Etsuko had joined the junior trampoline club at the Tollcross leisure centre. That gave Toshiko another opportunity along with the swimming group to enjoy being an ordinary mother for an afternoon. She put Genkei in the crèche while she watched her daughter learn to do somersaults in mid-air and land back down on the trampoline with all the gracefulness of a gymnast.
She met other mothers at the club and lingered over coffee with them before setting off home for tea. It was still only February and the evenings were dull. Walking across the park wasn’t very pleasant for anyone. Instead she drove home with her children carefully secured in the back of the Honda Civic she used when she wasn’t doing Torchwood business.
“Lidl,” Etsuko called out as the car turned onto Tollcross Road itself with the park on the right hand side and the discount supermarket coming up on the left. “Bread rolls.”
“Liddy Bedrolls,” Genkei added. He was sleepy and got the order mixed up, but both of the children reminded Toshiko that she was going to pick up some fresh French bread batons to make crusty sandwiches when they got home. She indicated and turned off the road into the supermarket car park.
“You stay in the car and mind your brother,” Toshiko told her elder child. “I’ll get sweets, too. But only if you sit quietly.”
There was a school of thought about the risks of leaving children in cars, but there was also parental experience of going around crowded supermarkets with bored offspring. It was quicker and easier without them. Toshiko crossed the car park and went into the store. Less than ten minutes later she came back out again with the brown paper wrapped bread sticking out of a carrier bag. She walked towards the place where she left the Honda Civic.
It wasn’t there. She turned around, wondering if she had, somehow, taken a wrong turn, but there was only one way in and out of the store and the car park was not that big. She couldn’t have been mistaken.
The car was gone, and the children with it.
There was a moment of panic where she turned around in circles, her heart beating so fast she felt it in her throat. Then she forced herself to be calm. She looked again at the parked cars around her before reaching for her mobile phone. For a few seconds she debated whether to call the police first, or Owen waiting at home, or Torchwood.
The police. There was nothing Owen could do except panic along with her and this was nothing to do with aliens. It was car theft at the least and child abduction at the very worst. The police were the people to help her right now.
Then something or someone swiped the phone from her hand. It landed with a clatter and slid under the Fiat in the next parking space. The 999 call had just been answered by the operator. Toshiko heard the calm, efficient voice coming from the phone moments before she felt a sharp prick on her neck. She dropped the carrier bag of groceries as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Owen Harper wasn’t worried about his wife and children. He knew Toshiko would spend time with the other mothers at the centre. It was good for her to have that sort of normality outside of Torchwood’s extreme abnormality. He wondered if he ought to find an outlet of his own - maybe when Genkei was old enough to join a kid’s football team or something like that where he could stand at the sidelines with the dads.
He was thinking about that idea when the firm knock at the door jolted him from his daydreams. When he saw police standing on the doorstep he began to be concerned.
“Daddy!” He heart Etsuko’s voice and his little girl jumped out of the back of the police car and ran to him. “Daddy, a man took the car and left it in another street.”
“What?” Owen lifted her in his arms. He saw a WPC bring Genkei who was sleepy and puzzled. “Where is my wife?” he demanded.
The police didn’t know. Nor did the children. Etusko gave the most coherent account of what happened when a man got into the car and drove it away, leaving it on the far side of Shettleston where her shouts and Genkei’s cries had brought concerned passers-by and then the police.
The officer in charge of the investigation told Owen that Toshiko’s mobile phone had been found in the supermarket car park by police investigating a non-responsive 999 call. The two cases were immediately linked.
“The car and the kids were taken from the car park and then Tosh was grabbed when she tried to call the police?” Owen guessed. “Why? Why would somebody want to kidnap my wife?”
“We don’t yet know that it IS a kidnapping, sir,” the officer pointed out. “Or that events occurred in that order.”
“Well, what would you call it?” Owen demanded. “Do you know who we ARE, by the way? Tosh and me, I mean. Do you know where we work? My wife has skills that would be invaluable to enemy agents.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t,” the officer replied. Then he spoke into his radio in response to a message in which Owen caught the word ‘Torchwood’ repeated clearly three times.
“Well?” he asked with a caustic hint in his voice.
“Well… sir… We have been ordered, at the highest level, to treat this as a political kidnapping, and to use every resource available to us.”
