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St Donat’s Arts Centre, 1.22 p.m.

Dave Probert was the centre of attention in the bar, a glass of wine in his hand and a satisfied smile on his face. Around him was a fascinated group of politicians, industrialists, businessmen and academics, all eager to buttonhole him for a couple of minutes’ worth of private chat. A little clique of media people lurked near the bar, hoping for a snappy soundbite for the headlines. Karen was chatting to a couple of technicians from S4C. Everyone agreed that the professor’s demonstration had been one of the most remarkable things they’d ever witnessed.
Just over three hours before, he had stepped from the podium and walked up the aisle between the rows of seats, rather like a magician seeking a volunteer for his next trick. In one sense, that was exactly what he was. There had been no shortage of willing hands in the air.
His eyes had settled on Karen Samuels, who had shown such a keen interest in his talk. He’d invited her to join him at the front, and to bring a newspaper with her. Rather timidly, she’d dug out that month’s Cosmopolitan from her bag, risen from her seat and followed Dave to the front of the room.
He had shown her how to place the magazine into the feed mechanism of his invention. Intrigued, she’d watched as he keyed some commands into its control panel. A webcam positioned less than half a metre away, and transmitting to a large video screen behind the podium, had allowed the rest of the room to share Karen’s viewpoint as the machine came to life.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, I have nothing up my sleeve,’ he’d quipped, and his audience had chuckled. ‘And now, please watch closely.”
A low humming had filled the room. It had grown louder before cutting off abruptly, and everyone in the room had gasped in unison.
The magazine had vanished.
The glass plate where it had lain was empty, and Karen had automatically reached into the space, her fingers exploring the void for themselves.
‘That’s impossible!’ she’d cried after a few moments.
‘No – that’s science!’ Dave had replied.
He’d removed a flash drive from the device and handed it to Karen with a grin.
‘There you go – this month’s Cosmo, reduced to a more manageable size.’
Karen had been speechless, and Dave had turned to face his audience again.
‘It’s been converted into a PDF file in a few seconds, but with the superfluous text filtered out. All the advertisements, all the repetition, and all the redundancy are stripped away by intelligent software, leaving just the key information. How long would it have taken you to scan every page by hand? Now, you can read it on any computer, email it to anyone in the world, or burn it to DVD so you can store it forever. That’s the beauty of this technology – there’s no time-wasting, no nonsense, and most importantly, nothing to go into the recycling bag.
‘Even now, down in Cardiff, my team is starting to process the entire paper records of the university’s IT Department. We reckon it should take a few hours to convert everything to PDF. But of course, if we do get any teething problems, they might have to work through lunch.’
The audience had laughed again. Gradually the laughter had turned to applause. It had spread throughout the theatre until everyone was standing, cheering wildly.
Dave had stood with a modest smile on his face, one hand on his invention, as camera flashes lit up the room. The public launch of Project Précis had been nothing short of a triumph.
Karen finished her glass of wine and excused herself, heading straight into the toilets. She locked the cubicle door behind her and switched on her mobile phone. If she could ring her story through to the newsdesk, her editor could run the story of Probert’s invention before the evening news broadcasts were aired. Although 24-hour TV news coverage and the internet were largely killing off local newspapers, print journalists still enjoyed the thrill of the chase for an exclusive story. Scooping the competition was a time-honoured tradition in the press, and this would be Karen’s biggest story so far.
She hit the speed-dial and waited. Nothing happened, and she checked the display. There was no signal. Tucked away on this isolated part of the Welsh coast, her phone was out of range of a mast.
‘Fuck it!’ she hissed. ‘Useless piece of shit!’/div>

She thrust the phone into her pocket, left the toilets, and walked into the foyer, looking around for a payphone.
She was making her way towards the reception desk when the door flew open and a tall slim man charged in, colliding with her in his haste. He stopped short and put his arm out to steady her before she fell against the desk.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. No damage done.’
Karen looked him up and down, taking in his smart suit, long coat and spiky brown hair. He looked rather like an eccentric art teacher. His eyes gleamed as they regarded each other for a moment.
