On Monday morning, Gray cycled to school. Garrett drove into the city and dropped Jack and Ashley at Torchwood before heading to MI5 Cardiff. Ashley spent the morning reading through some of the less classified files from the archives while Jack worked through the latest pile of public UFO sightings sent to Torchwood from the Ministry of Defence. At lunch time he grabbed his coat from the stand.
“Where are you going?” Ashley asked.
“I’m going to check out a possible genuine UFO sighting from last night,” he answered. “Coming with me for the ride?”
Ashley came with him. He sat in the passenger side of the Torchwood SUV on the way up to Leckwith Woods. He walked beside Jack along a public footpath through the dense mixed woodland until they came to a clearing where a twenty yard wide section of the grass had been burnt clean through to the topsoil.
“It’s shaped like an ironing board,” Ashley commented. He watched Jack using the instruments under the leather wristlet cover to take readings of the area.
“Yeah, not exactly a traditional shape for alien ships. But it’s a bone fide landing. We really ought to study this area in more detail. There have been six alien ships touching down here in the past year. I’m pretty sure they didn’t come to watch Cardiff City play Preston North End, so I’d really like to know what else is attracting them.”
“What sort of ship did you come here in?” Ashley asked. Jack was surprised by the question. “Gray told me everything,” he explained. “About you both coming from this other planet in the future. And... about you not being able to die. All that weird stuff.”
“I was going to break all that to you gently,” Jack said. “But at least you know the worst now. As for the ship that brought me here... it was shaped like a police phone box. That’s a story for another day. Maybe when we’ve got a long car trip to get through.”
“It’s really true that you were a pilot in the RAF – in the Battle of Britain.”
“They let gay men in the RAF back then?”
“They were too desperate for good pilots to care what I did in my spare time,” Jack replied. “Ok, I’ve got what I need from this site. Let’s get back to the Hub.”
Ashley was thoughtful while they walked back to the SUV. As the car slid back into the traffic on the A232 he spoke up.
“If you can’t die... that’s good. I lost mum... I don’t want to lose you.”
“I’m kind of hard to lose,” Jack admitted. “Some people have been trying for years.”
“What about me? If you have this... immortality thing... and I have so much of your DNA as everyone keeps telling me I have...”
Jack was watching the traffic ahead. He couldn’t look around. He bit his lip thoughtfully as he considered the idea.
“That’s a damn good question. Not sure how we could find out without killing you. And that’s not an option.”
“It would be something...”
“It’s not always easy,” Jack told him. “All I can say is... every time I wake up alive I’m glad of it. Garrett and Gray have been my reasons for being glad to be alive for the past year or two. And now I have you, as well. Three good reasons to come back from the dead.”
“That’s a soppy thing to say. It might work on Gray, he’s just a kid. But I’m sixteen.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m usually a bit more of a hard bastard. It’s been a hectic weekend. Anyway, listen, when we get back to the Hub, I have to do some classified stuff. Why don’t you go and talk to Gwen for a bit. Get her to show you the system we have for tracing suspects through the city-wide CCTV network. That is a seriously cool piece of technology.”
“Ok, dad,” Ashley answered. Jack allowed himself a smile. It was nice to be called that. It really was.
When they got back to the Hub, Jack went straight down to the medical centre. Martha was in the middle of an autopsy on an alien who was found floating in the River Taff two nights ago. It hadn’t been a beauty queen even before it drowned, and that was saying something.
“My best guess, this guy expected to be able to swim. He has gills. But the water where he comes from must have a different chemical mix.”
“We still need to locate his ship. It could be anywhere along the tidal part of the river. Alun and Ianto haven’t reported in about it, yet?”
They hadn’t. Jack turned to his more personal matter.
“Ashley asked me something earlier. I don’t know why it never occurred to me. It probably should have.” He told Martha what the boy had said. She raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“I never thought of that, either. It wasn’t what I was looking for on Friday.”
“Is it possible? Could he be that much like me?”
“We’re not even entirely sure what makes you immortal. I’ve read all of Owen Harper’s notes. You were his guinea pig for several years, and the best he could figure is that it’s something to do with stem cells. Some sort of enzyme triggers when you’re dead and causes complete cellular regeneration. He thinks it has to be at a genetic level, but he was never able to identify it, and I’ve not been able to add much to what he started.”
