Ch 1 - Arrival
“Brain fried tonight through misuse… through misuse, through misuse. You can’t avoid static abuse… Abuse, abuse,” Ellie Johnson sang to the music from her radio as she drove along a narrow road through the hills of the Brecon Beacons. It was the kind of music her father did not like at all as it was loud with lots of drums and vibrating basses.
Actually the whole car vibrated from the sound coming from the speakers when The Automatic sang their Monster.
She was in the right mood for hard, numbing music. Only four hours, twenty three minutes and… eight, nine, ten seconds ago she split up with her boyfriend. Finding him in their own bed with a long legged redhead was shocking to say the least. Hit by Ellie’s pepper spray she would have red eyes for the next days, too, along with other red parts.
And her unfaithful boyfriend flew out of her flat together with his clothes… before he could put them on. Ellie just had grabbed his family jewels with one hand, his clothes with the other and shoved him out of the front door.
Yeah, Ellie was in the mood for hard rock.
She got right into it, singing out loud, “Without these pills you’re let loose… You’re let loose, you’re let loose. Take off, get out, no excuse… No excuse, no excuse!”
The drums thundered through her small car and the chorus started What’s that coming…
That was when her mobile phone rang. A little clumsily as she had to concentrate on driving she fished the phone from the passenger’s seat and answered the call.
…over the hill? Is it a monster? Is it a monster?
“Oh, hi, Dad,” Ellie said and listened for his answer, but it was not really clear. It crackled in the line, and the loud music did not help either, but she thought she understood what he was asking.
What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Is it a monster?
“Dad? I don’t know, hour and a half, tops. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I can’t hear you. The signal’s going.”
One moment she spoke with her father and the next, the line was dead.
Great. Just a few miles into the Beacons and it’s as if you’re at the end of the world.
So she threw the useless phone on the passenger seat and continued driving. The night was pitch black and the headlights did not penetrate the dark very far.
Suddenly something appeared in the beams of the headlights that should not be there. A figure lay in the road ahead and Ellie jammed on the breaks. So there she sat in her car, listening to a guitar solo, and staring at the something on the asphalt that looked suspiciously like a human body in jeans and sweater.
An accident? Ellie wondered. If the person is injured I’m the only one here who could help.
Hesitantly she exited the car and pulled a baseball bat from under her driver’s seat. Just in case. The band singing once more about a monster coming over the hill did not exactly help to reassure her. Slowly she approached the figure.
“Hello? Are you alright?”
She got no answer and so she tentatively prodded the figure with the baseball bat. When nothing happened she pushed again and the head rolled to the side. Now Ellie could see that it was not a head at all but a football.
Suddenly the music stopped.
Ellie whipped around, swinging the baseball bat.
The beams of the headlight startled her, leaving her feeling exposed like a fish in a bowl.
Oh, no! No, no!
As fast as her high heels allowed she tottered the way back to her car, the bat raised, ready to hit anyone who came near her. But when she approached the car she heard a wheezing sound and saw with horror that the right rear tire was loosing air. It was almost flat already.
Ellie jumped in her car and pulled the door shut, pressing the lock down. She would have to drive on the flat tire. Ellie did not want to think about what that would do to the car. All she could think about was that she had to get away from here.
The problem dissolved as she reached for the key and found that it was not in the ignition anymore.
Her heart dropped into her stomach where it beat frantically. She reached for her mobile phone and tried to get a connection.
“Come on!” she whined desperately as the phone still did not work.
Something thudded on the roof of the car. Metal creaked.
“Leave me alone!” Ellie shrieked.
But instead the driver’s door was unlocked with a chirp from her remote control keychain, and someone reached inside.
Torchwood. Outside the government, beyond the police.
Tracking down alien life on Earth and arming the human race against the future.
The 21st century is when everything changes.
And you've got to be ready.
He had no idea why he was so nervous. Though, finally, it was something other than the aching emptiness he had felt for so long. The unfortunate fact that it had been replaced by anxiety was unpleasant to say the least.
