“And so as the Last Days draw to a close and we think upon the glorious future that awaits those of us who will be ready for the Day of Departure, let us give thanks that we are among the chosen.”

The single voice of the man standing by the altar echoed around the old stone walls.

“We give thanks,” came the gestalt voice of followers of Andrew Gallagher, known to his adherents as The Messenger.

“And while we give thanks for our Deliverance, let us pray also for the souls of the unbelievers who will suffer the Great Purging Fire when the Earth will be cleansed,” Gallagher added.

“We so pray,” the ‘saved’ responded.

Owen Harper moved his lips as if he was speaking. So did Toshiko Sato, but nothing would impel them to respond so blithely to such a command. They might look as if they had been sucked into this nonsense, but that was because both of them were very good at working undercover. They played the role of End of Time Cultists perfectly.

At least until the prayer meeting was over and they were finally alone in their ‘cell’ for the night. The headquarters of the Last Days Message was a former monastery, and that was the proper term for the sleeping quarters. They were furnished sparsely with a wardrobe and a set of drawers along with the bed. There was no mirror. There were none in the bathrooms at the end of the corridor, either. Mirrors were a vanity.

Toshiko said nothing until she had switched on the small alien tech gadget that nullified any listening device that might be in the room. They hadn’t found any, but they were cautious all the same. At the very least they had to consider the possibility of snoopers at the door. Married acolytes were permitted to sleep in a double bed, but they were expected to keep their sexual relations strictly by the book – the book of The Messenger, which stipulated exactly how and for how long the sex should go on for and what was permitted to be said between husband and wife during the intercourse.

And they weren’t sure if they would be trusted to stick to the rules by themselves!

“What a load of nonsense,” Toshiko said once they knew they had absolute privacy. Even anyone listening the old fashioned way, with a glass against the wall, would hear nothing. The device allowed footsteps or creaking bed springs to be heard, even the sound of zips being unfastened, but voices were cancelled out by negative sound waves that exactly complemented them.

“A load of pisspot crap,” Owen added. “Christ, I’ve wanted to swear all day. Every time that insipid twerp went on about purity of thought and deed I wanted to let loose every fucking dirty word I know. Maybe even a couple I don’t know. I picked up some Welsh curses down in Cardiff, and there are some Jack taught me that come from a space port in the Gamma quadrant.”

Toshiko laughed. She had often ticked Owen off for swearing within earshot of the children, but she knew exactly how he felt right now. She really wanted to let off some steam herself.

But they really had more important things to say, and not just to each other.

Toshiko lay down on the bed beside Owen and looked directly into his eyes. He made kissing faces at her but she ignored them as she reported to Munroe Macdonald about their day. Of course, Munroe had been monitoring continuously through the set of contact lenses that Toshiko had designed - based on the set Torchwood Cardiff had been using for a long time. Owen had grumbled about having to wear them constantly, but Owen grumbled about everything on this operation. He hated the food at the monastery – mostly rice and vegetables – and the fact that he couldn’t even get a beer. He grumbled about the uncomfortable bed and having to share a bathroom with thirty-odd other men.

In short, Owen wasn’t having a good time. But that was nothing new. She let him grumble about it as she spoke directly to Munroe and waited for his replies.

“The kids are fine,” Owen said, repeating the words that scrolled across the inside of the lenses. “They had a fantastic day with Munroe and Lady Heather. They’re asleep now after Darius gave them supper and read them a bedtime story. They think sleeping at the Hub with a vampire for a night nurse is great fun.”

“On no account is he to show them his turning to dust and slipping through keyholes trick,” Toshiko ordered. That aside, it seemed perfectly fine for her children to be looked after by an alien brothel keeper by day and a vampire by night. Both had hearts of gold – unbeating in Darius’s case – and would protect them with their own lives if anyone meant them harm.

“Still nothing conclusive here, as you’ll have gathered anyway from the audio-visual the lenses provide,” Toshiko continued, getting back to business. “We still have no firm idea whether Andrew Gallagher really HAS made contact with an alien and if a ship really is coming for him and his followers tomorrow night, as planned.”

“Or if he’s just stark, staring fucking fruit cake loco,” Owen added.

“Yeah, that,” Toshiko added. “I’ve used the pocket lie detector at every one of his dreary sermons. He certainly seems to BELIEVE he’s telling the truth. He makes me wish I could strap him in the old mind probe they have down in Cardiff.”

