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Cardiff Bay, 11.03am
Pam had always found Monday mornings a drag.
Monday was pension day, and the cafe was busy with elderly customers in town for their weekly shopping trip and gossip session over elevenses. The old ladies were the worst, she always found. They made a fuss over the exact amount of milk they liked, or complained loudly that their toast was marginally the wrong shade of golden brown. When it was time to pay, they spent ages rummaging for their purses, as if the whole shopping experience was totally new and presented them with a steep learning curve. The old men, by contrast, just sat with their papers, analyzing the sports results. She sometimes wondered whether Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse had missed a vital point in their characterization of ‘the Old Gits’ – it would have been more true to life if they’d portrayed two grumpy old women instead.
Her customary hangover didn’t help matters at the best of times, but this morning Pam was in a worse mood than usual. She hadn’t been able to get the mysterious stranger from the pub out of her mind.
There had been something fascinating, and even a little frightening, about the tall man in his eccentric clothes. They’d certainly struck up a rapport, and Pam couldn’t help feeling that, at long last, she’d met the special person she’d been looking for. Then he’d simply walked out of her life without even saying goodbye. All night she’d wondered if she’d see him again, but eventually she’d decided that it had been a chance meeting that would never be repeated.
During her morning break she decided to tell her colleague Vicky about the events of the previous day. As she related her story, she became increasingly aware that it sounded far-fetched in the extreme. When Pam got to the part about exploring the huge space inside the small blue box, Vicky looked sceptical. At Pam’s description of how the same object had disappeared before her eyes, she shook her head in disbelief.
‘Are you sure someone didn’t spike your drink?’ she suggested.
‘I wasn’t spiked, and I was still fairly sober,’ Pam replied, rather offended. ‘I’m not making this up, Vic!’
‘Yeah, but – come on! Stuff just doesn’t vanish into thin air. What was this blue box thing anyway? It sounds like one of those toilets they have on building sites.’
‘Search me! The whole thing was weird.’
Pam finished her coffee and put her apron back on.
‘I’ll tell you one thing though – he was bloody fit! Actually, they were both fit – him and his mate, the Yank.’
‘Well, if you see them again, put a word in. I could do with meeting a rich American.’
Pam picked up their empty cups and the two women made their way back to the counter.
A few moments later, the door of the cafe opened. Pam’s mouth fell open, and she let go of the cups. The sound of smashing china made everyone turn towards her, but she was frozen to the spot, standing in the midst of a small heap of broken crockery. Vicky rushed over to see what was wrong, but she was just staring across the room in amazement.
‘What’s the matter?’ Vicky asked, but Pam was lost for words.
‘It’s them’ she gasped eventually. ‘The people I was telling you about.’
Making themselves comfortable at a table by the window were Pam’s mysterious man and his friends.
She took a few nervous steps towards the window, not sure whether her mind was still playing tricks on her. Then she came within earshot of the table, and her remaining doubts evaporated when she heard their conversation.
‘Okay, Gwen, I reckon it’s your shout.’
The loud American voice rang out across the cafe, followed by a strong objection in a low-pitched Welsh accent.
‘I got them in last time, Jack! Martha, it must be your turn.’
‘No way!’ The girl’s voice was pure north London. ‘I’m not even on the bloody rota, am I, Ianto?’
‘Well, no, I suppose not,’ the sharply dressed young man replied. ‘Technically you’re not staff, you’re still on secondment.’
‘You are so anal sometimes!’ the American countered.
The young man raised his eyebrows and they all laughed.
‘Right, that settles it!’
The thin man in the suit took a handful of £10 notes from his pocket and slapped them on the table.
‘I’ll pick up the tab for this lot.’
Pam approached their table, her order pad in hand, and the Doctor greeted her with an easy smile. Then he looked again, his eyes widened, and he sprang to his feet.
‘Pam! Hello! Fantastic!’ He took her hand and pumped it vigorously. ‘Sorry I had to run off last night, things got a bit – well, weird.’
