Small spoilers for TW to the end of S4, and Sense8 to the end of S1. Angst and dark themes. Originally posted on LJ in 2016.
Will was the first to meet her properly.
January had whetted the morning wind in Chicago. Will was keeping his head down as he hurried to work, with Capheus’s Nairobi afternoon wrapped around his neck for a modicum of warmth. He was surprised, all the same, when he nearly collided with the dark-haired woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk. The woman’s expression was puzzled; her leather jacket and thin blouse manifestly inadequate to the rigours of an Illinois winter. Tourists. Will exhaled a frosted breath.
“Sorry; I didn’t see you there.”
“No. It was my fault.” The line between the woman’s brows deepened. There was an elusive, sing-song quality to her accent. Will could not immediately identify it, for all the stationary globetrotting he had lately done.
“Are you lost?” Will’s professional instincts kicked into gear. “Did you take a wrong turn?”
“Yes. I think I did.”
“How far back?”
“Ten years now, give or take. No; that’s flippant.” Contrition replaced puzzlement on the woman’s face. “I love what I do, most of the time. You get to meet such interesting people.”
“Chicago’s an interesting city.”
“Chicago. I see.” She smiled. “You owe me a fiver, Rex.”
“Rex?” There was no one else visible within earshot. There was only Will, and this woman, whose gaze, he now saw, prowled across the cityscape around them as restlessly as his own. A good cop’s gaze. Will’s spine thrummed to a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. “Who are you talking to?”
“Sorry. He isn’t here. Neither am I, really.”
“If you’re not here,” Will took a step towards her, “we must have met. And you must be like me.”
“I’m reasonably sure that isn’t so.” The woman sighed. “My name is Gwen. And this is complicated.”
“You’re psychic?” asked Riley.
Gwen snorted. “Barely. My great-great-great-something-aunt was. Died in Cardiff, she did, in 1869. Something dribbled down the family tree. But there are little bits of paper more psychic than me.”
“Will said that you told him you were psychic.”
“Ah.” Gwen shifted her weight uneasily on the stone ledge. “I may have been guilty of bigging myself up a bit for the sake of a dramatic opening impression. That’s standard operating procedure where I work. It would be more accurate to say that I’m… receptive.”
Riley eyed her sidelong. “Then how are you able to do what we can do?”
“I can’t. Not most of it, anyway.” Gwen sat back. “There’s one single aspect that works better for me. If I’ve ever made eye-contact with one of you, that means I can visit everyone in your… um…. cabal?”
“We prefer ‘cluster’.”
“… cluster, even if I’ve never met the rest in person. But you can boot me out by an effort of will any time you like. I understand that that would be much harder, if I were really someone else like you.”
“Yes.” Riley thought about a calm, clear voice; the simple knot on a black tie. She shuddered. “It would.”
“I can’t borrow your skills, nor you mine. Although, to be honest, there’s little I could lend you. I’m moderately good with guns and fists and wheels and lies and the judicious deployment of being a proper bastard. From what I’ve seen, you’ve got those bases covered. You can’t visit me, either, which is probably just as well.”
“Where are you now?”
“In a Morrisons, piloting a trolley. A sack of wank just elbowed me in the ribs. It’s kill or be killed, when the special offers are on. Red in tooth and claw and loyalty cards. Not that I carry a loyalty card, these days. It’s one of the drawbacks of sort of being a terrorist.”
“You’re shopping for a family?”
“My husband. And my little girl.”
“I had those, once.”
Gwen bowed her head. “I’m sorry.” She looked away. The momentary compassion in the Welsh voice made Riley think of her sampled music: a fragment tumbling past in a longer whole, no less the raw in itself for having been so tightly circumscribed.
“Which of us did you meet, that you can visit us now?”
“You, actually. It was a long time ago, and only for a moment. I’m not at all surprised that you don’t remember.”
“And what’s it like? Being ‘receptive’?”
“Most of the time, it’s nothing at all. It takes a lot of power from outside to stir anything in me.” Gwen stared out over darkling London. “But when it comes… Have you ever stood on Western Avenue, by Gipsy Corner? The traffic thunders past like the cavalry late for Armageddon; it whips up all the dailies abandoned on the pavement as it goes by. Yesterday’s news, in someone else’s whirlwind. That’s what it’s like.” Gwen looked pensive for a moment, and smiled. “But, as I said to Will, you do get to meet good people.”