“Me, too,” Owen said. “Not so much to find out if there are any layers of deceit, but to watch the arrogant bastard howl at the pain it causes.”

Owen was quiet for a moment, listening to the reply from Munroe.

“Yeah, I know. Torchwood technology isn’t meant to be used for torture. It’s fucking tempting though. You’ve heard as much from the long-winded bastard as we have.”

Another pause.

“Munroe agrees with our conclusion that Gallagher is a luxury fruit-cake with extra nuts,” Owen told Toshiko. “But that still doesn’t rule out the possibility that a ship is coming to abduct humans. We need to get more information.”

“That means we need to look around this place after dark,” Toshiko concluded. “That could be dangerous. We’re going to have to use all of our tech to avoid being discovered.”

“That’s what it was invented for,” Owen pointed out, his own words, not Munroe’s. “We’ll go a couple of hours before dawn. Everyone will be asleep. They have a thing about everyone being in their cells by midnight. As long as Gallagher and his high acolytes practice what they preach we should be fine.”

“Keep the lenses in,” Munroe reminded them. “I might not be able to monitor you all night, but it’s still a way of making contact if you’re in trouble. And remember, Dougal and Shona are camping out in the woods keeping an eye on the place.”

“Poor buggers,” Owen commented. “At least we’ve got a roof over our heads.”

“Aye, well, oidhche mhath to the both of you,” Munroe said, ending their nightly debriefing.

“It feels lonely when we end the communication,” Toshiko sighed. “I miss the team around me.”

“I’m with you,” Owen reminded her.

“Yes, you are.” She stretched her limbs and moved closer to Owen. He put his arms around her and cuddled her close. Even if anyone was listening in to them they would have heard nothing outside the code of sexual conduct. Neither of them felt any amorous inclination in these circumstances. They just cuddled for comfort in a lonely place among people they couldn’t be sure they could trust.

They cuddled quietly, taking care not to make the bed springs creak more than necessary, dozing from time to time but aware of the passing of time. A little after four o’clock they rose and equipped themselves for a covert operation. Owen grinned as he saw Toshiko wearing black slacks and t-shirt with a belt around her slim waist to hang the alien gadgets on. She fastened her hair up in a pony tail to complete her espionage ensemble.

“You look like a ninja,” he said.

“I don’t,” she answered. “And if a REAL ninja heard a westerner like you making jokes about how they look you’d be looking for your head on the other side of the room.”

Owen apologised unreservedly for his slight upon Toshiko’s cultural heritage and slipped a near invisible in-ear communicator in place. The microphone that allowed him to communicate with Toshiko fitted over his bicuspid, and he really hated it, but in the event that either of them were spotted by anyone else in the building it was impossible to detect.

They both had gadgets for opening locked doors and portable versions of the sound nullifier as well as a selection of other useful devices.

“We could do with something that incorporates all these functions into one,” Owen pointed out as he took the top floor of the monastery and Toshiko headed downstairs. The sound nullifier meant that they could talk to each other over the communication system and yet somebody watching from more than three feet away wouldn’t know what they were saying.

“A sort of universal remote for door opening, disrupting CCTV, changing red lights to green, etc?” Toshiko suggested.

“Yes. It would be easier than carrying all these in my pocket. I just tried to disrupt the top floor CCTV with the door opener.”

Toshiko giggled and said she’d think about the idea when they were back at the Hub. Meanwhile she headed for the main office where Gallagher’s administration staff kept records of all the people who had gathered at the monastery ready for the Day of Departure.

There were a number of questions that Toshiko wanted to find the answers to. First on the list was exactly how much money Gallagher was making from this preparation for the End of The World. There was no actual charge for joining his followers, and the board and lodgings at the monastery were free, too, but there were forms in the hallway and the dining room for anyone who wanted to make donations.

Money was not a subject that was encouraged in the monastery. It was a base and carnal thing that had led mankind to the brink of downfall according to Gallagher.

Ah, what a kind, thoughtful man Andrew Gallagher was, Toshiko thought with every bit of irony she could muster as she read the filled in forms that were in a file in Gallagher’s desk. He was saving so many people from sin by taking the filthy money into his own bank account.

