Jack receives the call on a Friday at 16:27 just as Gwen begins to shove papers in her bag. Ianto is… somewhere. He has a clear view of the hub. In the office his phone begins to ring – and ring and ring and ring. This is how he feels: disjointed, disconnected as he thinks about his team. They are three different people in three different places, waiting and wanting three different things. Gwen readies herself for dinner with Rhys’ family tonight but pauses when Jack doesn’t respond to the incessant noise, looking up at his office with a half-bemused half-annoyed expression on her face. Are you going to answer that? she seems to ask. It’s just a phone call, he knows. It isn’t the same as the rift alarms blaring – no aliens, just people. Most of the phone calls are immediately directed to the line in the tourist office where Ianto can play receptionist and redirect callers to the most appropriate person. If no one picks up there, it goes to Jack’s office and then to the machine. Ianto’s somewhere meandering through the hub. The archives, maybe, Jack thinks. That’s where Ianto is: standing in the dark pouring over artifacts and scraps of undistinguishable records, and there’s no one to answer the phone.
The machine clicks on. “Captain Jack Harkness, this is Gregory Anderson, head of Secretarial Management with UNIT.”Jack listens with his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, still peering down over the center of the hub. Gwen organizes her bag and checks her makeup twice in her small compact mirror she carries. “Two dispatch teams isolated an abandoned warehouse and we are commissioning Torchwood Three to come search it.” Jack huffs under his breath. As if. Below, Gwen tucks the make up back in her bag, reapplying her foundation one more time like a shield, piling on her barriers before having to face the in-laws.
“We think it belonged to Torchwood One,” Mr. Anderson says. Jack cocks his head with interest, glancing at the machine sitting on his desk out of the corner of his eye. From his periphery, he observes Gwen as she slips out the cogwheel door for the night. Ianto stumbles up the steps balancing two boxes he must have unearthed from God-knows-where. “Although it wasn’t clear initially, we have found many materials bearing the Torchwood symbol. Obviously, since Torchwood Three is the only functioning Torchwood cell remaining, you have first rights.”
“Ianto!” Jack shouts over the machine. He watches Ianto fumble slightly, startled before deftly catching the top box by pinning it between the outside of his thigh and the railing as it falls.
He looks up patiently, only the slightest glimpse of exasperation bleeding through his neutral expression. “Yes Jack?” he answers sweetly, the corners of his mouth upturning just enough to let his boss know that now is not a good time for a chat.
“If we could have your immediate response,” Anderson continues blathering to the machine, “there are several unidentified and what we think are potentially dangerous items. If you have any remaining records from Torchwood London’s research facilities –”
“Were you aware that the Torchwood headquarters had outside facilities?” Jack asks, stepping out from his office and lazily makes his way down the steps.
Ianto bends his head and grimaces as he tries to recapture the sinking box. “What… kind of… facilities?” he grunts. He glares at Jack momentarily, lifting one eyebrow. “Are you going to help me?”
“Maybe,” Jack answers. He tilts his head to one side in a half-hearted attempt at coyness, letting Ianto see right through the act. Ianto dutifully rolls his eyes before wiggling just enough to grab the bottom of the suspended box with his palm, lifting it upwards on top of the other container. He tucks it under his chin and glowers at Jack witheringly. It’s useless.
“Do you come here often? You’re cute,” Jack banters, leaning aloofly on the opposite railing, peering down at Ianto standing two steps down. He checks over his shoulder to confirm that indeed Gwen has left for the night before returning his focus on Ianto. His previously neutral face has transformed into a leer. “I’m Captain Jack Harkness.”
Ianto huffs under his breath, carefully squatting to put down the containers. “Like I’ve never heard that one before,” he mutters. He glares but without any real heat, pressing two fingers to the bridge of his nose. “What kind of facilities?”
“Abandoned old warehouses with questionable items inside?” Jack answers, shrugging. Ianto’s eyes narrow as he glances to one side in concentration, pushing back the sides of his suit jacket to rest his hands on his hips. His tie sits crookedly above the breast of his waistcoat.
“No clue,” he says after a moment, shaking his head. “Why?”
“UNIT’s dispatch teams discovered a warehouse that apparently has the Torchwood emblem emblazoned all over, or something to that effect.”
“… Or something to that effect?”
Jack shrugs again. “I wasn’t really paying attention. They left a message.”
“Uh huh,” Ianto says, climbing the final steps to stand on even ground.
“It’s… UNIT,” Jack mutters as if it might explain everything. “Who knows what they were looking for initially, and the message they left didn’t mention any questionable activity, just questionable items. I figure if they haven’t caused any harm yet after all this time…” He waves his hands.
“That’s not like you Jack.”
Jack shifts, leaning back on his hands against the railings. He draws himself up to his fullest stance, striking an impressive pose. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he justifies. “It’s been three years since Canary Wharf. If the place hasn’t been disturbed then I’m sure it’ll be fine for one more day.”
Ianto looks at him blandly before pressing his hand against Jack’s chest to stop him from moving away. For a second Jack is caught off guard, surprise sweeping over his features as he inhales sharply. “Jack,” Ianto warns.
“It’s Gwen’s night off,” Jack argues. Ianto sighs and drops his hand to rest on the railing close to Jack’s side without actually touching him.
“Did UNIT say it’s urgent?”
