VOTE | 194 fans

The Sin Eaters. Script VO

"What do you mean it's the wrong way?"

 

"I said go left."

 

"And I did," Jack insisted.

 

"I'm sitting on the left of the car," Ianto shouted. "You turned right."

 

"Oi! Shut up the pair of you," Gwen cut into Jack and Ianto's blarney. "We've got to get to the other side of the hill. We've only got two minutes."

 

They had run out of proper road a few miles back, and Jack was clearly loving sending the SUV tearing along muddy tracks. In the back seat, Gwen was focused on the screen, determined to keep a hold on the bizarre signal that had led them all out into the night. Initially she'd been peeved when Ianto had started to ride shotgun with Jack every time they went out, but at that moment was glad to be out of their bickering.

 

Ianto cheerfully continued, "Oh, fine. You realize the other side of the hill is the sea!"

 

Jack hit a series of controls on the dashboard, and the engine sound shifted from gently growling to roaring. He shouted over the engine noise, "Just adjusting the differential. Engaging four-wheel drive. I've never really tested this to its limits."

 

Gwen had learned from Rhys to worry when a man starts speaking like Jeremy Clarkson.

 

With a screech of wheel spin, the SUV leapt forward, charging up the dark hillside, stone and mud flying in its wake. Not that Gwen minded. It was late on a cold summer night, and she was desperate to solve a mystery that had been outrunning her for days.

 

She'd noticed the bizarre Rift readings by chance, and then had been astonished to see them repeated night after night. Whatever it was, it blasted into the sky at precisely 2 am, always on the coast, and it never lasted for more than ten minutes. Each night she'd chased them in vain, but this time, Torchwood had been prepared. And she was all for Jack doing his impersonation of Lewis Hamilton if it got her to the source before the signal faded.

 

Gwen vaguely remembered the paths through the woods from when Rhys had taken her for a picnic on the beach when they were first dating. Rhys hadn't realized it was a nudist beach, which had certainly made the backgrounds of their photographs interesting.

 

Jack yelled, "Someone open the gate!" Before they could react, he went on, "Changed my mind. Ever wondered why the SUV had such a big bumper?"

 

Bang! The fence went flying. They were accelerating towards the top of the hillside now, the coast opening up below them. Gwen's hands whirred across her keyboard, struggling to keep track of the weakening signal. "I don't really want to say this, but we need to hurry up. It's another thirty meters west of where we are."

 

"Stop!" Ianto yelled. "By west, do you mean straight ahead?"

 

They were meters away from a steep cliff on the edge of the choppy sea. Moonlight played awkward patterns on the black waves. "Can you see a path down to the beach?" Gwen asked Jack.

 

Ianto glared at her. "Don't encourage him."

 

Jack wondered whether he should tell Ianto that he'd once outrun the lava flows of Etna on a goat cart, or that he'd escaped down the forbidden ice slopes of the Axian Mountains on a sled. Instead he asked Gwen, "We're losing the signal, yeah?"

 

Gwen nodded in response.

 

"And it's definitely down there?"

 

Another yes from Gwen.

 

"Well, in that case, I can't see any reason not to."

 

"But it's pitch black," Ianto intervened.

 

"Exactly," Jack grinned. "Nothing to worry about."

 

And they were off, careering down the slope like a triplet of turbo-powered lemmings.

 

"Whoooooaaaah!"

 

The SUV skidded down a loose shale, power-slided from one side to another. Grit smashed against the toughened glass, but the car stayed upright. Jack was having the time of his life. Ianto, less so. As the beach raced towards them, Jack could see the rocks at the bottom of the cliff face rushing into view. "Everyone lean left," he ordered.

 

They threw themselves against the side of the car. "Now lean right!"

 

Somehow the car stayed upright, and it bounced with a clunk onto the coarse sand of Monknash.

 

"Now that was fun. That should be on Top Gear."

 

"Phew," Ianto loosened his hold on Jack's arm.

 

Jack knew Ianto had kept his eyes tightly shut during the experience, but he didn't say anything. He'd save that for later.

 

Gwen was straight out of the SUV, running along the beach towards the source of the signal. She splashed right into the waves; desperate to get to the last point it had been recorded. But the signal had died. She stamped her feet on the sand in frustration. "We were too late."

 

"I told you to turn left."

 

Ianto was still on at Jack about ignoring his directions, but Jack was looking elsewhere. "Uh, Gwen. Do you think this might be something to do with it?"

 

In front of them the swell parted and swept around a rock… a rock with clothes that moved in the eddies.

 

"Oh God."

 

Jack turned the lights of the SUV towards the mysterious shape. A body lay face down in the surf, half covered in sand and seaweed. Ianto crouched by its side. "It's human. Stone cold and wet. Been in the water a good while."

 

Gwen's torchlight revealed the wiry body of a grizzled sailor, still wearing his heavy boots and thick coat. Ianto rolled him over and leapt back in disgust. "Ugh!"

 

Gwen moved forward. "What is it?"

 

"Look at his face." The greying face was covered in hundreds and hundreds of tiny cuts, red raw, so tightly packed they could barely make out his features. "What could have done that to him?"

 

Gwen didn't have an answer. She opened her Torchwood kit and started to scan the body. "He isn't the source we've been tracing."

 

Jack interrupted her, "Those clothes. It's a uniform. An old uniform. This man is from the 1940s."

 

"So what's he doing on a beach?" asked Ianto.

 

"More importantly, Ianto, what's he doing in 2009?" Jack swung into full commander mode. "Right, everyone, let's get this back to the Hub."

 

Gwen was tight-lipped. She couldn't stand how little she knew about this. There was something they weren't spotting.

 

"Hey," said Ianto, "Do I get to do the autopsy this time?"

 

Jack had other ideas. "We need someone to analyze these clothes – where they're from, what they've picked up along the way. A job for a tailor's son."

 

Ianto went quiet. Why had he told Jack that? Now he was condemned to haberdashery.

 

Gwen was busy thinking it all through. There'd been no bodies at any other site where they'd detected the signal. So what was different this time? Jack called out from the SUV, "Now guys, which way back? The beach or the cliff?"

 

"Beach!" Gwen and Ianto shouted together.

 

"Spoilsports!"

 

***

 

In the shadows of the cliff, half obscured by damp rocks, a pair of eyes watched Gwen and Ianto lifting the body into the back of the SUV. Silently a gloved hand reached into a bag and checked the seal on a heavy-duty flask. Were they about to give him away? As the noise of the SUV faded away, a tall figure stepped out of the shadows, dressed head to toe in black, with his body hidden in a long, dark coat. He looked like Johnny Cash without the rind stones. His black shoes crunched across the sand. He placed his flask softly where the seaman's body had lain. The flask shook as he took his hand away, its brushed steel emitting a curious glow on the windy beach. "Fascinating."

 

Like Gwen, he was intrigued and delighted by these events. Unlike Gwen, he knew exactly what was in the sea, and he knew what was coming.

 

It was still dark when the man reached his destination. He'd been collecting these bizarre creatures from the beach for ten days now and had found them a perfect home. The Holy Church of St. Francis had stood in Penarth for over five hundred years - for three hundred of those, as a whitewashed stone building, for one hundred and fifty as a grand religious edifice, but for the last fifty, as something that resembled a council gym gone wrong.

 

Leaving a trail of wet sand behind him, the Reverend Hayward strode through the doors and locked the night out behind him. Leaving the lights off, he went straight to an ornate font - all that remained of the original church. It was carved from one solid piece of stone and had been brought hundreds of years earlier from a ruined church on a Croatian island. But it wasn't nearly as special as what he was about to put in it.

 

Wrapping a scarf around his face, he took the flask out of his bag and slowly unscrewed the lid. Drop by drop, he poured its contents into the ancient stone font, the liquid hissing as it hit the basin, each drop skittering around like oil on a hot frying pan. The Reverend Hayward paused at the bizarre spectacle. Careful not to touch any of the liquid, he traced its crazed movements with a gloved finger. The droplets congregated at a hairline crack on the font, worrying at it like ants prizing their way into a seam. He'd thought he'd never find enough to start his mission in earnest, but with the latest find, he knew he could finally begin. Pouring the rest of the liquid into the font, he pulled the chain that lowered the ornate metal cover. Before it closed, he allowed himself a final glance at the liquid. It was moving slower now, its zany lust for life settling into gentle ripples against the stone.

 

And he knew that his creatures were falling asleep. He knew they were alive, and he knew what greatness they could help him achieve.

 

***

 

"Oh Christ!"

 

Rhys felt like a vampire had sucked out all his blood, bent his limbs out of joint, and weed in his mouth for good measure. His phone just wouldn't stop ringing. When he answered, he heard a cruelly chirpy voice asking, "Are you there yet?"

 

It was Paul, for some reason, feeling okay after the stag-do. "Uh, to be honest mate, I've just got up," said Rhys. "Where should I be?"

 

"The suit place, you idiot!"

 

Bloody hell. Matt's usher suits, specially chosen by his doting fiancé. The slow, horrible realization of last night's drunken stupidity sank in. Where was Matt? Good God, last night. That girl! Rhys was struggling with sketchy memories. It was all going well until the tequila. But never mind that now. Matt was meant to be kipping on his couch. Where the hell was he?

 

Rhys found Paul sitting in a café with a stupid grin on his face. "Alright?" Paul bellowed.

 

"Oh no, you're still pissed!"

 

At least that explained why Paul was so upbeat. Rhys could feel this day going very wrong. Paul didn't know what had happened to Matt. Rhys wracked his hurting head. Matt had definitely phoned him at some point in the middle of the night. He'd laughed a lot and told Rhys that he'd fallen asleep in a girl's toilet. He'd thought the girl was a psycho and had locked him in, so he'd punched the door open. But it turned out the girl was fine, and Matt had, God knew how, gone through with it.

 

"Which one was it? Come on. Was it the girl who was laughing at his crap jokes, or the hen night?"

 

Rhys was appalled at Paul's priorities. "The one that liked the lobster joke."

 

"Ah, shame. The hens were fitter."

 

Paul lifted a mug of tea to his lips. He paused for dramatic effect, and burped noisily. It stunk. Lifting up his phone, he smiled at Rhys, a triumphant note in his voice. "Just call me Morse. I may not be a copper, but look at this."

 

Paul was waving his phone at Rhys. Oh God. First off, a picture of Matt locked tonsil to tonsil with a girl who was clearly not his wife-to-be. Second, a picture of Rhys, dancing up close with a girl whilst wearing her flashing red devil horns on his head. He looked like he was having the time of his life. "If Gwen ever sees that, I'm a dead man."

 

Matt had told Rhys that it had been great and asked why he'd gone home. Apparently the girl's mate was gutted that Rhys had disappeared. "This is the worst thing that could have happened."

 

Rhys was feeling awful.

 

"So is he still at hers?" asked Paul.

 

Rhys felt like he was being repeatedly punched in the gonads. "I hope not." What was Matt's fiancé going to say to him? What was Gwen going to do when she found out? "But seriously, Paul, we need to find Matt. He's meeting his missus for lunch."

 

Rhys could tell that this was going to be a very bad day.

 

***

 

"Each day we are faced with the cruelty and unkindness of the world. We hope and dream, but our mind's lonely fears sour our souls. Our hearts are strained by fear and despair. Darkness that drags us down until we are all trapped, our way to salvation blocked by doubt and anxiety."

 

Muriel didn't normally get up at 6am, especially not for church. She'd been a member of the congregation long enough to know that the world wasn't going to change for her going to mass twice a day. She also thought that re-baptism was an affectation. Yet after years of struggling to understand the Polish vicar's mumblings, she could at least hear the nice young incumbent. And he had ideas, which was nice for him. Church for her was an unshakable routine rather than a yearning to pray her way into heavenly truth, but at least this was something more interesting. And he had such a nice speaking voice. So sure enough, she'd turned up to the Reverend's special early morning service. He'd sat the group around the font and spoken quietly, but with belief, sincerity, and preternatural confidence.

 

"He has granted us a panacea, a way for us to return to how we were in Eden - without sin, without despair, without fear, without hatred. Join with me, and our faith shall bring us into the light. Faith shall make us proud. Faith shall make us strong."

 

Looking around her, Muriel could tell she wasn't the only one who wasn't impressed. But she was nothing if not polite and would hear him out.

 

"They came one night as the blessing of our Lord. The midnight tide flowed like the fountain of Judea, bringing forth a gift from heaven."

 

Muriel thought this all sounded very pretty but hoped he wouldn't go on for too long. She'd agreed to meet her son's mother-in-law to be to discuss the seating plans at the wedding and didn't want a whole morning of prayer to make her late. "Can I go first?"

 

The priest seemed surprised. "Don't you want to hear more?"

 

"No. I've been baptized before, you know."

 

He thought she was a typical chippie Welsh pensioner. She could see it in his eyes, but she let him take her hand and lead her to the font. "Close your eyes now," he told her. "Can everyone join in on hymn two-nine-four?"

 

The hymn struck up around them, soft and beautiful, all the voices filling the church. "I want you to think about the things that make you sad."

 

Muriel thought about the war in the Congo and the diseases in Zimbabwe.

 

"No. Something closer to home."

