By DJ Forrest
The scented blossoms caught in her throat as she walked through the gardens of the stately home on the English estate. Large and somewhat overgrown rhododendrons bushes hung heavy with thick purple blossoms, azaleas, reds and oranges planted evenly throughout the walkway beckoned the bees and insects to gorge themselves on the nectar, while giving the pollen as a gift. Geoff as usual was ahead of her, his compass grasped in his thick stubby hand with nails short from biting; forever gazing at it for fear of losing his way. He was a short stocky figure with short curly brown hair, green eyes and hopelessly white, never a suntan. He wore his combat trousers, more pockets than contents. Geoff rarely paid attention she thought to the beauty of the Lakes, especially in the height of summer.
They were taking a well-earned break, a week away from the city, staying in a holiday let just up from the Lake. It was to be a time of togetherness, a time for planning their future together, the work was just the cover they needed, for a little bit of R&R.
Geoff had a small row boat he was borrowing from a friend. Marley had brought her laptop; she had a few reports to finish up before Monday. She hated loose ends, and in their line of work, you couldn’t have too many of those.
Marley was wearing her usual casual outdoor wear, actually her every day casual soft denim jeans, slip on shoes, scuffed and in need of a replacement before the end of the month, her light coloured blue shirt, long sleeved, it didn’t show off her slim figure as well as it should but she’d never been one for tight fitting figure hugging closeness, ill fitting and loose, gave her room for manoeuvre she’d told Geoff once.
Geoff had proposed to her on the banks of Coniston Lake last year, this year was meant to be them planning for the wedding, a summer wedding, with marquee, posh stately home in the background, nothing too fancy she mused. But so far the only chance of reviewing their dream wedding had been in a magazine they’d picked up in the village last night, and the only visit to a stately home had been the one they were at right now, and the only reason they were there was to check out the size of the footprints in the sunken garden, that had been the reason for their entire visit.
To say they were investigative journalists was an insult to journalists, but to say that they were investigators of the paranormal or the extraterrestrial was quite believable given that both worked for Torchwood, and had done for several years. It wasn’t by chance that they’d stumbled upon the offer to work for Torchwood; they’d both seen their fair share of alien creatures and those kinds of creatures that defied all logic. But it was a different Torchwood to that which Marley had come to discover on the other side of the forest, in a flash of electricity and the strong smell of cordite.
‘It’s this way.’ Geoff pointed towards the Sunken Gardens of Winscott Manor with his free hand. Marley sighed, had he have looked up from his readings on that gizmo it would have told him more of the landscape and where he was going than what colour the sky was today, or that he’d just walked in a large pile of dog crap as he stomped over a mound of grass and walked up through some Livingstone daisies in a small patch of earth, he might have seen the sign that said ‘Sunken Gardens – 25 yards to the left’.
Marley walked around it, observing with her eyes just how big the gardens were, how tidy, aside from the random dog droppings. She bent down to take a sample in a phial she carried inside a plastic box in her shoulder bag. It didn’t smell like dog crap, sort of that smell you have when you linger over a reptile tank.
Geoff put away the compass gizmo into his left pocket of his Trespass waistcoat and pulled out his camera. The footprint was large, not large enough to create another sunken garden, but large enough that it didn’t fit with any creature within their own eco system. It was three toed, favoured its heels as it walked and seemed from one footprint to the next - a distance of six feet from each step, to be a very large creature indeed.
Another point of fact was the swathe it cut through the flower bed and grass behind the monstrous footsteps left Geoff and Marley thinking that they were possibly dealing with an amphibious creature, likely reptilian.
‘It’s a bloody great big crocodile.’ Marley deduced.
‘We don’t know that for sure.’ Geoff pulled out his gizmo and tried to measure the distance from each footprint and calculated some figures.
‘Three toed, swathing tail judging by the mess through the petunias and look at the angle of the footprints. A crocodile or alligator moves like that on land, shifting its weight from one side to the other, short of it being a bloody great big snake, with legs...’ Marley tapered off as Geoff shot her a look.
‘...fine, what does the gizmo tell us?’ She sighed. At the end of the day it all came down to electronic gadgets than physical observations. Sometimes she really hated technology.
The gizmo bleeped and vibrated while the calculations were processed, then there was a pause and Geoff stared at the findings.
‘Well what is it, Einstein?’ Marley stepped down from the raised flower bed and walked over the destroyed sunken garden to where Geoff stared at the results on his hand-held gadget.
‘It’s a crocodile...’
‘There, what did I tell you?’ She waited for the apology but nothing came. She wandered over and looked over his shoulder.
He was right; it was a crocodile, sort of. “Is that...hair, it is, isn’t it. How can that detect everything about the creature without even collecting data, researching the information, putting the results through extensive readings in a lab...’ She stared at the large 2D diagram and pulled a face.
‘It’s what it says.’ Geoff replied finally lifting his head up from the gadget and glancing at the damage with the tail and the footprints.
‘No what it’s telling us is that a large reptilian creature cut a swathing line through here, but he looked like Elvis.’ She raised a brow.
Geoff shot her a look of incredulous belief. ‘Elvis?’
‘Uh huh!’ Marley adopted the accent briefly. She grinned. Geoff was less than amused. She began to wonder just what they really had in common with each other. ‘It’s got hair, a quiff, on its back, hair on a crocodile, looking like Elvis. Seriously you can’t believe anything that gizmo throws up. Next it will be showing you a gap in the fabric of time where it fell through from another dimension and is doing this amount of damage as it searches for its way back, and why are you looking at me like that.’