In liquid cash there was at least a five hundred thousand pounds worth of sin, plus two houses worth a quarter of a million each. She scanned them all with the automatic reader. She could send the data to the Hub and Munroe could do the sums, but she reckoned Gallagher was a multi-millionaire already.

Which begged an interesting question.

If the world was going to end in a few days, what did he intend to do with the money? He certainly couldn’t take it with him. Not unless there were banks on another planet that accepted transfers from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

This was a financial scam. Gallagher intended to disappear on the ‘Last Day’ leaving everyone here wondering just why they were taken in by him. That was Toshiko’s conclusion.

She felt strangely disappointed. Of course, it was exactly what they had suspected all along, but she had almost hoped there was a glimmer of truth in the whole thing, if only for the sake of the people who had been sucked into the whole thing. If there really WAS an alien ship, even if it wasn’t what they expected, then perhaps it would make selling their homes and giving away all their savings almost worthwhile.

She had even hoped, just a little bit, that Andrew Gallagher was just delusional himself and believed that the aliens were real. That would be better than a cold-hearted financial scam.

With the alien tech lock picker she opened the rest of the drawers and a filing cabinet, too. She was only partly surprised and even more dismayed to find a ten year lease for the monastery building and a list of a hundred people who were going to be invited to the facility next month.

Yes, it was a scam. The Last Days was an ongoing affair. It was even more regular than Britain’s Got Talent. At least that only came around once a year. It looked as if they could fit three Last Days in before Christmas.

Disappointment, disgust, anger. Those were just a few of the emotions going through Toshiko’s heart and mind as she locked all the drawers again and left the office.

She paused in the hall, aware of a faint light where there shouldn’t be one. She moved cautiously towards the chapel where the monks used to gather for prayers and now Andrew Gallagher gave his interminable sermons to his faithful.

There was a candle burning on the altar, and beside it was a young woman kneeling. She was crying, but Toshiko couldn’t hear her because of the sound nullifier. The woman could hear her footsteps on the stone flagged floor, though, and she looked up in alarm. She was partially relieved to see another ordinary acolyte rather than one of Gallagher’s senior followers, but still nervous about being discovered.

“Did you hear what I was saying?” she asked.

“No,” Toshiko answered. Now that she was close enough her voice was audible but they were both protected by the nullifier. “I just saw the light, and heard you crying. Are you all right?”

“I was… praying,” she said. “Or trying to. I….”

“You’re name’s Patricia, isn’t it?” Toshiko said gently as the woman choked on her words. “I’m Toshiko. I’m here with my husband, Owen.”

“Yes,” Patricia hiccupped. “Yes, I’ve seen you in here. You’re lucky to be with the man you love.”

“You’re not?”

“Malcolm wouldn’t come,” she explained. “He said it was a load of nonsense. He blocked me from using any of our money, and he got a court injunction to stop me taking our baby with me. He said I was stupid to believe in The Messenger… to believe that the world was going to end, and that the chosen few would be rescued….”

“I see.” Toshiko wondered what to say about that.

“I’m… I’m praying hard… praying for strength… because… I think my faith is weakening. The more I think about them… about Malcolm and our little girl… I want to be with them. I miss them… and… I’m not so sure….”

She paused again, struggling to put her thoughts into words.

“You’re not sure that Gallagher is telling the truth about the Last Days?” Toshiko prompted.

“Oh no, not that!” Patricia exclaimed in horror, as if Toshiko had said something quite blasphemous. “I’m not sure… if I want to be saved if… if… if I have to go without them. I think I’d rather be with my family at the end than go on without them.”

“Oh.” Toshiko thought about that. If there was the slightest truth in any of it, if there really was an imminent prospect of worldwide disaster, she thought she would feel the same. If she wasn’t doing her best along with the rest of Torchwood and U.N.I.T. and everyone else to stop the disaster, she would rather be with Owen and her two children, too.

“Is that wrong of me?” she asked. “Andrew says that unbelievers deserve to die for their refusal to admit their sins. But our daughter is only eight months old. How can she admit anything?”

“How can she possibly have sinned?” Toshiko queried.

“We are ALL sinners,” Patricia insisted. “All mankind is born of sin. But… still….”

“It’s not wrong,” Toshiko said, answering her question rather than getting into a theological debate about Original Sin. “Patricia, do you really want to go home?”