 

It was as if he could hear her thoughts. What a quirky chap he was. She thought about the girl that had got run over by the drunk driver near the post office, the bird that the cat had brought in from the garden.

 

"Good. Now open up your heart to the Lord."

 

He started to put water on her forehead. It hit and knocked her senses askew. When she recovered from the blow, an awful clarity had settled upon her, rising up in her like bile in her throat. With a measured certainty, memories stung and shamed as they escaped her, her poor, sad baby, the one that had died when she was seventeen. The man she'd kissed the day before his wedding, just because she didn't like his bride. The first marriage that went wrong. The second that was never right. And Derek. Silly, chubby Derek who she knew was in love with the happy lady he worked with, but she'd never let him see her. Not because she loved Derek, but because she didn't want to lose face. And poor Matt. The stupid, single, one-off boy, drinking and fighting and driving, and the poor, sad bump on her estate car the nice garage man had repaired and she would never tell anyone about, whatever happened.

 

The water on her head felt so hot now. It wasn't running off but stayed on her temples. The vicar looked tense, staring down into her eyes. He whispered, "How do you feel?"

 

Muriel felt heavy inside. She didn't need to tell the vicar. He seemed to know already. "You are burdened with a lifetime of sins. Let the Lord heal you. Open your mind and let the world be taken from you."

 

Muriel relaxed at the sound of his voice. What he was saying made so much sense. And then she screamed. The water on her head was boiling. It felt like it was burrowing inside. She'd never felt pain like this. Then it all went black.

 

When Muriel woke, it was as if the world had been cleaned, repainted, and brought into focus just for her. Pure euphoria. She had a lightness of being she'd never experienced before. The cords that bound her to herself had been cut. She felt like she could do anything. She beamed around the room. She was pure. She was unsullied. She was forgiven.

 

"Tell me about your husband," said the Reverend Neil Hayward.

 

"I love him."

 

"What do you regret?"

 

"I have never hurt anyone," Muriel responded, "And no one shall hurt me."

 

"Hayward turned to address the rest of the room. "The good Lord has taken away all of Muriel's sins, all her guilt. Muriel is now unchained. She may live again, true and happy, re-inspired by her faith."

 

He looked at the small group of pensioners in front of him. Each one eager to be healed, to live without the thousand small deaths and disappointments that had lead them to old age, to be alive and in full voice. Hayward went back to the font. The water had grown in size and was now half way up the side of the bowl. It moved with magnificent energy. Not bubbling, but vibrating with life. Whatever they had taken from Muriel they had liked.

 

Looking at the men waiting in front of him, Hayward wondered what kind of flock this was. They'd try and change the world by holding jumble sales and writing letters.

 

"Vicar," Muriel was still there, beaming at him. "I have a small favor to ask." She went on without waiting for his response. "My son is in some spiritual trouble. Perhaps we could arrange one of your special baptisms?"

 

Not for the first time, Neil Hayward thanked the Lord for granting him his prayers.

 

***

 

Ianto looked down at Gwen in action and was glad Jack hadn't let him dissect their beach combing booty. This was definitely one for strong stomachs. He had suggested calling the body Barnacle Bill, but was now thinking Old Fateful. Hmm… He'd have to try harder. Gwen dictated her notes as she circled the body. "Age: mid to late twenties. Height: one point six seven meters. Good Welsh height. Discoloration to the skin, but still holding together pretty well, indicating its not been in the water that long." She called up to Ianto, "It's a fairly recent dunking. Any luck with the police reports?"

 

"No fishermen in their granddad's clothes reported overboard last night. I sent it to search backwards though. You going home this morning?"

 

"I'll see how I feel. I'm doing okay now. Rhys will be crawling back from his stag-do."

 

Gwen cut off a strip of the sailor's waxed coat revealing layers of thick soggy wool. "Hey Ianto." She handed him the sodden bundle.

 

"What am I meant to do with this?" he asked.

 

"I don't know. Analyze it. Find out where it's from. You know. Analyze the weave, trace the buttons, that kind of thing."

 

"Ha-Ha." Ianto wasn't laughing.

 

Gwen peeled back the remains of the clothes. "Whoa! That is minging!"

 

"That a medical term, Dr. Cooper?"

 

Jack had chosen this moment to swagger down into the autopsy room. Jack leant forwards and saw the corpse's chest was covered in thousands of cuts. "Fair enough. That is minging. Let me see the inside of the jumper."

 

It was matted with blood. Jack was grim-faced. "Those cuts were made when he was still alive."

 

"I don't think we're talking about liposuction accidents here," said Ianto. "Unless he's terribly vain for a sailor."

 

"You'd be surprised, Ianto. The nights I've had in Cardiff docks…"

 

Ianto cut him off, "Right! Anyway, we need to look inside him."

 

"Before we do that, look at these cuts. Made with something sharp. A knife or, uh, razor sharp claws. See? No tearing, and all similar in size."

 

"But there's no pattern to them." Ianto couldn't believe he was staring at a dead man's torso like it was a magic eye puzzle.

 

"Except," Jack was on fire now. "If you wanted to make the maximum number of cuts in a body, that's what you'd do. Sure there's no plan, but I reckon that's about as many cuts as you can get in a body, which means they weren't doing it to inflict pain. You just slash the perineum for that."

 

Ianto winced. "Thanks, Jack."

 

"Torture technique on the Axelaudal Nebula. Hideous place."

 

"So, if they weren't doing it to hurt him…" Gwen let her sentence hang.

 

"Maybe they were putting something inside," Ianto suggested, then wished he hadn't. The idea was so repellant, but it had a certain something to it.

 

Gwen inserted a scalpel and cut down from the armpit to the hip, lifting up a flat of skin. "Oh my God!"

 

The flesh underneath the cuts was pitted with thousands of perfect little circles, tiny indentations in the muscles and bones. "What is that?"

 

"Or what was in them?" said Jack.

 

He honed in on one of the holes and lifted up a silky ball with a pair of medical tweezers. "Lady and Gentleman, may I give you the survivor. Now, who's going to find out what's inside this beauty?"

 

He moved it carefully under the microscope. Zooming in, they could see it was natural and tightly spun, like a sack of spider's eggs or a caterpillar's cocoon. Layers and layers of thread protecting whatever was inside. They all knew what they had to do next. Putting on a protective mask, Jack reached for a curiously curved scalpel. "Interesting metal, this. Programmed to only cut through dead, organic matter. Developed for the shovels on the mining planet of Kassacolavian. Lot of rock falls in the deep, cobalt mines. They either had the most brilliant scientists or the least trustworthy rescue teams in the galaxy. Either way, very handy if you don't know what's inside something. Oh, tougher than it looks."

 

Jack was applying all his force. Gwen instinctively stepped back a few paces. Ianto was intrigued and stayed close to Jack's shoulder. "Maybe it's alive."

 

"Not this bit. It'll give. Just hold here for me."

 

Ianto moved his body up against Jack's. He felt uncomfortable being so close to Jack with Gwen in the room, but Jack was oblivious. Either that, or he didn't care. Jack put his full weight on the scalpel blade. "And one big push."

 

The knife went through, and the silky ball fell in two. "Isn't that beautiful," breathed Jack.

 

Compacted inside the ball was a layer of thread and a hard, pearly substance that glinted in the light. Ianto was surprised. "Didn't take you for a fan of pearls, Jack."

 

"No, I meant that."

 

Jack pointed the end of the scalpel to a tiny creature, wiggling free of its cocoon. No more than half a centimeter long, and so small it was almost translucent. "What do you think it is?"

 

Jack paused. Did Ianto really think he could identify every maggot-like creature in the galaxy? What was he meant to say? 'Oh yes, we used this on fishing trips back in the Boeshane Peninsula.'

 

Gwen spoke up. "I'm more worried about what it's going to become."

 

They looked back at the torso, open on the table. "If this little wiggler's all that was left," mused Jack. "Then where the hell have the others gone?"

 

"Sorry boys, that's mine. Rhys, I'm very busy. I don't need to hear about your hangover."

 

"Sorry, babe. I need your help. Matt's gone AWOL, and we need to find him before Claire goes ape."

 

Gwen had heard this tone hundreds of times. Guilt. A vague wish to set things right. But mainly a desire to stop himself feeling so bad, like the time he pranged her new car and had rung her to tell her he'd got a good deal on the repair.

 

"Rhys, love," she reassured him. "Nine times out of ten, missing people are somewhere entirely ordinary. Have you phoned Claire?"

 

"She thinks he's with me."

 

"Have you tried his parents?"

 

"No," he admitted.

 

"There you go. Lots of wedding stuff to sort out. He's gone to see his mum. Solved. Haul your hung-over ass to Rhiwbina."

 

"Penarth."

 

"Whatever. Ring me when you're looking at his doughy face."

 

"Typical, ay?" chuckled Rhys, "Going home to his mum after a night on the lash."

 

"Bye, Rhys."

 

"Love you."

 

Gwen wandered back to the autopsy room. Jack and Ianto had a bizarre mix of instruments in their hands. Ianto appeared to be sporting two types of butterfly net, a big-game hunter's stun rifle, and a maggot box. Jack, meanwhile, had an all-in-one boiler suit, some antiquated bee-keeper's smoke equipment, and a dry ice machine that looked like it had been ripped straight out of the Roxy's disco. Ianto explained it all to Gwen as he packed his butterfly nets. "We've taken a bioscan of our new friend. We return to the site, scan from the SUV, and find how far his buddies have wriggled away."

 

"And the smoke machine?"

 

Jack and Ianto both looked at her scornfully. "Essential to subdue insects," Ianto told her.

 

"After all, this is no different from bee-keeper's machines. Just has more settings," said Jack.

 

It was typical of those two, Gwen thought, to find a way that a hunt for alien insects could need as much equipment as taming the most raucous Weevil in Cardiff. "Tell me if you find Livingston."

 

"Naw, beach isn't far from St. David's Hotel. More likely to find Bear Grylls."

 

Jack was more serious than Ianto. "This is our plan, which we created without your input as you were busy worrying whether Rhys had snogged anyone last night. And I dare say he had plenty of offers."

 

Ianto smiled. "He's quite a catch, isn't he?"

 

"Must have caused quite a stir to have him back out on the town," Jack agreed.

 

"I don't know why I put up with you two," said Gwen. "Maybe it's cause I don't take you seriously. Now get out of here!"

 

Gwen couldn't tell if Ianto was more confident because he was having regular sex, or because he was having regular sex with the boss. Either way, she wasn't sure whether he was ready to have the mickey taken out of him yet. As he left, she whispered, "Paws off, Jones. You've got a man."

 

Hmm. His reaction wasn't exactly hysterical. Never mind.

 

Jack paused by the rolling door. "Gwen, can you keep going with the autopsy and see if the tidal patters show us anything from last night. The body came from somewhere."

 

As it closed, Gwen noticed the red lights by the rolling door weren't flashing. That was the kind of thing Ianto used to care about. Maybe he was loosening up, and no bad thing. She was sick of the lights blinding her every time she popped out for milk. It was only when they were out of the door that Gwen realized they'd left her with a corpse while they went out hunting. Typical bloody couple - only thinking of themselves. She pulled herself up. Was she allowed to call them a couple? Had they reached that stage yet?

 

Moving over to Ianto's desktop, she could see a search for their sailor still spooling back through time. It had already reached 1910 with no traces of their corpse. This wasn't going to work, she thought. After all, how many ships logged their crew for every single voyage? She tried a new tactic and put Barnacle Bill's details into the Royal Navy database. "Come on. Come on!"

 

And a match. There he was – Ron Arnold. Entered the navy aged nineteen in 1940. Just in time to get the boys back from Dunkirk. Last seen on anyone's records in 1946. So where had he been since, and why hadn't he aged?

 

Gwen was interrupted by Rhys ringing. "You okay?" she asked. "Need me to pick up some pain killers?"

 

"Uh, no. You better come see this. 18 Redwood Avenue, Penarth. It's Matt's mum. She's dead."

 

Ianto was one of the few people who knew the secrets of the SUV's unique design. Digging deep into the Hub records, he'd found the additions Jack had personally requested and asked to be kept off the official spec. He knew its bodywork concealed enough armor to withstand a major explosion, and that it could survive a fall of over one hundred meters. He knew it was commissioned to be capable of driving under water, and that a seven-seated version had been rejected in favor of one with heated leather seats. But more excitingly, he knew it had emergency rocket boosters fitted with a special access code known only to Jack… and now him.

As they reached the track leading to the beach, Ianto casually tapped the right hand side of the rear view mirror three times. Jack was gazing at the coastline and didn't notice the new display flash up on the windscreen. "Well, just look at that, Jack."

 

A 3-D display showed a map of the location and the SUV's position. A banner flashed, 'Air-Con Live.'

 

Jack looked panicked. "Ianto, there are animals in those fields."

 

"Oh, they're used to airplanes around here."

 

"It's never been used. Well, maybe once, but only by me!"

 

"I think we're ready to put our Air-Con on full, aren't we?"

 

Ianto turned the fans up to full blast and was pinned into his seat as the car flew forward.

 

"Whoa!"

 

Behind him he could see a cloud of exhaust fumes and a rush of after-burner flames. "We're running out of road," Jack yelled, "Again!"

