Beta: badly_knitted for whom I have so much love and thanks for clearing up my sometimes overlong sentences and confused pronouns.
Artist: danian who whipped up some lovely cover art in a short time (the short time bit being entirely my fault)
Characters/Pairing: Toshiko, Ianto, supporting OCs, cameos by Jack, Owen and Andy (mostly gen)
Wordcount: 8, 368
Rating: PG-13 (a few swears, some scenes may frighten small children)
Spoilers!: Set between Adrift and Fragments, contains brief references to the former.
Summary: People are going missing at the Gregory White Memorial Library. Ianto and Tosh investigate - and run into a whole heap of trouble (and batty things).
Mini-Bang is posted under the cut.
"On the page of a magazine..."
"Somebody answer that!" Jack yelled from his office. "Or else turn the damn thing off!"
"It's Gwen's," Toshiko called, eyes fixed on the complicated diagnostic she was running.
"Well, where's Gwen?"
"She went home sick." Ianto appeared at the doorway of the office, the ringing phone clasped in his hand. "Shall I answer it, or do you want to?"
Jack waved a hand. "You get it. I'm busy."
"Porn?" Ianto inquired politely.
His boss glared at him. "Running Torchwood requires a lot of paperwork."
"I know," Ianto replied, flipping open the phone. "I do most of it." Smiling to himself and turning away out of earshot, he answered it with a pleasant "Hello?"
"Gwen?" It was the harried-sounding voice of PC Andy Davidson. "That you?"
"No, it's Ianto Jones. Gwen left her phone at work. What can I do for you?"
An annoyed sigh crackled down the line. "Well, I have a couple of missing persons reports I was going to pass on to Gwen. She still working on those? You know, she was collecting a big list not so long ago?"
"No," Ianto said again. "She's not, erm, not actively pursuing those cases anymore. But if there's anything unusual about this person, perhaps we might take a look at it."
"Is it spooky enough, eh? I don't know what your definition of unusual is, but I think five people disappearing near that big old library on Mathews Street might classify. Gone in broad daylight, no witnesses, no bodies, the works." Andy hesitated before adding, "I suppose I can send you the files, if you want them."
"Yes, please." Ianto felt a little foolish adding the 'please', like a schoolboy minding his manners, but courtesy always won out over the policeman's deep-seated irritation with 'bloody Torchwood'. "You can fax them to Gwen's number; I'll pick them up."
"If you see Gwen, tell her to give me a call sometime."
He could already hear the clicks and clunks of an ill-maintained fax machine powering up as Andy rang off.
"What did he want?" Jack called from round the corner.
A step and a near-fall over Owen's soccer ball later, Ianto handed the papers to Toshiko to look through. "Missing persons. Five cases, all disappeared on Mathews Street near the Gregory White Library, no patterns in age, sex or race." He tapped the top-most file. "Most recent. Andrew Rogers, two days ago. Could they be negative spikes?"
Toshiko dragged her fingers down the touch-sensitive pad she was currently using instead of a mouse and brought up the Rift logs for the relevant dates. "No spikes, negative or otherwise," she said thoughtfully, "but there were energy readings of another kind. Tiny blips of unidentified radiation. I didn't see them before because the sensors weren't configured to catch whatever that is, but I plugged in that Blathereen power module yesterday. Apparently it boosted the range enough for them to register."
The scratchy sound of a desk chair being pushed back was followed by heavy footsteps and warm breath on Ianto's neck as Jack leaned over them both to peer at the dips and peaks on screen. "Do you think it's worth checking out?"
"I would like to know what's causing those energy readings." Tosh turned on her chair, forcing Jack and Ianto to move back. She stared at Jack expectantly. "Should I call a briefing so Owen knows what he's getting into?"
"No need. You and Ianto can handle it by yourselves, can't you?" Jack took another step back and grinned at them both. "Owen's buried in his specimens, I'm busy. You're capable."
Toshiko looked to Ianto to see his confirming nod. "Alright."
The air was warm and bright as Tosh slammed the door of the SUV. She shaded her eyes from the sun, smiling to see such a perfect day. "Lovely weather," she called across to Ianto.
"Pity about the missing people," he replied dryly. They were parked around the corner from the Gregory White Library, a Victorian-style building mainly constructed of white stone. Ianto had briefed her on the library's history on the drive there: residence of the Brown family up until roughly ten years ago, then converted and dedicated to Gregory White, a bibliophilic accident victim who married a Brown. It was currently owned by the Green family.
"Dear god, Owen would go mad with this," Toshiko had exclaimed.
Now, it was a bit tatty around the edges, needing white-washing. Ianto laid a hand on the outside wall in silent sympathy. The place reminded him vaguely of the Hub - old, sturdy and holding many secrets. He let his mind wander to book-switches and invisible passageways for a moment before Tosh shook his arm gently. "You with us?"
"Sure." He motioned to the huge double-doors. "In we go."
Inside, it was surprisingly stuffy. 'Victorian-style' apparently extended to lack of air-conditioning. A bored-looking woman in her early fifties sat at the thick wooden desk in the corner. She perked up when they entered, green flats disappearing off the desk's surface and Botoxed smile puffing her cheeks. "Hello, love," she said to Ianto. "What can I do for you?"
Ianto flashed one of his many fake IDs and an equally false smile at her. "I'm Ianto Jones, this is Toshiko Sato. We'd like to ask you a few questions about some people who have disappeared near the library over the past couple of months."