Jack ignores the question. “Gwen needs to spend more time at home. She needs rest, and you do too.”
“Is it urgent, Jack? I’ll call UNIT back.”
Jack rolls his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest before directing a pointed look at Ianto. “Fine. Do it,” he orders.
“Fine,” Ianto retorts, turning on his heel. “I will. Carry those boxes for me, will you?”
They arrive at the warehouse three hours later under a hazy gray sky. The sun dwindles, shrinking below the horizon and only the sparsest rays of light scatter between the clouds. The architectural plans sent by UNIT map out a rectangular building divided into three floors. Ianto gathered from the reports that much of the items stored in the facility consist of files, though their search had been minimal.
“You don’t have any idea what this place was used for?” asks Gwen, stepping out from the SUV. She squints in the direction of the warehouse, and in the dark she barely identifies the angular corners of the flat roof.
“No,” Ianto mutters, fiddling with his handheld. “I wasn’t privy to a lot of things in London. I was just a dispatch on a research team.”
“It could just be an additional storage facility.”
“Not likely.” Jack mutters, shifting between them as they walk. “They had floors of space for archiving and a database, if that’s what you mean. I’m suspicious about why they’d need a separate off-site facility that the other branches weren’t aware of.”
“As far as I was aware, all of the testing and studies took place in Canary Wharf. I never heard of an outside facility before. Maybe someone got their hands on something that belonged to Torchwood, and this didn’t actually belong to London,” Ianto suggests. He looks to Jack when they approach the building.
“No. Why would they abandon it?” He tests the door and peers into the darkness. “It very well could have been abandoned by Torchwood after the destruction of the London branch.” Inside a shadow moves and a UNIT soldier looks back out at them from inside. “We’re Torchwood,” Jack shouts, knocking on the door. The soldier nods and opens the door, stepping out and locking it behind him.
“I was told to look for a man in a greatcoat, sir. I see you’ve arrived safely.”
Gwen nods and smiles, peering around him to look into the dark building. “Yes, we’re Torchwood. We were requisitioned to inspect the warehouse.”
The soldier scrutinizes Jack, Gwen, and Ianto before replying, “I can’t let you in yet until I have confirmation from my superiors.”
“Ah, we see,” Ianto smiles painfully before beginning to inspect the exterior of the building.
“What can you tell us?” Jack asks.
“Not much, sir,” the UNIT guard responds curtly. He stands alert, his feet a shoulder width apart while bracing his gun and assessing the captain. “I’ve been ordered to remain here.” He taps his earpiece. “They’ve arrived, ma’am.” He looks back at Jack. “I can let you in now. I had to wait until they identified you on the CCTV.”
Jack smirks. “They’d never be able to deny this beautiful face.”
“Mm, yes,” Ianto responds, peering up at the corner where a wireless camera has been installed. “Gwen is a charmer, definitely. Who could resist?”
“Oh, Ianto, that’s very sweet of you,” Gwen murmurs sweetly. Ianto rocks on his heels and beams as she slips her hand around the crook of his elbow. The soldier holds the door open for them and behind them Jack scowls.
“My face,” he says despite knowing he’s been played.
“Oh! Your face!” Ianto gasps in feigned horror.
Gwen looks over her shoulder as if to inspect Jack carefully. “Something’s wrong with your face?” she asks in mock surprise. “Oh yes, I see it now.”
The three of them stop suddenly as Jack’s echo reverberates in the dim hall. The Hey—ey—ey—y—y filling the vast space of the main room. They all look at each other and then turn back to look at the soldier who stares at them expectantly. “We should split up,” Jack suggests. He flips open his wrist strap and reexamines the floor plan. “Gwen, do you want to inspect the archives? They should be to the right, rooms 160 and above. Ianto and I can start on the top floor. There might be something he recognizes.”
Gwen rummages through her purse and produces a torch. “Right. Any way to get the lights working?”
Jack glances back at his strap. “There’s no power source. If it belonged to Torchwood London then there’d be nothing left to fund the energy cost and upkeep after Canary Wharf. We’ll be alright in the dark as long as we’ve got torches.”
“UNIT’s already done a preliminary search of the place so hopefully there won’t be any surprises,” Ianto adds. “Ready?”
Jack nods. “Gwen, if you need me…”
“Yup, I know,” she responds, waving him off. She treks down the dark hallway as the clicking of her heels resonates back to them in the main entry.
Jack examines the extent of the dark room. The floor still shines from the last glimpse of sun that peaks through windows; the walls are white, neat and immaculate as if tomorrow the doors will open and another day will begin. “Nothing’s changed. You Londoners were so anal retentive.”
“I’m not,” Ianto quips half-heartedly.
“No, I know you’re not,” Jack leers. “Except, of course, when you are… so really always.” He begins to walk towards the door leading to a staircase without looking to see if Ianto follows. “But this place is certainly a security hazard. That day, wouldn’t there have been people working here? What if there are unaccounted survivors?”
Ianto shakes his head, traipsing behind Jack slowly as he stares at the tall ceilings. “No. I don’t think so. All help was requisitioned. Wasn’t Cardiff?”
They share a look briefly before Jack pushes the door open. He stops at the base of the stairs. “Yes. We got there too late,” he answers stiffly.
