Jack checked the flyer to be sure he had the right address. “St Alban’s Church, please knock loudly.” He hadn’t brought the team, for right now this was just a scouting expedition. “Found yourself in Cardiff? Confused by alien surroundings? Come and talk” the flyer read — in English and also a universal print language used on most space stations. It had been placed to look like decoration, but it was still readable. He just wanted to be sure this wasn’t something Torchwood needed to get involved in.
Jack knocked, loudly.
The door was opened shortly by a young woman, who eyed him carefully. “Can I help you?” she asked, tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear.
Holding up the flyer, Jack smiled his trademark Harkness grin. “Saw the flyer. Am I late?”
She shook her head, loosening the errant lock. “No, we haven’t started yet.” She stepped back from the door, letting him just inside.
A voice came from behind her. “He’s got a gun.” The speaker sounded like a teenaged boy, although his hood was pulled so far over his face it was hard to be sure. The young woman frowned. “We don’t allow weapons. You’ll have to hand it over until the meeting’s over.”
Jack wasn’t about to part with his service pistol, especially now that he’d noticed someone — the woman? — probing the edges of his mind. She wouldn’t get much from that, what with the psychic training emphasized by both the Time Agency and Torchwood. It didn’t seem to bother her very much, she just held out her hand for the gun. “You can just give me the ammunition out, if it makes you feel safer. But we’d rather you leave the gun,” she said. That was alright, he always carried extra bullets with him. He emptied the chambers and handed the shells over, with another mega-watt smile. Finally, a response. She smiled back.
“We should start,” said the hooded person, sullenly. Got to be a teenager.
“You’re right. Door locked?” The hood bobbed. “Good. C’mon, then.”
Down a flight of stairs and a narrow corridor, Jack followed the hood, with the young woman bringing up the rear. As they walked he analyzed the location for possible escape routes, hiding places, strategic defense points, etc. Old habits, hardly dead.
The hood plowed through the door at the end, but Jack paused for just a moment in the doorway. It was not exactly the gathering one would expect to find in the basement of the parish hall of a church in Cardiff. There were nearly thirty individuals in the room, some human, some not, and some he wasn’t sure about.
In the corner, two furry blue bowling balls on legs were chatting away, sipping milk out of plastic cups. Nearby, a Foamasi was leaning against the wall, apparently listening to a humanoid of some kind who was talking animatedly with one hand while the other poured coffee into various mugs. Most of the others in the room were already seated on the metal folding chairs, arranged in an oval in the centre of the room. Jack made note of the species he could recognize, and tried not to do a double take at the sight of a Draconian in a suit making small talk with a young man in a uniform from the early 19th century and a Tatros.
The young woman stepped past him and to the front of the room. “If everyone could take their seats? I know we’re all very eager to get to the end of the meeting, as Mrs. Sloane has brought a variety of cakes, so I’ll try and make it short.”
There was a general flurry of movement as people made their way to seats or jumped up for a touch more tea. Jack sat next to a pretty young thing who was looking about her wide-eyed. The teenager from upstairs sat down on his right, and pushed back his hood, revealing a face half tanned skin, half metal. Cyborg of some kind, but not a cyberman. Jack debated flirting with the blonde on his left, but the meeting started.
It was tedious stuff, basic neighborhood watch or town council stuff, except for the fact that this meeting seemed to be for all of Cardiff and the neighborhood was an odd mix of aliens and people out of their time. There were donations needed for the non-humanoids who couldn’t work. A collection was being taken up for one Peter Califer, who’d apparently broken both his right arms running from a Weevil, which they called a “sewer ape,” and could people also offer food or child care, since he and his wife had three small children? Someone was expecting, volunteers need for this, and that. Jack tuned it out, watching the crowd, until he heard the word “Torchwood”.
The woman leading the meeting looked a little exasperated. “Right, I know we all worry about Torchwood — what they want, will they dissect me, can they get me home? We don’t have answers but it’s been the group wisdom to steer clear. In light of that, I want to remind you that if you witness a crime being committed by any displaced person, don’t try to call Torchwood! Just call the police. IF they figure out it’s ‘alien’, they’ll pass it on to them. It’s better for all of us if we just fly under their radar.” She waved off the insistent harrumphs of one of the women refilling a coffee. “Yes, yes, of course if it’s someone’s child that you know from the meetings, take them home to their parents. We don’t want to break up families, we just want to be safe in our city.”
The crowd rumbled, apparently agreeing with this estimation of Torchwood’s danger. “Okay, just a few more announcements, I promise,” said the young woman, raising her voice to be heard. “Jay” - she pointed to the Draconian - “is still running his book club, see him later for more information. Those of you who are more recently arrived, and some of the old timers, will be happy to know that Marc is running his popular culture reference film fest again. The first few are going to be classics film noir, Bogart and Astaire, and he says he might move on to Harrison Ford after that. For those of you who don’t know, Marc screens the film and afterwards there’s Q and A and general discussion of the background as well as how people in Cardiff might mention the film. It’s fun! See him for more info.”
She looked around. “I think that’s it? Yes? Good! Cake!” People started to move, including the girl next to Jack, who flew over to the young soldier sitting next to the Draconian. Maybe later, thought Jack, and looked up to find the woman who’d run the meeting standing in front of him. “Sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I always worry I’m going to forget something. I’m Beatrice, just call me Bea.” She held out her hand.
Jack stood and took her hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jack.”
“I hope you weren’t too lost. We stopped going around and introducing ourselves — it felt too much like Aliens Anonymous or something.” She laughed. “I’m from the 28th century, but I’ve been here about ten years, so if you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask.”
“Great,” he replied, with mega-watt smile. “So, you said something about cake?”
She nodded. “Mrs. Shaw is amazing. She says she’s just from the 1880s, but I swear she must be from the planet of baking gods. Not only is her Black Forest cake amazing, but she’s gone through the trouble of trying to approximate recipes from other planets. Never thought someone from the 19th century would be so easy going about the existence of strange beasties from outer space.” The smell of chocolate wafted towards them. “C’mon, we’d best move if we want a piece!” Bea headed in the direction of the growing crowd of aliens and humans, and Jack followed. Somewhere over his shoulder, two men were discussing the difference in transportation in the 16th and 32nd centuries.
It seemed like a peaceful group, but it couldn’t hurt to keep an eye on them, Jack decided after the second bite of Black Forest cake. He would get information about that film group, as well. It was work, really, and had nothing to do with his love of black and white movies, or the fact that Marc was a singularly good looking young man. Jack grinned, and let himself be drawn into a discussion about the merits of nuclear versus hydrogen rockets in trans-solar transport.