Etri felt the travel capsule disintegrate in the heat of entry into the planet’s atmosphere. From hereon he was free falling with no protection and no way to guide his descent as he neared the surface. As the organic body with its central nervous system burned away he felt all of the agonising pain and the fear of falling, but finally, in the last thousand feet, there was nothing but peace.
Dougal Drummond was on the graveyard shift with Darius. They had followed the unusual and unscheduled meteor shower that was exciting the social media pages of stargazers across Glasgow and its environs on their advanced computer system. They had already concluded from the chemical make-up of the particles falling through the atmosphere that it was not natural. Something man-made – or alien-made at least – had broken up.
The energy trail that they also monitored made it almost certain that an alien object of some kind had landed within Glasgow. It could just be debris from the ship or it might be burnt body parts that needed to be cleared away before the general public were frightened by the sight.
Or something might have survived the crash – something sentient with some motive for landing on Earth.
They set out with all those contingencies in mind, prepared for just about anything.
“That’s an impressive scorch mark,” Dougal conceded as he shone a strong flashlight around the landing zone in the middle of Glasgow Green. “It looks as if something broadly humanoid face planted on the grass and burnt right through it.”
“Something that landed intact,” Darius added. “That’s quite unlikely.”
“Very unlikely unless Ironman or Johnny Storm have come out of the comics and into real life.” Darius looked at him quizzically, which was quite a unique expression with his long incisors showing. “Never mind, just a useless cultural reference. I’m pretty sure it’s alien. If we cross-reference with Jodrell Bank we should be able to work out its path through the solar system, and I’ll bet you my morning coffee against your chilled spring water it had all the hallmarks of a guided craft.”
Darius wasn’t a betting vampire. Besides, it was too slim a chance to risk his spring water on. He took readings on the portable gadget Toshiko had designed for collecting energy signals and analysing unusual particles in the air. He watched as Dougal collected soil samples from within the scorched area. Then they both scuffed the edges of the burnt area to disguise the humanoid shape and avoid conspiracy theory speculation on the internet later.
It was just too much bother hacking into all the pages and spoiling them.
Etri watched the activities of the two earthlings from nearby. He could tell from their conversation that they were intelligent beings who understood what had happened here.
That was good. He could work with such a being more easily than one who did not understand – one who might be scared of him.
He moved closer. Both men had their backs to him and were unaware of him until he moved out of the bushes. Then his light cast their shadows into such clarity that they couldn’t help be aware. As they started to turn he moved quickly, taking the stronger looking being as the one best able to contain him.
“What was that?” Darius asked warily. “That light… where did it go?”
“I….” Dougal began to speak, but Etri was still struggling to fit his essence within his mind and body and for a moment he couldn’t risk him saying anything. He shut down the part of the brain that controlled speech. He heard the other being calling out urgently, but he didn’t let his host reply for several minutes.
“I’m all right,” Dougal said eventually. “I felt dizzy for a moment or two.”
“YOU felt dizzy. That was so bright, I thought it was artificial sun. I thought I was in for an unexpected sun-burn.”
“It was nothing… Saint Elmo’s fire, a lightning strike, something like that.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Come on. It WILL be sun up soon. We need to get you back to the Hub. Toshiko can analyse this lot later.”
The monitors in the Hub were still collecting data automatically without Darius and Dougal observing it. The fact that a second unexpected meteor shower had occurred only a few minutes after the first was noted. The energy trail created was traced down to a body of fresh water called Loch Chon, a few miles west of the village of Aberfoyle and an hour’s drive from central Glasgow.
The water of the popular angling loch hissed and fizzed as something very hot cooled rapidly, causing a torrent of steam and a rise in the temperature in the loch that killed some of the less hardy species of fish.
Nobody noticed this phenomena except Barney Clegg who had come to the Chon with his fishing tackle. Even he missed the more dramatic part, but he stared at the dead fish popping up all over the water. He used his net to dredge some of them out and looked at them curiously. He knew fish. He knew what sort of things killed them other than being hauled out of the water on his line. They didn’t look diseased or poisoned. If anything, he would have said they had been cooked alive.
He tentatively put his hand into the water and noted that it was much warmer than it ought to be at this time in the pre-dawn, even in an unusually hot summer. Something was definitely wrong.