 

Ianto was enjoying himself enormously and couldn't miss the opportunity to tease Jack. "Jack, how come you don't hold onto my arm when you're scared?"

 

Jack wasn't having any of it. "Me? Scared?"

 

"I heard you yelp."

 

"That was more of a manly expression of enjoying high speed," insisted Jack. "Jackie Stewart did it all the time."

 

Jack moved his hand onto Ianto's leg. "You know, there's only you, me, and the smell of aviation diesel around."

 

"So that's why you joined the RAF, Captain Harkness."

 

Jack hand touched his face, only to spring back when the air was filled with a terrible screeching. "What's that?"

 

"It's the close-range monitor," Ianto told him.

 

"Ah, I see Farmer Giles at twelve o'clock." Jack grinned. "An angry Farmer Giles."

 

"Did he see us?"

 

"Who cares?"

 

Ianto didn't share Jack's calm. He hadn't been doing this for years, and he knew what farmers thought about two men alone in a car on a quiet lane.

 

Jack wound down the window. "Sorry about the noise. My friend here is just learning to drive. Can't quite handle the acceleration."

 

"Never mind that. Are you two here to look at my bees?"

 

"Yes, uh… That's right," Jack told him. "Yes. We are here to look at your bees."

 

Ianto leapt into the conversation, if not quite convincingly, then at least with such a degree of passion that the farmer felt obliged to believe him. "This is Dr. Harkness from the… uh… Department of Insectology at Cardiff University, and I'm his post-doctoral assistant."

 

Ianto worried that this was a diversion, but he'd learnt from Jack that anything unusual that happened was likely to be linked. If alien maggots were arriving on the shore, maybe they were heading to the beehives. They followed the farmer as he stomped across muddy ground, heading to a scrubby field with a few tattered white hives. The beekeeper hat and veil seemed to back up Ianto's story, even if Jack's disco dry ice machine was a little outré for a beekeeper.

 

"You could have taken the stickers off it," Ianto whispered to Jack. One sticker in particular showed an enthusiastic graphic designer's idea of a good time.

 

"Oh well," Jack said. "He'll have seen worse in the stud pen."

 

Ianto turned to the farmer, "Sir, um, what is the problem with your bees?"

 

"I woke up this morning and they were gone. All of them."

 

Jack peered into the hive with interest before turning his matinee-idol smile on the farmer. "You haven't got any dead sheep I could look at, have you?"

 

Trudging along the side of a murky little stream, Ianto wondered how Jack's charm managed to work on everyone from retired grannies to hairy-palmed farmers. Also, how did he still have a smile that perfect? Jack claimed it was 51st century dental care, but Ianto suspected otherwise. How many times throughout history had Jack bleached his teeth? Could any mouth withstand that? Or did they grow back with his body?

 

He was dragged out of his thoughts by the muddy arm of the farmer pointing to a sad pile of sodden wool and bones lying on the bank of the stream. "Dog's been at it," the farmer grumbled.

 

Jack turned the body over with his boot. "Just as I thought. No maggots. No need for samples today, Ianto. Thank you, that's all we need from you, Sir. We'll get back to you with a full report on the bee situation. In the meantime, collect that honey. It could be valuable evidence."

 

"Really?"

 

"Yes, that was quite good enough for us. You'll be hearing from the University soon with our results."

 

Back in the SUV, Jack extended the aerial and told Ianto to set up a scan for all insect life. Ianto tried a hundred meters. Nothing. Two hundred meters. Still nothing. At one thousand meters, the scan was less effective. Still they found nothing. "There are no insects anywhere on this land," Jack marveled. "Just look, no dragonflies, no flies. There's a pile of manure over there. No beetles. Whatever crawled out of our sailor boy last night had scared them away. In an area this size, we should be seeing about ten thousand different species – all those beautiful little sticky things and funny little things that ball up when they get scared."

 

"Woodlice."

 

"That's the ones," Jack agreed. "And those worms you can cut in half, and double the number of pets you can have. Come on, Ianto. Don't look shocked. But nothing. Nada. They say animals have a sixth sense. Like when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, all the animals had gone. But that was the elephants, the monkeys, the birds – the clever animals. They never say worms have a mystical sense. Name a nation that hasn't developed a cult about rooks or ravens or snakes or tigers."

 

Ianto was quick to butt in with, "Iceland. It's all about the volcanoes there."

 

"Yes, I suppose so. Funny race, the Icelandic. I'm surprised they survived the crash-landing really, but they've been doing okay. I've lost track of them a bit. Must remind them to keep their heads down."

 

Ianto's mind was reeling. "They're aliens?"

 

"Now that's not polite. Norwegian, Scottish, Irish, Danish… and a little bit of alien in there. They were looking for the volcanoes when they crashed. Probably from somewhere near Pyrovillia. But, back to the point," Jack went on. "We are dealing with ants. Not giant ants, not robot ants, but an absence of ants… and of worms. And if they are running scared, it must be something pretty bad indeed. And with one hell of a signal."

 

Back at the site where they'd found the sailor's body, Ianto fed in the biometric data from the alien maggot and watched as the SUV's tech scanned the beach around them. He was expecting to find traces almost instantly, but as they expanded the search radius, there was nothing.

 

"Jack," Ianto called him back from the cliff face. "How fast do you think they can move?"

 

"Not far, I'd say. Maybe make a meter every hour."

 

"In that case, someone must have helped them out. They're not on this beach."

 

Jack looked out to the sea. "Unless they never got on shore."

 

Ianto turned the scanner onto the water, but only got interference. "Jack, it's no use. We need to be nearer to get a reading." He had an idea. He leapt into the driving seat and turned the SUV around so it was facing the ocean. "Can't let this place lose its green flag rating," he muttered. "Let's see what's in the water."

 

Jack noticed Ianto flicking a switch on the SUV he hadn't seen in a long time. "Ianto, that was never tested."

 

"So, isn't this a good time?"

 

"It was only ever a concept," Jack said.

 

"Watching too many James Bond films, were you?"

 

As Ianto spoke, the SUV began a complex set of alterations. First, a black, plastic cover slid down over the windows. Then small fins popped out of the side of the car, and the grills on the bonnet snapped ninety degrees, sealing the engine. A plastic panel came down behind Ianto and Jack, and the large, back bumper flipped up revealing four, small power jet engines. "Ianto, don't do it."

 

But, with a scream of joy, Ianto drove the car straight into the sea. The floats on either side kept the car bobbing on the waves, and, as Ianto eased power into the back jets, the bonnet lifted out of the water slightly, and a bow wave formed as the car waded out into the Irish Sea. Jack didn't have the heart to tell Ianto that his feet were getting wet, and Ianto was too proud to admit that his were. "So, if we just lock the navigation onto the likely path of the body on the tides, the course I've plotted here should take us to the most likely site of any swimming alien maggots. So, hard a-starboard."

 

"That's port," Jack corrected him.

 

"Really?"

 

"Yeah, it's easy," said Jack. "Port is left. Same number of letters. Starboard is right. Longer. And if I keep talking long enough, we won't have to admit that we're sinking."

 

The water was now up to the car windows. Jack didn't want to admit what he could see floating past Ianto. "Ianto, in your troll of the records, did you remember a magic button to get us out of this situation?"

 

"No, sorry."

 

With a bump, the car hit the bottom of the sea. The water was about two meters deep, and there was still daylight above the splashing waves on the car. "Sorry, Ianto. I'm going to have to break the seal."

 

Jack wrenched the window down manually and hauled himself up onto the roof of the car. And from the shore, the farmer scratched his head in wonder as he saw the SUV, six meters out to sea, with a wet Dr. Harkness standing on top of its roof, waving to him.

 

***

 

Muriel Thomas lived in a beautiful detached house overlooking the old streets of Penarth, its front garden immaculate. Not a frond of ivy out of place. The kind of house that had been improved, tidied, cleaned, and loved for every day of its existence. Gwen saw the lovingly handmade name sign on the door. It was the details that always made 'death knocks' with the police difficult. The little things that always told her so much about the lives of those that had passed away, and of the people who had loved them and shown them their love by buying cute garden ornaments. She could just imagine how happy they'd been.

 

She pushed at the open door to see her husband sitting wild-eyed on Muriel Thomas' perfectly polished staircase. In his hands, Rhys was holding Matt's coat and bag. "She used to drive us home from college together. Who'd do this to Matt's mum?"

 

Rhys was numb and shaking. He led Gwen along the hallway to the kitchen. Bloodied and stretched with dying effort, Muriel Thomas lay contorted on the slate floor, her face turned towards them with a look of pure agony. Her legs were twisted underneath her, her hands bleeding where she'd been clawing at the floor. "I mean… Gwen, Matt wouldn't do this, would he?"

 

Rhys couldn't stop looking at Muriel's body. "No, love. I think it's to do with something we found last night."

 

Gwen knelt down and pulled back Muriel's blouse. Just as with the sailor, her skin was pitted with hundreds of tiny cuts. Muriel must have been in agony. She could see from the fingernails that Muriel had scratched at the cuts, desperate to get whatever was inside out. Gwen had to find what had done this to Muriel, and they needed to get hold of Matt fast.

 

She led Rhys out of the house and sat him down in a patio chair. "Nice garden," he said.

 

"Yes, love."

 

"Didn't know they were so big around here," he went on. "I think we looked at the one two doors down though."

 

"Rhys, love," said Gwen gently, "This isn't the time for house hunting, okay? I'm going to need you to focus. This is worse than the big space whale, yeah?"

 

Rhys nodded.

 

"This is something that's happening right here in Cardiff, Rhys. Something alien is getting inside people, growing under their skin and killing them. We found someone like this on the beach last night. So you need to think very, very carefully where Matt might be, because he might know where his mum might have got these inside her, and then we can stop this."

 

Gwen thought it best not to mention that Barnacle Bill was from 1946, because even though Muriel had been alive then, Gwen sincerely doubted that they'd all caught the same parasite. "What about Muriel?" Rhys asked.

 

"I'm afraid there's no hope, Rhys. I don't know if it was the things inside her, or the shock of it on her heart, but she's gone."

 

"They were like the worm thing that Sarah picked up in Jamaica."

 

"Yes," Gwen agreed, although who the hell was Sarah? She hadn't been paying much attention to Rhys' tales of his day lately. Anyway, on to more important things.

 

Rhys sighed. "Thing is, Gwen, I've not seem that much of Matt, really. I mean, the last time we went out before the stag was when we were in college. We were all wearing Ralph Lauren shirts and smoking B&H to try and look cool."

 

Bless him, Gwen thought. Such a North Wales boy at heart. "I know Claire 'cause she does the advertising for the Echo, so she's on the phone every week. Probably talked to her more than him, to be honest. But we can't ring her 'cause…" Rhys hesitated.

 

Ah, Gwen thought. The guilty face again. Finally she was getting somewhere. "Well… last night," Rhys confessed, "Matt didn't come back with me."

 

"Oh, no?"

 

"He… uh… Went back to a party, I think."

 

Gwen had heard stories like this before. She couldn't be angry with Rhys. He was so beaten and small at the moment. She could tell the horror was replaying itself over and over in his head. "A two person party?" she suggested.

 

"I dunno. He was with a friend."

 

"And this friend, Rhys… Do you think this friend, or even, just to put the idea out there… this girl became a naked friend of Matt's?"

 

Rhys was nodding.

 

"So you don't want to tell her because you let her fiancé go off with some drunken hussy on his stag-do."

 

Rhys shrugged. "You know, you've got a lovely way with words, Gwen."

 

"In that case," Gwen told him, "Maybe I should call her. We need to stop whatever happened to his mum happening to him."

 

Rhys started to form an argument but kept thinking of the body in the hallway, twisted and pained, the look of agony and fear on the poor old woman's face. What a way to go. What a terrible thing to happen to someone. But oh, God, Gwen was really about to ring Claire and tell her about Matt.

 

"Don't worry, Rhys. I've been trained to do this. It won't be any bother."

 

***

 

Matt had turned up at the church by himself. His mum was feeling unwell and needed a lie-down. Although why Matt wasn't exhausted himself, the Reverend Hayward couldn't tell. He had bags under his eyes, like the lost luggage counter at terminal five, and stank of… well, not quite booze, but a mixture of lager, cigarettes, and something else. Hayward was happy to overlook the fact that he'd not heard that Matt was getting married before today, and that it was unlikely he'd get married in a church.

 

A whole new plateau of temptation was opening up before him. If he could get hold of someone young - a mind full of lurid sins, fresh acts of carnality still pounding in his guilty brain. If he could take this young man's pain away, then word would surely spread. His would no longer be the church of the lonely pensioner. Maybe, just maybe, he could be something to everyone. Goodbye to old timers, regretting letting Mr. Tiddles eat the next-door neighbor's rabbit. Hello to a new army of converts, a church full of the young and healthy. He could gather a congregation that would listen every week, and would go out into the world and actually make a difference.

 

Matt moved very, very slowly, as if his head was a cracked eggshell and his brain a yolk, eager to get out. He looked very small and brittle at the end of a long empty pew. Turning his watery eyes to Hayward, he asked for help. "It's horrible. I woke up like I'd been kicked in the balls, all these horrible thoughts going round my head. I'm all shaky and sick. It's not the hangover. I didn't want to hurt Claire. I've gotta stop this. I can't stop this."