Marley glanced behind her, just as she had done once before when Geoff appeared to look through her. There was nothing there, thankfully. She turned back to face Geoff, but he’d disappeared with the gadget around the corner of the Sunken Garden and off towards the house. She sighed, then ran to keep up.
She’d first met Geoff when they were teamed up with a group of other first day Torchwood staff in dealing with a rogue weevil that was terrorising a shopping centre in Hamilton and had been found in the back room of Ann Summers eating chocolate body cream from a battery operated dildo. Marley still smiled recalling that moment even now, and mused as to what her family would think should that ever be brought up at the wedding by the best man. Of course if any of her family really knew what she got up to in her career choice of the last seven years, she’d have to carry around a considerable amount of retcon pills just to keep them quiet.
Geoff was busy within the hollow of a large populated rhododendron bush when Marley caught up with him. He had a pair of tweezers and a plastic Tupperware box, open and ready. A sliver of scale was lodged in the thick bush, one side of the plant had been sheared off, but lodged like a large thick plate the size of a fully grown mans fist, was a large, green scale.
‘It’s definitely reptilian and mock all you like, it is a crocodile but it’s not Elvis. Not unless he came back as a crocodile. He’d just better not start singing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ or ‘Hound dog.’ Geoff said, attempting a little humour.
‘Least we’d know where he was.’ Marley poked around the ground where the broken and crushed branches lay, for further evidence. She found none.
‘Maybe there’s more than one.’
The following morning past without a flicker of finding any further clues to their search for Elvis and returning to their holiday let, Geoff started packing up.
‘We’ve a long journey ahead, we should consider heading back soon, before the weekend traffic starts to build.’
‘Yeah I suppose you’re right but do you think...do you think we could, oh it doesn’t matter.’ Marley turned back to lifting the toiletries into her bag including the small bottles of shampoo and hand cream left for each customer.
Geoff stopped and looked at her. ‘What is it?”
‘Well it’s just, I thought the reason we came here was to get away...’
‘And we have.’ He smiled
‘But it was work related; I thought we came here to plan the wedding.’
Geoff frowned, then crossed the room towards Marley slipping his arms around her waist and looked at her closely.
‘You know I’m hopeless at those sorts of things, that’s girl stuff. It just seemed an ideal opportunity to come and visit here, and when Archie said about this place, with the sightings, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Like when we went to solve the case of the Loch Ness Monster, this will likely be another of those crazy University rag week things, a man on stilts with a huge footprint board. Remember the crop circles with a bit of wood and a large rope, same thing. We’re here to dispel people’s imaginations, nothing more.’ He kissed her, softly, then slightly more passionately, but broke just as she was about to succumb to it.
‘You almost done don’t want to be stuck in traffic before we get on the M6.’
There was a warm feel to the air as they loaded the car and closed the boot.
‘One last walk around the village before we head back? Maybe the lake, I know you wanted to go out on the water before we left.’
‘We would have gone last night if it wasn’t for the amount of midgies.’ Grumbled Geoff checking over the irritation of swollen reddened bite marks on his arms and legs, and some rather personally around his crotch. Marley grinned.
‘Let’s go now, we can pick up some mints at the shop on the way back. Come on, one last walk, then I’ll not say another word till we get back into Glasgow.’
Geoff locked the car and slipping an arm around Marley’s waist walked the short distance to the shops and the final walk around the Lake. He had to admit, it was a nice walk, tall trees, luscious leaves, dense foliage, the crush of the soft mulch under foot that cast up the dust of pollen and the puff ball spores. He had to remember to hold his breath when the dust rose, he’d heard stories about the spores clinging to your lungs and developing inside of you. Of course, that could have just been vicious rumours, Rory was like that in the office, made out he was the King of trivial knowledge, when he read most of his lines off the back of a lolly ice stick.
Bees and birds buzzed and tweeted around them as they walked towards the water’s edge. The old row boat was still moored there since the last visit, but the rope it was tethered to was frayed and green lichen grew along it.
Marley wrinkled her nose at the strong aroma that smelt as bad as the unusual dog crap earlier, as they neared the edge, the water lapping the shoreline, rocking the boat like a gentle lullaby.
Geoff squinted out across the Lake, he was sure he’d seen something, just above the water line, a shape moving, not very fast and not very large, but enough to notice that it didn’t look like a bird on a length of tree branch, and it was all too unlikely to be a shark. He pulled his small binoculars that fit inside his combat trousers and peered through, sighting in, Marley noticed his complexion had paled.
‘What is it?’ She glanced in the direction of his gaze and saw the same, but without the binoculars, she was unsure what he’d seen.
‘What is it Geoff?
‘I don’t know, but it’s coming this way.’
There was a crash behind them, the sounds of large thick pieces of wood splintering, the crash that sounded like a herd of elephants stampeding through trees. Marley turned towards the noise while Geoff continued to stare out at the swathing line cutting through the water towards them.
It was the hiss of the creature before the actual recognition that caused her to grab Geoff by the coat sleeve and pull him away along the shoreline back towards the village.
‘RUN GEOFF, it’s ELVIS.’ For out of the woods came the crocodile seen on the hand-held device earlier, only it was built like a large Volvo estate with a swathing tail lashing the trees as it moved towards them. It was coming for them, but where from and how had it found them, they’d walked along that path, not half an hour ago, the path that lay in ruins, sheared trees, stumps split and defeated, wasted by the lash of the eight-foot tail with the girth of a giraffe’s neck at the thick end.
Given the slope it had gravity on its side and it was forced to run faster than its reptilian legs could physically cope with, but the tail kept it balanced and its jaws snapped and the growl from deep within its throat grew louder the closer it gained.