“But if it is genetic... then Ashley might be...”
“Between you and The Doctor, I’ve known two immortal people in my time. And I’ve got the impression from both of you that it’s a hell of a burden. Would you wish that burden on the kid?”
“The hard part is the loneliness,” Jack told her. “Every time I let myself love anyone, I know sooner or later I’m going to lose them. Garrett, Gray... both of them... they’ll get old and die. But if Ashley is like me... then.... I know it’s a selfish idea, but it’s stuck in my head right now.”
“I honestly don’t know how to answer that question, Jack,” Martha told him. “I took enough blood from him to do a couple more tests. I can try a couple of ideas. But don’t get hung up on this. As far as I could tell when I examined him, he’s an ordinary, healthy teenager. Most fathers would be satisfied with that.”
“I am,” he assured her. “But if you find anything, let me know.”
It was food for thought through the rest of the day, and in the evening when he went home to enjoy the simple domesticity of family life. This time, it was Ashley who sat with Gray and helped him with his homework. The two boys were quickly becoming inseparable.
“Well, I did worry a little about Gray being an only child,” Garrett commented. “They’re good for each other.”
“I still keep wondering when something will fuck it all up,” Jack said. “I’m pushing my luck being this happy. Something will come along to ruin it all.” He pressed his hand into Garrett’s and leaned close to kiss him. “You take care of yourself. Don’t let some bloody terrorist take you away from us.”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.
Tuesday morning started very much the same way as Monday. Gray went to school, Garrett went to his office, Jack went to his, taking Ashley with him. He processed the data gathered at Leckwith yesterday and compiled a map of recent alien landings in the area, coming to absolutely no firm conclusion whatsoever about why that particular part of Cardiff should attract them. He knew there were places where the Rift was strongest, where all sorts of things slipped through from random points in space, time, or other dimensions altogether. But the Rift, as far as he knew, didn’t send out any beacons to passing space traffic.
He was still puzzling over it when he had a text message from Garrett.
“I’m in London. Go to your desk and open a secure webcam link. Make sure Ashley isn’t in the room.”
Ashley was being shown the alien weapons archive by Alun and Ianto. Jack closed his office door, something he only did when absolute secrecy was demanded, then opened the webcam link using a programme not available to the general public, which guaranteed a secure conversation between all the parties involved.
“Why are you in London?” Jack asked straight away. “Will you be home for dinner?”
“I might be a little late,” Garrett answered. “I’m in London because the police there picked up a child molester called Lyle Starkey this morning – he was still working as a housemaster at the orphanage Ashley told us all about.”
“I hope you gave the bastard a good kick in the balls,” Jack told him.
“I didn’t have to. The housemistress gave him one when she found out what he’d been doing all these years. The police had to tear her off him before they could formally arrest him.” Garrett allowed himself a half smile of satisfaction that Jack shared. Then the smile faded. “That’s where it gets complicated, Jack. I was there when he was interrogated. Wet putty would describe him well. He owned up to molesting fifteen boys and five girls over the four years he was employed at the orphanage. The bastard actually kept notes of their names in his pocket diary. Social services are tracking down the kids. Most of them moved on from the orphanage to foster care or adoption, but they’ll need counselling. There’ll be an investigation into how he was able to get away with it. The Press are going to have a field day about that.”
“Yeah.” Jack could see the tabloid headlines in his mind’s eye.
“But, Jack, Starkey denied doing anything to Ashley, or even knowing him.”
“Well... he’s a perverted scumbag,” Jack pointed out. “They tend to lie.”
“This one doesn’t seem to be lying, now. He named every kid he so much as fondled in the shower. His fucking diary corroborates his verbal statement. Ashley isn’t in that, either. I read it. I wanted to rip my eyes out afterwards. It was the sickest thing I ever saw. But Ashley wasn’t one of his victims.”
“I don’t understand,” Jack said. And that was an understatement.