 

Hayward didn't want to admit to Matt that this was more interesting than his normal confessions, but time was short, and as much as he wanted to hear more, he knew he had to move forward. There were two things he needed to know from Matt. "Do you love your fiancé?"

 

Matt nodded.

 

Hayward noticed that he was unconsciously twisting his fingers as he talked, and that his nails were bitten right back. This wasn't a new nervousness in Matt, even if it had found some new sin to focus on. He put his hand on Matt's hair, still ruffled from last night's styling and a night spent on a stranger's pillow. Matt's face was blotchy. Bits of it fallen like a man ten years older. It had been a long time since having a drink wasn't the answer.

 

In previous days, Hayward thought, he'd have had months and years to instill moral codes and lessons in this anxious young man. But this was not the modern way. Now it was beer and work and Sunday pub lunches, instant gratification and a non-stop jangle of emails and texts and Facebooks and blogs and drinking and… well, two could play at that game. "Are you ready to let the Lord into your life?"

 

"Yes. I am."

 

Hayward looked at Matt carefully. For someone who hadn't been to church for eighteen years, he was remarkably quick with his answer. Then again, the Lord had never before offered a solution as miraculous or as appealing. "Then come with me."

 

Hayward wondered if he could trust Matt to keep his eyes shut. If he had thought about it, he could have told him he had to wear a hood or something. He continued with authority in his voice, "It's important you focus on the evil you want to reject."

 

As Matt lay back, he thought of all the times he'd not showed up, of family meals he'd missed, the girls he'd bought drinks for, and the ones that didn't need any drinks bought, the nights away at hotels with work, and the boredom of being home with Claire. And houses and babies and diamond solitaires, and listening to what her sister had said about her mum. Matt thought how he hated the blokes he played football with and would give anything to swap it all for more fun, more sex, more everything. He recalled all the people that had let him down – his dad and the way he'd gone and died without saying a single word, not to him or his mum. And his mum, wanting him to be married with children. And now it was going to happen. And it felt all wrong and it wasn't his fault. He was just trying, trying, trying.

 

Matt wept. The back of his head was in the water and big, soggy man-tears flooded his face and dripped into the water. Matt opened his mouth and cried like a baby. Big, sorrow-filled gulps.

 

Hayward held Matt's shoulders and made the sign of the cross on his forehead. Matt's cry unnerved him. This was far from the normal routines of his church. This was true catharsis.

 

And then Matt felt… nothing.

 

Reverend Hayward laid Matt's head back on the floor of the church and peeled back his eyelids to check for a reaction. All seemed fine. Parting Matt's hair, he saw tiny, pinprick marks where his head had been in the water and murmured to himself, "Just like the others."

 

***

 

"Er, aren't you meant to step out of those wet clothes and be wearing a DJ underneath?" Gwen couldn't believe the state of Jack and Ianto. She'd pulled up in Rhys' new Vectra on the beach road where a seaweed strewn SUV was being towed to safety by the farmer's ancient tractor. "Less saving the world with a swagger," she said, "More Worzels."

 

Rhys wasn't smiling. Sitting in his car, he was fit to burst with strain. "Look, you two, I saw a woman today, bloody and bruised, and all those cuts in her. And Gwen says that some animal made that as it left her body. Good God…" he broke off.

 

Ianto was looking at the ground, Gwen at Jack. Taking her gestures as a command, Jack made his way over to Rhys. Jack sat down next to him, his natural authority only slightly undermined by the squelching noise he made. "We are going to stop this, Rhys Williams, so put those thoughts out of your head. These creatures come on the night tides and burrow deep inside people without them even knowing there's a problem. We can't trace them, we can't tell where they're from, and for all we know, everyone in Cardiff might have these things in them already. I need to find the source. I need to find what's triggering them to kill or if they lie dormant for years. I need to find out what they want in the first place, and then, I'm going to get rid of them, forever. Okay?"

 

Rhys couldn't help but like Jack, the handsome bastard. "You forgot one thing. We need to find my mate."

 

"Quite right, Mr. Williams," Jack declared. "Gwen, you have a suitable partner from here onwards. We're going to the Hub. Then we do a pincer movement on these little shrimpy aliens."

 

"Uh, is that a good idea, Jack?" put in Ianto.

 

Jack ignored him and made for the driver's door of the Vectra, only to be pulled short by a cough from Rhys and a heavy hand on his shoulder. "If you don't mind, I'll take it from here. Like to keep this dry, you know. New car and all that."

 

"It was Ianto!" Jack protested.

 

Rhys raised a skeptical eyebrow.

 

Jack went on, "Still, Ianto, at least this means we get to cuddle up in the back seat."

 

"Oi!" Rhys protested. "None of that in my car!"

 

Jack exchanged glances with Ianto. They had been told.

 

Gwen and Rhys dropped Jack and Ianto off at the Hub on their way to Matt's girlfriend's house. Jack wondered if Ianto had found out about the hidden functions of the Hub in his recent rummage through the archives. If he was tempted by the submersible qualities of the SUV, then there were a hell of a lot more exciting buttons to push in the Hub.

 

But now he had some Ianto time - his favorite way to spend an afternoon. Those suits, that hair, that filthy mind, so well concealed behind his polite exterior. "Ianto?"

 

"Yes, Jack?"

 

"Report on the intergalactic shrimp."

 

Ianto was in his office in seconds, tank in hand. "Has that tank changed?" asked Jack.

 

"Yes, it needed something bigger. More of a king crustacean now."

 

As Ianto ran through details, Jack stared at the lines of the creature. After all this time, the variety of wonder in the universe never stopped amazing him. In a few hours, this creature had grown from half a centimeter to a full ten centimeters. Features that had seemed ordinary as a larvae now seemed freakish and bizarre. This creature's shell was see-through, like a creature that evolved way down in the deep, far beneath the light. Its carapace was almost shimmering, and it had mandibles that it knocked against the tank where Ianto's hand held the box.

 

Peering through the glass, Jack could tell that the alien had no mouth. It was breathing through small nostrils. But where there should have been a shrimpy smile, there was only smooth skin. Shining a light into the box, Jack thought he could just about make out the remains of a throat and tiny unused digestive system. "Ianto, a throat but no mouth. Probably cause?"

 

"Encounter with face-stealing aliens," said Ianto dryly.

 

"Possibly," mused Jack. "Although, I was thinking more along the lines of Dawkins and probable evolution. Some species seal their mouths during months when the food is poisonous. On Vale Mine, the lack of sun in winter leaves the lichen unbleached. One mouthful would kill."

 

"But this little pest is still growing, Jack, so it's hardly given up eating."

 

"Good point." Jack was up on his feet now, brainstorming as he paced his office. "Actually, bad point. It's still growing so it's still eating something. There weren't any fat reserves on that thing, and they left Barnacle Bill as soon as he died. So what the hell is it eating? And what's it using if not its mouth?"

 

Jack put his hand on the table, and the creature immediately battered against the side of the tank, desperate to touch him, It hit the glass so hard it sounded like something would break – either the glass or the creature. Jack had a very sick, worried feeling gnawing at his stomach. He also had an idea. "Ianto, do we still have that smelly cat hanging around outside?"

 

"Yep. She likes staring at the water tower. I don't know what's wrong with her. I mean, there's no mice here, no food, no other cats."

 

Jack considered telling Ianto that he'd been experimenting with an alien mind control device one night when the cat walked past and got caught up in a low-level psychic explosion, but thought better of it. "Probably some kind of feline sixth sense," he offered. "Well, listen. You couldn't fetch her for me, could you?"

 

"Really?"

 

"Just for me."

 

Ianto was up and away. The big metal door rolled back, lovingly repaired after the incident with the Dalek had left it pitted with bullet marks. Ianto still hadn't got round to repairing the red lights, but it still looked cool enough. He reached the foot of the stairs, then turned back and logged onto his computer, an impish look on his face.

 

Jack could see Ianto calling up the CCTV of Cardiff Bay. "Ianto, you're not doing anything to hurt my little Pusska, are you?"

 

"You called her Pusska?" asked Ianto.

 

"It's on her collar," admitted Jack. "Suits her. She looks kind of haughty."

 

Ianto's screen had Pusska in his sights. She was currently sunning herself discreetly on a stone near the Oval Basin, meters from the water tower. "And if the cat just walks a few paces to the left," Ianto murmured.

 

He typed furiously and the water began to run down the tower at twice its normal speed. "I didn't know you could control that," Jack said in surprise.

 

"Oh, yeah. Nice little man in the Counsel linked us up."

 

Jack looked at the cat, sidestepping elegantly away from the water rushing down the tower. "Where are you trying to get her to go? You don't think you can chase her all the way down the steps, do you?"

 

Ianto didn't reply.

 

Jack moved round to the monitor and saw that he had called up the controls for the invisible lift. "Ianto, no."

 

Ianto grinned. "They say cats always land on their feet."

 

"Someone might fall down as well," Jack protested. They both looked at the screen. A gorgeous man walked into view. "Then again," said Jack, "I'd catch him if he fell."

 

"We'd catch him together." Ianto looked pointedly at Jack.

 

But the handsome man stepped away from the tower leaving only the cat, sitting on the fake stone. "Ianto Jones," said Jack. "Gwen will never forgive you!"

 

"Only if she finds out," Ianto replied. "Unless the stain is really pretty bad… I'm sure I'll get the blood out." He looked determined, his face set, and his smile devilish and gleeful as he prepared his cat-trap. "Nine lives, yeah? Well, here we go."

 

He hammered down the button.

 

On the surface, the cat was confused. Pusska had been living a pleasant feline life. The children that had named her so elaborately left home, and she was left with a retired owner with lots of time to spoil her, and a family of children next door whom she allowed to pet her, and in return, they fed her. Pusska had a garden, which caught the sun very nicely, and having successfully warned off the dogs of the neighborhood, she had gracefully retired from fighting to live a life of ease. But now, she kept finding herself far from the leafy lanes of Pen-y-lan and hanging around Cardiff Bay – full of dogs, sea rats, and something else. It was driving her to distraction. Like a hungry tom-cat, rummaging for leftovers, she was desperate to find what kept dragging her away from her garden to moldy Cardiff Bay.

Desperate, but not prepared for the stone block she was sitting on to abruptly disappear and send her plummeting thirty meters down into the Torchwood Hub. Wind whizzing past her feet, Pusska saw lights and bizarre shapes rushing towards her. With barely seconds before impact, she twisted her body into the optimum landing stance. Looking down, she could see water, metal grids, and a man. She briefly considered which would give her the softer landing. Pusska dutifully arranged herself, claws out, heading for the soft face of the young man staring up at her.

 

"I think I have her," Ianto yelled. "Oowww!" He let out, quite frankly, a girly scream. "She's on my face!"

 

Pusska had landed slap-bang on Ianto's head, slowing her fall by way of putting her claws into his scalp before sliding off and nonchalantly landing on her feet on the stone base of the invisible lift. The two men were making rather a lot of noise. "I'm scarred for life," moaned Ianto.

 

"Mmm," Jack gazed at him. "Sexy look though." He was trying hard not to laugh. "Down side to that new cat flap of yours, Ianto. Now pick her up. This won't take long."

 

In his office, Jack told Ianto to put Pusska down next to the tank containing the increasingly agitated creature. The cat settled comfortably, in calm and certain expectation of a treat. "Now Pusska, just stay there. Ianto, put your hand on the other side of the tank."

 

The alien went mad, banging and smashing against the glass, desperate to get to Ianto. Its mandibles were individually grazing against the glass, eager and yearning for human contact. "So Ianto," Jack declared, "Point one of the experiment is that this little mite only wants to be near humans. Some kind of basic instinct towards our species, which doesn't include cats."

 

"Yes, very good," muttered Ianto.

 

"Secondly," Jack went on, "This cat, with all of its special skills, has no fear or even interest in the beast."

 

"Uh… yes," said Ianto. "You realize you're struggling to justify this, don't you?"

 

Jack put on a pair of thick, working gloves and picked up Pusska, holding her gently by the middle of her stomach. "Now, if I do this properly…" He turned the cat around so she was looking straight ahead as he held her above the desk, moving her slowly closer to the tank. He nodded to Ianto to slide the lid off. "It's okay."

 

Placed by another live and strange creature, the cat went wild, hissing, teeth bared, front legs swinging at the strange, mouth-less creature at the bottom of the tank. The alien shrimp huddled into a far corner as the savage beast approached it. Its shell seemed insignificant; it's many sprouting mandibles puny. But as Jack held the screeching cat above the tank, something extraordinary began to happen. The creature began to move with odd vibrations, like it was trying to wriggle out of its own skin. It rocked from side to side, scales taught and stretched. And then, with one movement, the creature split from head to tail, shedding its exoskeleton. A new creature stepped out of the old skin. The head was the same, but everything else had changed. It had eyes that were fully formed, and four beautiful wings that glinted in the office light. Ianto could see a rainbow of colors as the delicate fronds unfurled. The creature looked finally complete, noiseless and delicate, but pristine and new.

