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The outskirts of Cardiff, 2.07 p.m.
Squeezed into the rear seat of Andy’s squad car between two bemused women, the Doctor closed Dave’s laptop and handed it back to him with a wink.
‘Very impressive,’ he said in a loud voice.
The car was going ‘blues and twos’, tearing its way along Cowbridge Road towards the castle. Occasionally other drivers sounded their horns as Andy shot through the tiniest gaps in the traffic.
‘And I’m not easily impressed, as a rule. Fair play to you, Dave. Project Précis – Print Recognition, Electronic Compression, and Information Storage. It does exactly what it says on the tin. In fact, it’s a brilliant idea.’
Diolch yn fawr,’ Dave replied with a smile, somewhat surprised.
He’d only known the Doctor for a short time, but he’d soon been struck by the other man’s sharp intelligence. When the Doctor had asked to look at Dave’s blueprints, he’d agreed immediately, sensing that this mysterious man would find any flaws in his design in seconds. He’d been expecting his invention to come in for a barrage of criticism, instead of such lavish praise. True to form, the Doctor didn’t disappoint him when he spoke again.
‘Yes, it is a truly brilliant invention.’ He sat back and stroked his chin. ‘Of course, my people developed this technology ages ago. It did exactly the same thing. We dumped it because it didn’t work.’
‘It works perfectly.’ Dave’s smile vanished as quickly as Pam’s Metro had earlier on.
‘Yeah – technically, it’s spot-on. But have you thought about the effects it’ll have on society?’
Dave shook his head.
‘Sorry, I’m not with you.’
By way of answer, the Doctor belted out the opening bars of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. Pam tried not to laugh, and Andy resisted the temptation to join in. The Doctor stopped singing and faced Dave again.
‘Now, imagine scanning the score of Handel’s Messiah into your machine. The software analyses it, decides that the content is too repetitive, and erases all but the first “Hallelujah” because it thinks they’re redundant. Or what about a bit of the Bard?’ He struck a pose and declaimed, ‘”Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day …”‘ He frowned and looked straight into Dave’s eyes. ‘Error report: suggest deleting repeated words. Then again, if you want to really fuck things up, try feeding in some James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, and see what your software makes of them.’
He placed a reassuring hand on Dave’s shoulder.
‘Look, I’ve got a Reader’s Ticket for the biggest library in the universe, and everything there is still printed on paper. People like books. They look nice, they feel nice, they smell nice, and you don’t need any fancy equipment to use them. But with your invention, I only have to push a button and masterpieces of human civilisation vanish into the Odd Sock Vortex.’
‘The Odd Sock Vortex?’ Pam echoed.
‘Yeah, you know. Like when you put a dozen pairs of socks in the washing machine, and when the cycle’s finished, there are only twenty-three socks inside. Where does the other one go?’
‘I always that was the Borrowers.’
Andy grinned as he shot through the traffic lights, threw the car across the junction and headed down St Mary Street.
‘Oh, now you’re being silly!’ He pulled a face and pressed on. ‘The thing is, there are little baby universes opening and closing all the time, like tiny transient bubbles in the fabric of reality. Stuff comes and goes every so often. I think you’ve come up with a way of creating baby universes on demand, and that’s where the hard copies go.’
‘Hang on, though – whatever’s happened isn’t a baby universe,’ Karen objected. ‘It’s something different.’
‘Yes, I know.’ He gave Dave a meaningful look. ‘The problem is, some bright spark not a million miles away from here—’ He nodded in Dave’s direction ‘—decided to build a baby universe machine on top of a rift in Space and Time. A hole in the fabric of reality. A bit of a dodgy combination, all in all.’
Everyone in the car was silent for a few moments. Andy had experienced some of the Rift’s effects for himself. The others remembered the strange phenomena that had cropped up in the newspapers over the past couple of years. Most people in Cardiff had had a taste of what the Rift could do.
‘That’s not the only problem,’ Pam piped up. ‘Some other bright spark went and parked his spaceship on top of that same rift.’