"Well, I don't know about anybody going missing," the woman said guardedly. "I don't read the papers much, you see, got my job steady in here."
"You run the front desk here, don't you?" Tosh asked, putting on her best 'you can tell me anything' smile. "You must see a lot going in and out. Have there been any regular patrons who haven't come in lately, anybody you haven't seen for a while?"
The woman - her tacky name-tag read "Len Hopper" - chewed on her lip before answering, "There was that girl, Rebecca Fiver. Had a call from her mum the other day. Oh, and that bloke Andy. Andy Rogers. He hasn't been around. But you're better off asking Sully."
"Sully Jackson. College boy, in here every day from five. Does re-shelving for me." Len tossed her dyed-blonde hair over her shoulder. "He'll be 'ere soon, if you hang around."
"Alright then. Thanks." Ianto nodded at her and nudged Tosh. They turned as one to head towards the stacks, though he could feel Len's eyes on him.
"Think she likes you," Tosh whispered, grinning and laughing breathily in that sweetly shy way.
He shook his head and pointedly ignored her.
"Ianto, Tosh, report. Found anything yet?"
"No," Tosh said quietly. She examined the dusty volume on mathematics Ianto had found for her among some poetry books. Neither of them had reached for the Eliot or Dickinson - Suzie, it seemed, had ruined poetry for the team forever. "We're going to hang around for a while longer, talk to the kid who runs the errands."
"Ianto? Have you seen anything?"
"No, sir." She could see him, an aisle over, but he was an expert at being quiet, so his words were only filtering through the earpiece. "They have some decent quality first editions here, though."
"I bet." There was a salacious tone to his voice that made Tosh think perhaps she should mute her comm for the next while. "Well, come back soon. Owen makes terrible coffee and he can't compensate for it like you do."
"Are you insulting my coffee?"
Jack laughed, hearty and crackling. "Wouldn't dare. Call me if you find a lead."
Through rows of paperbacks, Tosh saw Ianto smile to himself. What was he holding, Ian Fleming? Well, no surprise there. They'd watched a Bond film or two together, probably the most social she had ever been with one of her team-mates.
Who was that?
"Hello," she said, evidently spooking the boy.
"Whoa!" He peered at her through the books. "Um, hi."
Toshiko smiled reassuringly at him. "Sully Jackson, right?"
"Yeah, that's me." He didn't look old enough to be in college, she thought, slowly rounding the corner of the shelf, careful to keep him in sight. "Who's asking?"
"I'm Toshiko. I'm with the police. Looking for information about the people who've been disappearing?"
She could see Sully properly - he was plump, but reasonably fit, brown hair, dark eyes. His face matched the photograph from the file Ianto brought up on the PDA after they were told his name, albeit with a light covering of stubble. One of three children, model student, good sports-player.
"Erm, yeah." Sully swallowed. "Yeah, I know about them. Middle of the afternoon, they vanish into thin air."
"Did you know any of them?"
Sully jumped again. "Hey, stop scaring me like tha-" He stopped when he turned fully and saw Ianto, impeccably poised and dressed as always. "Oh. Sorry, um. Sorry, sir."
"You don't have to call me sir," Ianto told him. "I'm Ianto Jones, Toshiko's colleague. Did you know any of them?"
"Well," Sully began, then paused to scratch his nose. "My girlfriend, Lotty. Maybe three weeks ago. I had the morning here, 'cause Len asked me specially. We were going to meet up for lunch when I was done, but she never showed. Gale from 'cross the road said she saw Lotty go into the library. I reckon that's rubbish, though, because I never saw her."
Tosh nodded. "What about the other victims?"
"Victims?" He paled. "They said, they said they never found any bodies, why are you calling them victims?"
"Hey," Tosh said, alarmed. "I meant the others who were missing."
"We're sure they're not dead," Ianto added behind her.
Sully rubbed his hands together nervously. He's too jumpy, Tosh thought irritatedly."No, I didn't know the others. I mean, they've all been in here before, but I never talked to them. Except, um, that Tony bloke. He went for groceries round the corner every day, that'll be why he was near here."
He attempted a grin. "That's it. Sorry."
Ianto patted him gingerly on the shoulder. "Thanks for your help."
A book fell from a shelf, making Sully start again. He shook himself. "I should pick that up. Got to, erm, pick it up. Yeah." Backing away very slowly, the boy stepped around the rack and fumbled for the novel, sneaking glances at Tosh and Ianto as he did so.
"He's terrified," Tosh murmured. She held up a hand before Ianto spoke. "But I don't think it was him."
Ianto slipped a hand into her coat pocket, offering a quiet apology, and tapped the PDA. "Girlfriend was Lotty, wasn't it?" He frowned at the screen. "Charlotte Simmons. Doesn't... actually say anything about Sullivan. Or anybody. Doesn't look like she was in a relationship at all."
"Maybe they just started dating," she suggested with a cautious smile. "You know what the first few outings are like. Or maybe their families didn't approve."
There was that raised eyebrow and those fondly scornful blue eyes, which Tosh always found slightly frightening pointed at her. "So you think he's Romeo, rather than lying?"
"I don't know what to think. Gwen's more of a people person than me."
"And me," Ianto admitted. "But you're right. He's probably not directly behind the disappearances."
Toshiko's hair flew up from behind. She yelped and batted it down.
"Where did that wind come from?"
"Hmm?" Ianto looked up from the PDA. "Oh, it's an old building. Draughts."
"Right," Tosh said, smiling. "Draughts."
