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St Donat’s Arts Centre, 9.33 a.m.
While the Doctor and his friends were recovering from the events of the previous night, and long before they decided that breakfast was called for, the sound of a passenger jet approaching Cardiff-Wales Airport interrupted Professor Dave Probert’s speech.
Probert was a small lean man in his seventies; bald, slightly stooped, his hands liver-spotted, his eyes rheumy, but still smartly-suited and clearly-spoken, he exuded a youthful enthusiasm as he spoke. He selected the next slide of his Powerpoint presentation with a decisive stab of his finger, and stepped aside so that his prospective clients could see the projector screen.
An invited audience of the key movers and shapers of the Welsh economy had gathered to witness the unveiling of the latest scientific advance. The theatre of St Donat’s Arts Centre, on the Bristol Channel coast, was filled to capacity for the much-heralded announcement. The latest image was a photograph of a metal shelving unit, reaching from floor to ceiling and crammed with dusty box files bursting at the seams with papers.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to say that you’re all too young to remember what it was like when I left school.’
Probert picked up the thread of his talk as if the aeroplane had never been there. After many years of working in London, his Welsh accent broke through when he became excited.
‘I won’t tell you how old I am, but when I started work, it was His Majesty’s Stationery Office.’
His audience gave an appreciative laugh. He’d borrowed this witticism from a former colleague, and it never failed to raise a smile. He continued, well into his stride now.
‘I remember the days when everything needed to be signed, countersigned, posted, forwarded, stamped, dated, and filed in triplicate. I used to run between offices most of the day with mysterious folders tucked under my arm. As a naïve young man in the War Office, I thought I was going to work with James Bond. Instead, I spent most of my time working with Basildon Bond.’/div>

This also got a laugh. Probert had practised his presentation in front of a mirror over several days, and knew exactly how to deliver his best lines.
‘I worked in the Civil Service for twenty years before I moved across to academia. That was almost as bad. I used to lie awake at night, wondering if we were going to bury every trace of our civilisation under a mountain of paper’
The audience chuckled again. He smiled to himself. His talk was going very well.
In the fourth row, Karen Samuels shifted in her seat. When her editor had offered her the position of Technology Correspondent at Wales’s newest daily newspaper, she hadn’t expected to sit through one man’s reminiscences of his life in pen-pushing. Then again, as the only staff reporter with A levels in the sciences, she’d been the sole candidate for the role. She turned the page of her notebook over and wondered idly when the promised refreshments would be served.
Cardiff City Centre, 12.09 p.m.
Ianto swung the black SUV around the tight bend and gunned it into Greyfriars Road, cutting up a delivery van emerging from a private car park. The van driver sounded his horn, and Ianto gave him an apologetic wave as they sped past. Wedged against the nearside rear door, Pam closed her eyes and swore loudly.
On the other side of the vehicle, Gwen was keying a set of commands into a laptop. Between them, Martha was perched on the Doctor’s lap. All three were trying to read the laptop screen as it bounced up and down. Even Jack, who had cheated death at least a thousand times, was unusually pale, gripping the sides of the passenger seat as they approached the corner of Park Place.
The SUV shot across the junction just as the lights changed to red. A group of students waiting to cross the road jumped back in alarm, and more horns blared. The lunchtime traffic was backing up from North Road as usual, and the outgoing vehicles were at a standstill. Ianto wound the window down and peered ahead. A silver people-carrier was waiting astride the white lines, effectively blocking both lanes, and he leaned his head out of the window.
‘Oh, come on, mun, pull over!’ he yelled. “’ou could get a fuckin’ bus through there!’
Then he glanced at his terrified passengers in the rear view mirror.
‘Sorry – force of habit. My uncle used to be a bus driver up the valleys. I think it rubbed off on me.’
‘Did he drive for Shamrock?’ Pam asked in a quiet voice.
‘Aye, funnily enough he did. Tony Jones, from Porth – do you know him?’
‘No, just a lucky guess – owww!
She was thrown back into the seat as the lights changed and Ianto floored the accelerator again. He wrenched the steering wheel to the right, rocketed along the side of the museum, and brought the SUV to a screeching halt outside the Central Police Station.
