Toshiko walked along the loch side with Genkei snuggled in a kangaroo sling on her chest. Etsuko was riding on Munroe’s shoulders and laughing at the little song he was singing to her.
“You can go to Auchtamuchty or to deepest dark Peru, but you’ll never find a Nessie in the zoo…”
Toshiko laughed, too. She remembered the song from the cartoon series when she was a child. But she still wasn’t quite sure, even after working for Torchwood all these years, whether she really was going to see the actual Loch Ness Monster this evening. She was half sure that Munroe was having her on.
“Is it any stranger than those Weevils that you have in Cardiff?” Munroe asked when she expressed her disbelief out loud. “Or Darius there, back in Glasgow and his Undead friends.”
“But… the Loch Ness Monster… I mean…”
“The poor beastie is an exile on this planet,” Munroe explained. “She was used by some nasty characters who wanted to take over this planet. But she wasn’t to blame and when it was over, the powers that be decided to leave her alone in the only home she’s known since she was a bairn. She’s an endangered species, just the one of her kind. There’s a special act of Parliament secretly guaranteeing her protection. The Scottish Assembly ratified it, too. So it’s doubly important that I do my job and make sure she stays safe.”
“I didn’t know the Loch Ness Monster was an alien,” Toshiko said.
“You didn’t believe she existed until I told you. Does it make her more or less likely to be real if she came from outer space rather than being a throwback to the Jurassic era as most people think?”
“I shouldn’t have been so sceptical,” Toshiko admitted. “After all, I do work for Torchwood. I know anything is possible. Funny, though. Of all the theories about it, I’ve never heard that one before. But if there’s only one of it, what will happen when it dies? Does that mean there won’t be a Loch Ness Monster any more?”
“That’s the way of it,” Munroe said in a resigned tone. “But the scientists at U.N.I.T. headquarters in Edinburgh have done tests on her blood, tested her DNA, her metabolism and all of that. And they reckon she could live as much as five hundred years. So it’ll not be on my watch. And I’m glad of that. But there will come a time when she won’t be around.”
“I wonder if it… she… gets lonely,” Toshiko said after a thoughtful pause. “And if she is a she… does she miss the chance to be a mother?”
It hadn’t escaped Munroe’s notice that Toshiko had stopped calling the creature ‘it’ and called it ‘she’ instead. Most people did eventually. But in this case, he knew Toshiko was thinking as a mother. She put her hand over her baby boy, safe in his sling pressed close up to her and she thought of the mythical monster as a female with instincts and needs not so far different from her own.
“I couldn’t say,” he admitted. “She’s an animal, not a sentient being. That much the scientists do know. We don’t know what she really thinks about anything. We can only do our best to keep her healthy and hope that she’s happy with it. But it’s probably a good thing that she can’t procreate. For one thing, the local ecosystem couldn’t support more than one. As it is, there’s a lot of public money spent restocking the Loch with fish. If we had a whole family of Nessies to support…”
Mention of a family of Nessies reminded Etsuko that Munroe had stopped singing to her. She demanded another chorus and he obliged her all the way to the little observation hut where he kept his equipment.
The building was half scientific monitoring station and half rough and ready lounge. Munroe put a guard around the convection heater that warmed the room while Etsuko wandered around exploring this new territory. A percolator soon bubbled away in one corner, exuding the smell of fresh coffee. Munroe had brought a carton of milk with him and there were biscuits in a sealed tin. He managed to find orange juice for Etsuko and they all enjoyed a cosy break before getting down to the purpose of the trek to the Loch side. With the children quietly occupied, Toshiko joined Munroe at the computer bank where he examined the readings from the monitors around the water side carefully.
“I was hoping the remote readings I’d been getting were wrong,” he said with a sigh.
“There’s a problem?”
“I’m getting high levels of phosphates in the water all around the northern end of the Loch,” he answered. He pressed a key and brought a schematic of the Loch on screen. He showed Toshiko the affected area. “Up near the Bona Narrows, where Loch Ness drains into Loch Dochfour and then into the sea at Inverness.”