Marley screamed or at least attempted to as she ran, her heart pounding against her chest, threatening to explode if she didn’t stop for a moment. She knew the 20 a day habit would kill her one day, but not at the hands or indeed the teeth of a large crocodile which was now joined by its mate, charging out of the water.
Geoff had caught up with her, she’d long since let go of his sleeve, to gain momentum in her running. She pounded through the mulch of the trees and kept running, not caring where she went so long as it was away from the shore edge but still the creature tailed after them.
‘GO UP.’ Geoff shouted. ‘CUT UP THE HILL, MIGHT....MIGHT SLOW IT DOWN.’ He pushed her towards the steep incline but as much as it might slow the beast down, it wasn’t helping either of them and soon they were slipping and sliding over the foliage still damp from the early morning mists.
Geoff lost his footing several times and could feel the breath of the creature close on his heels. Panic set in, he focused on Marley.
‘RUUUUNNNN! DON’T LOOK BACK JUST RUN AND GET HELP.’ He screamed at her.
Marley turned as she heard him, saw him slip further, further into the path of the crocodile with the hairy back, the hairy Elvis crocodile. She saw him stare up from the ground at the crocodile still pounding, still thundering on, oblivious to him. She was relieved that it hadn’t seen him, but as it pounded on towards her, it’s three toed foot pushed against Geoff’s body crushing him underfoot. Marley screamed.
No time to lose she ran with all her might, she didn’t care about Torchwood training, it was stay alive or be killed. She reached the brow of the hill, saw the road another 25 yards away and continued to run, getting her second wind as the crocodile struggled up the last few feet, slipping on the mulched ground, snarling at the loss of a meal. She ran and kept running, along the tree line, looking for a gap in the hedge, a space that didn’t hem her in, but there was nothing and the curve towards the shoreline was closing in on her, the second crocodile was moving in for the kill. And then she saw it, a sparkling light, that opened up, just ahead of her.
She’d recalled flashes of these in her training, the research on anomalies and rift spikes, but this wasn’t a rift spike. She weighed up her options, death by crocodile or death by whatever may be waiting on the other end of the sparkling light. She could leap through it and fall to her death, fall into a burning pit, a fiery hell hole.
Elvis was gaining, Prescilla was cutting off Marley’s other means of escape. She ran, slipping and crying, it could all go horribly wrong, she could arrive at the sparkling light and it would be just like the mirages on the long road back to camp in her third year at uni, those hot days when she swore the water on the road was real, and she really fancied a drink, but mirage or not, she was going to take a chance.
She ran and threw herself at the mirage just as Elvis thundered towards her, gaining ground, catching its momentum, on the slide back down the hill, his meal making him work for it. He lunged at Marley, mouth open, catching her arm, her shoulder, biting into the soft tissue. He heard her scream, the taste of blood was too much to ignore, with added momentum he pushed with his back legs and followed after her.
She fell screaming, the ground disappearing beneath her feet; falling deeper and deeper into a sea of darkness, only the crocodile for company, somewhere behind her, gaining ground on the descent.
Then a blinding light, a strong blinding electrical current and she was catapulted forward, blinded for a moment or two. She was unaware of her surroundings, still screaming she expected to find the crocodile behind her, but alone on the tiled carpet flooring in a building she was unfamiliar with, she was alone. Alone in the dark. Alone and scared and without Geoff. She pulled up her knees and sobbed.
Jack Harkness stared into the room with the glass door at the girl who sat on the makeshift camp bed, her arm and shoulder bandaged, and a fresh shirt on her back. Gwen Cooper was sat beside her, offering tea and sympathy, but after the initial instance of explaining about where she came from and who she was, the actual dawning of the situation had kicked in and she stopped talking.
The 17th floor was still off limits to anyone other than Torchwood, but since the strange happenings on that floor, the building had slowly tapered off to a few floors from the reception area and even that was manned only briefly. People had an inkling that when Torchwood were involved, alien creatures weren’t far behind.
At some point, Jack considered cells or units would need to be constructed, the likelihood that weevils or other strange alien creatures could wander in and cause chaos were high on Jack’s agenda, but while they were dealing with one Marley Hanratty, Gwen felt that staff quarters were a main priority.
‘She’s not staff.’ Jack put in, as Gwen picked out fresh clothing for their visitor.
‘No, and she’s not a prisoner. She’s a victim of the rift Jack and until we know how she got here, where she’s from and what was after her, then we treat her accordingly.’
‘With kid gloves? We don’t know anything about her Gwen; she could be on a mission. After everything we’ve been through, I don’t trust her.’
‘We can’t abandon her, that man in the photos, means something to her, maybe...just maybe we can find out more from the photographs.’
Jack lifted the photographs from his desk that he’d had developed and set them out in no particular order. There were several blurred photos of the creature, but the teeth and size and dimensions of it were apparent.
‘It’s a reptile.’
‘She said it had hair.”
‘Yeah, could have just been a trick of the light. Reptiles don’t have hair.’
‘No, but some dinosaurs had feathers...’
‘Gwen, the archaeopteryx was a fake. I should know.’ Jack sighed dropping the photographs back on the desk. Gwen lifted the photo of a building and frowned.
‘If she’s right, then perhaps this is where we start?’ She turned the photograph to face Jack.
‘Winscott Manor is in the Lake District.’
Marley stared out of the window that overlooked the Millennium Stadium, birds fluttered past the window as the screams and yells in her mind echoed in her thoughts. She couldn’t shake Geoff’s death from her mind and wished for something to take away the heartache. She’d heard the Welsh woman talk to her, ask her questions about herself, about who she was, about the reptile she claimed had chased after her. Since she’d arrived she’d been questioned, prodded, had blood samples taken, had been patched up and the tall handsome man in the military coat had watched and scrutinised her every movement, as if he expected her to do something.