Ianto winces fractionally, focusing on the concrete steps as they traipse upwards. “If this place is just a warehouse,” he answers, “I don’t think they’d have had a lot of people here anyway. Security. Probably people most necessary in assisting at Canary Wharf. Guards, whatever.” He rambles, talking over the scuffling over their feet, the echo of his own voice that hollowly repeats everything he says. “No survivors, Jack.”
They stop again when they reach the top floor. “You’re right,” Jack says softly, facing him. “Are you okay?”
Ianto only offers a wry smile in return. “You take the left; I’ll take the right?” he asks. He spares Jack a strained glance, and turns and briskly walks down the hall without waiting for a reply. Jack watches after him for a few moments until he can only make out in the darkness the small flash of light bouncing across the walls. His stomach tightens briefly as he shakes his head. Ianto’s light disappears when he enters through a door and leaves Jack alone in the dark.
After pushing the first door open with little resistance, Ianto pauses in the threshold and pans his torch onto the keypad. “Figures,” he mutters. “Electronic locks without electricity.” He clicks off the light and rests his head against the wall, listening to Jack’s footsteps grow faint. He wasn’t aware that Torchwood One had any outside facilities, but it doesn’t surprise him. Even Torchwood Three has Flat Holm, though it isn’t directly linked to their operations. Still, he tells himself. Still, it’s London. A sudden pressure surges in his chest that he fights down. After a few breaths he turns on the torch again and points into the center of the room.
Paper, Ianto huffs in disbelief. He skims the small room that’s only a few arm lengths deep with the torch. On each wall stand three rows of shelves with neatly aligned stacks of paper. He squints at the labels. “Rose,” one says, and when he opens the closest package he pulls out blank sheets of pink colored pages. “Cyan,” “salmon,” and “cerulean” read the other labels. The right wall is devoted solely to 92 dpi bright white 8 ½ x 11 sheets, 500 leafs to a package. Ianto holds back a laugh in the darkness, as if voicing his incredulity would shatter the already ruined mysteriousness of Torchwood. He remembers the staff newsletters that nobody read. The pages were of every color imaginable in a painter’s palette and littered the recyclable bins every Monday as staff cleared out their inboxes.
“What? Will the other room be dedicated to staples, another to scotch tape?” he asks himself, his voice rising in pitch slightly hysterically. It sounds raw and blaring in the stillness and immediately he shuts his mouth. It doesn’t stop him from sparing the room an eye roll though before slipping back out into the hallway.
He peers down the opposite direction, but Jack has wandered away. He shrugs and continues to examine the other rooms. The overwhelming sense of dread that overcame him before begins to recede as each door reveals more mundane office supplies. “Jack must be going crazy,” he mutters, closing the door on three broken printers shoved into a closet.
He stops at the very last room blocked by what almost looks like a shut elevator door. The frame reaches to the ceiling of the hall. Ianto presses his hands against it, feeling for the edges in order to slide it open, but there are no cracks or air drafts. It has been completely sealed off. He jams his hand against the electronic keypad with frustration before pressing against the hulk of the door once more, willing it to slide open with just the friction of his finger pads. He heaves his whole weight, pushing as the beginnings of sweat gather around his collar and is rewarded as the metal groans and shifts a fraction of an inch. He pauses, panting slightly before pushing again, watching as it finally slides far enough that a small crack appears between the frame and door and he can wedge his fingers into the gap. His arms feel on fire as he pulls, and his shoulder twinges slightly reminding him that only a few months ago it had been dislocated in a different abandoned building. Ianto grunts and braces his foot against the wall.
When the door finally gives enough space, Ianto squeezes through the gap. The first thing he notices is the stale air that strikes his nostrils. He blinks to adjust to the in the blackness and pans his torch around the room, breathing heavily in exhaustion.
His ear piece crackles and Jack’s tinny voice resonates in his ear. “Ianto, I need to assist Gwen on the main floor. Do you need anything?”
“No, I don’t think so,” he responds.
“You sound out of breath. What have you been doing?”
Ianto rolls his eyes at the suggestiveness in the captain’s voice, but plays along nevertheless. “Nothing, sir. I just found several rooms filled with office supplies.”
“Three broken printers, in fact.”
“Damn. I got employee records and pamphlets on ‘How to be a better leader.’”
“Amazing how that worked out,” Ianto comments serenely.
“By the way, I’m coming back up here to find your files once I’m done with Gwen.”
“You’ve seen my stats,” Ianto argues. “There’s nothing interesting.”
“No office gossip?” Jack sounds disappointed.
“Not in my official files, sir.”
“Alright, I’ve got to go. Enjoy yourself without me.”
“As always, Jack.”
The connection cuts out and Ianto steps further into the room. He notes it’s much larger than the other smaller, office-sized spaces. The length of his light fades before it strikes anything, and Ianto shuffles hesitantly footsteps while only being able to see two feet ahead of him.
He travels to the right and freezes immediately, body tightening suddenly when the wall comes into view. “Oh god,” he mutters softly. “Oh god. I thought—“He drops the torch and it clatters unceremoniously on the sterile concrete floor.
Gwen pushes against a heavy metal door. The depth of the steel door is two inches thick and bulky. She peers around with her torch, back against the wall as she pushes, and glimpses at a burnt out key pad. The entire warehouse looks as if people had dropped everything and ran. Ran to stop destruction, ran to One Canada Square and left the electricity to run out and the doors wide open.