“It means some lazy, penny pinching bloody farmer is letting effluents from his fields run into the Loch instead of taking the proper precautions,” Munroe answered. “Even without our Nessie to think about that’s a serious environmental issue. When I find out where it’s coming from I’ll have their balls, you just watch. Bloody inconsiderate….”
The word Munroe used was in Scots Gaelic, but Toshiko got the picture. She was a city woman, born and bred. She would have to admit to not knowing a lot about the countryside and its problems. But she fully understood her colleague’s passion.
“You must think me a daft old fool,” Munroe told her. He sat back in the chair in front of the computer monitor and drank his coffee leisurely. “With my obsession.”
“Not if the creature is real,” Toshiko answered. “It is really nice that you take such good care of her. But what about all the tourists? Aren’t they a problem? And what about all the scientific investigations, sonar images of the Loch, all that kind of thing?”
“Those silly people with their souvenir shops and their boat trips!” Munroe laughed dismissively. “They have no idea what they’re looking for. And the scientific investigations… most of those are faked. We find putting out a new scientific theory every so often keeps the public curiosity at bay. Somebody with letters after their name and some clever looking technology goes on TV and says they can prove the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist, and somebody else says they can prove she does. They cancel each other out. The tourists keep coming and buying their plastic dinosaur souvenirs and nobody ever finds out the truth.”
Toshiko laughed. She had constructed plenty of cover stories in the course of her work in Torchwood. But not one that had lasted as long as the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.
“I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed that we’ve pulled off such a scam for so long,” she said.
“I have always been proud to have been involved in the effort to protect a unique lifeform,” Munroe answered her with absolute certainty. He turned back to the computer and gave an excited gasp. “Ah! My dear, you are honoured. She is near. Come on. Bring the bairn. This will be an experience of a lifetime for her.”
“You mean… it’s here… now?” Toshiko put Genkei back into his kangaroo sling while Munroe picked Etsuko up. The little girl laughed in delight. She had already had one adventure outside in the dark. Now they looked like having another one.
The Loch appeared to be tranquil enough as they walked down to the waterside. A perfect moonpath illuminated a swathe of calm water. The rest was black as obsidian, except far away at the other shore where it reflected the lights of the A82 and a huddle of lights in the village of Dromnadrochit that was synonymous with all of the legends and whose inhabitants made a tidy living from the hospitality and catering industries.
Then the water in the moonpath rippled as if an undercurrent disturbed it. It could have been anything from a shoal of fish to a mini-sub coming up for air. But Toshiko was a believer now. And she knew what she was going to see. She held her breath as the grey-green scaly head broke the surface of the water. Two eyes the size of souplates were near the top of the head and then nostrils at the end of an elongated snout and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. She knew she ought to be scared. It could swallow her whole if it didn’t feel like biting her in half. And Genkei with her.
But somehow she knew she had nothing to fear from the creature. It had been called a ‘monster’ by people who defined monsters in very simplistic terms. She knew that nothing was simple. Monsters came in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, more times than she cared to count, the monsters turned out to be Human. The things with scales or tentacles and more than two eyes could just as easily turn out to be the victims of monstrous injustices.
The amphibious creature with grey-green scaly hide whose long, graceful neck rose up out of the water didn’t scare her at all. It didn’t scare Etsuko, either. Sitting on Munroe’s shoulders again she laughed and waved at the creature as its head turned in their direction.
“Does it know we’re here?” Toshiko asked. “Can it see or hear us? It’s used to living under the water, isn’t it?”
“We think her eyesight out of the water is less than perfect,” Munroe answered. “And her hearing, too. But some of the U.N.I.T bods who have studied her think she may be able to detect movement through vibrations in the ground the same way she detects her food in the water. So keeping still and not making too much noise is the best way to observe her. That goes for you, too, little bairn. No wriggling about there. Quiet as you watch our Nessie.”