‘I’m never going to Oakwood Park again,’ Gwen shuddered. ‘That’s enough white-knuckle stuff for one lifetime.’
She spotted Andy Davidson standing among a small group of officers, both uniformed and plain-clothes, milling around outside the main entrance. Crowd control barriers had been erected around the perimeter. Just outside the cordon, film crews from BBC Wales, HTV, S4C and Sky News were setting up their equipment. Gwen recognised one of the BBC journalists, and tried not to catch her eye. It would be impossible to explain the morning’s events in terms that a television news audience would understand.
She pushed the door open, tucked the laptop under her arm, and gave Andy a wave. He waved back, and Gwen seized her chance to lose herself in the crowd of her former colleagues. The Doctor, Martha and Pam piled out behind her, and Jack opened his door with an audible sigh of relief. Ianto locked the vehicle and tried to look casual as a couple of traffic policemen looked daggers at him.
One of the plain-clothes officers broke away from the unofficial welcoming committee and strode towards Jack. She was a tall, slim black woman with braided long hair and a steely expression. The sight of the SUV had already ruined her day, and now her least favourite person was walking towards her. Jack smoothed down his coat and tidied his hair before extending a hand towards her.
‘Detective Swanson! How lovely to see you again!’ he boomed, giving her his most charming smile.
She tried not to meet his eyes and shook his hand out of courtesy. He looked her up and down for a moment.
‘Have you lost weight?’
‘Don’t start!’
The Doctor came to Jack’s side and held out his hand.
‘Hello, I’m the Doctor. You must be Kathy – Jack’s told me all about you.’
‘Oh, bloody marvellous!’
Kathy Swanson looked around at her colleagues, the exasperation in her voice clear.
‘Not only do we have to put up with Torchwood – now UNIT are trying to muscle in as well.’
‘I’m not with UNIT!’ he protested. ‘Check with UNIT Payroll if you don’t believe me!’ He paused for a minute. ‘Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never been paid a penny. Martha, can you mention that to Colonel Mace when you see him?’
‘That’s right,’Martha chimed in. ‘The Doctor just helps us out now and again. He’s like – well, like a freelance consultant.’
‘I hate freelance consultants,’ a low voice growled.
Price stepped forward and glowered at the new arrivals.
Almost as much as I hate so-called “experts”.’
‘Doctor, Captain, this is Chief Superintendent Vincent Price,’ Kathy announced.
Jack, Ianto and Martha chuckled at the mention of his name.
‘Nice to meet you, Chief Superintendent. I’m the Doctor – freelance science consultant and alien expert, at your service.’
He winked, and even Kathy managed a reluctant smile.
Price found himself craning his neck to look up at the lanky, athletic man in front of him. He felt even more conscious than usual of his own small stature as they shook hands.
The Doctor leaned down and whispered into Price’s ear, ‘And don’t worry – I hate hostile aliens almost as much as I hate coppers.’
He straightened up and winked at the crowd.
‘Why don’t we all go inside and see if we can find out what’s going on? And maybe we can get some coffee, too – we had to rush off, after all!’
He took Pam’s arm, put a brotherly arm around Price’s shoulders, and steered them towards the doors. The others followed him without argument, and as they walked into the police station the Doctor leaned down to Pam.
‘There you go,’ he whispered, ‘I spent yesterday in your weird world, now you can spend today in mine.’
‘Oh, bloody great!’ she groaned.
St Donat’s Arts Centre, 9.41 a.m.
Dave Probert was well into his stride.
‘We spent a fortune on typewriter ribbons and carbon paper in those days – not to mention all the time we wasted in collating, sorting, indexing, archiving and eventually securely disposing of all those documents. Meanwhile, in the real world, the space race was in full swing. We were supposed to be moving towards a brave new world, one where computers would free our lives from pointless toil and usher in a leisure society. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see how wide of the mark we were.’
He selected the next slide. It showed a faceless office block with a mysterious logo at the entrance.