As he started to pull his hand out of the water, something pulled it back. He yelled out loud, his voice echoing in the silent emptiness of the morning. He struggled but he was pulled further towards the water, finally losing his footing on the bank and landing with a splash in the shallow edge of the loch before being dragged out into the deeper middle part where his body rapidly sank, bubbles of his last gasp of air rising to the disturbed surface.
Then it rose again, standing upright, water streaming from the sodden clothes. The body climbed out of the loch, walking stiffly but determinedly up the bank and through the trees to emerge at the picnic site where Barney Clegg’s car was parked.
At least the physical form of Barney Clegg did. The mind was being suppressed by something much stronger than Human thought. It allowed enough of Barney’s memories to surface to allow an understanding of the topography of this part of the planet and knowledge of how to control the vehicle without attracting the attention of the beings called ‘police’. It knew where Barney’s dwelling was, a place where it could hide from the enemy that pursued it.
Etri was exhausted by the fall through the atmosphere and the effort of merging with the Human body. He needed rest. So did the Human, in fact. Its thoughts, those he allowed to rise up, were of going ‘home’ to sleep.
“I am tired,” he said to his companion when they reached the place called the Hub. “I am going home.”
“Don’t you want a coffee, first?” Darius asked. “I’m making it.”
“No. Caffeine inhibits sleep,” Etri answered, drawing on the Human’s knowledge of ‘coffee’. “I will go home, now.”
“Well, of course. Your shift officially ended an hour ago. But you’re usually not so impatient to be off. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I am tired,” Dougal repeated in a curious monotone. Etri had not yet mastered emotional responses in the oral language of the Human form.
Something wasn’t right with Dougal, but he clearly didn’t want to talk about it. Darius let him go, only reminding him about signing the firebook on his way out. Owen had been on about office procedure in the past few days, and even when there were just the two of them in the Hub he insisted on the book being maintained.
The being called Raturo slept in the body of Barney Clegg for six Earth hours. When he rose, both that physical form and his own essence were refreshed. He was ready for the fight that was inevitably going to take place here on this world, in this body.
He had no sensors or tracking equipment, of course. All he knew was that his pursuer had landed somewhere in the highly populated area some miles from where he, himself, had come through the atmosphere. He would have looked for a body of water to make the landing less difficult.
The Human had a computer. It was a primitive thing compared to the fully integrated machines on Argro V that the mind of an entity could directly interface with, but it took only a short time to master the ‘keyboard’ and work a piece of software called ‘Google Earth’ that identified the location of the habitation where he had rested in relation to that population centre. He established, also, that a linear body of water, called a river, cut that centre in half.
His enemy had landed somewhere along that river.
Raturo found a store of food that sustained the Human body and consumed some of it. He was aware of the tastes but did not care whether they were pleasing enough, only so long as they allowed the body to remain in optimum condition for his purpose.
He put some of the food in the vehicle and set off towards the place called Glasgow.
Munroe and Shona were sent to investigate the second energy source. They returned before lunch time with nothing much to show for the hour travelling each way except for a bucket of dead fish, some samples of loch water and a set of angling equipment that had been abandoned beside the loch.
"Expensive equipment," Munroe observed. “Nobody would have just left it there.”
“No,” Owen agreed even though he was of the opinion that anglers were walking anoraks only a level above butterfly collectors and train spotters. “It means the alien that landed there took a Human life. We’re looking for a killer.”
In fact Owen wasn’t technically correct. Barney Clegg wasn't dead, just dormant within his own body, but the alien controlling that body fully intended to kill very soon.
He had traced the enemy easily enough once he reached the area beside the Clyde called Glasgow Green. The energy residue was unmistakeable around the point of landfall. He could sense it like a bloodhound could scent a trail.
That trail brought him to the car park at the rear of the tourist information office that disguised the true purpose of the Torchwood headquarters. He found the concealed entrance to the building. It was locked electronically and there was a surveillance camera trained on the area, but that was all quite primitive stuff - easily dealt with by a technologically advanced being of his kind.
Munroe noticed that the security cameras were blanking out sequentially. He alerted Shona who reached for a gun and was ready when the stranger entered Hub Central. She got off three shots before the electrical discharge from the stranger’s fingers knocked her across the floor and slammed her into the cola machine in the far corner.