“That’s a start,” Owen conceded. “So what happens now?”
“A team will be arriving to put a trace on your phone,” the officer answered. “And there will be a watch on your home.”
“You think Tosh was kidnapped for money?” Owen asked. “You’re expecting a ransom?”
“We have to consider all possibilities,” the officer insisted.
He was right, of course. But that didn’t stop Owen calling on his own team and the resources they could count on.
Toshiko woke lying on a hard bed with a musty and unpleasant smelling mattress, no pillow and no blankets. She wasn’t cold, but she ached all over as if she had been doing Pilates for hours.
She moved her arm and found that she was shackled to the wall. As her eyes became accustomed to the half-dark she made out a small room, barely a large cupboard. There was no window and no furniture other than the bed she was lying on.
She tried to keep calm. There was no point in panicking. If she was going to get out of here, she had to be calm and methodical.
Then she remembered that the children were missing. The people who took her prisoner must have taken them, too.
No, she told herself. She still had to be calm. She still had to work out how to get out of there. But now she had to find her children, too.
Dougal Drummond came to the house. At the Hub, Munroe MacDonald was already hacking the phone trace the police were setting up so that he would hear anything they did. Darius was briefing the vampire community of Glasgow who would keep their very sensitive ears out for anything unusual. Shona Stewart was looking at the CCTV trail around Tollcross using Toshiko’s own programme to try to pick up the trail.
But Dougal made a rather dismal point.
“Our operations don’t really cover kidnapping by humans on humans,” he admitted. “We’ll do what we can, of course. But the police will probably get the first wind of what happened, not us.”
“You may be right,” Owen answered. “But I’ll put my trust in you guys, not the Glagow plods.”
The ‘Glasgow plods’ were still in the house, hunkered by their monitoring equipment in the dining room. The children were asleep under a blanket on the sofa, close to their father and his friend, protected and safe after their own peculiar ordeal.
“Why did they just dump the kids?” That was a question Owen had asked himself from the start. Now he asked it out loud.
“Because they didn’t want the children,” Dougal answered. “They just wanted Toshiko – because there’s something she can do for them. The kids would have been an inconvenience.”
Owen nodded. That was the answer he had told himself, too. It was what he hoped. It meant that they would keep Toshiko alive to do whatever it was they wanted.
She had got her hand free. That was the easy bit. She had a petite figure and small wrists. The cuffs were a standard size, made to hold a man. It hurt. Her wrists and the base of her thumb were bruised and scraped, but she did it.
She slipped off the bed and found the door. It was thick grey metal with the sort of hatch in it found on old prison cells. She felt around the hinge side carefully and then the lock, but she knew this was not the sort of door that would have a weak point. It was made to keep people in, even somebody like herself, who had once vowed there wasn’t a cell she couldn’t get out of.
Well, not by kicking the door down. But there were other ways. She listened carefully and it wasn’t long before she heard voices outside and then a key in the lock. She got ready to kick the first person to step inside using a martial arts technique her Japanese ancestors would have been proud of.
The man who stepped into the room first was, indeed, rendered unconscious. The second and third struggled against her. But they were big men, far bigger than she was, and though untutored in oriental martial arts they could break limbs with brute force. Her fight for freedom was brief before she found herself on the floor, her arms wrenched painfully behind her and a foot pressed into the small of her back.
“Before you try anything else that stupid, listen to this,” said a voice from behind her, pressing a mobile phone against her ear. Toshiko’s heart wrenched as she heard Etsuko calling out for her while Genkei cried in the background.
“I’m coming, sweetheart,” she said, holding back her tears. “I’m coming for you.”
“No you’re not,” said the man, dragging her to her feet and dragging her out of the cell into a bare corridor with doors either side every few feet. It looked like a police custody suite, but these were obviously NOT policemen. “The brats will stay alive as long as you co-operate.”
“What do you want?” Toshiko asked. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I want something doing, and according to my research, you’re the only one with the skills,” replied the one doing all the talking who walked behind while the two brute force men dragged her. “You are a very clever woman, Miss Sato. You have invaluable skills, and I mean to take advantage of them.”
The corridor ended in a set of steps leading up. She half-stumbled under he own power and was half-dragged up them, then along another corridor with ordinary wooden doors painted a dull green and white-washed brick walls. Wherever she was, it was built for functionality not aesthetics.