Etsuko did as he said. She sat on his shoulders quietly and watched the creature moving through the water. Toshiko tried to work out how big the body was that supported the head and neck, but it never rose above the waterline. She had a vague idea from the wake the paddling legs were creating and the tail that rose up once and splashed noisily down again. The bulk of it that remained submerged in the murky waters of the Loch was the size of a small house.
They watched for nearly thirty minutes before the creature moved out into the deeper water again and sank slowly down. Etsuko waved and said ‘bye-bye’ in her toddler voice. Toshiko felt like waving, too. She also felt immensely privileged as if she had just had an audience with royalty.
“Wow,” she managed to say. “Absolutely fantastic.”
“Isn’t she!” Munroe was grinning from ear to ear. “Come on. Let’s get the hut closed up and head home for supper.”
After what she had just experienced it seemed mundane to power down computers and turn off heaters and seal the left over milk to bring with them before locking up the hut and going to where Munroe had parked his old Volvo Amazon. They drove the half mile to the rented cottage where Munroe’s family were staying. They ate supper with his son, Iain, and his daughter in law, Sheelagh, while Etsuko and Genkei slept in the same room as their baby daughter, Molly. The whole thing was so ordinary, so domestic, it felt unreal after standing there by the Loch in the presence of a legend.
“She’s got the look,” Iain MacDonald said with a smile. “Don’t you think so, dad! Toshiko – she’s made eye contact with our Nessie and it shows on her face.”
“She has, indeed,” Munroe agreed.
“You’ve seen her?” Toshiko asked the younger MacDonald. “You’ve been up there?”
“Dad first brought me when I was ten,” he answered. “It was amazing. The only trouble was not being able to tell anyone at school. When I was asked ‘what did you do at the weekend’ I couldn’t say a word. But it was fantastic.”
“I didn’t believe him,” Sheelagh added with a smile. “When he told me his father looks after the monster, I thought he meant that fake one they have for the tourists. Of course, the real thing looks nothing like that.”
“Genkei was too young to understand,” Toshiko said. “But Etsu loved it. I don’t know what she’ll say at her nursery school on Monday. She might just blow your cover.”
“We’ll take that chance,” Munroe answered her with a smile.
Toshiko enjoyed the evening with the MacDonalds. They were a nice family and it was refreshing to spend time with people who knew there was more to this world than meets the eye. She went to her room just before midnight after checking on Etsuko and giving Genkei his late feed. She noticed a text message from Owen. He was coming to join her in the morning.
She slid between the cool sheets in a contented mood and fell asleep quickly.
She was shaken awake a little before dawn by Sheelagh MacDonald.
“The children are fine,” she assured her when Toshiko gasped out their names in her half waking confusion. “There’s a problem down at the Loch. You need to go. Munroe is there already.”
A problem at the Loch that needed her. She was wide awake and reaching for her clothes in a moment. She looked quickly into the children’s room then left them in Sheelagh’s capable hands as she joined Iain MacDonald who was waiting to take her to where his father was. He drove his Land Rover urgently, but he said nothing about the nature of the emergency and Toshiko didn’t dare ask.
Iain turned off-road about a half mile north of the place where Munroe’s monitoring shed was, and a quarter mile sort of Lochend where it narrowed into a river. There was a thick copse of trees screening the Loch from the road, which was just as well, because the less casual passers by who could see what was there, the better.
“Oh, no!” Toshiko cried when she saw it. She was already pulling off her seatbelt before the Land Rover came to a stop beside Munroe’s car. She ran across the rough, shingle beach to where the great bulk of an amphibious creature was lying. The long neck was stretched across the beach and the back legs and tail trailed in the water. The head was pressed against the shingle, the tongue protruding between the huge teeth and the eyes only half open. “Oh no! What happened to her. What killed her?”
“She’s not dead… yet.” Doctor Owen Harper stepped around the head and reached out to Toshiko, hugging her in his arms. “I was on my way to you when Munroe called to say the Loch Ness Monster was dying.”