Why wasn’t she surprised? She’d learnt from the Welsh woman Gwen that the man was none other than Jack Harkness, the head of Torchwood 3. Somewhere in the databanks at the Glasgow office there had been a file on Jack Harkness but it was classified, beyond Classified, and Archie didn’t like people asking too many questions regarding Captain Jack Harkness.
Her shoulder ached and when she moved she felt the cold sharp stabs of pain, as if a steel rod had pierced her body. She could still smell the breath of the creature as it bit down into her flesh. Her eyes scanned the room, its double glazed windows were closed yet she could still feel a draft, there were vents in the floor, air conditioning, the computers that sat on every desk in the other rooms would need cooling she got that, but what was in here?
Jack put down his pen and thrust a shopping list at Gwen.
‘We need supplies, I’m volunteering that you go, I’ll stay with Miss Hanratty.’
‘Costco will have forgotten that incident in aisle 3, it was a long time ago, Jack, I’m certain they wouldn’t have barred you for life!’ She took the list from his outstretched hand. ‘I’ll add nappies and milk to that list too.’ Fastening her coat, she pushed the list and Jack’s card into her pocket and strode towards the exit, turning only as she reached the door.
She knew the drill, while her back was turned, Jack would nonchalantly wander in, use his matinee charm and grill Marley for all information possible. She was glad that the equipment lost in the Hub hadn’t been salvaged, as knowing Jack; the mind probe might have been used in her absence.
Gwen felt a cold whoosh of air as she walked along the corridor towards the lift, and an acidic aroma that shifted as she walked. She frowned and glanced at the walls, the familiar mould that she’d endured in the old house, that crept up from the skirting boards, hiding behind old pictures, most especially behind the bookcase. Glancing around and up at the ceiling there were no mould clumps that she could see. She stepped into the lift and pressed for ground floor.
Captain Jack Harkness entered the makeshift bedroom and strode towards the window, hands on hips he glanced out at the city below, people going about their everyday business oblivious to the dangers that lurked in the shadows, behind closed doors, behind twitching curtains on housing estates and sheltered housing, in the sewers that he believed would still harbour the weevils that when all was said and done had been a part of the city he’d watched over for years.
As he watched the traffic lights change, and Gwen along with several other shoppers and office staff cross the busy road he pondered on what he’d come back to, if he was wise asking Gwen to return to Torchwood. She had a life, a family, young Anwen was now toddling, growing up, soon she’d be answering back, putting pressure on Gwen to consider leaving Torchwood to become a full time Mum, or would she? He heard a shuffle behind him and turned to see Marley move from the camp bed and join him at the window. She was young, younger than Gwen. She had long dark hair that hung over her shoulders, it was in need of a wash, the ends singed, perhaps from the fall through the anomaly.
‘Feeling any better?’ He returned his gaze towards the city below and the buildings beyond.
‘Not really. I keep going over it in my head.’ She found herself replying to him easier than Gwen.
‘What really happened back there?’ Jack slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and turned, leaning slightly against the window sill. He studied her, noting her slight accent change from English to Scottish, she was no more than 5’10’ in her stocking feet. Eyes as brown as hazelnuts she stared up at him.
‘I already told you everything, why won’t you believe me?’ She felt the tears prickle her eyes and she blinked them away.
‘For the simple reason that I know you’re not telling me the full story. Crocodiles are not from the Lake District, this is not a scene from Lake Placid, and they also don’t have hairy backs. Now unless it’s a euphemism for something else, what-the-hell-happened back there?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ She moved from the window and returned to the bed, sitting down slowly and felt warm air around her ankles. Jack frowned and joined her sitting down beside her.
‘I know you’re hiding the truth, I know something happened out there to make you scream the way you did and everything you’ve told Gwen so far doesn’t add up to the photos we developed from your phone.’ He turned his body to face her, saw her pale skin and freckles around her cheek bones, saw the vein in her neck throbbing.
‘Until I know the truth, I can’t risk you leaving here.’
‘I’m a prisoner?’ She shot him an incredulous look.
‘Tell me the truth. What really happened back there?’
‘You can’t keep me here.’
‘If you work for Torchwood then you know I can.’
Gwen pulled out her phone from the pocket of her jeans as she stood outside of Costco, three large shopping bags bulging and took the call.
‘Hello my lovely.’ Came the voice on the other end. Rhys Williams, doting father, long suffering husband was staring at cuts of meat in the supermarket, Anwen in the shopping trolley casually pulling faces at those around her, eyes for her daddy, rasping raspberries to everyone else. Are you going to be home tonight?’
‘I don’t know Rhys, we’ve got a young girl who’s come a long way from home, and we’re trying to find out what brought her here.’ She sighed leaning against the wall of the shop, feeling the warm sunshine on her face and neck. She realised a pair of sunglasses wouldn’t have gone amiss.
‘Oh aye, are we still talking this planet?’ Rhys had long since accepted that there were more worlds than just this one.
‘That’s in the Lakes that is. Used to do deliveries up there once, weird place mind.’
‘Why do you say that?’ Gwen stepped from Costco sporting a pair of cheap sunglasses and carried the shopping back towards the new Hub.
‘Not Coniston, more the building we had to deliver to, off the beaten track, dirt roads weren’t in it Gwen. You don’t think she worked there do you?’
‘Rhys Alan Williams, what is in Coniston other than a Lake?’
Rhys focused. He put the chops back on the shelf and sighed.
‘A testing facility...’
