So. After more than a month's delay, I'm finally plugging away again, and have the first chapter ready. I hope to have the rest of it posted by the end of next week, so I can devote my whole attention to the special Christmas story I have planned: Hark, the Weeping Angel Sings
~ Chapter I ~
The police were summoned immediately, and without a second thought they cordened off the theatre and forbade anyone from entering or leaving until all witnesses had been questioned. For a moment Sara feared that this would prove a difficulty - how could they start work on finding out what'd happened if they couldn't even go out to the van for what little equipment it contained, never mind going back to Torchwood? Her fears were unfounded, though - with a quick flash of a battered leather wallet with a stylised golden letter 'T', the police grudgingly but silently allowed them to leave.
The lights in the main chamber of the Torchwood base lit automatically as Xander stepped briskly into the high stone arcade, the rest of the team following just behind him. Xander was already calling out orders before they'd had time to remove their jackets.
"We need scans of the theatre, top to bottom and back to front; look for everything, we don't want to overlook anything."
Greg moved off towards a computer and booted up the necessary programs. Xander didn't even acknowledge this, instead taking such ready obedience for granted. "Joshua, take Sara back to the theatre and run some local scans there as well. One of you can do that while the other talks to the witnesses."
He turned to Alain, his eyes scanning his crumpled theatre program. "According to the program, the actor's name was Smithson Lake. See what you can dig up in police records, medical reports, anything you can think of." Alain nodded and headed towards the medical bay.
"Conrad, run a detailed analysis on the Bleed reports from the last few months. Go back at least four, I would think. I'd like to think this isn't connected to the Wound, but we can't run the risk."
As Conrad left her side and rushed towards his own computer, Sara turned to face Joshua on her other side. "What exactly is a 'bleed report'?" she asked, falling into step just behind him as he turned back towards the garage.
"We have equipment that monitors the spacial wound hovering over Queensbridge. It tells us what kinds of energy, radiation, and foreign matter seep - or 'bleed' - through it. We analyse the data it stores every day, but sometimes we need to look at several days, a few weeks, even a handful of months' worth of data at a time. It lets us see patterns and anomalies in what's coming through."
"I've never heard of anything like this," she said distractedly. "A 'spacial wound', I mean. Not in real life, anyway. It's all a bit... Star Trek
. What exactly is it?"
He cast her a furtive look, smiling slightly. "Damned if I know, really," he said. "Conrad would be able to answer you more... scientifically. But basically, it's a tear, or a gap, in the fabric of space. Most of what seeps through is just harmless energy, random radiation, or stray radio signals. But sometimes, we get physical objects floating through. Most of that is just junk - debris, fragments of rock, stuff like that; but sometimes, something more dangerous comes through."
"Like the parasites," she said, beginning to understand. Joshua nodded, holding the door into the garage open for her. "So what about this end? Does the Wound pull things through?"
"As far as we can tell, no," he said, unlocking the doors to a black sedan remotely. "We think something has to be travelling directly into the Wound in order to pass through it. It can't reach out and snatch things."
?" she asked skeptically, pulling open her door and crouching to get in.
"We have no reason to believe otherwise," he said. "But that doesn't mean this actor couldn't have been forced through the wound somehow. Maybe some kind of... I dunno, gravity shift or something, that pushed him through. We'll know more once Conrad has finished with the Bleed reports."
As he engaged the engine and began pulling backwards into the long, pitch-black tunnel leading back out to Albany street, Sara shook her head numbly. "What the hell did you get me into, Josh?" she smiled.
Xander stood, arms folded, just behind Conrad's chair, his eyes scanning the screen at a fraction of the speed that Conrad's did - while Xander missed entire lines of data as it flicked past on the screen, Conrad nodded occasionally and made little notes in a small booklet in front of him.
"I've pulled up just over six months' worth of Bleed reports," he explained quickly, not taking his eyes of the screen. "I've only gone over the first few weeks, but I've already noticed a bit of a pattern."
He stopped there, and Xander watched the back of his head patiently. "Well?" he said after a few moments' silence.
Conrad waved a hand impatiently in a shushing gesture, and Xander bristled. Luckily for him, Conrad was the only one of the team who could potentially get away with such a dismissal, because it almost always preceded a piece of vital information.
"Yup, increments of .301 every... eleven cycles," he muttered slowly, making a note in his pad. He freezed the data on his screen with a tap on the keyboard and spun his chair around to face Xander. "A few of the energy strands the equipment has identified as consistent values have been on the rise," he said plainly. "It's slow - incredibly slow, actually - but steady."