“Yes, I do,” she answered. “I want to be with them. I don’t want to meet an alien ship and leave Earth and live with the loss….”

“Then do it,” Toshiko told her. “Go now. Look….” She found one of the donation leaflets and a pen on a side table. She wrote a phone number down. It was Dougal Drummond’s mobile that he had with him where he and Shona were camped only a half mile away. “Get down to the Strathblane Road. There’s a phone box by the bus stop. Call this man. Tell him I sent you and ask him to come and pick you up. He’ll get you back to your family by sunrise. Tell your husband you’re sorry for leaving him, and that you love him and your little girl, and try to forget about all of this.”

“The door is locked,” Patricia pointed out. “All the doors are locked.”

“Not all of them,” Toshiko told her. “Even Gallagher can’t ignore fire regulations. But that’s not a problem. Come on.”

Patricia was fully dressed, although she didn’t have a coat. But it was a still night and it was only about ten minutes walk to the phone box. Dougal could be there in a few minutes more. She would be all right. Toshiko brought her to one of the ground floor fire doors. Against regulations, it WAS locked, but the alien device worked its way with it. Toshiko opened the door. Patricia looked out nervously into the dark of night. There were lights on the main road. She only had to make for them.

“You’ll be out of sight of the monastery in seconds, nobody will see you go except me,” Toshiko assured her. “But if you want to change your mind.…”

“No,” Patricia answered. “I can’t stay here. I must go.”

“Take this with you,” Toshiko said, handing her the device she had just filled with pages of Andrew Gallagher’s financial records. “Give it to my friend.”

Patricia didn’t ask what it was. She put it in her pocket and stepped out into the dark. As Toshiko promised, she was out of sight in a matter of moments.

One saved out of a hundred more who were going to be ruined financially and emotionally when this all came crashing down around them.

Dougal Drummond was surprised to be woken by a telephone call from a stranger, but he listened carefully to the tearful, frightened woman before promising to get to her as soon as possible.

Shona came, too. Both of them had guns in their pockets, just in case it was a trap, but they were sure it wasn’t. The woman sounded genuinely frightened, and besides, how could she have got the number from Toshiko if she wasn’t genuine.

“There she is,” Shona said as the car headlamps played across the brick and concrete bus shelter beside the phone box. A woman in a simple black dress huddled in the corner of the shelter. She stepped forward nervously as the car slowed down.

Then two men stepped from the shadows and approached her. She screamed and struggled from their grasp. Dougal was out of the car in an instant. So was Shona. The two men were dressed something like priests – if the priesthood had an Order especially for heavy-set, meathead types. But their unarmed combat skills were only up to ganging up on defenceless women. Dougal and Shona soon left them lying on the overgrown verge whimpering in pain.

“Come on,” Dougal said to the frightened, bewildered woman. “It’s all right. Toshiko sent us. You’re going to be all right. We’ve got friends in Glasgow with the kettle on. A nice cup of tea and something to eat while we arrange to get you home to your family.”

“Thank you,” she said as she got into the back seat of the car and allowed herself to believe she really was safe, now. She felt safe, anyway. She glanced back at the two senior acolytes who must have followed her from the monastery and hoped Toshiko was going to be safe. She was still in there.

Owen had found some interesting stuff in Andrew Gallagher’s private study on the top floor. It was stuff that he needed to send back to Munroe to fully unravel, but any doubts about this being nothing more than a financial scam were dispelled. There was definitely something going on that fell into Torchwood’s remit.

He moved quietly down the stairs again, then pressed himself into a shadowy niche where a holy statue might have resided when the monastery belonged to the Catholic Church. Somebody was coming up the stairs, and voices below suggested that she was being pursued.

Toshiko yelped when she was grabbed and pulled into the niche, then breathed with relief when she felt Owen’s arms around her and his breath close to her ear.

The sound nullifier covered their breathing, but it couldn’t hide them if the two men coming up the stairs shone their torches directly at them. They clung to each other in the narrow space and held their breaths anyway as the men hurried past – two more from the Order of the Meatheads who Gallagher favoured as his higher acolytes.

They didn’t see them, but it was obvious that they were looking for them. They smashed open their cell and began searching it noisily.

