“We’re chasing ghosts, Esther.” Rex’s frown deepened as he peered over her shoulder. “In fact, we’re chasing ours. Have to say I find that creepy.”
“‘Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.’” Esther’s eyes stayed focussed on the screen. “Fairly sure I read that in a training manual someplace.”
Rex snorted. “Last time I checked, reconnaissance was what you aimed at other people. Two weeks ago, Torchwood was other people. Now, it’s us. And we’ve both seen that the Internet turns up zip on World War Two and his posse. It’s not just that we’re ego-surfing, Esther. We’re ego-surfing without a board.”
“Maybe not entirely...”
“You’ve got something?”
“Kinda. What we thought about ‘Torchwood’ having no trace on the Net? Turns out it’s not altogether true. If you look hard enough, and smart enough, you find stuff.” Esther drummed her fingers on the desk. “But it isn’t stuff that makes a lot of sense.”
“OK. “ Esther bent again over her keyboard. “Here’s a hidden file I uncovered with a Torchwood designation.”
“Where was it hidden?”
“On the Company’s own servers. From what I can gather, no one at the Company ever put it there.”
“Jeez. What does it say?”
“It’s audio.” Esther pointed and clicked. “Take a listen for yourself.”
Rex started, thrusting pain afresh through his injured chest, as lush orchestration unfolded into the room.
“Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me. Il nome mio nessun saprà. No, no...”
“I know that. Soccer World Cup, must be twenty years ago. An Italian guy the size of a house used to sing it. Comes from an opera.”
“Puccini’s Turandot, to be exact. Nessun dorma. Calaf sings that the princess will not discover his name before daybreak. Weird, huh?”
“Someone hacks the Company just to let the fat man sing, and calls it ‘Torchwood’.” Rex sighed. “Turns out this world was always crazy, Esther. We bozos just never noticed.”
“Want me to keep looking into this? I still have a couple of other leads to try.”
“Go to it.” Rex glanced out of the window. Jack and Gwen were walking up the drive, heads bent towards each other’s in conversation. “If we have to be a part of this circus, I want to know as much as we can about the clowns.”
“Vesti la giubba, then.”
“Never mind.” Esther turned back to her screen. “Just thinking out loud.”
Sometimes it is exacted as a punishment. Vidi e conobbi l'ombra di colui che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto. There is also the -, the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it. But strength, too, can arise from the ablation. Consider the legend of the Lonely God, who stole his own name from the Universe, so its power could never be used against him.
Distinguish the modes of disappearance. When the Romans took the faces of their reviled dead, they were careful to leave a blank behind – the scar tissue of memory. The shape of the forgotten was remembered.
This is not the only way.
You stand alone, in the middle of a room, with a statue of a weeping angel at one end. You look away. When you look back, the statue has not moved.
What is at the other end of the room?
“Yeah. Dante, this time. ‘I saw and recognized the shade of him who made, through cowardice, the great refusal.’ One of the damned in the Inferno. No one knows for sure who it was meant to be.”
“This is what comes of Torchwood, Esther. I’m in serious danger of contracting culture.” Rex examined the expression on the young analyst’s face. “This is getting to you, isn’t it?”
Esther swallowed and nodded. “A little. There’s a pattern to all these fragments, Rex. It’s starting to freak me out.”
“I hear you. Chase it ’til the end of today; then call it quits. Whatever Torchwood was, the Miracle has to be our priority.”
Rex looked up from the screen. Far across the room, Jack met his gaze, and smiled blandly.
When the sailors put out his eye, it hissed like a bronze-smith quenching an axe. His fellows who lived in the caves around him did not hear. But then he bellowed out in pain, blind amongst the reek of the flock, and the heat of flame upon his face, and the slick blood. He bellowed out in pain, and that cry carried through the holy night, and his fellows heard him.
“Why do you shout so, Polyphemus?” they asked. “Has someone hurt you?”
And Polyphemus answered, “No one is killing me.”
Esther stared at the VDU for a long time. Then she reached a decision, and walked to the other end of the darkened chamber.
Rex had already hit the sack. Esther suspected that his injury troubled him more at the end of the day, and that he preferred to be alone to cope with it. Gwen was in her own room, trying to contact Rhys. Only Esther and Jack remained at their stations. Jack smiled up at her as she approached.
“Question for you. It’s from a pub quiz I went to years ago, back in Cardiff – just stuck in my mind, I guess. What’s the only book of the Bible that never mentions the name of God?”
She frowned. “I really couldn’t say, Jack.”
“The Book of Esther.”
“Cute.” Esther cocked her head on one side, and smiled pensively. “You already know what I’ve been doing, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Jack tapped his wrist-device. “When you found the breadcrumbs, you tripped an alarm. It was put there by the same person I told to make Torchwood vanish from the Net. Lets us know if anyone keeps digging.”
“One person made the Internet blind to Torchwood?”
“I only asked her to try that as a joke. I never imagined she could really manage it. An evolving anti-search engine, woven into the lattice of the Web.” Jack sighed. “Five years, and she surprised me every day. So many patterns she could see that the rest of us missed. Actually, you remind me a bit of her.”
“Breadcrumbs.” Esther eyed him narrowly. “Is that all the fragments I discovered were? Puccini echoing inside the Company. The Inferno in UNIT, and the Cyclops at MI5. Seems a way to go for smoke and mirrors.”
“It does. So, Esther,” Jack steepled his fingers, “what’s the pattern?”
“I think she wanted someone else to know exactly what it means, when you take a name out of the world.” Esther looked down into Jack’s face. “No one is killing me. Was she happy, Jack? Were any of them ever happy?”
She went on looking. His smile was as bright and impenetrable as always.
“Go to bed, Esther Drummond.” Jack leaned back in his chair. “There’s a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”