Read Almost Perfect Online

Authors: James Goss

Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Space Opera, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Harkness; Jack (Fictitious character), #Science Fiction - Space Opera, #Sagas, #Human-alien encounters - Wales - Cardiff, #Cardiff (Wales), #Intelligence officers - Wales - Cardiff, #Radio and television novels

Almost Perfect (18 page)

Rhys leant close. ‘Oh yes. Best view of the Bay, it is. Just you and me.’

‘I can’t wait.’ Emma giggled. ‘Oh, you’re wonderful.’ She kissed him again on the cheek and picked up her handbag.

Rhys held the door open for her and Emma sailed through, glancing over her shoulder to smirk at Gwen.

And then they were gone. And just Gwen, trapped and alone and motionless in this bloody terrible little flat, itch itch itch, and oh god, she’s left the radio tuned to
Classic
.

CAPTAIN JACK, CAPTAIN
JACK, GET OFF YOUR BACK,
GO INTO TOWN, DON’T LET US
DOWN. OH NO, NO.

Jack was waiting impassively for the invisible lift when Ianto caught up with him.

‘I have to go. Don’t follow me, Ianto. This is all my fault.’ Jack was grim.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I made a mistake,’ said Jack. ‘I caused all this. I’ll either be back in an hour, or not at all.’ He shrugged. ‘But hey – you know me. I’m tough.’

‘Don’t be bloody rubbish.’

Jack stepped onto the platform, which started its upward glide. Rain was pouring down around him.

Straining to see him, Ianto tried to jump up on tiptoe and felt foolish.

‘You can’t just go!’ he protested, amazed at how high his voice went. ‘You can’t just run off like this!’

He could just see Jack, staring back down, giving him a look. It was a look that didn’t belong with the smile that forced its way across his face.

‘Jack!’ screamed Ianto as Jack started to vanish through the ceiling.

He just caught Jack’s voice, floating back down to him.

‘Check the energy cloud, Ianto. It’s building up – and there’s about a day before it goes off the scale.’ And then he was gone.

MOZART IS SPONSORED BY
CHOLESTRIA

… now available in a delicious dairy-free drink
.

Next up on I Spy a Maestro… I Spy someone beginning with B. Would anyone care to guess? Don’t forget, we’ve just had P for lovely Pachelbel, and M was for magnificent Mozart, dear Wolfgang Amadeus – but B. Well, there’s almost two choices there. Shall I play you a mystery track and then we’ll take your calls on the usual number? So sit back, relax, and pop your thinking caps on…

Gwen was bored and scared. Like waiting for test results. This was boredom with a creeping numbness. The itching had gone now. And all she had was this vague lack of sensation. And on top of the tedium, a creeping, creeping loss of… she felt tired, could almost sense her eyes closing, and knew that this could mean a sleep that she’d never wake up from. The minutes crept gently into hours. Her only hope was that perhaps nothing dreadful was happening, that perhaps Rhys would be all right (oh, please let him be all right) and that maybe Emma would come back alone, and she’d see sense and release her. Oh, if Rhys was all right and she could get out then she’d be fine about it. Honest she would.

… Don’t forget, you’ll need to be licensed to sponsor an immigrant!

And welcome back to three hours of the most slinky and relaxing music imaginable
.

The key turned in the lock and Emma and Rhys fell through in a laughing, snogging heap, dragging and fumbling their way onto the couch. Gwen was gutted.

For a second she hoped that her rage and fear might let her do something. Might let her move, or that he’d hear her. That he’d stop. That he’d realise… She struggled and struggled. But she couldn’t move. And she just watched.

Every now and then, Emma shot a glance of triumph in Gwen’s direction. Gwen wanted to scream back. Emma had taken her life, and she was now taking Rhys – Rhys who wasn’t Rhys, Rhys who she’d changed, who she was somehow making do… this…

‘And you’re making me watch. When I get out of here, I am going to hurt you.’

Emma stood up, zipping down her top and throwing back her hair. ‘Oh, you’re a wild one, Rhys Williams. No wonder your ex couldn’t let you go.’

Rhys spluttered on his wine. ‘My ex? Not Gwen?’

‘Oh yes!’ said Emma brightly. ‘I met her in the street. She warned me away from you. Said you were bad news. I told her she was pathetic and that you’d moved on.’

‘Ohhhhh, good,’ said Rhys uncertainly, suddenly rather more like himself. He looked nervously round the room. ‘You did, did you?’

Gwen was roaring away invisibly. ‘Yes! Rhys! Yes! Come on, baby! Think. Remember me – you’ve got to remember me!’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Emma, with the faint air of a schoolgirl telling a really big fib. ‘I told her a few home truths. You were too good for her, and she knew it.’