"Why didn't the computers flag the increase, then?" demanded Xander.
"Dunno," said Conrad, shrugging. "Probably because on its own, it's not a dangerous form of energy. It's just background noise, really."
Alain marched into the room at that moment, heading straight for them. "Something's wrong," he said darkly.
Xander furrowed his brow in question, but turned back to Conrad first. "Follow the trend through the rest of the data set," he ordered thoughtfully. "If anything else crops up, let me know." He then turned to Alain. "What have you found?"
Alain moved to another screen on the stone column in the centre of the room and turned it on. An image was already being displayed - a driver's license, a few years old but still evidently valid until the month after next.
"This is Smithson Lake," said Alain. "Age 41, brown hair, with a main address listed in Vancouver."
Xander shook his head, gazing confusedly at the picture on the lefthand side of the image. "It can't be. He's easily ten years older than the man we saw on stage."
Alain nodded. "Exactly. This is Smithson Lake - but Smithson Lake was not on-stage tonight."
"Must have been an understudy," suggested Conrad, leaning back in his chair. "Lake may have been sick."
Xander pulled his program out of his pocket, uncrumpled it, and scanned the first page. "Alright, Alain: The understudy's name is Peter Bordeau. See what you can come up with." He turned back to look at the picture on the screen just above eye level. He took in the man's narrow chin, his thinning hair, and his slightly reddish eyes. He felt an inexplicable sense of dislike for the man just from this small, somewhat pixealted image. "I'll look for more on Mr. Lake myself. I have a few questions I'd very much like to ask him."
Josh brought the car to a gentle stop at the edge of the parking lot. A police officer approached the driver's side door, and tapped on the window with the end of his flashlight. Joshua rolled down the window and flashed a badge nearly identical to the one Xander had used earlier. The officer eyed it for a moment, bent lower to cast a curious look into the car, then nodded them through into the lot.
Sara eyed the badge as Joshua slid it back into his jacket pocket. "So, all you have to do to get us access to an area under police control is show them that?"
"Pretty much," he said, searching for a spot to park the car. "Sometimes we get the odd officer who refuses to cooperate, either because they don't know who we are because they're just being stubborn. But most of the time they let us do our thing."
"Why, though?" she asked. "They don't know about Torchwood, do they?"
"Not really, no. But they know enough to give us access to whatever crime or disaster scene we show up at. In all official police channels, we're scientific specialists. A lot of police departments in the country, and even in the US, have scientific experts and consultants on hand. No one gives us a second thought."
He had pulled into a spot on the far side of the lot, meaning they'd have to walk back across it to get to the theatre. Sara didn't mind, though - she had more questions.
They walked around to the trunk, which Joshua had popped open before getting out, and began unloading the equipment they'd need. "So, how exactly do we expect to contain something like this?" asked Sara. "I mean, this is big. Bigger than a few murders in the city's back alleys. A man actually vanished in front of almost two-hundred people. Are we going to have to Format all of them?"
"Nah," said Josh dismissively, handing her a small but bulky metal box with a small screen. It was surprisingly heavy, and she hosited it under her arm as she lifted a metal case out of the trunk by its handle. "I mean, maybe if we'd been able to contain the audience and solve everything before the police were called. But we'd need more than a dozen agents for that. No branch of the Institute has that kind of staff anymore. No, we'll most likely have to come up with a cover story. A stunt, a flashy kidnapping, something like that."
She nodded, expecting as much, as he slid out another metal case before reaching up and slamming the trunk shut. "Other branches..." she said. "You never mentioned them before. There are other Torchwood teams across the country?"
"No, we're the only one in Canada. But there were teams all over the World a few years ago: Torchwood One was in London; Torchwood Two in Scotland; Torchwood Three, Cardiff; and Torchwood Four was Ireland, before it vanished. We're Torchwood Five."
"You said they were
. Past tense. Where are they now?"
He sighed. "Gone," he said simply. "One fell to the Cybermen/Dalek war in '06. Two sort of fell out of sight a few years later. Three broke contact with the organisation and went rogue, and it was all but destroyed in the incident with the kids, a year or two ago. Four went missing only a few years after it was established, and was never heard from again."
She looked up at him, watching the moon reflected in his eyes for a moment. "So... we're all that's left."
"Yeah," he nodded. "Just us."
They lapsed into silence as they crossed the street, Josh again flashing the Torchwood ID badge at the officers standing either side of the front doors. One of them took the badge and examined it carefully, as if trying to detect a forgery. He could find none, evidently, as he passed it back to Joshua grimly and told him they could enter.
