Andy McAvoy was an Urban Explorer. To some that just meant a trespasser and vandal. To him, and his fellow explorers who posted the results of their explorations on countless online blogs, it was adventure. If anyone actually asked him why he did it his answer would be the same as the mid-twentieth century mountain climber, Sir George Mallory, who once answered the same question with ‘because it’s there’.
Andy entered the Glasgow Botanical Gardens by the entrance on Great Western Road. If he was anywhere but Glasgow he might have been challenged. He looked like a backpack bomber rather than a tree hugger with his collection of exploration gear to carry.
He wasn’t especially interested in botany of any kind. The trees and flower beds were just scenery. Even the spectacularly lovely glasshouses were nothing to him.
What he was looking for was hidden by a tangle of undergrowth behind a stand of trees. There was an old, rusty fence to stop anyone actually falling into the long, rectangular hole in the ground criss-crossed by thick, heavy girders that had been put in place over a hundred years ago and wouldn’t be removed without more time, effort and money than Glasgow City Council wanted to expend.
He climbed over the fence and looped a rope around one of the girders before he let himself down carefully.
The sunlight brightened this part of the subterranean place, and the air was relatively fresh. He didn’t need his torch, yet and the assorted musty, damp or rancid smells he was accustomed to were not yet an issue.
He was far from the first to come down here. The old walls were covered in the tags of countless graffiti artists. He photographed them. Some of the tags were decades old. They were a historical record on their own.
He photographed the ceiling of the abandoned place and the rubbish strewn platform, the overgrown and rusty rails that could just barely be seen, even the beer cans that actually seemed an odd thing to find down there. The sort of people who drank beer from cans hardly seemed likely to come into the Botanic Gardens to dump them.
The Victorian Botanic Gardens Underground Station and its tunnel was an absolute must for Urban Explorers of Glasgow. It was a rite of passage. A good camera was essential. You couldn’t do it without the photographic proof for the blog.
It was, technically, illegal, of course. It was private property as all the abandoned buildings beloved of his kind were. He wasn’t sure WHO owned it exactly – probably the City Council or Railtrack. Either way, they wouldn’t give permission to be there even if he asked. They would go on about health and safety, diseases caused by rats, pigeon guano or whatever.
Besides, part of the thrill was in being somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.
He walked to the end of the old platform then down onto the track at the place where it went into the tunnel. He needed the torch from here on. It illuminated the Victorian brickwork as he moved further in, avoiding the rubbish that had been tossed in from time to time. He wondered just how exactly the rusty remains of a shopping trolley got there. It was a long, difficult way to the tunnel from the nearest supermarket. Why go to all that bother?
He was at least halfway through the tunnel when he saw something glowing up ahead. It was still too deep into the darkness to be catching sunlight. Maybe somebody else had been in here today and dropped a torch. It wasn’t any kind of fire. He would smell the smoke from here.
He approached carefully. It was always possible it was a mugger lying in wait, though a more unlikely place to find a victim he couldn’t imagine.
It wasn’t a mugger. He looked at the object and then turned off his torch to be certain that it really was glowing from within.
It was a globe of what looked like opaque glass. It reminded him of a lampshade, except that there was no opening for fitting it up.
A glowing glass globe. He probably ought to have backed right away and left it, but he wasn’t the sort of guy who chickened out of anything. He wouldn’t be down there in the first place if he was.
He reached out and touched the globe.
“I hate it when our work brings us to the innocent places,” Toshiko sighed as the car pulled up in the car park of the Botanic Garden. “We bring the kids here. They love the glasshouses.”
“Aye,” Munroe Macdonald agreed. “I remember some fine picnics here when our lad was a bairn. It might be nothing to worry about. You said it was no more than a brief spike in meisson energy.”
“It was brief – but it was powerful,” Toshiko answered. “If we’d had a spike like that in Cardiff we’d be expecting a legion of Roman soldiers on Gelligaer Common or prehistoric fish in the Bay.”