“Come on,” Owen whispered. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

They squeezed out of the niche and headed down the stairs. They could hear the two Meatheads crashing around noisily, searching their personal effects. They were going to find a lot of their Torchwood technology, though they were unlikely to know how to use any of it.

“Where do we go?” Toshiko asked. “We’re miles from nowhere with no car, and I’ve sent our back up to Glasgow with Patricia.”

“With who?” Toshiko realised that Owen didn’t know about that other drama. She started to explain as they reached the ground floor, but they found themselves hiding again, squeezing under a heavy oak table with a linen cloth over it as the hall filled with Andrew Gallagher’s chief adherents.

“Three of them are missing,” reported one of the Meatheads. “The girl who escaped by car… and two others.” Andrew Gallagher looked aghast at the news. “Sir, I think they’re journalists or something. We found stuff in their room….” The Meathead handed Gallagher what Toshiko recognised as the sound nullifier from the room. Gallagher looked at it carefully then flung it away.

“Wake them all,” he demanded. “There will be an extra sermon. They must be prepared for their journey. Seal all the exits. Nobody else will leave.”

They were trapped within the monastery. The main door was guarded. So were the fire exits.

“Come on,” Owen told his wife. “There’s one possibility.”

He headed for the chapel. It was still dark and quiet except for the guttering candle Patricia had left behind. Owen brought it with him around the back of the altar.

“Old catholic churches and chapels always have a crypt, usually accessed behind the altar,” he said. “Yes. Come on.”

He pushed open a low, narrow door and squeezed through.

“One of the few times I’ve been glad to be skinny,” he said as he moved down the very narrow stone steps beyond. Toshiko’s slim figure followed behind. They emerged into a musty smelling but empty and echoing room. In the faint candlelight they saw a stone floor and white-washed walls and ceiling.

It also showed the outer exit Owen hoped to find, but to his dismay the wrought iron gate inside the wooden door had been welded shut at some point in the past – perhaps as a security measure when the chapel had valuable gold and silver chalices on the altar. Anyway, there was nothing among their collection of alien tech that would open that up.

“We really ARE trapped now,” Toshiko sighed. They could hear the sounds of the chapel filling up with the acolytes, roused as they were from their beds. Some of them were complaining, especially those with children, but Andrew Gallagher was speaking as they took their seats, telling them that he needed them to give their hearts and minds to him.

“We have been betrayed,” he said. “Journalists have tried to infiltrate our group, to expose me as a fraud. But they are fools. They are blind to the reality that lays before mankind. Their newspaper articles will never be published. The purging fires will turn all to ash.”

He went on in that vein for a long, long time. He always did. Owen crept back up the steps and watched. Gallagher literally had a captive audience now. The Meathead Order were guarding the only exit. He wasn’t sure if the people summoned from their beds were really interested in another sermon or if they were just too dazed and tired to rush the door and get out of there, but clearly nobody was going anywhere.

He went back downstairs to Toshiko. She was sitting on the hard floor quietly, accepting of the situation for now. He knelt beside her and put his arms around her shoulders.

“Is Munroe still monitoring us through the lenses?” she asked after a while.

“I… don’t know,” he answered. “I forgot I was wearing them. I can’t see a bloody thing, anyway.”

“Let’s try contacting him,” Toshiko said. She faced Owen and spoke softly, knowing her voice would be picked up at the Hub through the lenses and the microphone concealed in Owen’s mouth. She waited a few minutes, then repeated her message.

“He’s there,” Owen hissed after the third attempt. He focussed on the words that appeared on the lens, right in front of his eyes. “He wants us to sit tight. Things are happening, but it might take a little while.”

Toshiko sighed. It was good news of a sort. But meanwhile they were trapped in this cold, silent place while a hundred innocent but gullible people were equally trapped above them. They could hear Gallagher’s voice, still droning on, the same claptrap that he had been talking for days.

“He’s just a fraud,” Toshiko sighed. “It’s all about money.”

“It’s about money,” Owen agreed. “But he’s not just a fraud. Not in the way we thought. There really is an alien ship.”

“What?” Toshiko was surprised. “But….”

“It’s all in here,” Owen told her, holding up his document scanner. “The real story behind The Message is in his diary, in his personal records. Gallagher really has made contact with aliens. He really is planning to meet them tonight and see those people off into space. But he’s not going with them. He’s staying to start up again with a new lot.”