‘You can say that again. It took ages to sort out the mess in the pub.’
‘That’s what it’s like when you get involved with this guy,’ Martha smiled. ‘One day your life’s nice and straightforward – next thing you know, he’s left a trail of devastation in his wake and just vanished.’
‘Yep, that’s me!’ He finally let go of Pam’s hand and sat back down. ‘I’m like Hurricane Katrina, only in humanoid form.’
He looked down at the money on the table as if noticing it for the first time.
‘Anyway, yes – coffee! In fact, I’ll treat us all to an early lunch. Since I’ve actually got a few quid on me.’
‘That’s a bloody first!’ Martha gasped. ‘It’s about time you got them in, mate!’
The others laughed. Most of them had had to sub the him at some point since they’d first met.
‘Oh, in that case, I’ll have chicken curry with an ‘alf an’ ‘alf,’ Gwen said.
The Doctor looked baffled.
‘What’s a narfanarf? I mean, I’ve eaten all over the Universe, I’ve tried some of the strangest things you can imagine, but I’ve never even heard of a narfanarf.’
‘It’s a traditional Welsh delicacy.’
Gwen winked Ianto. He caught on immediately and winked back. Jack and Martha suppressed their laughter.
‘What – like laverbread?’
‘It’s much nicer!’ Ianto smiled up at Pam. ‘I’ll have the same, please.’
‘Okay, two chicken curries, both with an ‘alf an’ ‘alf.’
Pam wrote the order down and looked back at Ianto.
‘Cappuccino and a chocolate muffin for afters?’ she teased.
“How do you―?’ he began, then broke off. ‘Oh God, of course! You said yesterday you knew me!’
‘You’re in here almost every day. I knew I recognised you.’
‘You know what it’s like, though, you see someone out of their usual context and you just can’t place them. You know them from somewhere, but you don’t know where.’
‘Happens to me all the time,’ the Doctor grinned. ‘Mind you, my life’s a bit complicated.’
‘You can say that again!’ Martha laughed.
‘Imagine if you were on Facebook,’ Jack enthused. ‘Your status updates would be amazing: “The Doctor is in the year 1558, trying to sort out the Tudor succession crisis.”‘
‘More to the point – what would your friends list be like?’ Ianto mused.
‘I shudder to think.’ Pam tapped her pen on her pad again. ‘Anyway, what can I get the rest of you?’
‘I think,’ the Doctor said firmly, looking around the table, ‘it’s going to be chicken curry with a narfanarf all round. Martha? Jack?’ The others agreed without hesitation. ‘Well, you know – when in Rome, and all that. And I’ll have a nice cup of tea.’
Pam wrote the orders down and headed back to the counter. Vicky was waiting for her, a knowing smile on her face.
‘I take it all back. You weren’t making it up.’
She glanced over at the group of eccentric friends and raised her eyebrows.
‘And you’re right – that American guy is hot! Get his bloody number before he goes!’
Cardiff City Centre, 11.33 a.m.
A mile or so to the north, in Cardiff Central Police Station, PC Andy Davidson was standing in a corner of the squad room, surrounded by his colleagues. They had all been called in for an emergency briefing, and Andy had been one of the last to arrive. His fellow officers had already taken every available chair, or squeezed themselves onto desks and filing cabinets, and the stragglers were pressed into the available spaces.
On the walls around them were a series of blank spaces which, the previous day, had formed a gallery of scene-of-crime pictures, photofit sketches, hand-drawn maps, computer printouts, and miscellaneous news cuttings. Now, every square inch of the walls was bare, and the dark patches on the cork noticeboard showed how long some of the posters had been there.
Andy fondly remembered the one above the sink – it was a hangover from the 1970s, warning Watch Out – There’s a Thief About.
When the station was redecorated a couple of years before, Chief Superintendent Vincent Price had insisted that they kept the posters, partly for sentimental reasons, and partly as an homage to his fictional hero, DCI Gene Hunt. Price was a copper of the old school – his motto was ”it ‘im first, and get a statement afterwards’ – and Life On Mars had been nothing short of a nostalgia trip for him.
