Torchwood Five: Vita Nova
By Nix Nada
Michael Colefield had always been able to cope with funerals by adopting an almost businesslike, approachable façade, always ready to comfort others while he shut himself off from the conscious, grieving portion of his mind, until he could deal with it alone. Today, however, he could only stand, numb, letting the kind, well-meaning, empty words happen around him, only speaking to murmur a polite rejection to the invitations of his friends and fellow mourners or to offer a brief, dutiful condolence of his own as he waited by the graveside, hands thrust deep into his overcoat pockets, for the small group of people to leave.
At last he was alone, staring down at the headstone as the mist of his breath dissipated into the cold winter air.
Reverend Father Pearse Harman, read the headstone. Vigilate ergo quia nescitis qua hora dominus vester venturus sit.
They hadn't been close. Michael had only met the man a few months before and had found him to be too driven by his calling to allow anyone to get close to him. However, it wasn't his life that troubled Michael's thoughts, but the manner of his passing away. Michael found that he was starting to have mixed feelings about death and that worried him. He knew now that there was something far worse than death. He had seen people – some of them close friends – corrupted in such a way that something twisted and evil existed in their stead after their bodies had died. Father Harman had not died at the hands of some vile monster however, but had lost the battle to cancer – a death that seemed almost mundane to Michael and therefore, somehow, comforting. This was a clean death compared to the alternative, he felt, a pure and unsullied way to go, and it was this thought – the very certainty of this thought – that worried Michael the most.
Perhaps it was time to leave T Branch, to get out before the job ate away at him, made him lose what was left of his sanity, made death by cancer seem an attractive prospect.
He looked up, over the rows of gravestones, out into the gathering gloom of dusk, and let his breath out slowly between clenched teeth.
"You don't waste any time, do you?" he said, without turning around.
"I'm sorry for intruding," said a man with an American accent.
"Don't you have funerals where you come from?" asked Michael, sourly.
"Actually, no," said the man. "There's no room in the ground."
Michael turned around. The man looked about thirty-five years old, with youthful good looks and appeared to be dressed like a 1940's fighter pilot. He stepped forward and offered his hand in greeting. Michael had had enough experience working with the police and T Branch to notice the revolver holstered at the man's hip, although it was partially covered by his heavy woollen overcoat.
"Captain Jack Harkness," said the man as Michael shook his hand. Jack's hand was unusually warm, despite the chill in the air.
"Are you on your way to a party?" asked Michael, looking down at Jack's outfit.
"What? Oh, this. No, it's just that they don't make clothes like these anymore. These were built to last."
"So, what's this about then? Getting to know the new boss over the grave of the old one? As management techniques go, I don't see this one catching on."
"I'm not your boss," replied Jack. "I've been sent to brief you on the future of your department and to -" he broke off as something in Michael's coat chimed loudly.
Michael reached into an inside pocket, pulled out his mobile phone and pressed a button to display the text message he had just received. In place of the sender name, two words appeared on the screen: "Code Five."
Michael let out a strangled cry of frustration and hurled his phone against Father Harman's headstone with such force that the mobile's plastic casing cracked.
"Can't you just give me this one day?" he yelled into the air. "Just… one… day!"
He leant over, his breath, billowing out in thin white clouds.
Jack waited for a moment to give Michael a moment to compose himself. "We have a job to do now," said Jack, quietly.
Michael took a deep, slow breath and straightened up, his eyes blazing. "Yes," he replied. "We do."
o o o
The message that Michael had received led them to a large, dark barn sitting by a field at the end of a long dirt road. By the time they got there the sun was completely down and what light they had came from a fortuitously full moon.
They spotted a large black jeep parked by a gate and pulled their cars to a stop on either side of it. Getting out, they quickly checked that the jeep was unoccupied then made their way through the gate towards the barn.
Jack drew his revolver, making Michael wish that he too was armed.
They made out two figures crouched in a shallow ditch by the side of the field and Jack moved towards them, head down, revolver aimed directly at them. Michael followed close behind.
They found a woman of about forty, with blonde, jaw-length hair, cradling a stocky black man who was bleeding profusely from a wound to his arm. Both were dressed in sombre black suits. The woman was in the process of tying a torn strip of her skirt as a tourniquet to the man's wounded arm. Clutched in his blood-covered hand was a modified handgun with a blocky set of sights attached.
"Wait – it's alright," whispered Michael to Jack as he caught sight of them. "Angie, Vaughan, what happened?"
"For Christ's sake, get down," she whispered, waving her hand downwards urgently. "It's armed."
Vaughan let out a hissing breath of pain as Angie tightened the makeshift tourniquet. "They're… not content… with biting us anymore. They've got to… blow holes in us too."
