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 (19 page)

‘That’s great, Gwen, really great,’ said Ianto, flatly.

‘Hey! What’s up?’ said Gwen, losing it a little. ‘This is big news. We brought back a talking pebble and everything.’

She pulled the evidence bag gently out of her jacket.

Ianto started with horror and surprise. ‘That… that’s the thing that… I found on the boat. Before I changed.’

Both of them had a few seconds of just breathing very, very hard. And staring at the device, glowing gently through the bonded polythene-carbide bag.

‘Well, bugger me,’ said Gwen, eventually.

Ianto’s voice was soft, and scared. Gwen noticed he was chewing the end of his hair. ‘The energy cloud, this object. Jack said it was all his fault somehow. He said he knew who was behind it. And he went off to find them.’

‘Oh, that’s brilliant!’

‘Not really – he went off nearly twelve hours ago. I’ve tried everything to find him, and I can’t. He’s vanished.’

Gwen suddenly understood Ianto’s mood. She put the device down on the desk and frowned. ‘I can see why you’re worried. I mean, what could Jack have been doing all night?’

THE PERFECTION ARE
RUTHLESS, TIRELESS AND HAVE
A HIGH THREAD COUNT

And, on the other side of Cardiff, Jack Harkness fell back exhausted on the bed and cried out, ‘Please fellas, not again!’

3. DAMAGED GODS

GOD IS DEAD (BORED)

The city was made of silver and glass and spun and twisted across the surface of the planet like a brilliant thread.

Wherever the sun struck it, it glowed, the metal singing with heat and light and brilliance. Everywhere there was a song in the air, and a warmth.

It was, visitors had said, like the first day of spring, but forever.

Outside the city, grass of the greenest hue washed down towards a beach whose sand was, to some eyes, just a little pink.

And up and down crawled creatures – such creatures, like insects carved from jewels, or jewels grown out of insects. And each creature, as it moved, made a little noise with its wings – a happy little sound of wonder and joy. If the creatures flew, it was to make merry little trips up to the very highest tower, where they hung happily for a few seconds before drifting gently away on a warm breeze to settle somewhere else.

And inside the spire, at the top of a thousand beautiful steps that the insects would occasionally crawl dutifully up, in a hall made of glass polished by the sun of a thousand years, sat two beings. They were content. They had been content for centuries, and would be content for centuries more.

Everything was perfect.

But there was a third being in the room. And the third being was actually terribly bored.

JACK IS REMEMBERING AN
AGREEMENT

Three years ago…

Jack stepped into the club. Cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air; there was a pounding fanfare from the quiz machine. Behind the bar was a formidable array of house spirits, tapped beers, alcopops and crisps. Above it was a chalked sign – ‘We can cater for your civil partnership’ – next to a faded warning about drugs.

By the bar was a little DJ booth, in which a starveling Emo kid stood, mixing tracks unhappily in only a pair of jockeys and some boots. Jack sighed.

He looked around the room – the barman/woman (Jack couldn’t really tell) had already tensed and was trying to out-pout him. There were three drunk old men laughing at each other’s jokes. There was a lesbian couple rowing tiredly at a table over a packet of peanuts – one had her arm in plaster, the other was on crutches. A lone businessman sat leafing through a copy of the
Pink Paper
that was sodden with spilt beer. On the dance floor, a man in a backwards baseball cap was trying to do, dear god, the Running Man.

And then there was…

Well, hullo, boys!

Jack got himself a glass of water and made his way over.

‘Do you mind if I join you?’

‘Not at all. We wondered when you’d make an appearance.’ Jack sat down at the stool and looked at the two men. He smiled, impressed despite himself.

‘Is it your first human form, fellas? If so, I have to say, pretty good.’

One of the couple shrugged. They were, Jack thought, amazing. Just over six foot, mid twenties, clear blue eyes – one blond and preppy, the other dark-haired and olive-skinned. Simple, fitted T-shirts, expensive jeans – neither garment concealing any of the muscle that was rippling underneath. Both were staring at him, quiet amusement dancing across their deep blue eyes. ‘I can just imagine them advertising underwear,’ thought Jack. And then he dwelt on the thought a little too long. He realised he was supposed to say something.

‘You guys are a dream. I’m impressed.’

The dark one spread his hands out modestly. ‘Oh – consider us a work in progress. We want to be perfect.’

Jack smiled even more. ‘I see.’

‘You want to ask us some questions, don’t you?’ The blond seemed mildly amused. ‘I take it you are Torchwood.’

