Another Life. Part 25

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Where the hell was she, he wanted to know. The cinema thing had been rained off, and Josie and Brendan had bunked off without him because they were like that, weren't they, it was all about them since the office party. And he'd been worrying all night about her in this storm, and couldn't get a signal. But now the storm seemed to be abating, and he'd finally got through.

Gwen huddled in the corner of the bedroom, smiling a wan apology at the others in the room.

'I'm sorry,' she told Rhys quietly. 'I'll not be long, I promise. Just finishing up here.' She looked down at herself, and saw that she was still wearing the wetsuit that was a size too small. 'I've got to change first. Be home soon.'

She returned to the bed and had a good look at Jack. Despite his recent ordeal, he appeared to be in implausibly good health. 'I should probably get home,' she told him.

'Life goes on,' smiled Jack. 'It must be getting late.' He checked his wrist, but Toshiko had removed his watch earlier.



Gwen pointed out where she had placed it on his bedside cabinet. 'It got smashed,' she told him in an apologetic tone. 'You must have bashed it against the side of that metal cage thing. When you were... well, you know.'

Jack inspected the broken watch. The cover glass over the twenty-four-hour dial had crazed.

Gwen indicated the hands on the watch, buckled and unmoving. She leaned close, so that only Jack would hear her speak. 'Time of death: 21.46.'

'Oh yeah,' Jack replied. 'Now that that was a great year for me.' was a great year for me.'

THIRTY-THREE.

The Casa Celi was almost deserted. No rowdy bankers or ladies-who-lunched had braved the bright afternoon sun. Rico Celi polished the table next to them for the tenth time since they'd arrived, as though that might encourage some passer-by to come in and order something.

There wasn't much likelihood of that, Gwen thought. The high street was largely empty of people, too. There was so much mud silt washed up along its length that it wasn't always clear where the pavement ended and the carriageway began. When the Torchwood team had walked down it earlier, she'd wished that she'd worn Wellington boots instead of her sensible shoes. The water from the Bay may have subsided as suddenly as it had risen over central Cardiff, but many of the shops and businesses remained closed. Through most streets, the residual sludge wasn't the only thing left behind by the retreating water. There was the human detritus of food scraps and fast-food cartons. Shredded paper and cans. A solitary, soggy, striped pillow. Postboxes had a ring around them, dirty tide marks that showed how far the water had reached. Against one bent lamp-post was a twisted bicycle, awkwardly cast up from who knew where and still with its chain attached to one buckled wheel.

The cafe doors were firmly closed, despite the warm afternoon sun. It kept the foul smell of the mud out in the street. Gwen and Toshiko sat at one small table by the window. Jack and Owen sat at the next one alone. They were positioned by the front window so that they could look out into the street, alert for any sign of Weevils. In the ashtray in front of Jack was the exact change for his and Owen's drinks. Jack had also placed the anti-Weevil spray on his table, in plain view next to his tall glass of water. Gwen thought it more prudent to conceal the hand-clamps beneath her table.

'Rico,' called Jack. 'You're gonna wear a hole in that thing.'

The cafe owner stopped scrubbing at the adjacent table. 'For a while this morning, I thought that I'd never get this place clean again. I was stuck in here during the flood, did I mention that?'

'Only a dozen times. How were you?'

'Cachu planciau.'

Gwen coughed in an attempt to stifle her laughter.

'Very demotic,' said Jack. His eyes never left the street. But Gwen could tell his attention was on Owen, beside him. Owen had barely spoken to any of them since Jack had discharged them both from the medical suite in the Hub. Jack had made some excuse about an increase in the number of free-roaming Weevils in the last forty-eight hours, and that many more of the creatures seemed to have been flushed out from the sewers by the recent flooding. When they'd arrived at Casa Celi half an hour ago, he'd made Gwen and Toshiko sit at a separate table. Gwen sipped her lemonade, listening in to Jack's sporadic, almost one-sided conversation with Owen.

When he eventually spoke, Owen's voice was barely a mumble. Didn't want her and Toshiko to overhear him, Gwen decided. Deep down, he probably didn't want Jack to hear it either. 'I feel that this has been a test,' Owen muttered.

'A test,' Jack repeated in a level tone.

'Like a test of me. One I botched. But the person who suffered for my failure was Megan.'

Jack took his eyes from the window for the first time since he'd sat down. He looked closely at Owen. 'You know that I recruited you all because you are the best. Don't you?'

Owen nodded dumbly.

'It's a gut thing,' Jack explained. 'An instinct. Not something you can pass or fail a test on. And it's not something I'm gonna judge you on, Owen. You each earn my respect every day.'

Owen couldn't hold Jack's gaze. He distracted himself by swirling his slice of lemon round in the bottom of his Coke glass.

'Hard as it may seem now,' Jack continued, 'Megan was a part of your life before Torchwood. You are doing more to save others now than you ever were back in A&E. That's the old world, that's gone now. She's gone.'

'Don't you think I know that?' snapped Owen. His angular face was pink now, suffused with barely contained fury.

'Not what I mean, Owen.' Jack kept his steady gaze on the angry man. He would not back down, would not apologise. 'Your whole existence in A&E, you can't return there. You're so way beyond that now. You can't go back to that time, that place, those people. You're living another life. It's the twenty-first century, we have to help them be ready for it.' He took Owen's hand, and placed something in his palm. It was the Bekaran deep-tissue scanner that he'd retrieved from the hospital room. 'And giving them alien technology helps no one in the long run.'

Owen looked like he was about to say something, but abruptly there was there was no time for more chat. They were all startled by a face at the window. Fuzzy pale hair, grizzled weather-beaten skin, and a permanent scowl of anger and bemusement. If they'd been shocked by the Weevil, Gwen thought, well that was nothing to what it must have felt when it saw four humans on the other side of the glass leap to their feet.

Jack grabbed for the spray in front of him, scattering half-finished drinks and loose change all over the table in the process. Gwen and Toshiko scrambled awkwardly beneath their table for the hand-clamps.

Owen, meanwhile, was already in hot pursuit of the Weevil. First through the cafe door and into the mud-caked street. Ahead of them all.

Acknowledgements

Stuart Cooper, for the initial opportunity.

Brian Minchin and Gary Russell, for production insights.

Mathew Clayton and Steve Tribe, for editorial expertise.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lane, for camaraderie.

Peter Ware and Matt Nichols, for logistics.

Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, for bringing Captain Jack back to life in the first place.

Adam and Samuel Anghelides, for background noises.

Also available in the Torchwood Torchwood series:

BORDER PRINCES.

by Dan Abnett

SLOW DECAY.

by Andy Lane

Another Life. Part 25

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Another Life. Part 25 summary

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