“Neither do I,” Garrett admitted. “I went to the orphanage and spoke to the manager, who was fully co-operative. She found Ashley’s records on the computer system. He WAS registered as a resident for six months in 2009 between foster home placements. But the woman had no recollection of him at all. She didn’t even recognise his picture on the file. None of the other staff remembered him. And when we checked the physical records, the actual paper files on each child, there was no file for Ashley Brooke.”
“What about Ashley Harkness? Is it possible...”
“I thought of that. Nothing. And it gets weirder. I visited two of the foster carers Ashley was supposed to have lived with for a time.”
“An orphanage, fifty odd kids at any one time, coming and going, it is possible staff might forget a face. But I spoke to a lovely lady, a foster mum who’s been looking after troubled youngsters for twenty years. She not only remembers every one of them, but she has a shelf full of photo albums with pictures of all the kids she’s taken into her home. Ashley isn’t there. But there are computer records of care payments to the woman for him. That scared the hell out of her, by the way. She thought I was there to do her for fraud. I told her it was a computer glitch.”
“What the fuck is going on?” Jack asked. “Ashley isn’t a figment of our imagination. He’s here. We’ve seen the blood tests that prove who he is. He’s my son.”
“Jack, hold onto that thought,” Garrett told him. “Because that’s the one thing I am sure of. He IS yours. But something doesn’t add up. I don’t think Ashley is responsible for any of it. I don’t think he is aware that anything is wrong. Our feelings about him shouldn’t change, or our hopes for his future with us. But somebody is playing games with him, with you... with all of us. And I’m going to get to the bottom of it. I’m going to dig deeper here in London, talk to some more people. That’s why I might be late for dinner. So... hug both of our sons for me, and tell them I love them. And I’ll be with you all as soon as I can.”
“Drive safely,” Jack told him. It was what he always said when Garrett was on any kind of field work. It was a code between them for ‘Don’t get killed in action. Come on home to me. I love you.” Garrett smiled warmly in reply before he closed the connection. Jack sat back in his chair and stared at the wall blankly, trying to take in all he had just been told. For reasons he couldn’t entirely explain, his view blurred as tears wet his eyes.
“Dad!” He heard the door open and Ashley spoke to him. “Dad, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”
Jack wiped his eyes and looked up at his son, trying not to choke on that thought. Garrett was right. Whatever else was going on, Ashley was his, biologically and much more.
“Garrett is on a field assignment,” he answered, more or less truthfully. “I always get this way when he’s not safely doing paperwork in his office. Stupid, really. I’m a soft idiot.”
Ashley nodded in understanding.
“Mrs Roche, who I was with three foster homes back – her husband was in the Army. When he was posted to Afghanistan, she cried all afternoon, then just got on with making the tea before all the kids got home from school.”
“She sounds like one of the nice ones,” Jack said. “Being in care isn’t all bad. Sometimes you get the good ones that really want to help. We don’t make it easy. Bless the hearts of those people who open their homes to moody and hormonal teenagers with a grudge against the whole world.”
Ashley smiled wryly. He sat down and talked easily about some of the people who had looked after him in the years since his mother died and his world collapsed. Jack felt as if he was hearing his own life story from the day he woke up in the refugee centre thirty miles away from the destroyed settlement of Boeshane. Orphanages, foster homes, some of them good, some bad, many of them indifferent. Then, when he was old enough to make choices for himself, the Space Academy, his first real home in all those years. Ashley was going to the RAF for the very same reasons.
At least he seemed to be. If Garrett was right, much of Ashley’s history was a carefully fabricated lie. He had to keep reminding himself of that as he listened and shared some of his own experiences of a similarly broken up childhood. His talents for making people tell the truth were as good as Garrett’s, honed in dark times and dark places where methods of extracting that truth were far from subtle or kind. His instinct for knowing when he had broken through the lies and reached the truth were equally as good.
Ashley was telling the truth. Every instinct, all logic and common sense, told him that. There was nothing forced, nothing rehearsed, about the anecdotes he related. Every word rang true.
Jack felt torn. He loved Garrett with all his heart, and he trusted him implicitly. When he told him there was something wrong about Ashley, he believed him.
But he loved Ashley, too. He had only known him since Friday, but the bond was there. The two of them were soul mates. Their lives mirrored each other. It was easy to love him as the son he should have known for much longer than these few short days.
He didn’t want to lose him again.