Both had happened in her time in Wales and nobody understood the science behind Rift activity better than her. Jack Harkness still called her for advice when it was especially active.
But Glasgow wasn’t built on a Rift. The reasons why Torchwood was established there had to do with old legends about werewolves in the hills, monsters in the lochs, higher than average incidents of UFO sightings than anywhere other than South Wales, and possibly even the fact that Queen Victoria had a thing about Scotland.
Which made the spike that registered on their monitors at the Hub all the more frightening. If a Rift was opening up here, where they weren’t expecting it, would they be able to cope with everything that it might bring with it – Weevils, lost souls from other times, dangerous artefacts falling into the wrong hands?
Perhaps they were jumping ahead a bit. One spike might not mean anything.
But they had to find out.
Andy McAvoy opened his eyes and tried to focus in the near pitch blackness. His torch had gone out. That was annoying. It was supposed to be shockproof, with a rubber outer casing that could take a few knocks without buggering up. He had paid a lot of money for it to do that.
He was still in the railway tunnel. He felt the brickwork of the gently curving wall. His feet crunched on the debris strewn ground.
Except it didn’t feel like debris. It felt like evenly lain cinders on the side of the railtrack and the bricks were smooth and unbroken, no gaps where the mortar had disintegrated and bricks had fallen away.
He moved a few inches away from the wall and his foot kicked against a rail. He bent to feel it and noted that it was sleek as if trains still ran on it regularly. There was no rubbish around the track, and the sleepers were whole.
While the impossible concept was still going through his mind, he felt a vibration and heard a rumbling sound coming closer. Then two headlamps nearly blinded him. The train wasn’t going very fast. It was nearing a station, after all. But it would still kill him. There wasn’t time for the driver to hit the brake even if he saw him.
Andy dropped his backpack off and pressed himself against the wall desperately. He was slender of build, and he might just be lucky.
He closed his eyes as the train passed by in a rush of noise and wind that whipped at his clothes. His teeth rattled and he felt himself screaming involuntarily.
Then it was over. He looked around and saw the back lights of the guards van as the front of the train exited the tunnel and the whole thing gradually slowed to as stop.
He looked into the dark tunnel and then decided that there was less chance of another train coming that way. He turned and made his way back towards the station.
“It’s very faint, now,” Toshiko said as she monitored the meisson resonances on a hand held gadget that would have been mistaken for an iPod by any passer by. “But definitely around here somewhere. Except… it almost seems as if it’s contained. I wonder if it might be inside a building.”
She glanced around. There were buildings, of course. There was the old, traditional glass house, a smaller but no less beautiful copy of the one at Kew Gardens in London. There was also the brand new Kibble Building that looked like a huge glass yurt with its circular roof designed to let in the maximum natural light.
Neither of those seemed likely to ‘contain’ Rift energy in the way she meant. They had roofs, but they felt like open spaces inside.
There were huts here and there where the gardeners kept equipment, too. But a Rift spike among the wheelbarrows and lawnmowers seemed unlikely.
“Ah, of course,” Munroe said with a knowing smile. “You’re still a newcomer to Glasgow, of course, Miss Sato. You probably don’t know about our hidden treasures.”
“Er… no,” she answered and followed Munroe off the path and into the undergrowth between a stand of trees until they reached a badly neglected railing that kept the unwary from falling down an unexpected hole in the ground. “What the heck….”
The answer to her question was on a large sign attached to the railings. It told her that this was the remains of the ventilation shaft for the Botanic Gardens station, part of the Kirklees branch from Strathclyde Junction….
Her eyes slid over the information only of interest to rail enthusiasts before noting that the line was closed in February 1939.
“There was a railway here?” she queried.
“Still is,” Munroe told her. “Though sadly neglected now. The council come up with bright ideas to use the space every so often then find reasons not to go ahead.”
He took the monitor from her and waved it around. Yes, it seemed likely that the resonance was contained within the railway tunnel.
“Somebody has been down there recently.” Toshiko pointed to the rope. It was new.