A flapping and fluttering noise sounded quietly from between the 'Classics' section.
Tangerine-pink sunlight streamed through a gap in the heavy red curtains and hit one of the books on the shelf, a ray from heaven striking a divine object.
Leaning heavily on his dress-shoed foot, Ianto tipped the paperback towards him and let it fall open to page seventy-four. He read quickly, skimming the text for hidden or alien meaning, and then shut it abruptly. "Dear god," he muttered. "Terrible romance novels."
He slid it back into place and noticed that the beam of light had moved on in the mere minute he had spent perusing 'Catherine and the Captain' (a somewhat unfortunate name, because his unruly brain kept trying to substitute his own into the title). The sun was setting.
On cue, Len's voice came through the ancient PA system distributed unevenly throughout the library, over-loud and over-eager. "Alright, closing time, sweet'earts, bring your books up!"
Ianto sighed. They'd been there for at least four hours now, chatting to various browsers and getting absolutely nowhere. Tosh had scanned for those energy readings multiple times, but whatever had been causing them had dissipated. "Or hidden itself," she said darkly.
And then, the PA registered an almighty scream.
He bolted for the front desk, already fumbling to cock his gun, heart pounding and head coldly noting Tosh sprinting out from 'non-fiction', her own gun out.
Something was attacking Len, a grey-stained talon shredding the corners of her mouth into a ghastly replica of a smile even while she screeched, snarling from its perch atop her coiffured hair.
Sully Jackson, idiot, had dropped an armful of books and was staring at their guns, deathly pale.
"Get down!" Tosh yelled. Ianto motioned with his weapon, features drawing into a grimace because there wasn't a clear shot, it was digging into Len's head, shit!
One shatteringly clear blast later, Len toppled back onto the floor.
Ianto ran, leaping the desk, and stared at the thing sprawled next to her.
"Is she okay?" Tosh called anxiously. She peered over the solid oak monstrosity of a desk. "Ianto, is she alright?"
"Yes," he said, thanking above silently. "You're a good shot, Tosh." Staring at the lacerations on her face, Ianto revised his assessment. "Well, she's okay for now, anyway. We're going to need to get her to hospital soon."
"What about the... other thing?"
He turned his attention to - oh. "It's gone!"
"What?" Tosh sat on the desk and pulled her legs over so that she could see the other side more clearly, a puzzled frown on her face. "But I got it, in the chest, it should have been dead!"
Ianto scanned the wooden floor for a trail. There were claw marks in the boards, leading nearly to the wall and then vanishing. "Apparently it recovered and flew off." He turned and caught her eyes. "Did you get a good look at it?"
"Not really," she said, still frowning. "It was buried in Len's hair, everything was happening too fast. I would say it was a bit like a bat with bird feet. Talons."
"Okay." Ianto tapped his comm. "Jack, are you there?"
"Ianto? What's happening?" Jack sounded stressed. Maybe he really did have paperwork to do.
"Somebody's been - ah!"
He snatched the earpiece away and threw it to the floor, where it lay, sparking. "What the hell?"
After a moment, Tosh cried out and tossed hers over as well.
They exchanged glances. "Guess no back-up," Tosh said, her voice trembling ever so slightly. She held up her scanner. "The radiation flared, but it's gone again now."
"Is that what cut us off?" Ianto asked.
She hesitated, then shook her head. "I don't think so. I don't know enough about this type."
"What are you two?" Sully was staring at them with equal parts awe and fright. "Like, special forces, or MI5 or something?"
Standing up, Ianto said solemnly, "We're Torchwood," and felt that thrill run through him.
Suddenly, a scuffling made them draw their guns again, aiming for one of the darker aisles, eyes wide and darting. Sully shrieked and got down. "Who's there?" Tosh shouted.
A woman skidded to a stop at the end of the book-lined passage. Her mouth dropped open and she threw up her hands when she saw them, crying out in a panic, "Don't shoot! Oh my god, please don't shoot!"
Tosh and Ianto lowered their weapons quickly. The woman pulled her jaw up and swallowed hard, taking a few tense steps towards them. Ianto could see her shaking almost imperceptibly as she walked. He moved quickly, vaulting the desk again and offering her a smile. "What's your name?"
"Elizabeth," she said, and brushed jet black hair out of her eyes. "Elizabeth Morris. I heard Len screaming, is she alright? And - who exactly are you?"
"Torchwood," Tosh said loudly from the floor behind the counter. Ianto turned to see her manhandling Len's unconscious form back into her chair. "Special operations, if you like."
"What was that thing?" The demand came from Sully, still crouched in his corner and sweating profusely. Oddly, his tone was flat and incurious, as if he didn't really want to know. Or he already knows.
"We don't know," Ianto told him.
Tosh patted Len on the shoulder, then reached down and came up with their earpieces clasped in her palm. She gave them a doubtful look. "These are completely dead. I couldn't fix them even if I had our computer systems."
The PA whined, making them all wince. "Landline?" Ianto suggested. She nodded and picked up the receiver, one finger slotting through the looping cord naturally, and mouthed a curse in Japanese. "Dead. No signal at all."
"Yeah, of course it's dead," Sully said contemptuously. He'd slipped down the wall and was now hugging his legs. "Council's been promising to fix it for ages, haven't they? Never do, though."
Ianto sighed, slipping his gun back into his generously-sized jacket pocket. "Alright." He twisted back to Elizabeth. "Have you seen any of those creatures?"