They left the Hub early and drove to meet Gray outside his school. His bike was folded into the boot of the car and they went up to Roath Park. The sun was shining and Jack bought ice creams on the promenade by the Scott Memorial and then headed around the lake, away from the busier parts where people were sitting on the grass, children chasing the geese, old people walking their dogs. Jack felt he wanted nothing else but a bit of birdsong and the lapping of lake water and the boys talking to each other as they walked along. Gray was the most talkative. He had only lived in Cardiff for a year, but he had made up for lost time and was able to give Ashley a full history of the park and the lake, including its flora and fauna. The two boys stopped and looked at a heron that launched itself from a tree into the lake, emerging with a fish in its bill.
They walked right around the man made lake and the wildlife gardens at the top end, coming back down the path running parallel with West Lake Road. Between the trees Jack saw glimpses of the substantial late Victorian houses along the road. They were semi-detached, very nice homes in leafy suburbia. Jack noticed one where the owner had built an extension at the side – extra garage space and a bedroom above. Maybe there was a teenager in the house who wanted his own living space.
Before he knew it, Jack was imagining that he and Garrett owned that house. The extension would be ideal for Ashley. The room would still be there for when he was on leave from the RAF. Gray would love the room with the little balcony that looked out over the park. The other bedroom with the bay window, over the drawing room, would be his and Garrett’s love nest. The back bedroom could convert into a study....
He shook himself out of the daydream. He looked at that house again and reminded himself that it wasn’t for sale. Why would the owner go to all that trouble to sell it to somebody else? It was that man’s dream home, for that man’s family. It would never be Jack’s.
“Dad?” Ashley’s voice pulled him out of his reverie again. “Don’t worry. He’ll be home for supper. You said he would.”
“Yeah.” Jack smiled and put his arms around the shoulders of both boys. It felt good to do that. “So what do you think we should have for supper? Don’t say pizza. We’ve had so much of it this week we should all be talking Italian.”
“I can make shepherds pie,” Gray said. “We did it in Home Economics last week.”
“I can help,” Ashley volunteered.
“So, I actually have the opportunity to veg out on the sofa while you two cook, tonight?” Jack asked, glossing over the fact that he didn’t know Gray took Home Economics. He thought that was still a subject for girls in this century. “Sounds good to me.”
If there hadn’t been that nagging puzzle caused by his conversation with Garrett he would have been completely happy sitting in the drawing room of the apartment at Century Wharf, watching the sun go down over the Taff and listening to the two boys chatting to each other in the kitchen as they prepared the meal. He had the domestic bliss other people – like the man with his house extension on West Lake Road - took for granted, and he loved it. Anything that threatened that bliss scared him more than all the aliens he had ever faced up to in his chequered life.
Garrett got home a little after seven. The shepherd’s pie was browning in the oven. He commented about the delicious smell as he dropped his briefcase in the hall and came into the drawing room to give Jack a long, lingering kiss.
“You didn’t drive all the way?” he asked.
“You’re not the only one who can pull strings with military helicopters,” he answered. “Forty minutes flat from London Heliport to Tremorfa. I got a taxi from there.”
“All that for our shepherd’s pie?” Gray asked. Garrett looked at the two boys standing at the kitchen door and smiled widely.
“It’s what kept me going,” he answered.
“I’ve had it easy so far,” Jack said. “I’ll set the table. Get yourself a drink, lover, and sit down.”
He knew there was much that Garrett wanted to tell him, but he couldn’t while the boys were listening, and anyway, Jack felt he didn’t want him to. While it went unsaid he could carry on enjoying this ordinary evening, this shepherd’s pie supper and a glass of wine for him and Garrett, coke for the boys, a DVD on the sofa afterwards. He could pretend for a few more hours that this was his normal life and that it was never going to change.
He treasured those hours. But the time passed, and it was a school night. Gray took himself to bed. Ashley followed him soon after. The apartment went quiet. Jack waited for the hammer to fall, as he knew it would.
“Tell me,” he said in the end.
“I hardly know where to start. I followed Ashley’s life all the way back, every foster home, every orphanage, every school he went to. In every case there is a computer record of him being there. But there are no paper files, and there is nobody with a single recollection of him. The schools with group photos of classes he should have been in, he’s not there. Good, decent people are listed as having been paid to look after him, but they have never even heard his name.”