“Western Avenue. You know London.”
“Loathe it to bits. But the parks are nice.” Gwen peered down at the inscription, as evening spooned the dying light upon the stone. “ I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill. Blake met angels in Peckham Rye.” She shuddered. “I hope that he remembered not to blink.”
“Ask her if she has family in the U. K.,” said Gwen.
“Kinda busy here,” said Nomi.
“Is the strange Welsh chick in your head again?” said Amanita.
“It’s just that she is the absolute spit for a mate of mine,” said Gwen.
“Still kinda busy here,” said Nomi.
“What is she saying?” said Amanita.
“You see, it could just run in the family.” Gwen continued to contemplate Amanita’s face. “My friend and her relatives do tend towards cheek-bones and big dark eyes and slight, yet athletic physiques.”
“Right this minute, she’s perving on you,” said Nomi.
“Cool. Is she hot? She is, isn’t she? I can always tell. You get that adorable furtive look when you’re talking to hot women who aren’t me.”
Nomi sighed, looked up for a moment from her frenzied tapping at the keyboard, glared at Gwen, and resumed. “She’s got cute freckles and a pretty voice. Which is good, because I’m hearing a lot of it.”
“Ouch. You’ve honestly got nothing to worry about. Amanita’s virtue is safe. I’m five thousand miles away, and very happily married. My husband just asked me to keep it down a bit because he’s trying to watch Homes Under the Hammer; that’s how happily married I am. I’m just wondering why your stunning girlfriend and my stunning bestie are physically identical.”
“Coincidence?” said Nomi, still typing.
“No such bloody thing. Maybe Amanita is a spatial genetic multiplicity. I’m one of those.”
“A spatial genetic multiplicity?”
“You have such cool conversations when I’m not there,” said Amanita forlornly.
“That’s the technical term, straight from the horse’s mouth. Although that particular horse also gave the world ‘timey-wimey’, so maybe we shouldn’t get overly excited.” Gwen peered over Nomi’s shoulder at the screen. “Score! Good work.”
“Still needs a password, though.”
“It’s ‘Trixy65Brandy’, no spaces, just ‘y’s at the end for ‘Trixy’ and ‘Brandy’, with the ‘T’ and the ‘B’ in upper-case. ‘Trixy’ is the name of his Pomeranian. ‘Brandy’ is the name of his mistress. Or possibly the other way around.”
“Sounds like a prince,” said Nomi. “We’re in.”
“Maybe she’s a sequestered, amnesiac stretch of my mate’s time-line.” Gwen’s attention had settled back on Amanita. “That’s the problem with travelling in the fourth dimension. It’s all fun and games, until someone loses an ‘I’.”
“I’m still not seeing exactly how this works.”
“You would know, if you spoke more to Kala about the tests she ran,” said Sun. She was wearing a black crop top, and a similarly sable pair of shorts. “The fatigue is real. So is the pain. The physical trauma, for the most part, is not.”
“‘For the most part’,” repeated Gwen. She was wearing baggy grey yoga pants, and a t-shirt that had been black before the yoghurt. “Is it possible to throw a knock-out punch five thousand miles?”
Sun shrugged. “Maybe you’re fast enough not to find that out.”
“I should make it clear,” said Gwen, as the two women began warily to circle, “that, spiffy as your dojo here is, I’m in my shed. It’s probably a good idea for us to keep this dialled right down, in case I cannon into those tatty model aeroplane kits my husband refuses to complete or throw away.” She paused for a moment in her bob and weave; her expression brightened. “Actually, scratch that. Come at me with everything you have.”
Sun looked at her dispassionately, and lunged.
“Your punches are hard and smart,” she said, eventually. “I fear them, a little, as I should. Your kicks are weak.” Gwen winced and staggered back as Sun’s elbow blocked her ascending knee. “I do not fear them at all. The others have heard you talk; they think you are… nice.”
Gwen’s eyes were wide and, to all appearance, without guile. “What do you think, Sun?”
“I have seen you fight. I think you are not.”
“I killed my father.”