UNIT explained to Ianto over the phone that there were traces of a chameleon circuit on the circumference of the premises, but its power had weakened and allowed the two dispatch teams to stumble upon it. Inside, the rooms still appear immaculate, free of dust because of the airtight walls and windows. The atmosphere smells stale and clinical.
Gwen pushes hard, lowering her torch to press her palms flat against the door. It slowly gives way as it slides three centimeters to the left, and the metal cogwheels grind inside. She pushes again until she has just enough space to squeeze past and lifts her torch up, clicking it on. Gwen feels suddenly very, very small as she peers upwards, soaking in the towering rows of files. “Oh my god,” she murmurs as she assesses the archives.
She takes a hesitant step forwards, the clunk of her boots echoing hollowly in the vast space, ricocheting off shelves and walls and the ceiling. It’s almost too difficult for her to breathe, her mouth slightly parted in amazement as her eyes flickering between one row and another and another. “Where to begin?” she asks the room.
Her light scans the room as she browses the titles, all alphabetized and neatly stacked – a dream for Ianto if he could see this place and run his fingers over the bindings of the files. She raises one hand to turn on her com, ready to call the others over to see, but freezes. The sharp beam of light pauses on one row with shelf after shelf reading “The Newborn Project”. There are boxes, tubes of chemicals, a cryogenic freezer built right into the stacks with labels sperm and ovum. She pulls open the first binder she reaches for, and diagrams fall to the floor of the human body, pregnant women, developing fetuses. There are real pictures of abortions, real pictures of –
She gasps as she leans forwards and picks up the scans: a baby that would appear to be around 21 months if it wasn’t submerged under water – a child at perhaps three, five, nine.
“Jack,” she shouts as she presses her hand to her ear. “Jack, you need to see this.”
The comm fizzles in her ear. “What is it?”
“You won’t believe what I’ve found,” she whispers, dragging her light further down the rows. She pulls down more binders, flipping them open and scattering the pages. The pages display headshots of children, lists of chemicals and ingredients to develop a synthetic amniotic fluid, a picture of a girl in pigtails and a jumpsuit with the Torchwood symbol patched on her breast. Beneath it says, We Serve! We Serve!
“Jack, I – oh god – I think they were breeding humans.”
“They have sperm and egg bank,” she shouts, scrambling to bring one hand to brush away the locks of hair falling in front her eyes. “There are piles of uniform jumpsuits, pictures and records of successful and failed experiments on children. It’s like… I don’t know what it’s like.”
Jack pauses on the other line, breathing heavily. He tells Gwen, “I’ll be right there. Tell me your location.”
“Um, I think I found some sort of library. The door said –” She backtracks and looks outside. “It says,’185 Ground Floor Archives.’”
There’s a pause where Gwen thinks he might be on a private line with Ianto. The comm fizzes again. “Okay, okay. Ianto will keep searching through the storage he found and I’ll be come back down to the ground floor.”
She nods as the line goes silent, squeezing her eyes shut. Peering back into the dark vault, she stalks down the rows of files, past the scattered papers and disheveled suits thrown onto the floor. I want to scream, Gwen thinks. She slams both hands down on one shelf and hangs her head, sucking in swift and strangled breaths. Just – keep it together, she tells herself. Pull yourself together.
Footsteps echo down the hall and she flicks her light in the direction of the sound. Jack enters, bracing himself against the door as he widens the entry. He stands, illuminated by Gwen’s torch with the outline of his greatcoat silhouetted against the wall. “What do you have?” he asks, gesturing towards the piles of documents with a jut of his chin.
She starts with the pictures, visual proof one of the few things she really grasps. “They’ve documented all their failed attempts and procedures with proof.” Jack looks at her as she grazes her bottom lip with her teeth, jamming the folder into his hands. “They aborted fetuses just to examine them, Jack. They also found a way to speed up their development in the womb. Then they moved onto this.”
Gwen scoops up another file, pausing to let Jack soak in the first batch of photographs. When he’s ready, she hands him the new photographs and resumes, her tone still level and professional though it momentarily wavers. “Fake wombs similar to an incubator except with artificial amniotic fluid. After several years of development, they were able to design an incubator large enough to encase a child. A ten-year-old child to be precise. From what I understand, the fetus was able to develop a lot faster without outside variables within the incubator. They were able to complete the process within a timeframe of about two to five years, and then they ‘birthed’ them. It’s called the Newborn Project and over a span of twenty years they created somewhere near 300 of these… Newborns.
“Look at these, Jack,” she says, handing over a pair of computerized sketches. “They look like barrels, nothing fancy.”
“These are the incubators?”
“And you’d never be able to tell. They look like they could store anything in a typical warehouse.”
Jack grips the edges of the folders tightly, lips pursed together in a tight line. “These types of advancements aren’t supposed to be developed until the forty-eighth century.”
Gwen shifts uncomfortably. “You mean this will be acceptable?”
“Under certain regulations, yes, but that’s not exactly the problem here,” he mutters. “Torchwood London was acted as the headquarters and research facilities on alien life and technology. They shouldn’t have had anything to do with human life. Maybe they needed to understand how it worked, but they shouldn’t have begun their own experiments.”
“How’d they get their hands on this information? Could it have come through the rift?”