Joshua stepped into the middle of the front lobby, ignoring the looks of mingled curiousity and resentment from the police officers scattered around the room and gently placing the case he was carrying at his feet. He knelt down and opened it, pulling out a mess of thin metal cables and handing one end of them to Sara. "Plug these into the handheld unit - Conrad's colour coded them for us."
"What does this do?" she asked, sorting out the cable ends and sliding them into their matching conduits.
"Think of it as a big tricorder," he said, sorting out more cables and passing the ends to her. "Like Spock's. Some assembly required."
She laughed at that. The screen came to life as she inserted the last of the cables. "Alright, it's on."
"Good. It'll calibrate itself, it just takes a few minutes."
She nodded, and turned her attention to the people around them. A few of the police were giving the pair of them dark, some even forbidding looks. She met one's eye, and the scowl he gave her made her flush and look to the floor.
"They really don't like us, do they?" she said, idly fidgetting with the connections on the scanner in an effort to appear busy.
He looked around discreetly for a moment, then shrugged. "Not our problem," he said simply, leaning towards her and taking the scanner gingerly from her. "We have a job to do, just like them." He frowned at the scanner for a moment, then turned to her. "Tell you what: why don't you have a word with some of the cast and crew; we need all the information we can get."
"Can't we just get all the statements from the police before we go?" she asked.
He considered for a moment. "Sure, we could. Do you want to ask them?"
He was smirking at her, and she shook her head. "Not even kind of," she said, laughing mirthlessly. She bent down and pulled a notebook from the case at Joshua's feet. "Cast and crew it is," she said as she straightened.
Josh nodded. "Good luck," he said absently, fiddling with the scanner.
Sara nervously tapped the notepad with her fingers as she stepped into the theatre itself. The room felt unnatural with all the lights on, and the mild din of quiet conversation amongst the room's occupants added to the atmosphere of discomfort and malcontent. Sara scanned the room quietly, unsure where to start. What looked like every cast or crew member was here, most of them nervously clustered together in small groups. She spotted a young woman, about her age, sitting alone on the edge of the stage and staring morosely down at the floor. Sara made her way over to her, her heart in her throat and her stomach watery.
"Hi," she said as she reached the stage, smiling nervously and offering the woman her hand. "My name is Sara. I'm with..." she trailed off for a fraction of a moment, inwardly kicking herself; was she supposed to drop Torchwood's name in witness questioning? Joshua had done it to her, but she had asked - demanded - to know who he worked for. Her smile faltered, but she hitched it up immediately and said quickly: "I'm with the investigation into tonight's disappearance. Can I ask you a few questions?"
The woman eyed her suspiciously. "The police already have my statement," she said defensively. "And two of them have already asked me the same set of follow-up questions. I'm not going through it all again."
Sara mouthed worldessly for a moment. "I'm not with the police," she stammered. "I'm with a, uhm... a special taskforce. RCMP."
It was a thin lie, but the woman seemed to accept it, albeit sulkily. "Fine," she pouted. "What do you want to ask?"
Sara checked her notepad, where she and Josh had jotted down a few general questions before leaving the base. "Well, hum... what did you physically see on stage tonight?" she asked slowly.
The woman folded her arms and sighed. "Nothing," she said wearily. "I wasn't watching, I was in the dressing room."
Sara made a note, not sure how she planned to organise notes from other conversations later. This was harder than she had anticipated when they'd arrived, she thought miserably. "Alright, uhm... how well did you know Mr. Lake? Did he have any... any enemies, or even strange friends?"
She pulled a face. "I knew him well enough," she said with disgust. "All hands and mouth. I've almost pressed charged a few times, all us girls have. He would constantly grope any girl who walked by him, he had a foul mouth, and he smelled just as a bad. He was a pig and a drunk." She furrowed her brow and met Sara's eye for the first time. "What does Lake have to do with anything, though? You don't think he did this?"
Sara returned her look of confusion. "Are you saying Mr. Lake could have done this to himself? Maybe a publicity stunt or something like that?"
The woman shook her head. "What are you talking about?" she asked testily. "Lake wasn't even here tonight. The bastard never showed up. Probably drunk in an alley somewhere, if you ask me."
"Hold on, if Lake wasn't here tonight, then who...?"
"Lake never showed up tonight, so his understudy went on instead. Pete. Nice guy, really. Not the brightest bulb in the box, if you know what I mean, but really sweet." The actress looked at Sara like she was stupid, which she was beginning to feel in aces. "You didn't know?"
Sara turned behind her, trying but failing to catch Joshua's eye in the lobby. "No," she said after a minute. "We didn't know."