With his small but powerful build, close-cropped grey hair and cold blue eyes, he looked every inch a nasty piece of work. However, his reputation as a hard man was somewhat undermined by the fact that his parents had inadvertently named him after one of the best-known stars of high-camp, low-budget horror films. Whenever he introduced himself, most people tried not to smile for fear of antagonising him, but rarely succeeded.
Price had summoned the entire day shift on discovering that every single piece of paper in the station was missing. Not only his prized collection of vintage crime prevention campaign material, but every notebook, file, wanted poster, witness statement, custody record, parking ticket, lost property receipt, notebook, duty roster, purchase order, invoice, and petty cash slip had vanished into thin air. He was not amused in the slightest – and was letting people know in no uncertain terms.
Andy had walked in towards the end of a foul-mouthed tirade in which Price had tried to blame his colleagues, his subordinates, the civilian staff, his rivals in the CID, and various ne’er-do-wells whom Price had had the misfortune to encounter over his forty-year career. When he finally stopped for breath, Andy put up his hand.
‘Yes?’ Price said in a weary tone.
Every head in the room turned to look at Andy, and he reddened visibly.
‘I was just thinking, guv. Perhaps Gwen Cooper could shed some light on things.’
Some people raised their eyebrows at the mention of Gwen’s name. Most of them remembered Andy’s unrequited crush on his former colleague, and were wondering if his suggestion was simply a pretext for looking her up again.
‘What makes you think that?’ Price’s sarcasm was evident. ‘She’s with Special Ops now, isn’t she? I hardly think this sort of thing comes under their remit.’
‘The thing is, guv, she’s helped us out with some pretty odd stuff in the past. They’ve got all sorts of gear we don’t know anything about. Maybe it would be worth giving her a quick call.’
“All right – if you must …’
Price had little time for Andy’s high-tech approach to policing, and nothing but contempt for Gwen’s decision to leave the front line and take up her mysterious new job in the Bay.
“Thanks, guv, I’ll ring her now and see what she says.”
University Hospital of Wales, 11.52 a.m.
A few miles from the city centre, the University Hospital was in complete turmoil. All admissions had been suspended, every operation had been cancelled at the last minute, and emergency cases were being diverted to hospitals across south Wales.
On the wards, Staff Nurse Maria Bowen had done little all morning except run around looking for missing records. Most patients in her care wouldn’t even get their lunches; the checklists on which they’d selected their meals the previous day had vanished. The clipboard at the foot of each bed was empty. The consultants’ ward round had been a comedy of errors, as nurses and junior doctors racked their brains to remember individual treatment regimes, medication dosages, and even the names of the more uncommunicative elderly patients. The NHS Trust’s intranet had already crashed three times as every single member of staff tried to access data which had been backed up electronically.
Once the ward sister was out of sight, Maria slipped out of the ward in the midst of the chaos, ducked into the staff toilet, and switched her mobile phone on. She knew that it wouldn’t interfere with the equipment, in spite of the rules. She scrolled through her contact list and eventually found the number she was looking for.
Maria had been a student nurse at the Royal Hope Hospital when it was torn from its foundations and transported to the Moon. She’d been lucky to survive, and in the following months she’d made friends with a few people who were prepared to talk about that fateful day. One of them was a young final-year medical student who’d been in the thick of the action.
Maria hadn’t seen her for ages, but she’d heard on the grapevine that she was currently attached to some sort of high-powered security task force. Maria was fairly sure that, if anyone had any idea what was going on, Dr Martha Jones would be near the top of the list. She hit the ‘dial’ button and waited for the call to connect.
Cardiff Bay, 11.43 a.m.
Back in the waterfront cafe, the first inkling that anything was wrong came when Pam returned to the Doctor’s table with three steaming plates.