‘Animals I think. Trefor said there were a lot of men in white coats up there, lots of cages and tanks. It was closed off mind, trespassers you know. It’s down by the Lake but there’s a long dirt road to get to it, bugger in a lorry mind, limited passing places.’
A smile spread across Gwen’s face.
‘You wouldn’t happen to remember the address or the name of the facility would you Rhys, oh love of my life?’
Rhys laughed. ‘Ahh what’s it worth?’
‘I could be home for supper.’ She teased.
Rhys picked the chops back off the shelf and fired them into the trolley smiling.
Gwen, shopping bags stowed inside the little kitchen full of white melamine worktops with a mini fridge, grill and toaster, and a ratty looking kettle with scale brought up the details given to her by Rhys of the Winterhope facility, on her laptop. She flicked through the various photographs offered on a slideshow. Lovely large house, huge garden, ornate Victorian or Georgian glasshouse that gave several conservatories she’d seen in the Cardiff region a run for their money and the feel of quaintness about it, NOT a testing facility for animal life.
She brought up a schematic of the building using the Torchwood software, it belonged to a Lord and Lady Bishop, there was a photograph, loving husband and wife team who had lived out in Africa, owned a ranch, adopted lioness cubs sat around their legs, an Elsa lioness leaned in between them.
Gwen wasn’t convinced this was the same people that Rhys was talking about and dug deeper. In 1981 Lady Margaret Bishop had been injured in a freak accident while out walking her dogs by the shore, she was now in a wheelchair. Gwen saw as she squinted, the handles of the wheelchair in the photograph.
‘So the lions are in Coniston?’ Gwen brought up the map of the land. On another computer she brought up the distance of Winscott Manor to the actual facility. In 2005 Lord Henrick Bishop had extended the east side of the large house and advanced the grounds by another one hundred feet, there was a large pool, deeper and longer than an Olympic swimming pool.
‘They say that swimming is good for the disabled.’ She muttered as she continued to dig deeper.
Jack had retired to his office leaving Marley to her thoughts.
He knew she was hiding something but unable to use any kind of physical force, mostly because he knew Gwen would never forgive him, he’d left her alone in her room. He shook his head, he was even calling it her room.
He contemplated the idea of Interrogation Rooms. While he was on the subject of rooms, he needed to look into security, cells, make this place more workable. God how he missed the Hub, but that was beyond salvageable. There was nothing left to scavenge and half of it was under water. Jack sighed and leaned back on the easy chair. He was about to close his eyes when he heard movement by the door and saw Gwen.
‘Thought you’d gone home.’ He sat up.
‘No. But I will be soon.’ Gwen entered holding several print outs in her right hand. ‘I was looking something up.’ Walking to his desk, a modern rectangle cut, sharp edged plastic desk with four metal square legs with cups protecting the carpet beneath them she placed the print outs as if dealing from the deck.
‘Winterhope Facility is a testing centre in Coniston, near the Lake. It’s down a very long narrow farm track near the Lake itself, comprises of a large garden, huge house with twelve bedrooms, four large function rooms, ensuite bathrooms...’ She felt like an estate agent and cut to the chase. ‘It has a large swimming pool under cover and has a deep basement. It’s fully functional and has high security, you can’t get in there unless you’re invited...’
Jack read the details, studied the photographs and layout of the building. ‘...or Torchwood?’ He didn’t look up. ‘What’s the Winterhope Facility?’
A voice spoke up from the doorway and Jack looked up and saw Marley.
‘It’s where those crocodiles come from. They’re mutations.’ Gwen raised a brow.
‘I think you’d better tell us what is going on here.”
‘It was an assignment that went wrong. An operative disappeared, we’d not heard word back and so Geoff suggested we went, to prove to Archie we could do this. I think he wanted to impress.’ Marley stepped into the room but remained beside the wall decorated with sales figures and other useless pieces of call centre information.
‘We weren’t assigned, we just...I had holiday owing...’
Jack raised a brow. ‘So, you thought you’d go check this place out for yourself, putting yourself at risk and jeopardising an operation?’
‘Archie doesn’t give out assignments he’s a strange little man in Glasgow office who spends most of his time glued to the computer in his room, barks orders and disappears for hours on end. When I took this job it was because nothing I did made sense.’ Marley defended.
‘We’ve seen so much death and violence and not just from our own kind, but Cybermen, Daleks, all those children collected up for an alien race we knew nothing about. How can you justify that, how can you make sense of all of this? I saw a woman fall 200ft and break her neck and she got up as if nothing affected her.’ She lowered her gaze and sighed.
‘I wanted to understand, I wanted to make sense of what was happening. Maria and Denny go missing and a body is found partially eaten in a Lake the other side of Coniston, you tell me you wouldn’t want to find out what was happening? You said Lake Placid was just a film, you have no idea what’s going on out there.’
‘Then tell us, tell us what’s going on and maybe we can do something about it.’ Jack repeated himself.
‘Woah wait a minute.’ Gwen raised her hand. ‘If Marley came through the Rift...’
‘It was an anomaly...’ Marley interjected.
‘Ok anomaly but there’s no guarantee that the facility would be operating in the same fashion. If I’m right in thinking, whatever comes through the rift...’
‘Anomaly.’ Marley corrected, again.
‘I. know.’ Gwen raised a hand pointing to Marley to not interrupt again. She paused, taking a moment to calm.
‘Everything we’ve learnt from the Anomaly...’ She glared at Marley who smiled awkwardly. ‘...or the rift, is that anything that comes through would be from another time, either the future or the past and definitely from another dimension, yes?’ She looked at Jack for confirmation. He nodded.