Finally she was brought to a room that was fitted out as a workshop or laboratory. She was pushed down onto a chair beside a granite topped worktable and her legs were manacled to the floor. Her hands were fastened, too, but with chains rather than cuffs. They obviously needed her immobile but able to use her hands within a certain range.
The man who seemed to be in charge stood in front of her. She hadn’t seen him until now. His accent had been a generic ‘received pronunciation’ hardly even heard among BBC newsreaders these days, so she hadn’t expected him to be of Asian origin.
“I am Suraj Kamal,” he said. “The name will mean nothing to you, I am sure. I have lived by many names, but one goal – power. You are a means to that power.”
“How can I be a means to anything, and why… why use my children in that way? Where are they? Is anyone looking after them? How long was I unconscious? They’ll be hungry and tired.”
“You’re not here to ask questions,” Kamal told her. “You are here to work. Do as you are told, and you and your children will be free – eventually. Disobey, and either they lose a mother, or you lose them – depending on my mood.”
He nodded and one of the thugs he commanded set down a tray in front of her. It contained tools including micro screwdrivers, a soldering kit, tweezers, and a strange looking object that had already been opened up to reveal the workings inside. The casing was made of a tough black plastic, something like Bakelite but with a warmer feel. The components inside were remarkably small apart from what she immediately recognised as the power source – a green-pink crystal.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” she asked. “What IS it exactly?”
“What it is doesn’t concern you,” Kamal answered. “Suffice to say it is part of my plan to gain power. What I want YOU to do is reproduce it using components available here on this planet.”
“It’s alien?” Toshiko had already half guessed that. The size of the components and the crystal driving them were unlike anything manufactured on Earth. She had only ever seen this sort of thing in artefacts taken from alien ships.
It was a weapon, she supposed, though it didn’t look like one. Perhaps that was why it was important. It was a weapon that didn’t look like one, and since almost nothing in it was metal, it would be missed by the sort of detectors used at airports or entering important buildings like the Scottish Assembly Building or even Westminster.
“Can you do it?” Kamal demanded.
“You know I can. You must have found out about me before you kidnapped me. I have – what did you say before – the INVALUABLE SKILLS.”
“So you CAN do it?”
“This crystal is the only thing that can’t be duplicated easily. Industrial diamonds might do. I’d need to cut them to shape. Do you have equipment like that?”
“It will be provided. I want a prototype in five hours, and then you will have an hour each to complete ten copies.”
“That’s a long time,” Toshiko protested. “Precision work like this… I will need rest.”
Kamal pressed the speakerphone function on his mobile. Again Toshiko heard the sound of her children crying for her. She suppressed a sob. She didn’t want a heartless bastard like Kamal to see how much she was hurting.
“You’ll work until I tell you to stop,” he said.
Toshiko picked up a pair of tweezers and began to examine the delicate frame of conductive material in which the crystal was embedded then reached for a notepad to draw a diagram of it. Everything was placed within her reach without straining the chains that held her. Even a bag of raw diamonds and a laser cutter was provided within an hour. Lest she consider cutting the chains she was again treated to the sound of the children crying while two of Kamal’s thugs flanked her as she worked.
Owen put the children to bed and then took their place on the sofa, laying his head on a cushion. Dougal made coffee for him and for the two police officers waiting for a phone that hadn’t rung once since Owen had asked his Torchwood colleagues to contact him on his mobile phone which was set to vibrate mode.
Nobody rang on the mobile, either.
“What the fuck are they doing?” he grumbled when he woke at a little after three o’clock in the morning to discover that there were no updates from either the police or Torchwood.
“They’re doing their best,” Dougal answered. “Given that they had so very little to go on.”
Owen made a noise in his throat that was halfway between a snort and a growl.
“If you can’t do any better than talking in clichés, then piss off and leave me alone,” he said.
“No chance. Swear at me all you like, but I’m here for as long as you need me,” Dougal promised.
Owen did swear again, and called Dougal some names that definitely constituted employee harassment. He was wound up tight as a drum and it was his only outlet.
“It was never meant to be like this,” Owen commented after he had run out of insults and the silence had lengthened. “Torchwood… it was never meant to be for families. It was meant to be individuals with nothing to lose, dropouts who wouldn’t be missed when they died young, with no ties, no obligations except to the job.”