Munroe was knocked out by the same energy even before he could do anything more than stare in horror. Owen didn't even manage that as he came running from the medical room. Darius managed to get close to the stranger, but even he was felled by a bolt of energy that enveloped him.
He was the first to recover from the attack. His unDead body could be knocked senseless as easily as the others, but the energy dissipated faster and he rose from the floor aware only that he had failed to protect his Human friends.
As he checked Shona and found that she was only unconscious he noticed the clock on the wall. Two hours had passed while they were all out of action. He gently revived his lover and helped her to her feet. Between them they did the same for Munroe and Owen. They all asked each other the same questions.
“Who the fuck was that?”
“What the fuck did he do to us?”
“How did he do it?”
“Where the fuck is he, now?”
The last question was partially answered when Munroe checked the lifesigns monitor. The stranger was not in the Hub. Marcie in the tourist office confirmed that nobody had gone through that way, so he must have left by the car park entrance.
“We need to strengthen our back door security,” Owen growled, angry that they were so easily overcome. “Did anyone get a good look at the bastard?”
“He was wearing waders,” Munroe said. “Like an angler.”
“The missing owner of the fishing gear,” Shona concluded logically.
“Then I think we have a case of bodily possession” Owen decided. “Ordinary fishing anoraks don’t have electricity in their fingertips. But what the bloody hell did he want?”
“Access to our computers,” Shona replied. “He accessed the personnel files. I’d better phone Dougal. He and his mate could be in trouble.”
“We need to strengthen the backdoors on the computers, too,” Owen pointed out as she got on to it. “When Toshiko gets back from that bloody conference in Stirling I’ll get her cracking with the problem.”
“Doctor Harper,” Shona said urgently. “I can’t get Dougal on his home phone. He ought to be there.”
“Try his mobile, then,” Owen replied as if it was patently obvious.
“Trying it now,” Shona answered in a tone that implied that she was not a telephone receptionist. When the phone was answered, though, she was immediately alert. “Boss, Dougal is heading into the Hub, with Sandy. They’ve already met chummy with the waders. I think one of them might be wounded.”
Owen was already heading for the car park entrance as she finished speaking, a first aid kit in his hand. Shona followed and was in time to see Sandy’s Range Rover pull up. He was uninjured, but Dougal pulled a body out of the back of the car.
It was the angler in waders. He was dead.
“There is a long story and a big problem to sort out, still,” Dougal answered.
“We’d better start by getting that body into the mortuary,” Owen suggested.
“Not the mortuary,” Dougal replied. “It must be placed in a secure cell with electrical dampeners around the walls, floor and ceiling.”
“Why?” Owen demanded. “What’s going on?”
“Please do as I say. It is imperative. Only the Human biological form is deceased. Other humans will be hurt if my instructions are not carried out exactly.”
“Come again?” Owen looked at Dougal curiously. This was strange talk from him.
“He’s been like that all morning,” Sandy told him. “I was going to call you even before all this happened. Something isn’t right with him. It’s as if he’s channelling somebody else’s personality.”
Owen looked even more curiously at Dougal, and even more suspiciously.
“Please, do as I ask, for your own safety - and then I shall explain,” Dougal insisted.
“All right,” Owen decided. “But it had better be good.”
The body was secured in a cell previously used to confine an alien who had the ability to manipulate electrical energy – causing a Glasgow-wide blackout when cornered by the Torchwood team. That satisfied Dougal’s exacting demands.
Owen’s demand was that Dougal explained himself in the interrogation room. He didn’t secure him with the shackles made of an alien alloy tougher than titanium, and he allowed coffee and biscuits to be brought in and for Sandy to sit next to him. But he also had Shona on standby with a stun gun set to level three if he did anything more out of character than talking like an automaton.
“I am not the man you know as Dougal Drummond,” Dougal began very simply after eating one of the biscuits and taking two gulps of hot, black coffee.
“Then who the fuck are you?” Owen demanded. Shona stiffened warily. “And where is Dougal?”
“My name is Etri,” he replied. “I am from the planet Argro V. It is not in your galaxy and I do not believe your scientists yet have telescopes capable of seeing its sun, so you must accept that as a fact.”
“I don’t have to accept anything,” Owen replied. “Again, I ask, where is Dougal Drummond?”