‘Ok, so if that is the case, we can’t be sure that whatever is at the Winterhope Facility is exactly what Marley saw, in this dimension, can we?’ Again she looked at Jack. He fixed her with a stare then grinned.
‘No reason why we can’t go check it out though right?’ He rose from the seat ‘How long will it take us to get to...Coniston?’
‘Jack I promised Rhys I’d...’
‘Not a problem. We’ll leave tomorrow.’ He smiled reassuring Gwen. ‘At first light.’
The Lake District, busy with tourists rain or shine, boats on the water, car parks full, buses and coaches filling up every coach space available, ice creams and high teas littered tables beneath trees laden with leaves and blossom and wasps. An idyllic setting, not somewhere that housed mutant reptiles but Jack knew that behind every curtain there hid a secret.
They’d acquired an SUV, an old reliable Landrover not quite Torchwood, not quite tourist, but reliable enough to get them all the way there. The radio didn’t work and after several rounds of “Ten green bottles’ Gwen had threatened to push one where the sun didn’t shine if Jack didn’t just for once – shut up! Marley sat in the back, beside three standard cases of Torchwood supplies, she spotted a packet of Mint Imperials poking out of a rucksack and delved in the packet for a few, popping them into her mouth to ease the travel sickness she suffered from and a handful into her pocket before climbing out of the car when they parked up. It had been a long drive and the closer they’d reached their destination, the full realisation of revisiting the place where she’d lost Geoff was beginning to sink in and she felt sick.
‘You can stay in the SUV if you want.’ Jack had offered noting her pale face. Marley shook her head.
‘I’ll be alright, I never was a good backseat passenger.’ She sucked on another mint imperial and lifted the rucksack that had been allocated to her. The plan was that there was no plan, nothing concrete anyway.
‘We’re just three people taking a walk through the woods down to the Lake, nothing out of the ordinary.’ Jack explained after they’d loaded the Landrover with all manner of tech, weapons and a few essential supplies. Gwen shook her head. Marley stared at Jack’s attire relaxed military and not a hint of casual about him, albeit pleasing on the eyes.
Jack had parked the vehicle in an all day car park and popped the card in the window. He wasn’t sure how certain people in the local area would believe Doctor on Call would be but it was always worth a go and if it was met with a rebuke he’d flash his pearly whites and win them with a dazzling smile and if that failed to impress, he was a perfect bedfellow.
Jack strode across the road and along the fence line till there was a gap in the hedge wide enough to squeeze through. Gwen walked beside Marley, noting her nervousness the closer they reached the woods.
‘We’ve got enough supplies here to fight off a sabre tooth tiger and its cubs, you’ll be fine.’ Gwen smiled her casual ‘everything might turn to shit but we’ll do the best we can to make it through’ kind of smile, the one she’d used when really Gwen wasn’t sure if things would happen or not.
Marley crunched on the mint in her mouth and sucked the final crumbly powder till it evaporated on her tongue.
The afternoon was humid and after a while Jack’s shirt clung to his back, sweat soaking through the cotton fabric. They’d been walking for what felt like miles, up hill and down dale. The facility was the other side of the Lake, this was the tourist walkway. He knew it would have been easier to drive along the muddy road down to the gates of the premises but where was the fun in that, he’d told the girls. This way at least they had the element of surprise, unless they had the same level of security that Torchwood had, and given enough time, the new Hub would also have and they’d have been on the cameras for a good mile or so by now and the welcome party would be there at the gate.
He had to admit that the BT building wasn’t really the ideal place, sure it had a high roof, he could stand on top and survey his kingdom, but it lacked that level of privacy the last place had given him. Under the ground, he’d had the run of miles of tunnels, walkways, a basement, a submarine, alright not a huge submarine but enough to get around the Bay undetected. But on the 17th Floor he was kind of limited. All offices looked the same, the doors to the bathrooms had the same coloured front fascias and only by the crude sketches of Male and Female stick figures could anyone tell the difference until they physically entered the cubicles. And hygiene...well hygiene was down to the last person to leave the bathrooms and floor.
The Hub for all its faults had been home, had felt safe, and he’d grown acclimatised to the building having lived and worked in it for too many years to consider counting. And OK, a base was a base, somewhere to lay your head, put down some roots, but since when had Jack put down any significant roots since he’d left Cardiff after the 456 had turned him into the ‘monster’ he knew he was?
It was time to make amends, put right some of the things he could fix, but bringing back the dead...He pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind. If he spent as much time thinking of the past, his future and that of millions, billions of other people would be at risk.
There was a gate leading to another part of the wood side, he climbed over it and continued on dead ahead, the facility not that far away now.
Marley didn’t recognise any of the trees, the wooded area, the stretch of Lake to her left. She tried to get her bearings, but as Gwen had told her, the different dimensions could mean that what happened to her in one place might not have happened on this side, which meant that she might witness it all over again.
Harris Daniels stood outside Building 4, his brown overall coat open fully and the packet of Castle cigarettes still clutched in his left hand. His curly mousy brown hair blew against the side of his head, the knotted curls bobbing like soap suds at a night club, Trixxie’s nightclub on the Friday night – wall to wall babes and him and Tappa with one in each arm and then back to his for an all out party. Now with a hangover from hell wearing off, tongue as dry as one of Gandhi’s flipflops and three more hours before knocking off time, this was one hell of a day to deal with three new hatchlings of reptilian creatures. You couldn’t even with a stone cold sober attitude call them anything other than creatures. They weren’t your run of the mill, fancy as you like standard, normal, find them in a zoo, in an enclosure marked ‘crocodile’, no these were big as you like, bloody uncontrollable unless you had the right set of kit, of which he, Harris Daniels did not have, nor would have if Geoff didn’t hurry his sweet little fanny arse all the way here in the next half hour.