“What did it?” Toshiko asked. “Can you save her?”
“I’m not a vet,” Owen reminded her. “But…” He pointed to the lake beyond the poor, pathetic body of the once magnificent creature. Toshiko saw what he was indicating right away. There were dead fish floating on the surface of the water. A lot of dead fish. Something like a quarter square mile of the Loch was covered in silvery-white bodies that eerily reflected the early morning light.
“Possibly. Or a sudden change in water temperature, raised carbon dioxide levels…When I know more, I might be able to do something. Until then… all I can do is try to stop her from hurting. I’m injecting her with undiluted ketamine…”
The creature stirred. She tried to raise her head but she was too weak to do so. She managed a sound somewhere between a groan and a roar, pitiful in its cadence, then she lay still again. Munroe and his son confirmed that she was still alive, but that much effort had been too much for her.
“She’ll be better when the stuff kicks in,” Owen promised. Then he sighed deeply, his breath catching as emotion threatened to overwhelm his professional façade. He was upset. He hadn’t made eye contact with the creature as Toshiko had last night. He hadn’t connected with her deep in his soul. But the same compassion that made him want to become a doctor extended to anything that was in pain. He so often hid his real feelings behind brashness and there were those who thought Owen Harper cared about nothing but Owen Harper. But they didn’t know him like Toshiko knew him.
As he turned back to his admittedly futile efforts to help the stricken creature, she looked out across the Loch. The other side was a distance away, but she could see a lot of activity on that shore. Men in army uniforms were spreading out, cutting off the lochside to the public. At the same time a pair of lorries arrived at the top of the beach behind her. Soldiers poured out of one of them, immediately establishing a cordon around the area. From the other lorry huge sheets of canvas were unloaded by men who had practised for exactly this sort of emergency – the kind that needed to be carefully contained. Another lorry arrived as the men began raising a huge tent half in and half out of the water to conceal the dying Loch Ness Monster from prying eyes and to protect it from the elements as far as possible. Another tent quickly became a command centre. A portable generator sputtered noisily and then settled down to a low hum as it powered banks of computers and wireless internet servers.
That was Toshiko’s place in all of this. She left Owen and Munroe to their sad work with the creature and settled herself in front of three monitors and four keyboards. She still felt sick in the pit of her stomach at what was happening here, but now she was in her own familiar territory where she played her own role in helping, no matter how small it might be.
She began by calling up the information on the database Munroe kept – the results from the water quality monitors. Even with the local computers in low power mode the information from sensors fixed all around the loch side and at various depths were all sent to the central server at the Torchwood Hub as well as the one at U.N.I.T. in Edinburgh.
It was all just raw data without a pair of Human eyes to process and interpret it. That was Munroe’s role most of the time and hers right now. She remembered what he had said about phosphates spilling into the Loch. She looked at those figures from last night then added in the data collected over night. Even as numbers on a spreadsheet there was clearly something very wrong. But when she ran a graphic model based on the data the extent of the environmental disaster was even more explicit.
She watched in horror as the contamination spread across the computer generated image of the Loch. Over six hours of real time, speeded up to thirty seconds on screen, the PH balance of the water swung into dangerous alkaline levels. The oxygen content was almost totally depleted in the affected area. The list of poisonous chemicals detected scrolled down the right hand side of the screen.
Over a quarter of the second biggest inland body of water in Britain was no longer technically water. It was a cocktail of death.
And it was far more damage than an incautious farmer could cause with run off effluent.
Just how bad was it? She looked at the screen and realised that this wasn’t even the end of the story. A further computer model showed that the contamination would already be spilling into the Bona Narrows and into Loch Dochfour, and from there into the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal until it reached the North Sea at Inverness.
This was a catastrophe even without a unique creature dying on the lochside. The consequences would be felt for years to come. Not just fish, but any wild animals that might drink from the water or eat the fish.