“So the end of the world will be postponed?” Toshiko noted.

“Indefinitely, I should think,” Owen agreed.

“Why are the aliens coming for people?” Toshiko asked after a long pause. “It’s obviously not to fulfil any pseudo-biblical rubbish about the Last Days and saving the righteous.”

“That I don’t know,” Owen sighed. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

They waited in the crypt, hugging each other for warmth and comfort until a little after dawn as a watery sunshine began to cast a patch of light through the barred gate. With the light came the sound of several vehicles arriving followed by agitated shouts and the unmistakable noise of a door being broken in by a police enforcement team.

“Something is happening,” Owen said. “But I’m not sure WHAT, exactly. There are more people out there than Torchwood can muster at this time of day.”

The people in the chapel above knew that something was happening, too. There were loud murmurs and even louder assurances from Andrew Gallagher that there was nothing to be afraid of if they all stayed calm and kept praying.

Owen and Toshiko carefully crept up the narrow stairs and crouched in the gloomy shadows behind the altar. That put them in a perfect position to observe Gallagher being put into handcuffs by two police officers while a man in a suit identified himself as an Inland Revenue Inspector who was arresting him for diverse irregularities in his tax returns.

“Just like Al Capone,” Owen said triumphantly. “They got him on tax evasion in the end!”

“The documents I sent with Patricia,” Toshiko reasoned. “Munroe must have pulled some strings with outside agencies.”

So it appeared. Gallagher and those of his henchmen who put up any resistance were all arrested and taken away. Meanwhile, his bewildered followers were told to stay in their seats and wait for further instructions.

Those instructions came from Munroe MacDonald. He took Gallagher’s place in front of the altar, dressed in his usual tweedy clothes, a no-nonsense, down-to-earth figure who spoke in a quiet, reserved way that captured their attention at once.

“The world is not going to end tomorrow. There is no spaceship coming to take away the righteous. You have all been taken in by a liar and charlatan. I suggest that you co-operate with these gentleman from the Inland Revenue, who will try to get back any money you gave to Gallagher. Otherwise, you should make arrangements to go home and resume your normal lives.”

There were questions, some of them distressed and hysterical. Many people had sold their homes and possessions and given all of their money to Gallagher. The future was an even more uncertain prospect for them than it had been when they thought they were going to leave Earth for an alien world.

“I feel sorry for them,” Toshiko admitted when the last of the former acolytes left to rejoin the real world. “Even if they ARE stupidly gullible. I can’t believe so many people fell for a story like that – end of the world, aliens coming for the chosen few.”

Then she remembered what Owen had told her.

There really WAS an alien ship.

“Yes, it’s coming,” Owen assured her. “Gallagher had all the details in his private study. He’s been communicating with them for months. He kept all the transcripts, as well as the frequencies they sent him messages on. It’s a frequency we – Torchwood I mean – have been keeping tabs on since radio was invented on this planet. Every couple of decades some twat like Gallagher responds to them, and gets sucked into the scam….”

“Sucked in?” Toshiko was puzzled. “I thought he was the one running the scam.”

Owen nodded.

“Yes, that’s how it looks if all you see is the financial records. Just you wait. We’ve got the co-ordinate for the landing. We’re going to be there… with a nasty surprise for the aliens.”

“We’re staying here?” Toshiko asked. “I thought you’d be as glad as me to get back to the kids?”

“I miss them, too,” Owen assured her. “But we should see this through.”

Toshiko wasn’t altogether sure about that idea, but she went along with Owen and the rest of the Torchwood team up to a spot beside the sinister white globe of the Campsie Fell Weather Station at a little before midnight of what Andrew Gallagher had made people think was the Last Day.

“It wasn’t his idea,” Owen explained to her. “He was a talented liar. He could make people believe just about anything. Before he got ‘religion’ he sold dodgy timeshares to people who really ought to have known better. Pretending to be a charismatic religious leader was his big money spinner. But the aliens fed him the whole story. It was their plan, not his.”

“So they really WANTED humans to meet them up here. They really were going to take them away to another world.”

“Yeah… but… not for what they thought.”

Owen didn’t say anything else for a while. He grumbled about the cold and predicted that the bloody aliens would be late.