Staring straight ahead out of the windshield of Torchwood’s black stealth SUV Ianto Jones was daydreaming, remembering better times. He stifled a sigh to avoid reminding his colleagues of his mere presence. As he was flanked by two of them, Toshiko Sato on his left side, Gwen Cooper on his right, that was a difficult task.
But he should not complain about his co-workers, he knew that. Actually he was lucky that he still had a job after the stunt he pulled just a few weeks ago. When he first came to Torchwood One, so long ago in London, his recruiter had told him that Torchwood would not be a job you quit.
How true were those words.
Having survived the destruction of Torchwood One Ianto had been eager to join Torchwood Three in Cardiff. The branch had been considered a renegade organization ever since it had been taken over by Captain Jack Harkness at the turn of the Millennium, but Ianto had not cared. He had been happy to serve in his position as receptionist as it provided him with a way to keep Lisa alive…
Choking on the air he breathed Ianto recalled her last day on earth. It could have been his last day as well, either by her hand or Jack’s. His memories were so vivid that he could smell the smoke and feel the gun’s muzzle on the back of his head, the hand that clawed in his hair. A hard lump formed in his gut.
That day he had seen another side of Jack Harkness, a scary side.
“I hate the countryside,” Owen Harper said out of the blue. “It’s dirty, unhygienic. And what is that smell?”
“That would be grass,” Gwen retorted.
Turning in his seat to face her Owen spat, “It’s disgusting.”
Owen had aimed his remark at Gwen, but when he bent over to face the people in the backseat Ianto had the strange feeling as if he looked directly at him and his words hit their mark.
In Ianto’s mind, combined with the look he never got, it changed to he’s disgusting and he silently had to agree with his colleague.
His stupidity could have gotten them all killed, but the horrible truth was that, being in the same situation again, he probably would do just the same.
That thought scared him.
When would they arrive wherever they were going? Ianto had packed the tents and a lot of other stuff in the SUV and he already dreaded hearing what Owen would say when he realized that they were going to camp out here. The hills were green, covered with grass and little higher vegetation. Ianto knew the Brecon Beacons. Memories of his grandfather were woken by the sight of the peaks. His grandfather had lived in the mountain range. He was rooted to the landscape which he always talked lovingly about, often using the Welsh language, calling the mountains the Bannau Brycheiniog. Grandfather Jones had taught his son and grandson Welsh and Ianto was proud of that special part of his heritage.
The trip appeared to be for fun, but they all knew that something strange and probably dangerous awaited them.
No illusions. Ianto knew exactly why he was here. Accompanying the team on this mission was not a reward for good work, it was not recognition of his efforts, and it was not even the sheer necessity of him working for the team. Well, maybe the latter. It was a miracle that Ianto was still part of Torchwood after what he had done, but he had to pay a price.
They kept him in purgatory.
He was neither suspected nor trusted. They treated him professionally but not friendly. Plain and simple bringing me along is meant to degrade me by requiring me to supply them with everything they might miss out here.
Like decent food.
Ianto had heard the first complaints a while ago, but there was nothing he could do as long as they were still driving. So he reacted at once when he spotted a car and trailer.
“Why don’t we stop there and have lunch?” he asked.
“Yeah, they seem to have burgers,” Owen said.
So Jack pulled the SUV over and they all got out of the car. As there was no stand-up bistro table provided for customers they all gathered around the bonnet of their car, except for Ianto who went to get them something to eat.
Briefly Ianto wondered why the name of the snack stand, painted on the side of the trailer, was Last Stop. As if there was anything around here. They were in the middle of nowhere in the National Park of Brecon Beacons. So it was the last stop before what?
He could hear the others discuss. From what he could understand they had not bothered to wait for him before starting the meeting. Nor would I expect them to. I’m not expected to participate, only to serve and stay out of the way.
“Seventeen disappearances within the last five months. Police are clueless,” Jack just explained.