‘Yes, I am. And if you know us, you know that I’m not here to ask you questions. We protect the Earth from alien threats.’

‘And is that what we are? Alien threats? Puh-lease. I’m just Brendan,’ said the blond.

‘And I’m Jon,’ the dark-haired one shook Jack’s hand. It was a firm, warm handshake, and Jack grinned into Jon’s eyes despite himself.

‘Nice,’ he said. ‘Nice manners, guys. Very charming. So when does the killing start?’

Both of them laughed. Laughed like Jack was a toddler who’d said something funny.

‘There’ll be none of that. That’s not in our nature.’

‘Then what are you?’

‘We’re the Perfection.’

Jack grinned again. ‘Smug aliens. Great. What does the name mean?’

‘The Perfection are gods, Jack.’ Brendan’s tone was gentle.

‘Is that so?’ Jack took a long drink of his water, and suddenly wished for something stronger. ‘I’ve met quite a few gods. Most of them were just conmen with great gadgets.’

Brendan smiled sweetly. ‘I hear your argument. But we are the Perfection.’ It wasn’t an answer. ‘We are very old gods, Jack. We’ve spread a slow arc of perfection across the universe. We stay for millennia, we make everything perfect. And then, eventually, when all is wonderful, we move on.’

‘Leaving a dustbowl in your wake.’

Jon shook his head. ‘Not at all. When a society is functioning as well as is possible – then our work is done. When a people no longer need their gods, we must bow and leave the stage.’

‘No doubt to rapturous applause.’

Brendan laid a hand softly on Jack’s. ‘Underneath that cynicism, you’re hoping that we’re real. Let yourself trust us, Jack. Hallam’s World, the Province of Sovertial, the Min Barrier – these are but the latest in our projects. Worlds known across the galaxy for their harmony, stability and peace. Not, perhaps, utopia, but the very best they can be.’

Jack nodded, impressed. Hallam’s World – he’d once been stationed at the Time Agency outpost there. The most boring time of his life. Everything was like a warm Sunday afternoon just after lunch and before the television got good. But… in their own way, decent people. Very good people.

Jon smiled. ‘You yourself are an outsider – born on another world, making the most of this one. And that’s all we want to do.’

Jack sneered. ‘I see. And in six months – what? A brave new Reich of joy and harmony?’

‘Oh god, no!’ chuckled Brendan, lighting a fag. Jack blinked. ‘I said we are old gods. We’ve spent millennia building worlds where the skies burned with thought and our names were written in gold across the moons. Pfft!’ he exhaled wearily.

‘We’re knackered,’ sighed Jon. ‘It’s all such… work. We just wanted something a little smaller.’

‘Wales?’ offered Jack, mulling it over. The PM would be pissed, but…

‘No. Not even Cardiff. The Welsh are such a strong people – and, frankly, much prefer talking to God than listening. No. Look around you.’

Jack looked around the bar.

‘What?’

‘This. This tiny little group of disparate little outcasts. This gay community. Oh, they could be so beautiful, so fabulous, couldn’t they? But it’s all so drab and tired and joyless. Why – look at the hair, Jack. This is a gay scene where the mullet never went out. Couldn’t it all be more fun?’

Jack sat there. Sipping his water. And thinking.

‘No, hang on,’ he said.

Sip. Think.

‘Let me just check.’

Sip. Think.

Actually, when was this glass last cleaned?

‘So, you just want to give the gay scene a makeover?’ Brendan and Jon nodded together.

‘And it’s not going to involve some weird ritual sacrifice?’

Jon shook his head vehemently. ‘Oh lordy, no. How old school are you, sweet cheeks? We’ll just lead by example. It’s how we work. We are the Perfection. There’s no magic – wherever we go, people adore us, they love us, they want to be more like us. And we help them. But we don’t cheat. We don’t steal. We just bask in their love and we grow stronger. That’s all we want – to be wanted.’

Jack grinned at them with disbelief.

‘I really still think you could be evil. This could all be a horrible, horrible thing. It would be easier to just drag you down to the cells. Job done.’

Jon shuddered, theatrically, and laid his hand on Jack’s arm, muscles incidentally tensing magnificently, like weasels in a sack. ‘It would be easier, yes, but not as much fun.’

Brendan stubbed out his cigarette and grinned. ‘And you won’t. You trust us. You like us. You’ll give us a chance. And you’ll stay for another drink. A proper drink.’

Jack gazed sadly at his glass. ‘I’d love to, but I have to be ready. For when everything changes.’