They weren’t. At the stroke of midnight a bright light was spotted directly overhead. It grew bigger and brighter until all those witnessing the moment could see it was a space ship. It was very much a classic flying saucer, the sort of thing people had been reporting from time to time for the best part of the last century. Torchwood had files on them for as long as that.

As it hovered closer, everyone could see that it had a diameter of about fifteen metres – the length of a Routemaster bus.

“That's what it is, isn’t it?” Toshiko commented. “It’s just local transport.” She looked higher into the sky, wishing she was better at astronomy than she was. Should that bright star be there? Was it part of a constellation or the mothership?

“Yes,” Munroe Macdonald told her. “It’s come down from the mothership.” He was watching the small LCD screen of a hand held monitor while everyone else was concentrating on the space ship. The man who took care of the Loch Ness Monster really wasn’t surprised by anything.

The ship landed on the scrubby grass. Shona Stewart and Dougal Drummond stepped forward. They had rifles trained on the portal even before it opened to let a stream of actinic white-blue light pour out, illuminating the grass in front of it in the same unnaturally bright way as the floodlights of a football stadium. Two long, thin shadows stretched in the pool of light. They belonged to two long, thin humanoids with smooth grey-silver skin. They were dressed in silver skin-hugging ‘onesies’. They were bald with no obvious gender. Their eyes were all black and almond shaped, flattened nostrils and small mouths that stretched as they spoke.

“What is this?” asked one of the aliens. “We were expecting far more humans to meet us, and without weapons. Don’t you understand that we come in peace?”

“No, you don’t,” Munroe MacDonald answered. “We know all about you. You’ve come before and abducted humans… promising them a new life.”

“We DO promise a new life,” the other alien said.

“Yes, as slaves,” Munroe said, his voice raising in volume, tone and controlled anger. “To be sold into bondage for profit. You have harvested humans this way before, but no longer. We are here to tell you that your operation is closed down. I’m giving you thirty seconds to get back into your ship and get off this planet….”

“You puny humans THREATENING us?” the first alien replied. “You are nothing. You have never even left your own solar system. You have no weapons that can harm us?”

“Want to bet?” Dougal Drummond raised his hand. From out of the darkness soldiers wearing night vision goggles and black combats stepped forward and crouched down in range of the ship. Some of them had rifles. Four of them were aiming shoulder held LAW 80 anti-tank weapons at the space ship. At the same time a tracked Rapier surface to air missile launcher rumbled forward, shedding its camouflage netting.

“These gentlemen from U.N.I.T. are highly trained at fighting alien threats. One of their portable rocket launchers aimed through your door could blow your ship apart,” Dougal pointed out. “Failing that, the beastie on the tracks there can take you out of the sky before you leave the troposphere. And should your friends back on the mothership have any thoughts on the matter, I should point out that we’re from Torchwood. We’re the ones who turned a Sycorax ship into a meteor shower a couple of years ago.”

The aliens looked at Dougal carefully.

“Leave our planet and don’t even think about coming back again,” he added. “This is your last warning.”

The aliens stepped back into their ship. The door closed. A few minutes later the ship took off. The Rapier team kept it in their sights until it was beyond their six thousand eight hundred metre maximum range.

“We don’t HAVE the energy weapon that took out the Sycorax ship,” Owen Harper pointed out. “It was destroyed in the Battle of Canary Wharf.”

“THEY don’t know that,” Dougal reminded him. “Are they gone, yet, Munroe?”

“The mothership is getting ready to leave orbit,” he answered, watching the scanner. “Now… heading away at mach one…. Speed increasing. Mach seven… ten… and it’s entered hypersonic speed and left our system altogether.”

“We scared them off?” Toshiko was amazed. “They’re intergalactic slave traders and we scared them off with some ordinary military ordnance and a bluff?”

“We bloody well did,” Owen answered her. He turned to the Captain in charge of the U.N.I.T. men. “You can stand your men down now. A job well done, thanks.”

“Yes, sir,” the Captain replied, saluting smartly and turning to his men. Everyone had a long dark walk down the fell, but it was worth it to have won such a decisive victory without even firing a shot.

“Darius is baby-sitting,” Owen told Toshiko as they came within sight of the street lamps on the main road below. “We need to get straight home, so that he has chance to get back to the Hub before sunrise.”

“I can’t wait,” Toshiko said. “This is not my idea of a country ramble.”


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