“Very recently,” Munroe confirmed. “The path had already been broken for us, did you notice?”
Toshiko hadn’t noticed that, she had to admit. She was a city girl. She didn’t notice that kind of thing. Munroe was the country code kind of man, the one who looked after the Loch Ness monster and kept a close eye on the natural environment.
He started to climb over the fence. Toshiko looked dubious.
“I’m wearing a skirt,” she pointed out.
“Do you want to go first?” Munroe asked her.
“No… you go ahead. But don’t look when I’m coming down. My underwear is nobody’s business but Owen’s.”
Munroe laughed gently and launched himself down the rope with surprising agility for a man of his age. Toshiko was a bit more awkward about it. Despite his promise, she did feel a little self-conscious about coming down a rope in a skirt.
“It’s… a bit dingy,” she pointed out when she stood on the old platform. “It’s like….”
The cultural reference that came into her mind was the hideout of the vampires in the film, The Lost Boys, a building that was swallowed almost intact by an earthquake on the California coast. They didn’t have earthquakes in Glasgow – though they did have vampires. If there were any of those down here she hoped they were some of Darius’s friends, not the rogue sort.
“Aye, kids have got down here to mess about, and being open to the elements through the vents did no good. Do ye see the steps, there?”
Munroe found a torch in his pocket and shone it on the rickety remnants of a staircase much like those that went down into the still operational parts of the Glasgow underground system, but the coverings had long ago been stripped bare and the wooden steps going up to nowhere – concrete slabs sealed off the entrance – looked like they wouldn’t even take Toshiko’s slight weight, even if she was inclined to try climbing them.
“The old station was above. A grand looking place by all accounts, with a pair of domed towers like a Russian church. Pictures are hard to come by, though. I’ve only seen one of how it looked before the fire.”
Toshiko tried to imagine what it must have been like in the late Victorian age with steam trains pulling up to offload middle class families, ladies in satin dresses, men in suits, children in smocks and sailor suits excited about a day out in the gardens. She didn’t lack imagination, but the dilapidated and vandalised state of the long abandoned platform interfered with the image just a bit.
“We’d best have a look down the tunnel,” Munroe said. Toshiko looked at the dark maw of the tunnel entrance and shuddered. True, she had been in worse places in her Torchwood career, but that didn’t make it any more inviting.
“It doesnae need the both of us,” Munroe pointed out. “Ye can wait by the entrance while I check it out.”
He was being gallant, deliberately not noticing her moment of cowardice.
“It’s ok,” she assured him. “I’ll be right behind you.”
The musty smell was the thing she really disliked. She wished she could hold her breath long enough. They had devices at the Hub, but they hadn’t expected to need them on a trip to the Botanic Gardens.
Munroe was moving faster than she was. She didn’t deliberately hang back, but her innate dislike of places like this made her walk more slowly.
“If this was in Cardiff, it would have been Torchwood offices,” she joked to try to keep her spirits up.
“Not a bad idea,” Munroe answered her. “We could make the council an offer!”
Toshiko laughed, but the way her laugh sounded in the tunnel was eerie. Then she heard Munroe call out.
“There’s something up ahead. It’s glowing.”
The Meisson levels are rising,” Toshiko called out. “Keep away from it, Munroe.”
“It’s a sort of globe… glass or crystal… about the size of a football.”
“Don’t touch it!” Toshiko repeated. “Munroe….”
Munroe DIDN’T touch it. He was standing over it when the Meisson levels went right off the scale and the tunnel was filled with unnaturally bright light. Toshiko shielded her eyes just in time, but even through her hands she sensed the intensity.
When she dared to look her night vision was impaired by floating after-images. Even when it settled down she could see very little. She found her own torch in her pocket. It was only a small penlight one, but surprisingly strong. She could see the globe Munroe had mentioned, roughly where he had been standing.
But Munroe was gone.
She moved closer. The Meisson resonances were dying down now. The globe was not glowing any more. She knew instinctively that the two things were connected. It wasn’t too far a leap of imagination to conclude it had something to do with Munroe’s disappearance.