Rhys looked around the room again, and glanced sickly back at her. ‘You told her this, did you?’ He glanced over at the window, as though expecting Gwen to come crashing through it with a machine gun.

Emma nodded. ‘Trust me. She’s history. I laid it down to her and she just had to take it. The truth hurts, but it works. You. Will. Never. See. Her. Again.’ And she laughed and reached out her hand, glancing over at Gwen. And Rhys took her hand, at first gently, and then placidly, a dopey grin spreading across his face.

Gwen suddenly knew that she’d lost him. That Rhys was gone, replaced with the plastic sheep. She howled. Howled with rage and frustration. She was dying, and Rhys was lost – Emma would use him, change him, and then when she got bored, he’d die too. Just like that. And there was nothing she could do but watch. Watch and rage. She never dreamt this would be the end – watching everything taken away from her so cruelly and slowly.

Rhys stood up, gathering Emma in his arms. She leaned into his ear and breathed, ‘Take me to bed, Rhys.’

‘Don’t go, Rhys. Please don’t go. I love you, Rhys!’

Rhys followed her to the door. And paused.

‘Er, why is Gwen’s bag by your sofa?’

‘Yes! Oh, Rhys, you beauty! I love you! Yes!’

Emma’s gaze fell on the bag, and froze, and then she glanced across at where Gwen was.

Gwen felt a flicker of joy, of hope.

For the first time, Emma looked desperate, human. She could see the thinking going on. ‘God, how did you get in this mess?’ Gwen thought.

‘Oh, Rhys!’ gasped Emma after slightly too long a pause. ‘Gwen’s bag? Oh my god! Has she broken in? Is she trying to scare us? Oh, Rhys, call the police!’ She clung to him.

Rhys reacted as he always did when faced with tears, curling up with embarrassment – but in this case, also suspicion. ‘Gwen’s… Oh, my love, are you sure she didn’t come here, talk to you? Leave it behind by mistake?’

‘No,’ Emma sniffed, quietly.

He detached himself, and picked up the handbag. He looked inside it, almost automatically. And then he put it down, quietly.

‘I love Gwen,’ he said. ‘She’s my wife.’

‘What?’ Emma looked up, sudden real grief slapped on her face. ‘No, no. You love me.’

Rhys shook his head. ‘I’m sorry. No. I remember her now. She’s my wife and I love her. Where is she, please?’ His voice had gone tough.

Emma ignored him, rifling instead in her own handbag. ‘No, no, no,’ she said flatly. ‘You love me, now. You love me!’

She was suddenly holding the little glowing pebble in her hands, turning it over and over.

Do it girl! Do it!

‘Oh god, Rhys!’

Gwen started to scream his name over and over as Emma turned to face him.

‘What’s that?’ asked Rhys as she held it sheepishly towards him.

‘It’s a gun! It’s a bloody space gun and she’s pointing it at you! Oh, Rhys, oh, she’s going to change you again.’

Emma paused. It was the careful, slow pause of a shy child showing you her favourite toy. On the one hand, she was proud of it and wanted you to know what it meant to her. On the other hand it was so precious, she didn’t really want to give it up to you. So she’d offer it out with a firm grip and eyes pregnant with tears.

‘I don’t know exactly…’ began Emma. ‘But it makes everything special. Would you like to see how it works?’ And she stretched out with it, almost like she was offering it.

But Gwen knew better, Gwen knew what was going to happen next. Oh, Rhys…

And suddenly Rhys lunged at her, plucking it out of Emma’s shaking grasp.

‘Where did you…?’ he began, and then he stopped. His face slowed down, and took on the surprised, worried expression that Gwen got to see whenever she asked him if he’d paid the water bill.

And something in Emma changed. She looked startled, and then lost. Desperate. ‘Where’ve you gone, Cheryl?’ she said, quietly.

Rhys didn’t hear her. But Gwen did.

Gwen woke up, lying on the sofa. Rhys was kneeling over her, concerned. When she saw him she laughed and hugged him, delighted to be able to smell his smell and actually hold him.

‘Where’s she gone? Where’s she gone?’ Gwen yelled, but he shushed her.

‘Relax,’ he said, beaming. ‘Just so happens, I’m deputy manager of the Department of Saving Your Arse. Emma is… not a problem.’ He jerked his head over his shoulder.

Gwen sat up, and looked.

Standing there like a cross, mildly overweight waxwork with bad skin and terrible hair, was Emma. Not moving, not capable of moving, but fading away, ever so slightly.

Gwen giggled and then stopped herself. ‘Oh my god. What have you done? Rhys?’

Rhys looked abashed. ‘It was the voice in my head, see. Told me it was either you or her. No contest, really.’