Sun blinked, and, unsighted, did not quite manage to slip the incoming hook. Two more powerful punches landed before her defences stuttered back on-line. She ducked, pivoted, and took Gwen’s legs out from under her, following her opponent to the floor. Minutes passed in the debate of holds, the tax of muscle.
“Enough,” Gwen gasped, at last. “Enough. Can’t… can’t break this lock. I don’t really want to find out whether you can sleeper me from Seoul.”
Sun released her grip and ghosted to her feet. She looked down as Gwen tried, and failed, to follow suit.
“Was that true? Or just a ruse to gain advantage?”
“Truer than I wish it was. Let’s say that I switched off his life-support. But, yes: I home in on weakness, when I know I’m on the ropes. You’re right, Sun. I’m not really a nice person.”
“It was cheap.”
Gwen bit her lip. “I’m sorry. You deserve better. You beat me fair and square, for all my shitty little tricks. You’ve earned more honesty from me.”
“Yes.” Sun’s scrutiny continued, unabated. “Why do you avoid Kala? She is among the best of us.”
“That’s the problem.” Gwen levered herself, groggily, to a sitting position. “I had a Kala, once. She was a scientist, too. Beautiful, sweet, a little shy. Very moral, but with a soft spot for the bad boys. Loved her family, although she didn’t… she didn’t get to see them very much. She had a mind that could stir the world like a snow-globe, and watch it whirl.” Gwen stared at the ground for a long moment before meeting Sun’s gaze. “She’s dead, now. I wasn’t fast enough to save her.”
“I am.” Sun held out her palm. Gwen accepted it, and clambered to her feet. “We shall fight again.”
“Already dreading it,” said Gwen.
He was tall, and broad-shouldered. He had eyes like the sky of old Mexico, before it became the wash-rag for the sprawling city, and a smile that almost made Lito, one-man guy though he very much was, consider sounding out Hernando about a threesome. He wore the world, the real world, like the men that Lito played.
He was also leaning out of the window of the speeding car, firing what looked like a three hundred year old revolver at pursuers who probably (though not certainly — Lito was trying to keep his eyes fixed on the road) boasted a full complement of fucking villain moustaches. Lito really was going to die this time.
“Tell Jack that the Families are after that old cache of gear from Raxacoricofallapatorius,” said Gwen, from the back seat.
Lito cleared his throat. “She wants you to know that the Families are after that old cache of gear from Raxacoricofallapatorius.”
Gwen blinked. “Wow. I’m impressed. I thought that I’d have to fall back on ‘that place near Clom’.”
Lito shrugged. “I’m an actor. Learning lines is second nature to me.”
“From the way you drive,” said the man called Jack, “I’d guess that riding a gear-stick is, as well.”
“Thanks. But strictly speaking, I’m not the one who’s driving.” Capheus grinned and pushed down hard on the accelerator.
“Jack had better get his act together sharpish,” said Gwen. The rear wind-screen shattered. “It takes a lot out of me to keep the link up this long.”
“Gwen says that she is flagging.”
“That wouldn’t be a problem, if she’d ever completed any of those Psychic Stamina self-help courses from London HR that we used to have back at the Hub,” said Jack, as he lined up another shot.
“Maybe Jack should take that up with the line manager who never found time to teach me anything but sexy gunplay before our base exploded.”
Lito’s eyes widened. “Sexy gunplay is a thing?”
“She’s not bringing that up again, is she? Jesus Christ.”
“And, of course, I wouldn’t have to rely on a friendly, world-wide network of gifted individuals for this, at all, if someone ever remembered to charge his ’phone,” said Gwen. She glared out of the window, as pedestrians screamed and ducked for cover. “‘In the future, comlinks will run off miniature white holes’, my rear end. Tell Jack he can fuck right off.”
“She says that it was a price worth paying for knowing a man like you,” said Lito, who was developing a headache.
Jack darted a look back at him and grinned. “Man, you’re good. But I bet she really told me to fuck right off.”
Lito sagged at the wheel. “Do you two even like each other?”
“Jack is my best friend in the world,” said Gwen, “the showboating arsewipe.”
“I’d crawl across ten miles of broken glass to take Gwen out of danger,” said Jack, “and another twenty to escape her notes on how I botched the rescue afterwards.” He brought his head and upper body back into the car. “We’ve lost them. Good work, team.”