“It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Garrett said. “It makes no sense at all. And it gets crazier than that. Jack, I went right back to his birth. You saw the electronic copy of his birth certificate.”
“That much is true. Arwen Brooke did give birth to a baby boy in June 1995, in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. That’s the first place I found any physical evidence to back up the computer data. Arwen’s medical records exist in paper form. So do her son’s. Chelsea and Kensington Register Office have an actual paper document signed by her four days later when they issued his birth certificate.”
“Ok...” Jack looked at Garrett curiously. “So that’s ok, then?”
“It would be, if the same Register Office didn’t also have a death certificate dated July 18th, 1995, for a baby that died of meningitis. Ashley Brooke, Arwen’s four week old son. And you know what’s strange about that? There’s a paper document, legally signed and sorted. But the computer copy is MISSING. On computer Ashley is alive. On paper, he’s dead.”
“He’s alive,” Jack protested. “He’s here... asleep in Gray’s bed. Garrett... this is a mistake. It has to be.”
“It’s not,” Garrett told him. “Somebody went to a lot of trouble to create a life story, all the records of a life. They created a history for him. But he can’t be Ashley Brooke.”
“But the DNA test,” Jack pointed out. “He’s Arwen’s child... and mine. Your people proved it. So did Martha. He’s my son. He IS.”
“I believe he is,” Garrett told him. “I’ve watched him for these past days... you and him, and Gray. And there is no denying it. He’s your son. But I’m not sure he’s called Ashley Brooke.”
Garrett and Jack both looked around at the sudden sound of glass breaking against the hardwood floor. Gray stood at the living room door, dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown. The shards of a drinking glass were in a puddle of water by his slippered feet. He stepped over the broken glass and ran to them. Garrett caught him in his arms and hugged him as he cried. Jack was crying, too. He reached out a hand to him, offering the little comfort he could.
“You heard it all?” Garrett asked after a while. Gray nodded.
“Don’t send him away, dad.” He said. “Please don’t send him away. I want him to stay with us forever.”
“I don’t know what any of it means,” Garrett admitted. “Something is going on. Something illegal, and very sinister. I don’t know why it is happening. But the one thing I do know is that Ashley... yes, that’s his name until we know any other name for him... Ashley belongs here, with us. He IS Jack’s son. He’s your nephew. He’s the same blood as the two of you. He’s part of this family and we’re all going to carry on loving him. But Jack and I... we’ve also got to protect him. Because I don’t believe whoever used him, for whatever reason, cares what happens to him.”
“As long as he stays with us,” Gray insisted.
“He’s staying with us,” Garrett promised. “Go on back to bed, now, Gray. You still have school tomorrow. Mind the glass on your way.”
He kissed Gray on the cheek and smiled reassuringly. Gray wiped his tears away and went back to his room. Garrett went to fetch a dustpan to clean up the broken glass, but Gray came running back into the room to report that Ashley was gone. He had left a note.
“I don’t belong here.”
“He must have heard us talking, too,” Jack said. “Except he split before the bit where we said we’d protect him.”
“He can’t be far away,” Garrett pointed out. “He’s only had a few minutes start. And he’s on foot.”
“I’ll look for him,” Jack decided. “You look after Gray.”
He grabbed his coat and ran from the apartment. The lift was going down. He didn’t wait for it to come back up again. He pushed the firedoor open and hurled himself down the stairwell, three steps at a time. He was breathing heavily by the time he reached the ground, but he was still there before the lift had chance to reach the top floor again.
The night air was crisp after the centrally heated apartment. He sucked in oxygen and got his bearings, then headed down the footpath between the apartment block and the river. He saw somebody walking there, maybe two hundred yards ahead, and though he wasn’t certain he made a judgement call and ran after him.
“Ashley!” he cried when he reached him. “Ashley, stop, please. Don’t go. There’s nothing wrong that we can’t sort out.”
“I’m not who I thought I was. I’m not... not your son. I don’t belong with you.”
“We don’t know what’s going on, but you ARE my son. You belong with me. You’re a part of me. And I don’t intend to let you go, ever.”