“In the Sixties? Seventies? Possibly, but I would have known about it. If there was something this huge, I’m assuming Torchwood Three would have gotten involved.” He shakes his head. “This was kept a secret. The question is: why did they want this information?”
Gwen pries the folders from Jack’s hands and moves her torch to shine down the rest of the row. “There’s more. You should look at these.” She hands over a jumpsuit, the smallest size.
Jack grimaces slightly as he stretches out the fabric. The material is made from sturdy cotton: lightweight, uniform, and ideal in a controlled climate. On the left breast, he traces his forefinger over the white Torchwood emblem as the ridges of embroidery cascade and interlock. “What else have you found?”
“Posters and about a thousand headshots of these Newborns from their various stages of life.” She pauses, breath hitching before turning around to face him. The light shines harshly into his face, and in the shadows he sees her throw her hands up. Her voice cracks. “What is this place?” she snaps, craning her neck upwards. What is this place – this place – ace reverberates against the high vaulted ceilings and back down to them, ricocheting wall to wall to wall. The sound settles around them, eerie and thick against their bodies, pressing against the partitions.
In the silence, Jack tugs on the lapels of his coat, turns to gaze up at the piling shelves. “I don’t know,” he admits with his fingers clutched tightly onto the thick wool of his greatcoat. “I – Okay. We know they… bred humans. We also know that they survived, proven by these careful records. Do we know anything about what these people were used for?”
Gwen shakes her head, continuing down a different aisle as Jack skims his fingers over another row of files. “I don’t know!” she hollers over, shivering. She spins around, aiming her torch in every direction, the ghostly beam of cutting small gaps of darkness. The light lands on a file: Films, 1980-1993.
“Jack?” she calls out.
“Is there a way to watch these? It says they’re films, but I don’t know what of.” She pulls open the first drawer. Clipped to the inside of manila folder is a rectangular, glossy chip the size of a button. “What is it?”
Jack hums disapprovingly, folding his arms over his chest. “More advanced tech. In 3000 years it will be handier than today’s USB port. The Mireschu Chip. Compatible with almost any type of unit for all your entertainment pleasure – holds up to twenty thousand minutes of footage and memory for personal storage. It holds more memory than 400 personal computers put together now.”
“You sound like an advertisement.”
“That was an advertisement. Well, minus the bit about personal computers. That’s called a point of reference.” He plucks the device from the folder and rolls it between his fingers. “The Time Agency modified these to store memories.”
“Is that what… this is? These children’s memories?”
“No...” he replies, scrutinizing the disk no larger than his pinky nail. “There’s no way the Agency would have let one of those slip out of their grasp. Believe me. And Torchwood isn’t capable of those sorts of advancements on our own. We only rely on the material that slips through or gets left behind. This is probably footage of some sort.”
Gwen pulls out several other folders, all empty except a small chip attached to the inside flap. “Is there a way to watch these? It could be documentations of their studies, a convenient way to store their experiments.”
“Lucky for us I have just what we need. It won’t be very clear, but…” He flips open his wrist strap and removes the top face. Underneath he reveals three small compartments, one of which the chip fits perfectly. “Like I said, compatible with almost any type of unit.”
“What do you think it is?” Gwen asks softly. The small blue hologram beams from Jack’s wrist strap and offers a small amount of illumination to counter the heavy darkness of the archives. An image encased in a rectangle begins to play with dramatic orchestral music in the background as pictures of children appear and disappear. “It’s like… a movie theatre almost. A really small one.”
Jack watches as the chip replays several children moving in synchronized movements, pulling on their Torchwood jumpsuits. “It may be advanced technology, but it was still in the hands of the 20th century humans. Think projector slides, movie reels, etc.” The Newborns form a rigid line, each child a stiff replica of the other in posture and stance.
We serve! We serve! flashes across the tiny screen, and a deep, commanding male voiceover says, “You have a duty to Torchwood! We can take Earth to new, unimaginable levels, impossible until now!”
The Newborns begin to march across the screen.
“Defend our nation and our world against outside threats! You are the humans of the future! Find honor in protecting and advancing your homeland and your family. Torchwood!”
Three children sit perfectly rigid in a classroom absorbing a lecture. The image blinks and is replaced with two girls strapping on heavy boots and protective eyewear.
“Specialize in a field and get ahead in this competitive world!” the voiceover announces.
Jack shudders, the cold of the room settling in his gut. “It’s propaganda,” he mutters. “It’s…”
As the picture fizzles out, Gwen stares into the darkness, blinking away the remnants of the pictures on her retinas. “They had guns. Some of those children had guns. Why would they… I mean, there hasn’t been a visible threat, has there? The Daleks and the Cyberman were a surprise.”
“This was during the Cold War,” Jack responds quietly, staring at the space where the film had played.
“That wasn’t even Britain!” Gwen argues, the undercurrent of panic left unchecked as she spoke.
“But the idea, the threat was always there hovering over everyone. If one country had nuclear power…” He drifts off. “Torchwood has a penchant for latching onto things and obsessing over them. And who could stop them? Torchwood, outside the government and beyond the United Nations.”
“No one to hold them accountable.”
“No one held them accountable for their actions leading up to Canary Wharf until it was too late.”
“And this. But at least it’s over now.”