She shook her head, her brow creasing, and then hesitated before saying, "Mobiles? To get to whoever you're trying to call."
"Right," Ianto said, feeling vaguely embarrassed for not having thought of it. He pulled out his and tapped the speed-dial - unprogrammed. That's right, he'd lost his phone to a pickpocketing space-monkey last week. This one was new, and therefore...
He changed tack and stabbed in Jack's personal number, ignoring the fact that he had learnt it by heart somewhere along the way, and held it up to his ear.
There was a vibration in his pocket. Not the good kind.
Straightening his back with a perfectly normal (no matter what Owen thought) crack, Jack leaned back from the computer and removed the phone, checking the screen to see who it was. Probably Ianto, they'd been cut off on the comms earlier. It hadn't sounded particularly urgent, though, and the Prime Minister had said something about speaking to the Queen about cutting funding if he didn't complete this report personally.
No name. He shrugged, pressing the 'take call' button.
"Captain Jack Harkness, who's calling?"
The line fizzled and beeped and blipped and all sorts of lovely words which properly belonged as adjectives to a good drink, but nobody answered.
I really have to talk to Tosh about blocking tele-marketers, Jack thought as he hung up.
"The signal's being blocked," Ianto said in disbelief. "How are they doing that?"
"Whatever 'they' are," Tosh responded. She had pushed the desk to the side of the wall to provide easier access to Len, slumped in her chair, and joined Elizabeth and Sully, clustered around Ianto, who had just been cut off for the third time.
Elizabeth rubbed her eye. "So," she said slowly. "We're trapped in this library with a woman who needs medical attention and-"
"Things," Sully finished for her. "Batty things."
"Yes, and every door that isn't bricked up is locked and bolted and reinforced." Ianto indicated the front doors. "Apparently the original Mister Brown took the saying 'a man's home is his castle' a bit too literally. And Miss Hopper is missing her keys."
Tosh frowned. "Do you think the creature took them?"
"It could be intelligent, we don't know anything about it."
"I'm sorry, who did you say you two were again?" Elizabeth asked, staring at them. "Because you're talking like you do this every day. Which is, frankly, a little disturbing."
"We're Torchwood," Tosh repeated. "We're here to investigate the people who have been going missing over the past few months."
Four more creatures were descending upon them, snarls and screeches occupying the stagnant air, light bending around their thick claws.
Gun drawn in an instant, Tosh shouted, "Everybody, move!"
"Down there!" Ianto pushed Sully towards an aisle, nodding to Elizabeth to follow, and took up a position next to Toshiko, a creature squawking at him and swooping down, far too close to shoot, sinking a talon-claw into his finger.
Tosh shot one, the bullet knocking it into a dusty stack of periodicals, then turned and whipped her gun up, hitting the creature attacking Ianto and knocking it to the ground. With no time for gratitude, he slid out of his suit jacket and bundled the thing up, tucking it under his arm and picking off the third creature swiftly. The last flew off into the darkness, shrieking its displeasure.
"We can't stay here," Ianto said through gritted teeth, gripping the creature writhing inside his jacket with both hands. "Too open. The woman, Len-"
Footsteps rang out on the floor. "I'll get her," Tosh reassured him, shooting a look at a returning Elizabeth, who already had her hands under Len's arms.
Ianto flashed her a solemn smile and disappeared down the dimly-lit row. Tosh whirled, sprinting the few steps to slide her own hands under and grasp Len's legs firmly. "Ready?" she asked Elizabeth.
"Ready as I'll ever be considering we could be attacked by batty things any second," Elizabeth answered, greenish eyes betraying the fear behind her joking tone.
They hoisted the surprisingly thin woman between them and began to move sideways, tracing Ianto's path, Len swaying slightly. "We need to find somewhere to barricade ourselves in," Tosh said, adjusting her left hand. "Any suggestions?"
A nail sticking out of the floorboards scraped the side of Elizabeth's shoe. She gasped and gripped Len's shoulder more tightly. "I don't know this library very well," she admitted. "Only joined up last week because I have too many overdue fees owing at my last."
Both of them smiled nervously, steadily treading towards safety.
Then the lights went out.
"Sully!" Ianto called, and nearly tripped over the teen curled up in a gap between two bookcases, his large feet extending out and presenting a hazard for the casual passer-by. He looked up at Ianto with a strangely calm expression, considering Ianto had just nearly dropped a swaddled, wriggling creature into his lap. His mobile lit up his face eerily from below. "Sully, we need to keep moving."
"What 'bout Len? And your girlfriend, and the other one?" He sounded mournful. "Are they dead?"
"No," Ianto said patiently, "And she's not my girlfriend. Now, come on."
Without a word, Sully rose, holding the phone out in front of him like a beacon. Ianto inclined his head in silent support - his hands were involved in keeping the creature in its fabric cage, so Sully would have to light the way for them both. Waste of a perfectly good suit jacket, really, but it served its new purpose well.
He surveyed the shadows briefly before abandoning it as useless. Too dark to see. There was a thin torch in his pocket (always be prepared) that he couldn't access right now. He didn't trust Sully to poke around and find it for him either. His pockets contained sensitive equipment. And possibly a condom. (He could explain, really, it was all Jack's fault.)
A steady beat of footsteps caught up with them after roughly eighty-five seconds of walking, the beam of Tosh's own torch temporarily blinding him when he turned to see her and Elizabeth carrying Len by the ankles and arms. Tosh acknowledged him and the pair slipped into time with them soundlessly, like a funeral procession through an eerily starless and wooden-floored world.