Maybe even another disappearance. She reached to pick something up. It was a very good quality digital camera. Munroe had one with him, but this wasn’t it. This was an Olympus. Munroe used a Kodak.
She brought the camera with her as she headed to the tunnel entrance where she could get a signal on her mobile phone. She took a deep breath before calling the Hub and requesting all the back-up she could get.
Munroe noticed the difference at once – even without his torch that had gone out. He felt the cinders under his feet and the relative newness of the bricks. He also heard the sound of the steam train in the station and the chatter of passengers on the platform.
He guessed what had happened. He had never travelled in time before. He knew Miss Sato had at least once, and many of her friends in Cardiff where the Rift was strongest, but it was a rarer experience here in Glasgow.
He was aware as he reached the platform of a bit of a flap going on. A man in an early twentieth century porter’s uniform was kneeling over a prone figure while a woman in a long dress offered smelling salts.
Munroe moved people aside with an assurance and authority that surprised them all and viewed the unconscious young man. He was dressed in jeans and sweatshirt and a hooded jacket and had a backpack that somebody had placed under his head.
“Let me have a look,” Munroe said. “I’m a doctor.”
The young man had just fainted, though he also had a bit of a bump on the head from falling onto the hard platform. He used the lady’s smelling salts to revive him. The old ideas sometimes worked, after all.
“I don’t know what happened,” the porter said. “I asked him what he was doing in the tunnel and he just keeled over like that.”
“He’s coming round. I’ll look after him. You do your job, my good man and take care of your train passengers. Clear a bit of space for us.”
He helped the other time traveller to his feet and helped him up the stairs that were in very good condition now. They came up into the station that was lost in that devastating fire and then out onto Great Western street as it looked in the 1930s.
“Are you all right, laddie?” Munroe asked. He pressed his young companion up against the fence outside the Botanic Gardens until he found his feet. “What you need is a hot cup of tea, but you’re not going to get one for a bit. We’re a long way from a friendly face for either of us.”
“I….” Andy McAvoy looked past Munroe as a double-decker tram rattled by with advertisements for Omo and Hovis on the side. “The station…. The trains….”
“Yes… judging by the fashions and the type of train, I’d say we’re in the mid-1930s.
You touched a strange looking glowing globe and got chucked back in time. I did the same. But I’m a professional. I can look after you. Do you have a name?”
“Andy,” he responded. “Andy McAvoy. I’ve… got… tea… flask… in my bag.”
Munroe had his backpack. He rummaged in it and found the thermos.
“Smart laddie,” he said. “Hang in there. You can sit down in a minute. There used to be an old shelter along here. They demolished it in the 1980s when they widened the road, but it’ll be here still at this time. Built in the Victorian age for the cabbies to rest up between fares. They kept the old horse trough and planted flowers in it, but it ended up mostly used for fag ends.”
Munroe’s voice, talking what seemed to be unnecessary detail, did what he hoped. It revived Andy’s spirits as they walked on past the railings that marked the boundary of the Botanic Gardens. They found the brick built shelter with a wooden bench inside and sat down. Munroe poured Andy’s tea and gave him the plastic cup first before swallowing a mouthful himself.
“What are we going to do?” Andy asked once the tea had done its job and he felt completely awake. “I can’t live in the 1930s… I’m only twenty-two. There’s going to be a war isn’t there? I’ll end up being drafted. I’m… I’m not.... My dad was killed in Afghanistan. I don’t want to go to war.”
“Don’t worry,” Munroe told him. “You’ll be all right. Do you have a sandwich or two in there, as well as the tea?”
He did. Andy shared his packed lunch with Munroe and they had another cup of tea while life in 1930s Glasgow carried on around them.
The entire Torchwood Glasgow Team with the exception of Darius, for whom it was far too sunny out, turned up at the Botanic Garden and sealed off the area around the old railway station vent. Owen and Dougal came down to join Toshiko while Shona made sure the area was secure with a fierceness towards anyone who got too curious that put her colleagues in mind of a Rottweiler.