 

"Emergency transmutation," Jack noted admiringly. "A proper fight or flight response, and with this alien, its clearly flight all the way."

 

"Uh, Jack," said Ianto, "Best put the lid back on now."

 

"Oh yeah, sorry. Of course."

 

Jack put the cat down, and she dashed off into the nearest hiding place she could find, which in the Hub wasn't difficult. "Jack, that flipping cat is on the loose!"

 

"Never mind that," Jack told him. "It will give the Weevils some company in the vaults. More importantly, we have an alien parasite, capable of breeding in vast numbers inside human bodies, which we've just discovered is simply a stage before being able to fly."

 

Ianto was staring at the creature in the tank. He'd spend enough time studying the Cleverness Guide to Alien Anatomy – one edition only, five copies printed – to know when something wasn't quite right. "Jack," he said, "If you trace a line from the thorax to the wings, then the carapace around here seems to be hardened, and the eyes seem to be shielded with some kind of extra skin flap. The mandibles are protected with some kind of claw. Looks incredibly sharp."

 

Jack got there before Ianto. "It will look pretty fearsome when it's fully functional. These aren't butterflies. They're designed to hunt, and they're going to want a lot more where Barnacle Bill came from."

 

As Jack secured the lid, the creature moved quickly and unexpectedly towards him. He slammed the lid down, just too late, and not before a mandible had wrapped itself around his finger.

 

For a brief moment, Jack's senses gave way to a blur of nerve-scraping emotions. Death after death after death. Faces in the night. The look in their eyes when they realized it was the end. Names he'd forgotten, names he'd never known. Years of trying and trying and sometimes succeeding, but never enough. Never final enough. Only a pause. Only a moment. Lovers and loved, sometimes the same, growing old, growing tired, growing angry. Always angry. Being himself. Being hated. Being lonely. No one good enough. Not able to mend. Not able to stop the pain…

"Jack!" Ianto was holding his hand. He kissed him. "You okay?"

 

"Yeah. Come here, you."

 

He gave Ianto a massive hug. He needed him, sometimes more than he'd like to admit. Ianto kept on going, "Couldn't we have made it do that? Why the cat?"

 

As he started to answer, Jack realized that the sinking feeling had passed when the creature's touch had left him, but it had been replaced with a horrible clarity. "The alien isn't scared of humans. It can make us calm in an instant, but not a wild creature. Because, however fluffy little Miss Pusska looks, she's still a beast. We, however, are creatures of our minds. And right now, that's a great pity, Ianto, because I know what this little pest is and where it's from."

 

Ianto took his cue from Jack's expression and sat down beside him. Jack felt flattened by what the creature had done to him and hollow at the thought of what had arrived in Cardiff, but he carried on. "They live in the Shadow Dimension where drifting souls and broken dreams fall for an eternity. There's nothing there except for the sorrow and guilt of those that are lost. And in a place like that, new species are born – animals that feed on the only thing they have: the sins of the past. They drain the emotional energy from those who are lost. They're drawn to the strongest, more pure feelings – anger, hatred, revenge, guilt. They drain them all of their anger and pain and use it to grow and multiply, like cockroaches breeding amongst the stinking and corrupt. That's why that mouth-less thing could survive, and that's why it wanted to be near us. They're the ultimate survivors, because they always find new ways to live. And right now, they feed on guilt. When it touched me, I could feel all these things I've never thought about, rushing to the surface. They empty your subconscious, and they consume it."

 

Ianto was looking at Jack strangely. "But, that sounds quite brilliant, if it cleanses us."

 

Jack's face was stony. He could tell that this was going to be a problem. Everyone around him thought the best fix was a quick fix. And now these creatures were on earth, offering a solution to every part of the conscience that made people feel bad. How was he going to stop them spreading? "Maybe they don't have to invade at all, Ianto," he said. "They just need to exist and people will find them."

 

Ianto was on a different train of thought. "Every time we saw a signal on the beach, more must have arrived and been collected. That's ten, twelve nights, and everyone who touches them feels, well, happier than they have done in years." Then Jack sprang to his feet, and Ianto asked. "Are we going to find out where the other larvae are?"

 

"Quite the opposite," Jack told him. "One last conclusion from the experiment: it never once changed its technique of trying to touch us through the glass, even when it was completely sealed. Only the most basic of instincts. No evidence of learned behavior at all. This from a creature that can digest human sins. Very odd."

 

"You mean he was kind of stupid," suggested Ianto.

 

"Yeah. And I'm wondering what its parents look like." Jack smiled for the first time in a while. "Get your gear on, Ianto. We're going fishing."

 

***

 

Matt was stirring back into life. He sat up, still hung-over, head aching, acid in his throat, a bit tired. But as the vicar pulled him to his feet, Matt surveyed the empty church with gleaming eyes. He felt scrubbed clean of every foible and folly that had kept his feet chained to the dreary fundament. All the doubts and worries, the burning guilt for the things he'd done and things he hadn't got round to doing had gone. He was good. His life was great. He had no cause to lower his head. He was about to marry a wife that he quite liked and felt great about it. He'd face the world eye-to-eye, man-to-man, chest pumped and gut pulled in. Anything drab in his life and in his mind's eye was now only something to improve upon and upgrade. And he could change himself, change everything, be anyone. For the first time ever, Matt felt as if he could do anything.

 

"Wow! I feel like I could rule the world," Matt declared. "This is incredible. Like I'm able to see everything clearly again, like I've been carrying weights and suddenly I… I don't need to." He was pacing around the church. The scared shrew of ten minutes earlier had emerged a lion. "I'm getting married and I can't wait," he went on. "Thank you, vicar. And please, please, can we have the wedding here? Well, obviously, that's a bit too hard to arrange last minute. But we'll have to have another service here. I want Claire to feel like this. With God in your head, everything is so much easier. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

 

Hayward had to admit this wasn't how most people reacted to baptism. Matt was hugging the vicar tightly, his eyes aglow with the excitement of an angelic three year old – no malice, no fear, no age. "Will you tell your friends how you feel?" Hayward asked.

 

"God yes!"

 

Hayward smiled for the first time in many days. He knew he didn't have much time before Matt suffered like the others, but if he could only spread the word, then it would be worth it. He hugged Matt close to him. There were sounds of movement behind them, and they separated to peer into the fount. The water was aglow with activity. The larvae had doubled in size and were battering at the sides. It was an extraordinary sight, as if he'd dropped fresh meat into a pool of emaciated sharks. Hayward told himself that, after all these years of theology, he was the one to quantify sin and find its cure. If sin devoured the soul, then he had found something in nature to save humankind from their fate. This holy water would cleanse the people of the world and bring them all into his church.

 

***

 

Claire wasn't at home. "If I'm in the house, he just wants to be mothered, as if his hangover is some terrible illness, and he wants a nurse on permanent standby."

 

Gwen smiled. She found Claire wandering around the sales. It seemed like all of Cardiff was on sale at the moment. With Rhys in the queue to get coffee, they were in the top of a packed café, squeezed onto a sofa surrounded by shrieking teenagers. Claire was worried, not about Matt, but because a girl she'd never met needed to have a quiet word with her, and she thought she knew why. However, Claire wasn't a girl to let a situation get out of control. She leant even closer to Gwen. "Listen, love, I don't mind having a cuppa with you, but I won't lie to you. I don't like what you're doing. If you want to have a go, I'll deny everything. If you want to give me advice, then shove it. I know exactly what I'm doing."

 

"Sorry?" Gwen was confused. What on earth was Claire going on about? She'd been imagining some meek and mild wifey at home, horribly spurned by a cheating husband-to-be, not an upfront, speak her mind pontie girl with massive hair, massive boobs, and a massive gob on her. "Do you know why I'm here?"

 

"You're a copper, aren't you?" said Claire. "Probably a friend of Tony's. He drives a van sometimes. I knew he couldn't keep a secret. We ain't none of us angels, and it doesn't make me a bad person. So buy me a coffee, have a nice chat, and I'll see you at the wedding."

 

Claire was assuming she was about to be confronted about cheating on Matt. What a pair those two were, Gwen thought. Both as bad as the other. Still, at least they were having fun. "That's not what I want to talk about," she said.

 

"Good. Right answer."

 

Gwen tried again, "It's more serious than that."

 

Claire grabbed Gwen's hand hard. Too hard. "If you want to tell me something about Matt, then you better be very sure what you're doing."

 

Her face was granite. Gwen couldn't help think that this woman was considerably scarier than the alien they'd met. But, then again, no. Claire's eyes were scared. She didn't want to be told the truth about her fiancé. As much as she was shouting to Gwen that she didn't care, she really just couldn't handle being told what she already knew - not in public, not by a stranger, and certainly not by another woman. "Relax, Claire," Gwen smiled. "I'm not interested in any of that."

 

She was lying. Of course she was dying to know more, but she needed to find out without tipping Claire off balance – something Gwen assumed wouldn't take that much doing. "Claire," Gwen went on, "Matt's mum's been hurt, and nobody knows where Matt is." Just then, Rhys came back. "You'll have to sit on the back of the seat, love," Gwen told him.

 

"Aw, crackin," groaned Rhys.

 

Gwen turned back to Claire. "So, we need to find Matt. We think something may have happened to him."

 

Claire looked at Rhys. "He didn't stay at yours then?"

 

Rhys shook his head, ashamed. Claire looked him up and down, but didn't see fit to comment. "Well, if he doesn't know where he stayed, then I certainly don't. He'll be home soon. I used to think home by 4am was good. Now if he's back by midday, I know it was a quiet night."

 

Gwen was thinking on her feet. She didn't want to tell Claire that Matt's mum was dead. She needed her levelheaded and focused. "There must be somewhere Matt might go before going home."

 

"I don't know," Claire shrugged. "Pub?"

 

Gwen persevered in face of the heavy-handed sarcasm. "The thing is, Claire, we know he went to his mum's house first thing this morning, but he's not there now."

 

"What a mummy's boy!" laughed Claire. "That's not how you're meant to round off a stag-night, is it?"

 

Rhys chipped in, "Why would he go and see her?"

 

"I'm gasping for a fag," Claire said. "Can we go outside?"

 

The three of them walked out onto Queen's street, and Claire began to open up. "She was a bit touched, Matt's mum. Said her son had to get married in her church. 'The church heals all,' she kept saying. I wasn't having any of it. Bloody God-squad. Now I can't do anything right – flowers, bride's maid's dresses, ushers, table plan. She wants a hand in all of it. I told her, if she wants to pay for the wedding then we'll do it all her way. But it's my money and it's my day, and she can forget it. I've given her the table decorations to do."

 

Gwen gave her a reassuring smile. "Tell me about it. Got married last year."

 

"Right. Nice one." Claire was professionally unimpressed with everything Gwen said. "Here go you, Inspector Clouseau and his Pink Panther. I've got it. If she had her way, they both go to trevligall to change all the plans." Claire looked pleased with herself.

 

Gwen thanked her and headed off with Rhys down the street. "Rhys?"

 

"Yes, love?"

 

"If we ever start to turn out like that," she said. "Will you just, you know, wipe my memory, and we can start all over again."

 

"No problem, babes. So, we going to trevligall?"

 

"No way!" she said. Rhys looked at Gwen bemused. "Claire might have an attitude on her," Gwen told him, "But she gave away more than she realized. We, dear husband, are going to church."

 

***

 

"Achem."

 

Ianto cleared his throat and gave Jack a peeved look. He was looking at eleven and a half meters of gleaming black fiberglass and chrome; a triumph of design, precision engineering, and nautical speed testing. It was one of only three of its kind, built in an exclusive Black Sea shipyard. Embossed discreetly on its prow was the name, 'Torchwood III, Sea Queen.'

 

"And how long has this been, um, bobbing in the back of the family garage?" he asked.

 

"We're on the coast, Ianto. Always gotta have a boat. I'm surprised you haven't asked before, to be honest. Besides, all that worry about global warming, it would be irresponsible not to have one."

 

Ianto reeled off a list of specifications. "Triple four-eighty horsepower engines, four times two twenty-gallons fuel tanks, a torque that Lewis Hamilton would have trouble controlling."

 

"Well, it makes the journey out to Flatholm a bit more fun," said Jack.

 

Ianto didn't want to discuss what Gwen had uncovered out there, and Jack knew it. Some of the things they did in Torchwood deserved to remain silent. They were standing in a part of the Hub that Ianto had never seen on any records. Jack had led him through an unknown door in the vaults, and they'd trudged through half a mile of winding corridor. The slate under their feet had turned damp, and just when Ianto was ready to turn back, Jack had casually flung a door open and introduced Ianto to the Torchwood boathouse. Partly cared out of a cave and finished in slate and steel, it also contained a rowing boat, an aging jet ski, and what looked like a coracle. Jack followed Ianto's gaze. "Actually, that's the husk of an alien visitor we had back in 1976. Terribly hard to steer, and the hull attracts lobsters, which isn't as great as it sounds."

 

"And why isn't this in the records?" Ianto asked.

 

Jack put on his best mock outrage. "Something like this? Owen would have been out in it all the time. Got knows what Tosh would have done to the engines. You surprised me, sometimes, Ianto. Anyway, it didn't cost much. I helped someone out with an oil problem in the early days of the Emirates. You don't want to know what they disturbed down there. I call in my favor every now and then, so," Jack smiled playfully at Ianto, "Do you want to see how it handles?"