Gwen got up with difficulty and walked over to Emma. And sighed.

She turned around. ‘Voice in your head, Rhys Williams? Is this like the one that told you to buy 150 tickets on Rollover week?’

‘No.’ He held up the pebble, which glowed and glistened. ‘This is one of your Extra Terrestrial Artefacts, isn’t it?’ He shook it, proudly, and winced. ‘Ouch. Apparently, I’m not supposed to do that.’

Gwen held out her hand. ‘Give that here, Rhys.’

Rhys didn’t. ‘If it’s all the same to you, love, I won’t just now. I’ve only just got you back, and I’m not letting go until I’m certain that it’s a permanent state of affairs, so to speak.’

‘I see.’ Gwen wasn’t fooled. ‘You like having a voice in your head, don’t you?’

Caught out, Rhys gave her a guilty look. ‘I
really
like having a voice in my head. It’s dead good. At first it sounded just like Arnie, but now it’s doing a pretty good David Beckham. All squeaky and puzzled. It’s really sweet. Especially when it just explained temporal causality to me.’

Gwen prodded Emma. ‘And what happens to her?’

Rhys shrugged. ‘Nothing for the moment. She just stays frozen. The device says Jack will know what to do.’

‘Jack?’ said Gwen, troubled.

‘But, if you ask me, it’s for the best, you know. I’ve met women like her. Never happy with other people, never happy with herself. Trust me, nothing and no one’s ever good enough for her. She was using the machine to find the right man – and there’s no such thing as Mr Perfect.’

Gwen hugged him again. ‘No there isn’t – but we do our best, don’t we?’

‘Yeah,’ said Rhys. ‘I know what all your faults are, and you tell me what all mine are.’

‘Quite right. Shall we go home?’

‘Oh yes.’

Gwen opened the door for him and pecked him on the cheek.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what I’d have done without you.’

‘Thanks, pet.’

‘Even if you did kiss another woman in front of me.’

Rhys protested. ‘But I was her love slave! I was helpless in the face of her desires.’

‘Doesn’t matter. It’s still all your fault. And, on the journey home, I’ll explain how.’

‘Oh lovely.’

‘Come on,’ Gwen paused in the doorway, desperately happy. ‘Oh, and let’s leave her the radio on, shall we?’

YVONNE IS NOW LIVING IN A
FISH RESTAURANT

It was early morning when Gwen made it to the Hub.

When they’d got back to the flat, she’d just wanted to crawl into bed, but she’d made herself turn right around and head back out. Well, almost.

She’d tried phoning, but no one had answered her. When she arrived, the cavernous office was silent.

She suddenly realised how empty the enormous place was. How quiet and cold. A gentle ticking came from the Rift Manipulator.

‘Hello?’ she cried.

She went over to the coffee machine and felt it. Stone cold. This was a bad sign.

No Jack. No Ianto.

A sudden horrible thought struck her – what if they’d died? Would that make her Torchwood? Would she be the last line of defence for Cardiff, Wales and occasionally Earth?

Bums.

There was a noise behind her, and with relief she saw Ianto climbing out of an accessway. He was looking… amazing. Grubby, but amazing. He was in a long Fifties-retro dress with a work smock wrapped around it. His hair was hidden under a scarf. He was covered in dust and a couple of scratch marks. He smiled and shook out a duster.

‘Hey, Gwen!’ he said a little too brightly. ‘How are you?’

‘Oh, amazing. Where’ve you been?’

‘Small vermin problem. Well, large vermin problem really. The Rift’s causing minor mutations to nearby wildlife. Luckily the rats aren’t getting bigger – just longer tails, but the shrews are enormous. And have started singing.’

‘You should get a cat,’ said Gwen.

Ianto looked a bit sad. ‘Oh, they had a cat before I joined. Yvonne. But no one’s seen her since we got the pterodactyl.’

‘Oh.’

He shrugged, a little sadly. ‘Oh I’m sure she’s fine – Yvonne was very cunning, by all accounts. But Jack had me going through the pterodactyl’s stools for a month looking for evidence.’

Gwen grimaced. ‘Where is the Fearless Leader?’

Ianto was again a bit too bright. ‘Oh, I’m sure he’s around.’

‘Have you tried calling him?’

‘Yes,’ admitted Ianto.

‘And he’s not answering you?’

‘No.’

‘Ah.’

‘I’m sure he’ll turn up.’ Ianto sank miserably down onto the sofa and cradled his chin in his hands.

‘You’ve said that already.’

‘Not quite that, I think you’ll find. I used a broadly similar but equally evasive turn of phrase.’

‘But Ianto, this is important, Rhys and I have solved the speed-dating thing.’

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