. Darius reached out again. This time the child let him hold her, but she didn’t put her little arms around his neck as she always did and she wouldn’t speak to him. It felt wrong. Disappointed, he put her back into the playpen where she carried on playing, though watching him warily in case he tried to hold her again.
“She knows I’m different. Why is that? I look the same. I’m just… warmer.”
“Beats the hell out of me,” Shona answered. “I’m going to make coffee. Do you want some?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
Coffee. He had smelt it for centuries. It was a rare and precious drink when he first knew the aroma from European coffee houses. It was even rarer when he reached British shores near the end of the nineteenth century. Tea was more popular with the British. Then there was a time when the smell became less palatable because the foreign coffee bean was mixed with chicory to make it go further during wartime scarcity.
Then came the 1960s and the invention of Cappuccino, the spread of American style fast food to Britain, cafes serving coffee to early morning commuters, before daylight in winter, when he was still on the city streets. Later came the real explosion of coffee drinking, with latte and Expresso and every kind of bean ground up to make exotic flavours and aromas.
Shona made Nescafe instant coffee. She was too impatient for a percolator. Even so it was the first coffee he had drunk for so long. It tasted good. So did the buttered toast that she provided for an unscheduled breakfast. She complained about doing it and reminded him that she was no housewife.
“I know, mielasis,” he told her. “You are a soldier first, a woman second. And I love you both ways.”
Shona looked at him and wiped butter from his mouth with a tissue. Usually when they were alone she would tell him she loved him in return.
Did she love the vampire? Was it the excitement of making love to an unDead that fascinated her? Was the ordinary man no longer of interest?
“I love you, too, Darius,” she said eventually. “I’m… just… a bit tired. I waited up all night at your bedside. I was worried about you.”
“I’m always worried about you,” she assured him. “I worry that some idiot is going to stake you when you’re prowling around in the night. I worry about our future when we can’t live together as a real couple… and about how our daughter will grow up with a father she only sees at night. But… last night I was worried that you were unconscious for nine hours after a routine bit of surgery to stitch up a knife wound that didn’t touch any major organ or artery. The doctors had you scheduled for an MRi this morning. They thought there was brain damage. Doctor Harper… Owen… thought that your brain was adjusting in some way. He told me not to worry. But I did. I worried about you, you stupid, stupid dumb LITHUANIAN.”
She grasped his hand tightly and pulled him close. Darius felt his blood stir, his own blood, as her kiss upon his lips lengthened.
“That… was good,” he told her. “As good as it always was. It felt different. Your lips weren’t as hot… I suppose because mine are warm, too. But it was good.”
“Gabrielle will sleep after lunch,” Shona responded. “We can go to bed for a couple of hours, too.”
That was her way of saying that she wanted him, still. He was relieved.
Because so far, being Human wasn’t as good as he had hoped it would be.