"Stop," Sully mumbled on their sixth minute of plodding.
Ianto leaned in, the creature un-moving in his hands. He rather suspected that he had suffocated it. "What did you say?"
"There," Sully said louder, pointing to their right. His phone swung, shedding light on an unassuming door set parallel into the wall, so as to be nearly - or completely, in the dark - invisible.
At that moment, a suspicious flutter materialised from all directions.
Tosh cleared her throat, voice pitched higher than usual. "Ianto? Sorry to hurry you, but-"
He reached for the handle and turned it firmly, both directions, just to make sure. "Locked."
The patter of wings on air intensified, a screech hitting his eardrums and making him wince. "Okay," Ianto said, swallowing. "Sully, I need you to hold the creature for me."
The teenager's eyes widened. "I'm not holding that thing!"
"It's probably dead. Just take it for two seconds!"
Ianto thrust it into his arms and kicked at the door, once, twice, three times, and splintered it in two, yelling, "Get in!" and grabbing for his gun.
Sully leaped over the hunk of wood with no further prompting and tumbled into the room, the door's remains catching on his feet and being dragged with him, while Toshiko and Elizabeth struggled to manoeuvre the limp body burdening them past the threshold. Several creatures swooped from the dark, their eyes purple-and-black pools of malignancy. Ianto aimed wildly, successfully shooting one and missing two others, keeping them away from the doorway and the unexpected light which shone from it.
He turned for the briefest of moments, trusting his own reflexes to protect himself, and saw Tosh unceremoniously dropping Len's legs to the floor and pulling out a weapon. Not her gun, a thin knife that looked extraordinarily dangerous and which he'd had no idea she carried. Drawing herself up and stepping to his side, Tosh sliced the knife through the air, whistling past Ianto's cheek and into what passed for the belly of a creature, which squawked and collapsed to the floor.
Not a bad idea, Ianto thought, and slid a Swiss Army knife (always be prepared) out of his pocket, razor-sharp attachment swinging through and cutting into another creature, far more accurately than his bullets. They managed to hold them off for several minutes, striking and firing the occasional shot, until finally the remaining creatures snarled and disappeared back into the dark.
"They'll be back," Tosh said. Her knife was clenched tightly between her fingers, and Ianto suddenly noticed that it was far cleaner than it should have been. He pointed. "Tosh. There's no blood."
She held it up, staring. Talon-scrapes ran the short length of the blade, but there was no trace of staining.
"Do you think-"
"We need to get the door blocked off," Elizabeth interrupted. Ianto started. She had come up beside them, face pale and drawn, hands on her hips. "There're chairs and things in here, we can pile them in the doorway."
Ianto nodded and twisted to survey their new surroundings. The room was fairly small, antique-looking chairs backed up against the walls in between crammed bookcases that reached to the low ceiling. Apparently, the single bulb that hung from the centre of the room in a frosted glass globe hadn't been affected by the power cut (or whatever had happened) to the rest of the library. "Sully," he said, "Can you help Elizabeth with the chairs?"
Sully blinked once, twice, and grunted in assent. He uncurled from his pathetically foetal crouch, dragging himself onto his feet and hoisting a chair up to his waist. Tosh and Ianto stepped hurriedly out of the way as the teenager planted it with a ferocious crunch, something gleaming in his eyes that disturbed Ianto, completely at odds with his complacent behaviour a moment ago. Nevertheless, whatever complex switch had flicked in Sully Jackson's adolescent brain, he was moving very quickly now, and the four of them were able to construct a decent barricade against the creatures in a short time.
Brushing her hands on her coat, Tosh inspected their work briefly before pulling out her scanner and frowning at it again. "There's still no trace of the readings I was getting back at the Hub," she said, "And I've brought up the mobile service networks. They're all down."
"I thought you modified your phone so that it picked up whichever carrier was active," Ianto said, peering at the small blue-lit screen.
She looked back up at him. "That's the thing. Every network is inactive, even the military service, but only in certain locations throughout Cardiff, one of which is this library. It's like these places are in a network black-spot that's cancelling out every signal. Even our comms wouldn't get through if they were still working. I don't know what those creatures are doing, but we can't communicate with Jack and Owen."
"If it's them causing the disturbance," Ianto murmured. He forcefully removed his hands from their position on his waist, relaxing his muscles, and then remembered that a possibly comatose woman and a possibly (this was more uncertain) dead creature were on the floor behind him and tensed up again.
His jacket hadn't moved since Sully had thrown it to the floor, folds of relatively expensive material hiding the savage thing underneath. Ianto regarded it suspiciously. "Tosh, do you want to take a look at Len? She only got a bump on the head; she should have woken up by now. The creatures might have done something to her." He indicated the lump of cloth. "I'll find out what exactly's been attacking us."
It was with careful hands that Ianto unwrapped the bundle of alien menace contained within one of his best suit jackets. Thank god their dry-cleaner didn't ask too many questions.
Breath on his neck made him shift uncomfortably, but Sully didn't seem to notice and simply leaned in closely. "What the hell is it?" he asked in a fearfully reverent undertone.