Harris wasn’t the most reliable of people to bring the right gear when he was meant to, after the party on Friday he was lucky if he’d managed to rouse himself out of bed and drag his own fanny white arse all the way into work, but nine hours into the shift of test samples, injections, monitoring and he was quite pleased with his progress, but this was by far the hardest nine hours, considering he’d managed to so far convince Lord Henrick Bishop that he was more than capable of putting the ‘crocs’ through their paces with his kit, of which he’d brought with him, oh yes indeed sir, because oh woebetide him forgetting to bring that. He’d heard it all before, Henrick Bishop hated tardiness, he ran a tight ship, so tight nothing could squeeze out of it or into it without him knowing, which is why, standing outside of Building 4 with his cigarette packet clutched tightly in his left hand, Geoff worked in Building 2 which he’d have to walk by this building in order to get to his own site, pick up the cigarette packet and replace it with another exactly the same, that contained the kit he needed in order to put the ‘crocs’ through their paces. Harris grew impatient, the clock was ticking, and Geoff was nowhere in sight. He was late!
Jack lowered the binoculars and wiped the beaded sweat from his face – damn it was hot.
‘I can see the building through the trees, just another thousand yards and if we keep to the trees we might get closer undetected.’ He called as Gwen cooled her hands in the water lapping the shoreline.
‘Jack?’ She called back to him. ‘Did you notice any unusual smell back at the office, a sort of acidic smell?’ Gwen straightened up wiping her hands on the back of her jeans and walked back to collect her rucksack from beside Marley.
‘No why?’ Jack narrowed his eyes, was this a dig at him for forgetting to order more toilet cleaner?
‘I smelt it back there at the water’s edge, it’s almost metallic.’ She wrestled with the strap, straightening as Marley cleared her throat.
‘I smell that all the time.’ She had their attention and Jack’s hand was over his side arm. ‘The last time I was here I smelt it, then when I arrived in the building. It’s on my clothes, it’s in that room where I sleep...’
‘It was in the corridor when I was making for the lift.’ Gwen saw Jack quickly check their location from the VM. ‘What is it Jack?’
‘Nothing.’ He closed the strap of the VM and hauled on the rucksack. ‘But I suggest we keep to the trees, just to be on the safe side.’
The Mini van bounced along the uneven road towards the facility, The Script played loudly over the radio and Geoff sang to their latest hit. His voice dipped and jarred as he pounded the van over the pot holes that were as deep as mini craters in the tarmac. Another ten minutes and he’d be at the gate, and another 8 hours and he’d be heading home in darkness, and navigating his way through the typical mist, and the pot holes would be even bloody harder, he moaned. God he hated this job, but until he could afford to pay off the huge loan for the van he was now driving, he was stuck there.
The packet of Castle fags sat on the passenger seat, along with his newspaper and a cheese and onion sandwich bought from the garage. He’d fancied the scotch egg too but they’d upped the prices, for the tourist season. God he hated tourists. He reached the checkpoint and waved his ID card sat on the dashboard to his right. Malcolm was in the box, bored out of his brain, playing Candy Crush, and stuck on level 97. He nodded and raised the barrier allowing Geoff through.
The second gate was unmanned, it meant leaving the comfort of the vehicle and pushing open the eight foot gate, placing it in the hook to stop it swinging back, and shutting it when he moved the car. God he really hated heavy wooden gates.
Harris was putting out his third cigarette by the time Geoff hurriedly raced around from the car park and swapped over packets. He lingered in the doorway having a sly smoke before hurrying to his charge, a female creature, heavily laden with eggs, which she was determined to hang onto for as long as possible. It had been her third batch and so far when her back was turned, the eggs had disappeared. She knew they were taking them, but she didn’t know where to.
Sister 137 was the name they’d christened her. She was one of 137 others, all similar all with a purpose, all to make the Bishops very rich, but at what cost? Sister 137 had no choice, she had limited movement, but the Lake was calling her. In the dead of night she heard him, heard the call of the wild, he was out there, looking for her, calling for her return. How she wished she’d followed him into the waters, not thought about her eggs, not thought of what the two legs were going to do to them. How she longed for her freedom.
‘Sir, you should see this.’ Martin Longfellow called from his workstation. On the 17” screen in front of him were three people with rucksacks walking along the tree line and only 260 yards from the Building 4 where Harris had been working, and should have left already. Yet he’d not clocked out.
Lord Bishop gruffly glared at the taller of the three, a soldier in a great coat who had just himself up over the fence and held his hand out for the two women companions. Bishop scowled.
‘Keep an eye on them, of all the days to come and trespass on my land, they have to do it today. Pray they don’t discover our beauty....or maybe they should, what are three more missing people? Keep an eye on them.’
‘Sir.’ Martin tapped in the security alert and focused the cameras on the three intruders, he knew so far they were no threat, but he also knew that if he hadn’t have mentioned it to the cantankerous old man who paid his wages, it would be his last pay check in this godforsaken place. He continued to follow Jack, Gwen and Marley’s progress through the ground. Just like the last, they would likely say they were lost, following the tourist trail, didn’t see the large 12 foot sign that signified ‘Danger’ in big bold letters on the gate, wall and lit up with enough cameras that even Big Brother would be paranoid.
Jack Harkness figured they were being watched, he’d seen the cameras in the trees and wondered if Gwen or Marley had noticed, but as no security men or large snapping Alsatians’ had come at them from any quarter, either the cameras were defunct or nobody really cared. Or, and it was a big or, nobody was going to retaliate until they tried to gain actual entry then there might be trouble.
