Here it is: the final chapter of The Brainstem Murders
. I'll have Vanishing Act
ready for posting fairly soon, so stay tuned.
~ Chapter VII ~
The day’s rain finally seemed to have ended. The steel grey clouds that had smothered the sky since dawn were breaking up, finally letting the sun peek through as it set. The ride back to Torchwood was quiet and much more sedate than the trip out to the warehouse. Sara rode back in the sedan with Joshua, and the rest of the team took the van. For the first while Sara expected Josh to take her home, but was surprised to see that he followed the van all the way downtown. As they neared the centre of Albany street, both vehicles turned to the right, driving straight towards a thick stone wall - and ending up going right through it. The van was swallowed by darkness ahead of them, not even its tail lights visible.
She looked questioningly to Joshua, who laughed. “A little something we’ve been holding onto for Her Majesty for a few decades,” he said.
“So the wall is... what, a hologram or something?”
“You could say that,” he replied. “It’s a thin illusion, though. It needs to be projected onto total darkness - any light from behind shows through.”
She turned in her seat and saw, to her amazement, that she could still faintly make out the street beyond the image of the stone wall.
The van suddenly became visible again in front of them, and Joshua pulled gently to the left-hand side of the Torchwood garage. Xander and Conrad were already out of the van, and Alain was helping an unsteady Greg climb out as well. They moved through a large metal door in the side of the room, and she realised with a start that Joshua was already out of the car and heading for it as well. She scrambled with her seatbelt and rushed after him.
The stone corridor seemed shorter this time, despite how slow the group was moving behind Alain, who was helping Greg remain upright. She eyed the metal door on her right warily, remembering her last visit to this hallway and hoping she wasn’t going to end up going through it again. Joshua caught her eye and grinned, as if he knew what she was thinking, and shook his head gently.
Alain finally pushed open the door in front of them, and they stepped into the room beyond. Joshua stood to the side of the door, waiting for her.
“After you,” he said, still smirking.
She hesitated for a moment, then stepped across the threshold into a whole other world.
She’d stepped into a high, circular stone arcade with a series of tall, pointed archways running every three or four feet. The arcade surrounded a massive, brightly lit room floored in what looked like battered marble. She followed Conrad through the nearest archway into the main chamber, her eyes travelling upwards to the vaulted stone ceiling thirty feet above. A squat stone pillar sat in the middle of the room, easily six feet wide and nearly ten high, ringed by a wide stone desk at waist height. Above that, flat computer monitors dotted its surface, showing strings of numbers, diagrams of objects she didn’t recognise, and walls of minuscule text.
Joshua stepped up beside her, his hands behind his back. “Welcome to Torchwood Five,” he said, still grinning broadly. He pointed after the others, who had moved across the room through another archway slightly to her right, down another much wider and shorter hallway at the end of which she could just make out a pair of glass doors. She followed them, Joshua right behind her.
They stepped into the cool, sterile air of the medical bay, where Alain was lifting Greg onto one of the stainless steel examination tables. Joshua urged her forward with a hand at the small of her back, and she stepped further into the room and stood next to Conrad.
“You’ll be fine,” said Alain confidently, speaking to Greg. “I just want to take another proper look at your shoulder. The creature may have provided the host with a venom that I’ll need to treat, but I don’t think it’s likely.”
Greg nodded. “What about the other creatures, the infants at the warehouse?”
“They’re dead,” said Conrad. “All of them, as far as I could tell. I have some samples in the van.”
“How?” asked Greg.
Conrad shrugged, but Alain had an answer: “I expect they died with the adult creatures. Judging from what Xander told me of what happened on the roof, it sounds to me as if they shared some form of limited group consciousness, or a psychic bond. They certainly seemed to react to the death of one of its kind nearby. The deaths of the adults on the roof was likely too great a shock for the infants.”
“We’ll go back tomorrow, and collect what’s left of them,” said Xander. “Just in case. And...” he turned to Sara. “Camryn Lee-Smith’s family are now aware of her death. We’ve seen that it’s ruled an accident, not suicide.”
Sara nodded, gratitude welling in her chest. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
He nodded, then spoke again to the room at large. “As for the rest of the victims - the hosts we fought at the warehouse - we’ll need to gather them and bring them back here for processing. We’ll have our hands full over the next while, staging appropriate deaths for each of them.”
The team nodded as one. Xander, satisfied, turned to Joshua. “Josh, come with me for a moment, please.” The two of them left the room, Conrad following them. Greg looked blearily up at Sara and smiled. “Alain here filled me in on what went down after I was attacked,” he said. “I hear you did a bang-up job helping Alain get my unconscious ass out of there, and your work on the roof. Thanks. I don’t think any of us would still be here if it weren’t for you.”
She smiled back. “Don’t mention it,” she said. “Just promise me one thing: you’ll let Joshua do the interrogating from now on, alright? You’re really terrible at it.”
He laughed, even though it seemed to hurt. “I thought tying you up was a nice touch,” he said. “And it was fun.”
“Pig,” she muttered, smirking as she looked to Alain. “So, any idea if Xander plans on having me drugged again?” she asked him.