The creature had a single huge eye in the centre of its head, pupil a small pinprick of black in a dark purple 'white'. It didn't seem to have an eyelid, which created the impression that it was not dead, only in a trance. The stare with which it fixed them both was quite unnerving. Below it, comically oversized fangs protruded from a slit of a mouth, resembling pins puncturing a balloon from the outside. There was no sign of nostrils. The creature's torso was roughly the size of three fists stacked on top of each other, quite small. Its wings were webbed like duck feet, extending to an impressive length, and the slightly curved talons attached to short stubby legs would give - did give - it a considerable attack mechanism. Touching them tentatively, Ianto discovered that these talons (a mix between the feet of a predatory bird and the claws of a cat) were thinly coated with a sticky colourless residue. He winced, wiping his fingers on a tissue that Sully produced from his own jacket.
And, as he had noticed before, there was no blood.
The maroon flesh near the left wing was marred by a long scrape. Had a human sustained such a wound, it would have been barely a scratch, but these creatures apparently had very thin skin, and Ianto could see ugly bruise-purple meat through the cut. Even so, there was no evidence of bleeding, no liquids of any colour, nothing dried on the sides of the scrape. Ianto wondered briefly how the species was able to survive without a circulatory system. Owen can dissect it and find out when we get back, I suppose.
He folded his jacket over the still corpse less cautiously than he had opened it, because he was sure it was dead. Now, there was the question of the unconscious woman.
On the other side of the room, Tosh gently extricated strands of Len's hair from its elaborate 'do', her brows meeting as she spotted a thick claw mark oozing blood and something clear. Ianto knelt down beside her and Elizabeth, inhaled sharply, and pointed a finger at the mark. "That clear stuff is all over the talons."
"It's like gel," Tosh said. "The gel they use for ultrasounds." She dabbed at it and squished some between her fingers, feeling it stick to her skin. Her eyebrows raised in surprise. "It's numbed my hand."
"They must secrete it to help them get their claws in," Ianto said.
Tosh indicated Len's head. "Right down to the brain, I think."
"Can you - can you do anything for her?" That was Sully, standing over them all anxiously. "I never liked her, but I don't want to see her die. Can you?"
"I don't have any medical training," Tosh said helplessly. "I've watched Owen work on all sorts of things - people," she added hastily. "So I know how to stop the bleeding and such, but if we don't get out of here soon, she might not make it."
Ianto sighed and stood. "Just… We'll do what we can."
The lights guttered, darkening for an instant of a second and resuming their glow. Elizabeth stared up at them anxiously; Sully retreated into his curled-up position once more. The small room seemed suddenly much too small to Ianto, walls brushing his cheeks and pressuring his neck. It reminded him of the recurring nightmare Jack had described to him once - dirt filling his mouth, betrayal tearing at his heart, dead friends lying before him when he clawed his way out. Dear god. He couldn't let this get to him. They could figure it out on their own, and even if they couldn't, Jack and Owen would come. Wouldn't they?
A book caught his attention, an old volume of Arthur Conan Doyle. It stuck out invitingly from the bookshelf, offering itself as a distraction from their currently inescapable situation, a trip to the past in the cheapest way.
Ianto took it.
Creaks echoed from the shelf, loud protests from a hinge that had gone decades without oiling, and then it swung open. A corridor, dusky cream paint peeling off the walls, lay beyond.
His previous thoughts about invisible passageways rushed back and multiplied, and Ianto suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that he'd stumbled into a thriller novel.
The first question asked after the passage opened was not, "Who's going to go in?", because all assembled had over-active imaginations and secret passages could lead to anything.
Nevertheless, it could be a possible escape route, so Tosh, Sully and Elizabeth were walking silently through the dim, dusty corridor. Ianto had been left guarding Len.
Up ahead, the straight lines of greying paint tore and bent in a diagonal corner. Tosh, leading the group, waved her pencil torch at it nervously, but nothing jumped out at her. They continued on, close to each other as possible without invading each others personal space.
Carpeted floor softened the thump of boots and trainers after a few more twists and turns. At each corner, Sully and Elizabeth crammed up at Tosh's shoulder, eyes glued to the torch's beam in fear of what might lie in the shadows. The teenager was in severe need of breath mints. Elizabeth, though, Elizabeth made her tingle a little.
And then, all of a sudden, wooden bars. "A door."
"How far in are we?" Sully whispered. He squinted at the walls, muddy maroon with age.
Tosh swung the torch briefly, estimating the distance they'd walked. Perhaps... "Several hundred metres," she said quietly. "But the passage curves. We're probably not that far from where we started."
She stepped forward. A large hand grabbed her shoulder, yanked her back. "We shouldn't-" Sully cut off when she glared at him. "What if there're things in there?" he finished timidly.
"Then we can defend ourselves," Tosh told him. "Or run." She stepped into the room, flicked the torch to either side, and stepped once more. Behind her, Elizabeth fumbled for a light switch.
A bank of harsh fluorescent lights blinked on, far too modern for the Victorian mouldings on the papered walls.
"Oh my god," Elizabeth breathed.
Five people sat cross-legged on the bare wood floor, skin yellowed, breathing imperceptible. Two women, three men, and on each of their heads, a creature. Wings folded, talon-claws disappearing into their hair. The humans looked asleep, but the creatures stared straight ahead with something approaching bliss, emotion so alien it sent a dark chill down Tosh's spine.
But the most disturbing thing about the tableau was the expression on Sully's face - terror and resignation and most of all, guilt.
"You knew," Tosh said, horrified, and he went pale. "You knew all this time."
"I didn't," Sully said, hysteria present in his sharply rising voice. "I didn't do anything, oh god, I didn't make them like this, I didn't-"
There was a sick feeling in her stomach, the certainty that if he went over or under or whatever term you were supposed to use in these situations, the creatures were going to wake up and they might not get out of there alive. Elizabeth stood to her left, staring at Sully.