He decided to say nothing, best not to give off any levels of ‘we’re trespassing and we know we are’ appearance. The fencing around the perimeter was electrified, that much he’d figured out for himself, and knowing that it tingled the first time, he really didn’t fancy giving it a second shot. He rubbed his fingers, it would heal, it always did. He waited, nobody came, no alarms were triggered, no guns, men or dogs came into view.
Jack narrowed his eyes, he’d have expected something by now. Allowing for a few more minutes to pass and given that Gwen was already eyes and ears behind him, Marley he figured was working her way through whatever candy she’d found in the backpacks. Hey wasn’t that mine? Jack knew he’d packed a few mint balls for the trip.
He took the readings from the VM, there were four large buildings at the back, the nearest one with the green wooden facia, with the tired peeling paintwork said 4. So counting back, number one was near the large white birdcage of a conservatory over the other side, where gardens, grass and the main part of the house looked out across the Lake. There were a few heat signals but nothing significant enough to tell whether they were human or animal.
‘What do you think Jack?’ Gwen called over his shoulder, her voice hushed but serious, the longer they stayed where they were, the more suspicious they were going to look and she wondered herself if the cameras they’d passed were defunct or live. But given that nobody had run out screaming into a walkie talkie and yelled at them to lie down, hands behind their heads and legs apart, she felt a little at ease, but only a little. Given what they’d experienced over the years, there could be a multiple of reasons why nobody had come out already, and one made her feel sick to the stomach with dread.
‘I think...’ Jack turned on his boyish grin and turned to face her. ‘...we go take a look. Keep comms on at all times, report back what you find and first sign of trouble, get yourselves out.’
Jack ran to the nearest building block, the same as Harris had stood outside of waiting for his packet of cigarettes from Geoff. It was early evening by the time Jack, Gwen and Marley had reached the complex, although they weren’t casually strolling like tourists, they didn’t want to make it obvious that they weren’t, and the afternoon humidity hadn’t helped much either.
Gwen followed with Marley soon after Jack had made it to the building block 4, and after Jack had tried the door, found no alarm and had entered, moved to the next block to check it out. The one thing she noticed first was how warm it was inside the block. A moist heat similar to those tropical houses in the zoo. She withdrew her side arm, something felt comfortable in her grip, like a security blanket for a child.
‘Stay close, Marley.’ Gwen instructed.
There were five stone steps leading down into the 3rd building block. The walls were tiled in marble, green algae lived against the lower parts of it, in the corners, the cracks in the tiling, and around the steps making it considerably slippery in the wrong footwear. Gwen moved cautiously.
Jack felt the beads of sweat on his brow begin to trickle down his face, his clothing clung to his body making it difficult to manoeuvre and he was beginning to wish he’d not worn his coat. He paced carefully across the tiled floor, noting green stains, and the strong scent of animal droppings, the deeper into the room he got, the stronger the smell. He wished he could find a light switch, but the torchlight had picked up nothing as it strobed across the walls, nothing but moisture clung to them, dripping in rivulets, pooling in the grimy floor.
Marley crunched on another mint, there was something familiar about the smell in the room she could barely see in. Even in the beam from Gwen’s torch it was difficult to make out anything in the gloom and as she shone into the room itself, the light appeared to bounce back and blind the pair.
‘I don’t like this, we should go back.’ Marley spoke nervously behind Gwen.
Gwen pressed her comms link and heard only static. ‘Jack?’ She called pressing it again. She was almost relieved when she heard his voice.
‘Anything?’ Came back his voice
‘Nothing, just hot, sticky, sweaty, like a sauna only with a pungent smell of rotten water.’ She finally decided.
‘Yeah, that’s what I’m getting too. There’s a door to my left, it might open into yours. It’s got six little windows, can you see it, should be to your...right.’ Jack called. Gwen shone her torch and saw the door Jack mentioned and smiled.
The thick air clung to their faces, blinding them from seeing clearly in the darkened smoggy room. Marley froze even before Gwen’s hand touched the round handle. Something large slithered along the tiled floor in the darkness. There was a deep growl that even Gwen heard. She shone the torch again bouncing the beam off the walls, throwing large shadows towards the ceiling. Her heart was in her mouth, there was that smell again, that all too familiar smell.
It’s here, it’s here, oh my God, we’re going to die, it’s here, the croc, Elvis is here?’ Marley became hysterical, blind panic, her hands shook and three mint imperials dropped from her hand and bounced along the tiled floor into the darkness. The slithering became more defined, and moved with haste towards them.
The urgency to open the door now was stronger but as she turned the handle, a bigger problem emerged. ‘SHIT!’ Gwen cursed.
Through the darkness, moving across the tiled floor, the deep growl from within the creature, echoed around the swimming pool sized room. Gwen rattled the door, hoping it would give.
Gwen? Gwen? What’s going on in there?’
‘We have company Jack.’
‘Open the door.’
‘The doors locked.’
‘Get yourself back to the exit.’
‘I don’t think I can Jack.’
‘Because there’s two creatures in here and both exits are shut to us. We’re trapped.’
Marley was shaking, sobbing and trembling, her hands sweaty and sticky with mint. It was all happening again, only this time there was no shimmering light and she wasn’t going to escape the creatures that Gwen could now see coming towards them from both sides. The yellow green eyes, the snapping of its powerful jaw, it was coming for them, and there was nothing they could do.
As Jack left Building 4 and ran to the next, he was halted by the screaming from the Number 3.
Is Jack too late to save Gwen and Marley? Find out next month when Mitchell returns.