Jon turned back from the bar, three drinks in his hand. ‘Trust us – you’ll be fine for a few hours. God’s word.’

A few minutes later…

‘Brendan,’ said Jack. ‘Your boyfriend’s hand is on my leg.’

‘Oh,’ said Brendan. ‘Is that a problem?’

Jack grinned. ‘Not at all. I just wondered if you felt left out.’

Brendan shrugged. ‘Not really.’ And placed his hand on Jack’s other leg.

‘Ah, I see. Does anyone ever say no to you guys?’

Jon tipped his head on one side, puzzled. ‘Why would they? We’re perfect!’

And the Perfection laughed, together. Not at all creepily.

And, about an hour later…

‘OK,’ muttered Jack happily into the pillow. ‘I’m open to making a deal.’

Somewhere, Brendan gave a muffled laugh. ‘Oh, you’re open to a lot more than that.’

‘Yup,’ admitted Jack, giggling.

Jon leaned in close, his voice joining the blissful throbbing in Jack’s head. ‘You’re prepared to consider an arrangement?’

‘Yeah. I just wish more people tried your approach. So much more fun than waving around weapons.’

‘Really?’ Jon kissed Jack. The kiss was perfect. ‘But you’re such a skilled diplomat. And we don’t have any guns.’

Jack felt Jon move away from him, and started to laugh. ‘Hey guys. Don’t think I’m not extraordinarily grateful.’ He smiled, dreamily, and just enjoyed himself for a while. ‘I hate to ruin the moment, but just a reminder. It ain’t gonna stop me having a good time, but if you let me down, I won’t hesitate in coming back here guns blazing.’

Brendan laughed, pleasantly, and moved up the bed to wrap his arms around Jack’s shoulders. ‘How evil would we have to be just to get you to come back?’

Jack beamed. ‘Oh, barely evil at all. Just a little naughty. But remember – you start hurting people, and, charming as you are, fun as this is, and …. absolutely great as that is, Jon – it’s not gonna stop me blowing you away.’

Jon laughed.

Jack smirked. ‘Howabout, I love it when a plan comes together?’

A year later…

Jack bumped into them at Cardiff Gay Pride. He was covered in mud and a scrap of blood-spattered gingham.

Brendan and Jon stood underneath a gold umbrella, watching the downpour. They were just wearing tight jeans and body paint. They waved to him.

‘Hey, guys,’ said Jack. ‘I’d love to stop and chat, but… you know… alien menace.’

‘Grr!’ they both mimed claws.

‘Yeah. Exactly. Lots of tentacles, big gun, gingham dress. Seen it?’

They shook their heads.

‘So, how are you?’ asked Brendan.

Jack shrugged. ‘Keepin’ busy. Saving the world. You?’

‘So-so,’ said Jon. ‘Look around you – we’ve already improved the hair.’

‘That was you?’ laughed Jack. ‘Way to go, guys.’

‘The last mullet moved to Swansea the other week. We had a party. Lasted a few days.’

‘Few other things – you know. Stern words with innocent boys down from Treorchy for the weekend. You know – always use a jonny, and no, a Mars Bar wrapper’s not a substitute. The STD clinic’s dead chuffed. Talked about giving us a plaque, which was sweet. Plus, by just being ourselves, I think we’ve been a good influence.’

‘Yeah,’ said Brendan. ‘People have finally stopped wearing plaid. And I’m doing some great work with the Assembly.’

‘I’m impressed,’ said Jack.

‘Care to show us?’ asked Brendan, raising an eyebrow. If anything they’d got prettier. Something even more striking about his cheekbones. And. Oh. Monster. Right.

Jack looked over, reluctantly, to the main stage. He could hear roaring and a few screams. ‘I’d love to. Maybe later?’

Brendan and Jon followed his glance to where Cardiff’s queen of song stood, drenched as usual, belting out ‘Delilah’ over a sodden PA. There was a flash of gingham and a tentacle backstage. Over the rain, Jack could just hear the sound of automatic gunfire. As he watched, Owen backed onto the stage, desperately aiming a flamethrower into the wings. He became gradually aware of the crowd, and grinned sheepishly, dropping into the kind of guilty creep that he’d seen roadies use. He paused and winked at the singer, who somehow carried on singing despite Owen aiming a jet of flame into the lighting rig. A large, charred tentacle flopped onto the stage next to them, and lay there, flailing and smoking.

Jon applauded, ironically. ‘That boy’s got to be one of yours,’ he smirked. ‘Torchwood are never throwing me a surprise birthday.’

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