“At least people aren’t affected,” said Shona Stewart. Toshiko flinched at the sound of her voice behind her. She didn’t know anyone was there. She turned to see her standing alongside Dougal Drummond. They must have been called in, too. They were supposed to be investigating UFO sightings in Dundee. “None of these Lochs are used as reservoirs for drinking water.”
“Of course, people are affected,” Toshiko answered. “In ways that you can’t begin to imagine. But even if they weren’t… that creature. Have you seen it?”
“The reason Torchwood and U.N.I.T. are here, closing up the whole area and keeping the public at bay while they create an elaborate lie to cover it all up and pretend nothing has happened. Go and see… and…and then just don’t say anything else to me.”
Shona surprised her slightly by taking notice of what she said. Dougal stayed.
“You seem a bit… emotional about all this?” he said. “Are you ok?”
“I’m… fine,” Toshiko responded. “It’s just… look around you. All these people… there has to be fifty of them in this one tent. That lot over there are blocking mobile phones, stopping emails in case the story gets to the Press. Those are putting out a signal that will wipe pictures from any digital camera in the area. There are hundreds more outside. Saturation presence. And all of them… their job is the cover up… blocking roads, stopping the public getting near the Loch. I mean… it’s hardly safe for them anyway with all this stuff in the water. But that’s not the reason why they’re doing it. It’s purely and simply cover up. I’m the only one trying to do anything to HELP.”
“Then… the best thing you can do… is calm down a bit… and start finding out where this poisonous shit is coming from. It didn’t fall out of the sky.”
“It might have,” Toshiko pointed out. “After all, it’s where the poor bloody creature came from in the first place. But assuming it didn’t…”
She set to work quickly. She knew what she was looking for. The kind of chemicals that caused this disaster were all licensed. They had to be traceable. And as long as she had a computer she could trace them.
Shona Stewart returned. She looked shaken. That was the second surprising thing about her, today.
“The… Loch Ness Monster… the actual fucking Loch Ness Monster. It’s… there… it’s…” She shook her head. A ghost of a smile crossed her lips. “My uncle used to tease me about it when I was a kid. He said he had seen it. I didn’t believe him.”
“That’s your uncle who was a big shot in U.N.I.T?” Toshiko responded. “You ought to have known better. Anyway, it’s too late to start believing now. She’s dying. And unless Owen has a miracle up his sleeve, all U.N.I.T or Torchwood can do is cover it up.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Shona admitted. “I really am. It’s a bloody shame.”
Toshiko glanced at her. She really did look moved by what she had seen. Then she turned back to the computer screen.
“Maybe there is something else we can do,” she added. “We can get the bastards responsible. Or you two, can, at least. This place… it’s called the Harding Institute. Private research centre but with government funding.”
“It had special permission from the Scottish Assembly to build the centre within an area of outstanding natural beauty,” Dougal noted, looking at the information on the screen. “Does that sound like money changed hands in brown envelopes or what?”
“Doesn’t necessarily make them guilty of environmental crimes,” Shona pointed out. “But I think they’re worth checking.” She glanced at Dougal. He nodded. Toshiko knew that they didn’t like each other very much. But Owen always sent them on field assignments together because they both had military experience and when she was on duty Shona managed to put aside her antipathy. The two of them worked together surprisingly well.
“You’re driving this time,” Dougal said, handing Shona the car keys. And that was all either of them needed to say.
Toshiko watched them go and then stood up from the desk. There was nothing else she could do now. The disaster was going to happen. It was beyond anyone’s power to stop hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from flowing downstream. Looking at the models of how it was going to happen was just depressing.
And she baulked at the idea of joining in with the work everyone else around her was doing. Of course, one of her primary jobs at Torchwood was exactly that. She remembered telling Gwen when she first came to them in Cardiff ‘it’s my job’. She recalled feeling just a little smug about how effectively she could alter facts to make it seem as if some poor soul drowned in the bay instead of having his throat ripped out by a Weevil. She salved her conscience by telling herself that was easier on the relatives of the dead man. And it was true, of course. Ultimately, it would be better for the people who lived and worked around Loch Ness if they never knew what was happening right now. But she didn’t feel smug about it. She hated the necessity to build these elaborate lies every time.