The Doctor looked slightly guilty.
‘You’ve got a spaceship?’ Karen looked incredulous.
‘Well, strictly speaking it’s a space and time machine, but – yes, I’ve got a spaceship. And yes, I have to confess that I might have been partly responsible for all this.’
Dave glared at him as the implications of his revelation sank in.
‘Partly?’ Dave repeated. ‘Only partly?’
The Doctor grinned back.
‘I dunno. Six of one, half a dozen of the other?”
‘From what you’ve just told us, it seems to me that you’re almost entirely responsible, Doctor.’
He shrugged.
‘Well, maybe ninety per cent.’
Dave’s eyes continued to bore into him.
‘I’ll compromise on fifty-fifty. Tell you what – why don’t we split the difference?’
Pam decided to change the subject, and nudged the Doctor sharply in the ribs.
‘How many blokes do you know with twelve pairs of socks?’
‘I bet Ianto has.’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right,’ she chuckled.
The radio crackled, and Andy listened for a moment before acknowledging the message. He caught the Doctor’s eye in the rear-view mirror.
‘That was Gwen. They’re waiting for us on site – and they’ve got company.’
He swung the car into Callaghan Square and headed towards the docks.
The Port of Cardiff, 2.21 p.m.
The humming noise from the warehouse had become so loud that everyone had been forced to evacuate the area. Even from two hundred metres away, it was about as loud as a rock concert. Golden light flooded from the windows and bathed the surrounding buildings in its unearthly glow.
The entire port facility was cordoned off with police tape. Kathy Swanson and Vince Price were standing guard just outside the gates, with a handful of uniformed officers nearby. Three green army trucks and a number of jeeps were parked near the fence, and soldiers were milling around in the car park. Jack, Gwen, Ianto and Martha were leaning up against their SUV when Andy’s car shot into view and drew up a few inches from the bumper. His passengers got out with relieved expressions on their faces, and the Doctor performed the introductions as usual.
‘Was it my imagination, or did we achieve light speed coming around Culverhouse Cross?’ Karen gave Andy a dig in the kidneys.
‘Don’t be daft,’ the Doctor said. ‘If we could do that, we could just turn back time and stop this from ever happening.’ He gave Jack and Martha a meaningful look. ‘And as any fool knows, that’s completely impossible.’
Martha winked at him and turned to a young fair-haired soldier wearing a red-trimmed cap.
‘Doctor, this is Major Chapman. Major, this is the Doctor.’
Chapman shot to attention.
‘It’s an honour, sir, I’ve heard all about you.’
The Doctor groaned.
‘Please don’t salute, I’m not good with authority figures.’
Instead they shook hands warmly. He introduced Dave to the young officer, and explained the professor’s involvement in the proceedings. Chapman beckoned Jack over and led the three men towards the police line. As they walked, each man took the opportunity to update the others on developments.
It seemed that the effect had just reached Swansea. Torchwood’s own equipment had been taking regular measurements and the phenomenon appeared to be gaining strength. An hour into the crisis, UNIT had been called in and given full powers to act in order to prevent the situation from worsening. The only problem was that nobody had the faintest idea what action to take.
‘Well, I’m here now,’ the Doctor reassured the harrassed officer. ‘I’m sure I’ll think of something.’
He nodded polite greetings to Kathy Swanson and Vince Price as they came to the gates. Price glowered at him by way of answer. The police had obviously been cut out of the loop, and he wasn’t happy about it. Dave caught sight of Julie Jones and Mohammed Khan sitting in a police car a few metres away, and he waved at them. Julie raised her hands to give him a half-hearted wave, and a glint of silver caught the Doctor’s keen eye.
‘Why is she wearing handcuffs?’ he demanded, turning to Price.
The diminutive policeman strode up to him and looked up into his face, trying to exert what little authority he still had.
‘Everyone in that warehouse has been arrested pending further investigations,’ he announced.
‘Well, in that case you can un-arrest them ASAP!’