 

With a roar of engines and spray, the Sea Queen burst out from a tunnel in the mouth of a cave in the cliffs overlooking Cardiff Bay Barrage. Looking back, Ianto could see only the horizontal layers of the Penarth Cliffs. "Perception filter," Jack cheerfully confided in him as he waved to a bemused fisherman. "Building the Cardiff Barrage almost gave the game away. But I reckon this little place was suitable enough. Plus, you don't have to weave in and out of docking ships anymore." Reaching into a compartment, Jack took out two headpieces and clipped one to Ianto's ear. "Special naval Torchwood issue. We'll need it out here. Now hold this for me."

 

Jack opened up the throttle and the Sea Queen surged forward, slicing through the roll of the sea with casual ease. With the engine on full power, Ianto struggled to hold the boat on course, the bow bouncing up in front of him so high, it was difficult to see anything at all, let alone the buoys that marked the sandbanks of the Bristol Channel. "Ianto, hard a-port!" called Jack.

 

Ianto wracked his brains. That meant left. Ianto swung the wheel. He could hear Jack's voice in his ear, "Phew! Almost hit a dolphin. They all love racing this baby." Jack emerged from down below with a big smile. "I've synced the navigation computer with the Hub. Gwen's calculated the likely tidal flows of last night, so we'll follow that out to sea. And if there's so much as a flutter of wings from anything in the water, the sensors in the bow will pick it up and adjust our bearings. So, sailor boy, all we have to do is sit back."

 

"Can I not… you know," ventured Ianto.

 

Jack knew what Ianto wanted to do, and it wasn't every day you got to cruse past the assorted sailors and yachters out on a blowy day in the Bristol Channel. "If you want to stand by the wheel looking cool, that's okay with me," he grinned.

 

Ianto slipped on a pair of shades and stood proudly on the deck.

 

***

 

Gwen pulled Rhys' car out of the half-full car park at the Church of St Francis. "Busy day for them," she commented, looking around at the sensible, resale-value holding cars on display. She could have predicted exactly the people she'd find inside the church.

 

"I'm still not convinced this is where we're going to find Matt," Rhys told her.

 

"Like I've already said, Rhys," she said. "Bloke turns up at his religious mum's after shagging some moose, she's not going to take him to rearrange the begonias at the hotel. There's a place that she thinks she can set him straight, the church that heals, which is here. Plus, I don't have a clue where else he might be."

 

The heavy wooden door creaked open, and Gwen and Rhys were met with the sound of an electronic piano and aged voices singing. The church was big and very modern. There were incongruous touches, older features imported from the previous church, a heavy, carved stone column by the entrance and an imposing stone fount. The top of the fount was held in the air by a chunky metal chain and a system of ancient-looking levers.

 

The reverend must have been a good twenty years younger than the next person in his congregation. Handsome, in so far as men of the cloth can be. He had thick, black hair and a sharp look about him. As he spoke, his flock clearly listened.

 

Rhys whispered to Gwen, "Doesn't look like there's any aliens here, love."

 

There was something about the Reverend Hayward that unnerved Gwen. It wasn't what he was saying, or his quirky way of gesticulating as he talked. He was, after all, a man of God, prone to oddities. It was the energy and drive of his manner. He displayed none of the calm, complacency of the clergy. "Let's go," she decided.

 

They backed out the way they came. Once outside, Rhys headed for the car, chatting merrily to Gwen. "Hey, we used to play a game. How many bald heads are in the church? Two points for women. Would have cleaned up in there today."

 

"Oi," she called. "We're not done yet. They're all in there."

 

"Yeah," said Rhys. "No sign of Matt. Oh don't tell me you're going to interrupt his sermon, Gwen. There has to be a line somewhere."

 

"No, you Muppet," she smiled. "If they're all in there, why's the fire on in the vicarage?"

 

Rhys looked to the side of the church. Gwen had a point. The vicarage was a neat house with lovely sash windows, probably three good-sized bedrooms. Rhys reminded himself not to think like an estate agent and followed Gwen's lead.

 

"This is God's house, yeah, Rhys? So let's just let ourselves in."

 

Rhys tried not to comment on the beautiful tile-work in the hallway, or the original staircase, or the extensive grounds he could glimpse to the rear of the extended kitchen. He did, however, find it hard not to comment on Matt, sitting cheerfully on the reverend's stuffed sofa, sipping a cup of tea, and smiling beatifically.

 

"Rhys. Am I glad to see you, bud."

 

***

 

The Sea Queen was cut to idling, its heavy engines throbbing below deck. They were now almost two miles out from shore, the coast distant through a mist that seemed to lie across the whole sea. Following the tidal paths had lead Jack and Ianto a merry dance around the Bristol Channel. But now, out in the Irish Sea, the boat's sensor had picked up readings entirely new to the Torchwood computer; the same frequency as those Gwen had seen on the coastline, but massive. Unwieldy bursts of alien energy were coming through every few seconds, enough to send every sentient sea creature scurrying miles away, and enough to guide Jack and Ianto in. So, staring down into the lifeless sea, Jack and Ianto prepared to lower a remote control camera probe.

 

Ianto was tense. He'd never told Jack how he felt about the sea. It wasn't that it scared him; it was just so big and so murky. Who knew what could be underneath? It wasn't like the sea in Greece where he'd been snorkeling with his parents and sister. That was all colorful fish and sea urchins. But the Irish Sea seemed to speak of untold horrors. There was a roughness to it that gave the lie to the quiet and safety of the land. This wasn't a sea you could swim across covered in goose fat or even survive in for more than a few hours.

 

Jack pointed Ianto into the cabin. With all the screens fired up, it looked more like a NASA control room than a speedboat. And as the probe drifted down into the fathoms, surveillance screens showed a strange, aqueous world of greens and muddy browns. Seaweed strands curled round the lens and faded from view. Long dead oyster shells floating morbidly by, diffuse shapes that Ianto struggled to make out.

Jack called out as the probe fell, "Ten fathoms. Fifteen fathoms. Twenty fathoms. Twenty-five fathoms. Thirty fathoms."

 

On another screen, the contours of the seabed were being mapped out by Torchwood sonar; the hidden landscape of sandbank hills and rock-strewn valleys, dirty water with shafts of light breaking up the gloom.

 

"What's that?" Ianto peered over Jack's shoulder. In the middle of a smoothly curved expanse of sand, an oval hump rose out of the murk. The sonar couldn't make out any other details. "Can we make it go closer?" he asked Jack.

 

They switched to the real-time camera, fired up the water boosters, and the probe started to move slowly towards the strange shape in the sand. As their camera inched nearer, the shape became clearly visible, even through the cloudy water. Ianto thought he could make out a long pole fallen by the side of the mound, maybe from some ship. "My God, look at that!" he exclaimed.

 

In the corner of a frame, a shoal of tiny, silvery shrimp creatures shot into view, jinked and turned as one before disappearing back into a hole in the sandy mound. "I think we found our base," Jack told him. "But the probe can't get inside that thing. Looks like we're going diving."

 

***

 

Gwen could not believe what she was hearing. Overnight Matt had gone from one of Rhys' less appealing friends to a full-on religious zealot. He was overflowing with excitement at his discovery of the fountain of kindness and the joy of baptism. Trying very hard to sound level and objective, Gwen asked again, "This baptism, Matt. What did it involve?"

 

"Oh, you know. Reverend Hayward said a few words, head in water, all evil thoughts out, flashed in front of my mind, I cried a lot, then it was all gone. I think the holy water boiled them away."

 

"Really?"

 

"Oh, yes," he nodded. "Really more exciting than you think. Rhys, you absolutely have to do this!"

 

Gwen politely made her excuses and backed out of the room, firmly shutting the door on Matt's vain attempt to enthuse Rhys with the glories of God. She'd not been inside many vicarages, but had always imagined them to be, well, a bit posher than this one. The furniture was nice enough, but it was old and a bit faded, as if the house was destined to be stuck in a 1930s idea of good living.

 

Wandering to the kitchen, she saw a barely stocked fridge, quite a lot of sherry, and a big heap of coats. She thought it odd that Hayward had such an enormous pile and moved forward into the space beside the back door. There were at least twenty pairs of boots. Hayward was a man of the cloth, but his back porch was like the desk at Megabowl. To top it all, her eyes came to rest on a pair of sandy boots. When Gwen had joined the police, part of her had imagined she'd be spending her time searching for evidence - following traces of saliva, piecing together complex jigsaws. Instead, of course, the job was full of paperwork and protocol. Now, finally, she found herself staring at a pair of boots caked in sand and knowing exactly what they meant.

 

She yelled for Rhys and he came panting out of the front room. "What is it, love?"

 

"This man has been on the beach," she told him.

 

"Bloody hell, I thought you'd been attacked," Rhys said with some note of annoyance. "Lots of people go on the beach."

 

"Rhys, it's a lot simpler than one of your Andy McNabs. A dead body washes up on the beach where it looks like our holy friend has also been consorting, creatures come out of this dead body, the priest offers a baptism with holy water that has amazing properties, holy water, which, wait for it, actually boils away sin. Short version, aliens in the holy water, that priest is a bad'un. Now come on. We need to have a look in there."

 

Gwen was pointing at the garage at the back of the house. Rhys smiled. "And you wanted a bit of heavy-weight backup, incase of, you know, a rogue Dalek or something inside."

 

"Uh, not really," she said. "I need you to shout if you see the vicar coming. Cheers."

 

With Rhys on lookout duty, Gwen quietly tried the garage door. "Damn!"

 

It was locked. Built out of breezeblock, this was a windowless double garage, and, while she could cut the front door off, she didn't want to cause any more trouble than she already was. But hang on. If she was lucky… Reaching around inside the flowerpot by the door, she curled her fingers around something hard and metal – the key. Turning with a well-oiled clunk, the door swung open. The shaft of light from the door cut through the gloom to reveal a dark space with a mass of objects covered in black, plastic sheets.

 

Then the smell hit her. It made her throat close up and her eyes water. Preparing herself for the worst, Gwen tugged at the black, plastic sheeting. They were tied down. Gwen found a knife and slashed as far as she could reach and ripped the rest in two. Shining her torch under the sheets, she saw what she most feared. The whole garage was piled high with bodies, stacked three, maybe even four layers deep. The air was desiccated with their deathly presence - sad, dead eyes, limbs hanging lifeless, each piece of exposed flesh marked with cuts. People still in their Sunday best, dumped without dignity or ceremony, left as meat amongst the oil stains in someone's disused garage.

 

Gwen needed a moment. This was like something they reported on the news from the third world, something only a deranged dictator would order and carry out. How could Hayward look at that without his soul perishing before his very eyes? A figure stepped through the garage door and announced bluntly, "I've knocked Rhys out."

 

"What?" Gwen was panicked. She thought Matt was zombified with a religious beatitude, not some kind of deranged lunatic. Jesus, if she had a whole church full on her hands, she'd need backup. "We're here to help, Matt," she said calmly.

 

"You've seen the martyrs?" he asked.

 

Gwen was getting seriously worried. If Matt had been told that these people died for a cause, then maybe he'd be willing to do the same himself. Jack had warned that people who didn't mind dying were the most dangerous of all. "Where's Rhys?" she asked.

 

"They are men of sorrows," Matt continued, "Suffering like our Lord. I knocked Rhys out. He didn't believe."

 

"Oh, that idiot," Gwen couldn't believe Rhys had let himself be hit on the head by this God-squad freak.

 

"You've seen the men of sorrows," said Matt, "But you haven't seen the flock. They gave life when they died."

 

Gwen already knew what was going to come next, all those cuts inside those poor people. "Look up," Matt ordered.

 

Gwen looked up. The garage roof was teeming with life, thousands of creatures writhing. They squirmed away from her torchlight, recoiling from contact. Each of them identical to the strange, mouth-less creature they'd found inside Barnacle Bill, but bigger. They'd been growing in the roof of the vicar's garage, a seething mass of alien life, about to become a swarm.

 

Matt was standing beside her now. Calm, not a hint of malice in his voice, he said with some pride, "These are our holy messengers, Gwen, and tonight, they fly."

 

The Torchwood issue wetsuits were less high-tech than Ianto had hoped. He'd thought that for this sort of mission, Jack might have presented him with some kind of alien technology-based oxygen microfiltration system or super, lightweight, armored dry suit. But no. He was strapping on neoprene and diving equipment, even though Jack was adamant that it was best to be maneuverable underwater, Ianto liked the idea of being undefeatable underwater, even if it meant moving like a man in a nineteenth century diving suit.

To Ianto's great annoyance, Jack looked as immaculate as ever. "Hey Ianto," he called. We could put these on at home, rig something up and play hole-in-the-wall in the Hub."

 

"Not heard it called that before," Ianto responded.

 

"Ianto Jones, I am serious. I bet I could get through any shape you send my way."

 

Jack opened a metal case on the deck and offered Ianto a choice between tranquilizer harpoon or straight down the line, killing machine crossbow. Ianto was uncomfortable with this. They didn't even know what was down there, yet were tooled up like a pair of French Navy frogmen. "Do you really think we'll need this?" he asked.