‘This is from a TV programme called UFO,’ He smiled. ‘I used to watch it with my kids. It was set in the year 1980. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson presumed that by then we’d have a manned base on the Moon, a secret organisation to combat the threat of alien invasion, and the very highest of high-tech equipment, like this—’
He hit the control again. The next image showed a white-suited woman with purple hair and elaborate Cleopatra-style eye makeup, tending a wall-sized computer complete with enormous tape spools, dozens of toggle switches, coloured lights, and tiny displays. This time the laughter was prolonged. He took a step back, allowing everyone to see the full picture.
‘Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s life in the year 1980 – as seen through the very long lens of 1970.’
Karen scribbled a few shorthand symbols in her notebook and sat back again. Maybe, if she sat there long enough, Dave Probert might actually get to the point.
‘That’s one example of how we can miscalculate when we predict the future,’ he said, selecting the next image. ‘And yet, at the same time, we got remarkably close.’
His audience were looking at a picture of a uniformed man in a strange angular car, holding a telephone to his ear.
‘That’s also from UFO. In fact, it’s from the very same episode. How is that we were able to foresee the mobile phone – but not the microchip? Why did Gerry Anderson visualise a man in a car, making a phone call, but still had a computer the size of Barry Island on the Moon?’
Karen raised her hand and immediately sensed that everyone else was staring at her. Even though it had been a rhetorical question, Probert felt as though he should acknowledge her response. He gestured to her to stand up, and Karen rose nervously to her feet. He gave her an encouraging smile.
‘Karen Samuels, from the South Wales Gazette,’ she said. ‘Could it be because Harold Wilson had a phone in his car when he was prime minister?’
‘Yes – that’s exactly it!’ he almost shouted.
Karen was taken aback by his reaction. He was practically jumping around on the little stage.
‘Because mobile phone technology was already in place – it was just prohibitively expensive, and not freely available. Gerry Anderson wasn’t predicting the future – just extrapolating it!’
He stepped into the wings for a moment and returned with a black box, about six inches square and an inch thick.
‘Would you mind passing this little baby around? But please be careful – it’s quite a collector’s item now.’
He handed it down to the man at the end of the front row, who looked bemused. After a few moments’ cursory inspection he passed it to the woman next to him. The background conversation increased in volume as the delegates examined the mysterious artefact. The square box was handed along the seats and eventually made it as far as Karen.
‘Oh my God!’ she exclaimed, turning it over. ‘A Sinclair ZX81!’
She ran her fingers over the ‘touch-sensitive’ keypad, and peered at the sockets where the coax TV line-out cable and 5-pin DIN data feed from a handy cassette player would have connected to the primitive computer.
‘I haven’t seen one of these since I was a kid! My big brother used to have one of these,’ she added, looking straight at Probert.
‘Can I just ask you,’ he teased, ‘how much RAM did your brother have?’
‘Only 16K,’ Karen responded immediately. ‘Our parents weren’t millionaires!’
A ripple of laughter spread through the audience. Most of the delegates at the sales conference were in their late twenties or early thirties at the oldest. This piece of ancient technology meant as much to them as their grandparents’ reminiscences of crystal sets and 78 rpm records.
‘Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Miss Samuels’ brother had a huge 16 kilobytes of Random Access Memory,’ Probert said, slowly enough that the message sank in. ‘And if you – or more likely, your parents – could afford it, you could upgrade it to a massive 64K. Just about as much memory as the lunar module had when humankind first landed on the Moon. Not even enough for a ringtone, in today’s terms.’
He paused and called up the next image. It was an advertisement showing a man in an 18th century-style wig, leaning back from his desk with a contended expression on his face.
‘This was published in an American magazine called OMNI, in the same year as the archaeological curiosity that you’re looking at came onto the market,’ he said casually. ‘Apple had manufactured one of the very first home computers. The thrust of the marketing campaign was that if Thomas Jefferson had had a personal computer, it wouldn’t have taken him six weeks to write the Declaration of Independence. He could have drafted, edited, inserted, amended, deleted, redacted, cut and pasted, revised, and eventually printed the finished version in a fraction of the time.’
He stood back and let his audience read the page laid out on the screen before them. The specifications for the computer, by 21st century standards, were rudimentary to say the least. Yet, nearly thirty years previously, this device had represented the state of the art for the general consumer market.