Price took an involuntary step backwards as the Doctor loomed over him, his eyes blazing.
‘We’re going to need all the help we can get.’
He ducked under the tape and walked slowly towards the warehouse, with the others following a few paces behind. All eyes were on them as they walked towards the glowing building. They didn’t get far before they were forced back by the deafening noise emanating from within. They retreated to the gates again, shaking their heads in a vain attempt to rid themselves of the after-effects of the sound. Ianto ran to the cordon and slung what appeared to be a set of headphones over the fence. Jack caught it neatly, grinned, and clamped it over his ears.
‘Ear protection! That boy thinks of everything!’ he bellowed into the Doctor’s ear.
Ianto threw another set of modified ear defenders to the Doctor, and two more sets to Dave and Major Chapman. As soon as they were wearing the safety kit, they found themselves in near-silence. Jack gestured to the others to follow him towards the warehouse. To the Doctor’s amazement, Martha’s voice rang in his ears.
‘You’re not the only one with tricks up his sleeve, mate.’
‘We developed these a few years ago,” Ianto’s voice added. “They’ve got built-in comms on a secure channel. You can talk to each other, we can hear you, and you can hear us.’
‘Fantastic!’ The Doctor turned and gave Jack’s colleagues a wave.
Gwen waved back and her anxious voice came through the tiny speakers.
‘Take care, guys.’
‘I always do,’ Jack retorted in an ironic tone. He pointed at the Doctor. ‘It’s this bloke who gets me into trouble every time.’
The Doctor raised his middle finger and Jack laughed. He put a hand on Dave’s shoulder.
‘Professor Dave Probert, this is your big moment.’ He grinned. ‘Take me to your Reader.’
The four men advanced to the warehouse and the Doctor tried the door. To his surprise it swung open immediately. He turned to Dave and raised his eyebrows.
‘Tell your friends they should have locked it up after them,’ he teased. ‘Anyone could have just walked in here.’
Dave chuckled and followed him into the building, with Jack and Chapman bringing up the rear. The Doctor squinted into the dazzling glow flooding from Dave’s machine and walked towards the stairs.
‘Blimey, it’s bright in here! Ianto, I don’t suppose you’ve brought any sunglasses.’
‘They’ve never really suited me,’ came the disembodied reply. ‘I always look like I’m in the CIA whenever I wear them.’
‘Where’s all this light coming from?’
Dave was shielding his eyes with his hand. Chapman was staring, open-mouthed, at the glowing mass in the middle of the empty warehouse. Jack sprinted past the Doctor, sat down at the nearest workstation, inserted a flash drive into the USB port, and started typing rapidly.
‘That’s pure energy from the Space-Time Vortex, funnelling through the Rift.’
He took a few strides towards the machine and shoved his sonic screwdriver into a gap on its side.
‘It’s amplifying the effect of your machine, and radiating it out from here so that it’s processing every piece of paper in its path,” Jack added, looking at the results flashing up on his monitor.
‘Oh my God.’ Dave was awestruck by the realisation of what was happening.
‘Still, at least it’s only one specific frequency.’ He looked relieved. ‘If it was the full spectrum, most of South Wales would have been swallowed by now.’
‘How do we stop it?’ Chapman’s voice was querulous.
‘Your guess is as good as mine,’ Dave sighed.
‘What’s the power source?’
‘It draws its energy from hydrogen fuel cells.’
Julie’s voice came over the airwaves, and the Doctor’s face fell.
‘Oh, great!’ Jack groaned. ‘It’ll be around for fucking years.’
‘They said that about Laserdiscs,’ Ianto quipped.
‘Can you reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?’ Martha suggested.
‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?’ the Doctor echoed sarcastically. ‘Martha, it’s 2009, not the 1970s!’
‘There is one thing we could try.’
Jack’s firm tone suggested that he’d already come up with a definitive plan of action. He strode to the Doctor’s side and tapped the Vortex Manipulator that never left his wrist.
‘Could this be modified to increase its teleport catchment area?’
‘Yeah, I imagine so.’