“Now there’s a surprise,” Owen snorted. Grinning he raised his hands in defence as he turned to Gwen. “No offence, PC Cooper.”
She just gave him a wry grin and turned her attention back to Jack.
Moving his finger over the map spread over the hood, searching the right area, Jack told them, “The last known whereabouts of each one is somewhere around here.”
“All within a twenty miles radius,” Toshiko mused.
“Anything else linking them?” Gwen wanted to know.
Readily Jack gave her more information, “None of the bodies has ever been found. These people just fell off the radar. No patterns in age, sex, race… One minute they’re here, the next… pfft,” he made a whistling sound through his teeth, “gone.”
“The rift doesn’t spread out that far, does it?” Gwen asked.
Who knows, Ianto thought. We can hardly do more about the rift than what Torchwood is supposed to do, keep an eye on it and deal with whatever might come through it.
He saw Owen march away from the others, toward the road, stretching his tired limbs. The way he was rolling his shoulders, his whole stance, told Ianto that the doctor was feeling quite uncomfortable.
“We don’t know that much about the rift to be certain,” Jack answered Gwen’s question. “And it’s increasing in activity all the time.”
“Oh, c’mon,” Owen exclaimed with a sweeping gesture at the wide, open countryside around them. “Aliens aren’t gonna bother hanging round out here! Probably some sort of weird suicide club with people choosing the same spot to end it all.”
Out of the corner of his eye Ianto noticed movement and saw the man behind the counter hold up the ordered cheeseburgers. Exchanging bills for the food Ianto walked first to Owen.
“Oh, God knows, if I had to spend too long up here, I’d want to top myself.”
“Here you go,” Ianto said to the ranting medic, pushing a burger into his hands. “Careful, they’re hot.”
When Ianto walked over to the others something on the periphery of his vision caught his attention. Owen shook his hand, holding the burger with just his fingertips. Why the medic pulled the glove off his hand because the burger was hot was beyond Ianto.
“Sure you don’t want anything, Tosh?” he asked his colleague.
“Really sure,” she replied pointedly. “A friend of mine caught hepatitis off a burger from one of these places.”
His burger raised halfway Ianto stopped as did Owen and Gwen. Jack simply put his burger down on the bonnet of the car before he even tried it. After a moment’s thought Ianto bit into his cheeseburger. He never had problems with them so he figured that the chances of catching anything were slim. The burger was surprisingly good, but then, these cheap, grungy little roadside stands often had better food than you could find in any restaurant.
“We’ll start with the most recent victim, Ellie Johnson,” Jack declared. “We last have record of her making a phone call. She dropped out of signal mid-call…” He moved his fingertip over a region on the map. “The coverage map has her someplace about… here,” he pinned the spot with his finger. Munching on her burger Gwen nodded in rhythm with his words.
Ianto followed Jack’s every move and word attentively. Having loaded their equipment into the boot of the SUV Ianto now had a very good idea of what their leader had in mind. He was going to set up a base somewhere close to the area where the people had vanished.
“Looks as good a place as any to set up camp,” Jack said cheerfully.
There he goes, ruining Owen’s illusions, Ianto thought. He had expected Jack’s move, but he still was surprised and amused by Owen’s reaction to it. Ianto had to fight not to burst out with laughter as he saw the medic freeze in raising his cheeseburger, his mouth open wide to finally take a first bite and his eyes rolling up to stare at the captain in shock.
“Sorry. Did you say camp?” Owen panted, his characteristic dialect giving his voice an involuntary whine.
It was that kind of smirk that told Ianto that Jack knew exactly what he did to Owen and enjoyed it. It was the notorious smirk of Jack Harkness that made people aware of his charismatic personality. It was the smirk that made Ianto wish that it would acknowledge his existence in some way.
Having finished his burger Ianto started to collect the remains of his colleagues’ meals, the paper and the coffee cups, and dispose of them in the dustbin of the snack stand. Then he returned to their SUV and made himself invisible again.