“I’m not. You don’t understand... when I heard you talking... something clicked in my head. I’m not... I’m not Ashley Brooke. I’m... something else. Something dangerous. I can’t figure it all out, yet. But if I stay with you... I could hurt you. And... and I can’t do that. I have to go.”
“Ashley... son... please...” Jack embraced him in his arms. “I really don’t understand, now. But what I do know... I love you. Please, stay with me. Let me find out what this really is about. And let me help you.”
Ashley sobbed loudly. Jack held him tightly, hardly knowing what to say or do. Then the decision was taken out of his hands. He heard Gray calling to him and running towards them. He was hurriedly dressed, still wearing his bedroom slippers and pyjama bottoms, but a sweatshirt and anorak on top.
“Jack, Martha just called. She says she knows something about Ashley. Something that could hurt him real bad. She said you have to bring him to the Hub, now.”
He saw the Jaguar at the end of the footpath. Its horn sounded.
“Come on, now,” Gray begged him urgently.
“Ashley, come on,” Jack said to him. “Come to the Hub. Maybe we’ll find out the answers there. You’ll be safe there, at least.”
Ashley walked to the car and sat in the back beside Gray. Garrett put his foot down as soon as everyone was safely belted up. He jumped two red lights and made it to the Hub garage in a few minutes. It felt longer with an unspecified peril looming over them.
“Jack!” Martha was waiting. So was the rest of the team. They looked as if they’d been called back in from their respective homes. “I’m sorry. But this couldn’t wait until morning. I’m not sure Ashley has that long.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know, exactly. But look at this.” She held up a phial of blood. It looked rather more crimson than usual, but to the naked eye Jack couldn’t see what else was wrong. “This is one of the blood samples I took from Ashley. When blood is left like this, the platelets separate from the plasma which appears as a clear liquid on top – like a vinaigrette that needs to be shaken to mix the ingredients. But the red cells in Ashley’s blood have all exploded.”
“That’s exactly the word I mean,” Martha said. “His blood is... a ticking time bomb.”
“I’m not Human,” Ashley said.
“Well, of course you’re Human,” Jack responded.
“No, I’m not,” he insisted. “I remember... I remember being born... in a tank... so much pain... terrible pain... and then... the memories were put in my head...”
Everyone looked at each other. Then Jack gave a soft cry.
“No! It can’t be true. Nobody in this time has the technology. They just can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Garrett asked.
“A clone... a force grown clone... using Human DNA... accelerated growth. The process was outlawed in 5087. Before then... it was meant to be the answer to labour shortages. Clone workers created in labs. But it didn’t work. They had only short life spans, five years at the most... and they tended to develop psychological problems....” He stopped talking and stared at Ashley. “He can’t be. He just can’t.”
“You know there’s only one way we can know for sure,” Martha told him.
“No!” Jack was adamant. “Not that. He’s sixteen years old. You are NOT going to put him through the mind probe.”
“Good God, no,” Gwen commented. “Martha, you can’t be serious.”
“I am serious. Jack, we have to know what he is.”
“He’s my SON,” But he knew she was right. Even Ashley knew it. Jack was the only one who was denying what was becoming increasingly obvious.
Ianto and Alun brought the mind probe out of storage and set it up. Jack shuddered when he saw it. He’d been in it more than once himself. He knew how painful it was. The last thing he wanted to do was subject Ashley to it.
“Why does it have to look so much like an electric chair?” Gwen asked. “Why couldn’t it have been a comfy armchair?”
Jack wouldn’t let anyone else do it. He himself fastened the restraints. Ashley made no complaint about it. He wanted to know the truth as much as anyone else.
“You’ll need water,” he said to him. “The probe has a dehydrating effect on the subject.”
Ianto had a bottle with a straw in his hand. He was surprised when Gray stepped forward and took it from him. He held it for Ashley to take a drink.
“I’ll look after him. Dad said we had to do that.”
“Let’s get this over with,” Jack said wearily. He felt like he’d gone through every emotion in the spectrum in the past hour and he was wrung out. But that was nothing to what Ashley was going through. He looked terrified, not only of the machine he was hooked up to, but what it might reveal about him.