Their eyes met and they were silent for a few moments.
Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?’ Jack nodded earnestly. ‘Okay, let’s do it!’
He pulled his sonic screwdriver from the machine and waved it over Jack’s wrist.
‘A little bit of that old Time Lord jiggery-pokery …’
The bright blue glow from the tool was a tiny glimmer amongst the golden light that surrounded them. Dave and Chapman looked on, completely lost. Jack gestured towards the doorway with his free hand.
‘You two, get clear!’ Jack shouted.
Without needing any further encouragement, they turned and sprinted from the building.
‘Gwen, Martha, tell everyone to get as far away as possible. Major, can I scrounge some high explosives from your boys?’
‘How much do you need?’ He sounded surprised.
‘As much as it’ll take to blow this thing to Hell!’
The Doctor put his sonic screwdriver back in his pocket and looked into Jack’s eyes. The other man winked at him, ignoring Gwen’s and Ianto’s frantic objections coming over the comms.
‘I’ll be okay. Trust me,’ he said quietly.
‘That’s meant to be my line. I’m the bloody doctor here, Jack.’
‘Ianto, I’m going to need some coordinates from you.’
‘What’s going on, Jack?’ There was desperate concern in his voice.
‘Ianto, just do it! I need the latitude and longitude of a point in the Bristol Channel. It doesn’t matter where – just as long as it’s out to sea, away from the shipping lanes, and far enough from any of the islands that a big bang won’t cause any damage.’
‘And don’t forget there’s a nuclear power station on the other side,’ the Doctor added.
‘Okay – can you give me a few minutes?’
‘Yeah, take your time. I’m not in any great rush.’
‘You’re completely insane, you do realise that?’
The Doctor held out his hand. Jack smiled, shook his head, and wrapped the Doctor in a bear hug for a few moments.
‘Let’s go!’
They ran outside and were almost knocked down by a UNIT truck with a young corporal at the wheel. He leapt from the driver’s seat and saluted them as they charged up to him.
‘Don’t salute!’ the Doctor yelled.
Jack lifted the tarpaulin at the rear, peered inside, and whistled.
‘Hey, Doctor, there’s enough firepower here to blow a hole in the world!’
‘Well, try not to make too much of a mess.’
Jack climbed into the cab, slammed the truck into reverse, and revved the powerful engine. The soldier was already sprinting back to the safe area. As he dived through the gates, Martha and Gwen burst through the gap and hurtled towards the Doctor and Jack. Martha seized the Doctor’s arm and dragged him towards the gates, her eyes filled with terror. Gwen ran to the driver’s side of the truck and grabbed Jack’s arm, trying to pull him from his seat.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ she screamed.
‘Saving the world!’
He pushed her away and Gwen clutched at his coat, her incoherent shrieks filling their ears. He shoved her to the ground, slammed the door, and gunned the engine again. She rose to her knees, tears pricking at her eyes. The truck reversed away from the building, and the Doctor and Martha helped Gwen to her feet.
‘He’s fucking mad,’ she sobbed.
She looked over her shoulder as Jack reversed the truck as far as the perimeter fence.
‘He’ll get blown to smithereens.’
The Doctor placed his hand on her chin and she found herself looking into his eyes.
‘Gwen, you know him better than that,’ he said gently. ‘He’ll be fine.’
He squeezed her hand and pointed to the gates, a two hundred metre dash away. He winked at Martha.
Now, I bet you can guess what I’m going to say next.’
‘Oh yes. Just like old times.’
She gave him a huge smile. Gwen looked from one beaming face to the other and back again.
RUN!‘ they chorused.
The three friends cleared the distance to the gates in what Pam assumed was an attempt to break the world record. They stormed through the police cordon and came to a halt, panting for breath, back at the SUV.
Ianto was still at his laptop. They conferred for a while as he relayed the on-screen information to Jack. With a guilty glance towards his colleagues, he touched a control on his headset. The comms went dead. Whatever he and Jack were saying was for nobody else’s ears. The Doctor looked down at Ianto, trying to read the young man’s emotions. Gwen was still weeping on Martha’s shoulder.