Gwen shuts the filing cabinet slowly, leaning against it heavily. She thumbs the label. “Films: 1980 – 1993,” she recites. “Say they spent about seven or so years perfecting the research, yeah? Give them another couple of years to incubate their first successful subjects. They’re ready to be processed in 1980. That makes sense, but the films stop ten years later.”
“What were the dates on the profiles of the Newborns you looked at?” Jack asks.
“I don’t know. Let me go look.” They jog to the previous aisle and pull open the cabinets. “This one says incubation was completed 1990.”
“I have a 1989.”
“Another from 1990. I don’t see one an incubation that came to term past that date.”
“So, give another three years to train these children with the propaganda and it fits the timeline.” Jack holds a folder open, skimming the health statistics of 2908. “Why’d they stop?”
Gwen shakes her head. “More importantly, what happened to the survivors?”
The silence hangs heavily between them. Jack snaps the file shut and presses his hand to his ear comm. “Ianto? We have a problem.” He turns to Gwen. “Any documentation we need to take back to the hub to sort through. The rest needs to be incinerated. This can’t be left in anyone else’s hands. Ianto?”
The comm crackles before Ianto’s voice comes through fuzzily. “Jack?”
“Have you found anything useful?”
Ianto hesitates. “Jack. I—”
“Have you found anything that looks like a simple oil barrel?” he interrupts impatiently. He spins around with his torch, peering into the depths of the other shelves. “Do you know anything about something called the Newborn Project? Gwen stumbled on something very concerning in the archives, and I’d like you to take a look and then pack as much as we can of the files into the SUV.”
Jack can hear Ianto hesitate again, breath hitching nervously followed by a cough, and he crosses his arms over his chest as if Ianto could see him.
Jack leans one hand on the shelf beside him. Gwen looks over at him curiously. “Should I tap in?” she asks, but he rebuffs her by raising his hand.
“Ianto? Where are you?”
“Um… second – second floor… I—“
“Are you alright?”
“Just give me… give me a moment, and I’ll… I’ll come down and look.”
“What did you find?”
There’s a pause. “Nothing,” Ianto responds. He clears his throat. “Tell me your location.”
A sinking feeling overwhelms Jack momentarily for no other reason than Ianto’s reluctance to answer his inquiries. “No,” he answers. Without hesitating, he drops the files in his hands. “I’m coming to find you. I’ll be right up.” He points at Gwen. “Don’t move.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Just keep looking around. See if there’s anything else you can scavenge.” He backs out of the aisle, sparing Gwen one last nod before jogging down the corridor in the direction he came.
Jack flips open his wrist strap while jogging up the flight of the stairs. He swings to the right down the hall where he last saw Ianto. “Ianto?” he shouts, partially out of breath. He pushes open every door, skimming them rapidly before moving onward. He presses his comm. “Ianto, where are you? Damnit,” he heaves, pacing down the hallway. “Ianto, answer me.” He stops outside the very last door, a large sliding mechanism as thick and heavy as the one guarding the archives. According to the blueprint, behind the door the room took up at least one third of the entire top level. The door stands partially open and a cool draft wafts out from within. He pauses, composing himself briefly before sliding inside.
“Whoa,” he breathes. Across the room stands an assembly line of machinery like an automobile factory. When he reaches the belts and contraptions, he runs a hand over the sleek metal and his fingers come away clean. The room is windowless, and Jack assumes it had been sealed and airtight before they arrived. He waves his torch around, inspecting the other items. To his right, three large vats sit embedded at floor level into the nondescript concrete. Several hoses lead from the outside walls into the basins. In the dark, they look like cavernous valleys, open mouths waiting patiently for the curious to wander too close. He stays put, feet planted to the floor as he rotates his waist, the beam of light illuminating the mostly open space, stopping on the left wall.
Three concrete shelves, vast and heavy protrusions, tower luminously over the rest of the room. On each shelf rests five oil barrels baring the Torchwood emblem. “Bingo,” Jack mutters under his breath. He scans from one end of the wall to the other as he cautiously approaches the incubators. Attached to the base of each one, a hose wraps around the circumference of the cylinder.
“Do you know what are in these, Ianto?” he asks quietly, his voice cutting through the silence as he skims one finger around the edge of an incubator on floor level. In the dark, he hears someone inhale sharply, and he follows the noise with the light.
Ianto sits with his back against the wall, head leaning back, eyes following Jack’s spiraling finger as it collects and pushes dust around the rim. He squints against the sudden pervasion of light but does not flinch, quietly pleading, “Please don’t touch it, Jack.” He clears his throat and adjusts his limbs while he stands slowly, as if to shake away the apparent heaviness in his legs, in his lungs and shoulders.
Jack stops, lifting his hand a millimeter off the surface, staring imploringly at Ianto. “You obviously know what this place is,” he states as he tries to remain neutral. “What did Torchwood London do here? Do you know?”
“I didn’t know it was here. I thought… They stopped doing their experiments after—“ Ianto shakes his head and attempts to turn away, desperate to look at something else, but Jack reaches over a barrel between them and grabs his shoulder gently. Startled, Ianto spins an about-face gracelessly and surprised. His foot catches on the hose connected to the base of the barrel. It disconnects before he can grab it and a sudden gush of fluid spills out as he falls to the ground.
Ianto scrambles in the mess to stop the flood. He grabs the hose to plug the sudden outpour just as Jack jumps back, flicking the tails of his greatcoat away from the sudden surge.“What is it?” Jack shouts, alarmed. He watches Ianto panic, slipping on the liquid as he tries to stand while simultaneously reaching for the top of the incubator.