“Well, that’s bollocks,” Dougal answered him. “No organisation is like that. You couldn’t even run a tax office without people interacting with each other, forming relationships of some sort. As for Torchwood – well, it’s only been around about a century. The British Army dates back to… I don’t know… I think one of the Tudor Henrys decided we needed a full time military force… but it wouldn’t work at all if the individuals within it didn’t watch each other’s backs, and for the most part, having family at home is what keeps a soldier’s feet on the ground wherever the fight is. It’s the same here. I have Sandy to go home to. You and Tosh have each other and the kids, and when this is over and she’s back with you, neither of you will regret it.”
Owen smiled thinly.
“Tosh and I were never meant to be an item. We were both a pair of lost souls that Jack Harkness brought into the fold. We pissed each other off almost as much as we worked together. I don’t know when it became something else… when we started to mean more to each other… probably long before either one of us admitted it. But if we hadn’t let it happen… maybe this wouldn’t be happening, now.”
“That kind of thinking doesn’t do anyone any good,” Dougal told him. “Just hang in there. The kids need you to be strong for them, if not for yourself.”
It was another cliché, of course, but one that made sense. Whether it was right for a Torchwood operative to have a family or not, Owen had one, and he had to take care of them in this crisis.
Toshiko was exhausted. She had been working solidly for nearly five hours. The deadline for the prototype was approaching. But her fingers were numb, her eyes drooping as she slipped into micro-bursts of sleep every so often. Her legs ached from being fixed in one position. She wasn’t sure if she had done the prototype correctly or not.
If it didn’t work, she had no doubt Kamalwould do what he threatened. He was a hard man with murder in his eyes. She felt that every time he came close to watch her progress.
If it DID work, just what sort of weapon was she creating? She knew it wasn’t a bomb. A laser of some kind made sense. Diamonds were used in such things. A laser gun? How would that bring the power Kamal said he wanted? It had to be something more, but she didn’t know what.
Only that it would be dangerous.
How could she stop Kamal getting his hands on an alien weapon and save herself and her family at the same time? As tired as she was, Toshiko was trying to think of a plan that would achieve both objectives.
“It’s almost time,” Kamal told her. He held the phone up close to her face again. She heard Etsuko and Genkei crying and calling for her.
This time, though, she realised something that she ought to have realised before – at least by the second time he used that threat on her.
She tried not to let him see her feelings as she bent over the workbench again, but stopping Kamal just got one little bit easier.
It was a little after six-thirty with the sky starting to lighten when Owen was jolted from a fitful doze on the sofa by a knock at the door. Dougal offered to go, but he grumbled about the noise waking the kids and stumbled to the hallway himself.
Of all the people he expected or hoped to see on his doorstep, Jack Harkness wasn’t even in the top ten.
Gwen Cooper was at his side. She reached out and hugged him. Jack made do with a reassuring hand on the shoulder.
“What the fuck are you two doing here?” Owen asked. “And how did you get here at this godforsaken time?”
“I pulled some strings with U.N.I.T. to get up here by helicopter,” Jack answered. “Gwen is still feeling airsick, but she’s going to stay here and mind the kids for you.”
“Why? Where am I going?”
“To get Tosh. Your people have been working hard all night. They traced the car that grabbed her using CCTV link. They lost it on the outskirts of the city, but Darius did something creepy and vampiric involving low-flying and rooftops and picked up the trail. He’s gone undercover now, with the sun coming up, but he identified the place where they took her – some kind of closed down police station in the suburbs. Lieutenant Stewart is heading there with Ianto and Alun and I’ve come to get you.”
“I’ll get my coat,” Owen said. “Actually, fuck the coat. Come on. Let’s go.”
“It’s finished,” Toshiko said. She held up the plastic tube that the prototype was enclosed in. “I still don’t know what it is. I suppose it must be a weapon, though.”
“Not that it matters to you, but it will give me the power I desire,” Kamal answered.
“You mean political power,” Toshiko responded. She was playing for time – for the right moment. Kamal was resourceful and clever in a nasty sort of way, but he liked to talk, too. If she played him right he would keep bragging to her about what he intended to do with the device she had built.