Ianto murmured softly into his microphone, trying to control the tremble in his voice. Finally he pulled off the headset and looked up from his monitor.
‘We’ve got about two minutes. Time to get clear,’ he announced.
He closed the laptop and climbed into the driver’s seat of the SUV without another word. Martha put her arm around Gwen’s shoulders and helped her into the back seat. Andy started his own car and reversed out of the way. The Doctor, Pam, Dave and Karen got in, lost in their own thoughts. Andy sped out of the car park, the SUV following close behind.
Nobody dared to look back as they headed out of the docks and back to the main road.
Suddenly the Doctor shouted a single word: ‘Barrage!’
‘Nice one!’
Andy activated the lights and sirens, slammed his foot down, and gunned the car towards the Welsh Assembly Building. Ianto caught on instantly and swung the wheel, tailgating the squad car past the Norwegian Church and towards the Cardiff Bay Barrage.
Several hundred people had gathered along the waterfront, transfixed by the sight of the light flooding from the docks, wondering what on earth was going on. They scattered as the vehicles shot along the narrow path. It was less than a minute’s drive to the barrage, and everyone piled out before the engines had stopped running. Even from here, the sound of Dave Probert’s machine was clearly audible. The Vortex energy formed a shallow golden dome over the whole of the city, stretching as far as they could see.
The Doctor sprinted off along the barrage and onto one of the concrete islands between the sea-locks. The others followed in his wake, and soon they were all leaning over the metal railings, staring out at the sullen grey waters of the Bristol Channel. He glanced at his watch.
‘Now, if Jack’s plan works, we should hear the result any second—’
The humming sound died in an instant. Everyone turned in the direction of the docks. The golden glow which had enveloped the city was no more.
‘Now …’
The Doctor’s voice tailed away.
Far out in the Bristol Channel, a blinding flash illuminated the surface of the water.
A tower of water erupted from the sea and rose high into the air, mushrooming out as it lost speed. A few moments later, a colossal explosion shook the entire barrage. Out of instinct, everyone threw themselves to the ground. A low rumbling sound like a distant earth tremor resounded around the bay for several seconds before fading away.
The massive column collapsed as quickly as it had arisen, and the Doctor got to his feet. He peered over the side of the concrete structure. The sea level had dropped considerably in the aftermath of the explosion, but was now rising rapidly. An enormous circular wave was building on the horizon, thundering towards the shore on both sides of the channel.
‘It’s a shame we haven’t got time to get to Minsterworth.’ There was a tinge of sadness in his voice. ‘This is going to be one hell of a Severn Bore.’
‘Never mind the fucking Severn Bore, you heartless bastard!’ Gwen screamed, tears pouring down her cheeks. She ran to the Doctor and pounded her fists against his chest. ‘What about Jack?’
Martha leaned over the railings, squinting out towards the mighty oncoming wave.
Barely visible amongst the raging waters, a tiny figure was racing towards them.
‘He’s okay,’ she grinned.
The Doctor shielded his eyes and looked along Martha’s pointing finger. Everyone else followed his lead and there was a collective gasp.
‘I don’t fucking believe it,’ Karen muttered.
Jack was standing upright on a narrow flat object, his feet firmly planted a short distance apart, riding the crest of the monstrous wall of water. He gave them a cheery wave as he came closer.
‘No way!’
Ianto grabbed the comms headset and patched it through to his laptop. Soon, Jack’s voice was issuing from the computer’s onboard speakers.
‘Did I ever tell you I was the Boeshane Peninsula surfing champion three years in a row? Man, this takes me back!’
As he came into clear view, Pam covered her mouth with her hand.
‘He’s bollock naked!’
‘It was bound to happen,’ Ianto muttered.
