The Hub had alarms for everything; intruder alert, Rift alert, Weevil alert, proximity alert for spaceships getting too close to earth… there was one to warn about spills of toxic substances, the release of potentially hazardous germs or micro-organisms, as well as carbon monoxide and other dangerous gas detectors, and of course there was the ubiquitous fire alarm. Warnings came in a wide range of klaxons, beeps, whistles, sirens, and flashing lights; the team knew by now what each one meant and they responded accordingly when any of them sounded.
Not today though.
“What is that bloody awful racket?” Ianto yelled, trying to make himself heard over the deadening noise. He covered his ears with both hands but it did little to lessen the shrill whine that was setting his teeth on edge. It had to be the most irritating sound imaginable, even worse than fingernails scraping down a blackboard, and he wanted it to stop, right this second, before it succeeded in liquefying his brain.
“I don’t know!” Tosh yelled back, barely audible even though she and Ianto were only a few feet apart. “Must be a fault somewhere!”
“Shut it off!” Jack bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Can’t hear myself think!”
“I’m trying!” Tosh’s fingers were a blur on her keyboards as she sat hunched over at her desk, as if the noise was physically battering at her, and then…
The silence was so abrupt it was almost more deafening than the previous screeching and Ianto stumbled mid-step as though something that had been keeping him upright had suddenly been wrenched away. Jack caught him before he could fall.
“Have I gone deaf?” Ianto asked, thereby answering his own question because he could hear himself quite clearly over the ringing in his ears.
Jack poked a finger in his own ear. “Could have done without that.”
“Not the sort of thing anyone wants to listen to this early,” Ianto agreed. It was barely past seven-thirty in the morning and he’d only been up an hour; barring emergencies Owen and Gwen wouldn’t be in for at least another hour, but even without their bickering Ianto was already getting a headache. “Was that an alarm?”
“Did it sound like one of our alarms?” Jack’s question was rhetorical; all three of them knew what the Hub’s alarms sounded like and that definitely wasn’t a sound any of them had heard before, so… “Probably some sort of computer glitch, a short-circuit or something. Maybe Tosh can check into it later if she’s not busy.”
Tosh had come in early to work on upgrades to the computer system and had several hours’ worth of painstaking computer code to get through.
“The upgrades probably triggered some kind of redundant system,” the tech genius murmured, already focusing back on her work. “I think I’ve disconnected the circuit so we shouldn’t have to deal with that again.”
“Good.” Jack poked at his ear again. “My brain’s still reverberating.”
“Mine too,” Ianto agreed. “Well, work to do so we’d best get on with it. The inmates will be wondering where their breakfast is, and I believe you have paperwork?” That last was directed at Jack.
“Don’t remind me,” Jack groaned.
“If I didn’t you’d never get any of it done.”
“And life would be bliss. An chance of another coffee?”
“I’ll make more coffee when everyone’s been fed, and not before. You can survive without for half an hour.”
“Meanie.” Pouting, Jack reluctantly trudged up the steps to his office to get on with his paperwork. Ianto set off in the other direction, heading for the stairs to the lower levels where the cells were located. Tosh just continued typing away at her computer, so absorbed in her task that the rest of the word might as well not exist.
When Ianto returned to the main Hub some twenty minutes later, he could see Jack up in his office, plodding trough the stack of paperwork Ianto had left on his desk earlier. It looked like he had his earbuds in and was listening to music. Tosh was no longer at her desk though.
Striding towards the kitchen area to make the promised coffee, Ianto’s steps faltered as his whole body suddenly seemed to weigh at least twice what it usually did and walking became an almost insurmountable effort. He hoped he wasn’t coming down with something. A couple more laborious steps and the sensation vanished, leaving him feeling surprisingly light. He straightened his back. That had been a bit weird, but he felt fine again now. Better than fine, in fact, almost like he was walking on air!
That was Tosh’s voice. Ianto looked towards her workstation again, but she still wasn’t there.
Slowly Ianto raised his eyes, and there was Tosh, clinging to a lighting array. “What’re you doing up there?” Which in retrospect might have been a bit of a stupid question.
“Trying not to float away!”
Ianto started towards his friend, not entirely sure what he could do to help, and then abruptly felt like there was a tremendous weight on his shoulders, pressing him down. It was much worse this time; his knees started to buckle but as he forced himself onwards the weight lessened again and his feet left the floor. He grabbed for the railing outside Jack’s office, pulled himself onto the catwalk, and his normal weight reasserted itself. He turned towards Tosh with a hopefully reassuring “I’ll be back!” then entered Jack’s office, crossing the floor in a few long strides and plucking the earbuds from his lover’s ears.
“Hey, I was listening to that!”
“And now you’re not. We have a problem and it’s kind of urgent.”
That got Jack’s full attention. “What’s up?”
“At the moment just Tosh, along with anything in the vicinity of the workstations that isn’t fastened down, but I almost was as well.”
Jack stared at him blankly. “What?”
“Something weird’s going on, gravity fluctuations or something. We have to get Tosh down.” Ianto pointed out the window to where Tosh was floating weightlessly.
“Huh. How did that happen?”
“Don’t ask me. I nearly got crushed into the floor a couple of times. There are pockets of higher gravity as well as areas where the gravity is less, or…” Ianto gestured at Tosh again, “practically non-existent.”
“That’s all you’ve got to say? I was hoping for something a bit more helpful.”
“The gravity generators must have developed a fault somewhere; if it’s not dealt with fast it could get worse.”
“Wait a minute, the Hub has gravity generators? How come I’ve never heard about that?”
“They were experimental, designed to vary gravity in different areas… Back in the early twentieth century Torchwood Three got hold of the wreckage of a spaceship that had artificial gravity and the scientists at the time decided it would be a great idea to use the tech. The idea never really got off the ground, if you’ll excuse the pun; it proved too complicated having the gravity field at different strengths in different parts of the Hub, plus it was bad for structural integrity. Tosh’s upgrades must have somehow turned it on.”
“That’s what that racket was earlier? A gravity warning?”
Ianto groaned. “And we just ignored it! So what do we do?”
“Turn it off?”
“Oh, that’s very helpful. Any suggestions on how?”
“Quickly. Before the Hub starts tearing itself apart. We should probably rescue Tosh first. We’re going to need her help.”
“I’ll do that.” Ianto fetched a coil of rope, tied one end around his waist and the other to the catwalk, then climbed over the railing into zero gravity and floated up to join Tosh, swimming through the air until he reached her. With his friend clinging around his neck, he let Jack pull them both back to safety, where the Captain explained what he thought was going on.
After that, salvaging the situation was mostly down to the tech expert, who used Jack’s computer, since his office still had normal gravity, to locate the gravity generation systems and shut them down. Her timing couldn’t have been better if it had been deliberate. As the cog door alarms sounded and Gwen and Owen entered the Hub, they were pelted by an unexpected shower as all the small objects that had taken flight in the low gravity came back down to earth.
“Oi! What’s goin’ on?” yelped Owen, ducking, and covering his head.
“Sorry,” Ianto called down, not bothering to hide his amusement. “Slight technical glitch; nothing to worry about. Tosh is working on it.”
Jack joined his lover on the catwalk. “Everything should be back to normal soon, but it would probably be wise to permanently disable the gravity generator.”
“That goes without saying. And Jack?”
“In future, if we hear an unrecognised alarm going off, maybe we should check it out instead of just turning it off, no matter how loud and annoying it might be.”