“I mean to destroy all political power on this planet. All forms of government will be crushed.... literally crushed. Then I will rule all the people… alone.”
“You’re nuts,” Toshiko answered. “Completely nuts.”
“You should be politer to me,” Kamal said, pressing the buttons on his mobile phone. “I have your children, remember.”
“No, you don’t.” Toshiko told him. “That’s one of the things you got wrong, for all your megalomaniac genius. You thought a mother wouldn’t recognise a RECORDING of her kids crying. Every time, the same thing from them. I figured it out. You don’t have the kids, and you don’t have me.”
With that she raised her arms. The hand manacles fell. She had picked the locks with the tweezers while her guards were looking elsewhere. She aimed the strange weapon at Kamal and pressed the button. It made a curious whining noise and a white beam emanated from it, enveloping Kamal. His scream dwindled along with his body. He shrank from over six foot tall to less than three in moments. The process must have been painful. He collapsed in agony and lay twitching on the floor.
The two thugs stared at their boss, then turned towards Toshiko.
“Back off,” she said. “I can do the same to you.”
She couldn’t. She knew the weapon had failed moments after she had fired it. Perhaps industrial diamonds were no good, after all.
But the thugs didn’t know that. They backed off, their hands raised. Toshiko kept the useless weapon trained on them, but she wondered what her next move was. Her legs were still shackled to the chair. She couldn’t get out of those as easily. Besides, her feet were so numb by now she thought she would collapse like jelly if she tried to stand.
She was close to the point where her advantage would be lost when she heard noises in the corridor behind her. Her heart sank as she prepared for Kamal’s reinforcements.
Then the door crashed open. She couldn’t see who was there, but she heard Owen’s voice and she saw his lithe body move smoothly across the room and take out one of the thugs with a leg sweep. At the same time, Jack Harkness punched out the other. Both of them stopped dead and stared at Kamal still groaning on the floor.
“Never mind him, can you get the chains off my legs,” Toshiko asked. While the rest of the combined Cardiff and Glasgow team took the thugs and their much reduced boss into custody Owen came to help her. Meanwhile Jack Harkness examined the prototype weapon and the original model she had worked from.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked, holding up the original.
“Some kind of shrink ray, I suppose,” Toshiko answered him. “Based on what happened to him.”
“It’s called a Tissue Compression Eliminator,” Jack continued. “It’s an alien weapon, as you probably guessed. Banned in every civilised quarter of the five galaxies. It kills by shrinking the target instantly, while the mass and density of their internal organs remains unchanged. Everything is compressed until it is turned into a compressed lump of tissue inside a body the size of a doll. It’s… a nasty, painful way to die.”
“Kamal isn’t dead,” Toshiko pointed out. Her feet were free. She tried to stand. Owen held her tightly as she wobbled. She clung to him gratefully.
Jack picked up one of the industrial diamonds. He smiled and shook his head.
“The power source wasn’t strong enough. The crystal inside the TCE is Allinite, one of the densest minerals in the universe, four times as hard as diamonds. You couldn’t have known that. Neither could Kamal. He expected his copies of the TCE to work the same way.”
“What did he think he could use them for? He said he was going to destroy politics… crush governments… so he could rule the world.”
“Rule the world with half a dozen criminal types for henchmen, working out of a closed down cop station in Glasgow?” Owen was sceptical.
“Yeah, it does sound far-fetched,” Jack admitted. “But a fully functioning TCE could be used in wide mode to instantly murder everyone in the House of Commons, or the US Senate, the Knesset, the Chinese Congress, the Russian Parliament, the EU summit. If he could send his followers into those places at the same time, it would make the effort by Guy Fawkes and his crew look puny. All those nations without any government would descend into anarchy. I’m not sure he had fully calculated how he would step into the breach, but he had the start of a plan.”
“Well, he can think about where he went wrong from a cell in our vaults,” Owen commented. “The henchmen can just go to jail.”
“I’ll get that sorted, boss,” Dougal told him. “You take Miss Sato home.”
“Yes,” Toshiko said. “Please, let’s get home to the kids. You DO have them safe? I know Kamal was bluffing, but tell me they’re ok?”
“The kids are fine,” Owen assured her. “Dougal, you’re in charge. Jack, help him out. When it’s all sorted, drop round and have coffee at our place. Least I can do after you came all this way.”