Ianto operated the probe, reaching down into Ashley’s mind, stripping away the short term memories to reach what was deeper. It took only a very short time.
“It’s as if everything in his mind was a carefully constructed fiction, a cover story,” Martha commented. “And beneath it...”
Ashley screamed in pain. Jack reached to hold his hand. He gently spoke to him, encouraging him to speak. What he said when he did shocked them all. He talked again about being ‘born’ in a tank in a laboratory, about a man who was there almost all the time, preparing him, putting the information in his mind, making him into Ashley Brooke, with sixteen years of memories when he was, in fact, only three months old.
“Three months?” Jack was astonished. “Then how the hell...”
IF somebody in this century had the technical knowledge, then it COULD be done. IF they could get hold of his DNA and Arwen Brooke’s, they could create a clone that was, to all appearances, their child. He had no idea HOW that DNA could have been obtained, but it wasn’t impossible.
“The man,” he said gently. “Ashley, did the man have a name? Do you know it?”
“Saul Galen,” Ashley said. The name meant nothing to anyone listening, except Jack. He gasped out loud in shock and horror.
“No!” he said. “Oh, no. After all this time. It can’t be him. No, no, no.”
“Dad!” Ashley screamed out to him. Martha confirmed that he had broken the probe’s programming. He was awake again. “Dad! Get away from me. I’m.... I’m... going to kill you.”
At that same moment a siren howled and the lights in the Hub flashed red. It was the alarm that sounded if there was an explosive threat in the complex. Ianto ran to the nearest computer terminal and shut off the noise before reading the data on the screen.
“Oh, my God!” he exclaimed. “There’s a bomb inside the kid.”
“What?” Martha ran to his side and read the data, too. “Jack, he’s right. I don’t know how... but his appendix... it’s an organic bomb... and it’s critical.”
Garrett grabbed hold of Gray and pulled him away. Jack moved closer, pulling off the restraints and lifting Ashley from the mind probe.
“How long?” he asked.
“Six minutes,” Ianto replied.
“Dad, let me go,” Ashley told him. “Get away from me. Don’t you understand? This is what it was about. He made me... so that you could be hurt. You have to leave me and get out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“Five minutes, thirty seconds,” Ianto said in a surprisingly calm voice. “Jack... I’m getting the sort of readings that would destroy the Hub.”
“Everyone get up to the Plas, just in case. I’m taking him to the deep bunker.”
“You won’t make it,” Ianto told him. “The lift takes three minutes just to get down there.”
“It’s the only way,” he answered. “Don’t argue. Go.”
He was already hitting the lift button. He heard Gray calling out to him and Garrett urging him onto the pavement lift. Gwen went with them. Alun and Ianto ran towards the tourist office exit. The lift door opened. He stepped in and closed it behind him.
“Dad!” Ashley sounded weak. No wonder. His body was being turned into a chemical factory. “You shouldn’t... you can’t...”
“Yes, I can. Remember, I can’t die. It’s going to hurt like fuck. But I don’t care. I won’t leave you. You ARE my son, Ashley. And I won’t let you down.”
There was nothing else to say. He didn’t know how much time there was left. Not enough, maybe. He felt the lift stop and the doors open. He ran with Ashley in his arms. The bunker door was open. He dashed through and pushed it closed behind him, then he sank to the floor, his heart pounding in his breast, feeling Ashley’s heartbeat echoing his own, both too fast, adrenaline and fear driving them.
“I’m sorry,” Ashley whispered.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Jack answered him. “I should be sorry. I’m your dad. I should have done more to protect you.”
He didn’t remember anything else for a long time except pain – a lot of pain. His body took nearly nine hours to reconstitute itself from the fragments that remained after the explosion. He was aware of the process for quite a long time without being conscious enough to tell anyone how much it hurt.
He was hurting now, but in his heart and soul, not his body. Tears filled his newly restored eyes and blurred his view as Garrett leaned over the table and kissed him.
“Do you think you can stand?” he asked him. “We need you.”
“I can stand,” he answered. He didn’t want to. He felt as if this was the time he wished he hadn’t woken up again. He didn’t want to go on this time.
But he stood. He looked around at the medical room. He saw Martha beside another table, attending to another patient. He saw Gray hovering anxiously.