Toshiko told them everything she knew about what had happened.
“Somebody else disappeared before Munroe,” she said, showing the camera. “Two people are missing in God knows where.”
“Don’t panic,” Owen told her in a surprisingly calm tone. “We DO know where they are – or to be precise, when.”
“What?” Toshiko let herself breathe a sigh of relief. “But….”
“What are we going to do?” Andy asked as another tram went by advertising Bovril and Pears Soap on the side. The fact that both of those products still existed in his own time was proof of the power of advertising, but very little comfort, otherwise.
“I’m going to make a phone call,” Munroe answered. “Then we’ll have the last of the tea in your flask while we wait a wee while.”
Andy was surprised by how calm his fellow accidental time traveller was. He watched him walk a little further up the road to where a curious looking blue box stood by the Botanic Garden railing. He remembered that blue boxes were free emergency telephones in the days before the 999 system was used in ordinary public telephones. There was one in Buchanan Street, just as a curiosity for tourists. But here in this time they were there as a potentially life-saving community service.
Munroe came back after making his call and accepted his share of the tea.
“You called the police? Is that a good idea? Won’t they just think we’re a pair of nutters?”
“I didn’t call the police,” Munroe answered. “With the right code word, the operator put me through to another organisation altogether. They’ll be here in about half an hour.”
Munroe had read almost as much of the archive material on Torchwood as Darius, who had very little else to do during the ‘graveyard shift’. He knew the procedure for contacting the organisation in the ‘old days’ before mobile phones and emails. He knew the name of the director of the Glasgow organisation in this time. His request for help had been received with interest and a promise to be ‘right there’.
Of course he couldn’t be sure they weren’t going to drag them both to the vaults and then perform invasive surgery, but that was a chance he had to take. Their chances of getting back to their own time were certainly better with the Torchwood of this time than without them.
Owen pulled an a4 sized black lead envelope from the medical bag he always brought on any field operation. Toshiko recognised the type. It was time sealed archive material.
“Darius heard the alarm just as we were about to come and get you. It was sealed in May 1937, three days after the coronation of George VI. It’s a message from Munroe. It tells us that he was thrown back in time by contact with the glowing globe and that he went to Torchwood in that time along with a civilian victim. He’s given us as much information as possible to try to get them back. Or if not, a note to his son, and one to the other victim’s mum.”
“One option is to leave them there?” Toshiko was shocked.
“It wouldn’t be my first option. Glasgow is going to get fucked by the Nazis when the war starts. But if there really is no other way….”
“I’ll find a bloody way,” Toshiko answered. “Show me the letters.”
“Why didn’t we have the information BEFORE Munroe went in there?” Dougal asked, viewing the dark tunnel impassively. He really HAD been in worse places. The mere darkness didn’t worry him at all.
“Because it would be a fucking paradox if we stopped him,” Owen answered with a deeply annoyed sigh. “He had to go back in time to send the fucking thing. Otherwise the fucking space time continuum unravels or some fucking thing.”
“You’re starting to use the word ‘fuck’ as punctuation like a regular Glaswegian,” Dougal told him. “Congratulations. Do you think we’d better have a look at this globe for ourselves?”
“Carefully,” Toshiko told them. “We don’t need the whole Torchwood team ending up in the 1930s.”
Torchwood Glasgow’s 1930s team were more overt in their operations than the one Munroe worked with. They not only sealed off the station, quarantining the train that happened to be there at the time and sending all of the staff and passengers packing, but they took over the waiting room as a debriefing area and the porter’s office for their command centre.
Dougal and Andy told their stories to an efficient young woman in a skirt suit and crisp white blouse who did very fast shorthand into a machine that looked like a 1930s iPad and probably came from alien technology. She had identified herself as Miss Prufrock. She looked at them both rather icily, especially Andy who she had immediately written off as a drifter even before he admitted that he was unemployed in the twenty-first century.