‘Okay, that’s three chicken curries with an ‘alf an’ ‘alf,’ she announced, placing the plates on the table.
The Doctor looked down at his lunch, not knowing what to expect, and his eyes widened in surprise. As well as the curry, there was a small helping of boiled rice and some tasty looking chips. There was nothing particularly exotic about it, and he looked disappointed.
‘What?’ he exclaimed. ‘Rice and chips?’
The others burst out laughing, and he looked from one to the other.
‘That’s a narfanarf,’ Gwen spluttered. ”Alf rice an’ ‘alf chips.’
‘Traditional Welsh delicacy!’ Ianto added.
‘You rotten bastards!’ he laughed, and Pam joined in their laughter. ‘Narfanarf indeed! No wonder I’ve never tried it.’
‘What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten, Jack?’ Martha asked casually.
‘You really don’t want to know,’ he replied, with a wink at the Doctor.
Pam brought the other plates over, and eventually Ianto and Gwen stopped laughing long enough to start eating.
‘Now, I’m afraid you’ll have to remind me who ordered which coffee? My order pad’s completely disappeared.’
Jack repeated their order, and she headed off to the kitchen again.
As they were enjoying their lunches, Gwen’s phone rang.
‘Bloody typical – Rhys always rings when I’m eating.’
She checked the caller display and, instead of her husband’s work number, saw Andy Davidson’s name.
‘Good God!’ She put the phone to her ear and smiled. ‘Shwmae, stranger, how’s it hangin’?’
Her face fell as she listened intently to the call, and then she spoke quietly.
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m with them now. Don’t panic – it’s probably nothing. We’ll finish our lunch and drive straight over. I’ll see you in about half an hour.’
‘Problem?’ Jack asked through a mouthful of curry.
‘Could be.’ She slipped her phone back into her bag. ‘Andy reckons all the paper in the police station’s just upped and gone.’
‘It’s not April the first, is it?’ Jack asked with a wry grin.
‘You know it isn’t – and he sounded pretty fucking serious.’
Pam returned with their drinks, turned to go, and then pointed out of the window.
‘Look at that!’
They all followed her finger, and looked across the plaza to an empty shop. The glass was spotless, as if it had recently been cleaned.
‘What’s wrong with it?’ Ianto asked. ‘It’s nice to see the council have finally got rid of all those old posters at last.’
‘It was plastered first thing this morning. And if the council had been working over there, they’d have been in here at least three times for tea and bacon butties!’
‘Hang on – Andy said all the paper had gone missing,’ Gwen reminded them. ‘Not just his own paperwork – everything!’ She looked up at Pam. ‘And your pad’s gone missing.’
At that moment Martha’s phone rang. She answered it and listened intently before covering the microphone with her finger.
‘Guys, listen,’ she gasped. ‘This is a friend of mine at the hospital – all the paper’s vanished into thin air.’ The Doctor and Jack had gone pale. ‘Okay, Maria, stay where you are, we’re on the case. See you soon.’
She ended the call and looked around at her colleagues.
‘Rift activity?’ Gwen asked, but Jack shook his head.
‘Doesn’t sound like it – that’s normally stuff coming, rather than going. I think we’ve got a big problem.’
‘You can say that again,’ the Doctor frowned. ‘Pam, do you fancy an adventure?’
‘I could be persuaded,’ she said with a smile. ‘I’ve just about finished for the day anyway.’
‘How come your money hasn’t disappeared?’ Jack asked, pointing to the pile of notes on the table.
‘It’s not really paper,’ Gwen explained. ‘It’s made from cotton rag fibres, not wood pulp. That’s why it doesn’t glow under UV light.’
‘And it’s given me an idea,’ the Doctor added.
He handed a couple of £20 notes to Pam.
‘Keep the change – we’ll meet you outside.’
‘I thought we were going to have to sub you again,’ Jack grinned.
‘Useful tip,’ Martha added. ‘When you’re going anywhere with this guy, make sure they take Visa.’

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