The wave was losing height and speed as it approached the shore, and soon they could see that Jack’s makeshift surfboard was one of the truck doors, blown off in the explosion. He jumped off when he was a few metres from the barrage, and swam strongly towards the sea-lock. A moment later the mass of water smashed into the concrete pilings and drenched the Doctor and his friends in spray. They cried out and retreated to a safe distance. The water subsided again, and they all ran back to the railings. Jack was bobbing in the water beneath, a euphoric expression on his face, roaring with laughter.
Wow! Now that’s what I call a wave!’ he yelled, punching the air. ‘Sorry about the clothes, ladies – that coat weighs a ton when it’s wet, and I didn’t fancy drowning on top of being blown up!’
Everyone started laughing and cheering. Martha kissed the Doctor, Gwen kissed Ianto, the Doctor kissed Karen, Gwen kissed Dave, Martha kissed Ianto, Pam kissed the Doctor, Karen kissed Ianto, Martha kissed Dave, Pam kissed Ianto, the Doctor kissed Gwen, Karen kissed Dave, and finally Gwen kissed Andy. His eyes lit up, and the Doctor grinned.
“Don’t I get a kiss?’ Jack asked over the comms.
‘Yes – just before I kill you again, you fucking mad bastard!’ Gwen shouted down to him.
The Doctor unfastened a lifebelt from its mountings and threw it to Jack.
‘Yeah, right, thanks – like that’s going to make any difference to me,’ he groaned.
Ianto was tying a length of rope to the towbar of the SUV. He gave the free end to Gwen and she threw it down to Jack. A few moments later, his arms and naked shoulders appeared over the top of the platform. He flashed them a dazzling smile.
‘Can someone please get me a towel? I’m freezing my nuts off here.’
The Vulcan Inn, Adam Street, Cardiff, 7.04 p.m.
The Doctor returned from the bar and placed the tray of drinks on the table. As well as the regular crowd, the pub was crammed with people who had been watching the extraordinary events in the Bay. Liz the landlady was working flat-out. She hadn’t known such a busy Monday evening for a long time. Everyone was discussing the mysterious happenings of the day, coming up with ever-wilder speculations as to the cause.
Jack, Martha, Gwen, Ianto, Andy, Pam, Dave, Karen and Major Chapman were sitting together in the corner by the door. After the day’s adventure, the Doctor had prescribed them all a healthy dose of alcohol to settle their nerves, and they’d headed for one of Cardiff’s historic pubs to watch the evening news on TV. Almost everyone was in the corner was in celebratory mood.
Only Karen seemed subdued. She’d missed her copy deadline, and been well and truly scooped. BBC Wales had filled its evening bulletin with a hastily cobbled-together and heavily-spun version of events, studiously omitting any mention of the explosion out at sea or the instantaneous disappearance of an entire warehouse from the docks.
The unveiling of Dave’s invention had been completely ignored.
‘Perhaps it’s for the best,’ he’d said during the weather forecast, and the Doctor had nodded his agreement.
‘Yeah. It was a nice idea, Dave, but more trouble than it was worth.’
One of the regulars came back into the pub, the smell of fresh cigarette smoke on his breath.
‘Dunno know what’s occurin’ down the Bay, but it’s all lit up like Christmas,’ he said casually as he returned to his pint.
The Doctor glanced at Jack and a worried expression crossed his face.
‘Not again?’
They ran out to the car park beside the pub and looked southwards. High above the docks, a circle of golden light was expanding into the blackness. The glow of the circle dissipated through the low cloud, feathering at the edges to a faint corona. The others joined them, staring up into the sky.
‘What the fuck …?’ Gwen muttered.
The Doctor turned round and looked at Karen.
‘What’s the Principle of Conservation of Matter?’
‘Mass cannot be created or destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, and changed into different types of particles,’ she replied immediately.
‘Exactly!’ He pulled a face. ‘Or, to paraphrase the great Spike Milligan, everything’s gotta be somewhere! And there’s another scientific law that we’ve all forgotten about.’ He glared at Dave. ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences.’