“Lots of people are unemployed in the twenty-tens,” he protested. “The government are a mess. I’m a computer engineer, a bloody good one. Better than anybody you’ve got in this day and age, except maybe that Turing guy they got down at Bletchley Park in the war.”
“What war?” Miss Prufrock queried. “And who is this… Turing… person?”
“Delete both those bits of information from your record, Missie,” Munroe told her. “That’s future information that you shouldn’t have. Careful what you say to somebody who does shorthand that fast, Andy, my laddie, even if she is on our side.”
Miss Prufrock turned to look at her future counterpart in Torchwood Glasgow. Her expression was no less icy.
“You work for our organisation in the future and you were silly enough to touch an unknown source of energy?” she queried. “A civilian I can understand, but….”
A pot of tea and a plate of sandwiches were provided for them, supplementing Andy’s packed lunch. Munroe was impressed by the forethought but bristled at the idea that he would be so careless as Miss Prufrock implied.
“I didnae touch the thing,” he answered, slipping into a brogue in his ire. “If ye read back ye notes, missie, ye’ll see that I was jus’ standin’ by the wee ball o’ light.” He reverted to a more professional tone as he continued. “It’s my guess that it goes off automatically when it’s built up a charge. My young friend here was caught by it. It’s possible he was the first Human. You might have had a few future rabbits or rats transported back in time before him, but I doubt it. That was the first spike our sensors detected. I’m thinking the globe got there accidentally not long before Andy was caught by it.”
“Accidentally?” Miss Prufrock queried. “Are you sure?”
“If it was put there deliberately then it was in a very foolish place. The tunnel is sealed off. Nobody goes down there except taggers and Urban Explorers.”
“It must have got there by mistake,” Owen concluded as he viewed the softly glowing globe from a safe distance. “If it was some alien plan to kidnap humans, it was a stupid location. Nobody comes down here except junkies, vandals and dickheads who like trespassing where they’re not supposed to be.”
“Urban explorers,” Dougal corrected him. “I’ve seen their blogs. Interesting stuff, some of it.”
“The Meisson readings are building up again,” Toshiko pointed out. “I suggest you stand well back.”
They did so as the globe built up to another discharge of energy. From a safe distance it was quite spectacular.
“Wait a minute,” Toshiko said. She had shielded her eyes much sooner than the others, knowing what to expect. Her night vision came back sooner. “What’s that?”
THAT was a pigeon, tied by its leg and a small piece of cord to what turned out to be a rubber-coated torch with a flat battery. On close examination the torch had the name ‘Andrew McAvoy’ stamped in the rubber with a security marker. The pigeon had a note attached to its leg.
“Just a minute,” Andy protested when he heard what Torchwood proposed to do. “You’re going to wait for a build up of this energy, whatever you call it, and send that poor bird into it… to see if it disappears?”
“We’ve monitored the build up and discharge of energy in the same location eight times in the past hour,” said a tall man with a handlebar moustache who looked like he belonged in a 1940s propaganda film about the RAF. He had identified himself as Finlay McKenzie, director of Torchwood Glasgow. Munroe knew both the name and the face from the archives. “I think it’s possible we can send a message to the future by that means.”
“I have to say, I’m not so sure I like the idea,” Munroe said. “We don’t know for certain it works both ways.”
“What if the poor bird gets turned inside out or fried?” Andy pointed out.
“Then better the bird than you,” McKenzie said. “In case it doesn’t work….” He put the lead envelope on the desk in front of them. “You’d better think about what you’d want to say to your loved ones about this situation - and consider the possibility of living the rest of your natural lives in the mid-twentieth century.”
Andy had already pointed out why he didn’t want to do that. Munroe was too old to be drafted into the military but he didn’t want to stay in this time. His son and grandchildren were in the future. So was the work he liked doing and his favourite of Lady Heather’s girls - the life he wanted to live.
But he wrote the letter anyway, along with a statement to be sent to his colleagues in the twenty-first century.