“Shit!” he yells. “We’ve got to open it!”
Jack immediately recoils. “What? Do you know what these are, Ianto?” An image of a little girl and boy with slack, zombie-like expressions on their faces conjures in his mind and he shudders.
“I –” Ianto shouts frantically. His fingers scrabble with the top as he searches for some mechanism to open it. “There’s a seal. We have to break the seal.”
“Ianto! Ianto what are you doing?” Jack asks, skidding across the floor to meet him. He grabs his hands. “Look at me. Stop. Stop. What’s going on? I’ve seen the footage. They’re like robots. Torchwood One has been programming –”
“Jack,” Ianto snaps, trying to jerk his hands from the clasp. Jack holds on tightly, his chest tightening when he sees the wild urgency on Ianto’s face. “Jack,” he pleads, voice cracking. “Jack.”
The captain doesn’t relent, holding fast. “You need to talk to me, Ianto. Okay? You need to talk to me. You need to listen to me.”
Inside the incubator, something begins to thrash. Immediately, Jack lets go of Ianto’s hands, and he can feel the flush of adrenaline and fear spike through to his scalp, the hairs on his head rising fractionally as he takes three steps back. He reaches for his gun. The sudden pounding noise echoes throughout the entire cavity of the room, a succession of rapid, erratic thumps. He aims the Webley at the incubator.
“No!” Ianto shouts vehemently. In seconds, he has his own gun drawn on Jack. They both still, the pounding growing incessant and desperate.
“Wha – Ianto—“
“Don’t,” Ianto rasps. His hands shake. “Let me open it. It’ll suffocate. Please.” When Jack doesn’t relent, he adds, “I’ll shoot. It’ll buy me time to open it.”
“Have you seen the files?!” Jack shouts. “Where do your loyalties lay, Ianto? With Torchwood Three or Torchwood One? Because this situation seems awfully familiar.” He shifts his gun onto Ianto and watches the other man flinch, his body stilling, rigid as ice. He knows he won’t shoot, but he sees Ianto quickly reevaluate in his head the situation and slowly ease off in the aggressiveness of his stance.
“It’s suffocating,” Ianto whispers, slowly backing up. The Newborn thrashes. “And you’re a murderer if you don’t let me open it.”
The banging begins to weaken, and Jack steps toward him carefully, sloshing through the synthetic amniotic fluid. “Ianto, you have to realize that they’re not supposed to… be. They’re not completely human and they’re dangerous.”
The noise stills as quickly as it started, only their heavy breathing filling the suddenly empty space. Jack lowers his gun, holstering it before lifting his hands up to placate the other man. They stand two arm lengths between them.
Ianto shouts, “How can you say that? They’re human! They’re just as real as you were out of the womb!” The tension in his body winds tighter as he regains a fervent clutch around his gun.
Jack shakes his head but drops his hands, steadying his breath. He shuffles closer still and when he speaks again it’s a soft, near pleading whisper. “Ianto, you have to understand They’ve been bred – programmed – and it’s irreversible. As innate as breathing.”
“No, no,” Ianto whispers. “Don’t you get it Jack? They’re programmed to learn.”
“For what? For Canary Wharf? Where were they then? What are they for, Jack, if they’re so horrible and not worth saving?” Ianto lunges at him,his gun falling to the concrete floor. “How does it make them any different than you?” he screams.
The impact surprises Jack as the wind rushes from his gut. He gasps as they strike the ground but uses the force of their fall to quickly overcome Ianto. He swiftly pins the younger man’s hands behind his back, flipping him over so his cheek grinds into the floor. “Ianto—” Jack threatens, low and hissing through his teeth.
Ianto doesn’t struggle at all. Instead, he cranks his neck to look at Jack through one eye, asking softly, “Do I look like a soldier to you?”
Jack pauses, gaze flickering to meet Ianto’s calm expression. “What?” he asks, releasing the pressure of his knee from Ianto’s back. They both smell like the synthetic fluid, like salt and sweat.
“Do you think of me as a soldier, Jack?”
“What – No,” he answers quickly.
Ianto rests his head back against the ground resolutely, staring off at an untouched row of incubators. Jack watches Ianto’s careful mask slip back into place, so vacant and unassuming in such a way he hasn’t looked in almost over a year. “Ask me about my childhood, Jack,” he demands quietly. “Ask me about being five. Ask me about my seventh birthday.”
Jack slowly lets go of Ianto’s wrists, rolling him over onto his back. They’re both completely drenched. “Okay,” he says softly, his stomach clenching nervously. He refuses to turn away from Ianto’s unsettling gaze. “What did you do on your seventh birthday?”
“I never had one,” Ianto replies so calmly, so emotionlessly, and suddenly Jack wants to vomit. He inhales a sharp breath, glancing between the barrels.
“Ask me about when I was ten.” Jack chokes back half a sob as he touches Ianto’s chest, his stomach, his face. “I was born,” Ianto continues monotonously without waiting for answer. He turns his head away to face the wall again as Jack cups his face. He understands now, can taste in the air what smells so much like Ianto: salty and heady.
“Ask me why I remember so well. Ask me why I know everything. Am I a soldier, Jack? Should I die?”