He was crying suddenly, breaking down much too fast. "I found them, they were all collapsed," a sob, "Lottie, she came in, went to get a reserved book and she was just on the floor," another, "I didn't know what to do. I - I found this place, I put them in here."
Silence. Nothing but heavy breaths getting closer and closer to hyperventilation and wrenching, intermittent cries.
She took an unconscious step towards the nearest victim, a young woman with blonde hair and a patterned orange scarf. Sully's girlfriend. Her face was an unhealthy jaundiced yellow - whatever the creatures were doing to the victims, draining them of some life-force or energy, Tosh doubted it could be reversed. They looked dead, properly dead sitting down.
The creature twined between Charlotte Simmon’s hair regarded her unflinchingly. Perhaps it couldn't see her, perhaps it couldn't hear the breakdown occurring two metres from it-
It spread its wings and screeched.
Sully screamed. His feet scratched on the floor as he leaped, turned, and ran, back into the darkness of the passage.
Elizabeth and Tosh ran too, the latter cursing the somewhat impractical pair of boots she had put on that morning for their slippery heel. Blackness rushed past them. Every shadow seemed to be a pair of hate-filled eyes to cringe away from before Tosh's eyes flicked to the next. Fear drove her faster, rebounding off the passageways with a painful flick of her wrist, and then-
She tripped, heard Elizabeth pass her, breathing raggedly, and righted herself. Her hand closed around whatever had made her stumble and she was off again. All three of them, no longer fleeing from the creatures - there weren't any behind them, she was relatively sure - but from the dark and the horror of the scene they had just left.
Their scattered cavalcade rounded a corner after a few moments more, and suddenly Tosh could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel rushing up to meet them. Sully stood in the passage entrance. His hands gripped his knees, adrenaline rushing out of his body as quickly as it had come.
Bracing herself against the walls, Tosh peered past the two in front of her. Ianto was still standing guard over Len. His right hand and gun hovered over his hip cautiously.
"I'm sorry," Sully said hoarsely. It seemed so very pathetic.
Tosh touched his shoulder as she passed him, stepping over to Ianto's side. "We found them," she informed him. He nodded quickly.
Then she made to crouch down next to Len, hands reaching out in front of her, and realised that the object she had stumbled over was still clenched in her palm.
"What's that?" asked Elizabeth. Tosh briefly noted that she leaned away from Sully now, however unconsciously.
Ianto caught her eyes to ask silent permission, then took it from her and held it up to the light.
It was a piece of tech, perfectly smooth and utterly inorganic. The shape resembled that of a coiled snake in miniature and the dull grey surface was dotted with oddly insubstantial purple squares that faded and reappeared as Ianto turned it over in his fingers, as if projected on. He jabbed at a square lightly with his index finger, but nothing happened. "Have you ever seen anything like this before?"
"No," Tosh murmured. She reached out to take it back, and then something thumped against a wall, the sound muffled and deep into the passageway, and it fell from Ianto's hand onto the unwrapped creature lying on the floor.
Almost instantaneously, delicate blue beams of light shot from the object and vaporised the creature's remains. Elizabeth gasped.
The detector beeped loudly from Tosh's pocket. She slipped it out and stared at the screen, a small, excited smile spreading over her face. "Ianto. This must be what was generating those energy readings."
Ianto peered at the screen over her shoulder. "Is that what the energy spikes were, then? This device killing creatures?"
"Maybe," Tosh said. "It must have fallen through the Rift at the same time as the creatures. Maybe it was designed to kill them if they got close enough." She frowned. "But according to this, the energy output has been decreasing. The device's power must be running out." Tosh's eyes brightened. "It's possible that when fully charged, it could create a field that would disintegrate a large amount of creatures."
"So if we can power it, we could get ourselves out of here," Ianto finished for her. He smiled too, cautiously, and looked up to Elizabeth and Sully. The pair both appeared bewildered, Sully pitifully so. On the ground, Len still lay unconscious. An odd twitch gave the impression that she was suffering from a fit, or perhaps in a drugged trance like the fabled Oracles of ancient Greece.
"That's good," Elizabeth said quietly. She shifted her weight to the opposite foot, floorboards creaking. "Isn't it?"
Tosh crouched down to retrieve the object cautiously. As her fingers closed around it, something scraped against her skin. She winced slightly and turned it over - a thick slot had opened, probably jostled by the fall. It contained a black rectangle. A power source ... ?
"I have an idea," Tosh began, standing, her eyes lighting up, and then a whining, sinister sound cut through her words - the shriek of far too many creatures, echoing and multiplying and welling up from deep within the corridor. Sully yelped, terror filling his eyes again, and Ianto motioned to Elizabeth to resume her place at Len's legs again. "We need to get out of here."
Without a word, Tosh slipped the device into her jacket pocket and stepped to the chairs piled at the door and started to pull them down, moving mechanically. After a moment's hesitation, Sully joined her. The loud crunching sound each chair made as it hit the ground did nothing to hide the screeching getting closer and closer.
Ianto reached for the false book-case door and swung it back into its original position easily, the heavy mahogany concealing an unnaturally light. Unfortunately, the door frame, weakened after years of misuse, had slumped lazily out of place, and try as he might, it would not shift to allow the door back into place. He looked back over his shoulder anxiously, said, "They're getting closer."