“Is the pigeon all right?” Toshiko asked. “It’s alive? Its organs aren’t cooked or re-arranged?”
“I think so,” Owen answered. “But I’m damned if I’m going to put the poor bloody thing through that again. Welcome to the twenty-first century, bird. Enjoy left over pizza crusts and avoid any poisoned seed put down by the council.” He let the bird go free. It flew up into the air through the tunnel vents and was gone. He found a writing pad and scribbled a reply note that he attached to the torch by means of an elastic band.
“Sir,” said a young male Torchwood operative who Munroe suspected the military draft would reject on grounds of homosexuality. He handed a crumpled note to Director McKenzie and scurried off. He read it and then passed it to Munroe.
“Don’t fuck around with any more birds,” the note read. “Send our people back.”
“That’s Doctor Harper’s writing,” Munroe confirmed. “His language, too. He swears more than a Clydeside docker.”
“Charming,” McKenzie sniffed in a superior way. “It seems clear, however, that it IS possible to return you to your own time. The organic experiment was successful. The time corridor goes both ways.”
“You’re sure?” Andy asked. “I mean… the pigeon was a lot smaller than us. We might still get turned inside out.”
“It’s your choice,” McKenzie told them. “Stay here or go back.”
“I’m going back,” Munroe decided. “I’m the Torchwood man. I should take the risk. I’ll go first and send a message the same way to let you know I’m all right.”
He stood up and squared his shoulders manfully. Andy looked at him doubtfully. Munroe put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“If I get turned inside out, my people will send a message back. I daresay Torchwood could find a job for you as a computer engineer. That would be a reserved occupation in the event of a war. You might even end up at Bletchley Park with your man, Turing.”
“As long as somebody tells him I prefer women,” Andy answered, a thin attempt at a joke.
“And don’t you put any of this in your notes, either, Missie,” Munroe warned. “This is just a bit of a chat between me and the laddie before I do my bit for King and Country and the Torchwood archives.”
Miss Prufrock took her hands away from the keypad of her shorthand machine. McKenzie looked as if he had made mental notes of the words ‘war’ and ‘Turing’ though there probably wasn’t much he could do with either until it was too late to change events. Munroe shook hands with the Torchwood staff and with Andy before walking back down the steps to the station platform. He walked through the cordon set up in front of the tunnel.
The build up of energy was obvious as they approached the place. The Torchwood staff had turned off the torches they brought in, but a glow that came from nowhere illuminated a section of curved wall and a length of track. Everyone else was standing well back.
“It’s getting ready to blow again,” Dougal warned. “Look at the brightness of it.”
“I agree,” Toshiko said, glancing at the Meisson levels on her monitor. “Everyone get well back.”
They all shielded their eyes in time. When they looked again, Munroe stepped away from the globe hurriedly.
“I could use another cup of tea,” he said to his colleagues. “While we wait for the laddie to join us.”
Andy was still sitting in the station waiting room, looking around at advertisements for Highland holidays by train and more Bovril and Pears Soap as well as a couple of products he didn’t recognise.
“Do you use computer engineers in your organisation?” he asked Miss Prufrock. “In… Torchwood.”
“Yes,” she answered. “Why?”
“I’m not a coward,” he continued. “That’s not why the idea of a war scares me. It’s because….”
He told her as much as he dared about the war in Afghanistan in his time, and losing his father. She looked at him with something like sympathy and admitted that her own father had died in the Great War when she was only a child.
“But there shouldn’t be another war like that,” she added. “I know some people think Herr Hitler is a dangerous man, and Spain is rather volatile just now. A lot of people think the Russians could be troublesome, too. But all that is behind us. The war to end all wars….”
Mr McKenzie came into the room as she was saying that. Andy caught his expression. He knew better. He was probably old enough to have fought in what they called World War One in the history books of the later twentieth century.
“Your friend got back safely,” McKenzie said, passing a note to him. “We think it’ll be safe to send you back in another half hour.”