She stepped out of the tent and walked down to the Lochside. There were boats full of soldiers with nets, trying to scoop out the dead fish. That was practical and necessary, of course. But it was proving impossible because the nets were disintegrating. One of the boats came into shore. The soldiers looked at the underside of the keel where all the paint had been stripped away in the short time it had been in the water.
Water turned to corrosive poison. Toshiko shuddered and turned away, noting that Shona Stewart had been right in a way. If Loch Ness was a source of potable water for a city like Inverness, there might be people dying by now. But she refused to see that as a silver lining.
She walked towards the tent where Owen and Munroe were working. The creature was still groaning in pain, which at least meant it was alive, still. There were soldiers on guard, but they nodded politely to her and let her through.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked, expecting the answer to be no.
“Come closer,” Owen said. “Touch her… let her feel somebody close to her.”
“Seriously?” Toshiko was surprised. “You want me to… is it safe?”
“She hasn’t got the strength to eat you,” Owen answered. “She’s barely got the strength to do one last thing before it’s over.”
“What thing?” Toshiko asked. Then her eyes opened in surprise. “Oh. But… I thought… Munroe said… I mean…” Then an explanation presented itself in her mind. “Oh… of course.”
“Please don’t mention Jurassic Park right now,” Owen said to her. “Seriously, stand by the top of her neck, and… I don’t know… stroke her head. Let her know you’re there, and that you understand what she’s going through.”
Toshiko did just that. She did feel a little nervous, especially when the creature gave another agonised groan. But she stood out of reach of the jaw, just behind the head, and she stroked the scaly hide. She wondered, in fact, if the creature could feel her touch through the thickness of the grey-green epidermis. She hoped she could and that it was a small comfort. She did know exactly what the Loch Ness Monster was going through right now, and she wanted to comfort her.
Shona Stewart drove like a woman who had taken the advanced driving test. Dougal didn’t mind, since he drove much the same when he was on duty. What surprised him was when she pulled over to the side of the rough track by the back perimeter fence of the Harding Institute.
“Do you seriously think we’ll get the truth if we go in the front way and meet their Hospitality Manager?” she said in answer to the question that was in his eyes. “I think we can do better than that with our skills and available technology, don’t you?”
Dougal nodded and grinned. For all her issues with him, Shona thought the way he did. That was why they worked so well together. Just as long as they kept their conversation to the job in hand and didn’t talk about anything personal they were fine.
He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a silver tool that might have been for measuring tyre pressure. He stepped out of the car and held it up, pressing a small button on the side. Nothing appeared to happen, but he was quietly confident that any security cameras in the vicinity would have just gone on the blink. Shona, meanwhile, produced a perfectly ordinary set of wire cutters that owed nothing to alien technology and made short work of the fence.
“Somebody will come looking, soon,” Dougal pointed out. “With their cameras out of action they’ll want to do a perimeter check.”
“Then we move fast and quiet,” Shona replied. And they did. Both of them were trained to do so. They concealed themselves behind an industrial waste bin at the side of the Insitute building and watched as two security guards came out of the fire exit and headed towards the perimeter. They slipped quietly in through the door before it clicked shut again.
Dougal again held up the tyre pressure gauge and ensured that their movements through the clean, clinical corridors went undetected.
“This is way too easy,” Dougal commented. “Any moment now somebody is going to turn into this corridor and shoot me in the head.”
“Wouldn’t it make a refreshing change if they didn’t,” Shona replied. “How many assignments have we been on in the past six months when you didn’t get shot, stabbed or had your liver yanked out of your body by Edward Scissorhands’ evil Scottish twin.”
“That was a nasty one,” Dougal admitted. “But if you fancy a bit of variety, you can get shot instead this time.”