"We were on our way back from the funeral," Angie explained, "when we got the call. And you know what Vaughan's like – why wait for backup when we're in the area anyway?"
"Didn't… know it'd be armed," said Vaughan. "Leeches usually prefer it up close and personal."
"Give me your gun," said Michael to Vaughan, "I'll deal with it."
"You can't!" exclaimed Angie. "You'll get yourself killed. Backup is on its way."
"I'll deal with it," repeated Michael grimly, taking the gun from Vaughan and moving away towards the barn. It was a large, recently constructed building, with a long wall jutting from its far end and a row of empty stables running parallel to the barn at the end of that, forming a sort of courtyard between.
"Are all men this stupid?" said Angie in disbelief.
Jack winked at her. "Only when there's a pretty lady to impress," he said, as he too turned towards the barn.
He jogged up to where Michael was crouched and then walked right past him.
"What are you doing, you bloody fool?" Michael whispered.
Jack stood in the courtyard and spread his hands.
"By the Covenant of Ages," he announced, loudly, "I am duty-bound to give you one chance to surrender. If you come out now, peacefully, you will not be harmed."
By way of an answer, a shot rang out, hitting Jack in the chest with such force that he staggered back a few steps.
"Aw crap," he said as he fell onto his face in the dirt and lay still.
"You stupid idiot," hissed Michael, between his teeth. Great, he thought, I take out one of the higher-ups and I get him killed. Well, I was looking for a reason to leave T Branch – I think the reason just found me.
As he got ready to break cover and try to enter the barn, Michael was astonished to see Jack stirring. Without a sound, the fallen man pushed himself up with his hands then slowly got to his feet.
Jack brushed the dust from his coat and looked down at the blood-sodden holes in his shirt. "Built to last," he muttered to himself, "but hell to dry-clean."
He dug a hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a stubby silver device about the same size and shape as a computer mouse. He pressed a button on its top and the sides of the device split open, unfolding into thin, buzzing wings that lifted the object an inch from his hand. Its underside began to glow a shimmering purple-blue light.
"Analyse trajectory of gunshot," he said to the hovering device, "and track to source. Go."
The object zigzagged in the air for a moment as it triangulated its target, and then shot forward, breaking through the thin wooden wall of the barn.
There was a moment of silence, followed quickly by a crash from within and then an explosion that took out the rear half of the barn in a cloud of dark splinters.
Michael ran forward and grabbed Jack by the lapels, pulling his coat open to look at his chest.
"You're not wearing a vest," he said, stepping back quickly and pointing his gun at Jack's heart.
Jack put up his hands. "I know what you're thinking, but I'm not one of them. You saw the UV touch me." He turned his hand around to show that it was unmarked.
"Then what the hell are you?" demanded Michael, not lowering his weapon. "And what was that thing?"
"That thing was a device of alien origin. We like to call it the Snitch. It was brought to Earth by a group of extraterrestrial hunters who were out to bag a few – what was it you called it, a Code Five? Ah, I get it, like the Roman numeral, very clever… As for me, well, that's a little more complicated."
Michael lowered his gun slowly, but still looked suspicious. "Alien?" he said. "You expect me to believe that?"
"Michael," replied Jack, patiently, putting his hands down, "what did we just kill in there?"
"Alright, let's say I believe you, I have another question."
"Okay, shoot." Jack put his hands up again, briefly. "Figuratively speaking, of course," he added, feigning a nervous smile.
"Just what in the hell did you think you were doing?" Michael yelled. "You jeopardised the safety of everyone here by walking out into the open like that!"
"And it hurt like hell, let me tell you," replied Jack, his voice calm, "but I needed to pinpoint his location quickly for the Snitch. I wish there had been a better way, one that didn't involve me getting a nine millimetre body piercing, but as you said, I had the safety of everyone here to think about."
Jack buttoned his coat over the bloodstains on his shirt and turned to walk away.
"Let's talk more at your new offices," he said.
o o o
Jack led Michael, Vaughan and Angie down the steps of the Covent Garden underground station.
They had stayed the night at a hotel after stopping off to get some proper medical attention for Vaughan's wounded arm and for Jack to change into a clean shirt.
"We're getting the train?" asked Michael. "It took us long enough to get parked here."
"Wait and see," said Jack. He nodded to a station guard standing by a ticket turnstile. The guard pulled a small key ring from his pocket, pressed a button on it, and the turnstile's indicator light changed from red to green allowing them to pass through.
Jack turned a corner into a short alcove, the only contents of which was a dusty old photo booth with an out of order sign hanging from it. He walked up and pulled the curtain aside theatrically. "In you go," he said.