“He is with me… He sleeps… his mind, his personality, his… soul… as you Earth people call it. We call it the ‘essential oneness of existence’. But again, I digress. Rest assured, all of you, that your friend is safe. I mean him no harm. He was chosen simply because he was the first Human I had contact with after landfall. I needed a bodily form in which to move around your world. I apologise for the impropriety of my action.”
“Impropriety?” Owen was aware that the alien entity was being polite and courteous, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to accept the apology. It wasn’t like borrowing somebody’s car.
“On my own world we grow biological forms to inhabit. There is no mind already within them. Suppressing another oneness is considered extremely improper.”
“Does that mean….” Sandy asked while Owen was still trying to find words to express his disapproval of the alien entity’s actions. “You can live a lifetime in one of those forms… in a body… and when it wears out, you can get a new one? You are immortal?”
“No, we are not immortal,” Etri answered. “If the oneness is extinguished we are no more. But many of us live to occupy multiple organic bodies. I have existed for some three thousand years by your reckoning and have had many organic forms.”
“That’s really fascinating,” Owen said in a tone that implied the opposite sentiment. “But WHY are you here on Earth to be occupying our colleague’s body in the first place?”
“I am….” Etri paused, searching Dougal’s memory for the correct words. “I am an Interplanetary Marshall…. That is the closest term that you could understand. I am permitted to travel to other worlds to pursue fugitives. I was in pursuit of a dangerous criminal, one who has extinguished the existence of many important beings of our kind. I was travelling through your solar system in a life support pod – a craft that protected the organic form – following the fugitive. Both of our pods were pulled into the atmosphere. We both landed within the same geographical area. I was exhausted by the experience. The fugitive must have been, too, but he recovered faster. He came looking for me, to destroy me and ensure the pursuit ended here on this world.”
“He came here,” Owen observed. “We were attacked – then he looked for you. Dougal and Sandy might both have been killed because of you.”
“Yes, they might, if the being called Dougal was not as well trained as I am in defensive action. He took over his own mind long enough to use his projectile weapon to kill the organic being Raturo had occupied.”
“Raturo?” Shona remarked. “You lot have the weirdest names.”
“They are quite normal to us,” Etri answered. “I owe your friend my life. If he had not asserted himself I would have been destroyed along with him. Once his body was dead, I would have been forced to expose myself and Raturo would have extinguished me.”
“Dougal asserted himself?” Owen queried that phrase. “He is aware of what is happening to him?”
“He is, but he is not distressed. Only when he saw his….” Again Etri had to search for the right word. “His mate… his… lover… attacked…. When that happened his emotional state was so overwhelming that I had to give way to him. Afterwards, he yielded to me again. He understood the need. He also let me know that your organisation… this Torchwood… could help me.”
“We don’t help aliens as a rule,” Owen said. “We usually either eradicate them or send them packing from our planet.”
“That is not the whole truth,” Etri responded. “I understand from the memories of your friend that there are many aliens who have been helped by you.”
“Innocent ones,” Owen conceded. “Vulnerable individuals who are no threat to humanity. But you are far from that… even assuming you are telling me the truth. It might really be the other way around. You might be the fugitive and the other one… the one I have in my mortuary… might be the one I should have trusted.”
His instinct told him that wasn’t the case. The other alien had taken over a body and gone on the attack, hitting all of them at the Hub before going after Dougal and Sandy like the Terminator without a phone book. That wasn’t the action of somebody on the side of law and order on his world.
All the same, he wasn’t quite ready to take THIS alien at his word.
“Believe him, Doctor Harper,” said Dougal. Owen looked at him. There was something in his tone that rang just a little differently – something more like the real Dougal. “I believe him. I believe that he is telling the truth. I’ve seen his memories of his own life…. Investigating murder on Argro V.”
“Dougal!” Sandy exclaimed. “Doctor Harper, that’s Dougal. He used a contraction – ‘I’ve’ and he said ‘murder’. The other one… the alien… said extinguish.”
“Yes, I get that,” Owen admitted. “Dougal… are you ok? Are you… confirming this… alien’s story…. Are you going along with this of your own free will?”
“Yes, I am. It’s all right, boss. Let him continue to use my body for as long as he needs it. And, please, help him any way you can.”