The door swung open again and a uniformed policeman ran into the foyer, followed by a casually-dressed blonde woman. They stood panting at the tall man’s side, but he seemed to have taken the run in his stride.
‘You might be able to help us, actually. We’re looking for Professor Dave Probert. Do you know where we can find him?’
‘Yeah. But the press conference finished ages―’
‘Doesn’t matter!’ There was a definite note of urgency in the policeman’s voice. ‘We still need to speak to him. It’s really important.’
‘He’s just down there – you can’t miss him, he’s the main attraction.’
Karen pointed them towards the theatre and smiled.
‘But I need to speak to him as well, and I was here before you. I’ll only be a couple of minutes, I need to make a phone call first.’
‘What is it with women and phones?’ the tall man cried. ‘You’re all obsessed with them!’
He grabbed the blonde woman’s hand and sprinted off down the corridor, while she struggled to keep up with him. The policeman was a few metres behind. Karen shrugged and leaned on the reception desk, wondering how far she’d have to drive to find a phone box in this part of the country.
The Port of Cardiff, 1.29 p.m.
Julie slammed the phone back into its cradle and swore loudly. Khan looked across at her, his eyebrows raised.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered.
‘Still no joy?’
‘Straight to voicemail every time,’ she grumbled. ‘I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do!’
‘Plead innocence?’ he suggested with a wry smile.
‘This isn’t funny!’ she snapped. ‘It’s already happened all over south Wales, and it keeps spreading. At this rate, it’ll hit London by tomorrow lunchtime at the latest – and then we’ll be well and truly fucked!’
She got to her feet and leaned over the railings, glaring down at the source of their anger. The machine was glowing faintly orange, and its humming was threatening to overwhelm their conversation. Khan picked up the phone and hit the redial button. All they could do was to keep trying.
St Donat’s Arts Centre, 1.29 p.m.
Dave was chatting with a couple of ministers from the Senedd when the doors burst open amid loud shouts. Everyone turned to stare at the three new arrivals, who stood framed in the doorway. A piercing fingers-in-mouth whistle rang out above the hubbub, and immediately the room fell silent.
‘We need to see Professor Probert!’ a clear voice announced.
‘That’s me.’
Dave walked into the middle of the room, wondering what the fuss was about. The tallest of the three strangers stepped forward and extended his hand to the bemused professor.
‘Great to meet you, Professor. I’m the Doctor – can we have a word?’
‘Doctor who?’ Dave replied.
‘Don’t start all that,’ the stranger groaned.
‘I demand to know who you are! You’ve gatecrashed a private function, for one thing …’
‘We just want to ask you a few questions, Professor.’
Andy had appeared at the Doctor’s side, his warrant card in his hand.
‘Would you mind co-operating with us, sir?’
Dave’s face spoke of his reluctance.
‘I’d hate to have to make this an official matter,’ Andy hinted.
‘Maybe if you had a look at my credentials …’
The Doctor pulled his psychic paper from his pocket and handed it to Dave.
‘UNIT?’ Dave looked concerned as he read the paper. ‘I always thought they were a myth.’
‘No, UNIT’s real, and so is Torchwood. I help them out from time to time – and this is one of those times when they need my help. And we really need your help, Professor.’
Dave nodded slowly. The Doctor led him to a corner of the room and ushered him into a chair, with Andy and Pam flanking him in case he decided to make a run for it. The Doctor flipped a chair around and sat down, resting his elbows on the back, gazing into the professor’s eyes.
‘So, what can I do for you – Doctor?’ he asked, sounding defeated.
‘Tell me how your machine works,’ he said in a straightforward voice.
Not on your life!’ Dave started to rise to his feet, but Andy pushed him back into his chair gently. ‘It’s taken me twenty years to develop this technology – I’m damned if I’m going to reveal its secrets to a complete stranger.’
‘The thing is, Professor, I’m afraid it’s gone a bit wrong,’ the Doctor said quietly.
