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Old 11-04-2010, 12:50 PM   #1
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Torchwood Five ~ Episode Two: Vanishing Act

Just a prologue to start with - the first few chapters are written, but nowhere near ready for posting anywhere yet. Just thought I'd throw this up, so I wouldn't forget to do so later.

Mach, if you're reading this, I'd like to make the same request with this one as I did last time: please hold off on posting your review until the whole story is up. Thanks.

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Vanishing Act

~ Prologue ~

The streets of downtown Queensbridge teemed with people, as they always did on Friday nights. The many destinations of the area prided themselves on having something to offer to nearly anyone: the bars sold four drinks for the price of three, the clubs turned their music louder, and the shops and restaurants stayed open later. Even the steadily dying forms of entertainment found a home here on Fridays, in the Queensbridge Theatre for the Performing Arts, at the heart of the downtown core. The theatre was only open on Saturday and Sunday nights, unless there was a special performance. And tonight promised a very special performance indeed: a touring troup of actors who returned to the area once a year, each time performing a different play - and this time, it was one of Sara's favourites: William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.

"I've always loved this play," she said to the group at large as they walked across the street from the parking lot to the theatre. "One of Shakespeare's best, if you ask me. Definitely the funniest."

"Me too," said Greg, smiling slightly as he looked around Conrad and Joshua towards her. "Some people fawn so much over his tragedies that they seem to forget about some of the others. Never mind King Lear, or Richard III, or Othello; Shrew is true Shakespeare."

It had been four days since Sara had joined the Torchwood team, but it had hardly felt like any time at all. The work of cleaning up after the parasite that had murdered her friend and coworker and thrown her into a world she hadn't known existed had completely absorbed her to the point that the days seemed to have blurred together. And while it hadn't been anywhere as active or exciting as the day she had met Joshua, and Greg, and the rest of the team, it had been interesting, even somewhat fulfilling in a way she didn't really understand.

Perhaps it was because of the way she'd been welcomed so readily into what she would have suspected was a very closely knit group. As soon as she and Joshua had returned to the Torchwood base - the base that sat only a dozen or so blocks from where they now stood - she had been treated as a member of the team. Xander had given her orders as readily and dutifully as anyone else; Alain had been talkative and friendly during her intial medical exam, which was apparently mandatory for all personnel; Conrad had shown her how they chose supplies for any given type of outing, smiling encouragingly, if not a bit nervously; Greg, who she had initially seen as abrasive and unlikeable, had warmed significantly to her, teasing and joking with her as if they'd been friends for years; and Joshua was as kind and helpful as the day they'd met.

But that job was completed now. While her first night on the job had been spent actually physically cleaning the sight of their confrontation with the parasites, the following four days had been filled with phone calls, internet and database searches, filing of 'misleading' police and missing persons reports, and a great deal of hacking into personal computers - though most of that work had been done by Conrad. As they'd finished up with the last of the reports the previous night, Alain had suggested a night off together. That was when Sara had remembered her mother telling her about the theatre troup coming to town, and suggested it. Everyone had taken to the idea readily.

"I have a hard time seeing any of his plays as 'funny', really," said Conrad lightly, his hands in his pockets as he gazed wistfully at the theatre looming in front of them. "I remember being forced to read Romeo and Juliet in high school. Hated every minute of it."

Sara shook her head sadly. "That's your problem," she said. "Even now, you think of it as being forced to read it. That mindset ruins Shakespeare for a lot of people, especially teens."

"Besides, Romeo and Juliet is overrated," added Greg. "Not to mention massively misunderstood. Trust me, you'll be glad you gave him a chance again - especially since you're seeing this one live, not reading it from a script."

"When did you become an expert on Shakespare?" Joshua asked him. "I would've thought Monster Truck Rally, or UFC were more your speed."

"Yeah, well, you would've thought wrong," he replied somewhat defensively, glaring. "I'm as cultured as anyone else. Probably more cultured than a lot of other people," he continued, giving him a pointed, somewhat condescending look.

"Don't you two bicker enough at work?" asked Xander.

"Play nice, boys," interjected Alain jovially. "We're here to relax. Turn it off for an evening, eh?"

Neither of them replied, and the group lapsed into silence as they stepped into the theatre. They were greeted by a pair of ushers, one of whom checked their tickets and took their jackets before the other led them to their seats, a half dozen of them near the wall on stage left. As the usher moved away the lights came down, and the heavy purplish-red curtains hanging in front of the stage parted to reveal a small group of men crowded in front of a stout wooden building. Sara smiled appreciatively as the men began speaking.

"I'll pheeze you, in faith," began Christophero Sly.

The reply came back in a rather visibily-forced affronted tone: "A pair of stocks, you rogue!"

"Y' are a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the chronicles; we came in... with..."

The actor trailed off, shaking his head slightly as if trying to shake water from his ears. He smiled nervously and apologetically at the crowd, and began again. "Y' are baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in..." he trailed off again, his hand flying to his forehead and his knees shaking slightly. He stumbled forward, bracing himself on one of his colleagues. The crowd began muttering, some in concern, others in anger, still others in mild amusement. One of the actors leaned over and muttered something to another, who nodded and rushed offstage. The first then leaned into mutter to Sly, who nodded briefly. The nod was returned, and the actor stepped forward to address the audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen..." he began slowly. "We humbly beg your pardon for this unexpected interruption. If you will please wait patiently, I'm sure we'll be able to begin shor--"

He was interrupted from a shout and a crash from behind him. The man who'd been supporting Sly with his shoulder had jumped back, knocking over the alehouse set and trampling across the debris. It took a moment for anyone else to realise why: Sly, now standing unsupported, had gone rigid, his eyes wide in shock and fear. He was shivering uncontrollably, and his hands were pressed firmly over his ears. After a moment he began to scream, and his skin luminesced with a pale yellow glow. The crowd began muttering in earnest, while the actors scattered on stage. Sara rose from her seat, as did a number of other people. Sly's cries quavered for a moment, fading slightly, and then, with a flash of light and an odd hissing sound, he vanished.

Someone in the crowd screamed. Greg pushed past Sara into the ramped hallyway, pushing against the crowd to get towards the stage; Joshua and Alain were hot on his heels, while Conrad and Xander stayed back with Sara. Alain knelt on the spot he'd disappeared, and ran his hand along the floor. He rubbed his fingers together, then looked over at Xander with a grim expression.

Xander nodded quietly. "Sorry folks," he said, his tone clipped and business-like. "Change of plan."

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Old 11-05-2010, 02:28 PM   #2
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let me guess; wait until you're done?


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 11-05-2010, 02:37 PM   #3
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Aye, if you wouldn't mind that'd be awesome. I just feel that, with a story that's already finished (or in this case of this one almost finished), a review based on just the prequel doesn't do it justice.
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Old 11-07-2010, 08:53 PM   #4
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Wild applause from Tysyacha! I haven't been in the mood to write for a good, long while, but if all goes well,, your story will have put me back IN the mood by tomorrow at least!
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Old 12-10-2010, 01:22 PM   #5
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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."

"You think?" 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."
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Old 12-13-2010, 03:48 PM   #6
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I can't believe I didn't read this sooner. All I can say is: BRAVA! BRAVA!
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