“Was he right about reserved occupations?” Andy asked. “Working for your lot....”
“In the last war a lot of Torchwood people chose to do their duty on the front line,” McKenzie said. “If there should be another, if Hitler and Mussolini or the Communists need putting in their place, then I’d expect our people to do what needs to be done.”
“But you’d need computer people….”
“Are you asking for a job?”
“The chances of getting one in my time seem remote. Not with computers, anyway. If I wanted to stack shelves in a supermarket…. My mum will be upset. I’m sorry about that. But my sister will look after her.”
Everyone was surprised when nothing else came through with the next Meisson build up except another message tied to the same thoroughly well travelled torch.
“He wants to stay, even though he knows it works?” Owen was surprised.
“It certainly wasn’t for Miss Prufrock,” Munroe answered. “The ice queen of Glasgow, she was. But if that’s his decision….”
“If that’s his decision,” Owen said. “Then we need to do what McKenzie suggests in HIS note. We destroy that globe.”
“Can it be destroyed?” Dougal asked.
“Yes,” Toshiko answered. “I’ve researched Meisson energy for a long time. It’s volatility is predictable. And my readings on the globe suggest it is just thick silicone glass.”
“You’re the best sniper we have in the team,” Owen told Dougal.
“Second best, but Shona is busy shouting at tourists, journalists and conspiracy theorists,” he answered. “We’re going to give them all something to think about in a minute if this does what I think it’s going to do.”
He stood just inside the tunnel to avoid the contrast between dark and light affecting his judgement and took aim at the globe as it started to build up again. He waited until it was about halfway up the scale, enough to make it decisive but without causing a reverberation in the past.
He fired a single shot and then ran out of the tunnel. The globe shattered explosively. There was a bright flash of light and Meisson energy filled the space before part of the wall and ceiling collapsed in and dust and debris blew out of the tunnel entrance.
“Sorted,” Toshiko said as the energy levels fell to zero.
Not quite sorted. There WAS one thing left to do. They talked about it back at the Hub later.
“Do we tell his mum the truth, or the usual Torchwood routine?” was the question.
“He’s written her a letter,” Munroe pointed out. “Two letters. One was in case we didn’t make it. The other when he chose to stay. They’re both rather eloquent. They’ll make the poor woman cry.”
“The alternative is we produce a body with a messed up face… pulled out of the tunnel collapse,” Toshiko said. “I used to do that all the time in Cardiff when we had Weevil victims.”
“You hated doing that,” Owen reminded her.
“Yes, I did. Mainly because the mum’s would cry so much.”
“She’ll cry either way. But she needs closure,” Munroe said. “I know which way I’d go. But it’s not Torchwood policy. Up to you, Doctor Harper.”
Later in the day Toshiko and Munroe went to see Mrs McAvoy. They explained everything carefully. She really didn’t believe it until she read the letter that had been in the sealed file.
“He got to do a useful job… with computers… instead of being on the dole here,” she said between tears. “That’s… I suppose… it’s as if he’d emigrated to find work. I’d still likely never see him again. But there’d be more letters.”
She was rationalising it all for herself. It was part of the process of acceptance.
“I got into some classified files,” Toshiko said. “During the war he worked on the computers that broke German codes. He did a lot of good. Afterwards he did research at Edinburgh university as well as certain… secret work.”
“His dad would have been proud,” Mrs McAvoy managed to say. “Thank you… for telling me the truth. I thought… when I heard about the accident in that tunnel… where he was planning to go…. I thought he was dead. I suppose he IS by now. He’d be… really old. But… this is better.”
Toshiko sighed with relief as they left the house.
“We lied a bit. We didn’t tell her he had a choice of staying or coming back.”
“Yes. I didn’t think she’d want to know that her son didn’t want to come back to her,” Munroe admitted. “If she thought he couldn’t get back, and accepted the situation….”
“It’s better than getting her to identify a mutilated body,” Toshiko said. “I really hate that.”
“Aye,” Munroe agreed.