‘Impossible!’ Dave leaned back, his self-assurance unruffled. ‘We’ve been testing it for weeks without any problem. And the demonstration was perfect – flawless.’
‘Okay – if you won’t tell me how your invention works, will you at least show me? As one scientist to another. Nothing wrong with a bit of peer review, is there?’
Over the centuries the Doctor had found that the soft-soap approach, combined with a bit of mild hypnotic suggestion, usually worked. This was no exception.
‘With pleasure.’ Dave smiled. ‘It’s in the next room.’
He led the Doctor and his companions through the bar, exchanging pleasantries with friends as they passed, and back into the theatre. The house lights were on, and the place seemed much bigger when empty. The machine was still standing alongside the podium, and Dave led them up to it, a confident smile on his face.
‘Here it is, Doctor. Has anyone got a newspaper?’
Pam handed him that day’s Metro, and everyone watched as Dave fed it into the machine.
A few seconds later, even the Doctor was lost for words as the paper vanished. Dave removed an SD card from a slot at the rear and handed it to him.
‘See, Doctor, it’s as simple as that – completely harmless.’
‘Have you ever read The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?’
The Doctor was already on his haunches, examining the device in minute detail, and he looked up at Dave with his eyebrows raised.
‘Yes, a long time ago,’ he admitted.
‘That was what the first edition of the guide said about planet Earth.’ He stuck his sonic screwdriver into the feed mechanism and pulled a face. ‘”Harmless.” Then they revised it to “Mostly harmless” – a bit like your gadget, really.’
Dave looked offended and drew himself up to his full height.
‘I can assure you, Doctor, this “gadget”, as you call it, is as safe as houses.’
‘Yes, it is. I’ve just given it the once-over, and it’s squeaky clean.’
He sprang to his feet and pocketed his screwdriver.
‘But it’s not this gadget I’m worried about.’
He advanced towards Dave and stooped down so that their eyes were only a few inches apart.
‘Professor Probert,’ he continued in a near-whisper, “where’s its big brother?’
Cardiff Central Police Station, 1.32 p.m.
Ianto looked up from the laptop and smiled across at Gwen. She was still poring over the online records of every call received since the previous evening. The number of calls was increasing by the minute, and the affected area was growing in size. They’d received their first call from Llantwit Major a couple of minutes before, and their colleagues in Avon and Somerset were in constant radio contact as the effect spread across the Bristol Channel.
‘It’s down by the Bay!’ he announced, a triumphant note in his voice.
‘What is?’ Gwen asked absently.
‘Whatever’s causing all this.’
Gwen swung round in her chair and gave him a huge smile.
‘Do tell!’
‘I’ve correlated every reported incident against our timeline, and I’ve come up with this.’
He turned the laptop so Gwen could see the screen.
Vincent Price and Kathy Swanson looked over his shoulders, each as baffled as the other. The display showed a satellite photograph of the city and its surrounding area, with a series of concentric circles superimposed on the image.
‘What are we looking at, exactly?’ Price growled.
‘Here’s the hospital.’ Ianto pointed to a large complex north of a dual carriageway. He proceeded to point out other key features of the city as he spoke.
‘Here’s where we are; here’s the cafe where we first noticed what was going on; here’s Waterstone’s―’
‘The bookshop?’ Kathy said in surprise.
‘Yeah – they rang us earlier to say they’d had to close,’ Gwen explained.’Apparently they had nothing left to sell except CDs and mugs.’
‘Anyway, once I’d collated the times of the reports, I was able to plot them against the locations.’ Ianto turned to face the two police officers. ‘Whatever’s responsible for all this is generating some sort of wave, propagating from a central source. It’s like ripples on a lake, radiating out from that source. So I ran the figures through one of our programs, and I got this.’
He slid his finger over the trackpad, zooming into the centre of the innermost circle. The image resolved into a birds-eye view of a warehouse, surrounded by cranes, lorries, and shipping containers.
‘I know where that is,’ Kathy announced. ‘It’s the Associated British Ports facility.’