"You have got to be kidding," said Michael. With a sarcastic smile, he added, "don't you have people to make up your ID badges?"
"There is a switch, behind the mirror at the back," said Jack, quietly. "Now, please, before we draw attention to ourselves.
"Alright, alright," said Michael. Stepping inside, he tugged at the bottom of the mirror. With only a little force, the mirror lifted up and he found the switch and pressed it. The wall on the far side slid open without a sound.
"Say cheese!" said Jack with a grin.
"You can say that again," muttered Michael, as he walked through the doorway.
When they were all through, Jack led them down a corridor, past windows that looked in to what appeared to be laboratories and computer rooms, until they reached a large pair of stout oak doors. He pulled them open to reveal a comfortable, plain-looking meeting room.
Jack moved to the far end of the room and motioned for everyone to take a seat around the long table in the centre. Set out in front of each of the chairs was a folder of reports and photographs.
"So you want us to come and work for you?" said Vaughan. "Because if that's why you've brought us here, I think we've all had a wasted journey."
Jack smiled. "Straight to the point, I like that," he said. "In actual fact, that's not why we're here. You see, you already work for Torchwood. I'm here to show you just exactly what that means."
"Hold on," said Michael, "we work for T Branch."
"And the T stands for…?" said Jack teasingly. "There you go, now you're getting it. The two departments may have had different histories but these days it's the same hand that signs all of our cheques. Well, it's all done by computer, to be honest, but that sort of ruined my little image there, didn't it. Whatever. The funding comes from the same place and we're fighting the same fight. Only ours isn't limited to blood-sucking monsters."
"Limited?" said Vaughan angrily, indicating his bandaged arm which was now held up in a sling. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're fighting a war here."
"No," replied Jack. "You're fighting a battle. It's a large battle and you fight it well, but it is only one small part of a much bigger war."
"Aliens," said Michael, his voice heavy with cynicism.
"Exactly," Jack grinned back at him.
"I'm sorry," said Angie, who had been sitting silently up until now, reading through the reports before her, "do we have any more evidence than these pieces of paper and a few grainy photographs? I mean, no offence, but these could just as easily have been taken from the Weekly World News or something."
"Actually, that one was," said Jack, pointing across. "I don't understand why this is a problem. Remember when the Cybermen and Daleks attacked last year?"
Michael laughed derisively. "That was a hoax," he snorted. "Robot armies taking over the world one minute, then no sign of them the next? Rubbish. I watched clips of it on YouTube."
Jack looked down with a wry smile. "Sometimes our clean-up teams do their work just a little too well," he said to himself. He looked Michael in the eye. "The attack was real. It destroyed the original Torchwood Towers at Canary Wharf, killing almost all of the personnel there. Aliens are real. The threat is real."
He stood up. "Look, it might be better if I let your new boss talk you through this. I don't think there's a man on this planet who has more experience with extraterrestrials. Not even me."
They stood, pushing their chairs back, and Jack led them out through another door at the rear of the room that led out into a short hallway. Jack knocked on the door at the far end.
"Come in," said a pleasant, cultured English accent.
Jack opened the door.
"Ah, these must be the new recruits." A man stood up from behind a desk and walked around to shake their hands. He was an older man, mid-seventies at least, his fine white hair receded at the temples, but he appeared exceptionally fit and strong for his age. He had a disciplined, military bearing and was wearing a simple charcoal grey suit.
"Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart," he said, "retired – more times than I care to think, now."
Jack waved a finger at him, jokingly, as the others introduced themselves. "Now, now, Alistair – you know that retirement is no excuse for not serving your country in its time of crisis."
The Brigadier rolled his eyes. "Captain Harkness is the acquaintance of a very dear friend of mine. It was he who persuaded me to come out of my potting shed and back into the business of repelling alien invasions."
He looked far away for a moment. "That, and his people were able to offer me something that I simply could not refuse; something very precious to me." He cleared his throat.
"Anyway," he said, changing the subject, "what do you think of the new offices? I haven't been down here since that business with the yeti." He stopped. "Oh. Oh dear me, that was well before your time, wasn't it?
"Well, as my young American friend is so fond of saying, this is where everything changes. The scope of your work will be broadened, as will the range of equipment available to you in order to perform it. The war with the Code Fives continues as before, only now you will face an even greater number of perils. However, you will always have the entire might of the Torchwood Institute behind you.
"There will be staff available to you, soldiers, weapons, lab equipment. Anything you need is yours at the touch of a button. You are London's first and last line of defence against alien incursion.
"Welcome, then, to Torchwood Five."