As soon as a gap showed in the pile of chairs, he and Elizabeth heaved Len up, her legs jerking briefly. Ianto snaked out one arm and snatched his balled-up suit jacket before they started to move, walking backwards as swiftly as he dared without tripping over his own feet.
Two, three creatures swept from the passageway. One let out a triumphant caw and dived for Elizabeth.
Tosh shot it through the head, yelled, "Come on, come on!"
Jumping the thin block still in the doorway, Sully was out and away like a frightened rabbit, Tosh shepherding the other two past it, her gun firing as more creatures began to flood the room.
The lights were back on, somehow, and the four of them fled between the stacks.
Ianto gripped Len's shoulders tightly, probably hard enough to leave bruises on either side, but if he let go, they wouldn't make it.
At the back of their train, Tosh side-stepped and fired precisely into another creature's belly. It hissed at her, its wings folding and clenching like a hand, and then dropped motionless to the ground. She shot another, and another, but they kept coming. "Sully!"
The teenager ran a little ahead of them. His head ducked this way and that, searching out the flutter of bats' wings, but it snapped back around at the call. Ianto, after hesitating, indicated his pocket. "Get my gun."
"No!" Tosh shouted from behind. "Get his phone! Yours, and Elizabeth's, everybody's phones, and take out the batteries." A creature snarled at her; she withdrew the small knife from her jacket and slashed it open.
Sully hurried to obey, his hands sliding in and out quickly. While he took Tosh's mobile from her outstretched hand, a creature dove for him, but he, showing some courage, punched its eye hard, his fist coming away slightly sticky.
Tosh gestured to the phones, shot another creature. They were coming far too quickly, really, far too many for her to deal with on her own for much longer. It seemed an age since she and Ianto had arrived that morning, ready to question some suspects and head back to the Hub with probably nothing to show for it. Speaking of which, how was Gwen going to explain this to Andy?
Two steps - grimy carpet now. Back in reception.
Elizabeth and Ianto manoeuvred around the desk as quickly as they could, laid Len back down in her original position. Ianto pulled his gun from his side, kneeling to defend the wooden slab. Tosh joined him, pressing the device into Elizabeth's hands. "I need you to open the little slot," she said urgently. "Sully, the phone batteries - try them all in the slot. They're all different shapes and sizes. One of them is bound to fit." Fired off a shot. "Hurry!"
One battery was rectangular, one square, one largish, one small. Sully fumbled them into her hands. His own were shaking badly.
The square squealed with discontent when Elizabeth tried to push it in. It fell, and a tear of frustration fell from her eye because this had not been a good day, and she rammed the small battery into the slot. It fit.
That same wave of blue light shone out, expanding and pulsing gently, and it swept over all the creatures hanging in the air like clouds of malice. They vanished, not one by one, as a whole. A bullet buried itself in the wall.
Then the front doors crashed open.
On the horizon, orange rays split the clouds. The sun began to rise, slowly, steadily.
Another red light flashed and cycled on top of the ambulance outside the library. Elizabeth sat wedged in the gap between the doors, an orange blanket slung around her shoulders. The paramedics had declared her to be in shock.
"I feel fine," Elizabeth said. She brushed a strand of hair out of her face and smiled. "Actually, no, I feel bloody terrified, because I just spent my night being chased by monsters, but other than that, fine. And in dire need of a fag."
Tosh smiled back. "You were good in there. You found the right battery."
"Matter of trial and error." She shrugged. "The cavalry got there in the end, anyway."
"I guess they did."
Brief silence. "I can't tell anybody about this, can I?"
"Well, there goes my five minutes of fame," Elizabeth joked. Her hair fell sideways again and she batted at it, sighing, then said, hesitantly, "I don't suppose... You'd like to get a drink sometime? I mean, it's not the best of places to meet, a bat-infested library, but-"
"I'd like that," Tosh said, because she really would have liked it, and recited her number, ignoring the nausea in her stomach, while Elizabeth drank the retcon-laced glass of water Ianto had handed her a minute ago.
Across the other side of the road, Sully leaned against the SUV. An ambulance officer had already offered him a blanket, but he had refused. Tears streaked down his face, tears for the people who he had hidden away out of fear (and for whom nothing could be down anymore), tears for his girlfriend Charlotte, and tears for himself. For everything that had happened that night.
Ianto watched him cry, wished, not for the first time, that he could afford to break down like that, just once.
An arm around his waist startled him a little. Jack grinned at him. "You okay?"
He nodded. "Fine. Is Len Hopper going to be alright?"
"They say it might take a few weeks in hospital, but she should regain consciousness," Jack said reassuringly. "By the way, good job getting rid of those things. They're nasty little buggers. Came across a whole planet infested with them once."
"Maybe that's where they fell through from," Ianto suggested.
"Maybe." Jack looked thoughtful. "They're called the Marikk. Drain humans of life energy for pleasure. They actually feed off bugs and things, like real bats, but sucking us dry gives them one hell of a rush."
A breeze whirled over them, brief, chilly. "We tried to contact you a few times."
"Yeah, I know. There's a Granari ship overhead tonight, blocking out all the communications channels. Only in this area, though." He shook his head. "Funny how it works out."
"That is rather inconvenient," said Ianto. "Suspiciously so."
Jack laughed. "Ianto, aliens manage to invade Earth publicly every single Christmas. It's just how life is - full of suspiciously inconvenient coincidences."
Ianto shrugged and smiled. "I suppose it is."
On the horizon, the sun continued to rise.