‘We’d better get a team over there right now.’
Price was in severe danger of smiling, but he managed to control himself.
‘With respect, I don’t really think a team will be much good, Chief Superintendent. This is a job for the experts.’
Ianto closed the laptop and picked up his coat. Price stepped out of his way, hopelessly out of his depth and unconsciously deferring to the younger man.
‘Gwen, can you radio Andy and get him to put the Doctor on? We’re going to need him ASAP. I’ll tell Jack to meet us by the main entrance to ABP. Better get Martha down there as well, in case anyone gets hurt. See you outside in two minutes.’
‘Yeah, sure thing!’
Gwen grabbed the radio as Ianto ran from the room, closely pursued by the two officers.
St Donat’s Arts Centre, 1.38 p.m.
The Doctor was leading Dave, Andy and Pam out of the building when Karen ran up to them.
‘Professor! Professor! Sorry to interrupt – I was just wondering if I could have a few minutes with you.’
‘This isn’t really a good time, Miss Samuels,’ Dave replied, one hand on the door frame.
‘Please, Professor – this is a really big story. If I can get it into tonight’s paper, it’ll make my career!’/div>

‘You want a story?’ The Doctor stopped in his tracks, swung round, and walked back to the doorway. ‘Come with us, I’ll give you a story!’
‘Who are you, then?’
The Doctor grinned.
‘I’m the Doctor.’ He indicated his companions. ‘This is PC Andy Davidson, this is my friend Pam. And here’s your headline: Extra-terrestrial helps top secret organisation save the human race from disaster for the umpteenth time.’
Karen stared at him, open-mouthed, for a moment.
‘You’re having a fucking laugh!’
‘No, not at all! Actually, make that: Incredibly brilliant and stupendously handsome extra-terrestrial helps top secret organisation save the human race from disaster for the umpteenth time.’
‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’
Karen might not have seen six impossible things before breakfast, but she’d seen one impossible thing before lunch. Nothing could shock her now.
‘I’m completely serious. And extremely modest to boot.’ He winked at her. ‘You’ll have the biggest story of the year. Just one thing – have you got a tape recorder?’
‘Nobody uses tape recorders any more.’ She laughed, and took an MP3 recorder out of her pocket. ‘It’s all digital these days.’
‘Yes, I think that might be part of the problem.’ He gave Dave a meaningful look. ‘Still, hang on to it – you’re going to need it where we’re going!’
Andy’s radio crackled into life, and he walked away to answer it. He returned a few moments later and handed it to the Doctor with a wry grin.
‘It’s for you.’
The Doctor held it to his ear and listened as Gwen babbled Ianto’s findings to him. His expression grew more and more worried as she spoke, and he turned to Andy.
‘How far’s Llantwit Major?’
‘Couple of miles away,’ Andy replied casually. ‘Why?’
“It hit there about five minutes ago.’
He gave the radio back to Andy and frowned at Karen.
‘Out of interest, where’s your notebook?’
‘In my bag.’
‘Are you sure?’ He grinned. ‘Fifty-fifty? Phone a friend? Ask the audience? Is that your final answer?’
Karen rummaged in her bag for her shorthand pad, but there was no sign of it.
‘It was here a minute ago,’ she said after a few moments.
‘Oh, I dare say it was,’ he winked. ‘Look!’
He pointed to the noticeboard just inside the door.
As his companions turned to look at it, the posters pinned to it winked out of existence. There was no slow dematerialisation, or unnatural energy shimmer. All the paper simply disappeared before their amazed eyes. Everyone turned to look at the desk. A moment before, there’d been a display of leaflets and programmes in a plastic dispenser. Now, the counter was completely empty.
‘Oh, my God,’ Dave said in a low voice.
‘Believe me now, Professor?’ he asked, trying not to sound smug.
‘Yes, I believe you. What the hell’s happened?’
‘It just so happens I’ve got a theory – I’ll tell you on the way back. And you’d better sit in the front. You’re navigating!’

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