“Maybe not,” Shona responded. “If you’re no use for anything else, at least you’re a good Human shield.”
Dougal didn’t respond. He knew it bothered her that he had been exactly that on three of those occasions when they had been up against it. Quite apart from it rankling with her that a ‘queer’ could have that much courage, she wasn’t sure about the ‘chivalry’ of a man taking a bullet for her. She was equal to him in every way. She ought to take the risks equally.
It was even possible that it bothered her seeing him die. She might actually care enough about him - as a colleague, if not exactly a friend – that it upset her to see him shot to pieces or eviscerated in front of her.
“Fuck!” Shona swore as a gunshot echoed down the corridor. But in the space of that one syllable oath she had dropped to a crouch with her sidearm ready. Dougal had done the same, but facing the other way, covering her back as she covered his.
“I think it came from over there,” she said after a few moments. “In that room. It wasn’t anything to do with us. Somebody else took a bullet for once.”
“Let’s find out who.”
They moved quickly but quietly down the corridor, pausing at the door. Shona raised her hand and counted down three fingers before the two of them entered the room. Dougal was slightly ahead simply because the door was too narrow for them to enter simultaneously.
A man in a laboratory coat was startled by their entrance. He fired wildly hitting Dougal in the shoulder by sheer chance. Shona responded with a carefully aimed shot which hit the man in the upper arm. He dropped the gun and slumped to his knees.
“I’m ok,” Dougal told her. “See to him.”
Dougal was still conscious and he pressed his back against the wall and kept his weapon trained on the gunman. Shona grabbed the dropped gun and pocketed it before she turned to the man who was bleeding on the floor. He had been hit in the stomach. She applied pressure, but she knew it was too late for him.
“Who the fuck are you, and what are you doing with a gun in a science lab?” she demanded.
“Who the fuck are you?” somebody else said before the gunman had a chance to answer. Another man in a lab coat was standing at the doorway staring in disbelief at the bloody tableau. “You killed Gormley. I…”
“Get in here and sit down with your hands on your head,” Dougal said in a commanding voice. The man was too surprised to disobey. Dougal pushed the door closed after him. Shona stood up from examining the first victim and stood back.
“We’re Torchwood,” she said. “And you lot have some explaining to do.”
“Torchwood? What the fuck is that?” demanded the gunman. “Are you going to just leave me here… I need medical help.”
“You’ll get it when you explain what’s going on here, and why you killed that man.”
“He killed Gormley?” The other man questioned. “Harding… what’s going on?”
“He’s ruined us, that’s why,” the man addressed as Harding said. “The stupid bastard… he didn’t seal the canisters… He said it was to make us sit up and take notice of what we were doing…. But he’s destroyed everything.”
Harding was babbling. But there were enough clues in what he had said. Shona hauled him to his feet and pushed him down onto a chair. Dougal, his shoulder fully repaired after letting the nano-genes in his blood work on him for a few minutes, pulled the other man up as two security guards burst into the lab.
“Good,” Shona said. She reached in her pocket and threw a set of car keys to one of the guards. “It’s parked by the perimeter breach. Bring it round to the front of the facility. We’ll need it in a bit to take Harding to hospital and then to jail. One of you can stay here as an independent witness. I’m just going to question these two and find out exactly what’s been going on here. Don’t worry. It won’t take long. Harding is going to talk fast because I’m actually crap at first aid and he really does need medical attention.”
Harding talked fast. The other man saw sense and corroborated everything he had said. When they were done, Dougal and Shona brought them to the waiting car.
It was several hours later when Shona Stewart reported back to her boss at the side of Loch Ness. She watched with a carefully composed expression as four boats and strong lines were used to pull the body of the Loch Ness Monster into the middle of the Loch where it would sink down into over three hundred metres of murky, peat-laden water. Toshiko was crying. Owen Harper held her around the shoulders. He was dry eyed, but his expression was a mixture of grief and anger.