Lito breathed. “You were quite something, there.”
Jack shrugged. The smile was undimmed, but Lito thought that he saw a shade behind it. “I’ve known for a long time the truth that you’re still learning, Lito Rodriguez. It gets easier to be the hero, when other people already think you are.”
The man with the black tie and the white beard sat alone in a long room. He was writing, fountain-pen on foolscap, at a desk that was a confection of chrome and glass. Very occasionally, he raised his head from his calligraphy to contemplate the silent images that bounced on a screen at the other end of the room. The elevation of the images, and their intermittent jerkiness, suggested that they were being streamed from a head-mounted camera. For the most part, though, his gaze stayed fixed on his penmanship.
“Some elements of this story,” he said, without looking up, “are necessarily conjecture. Even my sources have some trivial limits. But the main thrust of the tale is clear enough.
“A woman blunders into a London club. She is already drunk, perhaps even a little high. She loathes her visits to the capital; this one was so much worse than all the others. Drink and drugs at this juncture are most unwise; the woman has lately learnt that she is pregnant. Perhaps she hopes that the binge will kill what’s growing inside her; spare her the burden of a choice.
“The world has just been saved again, more, it must be confessed, by luck than judgment. But a child is dead; her friend is dead; her leader is damned. She does not know whether she could bring another child into this broken world. She does not know whether she could love it if she did.
“The woman looks into the garish room. She hears the beats that mould the air; she sees the people. Her eyes meet those of the beautiful, white-haired girl, whose music has snatched this moment from the night. And she is visited by the hope that scenes like this atone for all her failures. A charming fantasy, to warm one who is drunk, and perhaps a little high.” He looked up. “Wouldn’t you agree, Ms. Cooper?”
Gwen looked back at him across the desk, stony-faced. “It’s not like you to let me in. I assume that you want more than to tell a story.”
“I do.” The fountain-pen remained poised in the air. “Do you remember how we met?”
“Can’t really say that I do. I’ve looked into the eyes of so many self-important little shits. After a while, you all start to blur together.”
“I saw you, for a moment, at your lost Hub, while Captain Harkness, succumbing to a fit of piety, was rolling up the associations and gentlemen’s agreements that once made Torchwood a force and not a freak-show. Since then, I have tolerated your agency’s antics, as long as that did not impinge on my own concerns. But it has come to my attention that you have been giving succour to my wayward children. That will have to stop.”
Gwen, with deliberation, rested one booted foot upon the desk, and then the other. “Or what?”
“A chain is as strong as its weakest link. There is still one member of Torchwood who can die. The world is very small, Ms. Cooper, when ten thousand pairs of eyes can’t keep you out. If you were to persist in this, I would hunt you down. After sufficient inducement, you would offer up to me everything you know. About the supercomputer in the West of London, say, or the strange little school in the East. Or the nameless Doctor, whose secret is his power. Everything. When that business was concluded, it would be time to think about what to do with your husband,” he laid down the fountain-pen, “and your child.”
Gwen heaved a sigh. “OK. You win. I’m done. I’ll show you where I am.”
“That is the first sensible thing that you have….” His eyes widened, as he looked past her at the screen. Gwen smiled; she had not looked around.
“You’re probably wondering why the gentleman with the camera isn’t moving now, and seems to have developed a hankering for the ground. Pretty good shot, though I do say so myself. I’ll leave the rifle for your other boys to discover. Never let it be said that I’m not a generous woman.”
He found his voice. “You will regret this.”
She stopped smiling. “I already do. It gives me no pleasure to take a life, although, to be honest, I’ve seen the pictures of what that bloke did for you in Mogadishu. I think that I’ll probably get over this one fairly quickly.
“Let’s be very clear here, Mr. Whispers. Torchwood has a lot of fish to fry. Shark though you are, we don’t have time for you. Threaten me or mine again, and maybe you’ll get the chance to see what it’s like to go head to head with the men who can’t die, and the woman who doesn’t.
“But I don’t think that you’ll get that chance. I’ve seen the seeds of your destruction. They’re coming for you, Mr. Whispers, and they’re going to win. Because they know that a chain is as strong as its strongest link — which is every single sodding one of them.”
She leaned over to look at the paper. “You’ve left a blot. I’ll see myself out.”
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