Karen was making copious notes – she knew instinctively that this was an important moment in history, and she was privileged to be hearing it.
‘One thing struck me when I read this advert again, a few days ago. It does not mention the word ‘digital’ anywhere. It meant nothing to people outside the fields of electronics or computing. The only time people dipped a toe into the digital ocean was when they bought a “digital” watch. Now, even though most people still don’t know what the word means in its mathematical sense, nobody is immune to the effects of the digital revolution. We’ve all got CD players and DVD players and Freeview boxes. We throw the words “digital information” around as casually as any other media mantra – but how many people know what it really involves?’
Immediately most of the delegates realised that their favourite buzz-phrase was little more than that. If they’d been pressed to explain the digital coding of information, the majority of them would have struggled to sketch out the basic theory.
Probert pulled up the still from UFO again. “I look at this prediction of life in 1980 again, and I laugh. Nobody ever had the vision to skip over the existing technology and imagine something completely new. Until now.’
Cardiff Central Police Station, 12.26 p.m.
In the Communications & Despatch Room, Andy, Gwen and Ianto were ploughing through the online log of emergency calls since 9.00 that morning. Kathy Swanson was watching in fascination while they collated statistics and cross-referenced reports. The Doctor and Pam leaned against the wall, aware that they were at best unwelcome guests. The door flew open and Jack burst in with Martha close behind him.
‘Gwen, Ianto, are you two okay to stay here?’ he demanded.
‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ she murmured, her eyes riveted to the laptop. ‘Why? Where are you going?”
‘I’m going to drop Martha at the hospital,’ Jack said flatly. ‘They could do with a doctor to oversee the situation. Then I’m going back to the Hub to try and find out what the hell’s going on. Give me a call if you need me – this is gonna be good!’
With a dramatic flourish of his long coat he swept out of of the room, leaving everyone breathless in his wake. Jack was like a force of nature when he sensed danger. Kathy breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind him, and Gwen smiled to herself. She’d observed Jack and Kathy’s love-hate relationship before.
‘I think we’ve got a timeline coming together,’ Ianto announced, looking up. ‘We recorded a short burst of Rift activity at 2011 last night. Just a tiny blip – not enough to register on our regular equipment. I’ve had to go down to nano wavelengths for this. The first reports came through about fourteen hours later. If it is the Rift, it’s nothing we’ve ever seen before.’
The Doctor looked embarrassed.
Ah! That was probably me, plugging the TARDIS in.’
Everyone turned to him with accusatory expressions.
‘That was about the time you legged it from the pub,’ Pam agreed.
‘Okay, scrub that!’ Ianto shrugged. ‘We haven’t got Rift activity. Not a sausage.’
‘So, whatever’s causing this,’ Gwen added, ‘it’s home-grown.’
Pam had her mobile phone in her hand, and was pressing keys rapidly with her thumb.
“Haven’t you got better things to do than send a text?” the Doctor asked.
‘Well, I can’t very well send a fucking postcard, can I? They’ve all vanished!’ she retorted. She handed him the handset with a smug smile. ‘Mobile internet. Cardiff University’s website. Have a look at this.’
The Doctor peered at the screen for a few moments and laughed out loud.
‘Pam, I think you might have just found us our first lead.’
He slipped his arm around her shoulder and led her over to a large laminated map of South Wales on the far wall.
‘Fancy playing detective for an hour?’
‘Yeah, why not?’
‘Andy, how long does it take to get to St Donat’s?’
Andy looked at him in bemusement.
‘I dunno. Twenty minutes, half an hour, depending on the traffic.’
‘We need to speak to this guy – right now!’
He leapt to his feet and pulled Pam across the room, almost knocking Kathy over in his haste to talk to Price.
‘Sorry, we need a lift – I hope you don’t mind, but my transport’s off the road at the moment.’
Price nodded mutely, not sure what he was agreeing to. The Doctor wrenched the door open and placed one hand on the frame, looking back into the room with a huge smile.
‘Andy, start the car, we’ll meet you out the front. Set the controls for the heart of St Donat’s! First person to see the sea gets an choc-ice! Allons-y!