“We’ve got the bastards,” she reported. “Dougal’s taking them to U.N.I.T in Edinburgh They’re going to be held in custody there.” She took a deep breath before continuing her abridged oral report. The written one would be considerably longer, including a full transcript of the interrogation and the processing of the suspects. “The Harding Institute has been trying to produce a new kind of organic insecticide, one that could be genetically modified to only kill pests and not those insects that are beneficial to mankind. Only they fucked up big time on the chemistry and ended up with thousands of gallons of poisonous sludge as a by-product. They’ve been secretly dumping the crap in the Loch in sealed drums. But one of the scientists – Gormley, the one Harding shot - let fifty gallons of the stuff go into the water in unsealed containers. It was deliberate. He was going to blow the whistle on his colleagues and have them prosecuted for the environmental damage caused by the leak. They’d all go down for twenty years… corporate responsibility. He must have been going a bit loopy. He was prepared to go down himself, as long as he took the rest of them with him.”
“He did all of that…” Toshiko looked out over the Loch. There were still bodies of dead fish that the army hadn’t managed to scoop out of the water, and the sad bulk of the creature slowly sinking into the depths. And they still had to deal with the consequences when the poison was carried downriver to the sea. “For a protest against his boss…”
“Like I said… loopy.”
“There isn’t going to be any cover up,” Owen Harper decided. “At least, we WILL cover the fact that an alien creature called a Skarasen, popularly known as the Loch Ness Monster, was killed as well as a fuckload of fish. That goes without saying. But we’re not going to cover up the disaster. Harding and his associates can go down publicly. He can rot in jail for murdering Gormley. His life won’t be worth living once this gets into the media anyway. The local people will probably tear his rotten Institute down brick by brick!”
“For once, we’ll see justice done openly,” Toshiko said. “Good.” Then she turned to Shona and managed a weak smile through her tears. “Come on… and see something… that really is a silver lining to all this.”
Another tent had been erected near by. Munroe and his son were already there. They greeted Toshiko and Shona warmly as they entered. Shona almost lost her composed expression as she looked past them at the grey-green scaly amphibious creature wallowing in a mud bath created by two hose pipes running constantly.
“She was pregnant,” Toshiko explained. “The scientists who’ve been studying her all these years missed one thing. She’s alien. She doesn’t go by the same biological rules as everything on Earth does. She conceived by parthenogenesis. Owen reckons she must have a gestation period of about six years. The baby was almost full term. She stayed alive long enough to give birth. Somehow or other she managed to filter out the poison in her blood and stop it reaching the baby. She’s completely healthy.”
“She can survive on her own?” Shona asked. “Without the mother?”
“Most amphibians are born able to live independently,” Munroe told her. “Look at those giant crabs in the Indian ocean. The ones that lay their eggs in the sand and then the babies hatch at high tide and head for the water. Same sort of thing here. She can’t go back into the Loch, yet. It’s going to be months before all that filth has drained away and there’s good clean water in it again. And we’ll have to replace all the plant life that was killed off, and every sort of water life from freshwater plankton to the Three-spined stickleback and up to the Arctic char. After that… we’ll introduce her to her proper home. She’ll be the Loch Ness Monster from now on.”
“When she’s old enough… she’ll have babies herself?” Toshiko asked. “You said the Loch couldn’t sustain breeding…”
“I examined the body,” said Owen Harper as he came to join them. “Biologically, these creatures know their limitations. They only reproduce once in their lifetime. They have just the one shot at it. There can never be more than two Nessie’s alive – an adult and a junior. After the adult has died of old age, the junior will produce a new young. It’s a precarious kind of reproduction. If anything happens to the junior at any time, the line ends. They die off. But if we do a bit better job of protecting this girl than we did her mum, there’ll be a Monster in Loch Ness for centuries to come.”
“She shouldn’t be the monster,” Shona Stewart said. “That was a dickhead called Harding.”
“That’s the toughest lesson I’ve learnt since I came to work for Torchwood,” Toshiko told her. “Sometimes the monsters look the same as us.”