The circle had stopped expanding, but was steadily increasing in brightness. Suddenly, a deafening whooshing sound reached their ears. It seemed as though a great gale was howling its way inland. Everyone leaned forward to avoid being swept over by its force. Martha shouted something, but her words were torn away by the wind. Something slapped into Pam’s face and she pulled it away, holding it at arm’s length so that she could see it properly. It was a copy of that week’s Big Issue.
A stream of paper, several metres wide and almost as high as the pub, was gushing from the sky. Within seconds the Doctor and his friends were up to their ankles in litter. The rest of the customers had come outside to see what was happening, and were struggling to stay upright as the blizzard of paper swept around them.
‘Fucking brilliant!’ Gwen cried. ‘It’s like a tickertape parade!’
‘I think we’d be safer indoors!’ Jack bawled.
They took the hint and all ran back into the pub, slamming the door behind them.
For a few minutes everyone thronged by the windows as the torrent of paper continued, with only occasional comments from the crowd. When it was about knee-deep it started to subside, but continued to rain down.
‘Oh my God, it’s like the morning after a match day,’ Gwen gasped.
‘This is going to take some clearing up,’ Liz murmured as her customers wandered back to their drinks.
‘Nice bit of overtime for the council though,’ Ianto replied.
The fall had eased off by the time they finished their drinks, and only small pieces of paper floated past the window as they left the pub.
The Doctor and Martha kicked their way through a deep drift which had gathered in the doorway and stepped outside. They found themselves trudging across a thick bed of paper debris half a metre or so above ground level.
Jack joined them just in time to hear Pam say, ‘1941.’
‘No way!’ he cried. ‘There’s at least four of me there already – I can’t go there again.’
‘Not the year 1941,’ the Doctor explained patiently. ‘The 1941 train from Cardiff Central. Pam’s got to get home somehow.’
‘I can’t see the trains running tonight,’ Andy said. ‘If leaves on the line or a bit of snow bugger them up, they’ll have no chance in all this.’
‘Well then,’ the Doctor said, taking Pam’s hand, ‘I’ll give Pam a lift. It’s not far to the Bay. We’ll take the TARDIS.’
Cardiff Bay, 8.14 p.m.
They’d hardly seen a soul on the walk to the Millennium Centre. The downpour had clogged the streets. No traffic was moving anywhere, and near the railway station a gang of small children were rummaging in the pile of paper.
The TARDIS was in its usual spot near the water tower when the group of friends arrived at Roald Dahl Plass. The Doctor fished the key from his pocket, unlatched the door, and looked around. Pam stood beside him. His pals from Torchwood, along with Andy and Major Chapman, were smiling, but Dave and Karen looked sad. It was time for goodbyes again.
The Doctor stepped forward and held out his hand.
‘Dave, it’s been a pleasure. You’re a genius. Shame it didn’t work out, but full marks for effort. One thing’s for sure, you’ve saved me from the nightmare of a boring day kicking around in Cardiff.’
‘Thank you, Doctor.’ He cheered up slightly and shook the proffered hand. ‘I hope we meet again some time.’
‘So do I. If we do, I’ll take you to the library. You’ll love it!’
He turned to Karen and smiled.
‘And don’t worry about not getting the big headlines this time. I knew a journalist once who couldn’t report anything we got up to – they’d have locked her up in a mental hospital.’ She smiled. ‘Of course, if you really want a story, you can always come with me. There’s plenty of room.’
‘Believe me, there’s never a dull moment with this guy,’ Martha added.
Karen shook her head.
‘It’s really nice of you to offer, Doctor, but no thanks. I don’t think I could take the pace.’
‘No problem. It’s been fun, though, hasn’t it?’
‘Oh fuck aye!’ she beamed. ‘See you around.’
She stood on tiptoe and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Then she and Dave linked arms and walked off towards the city centre, sending a flurry of paper into the air with every step they took.
Major Chapman walked forward and shook the Doctor’s hand.
‘Thanks for your help. I don’t know what we’d have done without you.’
‘UNIT never does,’ he replied with a wink. ‘It’s a good thing I stick around.’