“Ok,” Owen conceded. “Tell me what you want us to do.”
Dougal didn’t answer – Etri did, having re-asserted himself once more. As he outlined the plan to neutralise the alien fugitive still hiding within the body of the unfortunate angler, Munroe rushed into the interrogation room.
“The body… something is happening with it,” he announced urgently. “You need to look at this.”
He switched one of the wall-mounted monitors to the video feed from the isolation cell. Everyone except Dougal looked in astonishment at the ethereal figure that was hovering over the body. It looked like the outline of a man made of pale blue-white neon. Brighter blue glowed where the eyes ought to be, then turned an angry red. The being identified by Etri as Raturo the fugitive and murderer turned to look directly at the camera.
“No!” Dougal cried out and stood up from the table. Before anyone could stop him he had run from the interrogation room. Owen swore and chased after him, but even without an alien entity driving him Dougal was faster and fitter.
Darius was even faster, though fitter hardly applied to him. He was racing ahead of Dougal and rapidly entered the code on the keypad of the electronic lock with his long slender fingers. He was the first to enter the cell by a dozen paces.
By the time Owen reached the isolation cell a curious tableaux met his eyes. Darius was crouching on the floor, his eyes glowing red, but not in the organic way they did when his unDead blood raged. This was an alien red full of unnatural power.
But the power was failing. Dougal’s hands were outstretched towards him and electrical energy was pouring from his fingertips. Darius howled in agony and Owen heard his own voice calling out to Dougal to stop torturing him.
“It is not your friend who is hurting,” Etri replied through Dougal. “It is the fugitive, Raturo. He is in Darius, now. He seized upon him as the first being to come near him after he left the corpse. But he cannot occupy him fully. Darius is… different.”
“No kidding,” Owen retorted. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I am extinguishing Raturo. That is what I was sent to do. He was condemned to extinguishment and I am carrying out the sentence.”
“You’re killing him?” Owen was a tiny bit appalled. Summary execution was something that happened on Earth only in dangerously unstable countries with military juntas for governments. He didn’t exactly approve of such things. He even had an Amnesty International badge pinned to his lab coat as proof of his general dislike of cruel and unusual punishments.
But if it was the only way to rid the planet of a dangerous alien, if his own people had decided on the death sentence, could he object? Even if he did, what could he do to halt the process?
Darius gave a rasping cry and fell backwards as the red light in his eyes faded and died away. Dougal gasped, too, and swooned slightly as Etri stepped out of his body, a figure of glowing highlights and lowlights with bright blue eyes. Owen stepped around him and checked on Darius. It was difficult to tell with a vampire, since there were no vital signs to check, but he thought he had just fainted. Dougal was rallying after the shock of regaining possession of all of his faculties, though he did look strangely uncomfortable.
“Boss… sorry to run out on you,” he said. “But nobody seems to have told Etri about Human plumbing. I haven’t peed since half past three this morning.”
“Go and pee,” Owen ordered him. Dougal turned and nearly collided with Shona, rushing to find out if her lover was still unDead and not actually dead. As she revived him with a kiss and the offer of her neck as sustenance for the exhausted vampire, Owen told Etri to follow him back to Hub Central.
“What happens next, then?” he asked. “Generally we usually lock stray aliens in our cells until somebody from their planet comes to pick them up, but since you’re kind of in the same business as we are, that doesn’t quite seem right.”
“My mission is accomplished. I can leave your world. Travelling without an organic body has some advantages. I do not have any trouble reaching escape velocity and have no need to breathe or take nourishment while in the vacuum of space. Unfortunately it is slow. It will take several of your Earth weeks to reach my own galaxy.”
“You call that slow?” Owen smiled ironically. “We haven’t even figured out how to get to the next planet in our solar system. What happens when you get home, then? Do you report somewhere? Do you have an office?”
“There is an entity hive where I will join my mind to my superiors and show them that my mission was successful,” Etri answered.
“I wish I could say the same,” Owen remarked. “I just have a pair of traumatised team members and a body I will have to identify and then invent a plausible death for."
"I am sorry for the trouble caused to you and your people," Etri said with an alien's direct honesty on such things.
"Don't mention it, chum," Owen replied. "All in a day’s work at Torchwood.”