 

"No idea."

 

"Let's just leave them behind then," Ianto suggested. "Go as we are. See what's there. If it's the source, which it might not be… Not enrage anyone."

 

"Anything," Jack reminded him, but he acquiesced and shut the weapons back in the case, which surprised Ianto, and in some ways surprised Jack as well. "I hope you're not trying to change me, Mr. Jones."

 

"No," Ianto replied. "I just want to be able to swim away faster and hold your hand if I get scared."

 

Jack checked Ianto's equipment over, put his mouthpiece on, and not so gently, shoved Ianto into the sea. He followed, and they descended into the gloom together. Their torches didn't go far into the water, heavy with sediment stirred up by recent storms, and Ianto relied on Jack to guide him against the current. Ianto was nervously looking around for creatures in the deep. Who was to say who was inside the mound?

 

He could tell Jack was more curious than anxious. Even though Jack would never admit it, Ianto knew that he loved finding creatures he'd only heard stories about in fifty-first century bars. It wasn't the kudos of discovering them, it was the sheer joy Jack had in being the man capable of putting the bad guys back in their box. Jack loved the thrill of keeping the world safe. It was a bug Ianto had caught from Jack, and one he feared would lead him into big trouble one day.

 

Their diving boots hit the seabed with a quiet thump. There was something metallic on the floor. Jack rubbed at the sand with his hand and saw that it was the remains of an old, rusted gun. The barrel was jammed shut, but Jack just knew they'd find most of the chambers empty. Someone had gone down fighting. Approaching the mound in the earth, they could see that this was no natural rock formation. Covered in limpets and long dead barnacle fish, it looked like a long, forgotten ship's hull.

 

Ianto hammered the edge, and the noise reverberated around the deep. The mound stretched out a good fifty meters to each side of them, gently curling. Jack had found what he was looking for – a section with no limpets, round and, Ianto supposed, just possibly the size of a porthole. Jack cleared away old seaweed and leant forward into the hole. It was a way in. Ianto could see Jack signaling to him with his hands. Since when did Jack know sign language, Ianto thought.

 

Sensing his incomprehension, Jack wrote on the mud at the side of the mound, "Go inside."

 

There was no chance Ianto was going in there. Jack gestured 'come on,' but Ianto remained solid.

 

Impatient, Jack yanked at the side of the porthole and a panel came away in his hand. Ianto's blood turned cold. Released from its watery confinement, a dead corpse was rolling out of the ship's hull, eyes wide open and face frozen in a moment of ancient, preserved horror. Jack caught the body in a gruesome embrace, pushing it back towards the hull, but already streaming around them were hundreds of silver aliens, clouds circling like curious piranhas.

 

Jack grabbed Ianto's hand, and instead of pulling him up to safety, he yanked him into the ghostly ship's hull. Inside, it was dark, but the water was ominously active. They cracked open light sticks and let them float into the crevices. What they saw would remain with Ianto for a very, very long time. All around the edges of the tank were bodies, dressed like the man they'd found on the beach. Trapped inside air bubbles, the bodies hadn't decayed and were being used as breeding grounds for the larvae, but far worse than that was just below them. As the light stick sank, they revealed an expanse far larger than the hull indicated. And from bow to stern, a single, white alien body filled every inch of the upturned ship, its long mandibles floating in the water.

 

It turned massive opaque eyes to look at Ianto and Jack. Ianto grabbed out at a beam to stop himself tumbling down. It snapped off and floated down onto the beast below, disappearing inside its rolls of glutinous skin. If anything, Jack was more interested than before. He peered down at the creature like he was Darwin taking his first steps on the Galapagos. He could see that the body was being serviced by hundreds of small creatures, tending it like a queen bee. And as the light sticks hit the body, these smaller creatures acted like they were wounded, zooming out of their way, so the sticks left little circles on the alien's flesh.

 

Then the creatures began to rise. It was as if a cloud was rushing up at their feet, a fearsome, swirling mass of enmity and hunger moving fast through the water. Ianto signaled, 'up,' and Jack nodded in approval. Turning around as they swam out, Jack pressed a button on his wrist strap, lighting up the whole hull. The swarm darted out of the shafts of light, buying them vital seconds as they ascended to the surface.

 

Breaking into the open, they hauled themselves along the boat and scuttled up the ladder as fast as they could. Ianto yanked off his oxygen mask, thinking how right he'd been to be scared of what lay beneath the water.

 

Jack sat down beside Ianto. "Ya know, I wish I'd brought a camera with me," Jack said. "That was quite some sight. An alien coming through the Rift, developing its very own ecosystem. Take a boat down, let your young feed off its sailors, then live inside the boat, sending your children out into the world."

 

"It was so hideous," moaned Ianto.

 

"Come on, Ianto," Jack chided. "No need to be unkind. It's just an ugly duckling. Some kind of pupae, like a queen bee, waiting to emerge as one. The most important thing is, how do we get rid of it?"

 

"What did you do in there with the light?" Ianto asked.

 

"They don't appear to be able to tolerate a lot of light," reasoned Jack. "Maybe it's because they've always lived in the dark. Or maybe their bodies can't take it. No need to be scared, Mr. Deep-sea Diver. As long as they don't touch you, they can't do a thing. And we're clean on that front. Besides, what sins have you got for them to feed off?"

 

Ianto chose not to answer that.

 

***

 

Gwen didn't feel at all guilty about knocking Matt out with the butt of her gun. After all, he'd done the same to her husband. Plus, he'd been annoying her. The current spiritual leader of the parish of St. Francis stood before her with an unapologetic look that managed to combine smugness, condescension, and effortless moral superiority. Gwen felt sick in the pit of her stomach. This wasn't someone who'd blundered into contact with an alien object, or a creature acting out of instinct and stupidity. This reverend was playing on the hopes and beliefs of innocent people and turning them into homes for alien parasites that sucked their souls dry.

 

"You must learn to have hope, young lady." Hayward was still in his purple chasuble, calm and elated after his sermon. "You should have seen their faces at baptism today. They have come to me again and again for this panacea. They bring their friends, their loved ones. Everyone wants to let God in. It's the best thing that's ever happened. Believe me, what I am doing is right."

 

Gwen was sickened to her heart.

 

"I know that this is the right thing," Hayward continued. "The young man who saw me had so much unease. Now he is sure of his path. This terrible stage will not last forever. The men of sorrows is the first phase, our very own Old Testament of suffering, without which, there will be no good. Once the flock flies, the deaths will cease, and they will feed off all of our sin. Everyone shall live in harmony."

 

Gwen clouded over and punched Hayward full in the face. She turned on her comms. "Gwen to Jack. I need you at the Church of St. Francis."

 

Jack explained they were just finishing their diving trip adding, "We've got a new friend for you to meet. Haven't worked out a name yet."

 

"Jabba the Slug?" Ianto offered up.

 

"Anyway, Gwen," continued Jack, "If we can contain this underwater thing, we can stop any more of them getting out."

 

Gwen didn't know how to break the news to Jack. "Problem is, there's a lot more of them than we thought, and … I think they're ready to start flying."

 

There was a pause, then Jack's voice came through again, "You've probably worked out they're afraid of light by now."

 

"Oh, yeah. Hours ago," Gwen lied smoothly. "So is this what we do? Stop the sun setting over Cardiff while we work out how to stop them?"

 

"Could work," replied Jack. "What we do is, you stay at that church and stop any of those aliens getting out. We're coming for you."

 

"Uh, Jack," Gwen said, "Now's probably a good time to tell you there's a severely assaulted member of the clergy. Head injury. Assaulted by me, by the…"

It was exactly at that moment that Gwen had her feet taken away from underneath her, and she saw a bloodied, but very much awake Reverend Hayward smack her over the head with his communion chalice.

 

***

 

Gwen woke up to find herself strapped to Rhys, somewhere dark. Someone else moaned in the dark. Matt. She cursed herself for being so stupid. Of all the things, to let a bloody vicar get one over her and now end up in… well, she couldn't tell where exactly. She nudged Rhys awake. His eye was swollen and his lip cracked. Hayward hadn't tied her hands very tightly, and, with a bit of painful wriggling, Gwen got one free. Stretching out, she could feel stone on one side, stone on the other. She reached up. More stone. This wasn't rough, though. It was smooth, polished. "Oh my God," she breathed, realizing where they were. "Rhys, I want you to stay calm. We've been put in a tomb, but don't worry because Jack is on his way." It was then she heard the chittering of insect legs rubbing together, somewhere above her head. "Get me out of here!" she screamed.

 

The sound echoed around her. It seemed unlikely that any help was forthcoming.

 

***

 

Standing in his garage, the Reverend Hayward gazed in wonder at the transformation taking place all around him. Locust-like creatures were literally splitting out of the skins and emerging, carbon copies of their shape but with wings. The garage was soon filled with a thrum as the creatures circled, little miracles of evolution darting through the air. Stepping out, he hauled the door wide open behind him. The night was dark and cool, a low moon sending shadows chasing across his graveyard. The creatures began to swoop out of his garage – hundreds, thousands of them, flying as one, swarming from side to side in the night sky. Tonight, his creatures were going to do him proud, and he would be there to tell the world that God was in the air.

 

***

 

Inside the tomb, Rhys was freaking out. "Gwen, Gwen! Are they going to get inside me?"

 

"I don't know, Rhys," she said. "They seem to thrive on bad thoughts. You keep yours clean!"

 

But all Rhys could think about was all the things he was ashamed of. "Gwen, shall I tell you everything out loud now? Then you can forgive me and maybe they can't feed on them."

 

Gwen was right in his face, "Rhys, you are a good person. You married me. Now pull yourself together. These creatures have already been through the cycle. We don't know what they want. For God sake, don't start confessing to me."

 

Then one of the creatures fell on Gwen. She felt a burden on her heart like never before – a black feeling inside dragging her inwards. She felt as if she was going to implode on herself. They weren't taking her pain away, they were giving it to her, full force. No mercy, like a warm and fuzzy drunkenness had left her mind. All the things she usually explained away to herself now stood in front of her plainly and coldly, the unvarnished truth of her life: cheating on Rhys, how good it had felt with Owen, not caring that Tosh liked Owen, the wedding day she'd almost ruined, jealous of Ianto. Oh God, so jealous of Ianto. And Rhys… poor Rhys, only wanting a normal life, and she couldn't tell if she wanted to be with him because he made her feel safe. But she wasn't normal. She wasn't safe. She was special. Jack had seen it. And she wanted to be with Jack, far away in another time, running away from all of this. But she never would. No, never, never, never!

 

She opened her teary eyes. Rhys loomed over her in the dark. He had something squelchy and sticky in his hands. "Break quite easily, these," he said. "Soft, really. You okay, love? Can't feel any blood."

 

Gwen was far from okay. Had that been real? Or was it the alien feeding on her mind? Putting her hand across her face, she could feel where its legs had touched her cheek, a sticky residue from its mandibles brushing her skin. Now, the most important thing was to get out of there. "Rhys, these places aren't designed to keep people in. If your hands are free, then let's get out of here."

 

Crawling down to avoid the chittering bugs on the roof, they reached the end and shoved and kicked at the side of the tomb until it began to move. At first, only a sliver, then opening fully. As Rhys dragged Matt out, Gwen turned back. "Rhys, take Matt. Get him somewhere safe. I'll call you. Soon as it's safe, I'll call you."

 

She moved to run, then stopped and stared up in dismay. Silhouetted against the moon, the church steeple was ringed with thousands of insects, giving it the shape of a gothic nightmare, like a thousand gargoyles had come alive, set to rampage across the city.

 

And with tears of joy beading on his cheeks, the Reverend Hayward was celebrating, praying that might have success on their mission across the city.

 

***

 

The sun was sinking on the horizon as Jack and Ianto turned the Sea Queen around and headed back towards Cardiff Bay. Ianto was in full war mode. "Why don't we just blow the creature up?"

 

"Unfortunately," said Jack, "We can't risk leaving a trace of it. If they learned to survive in the Shadow Dimension, we don't know what it might be able to do. It's been weak, hidden down in the sea. But for all we know, it's able to replicate itself from the tiniest cell. The pupae could grow again. We've got to capture it."

 

They tried Gwen again, but her comms were still down. Before they dreamt of dealing with the source, they needed to stop the flock descending on Cardiff.

 

Jack and Ianto pulled straight up to the marina and were surprised to see Gwen at the quayside. Gwen pointed above Jack's head and called out, "The swarm!"

 

Jack stared back across the bay. A giant cloud was rising above Penarth. The shape twisted and turned as it headed across the water, diving low, then high, forming elaborate shapes in the sky like locusts above a heavy crop. They were ready. The sky thickened around them, and the noise of thousands of tiny wings drowned the sounds of Friday night. "Hit the deck!" Jack yelled.

 

The cloud passed overhead. The swarm was heading for juicier pickings on the city streets.

 

***

 

Not unduly worried by Matt's disappearance, Claire was staring into her wardrobe and choosing her hen-night outfit. When her bell went, she was still in her dressing gown and was engulfed by her best mates rushing past her. Esyllt brandished a tiny nurse's outfit in her hand. "Get it on!" she shrieked excitedly. "I'm opening up the fizzy stuff, so hurry up."