“Oh, shit!” he cried. He almost barged Martha out of the way to reach the table. He looked at Ashley lying there. He was semi-conscious, struggling to rouse himself.
“That question he asked on Monday afternoon,” Martha said. “We know the answer now. It’s been rough for him. You’ve been through that a couple of times. You know what to expect. But it was the first time for him.”
“He really IS my son,” Jack said. He touched his cheek gently. The boy finally managed to open his eyes. Tears filled them straight away when he saw him. “It’s ok,” he said. “You’re alive. We both are. I’m sorry you went through all that. But it’s over now.”
“But I’m still...”
“You’re Ashley Brooke... or if you’d like to be... Ashley Harkness. Ashley Brooke-Harkness... Harkness-Brooke. Whatever way suits you. You’re my son. And you always will be.”
“You can count on that,” Martha told him. She showed him a phial of blood. The plasma was separated from the platelets. “I wouldn’t have wished that on him in a million years, but it had an interesting side effect. His DNA isn’t breaking down any more. He’s going to be all right.”
“You mean I’m properly Human?” Ashley managed to ask. “I’m... real?”
“You always were,” Jack assured him. “All that stuff... it was a bad dream. That’s the part that isn’t real. Remember your mom... the good times you had with her. Think about the future, about learning to fly. And in the meantime... How do you feel about bunk beds? I know you’re a little old for them, but it’s one way of saving space in the bedroom.”
“I get the top bunk,” Gray said. He was pale-faced. The last few hours had been terrifying for him, but it looked like it was all over now. He grasped Ashley’s hand, and when he closed his fingers around him and smiled he knew for certain it was.
“I’ll let you two talk about that,” Jack said. “I need to do some Torchwood stuff.”
There were clothes left out for him. He dressed quickly and went upstairs to the Hub. Gwen, Alun and Ianto were at the table in the rest area. He sat with them. So did Garrett. Ianto passed him a cup of coffee, but he wasn’t interested in it. That in itself was a sign of just how serious things were for him.
“Saul Galen is a rogue time agent from the fifty-first century,” Jack said. “Yes, like John Harte, but ten times worse. When I was a young agent I was assigned to track him down. I failed spectacularly to catch him, but his wife was accidentally killed in the crossfire when I got close. He vowed to make me suffer for it. And he succeeded in doing so several times before eventually I left the Agency and became a bit of a renegade myself. How he ever tracked me down to Cardiff, I don’t know. But clearly he has. I think the robot Santas at Christmas might have been his doing, too. Remember I said all along that they were after me. But this... the scale of the plan... creating a clone... actually using my DNA and that of a woman I might have fathered a child with... the whole elaborate set up... giving him a real background, real memories of a life that never existed... it’s the stuff of insanity, obsession. He wanted me to feel the same pain he felt when I killed his wife.... and then some. He must know I can’t die. But that’s the point. It wasn’t about killing me. It was about taking away everything I cared about. Whatever triggered the explosion... if it had happened when we were at home... Garrett and Gray would both be dead. I would have come back to life with nothing to live for.”
“Oh, Jack!” Gwen touched his hand gently. “That’s absolutely bloody awful. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. I just wanted you all to know what it’s all about. To warn you. I don’t think he’ll stop at this. Especially now he knows he’s failed. He’ll attack again, and any one of you could be in the frame with me. So... we’ve all got to be careful. And if you see this bastard....” He opened his wristlet cover and pressed some buttons. A hologram image of a man appeared in the air above his arm. He was middle-aged, bald, with a leathery complexion. Even the hologram had a scowl. “If you even think you’ve seen him anywhere, I need to know. Garrett... he needs to be on MI5’s most wanted list. He’s a danger to national security for certain. Your people can work with us on this. Gwen, call Kathy Swanson, get her to distribute his picture to the police. Make sure they know he’s a dangerous psychopath to be approached with caution. But if we’re lucky, if he’s caught one way or another….” He sighed and seemed to slump momentarily. Then he squared his shoulders. “Ok, I’m going to take the boys to look at bunk beds, then we’re going home for a family evening by the telly like normal people, and nothing is going to spoil that for us.”