“No, not this time,” replied Xander, the glass doors swinging silently shut behind him as he and Joshua returned. “After what happened last time, and because of your help this afternoon, I think we can bend the rules a little bit. Just this once.”
“Thank you,” she said, breaking into a smile.
“Mr. Wright will take you home,” he said. “I have logs to write, and you’re undoubtedly ready to get some rest. Thank you again, Ms. Wallace.” With that, he stepped from the room and disappeared.
Joshua held the door open for her. “Come on. Let’s get you home.”
The drive across Queensbridge was equally as quiet as their journey to Torchwood. By the time they pulled up in front of the Villageview apartments, the sun had broken completely free of the day’s cloud cover and was well on its way to setting. They walked slowly up the paved walkway from the street to the front doors.
“You could have parked in the lot,” she said, speaking for the first time since they left Torchwood. “Maybe come upstairs for a bit, have something to eat...”
He smiled, but shook his head. “I wouldn’t have time anyway,” he said. “I’ve gotta get back, we still have a lot of work to do to contain this. It’s not over yet - you just got to see the exciting parts.”
She nodded sadly, feeling slightly let down. “Well, I guess I’d better let you go, then.”
“Yeah,” he said, making no effort to move back towards the car. “We’ll need to head back to the warehouse, to clean up what’s left of both the parasites and the hosts. That’s a few hours’ work right there.”
She sighed. “Sounds like a blast...” she said.
“You bet,” he replied, smirking. “Then we’ll need to identify each host - that can be a pain in the ass, believe me. And once we’ve worked out who's who, we have to learn enough about them to stage a death.” She was about to interject, but he seemed to sense it and cut her off: “We’ll try to make as many accidents as possible. We’ve even managed to attach an extra victim to a known serial killer before, on rare occassions.”
She ran a hand through her hair. “Alright. Well... maybe I’ll see you around, then,” she said. “Say goodbye to Alain for me. And Xander, and Conrad...”
“What about Greg?” asked Joshua. “Wasn’t he a delight? You’re not going to miss him?”
She smirked. “Alright, yeah, him too. I owe you all a lot.”
He shrugged. “It’s our job. It’s us who owe you, actually - without you, we’d probably have been in it pretty deep. We wouldn’t have all made it out of Cornett’s apartment, much less the warehouse, if it hadn’t been for your help.”
She looked back towards the sedan for no real reason. “I didn’t just mean for saving my life,” she said. “Though there is that. No, I meant...” she struggled for a moment. How could she possibly convey to him what the past day had meant to her? What they’d done to her life?
“The last twenty-four hours...” she began slowly. “Have been incredible. I mean, the past four, five years of my life have been... they’ve been terrible. Dull, aimless... lonely. I’ve been wandering since I finished high school - I even took an extra year, because I didn’t know how to move on. Where to go, what to do... But today! Today was... it was like a dream. An insane, terrifying, painful dream. I’ve seen things that I never imagined were possible. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see my life the same way again. And I owe that to you. To all of you.”
He nodded, smiling. He opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again. “There are worse jobs to have, for sure,” he said finally.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t I know it...” she muttered. “But at least now, while I’m sitting in that damned stool and starring through my own reflection, pouring coffee for strangers... at least now, I know that that’s not all there is. That somewhere out there is something better.”
A frustrated look crossed his face. “You don’t really want to go back to that coffee shop, do you?” he asked incredulously. “Pouring coffee, stirring sugar, dragging garbage bags...?”
She shook her head, a tad resentful of his condescending tone - it was bad enough she had to go back without him mocking her for it. “No,” she said defensively. “But I won’t be there for long anymore. Before, sure, I probably wouldn’t have made an effort to get out, or find anything different. Anything better. But I don’t think I’ll have a choice now.”
He folded his arms and leaned against the door. “What do you think you’ll do, then?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I still have no idea, really. I’ll probably end up going off to university. Don’t know what for yet, but... I’ll think of something. It might take me a while, but I’ll come up with something - after today, I think just about anything I do will be a bit of a come down, you know?”
He grinned. “Well, we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
She had pulled her keys from her purse and had them halfway to the lock before she really registered what he’d said. “What do you mean?” she asked.
His grin widened. “I had a talk with Xander. Normally, he’s not big on letting witnesses go free without a dose of Format. There are unique exceptions, though.”
She narrowed her eyes, trying and failing to follow his point. “You’re not saying you have to drug me after all, are you?” she asked, panicking slightly.
“No, no, not at all,” he said quickly. “That would make if difficult for you to come into work every day, don’t you think?”
She dropped her keys, but made no effort to either catch them or pick them up. “Are you... offering me a job?” she asked, hardly daring to believe it.
“If you want one.”
She starred at him, her head spinning. “You mean... work for Torchwood?”
“I mean work for Torchwood” he said. “There’s all sorts of things out there you can’t even imagine. The things you saw today? That’s just the start. There’s more.” His eyes burned with intensity and his voice was heavy. “How’d you like to do this sort of thing every day?”
She inhaled, standing straight and meeting his intense gaze evenly. “When can I start?” she asked.
He smiled, and knelt down to retrieve her keys. He handed them to her, then gestured back towards the car parked on the street. “Like I said: we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”