 

Half and hour later, Claire and Co. were striding down the street, mini vodka bottles tucked into handbags and winking at the doormen as they stumbled into their first pub of the night. Heading out of habit to the heaters and benches arranged at the back for the smokers, the girls saw a strange sight. The underside of the canopy was covered with what looked like see-through dragonflies.

 

"Oh, look at that." Esyllt picked one up, marveling at its colors. "Oh, makes me feel dead funny. Kind of uh…" and Esyllt was truly lost for words. Something was being stripped from her as the little dragonfly tapped into her mind and drained it. She leant forward and told the group. "You know Kian? The one with the KN? Well, I think he's married because he only sees me on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we never go back to his."

 

"Steady on," Claire said. "He's actually married?"

 

"Yeah, so I peeked in his wallet. Two kids. But the dinner cost him eighty quid so, you know. And it doesn't matter, though, does it? As long as I feel okay about it. And I wasn't sure I did, but now I do. I really do. It's brilliant! I can't tell you how great it is!"

 

On the other side of the bar, a hardened boozer stood up and made to leave. As his friends called him back, he told them, "Just don't feel like it tonight."

 

Claire was bemused. He'd been a feature in the Wolf Bar since she was seventeen. Something was very wrong tonight. Stepping outside, Claire was surprised to see the uptight woman who'd asked her about Matt charging down the street with two good-looking men. Gwen saw her and screamed at her to go inside and stay inside. There was something commanding about her that made Claire retreat, but it was too late.

 

***

 

Gwen could see that the swarm of insects was being treated like an amusing natural history sideshow. As the tiny creatures gathered along trees and lampposts, they weren't scaring people away. They were attracting them. Looking in dismay around the streets, Gwen wasn't going to give up. "Jack, can't we, I don't know, create a shower of lights?"

 

Jack shook his head grimly. "We'd better hope your vicar is right."

 

Then the creatures struck. It was an attack without violence and without fear. Every single alien landed for a few seconds on someone in the city center and fed. Watching in the streets, Gwen saw the joy on people's faces as the swarm moved through gaggles of tight-shirted men and short-skirted women. Pubs were briefly filled with the craziest of swarms, touching faces, hair, arms, legs, then disappearing out again into the night. In minutes, it was over. The swarm circled together, gathering its forces together, now bloated and woozy with feeding. They moved over the city as one until all the insects were together. The cloud, bigger than before, dived and swarmed as one out towards the sea.

 

Gwen called a young girl over and demanded to know where the insect had landed, but the girl's arm had no marks, no holes. As Gwen sent her back to her friends, she said to Jack, "Maybe that was safe."

 

Ianto was still following the swarm. "Where are they going?"

 

Jack was grim. "They're going back to mommy. And Gwen, look around you."

 

All around them, the city was descending into chaos. Fistfights tumbled out into the street, guilt-free fury unleashed, no one caring for anyone else's pain. It was like a safety switch had been turned off. Nobody could remember ever feeling bad, and they were doing everything they'd been told they couldn't do.

 

***

 

On the other side of town, outside Cardiff's largest club, the Reverend Hayward stood in dreadful contemplation. He was a lonely figure. He'd arrived laden with fliers pronouncing God's munificence, but his dreams of preaching to the mollified masses were in tatters. All around him, drunken men and women were unleashed from the bounds of conscience, and far from being beautiful; it was the foulest thing he'd ever seen.

 

The fliers littered the ground at his feet as a sprawling mass of sin unfolded in front of him. Hayward turned his back on the madness and walked along the chaotic streets strewn with human carnage. Police vans blared in the streets, pubs were shutting up, and bouncers were hauling furtive bodies into the night. Hayward thought of the people he had let die so that these creatures could be born; the good believers he had made carrions so that a new flock could arise. Those people who wanted hope and life and love – he'd given them death.

 

As he thought, an unassailable disappointment grew in him. Hayward walked and walked. When he reached the sea, he clutched his crucifix in his hand and kept on walking. Water filled his shoes, pulled his vestments down, the weight not nearly a match for the dark compulsion that drove him onwards. And when the water reached his mouth, he swallowed and let the heaviness inside him drag him down.

 

Jack's mind was in overdrive. He was back at the helm of the Sea Queen, and they were moving at speed through the dark waters. Ahead of them the swarm ducked and swooped along the Bristol Channel, heading for their queen. Pushing the boat to its limit, Jack kept pace with the living cloud of insects, Gwen and Ianto ducking into the cabin as the spray soaked the deck. They heard the engine ease and emerged to see the swarm of insects swarming around a patch of the sea. "They've come home," Jack said. "And if I were you, I'd keep an eye on the sonar."

 

The display showed a vast disturbance in the deep. The creature was awake and heading for the surface. Tense, Jack, Ianto, and Gwen armed the guns on the speedboat and waited.

 

First the waves swelled, then in a mass of white spray and steam, the creature broke the surface, emerging on the moonlit water like a Kraken from the deep. Outside of the sunken ship, the creature looked even more massive as it reared out of the water, incandescent in the silvery light. All around it, its children buzzed, swooping down and settling on its back until it was covered in tiny, chittering dragonfly creatures. Torchwood stared in awe and wonder and the creatures visibly diminished, as all they had absorbed from the people of Cardiff fed into the beast and it grew bigger yet. In open air for the first time in decades, the creature dwarfed their boat and made the waves around it look like ripples.

 

"Wow," Gwen said. "Maybe the vicar was right. They didn't need anymore hosts, they just needed to feed."

 

Jack had noticed something else. "They're falling off into the water."

 

This time when they hit the surface, they stayed there, rising up and down with the swell, quite dead. Ianto turned to Gwen, "Looks like its more a callous mother than I thought. They feed it, and they die."

 

Gwen wasn't reassured. "But just look at it!"

 

She was right. The monster was gaining in size, sending waves tumbling around it as it grew and grew. Ianto was busy at the controls turning on every light on the boat. Soon it was lit up like a shrimp catcher, the sea around it bathed in a neon glow. The creature barely noticed. Like its children before it, the skin on its back was splitting, and a new stage of its life was beginning. It would emerge winged and armed.

 

Jack broke his silence, "Ianto, I'm going to need you to kill the engines and open the locks on the reserve fuel tanks. Oh, and keep a hold on me."

 

Gwen cut him off, "I'm ready to open fire."

 

"I don't think a tank destroyer would have much luck against that, and we've only got normal rounds."

 

Looking at the beast's rolling mounds of flesh, Gwen could see Jack's point. Jack moved to the side of the boat, scanning the side of the hull. Seeing what he wanted, he wrapped a rope around his waist and tied the other end to the ship's railings. Without a word, he dropped off the side of the boat. Gwen yelled out after him, "Jack! Where are you going?"

 

Leaning over the edge, they could see Jack, a claw hammer in hand, about to strike the fiberglass skin of the boat's hull. "Ianto!" he bellowed. "Keep the fuel pressure high!"

 

With mighty blows, Jack pounded the hull, first denting, then splitting the tough fiberglass side. Holding the hammer between his teeth, he leant in and tore a fuel line out through the jagged hole. Hit with the horrible realization of what he was about to do, Gwen shouted down at him again, "Jack, it's getting nearer."

 

The creature was meters away from the boat now, its transformation almost complete. If it took off, there'd be no way they could ever destroy it. Jack yelled, "That's good!"

 

He was focusing on splitting the fuel line with the hammerhead. He had only a few seconds before the creature reached him. Every strike was vital. Just as it was upon him, he tore through the fuel line, and heavy diesel sprayed out over him, making the creature hesitate. Ianto switched all the lights on the boat off. "For this to work, we'll have to be near."

 

Gallon after gallon pumped out of the speedboat's fuel tanks. Ianto switched the surge tank to the fuel line. Everything they had was going to be pumped into the sea around the creature. Holding the line in his hands, Jack was swinging freely off the boat, aiming the high-pressure jet directly at the beast. Its new wings were still incased, and it struggled to break free and fly, sending waves of oily water cascading around it as it thrashed and strained.

 

"Are you thinking the same as me?" Ianto asked Gwen. "If we ignite that, we all go up in flames."

 

Gwen ignored Ianto. "Bring the boat nearer," she commanded.

 

The beast was so close; they could see every quiver and movement as it rolled in the sea swell, coated with diesel, the sea around it reflecting oily rainbows of light. The fuel line slowed to a drizzle. The tanks were now empty. They were in the middle of the sea with an alien, an unpowered speedboat, and six hundred gallons of diesel.

 

Gwen hauled Jack up to the deck. "Anyone got a light?" he asked. They both hesitated. Jack pointed to the bow. "Lifeboat. Takes twelve seconds to launch. You go. I'll stay here."

 

But Gwen and Ianto weren't going anywhere. "We need to make sure," Gwen said.

 

Ianto handed out flare guns from the emergency box by the steering wheel, and as one, they fired the burning lights into the oil slick.

 

BANG!

 

The explosion threw them backwards onto the deck, heat scorching their faces. The stern was entirely destroyed in the blast, and they could see nothing beyond but thick, black smoke. The first to his feet, Jack hauled Gwen and Ianto along the burning deck. Reaching the bow, Jack unbuckled the life craft. They dived inside as it inflated and slid off the boat, driven away by the heat into the dark night.

 

Through the fog, they heard an unearthly noise. As its flesh met the light and heat of the fire, the creature perished and burned, a hideous smell of fat mixing with burning diesel on the night air. Jack handed out oars. "Let's go back," he told them.

 

The Sea Queen was taking on water, its stern low in the sea. And skirting around the flames, Jack, Gwen, and Ianto could see the burning flesh of the alien floating dead in the water. "Was it the heat or the light?" Gwen asked.

 

"I'm not sure," said Jack. "Never did like the smell of calamari though. We should get out of here."

 

As they pulled away from the wreckage of the speedboat and the charred remains of the alien, Gwen realized she was about to spend a night floating in a lifeboat with Jack and Ianto. Not her idea of a great Friday night.

 

"Jack," said Ianto, "Did you notice how Gwen fired her flare just like a girl?"

 

"What?" Gwen was outraged.

 

"At least it actually hit," laughed Jack.

 

***

 

Back in the Hub, Ianto finished running a scanner over Matt's inert body. Calling Gwen down, he started to explain, "Very sensitive creatures. A little UV light treatment, and they all shrivel up. Removing them isn't going to be pretty. He'll have to tell people he had chicken pox, but he should recover."

 

The main door rolled back, and Jack came in, cheerfully throwing a file of paperwork into the bin. "Just seen the chief of police. Lovely man. Wears those butt-lifting pants though. Very undignified. Cardiff seems to have recovered. Blamed it all on the bank holiday. Fiddled a few figures to keep the bigwigs happy. The bodies in the church are a bit harder to explain. Lots of upset families, etc. Now they found the Reverend Hayward's body, they can pin it all on him. Serial killing vicar."

 

"Well, it's not far off the truth," Gwen added.

 

Jack signaled for Ianto to give them some space and sat down on the sofa along side Gwen. "Just so you know, the thoughts people had when they were touched by that thing weren't necessarily theirs. Those creatures were like little emotional lightning conductors, drawing in any kind of sin they could find."

 

Gwen wasn't ready to open up to Jack about this. Right now, she wanted to be home with Rhys. "Oh, that's good to know."

 

"Good. Glad you know it. Just in case… Who can say? You might meet someone who was worried by what they felt."

 

"Right," Gwen nodded. "Gotcha."

 

Jack smiled as Gwen left the Hub. He'd trust the world to that woman.

 

"Ianto Jones, have we done enough work for today!"

 

***

 

Back in the flat, Gwen was curled around Rhys on the sofa. "You know, Gwen, all this makes me wonder if we should stay here. All the memories we have of bad things in this flat. Wouldn't it be, you know, better if we had somewhere bigger?"

 

"Rhys Williams, are you trying to use this as and excuse to get me to agree to buy a bigger house?"

 

"Hey, big-shot like you, probably get some kind of bonus for doing this." Rhys was looking at Gwen hopefully.

 

She shook her head. "No."

 

"Oh, shame," he said. "Well, anyway, you know, a nice place with a garden, bit of outdoor space so I could do a barbeque; sausages, shrimps, you know?"

 

Gwen loved her nights in with Rhys. Saving the Matts of this world made the hours feel a bit trying at times.

 

***

 

Back in the Hub, Ianto was getting dressed, and trying to explain to Jack that he wouldn't mind if they spent the nights somewhere a bit nicer for once. Somewhere with a view, without the constant beep of Rift monitors and Weevils only a few meters from them.

 

"Doesn't that make it all the more exciting though?" asked Jack.

 

Ianto thought for a second. "No, quite sure it doesn't. A view might though."

 

"What, you mean a nice sea view from a little place overlooking the ocean? Captain Jack there to save you from the sea monsters that come out at night?"

 

Ianto nodded. "Yes, that's absolutely right. Now, are you going to pretend to fall asleep this time, or just pace around annoying me like most nights?"

 

Jack didn't answer. He was going to pay a visit to St. Francis later that night and burn it to the ground.

 

END

 

Ecrit par chrismaz66 
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