Chapman snapped a salute and the Doctor groaned.
‘Don’t do that!’
The young officer gave him a wry smile and bade the rest of them goodbye before strolling off towards the Assembly Building.
‘So here we are again,’ Martha said softly.
The TARDIS door had opened slightly in the breeze, and she could see the soft glow of its interior through the gap. It brought back memories of their time together. The Doctor seemed to read her thoughts as she gazed past him.
‘What do you think? One more trip for old time’s sake?’
‘No, mate.’ She shook her head and gave him a sad smile. ‘I owe Tom a night in for once.’
‘Fair comment.’
He hugged her and she kissed him.
‘See you soon.’
‘And we’ll see you soon as well,’ Jack said firmly. He winked at his old friend. ‘You never know when you’re going to need our help, after all.’
The Doctor shook his hand, then Gwen’s, Ianto’s and Andy’s in turn.
They stepped onto the lift platform and raised their hands in farewell. Pam watched, speechless, as they descended into the Hub, deep beneath her feet. The paving slab rose back up to fill the space, and there was no indication that anyone had ever been there.
‘And then there were two!’
His voice echoed from the front of the Millennium Centre. He turned to look into her eyes. ‘You could come with me.’
‘No thanks, Doctor.’
‘Okay.’ He nodded. ‘Aberdare it is.’
He led her into the TARDIS and shut the door behind them. He ran his fingers over the central console and the controls lit up instantly.
‘Oh yes! All fuelled up and ready to go!’
‘Can you do me a favour?’ she asked.
He stopped flicking switches and moving levers, and looked up at her expectantly.
‘Don’t drop me off by the pub. After today, a spaceship appearing from nowhere would be the last straw. If you could take me a bit nearer home, that’d be great.’
‘Yeah, no problem. Let’s have a look.’
He peered at a small screen set into the console.
‘Right – I’ve got a country park, with a couple of big lakes and a bus stop nearby – it seems nice and tucked away.’
‘That’s perfect! I can walk home from there.’
‘Okay, let’s go.’
He pressed a large button and grinned. The central column began to rise and fall, and the groaning sound Pam had heard the previous evening filled her ears. No sooner had the sound begun when it faded away again, and Pam looked worried.
‘That didn’t take long.’
‘I know – top of the range, this is! Nought to c in 3.2 seconds.’
She turned to leave, but he ran to the door and stood with his back to it, blocking her exit.
‘Final answer?’
‘Doctor, I can’t. I’ve got a life here. Anyway, it’s been the trip of a lifetime already.’ She kissed him. ‘Thanks for everything.’
‘No – thank you, Pam.’ He moved aside to let her pass. ‘See you around.’
‘No offence, but I really, really hope not!’
She smiled, opened the door, and stepped into the night air. She turned to see him framed in the doorway, his hand raised in farewell.
‘Bye, Doctor.’
Pob hwyl, Pam,’ he said softly.
The door closed and she was left in semi-darkness.
She turned away with a tear in her eye and walked to the bus stop, just a few metres away.
Immediately she realised that something was wrong. The bus shelter was made of timber, instead of the vandal-proof plastic or concrete structures she was used to in the valleys. There was a metal post with a timetable just outside the shelter, and Pam looked at it with a growing sense of alarm.
The sign at the top said COSMESTON LAKES. It was a place she’d only ever heard of, somewhere between Barry and Penarth. Without stopping to think, Pam sprinted back towards the TARDIS.
‘Doctor!’ she screamed. ‘We’re in the wrong place!’
She was a few inches from the door when the groaning sound started up again. She stood and watched helplessly as the TARDIS slowly faded from view. Presently the noise died away too, leaving her alone and miles from home.
Pam sat in the shelter for a couple of minutes, wondering how on Earth she would explain this to Vicky the following day. She shrugged, took out her phone, and dialled the number for Directory Enquiries. She’d have to take a taxi home from a place she’d never been to before. In that respect at least, Pam Griffiths had had a fairly average day.


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