Jack shakes his head, reaches out for him to wrap his arms around his limp frame. “I – I didn’t know,” he weakly answers. He fists his hands into the damp fabric of Ianto’s suit.
Ianto shakes his head. “You didn’t ask.” There’s emotion now, a mix of disbelief and sadness and regret all flickering across his face. “You didn’t even hesitate. You just assumed.”
“What do we do now?” Jack asks softly. He rests his head against the back of his chair as they sit in his office. In one hand, Ianto mulls over his whiskey, chilled and diluted with ice. He leans against the wall, perfectly still except for the steady rise and fall of his chest, the shuttered blink of his eyes.
Ianto shrugs clumsily without looking at him. “I don’t know. They stopped—“ He pauses uncomfortably. “How many incubators are left?”
“Fourteen. Gwen looked through the rest of the documents, especially the logs. There was a virus? What happened?”
“I never really learned. I was still just an employee, you know?” he answers. He sips slowly at the whiskey and slumps against the window. “But there was a virus, some sort of infection that got into the… the amniotic fluid.”
On the edge of Jack’s desk teeters several folders Gwen chose as notable for Jack to review. He sent her home and brought the stack up to the office where Ianto waited for him in his underclothes after shedding his soaked garments. He pulls the top file off and opens it without registering the words. “How many died?” he asks quietly, pulling apart a paperclip while bending it aimlessly in his hands.
“Hundreds, maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t see them. No one… saw them. You weren’t supposed to tell.”
“That you were a Newborn?”
“Yes. It was advantageous not to. The other staff were always suspicious and it was easier to blend in,” Ianto responds. His voice lacks its luster as he draws his legs up onto the windowsill and peers down into the hub. “I suppose we were still experiments of sorts. How normal could we be?” He scoffs. “How normal could we be by Torchwood’s standards? They didn’t attempt to continue the project after that. Too gruesome.”
“How many survived?”
Ianto tenses slightly before turning to face Jack, looking at him for the first time. “I don’t know,” he bites sharply. “None. They’re all dead probably. Canary Wharf, remember? Still susceptible to being exterminated, deleted, or upgraded.”
“Ianto—” It’s strange for Jack to think that Ianto has really only lived sixteen years of his life, most of it spent in training underground beneath One Canada Square though he acts and looks and is an adult. Is human. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Ha, yes, okay Jack. Will you hire me? I’m a genetically engineered product of your loathed Torchwood One. I also plan to hide my girlfriend in your basement. Can I have a job?”
“What?! What would I have said?” Ianto shouts suddenly, standing up.
Jack clenches his fists and turns his head, and Ianto visibly shakes himself, as if to shed his anger. “The thing about not having a history,” he says quietly, “is that you have nothing to share, no purpose.”
“You talked about your family,” Jack says. “Very little, but you mentioned them nonetheless.”
“As pickup lines.”
“Ah.” They both pause, Ianto having the good grace to blush as he looks down at his bare feet. He turns to peer out the window, separating the closed blinds with his fingers to look down over their drenched clothes hung carelessly over the rails.
“It’s too damp in here,” he murmurs. “Our clothes will never dry.”
“We’ll be alright,” Jack answers as he rises, just in his undershirt and a pair of undershorts. He walks from his chair as Ianto carefully watches him approach but stops to lean against the front of his desk. “We have each other, right? And we have time,” he assures somewhat futilely. The distance is too great between them now, he can feel it. Without their regular clothes on, waistcoats and braces and defenses, they’re unprotected.
Ianto lowers his head, staring up from behind heavy eyelids. He shakes his head. “Born, live, die Torchwood,” he murmurs. “Time was never a gift granted to me, Jack. I’m sorry – I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“What can I do?” Jack asks earnestly. He lifts off from the desk’s edge to step closer. “What can I do?”
Ianto brings his lukewarm glass to his lips and takes a hesitant sip. He can hear Jack’s next question hang emptily in the air. How can I give you purpose? It’s so simple, really, Ianto thinks. He was born to serve Torchwood, but only until he loved Lisa, until he loved Jack and lost Tosh and Owen and clung to Gwen did he ever really understand what it meant to serve, to protect, to want to be all for this shambled, off-kilter place. There exists no propaganda here – intense and mind numbing videos declaring We Serve! We Serve! Just hesitant touches, hands that wrap around his biceps to drag him closer, lips that graze his neck with just enough pressure to cause him to shiver.
“What can I do?” Jack repeats, nearer now, with his stomach aligned against Ianto’s hip, his voice quiet and warm in his ear.
Ianto turns his head slightly to the right. It’s enough to allow him to assess Jack, his face a fuzzy shadow peering into his heavy-lidded eyes. “I serve; I serve,” he murmurs.
The look on Jack’s face is crushing though he’s too close to really focus. “No,” Jack whispers. “No.”
“I serve,” Ianto chants with more force, enough to let the hoarseness of his throat bleed through. He sets down his whiskey glass on the windowsill in the office, and then turns to Jack, bringing his hands to cup Jack’s face. He pulls him in for a kiss, all heat and want, never closing his eyes. It’s not forgiveness, and Jack isn’t apologizing. He pulls away, fingers clutching to Jack’s neck, his smallest fingers curling around the soft hairs on the back of his neck. He murmurs quietly, “I serve; I serve,” believing that it’s enough.