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 (3 page)

Emma had been trying to learn a bit about rugby and to like the flavour of Brains followed rapidly by zambuca. She was already a master of staggering down Chippie Alley in search of a kebab and a taxi.

‘I see you’re doing that speed-dating, love,’ continued Kate, looming over her desk. She had one of those voices, a constant tone of mildly resentful surprise. Emma imagined she’d use the same tone for ‘Ooh, I hear you’ve joined the Nazi Party.’

Emma stared dead ahead at her computer and let the remark hang in the air. Don’t respond. Don’t join in. Don’t… you know. Let her win.

‘Exciting,’ continued Kate with a little laugh at nothing. ‘Well, I think it’s nice if you’ve not managed to find a man in the usual manner.’ Another little laugh.

Emma felt herself blushing and stared directly into her Outlook, willing a new email to turn up. She kept her smile effortlessly in place.

I’ll show you, she thought.

Oh yes
, said the surprising voice in her head.
We’ll show her
.

IANTO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN STATIC CLING

Gwen and Jack sat in the boardroom, trying not to look at Ianto as he came in with a tray of coffee.

‘How?’ she mouthed.

Jack shrugged.

Ianto leaned forward to pass over a cup and Gwen boggled. She mimed melons to Jack. He nodded.

Ianto looked between the two of them, stiffly.

‘OK, team!’ said Jack. ‘It’s a busy day. Lots to cover. Ianto’s a woman, a ferry nearly sank and static electricity is up by twenty-three per cent.’

‘What’s top priority?’ asked Gwen.

‘Ianto,’ boomed Jack. ‘Unless you’re wearing nylon.’

‘OK,’ said Gwen. ‘How did he… she…? I mean…’

Ianto shrugged. ‘I just woke up like this. No memory, slight hangover, pair of breasts. Honestly.’

Gwen nodded. ‘Right. Nothing unusual then?’

‘Well, not apart from the surprising lack of cock.’

‘A situation we can all sympathise with,’ sighed Jack. ‘Ianto Jones is brilliant, you know. He wakes up. Different fingerprints, voice, DNA, so how am I going to recognise him? He kisses me. And I know at once! Isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?’ He grinned dopily.

Ianto looked embarrassed. ‘It really is me Gwen. I really don’t know how I can prove it to you, but—’

‘Please don’t kiss me!’ Gwen protested, giggling and waving him away. ‘Are you sure you’re OK?’

‘I’m fine. Confused, mildly frightened, but basically fine.’ Ianto nodded. ‘It’s me, Gwen. If I’m a cunning alien infiltration plan, then I’m the worst ever.’

Jack smiled. ‘We’ll sort it out. We always do. Somehow. Don’t you worry, Ianto Jones.’

‘Thank you. To be honest,’ admitted Ianto, ‘bit freaked.’

‘Yes, but, on the scale of things, it’s hardly another nuclear blast in Aberdare. It’s more for our HR department.’

Gwen looked troubled. ‘But we don’t have an HR department.’

‘We’ve got you,’ said Jack, and smirked.

Gwen didn’t rise to it. Instead she patted Ianto on the arm. ‘We can solve this. This is nothing – we got you back from being invisible.’

Ianto nodded, his hair cascading neatly down his shoulders. ‘And now I’m the Highly Visible Woman.’ There was a little of his old voice in his laugh.

Gwen glanced at Jack. ‘We should start with his memory, shouldn’t we?’

Jack nodded approvingly. ‘There is something I had in mind, yes.’

Ianto looked alarmed. ‘Oh. You’re going to use something alien on me, aren’t you?’

Jack nodded. ‘Kind of. It’s an anti-retcon pill. Supposed to reverse memory loss.’

‘But…?’

Jack pulled the pill out of a pocket and picked some fluff off of it. ‘It’ll take a while to start working. If it works at all. Maybe three days. Sooner if there’s a trigger. Plus, there’s a tiny danger that you might remember Everything.’

‘What’s wrong about tha- oh.’

‘Yup,’ said Jack. ‘It’s not selective. You might suddenly have a head full of maths tests and Monday mornings.’

Ianto smiled bravely. ‘Who’s to say I don’t already?’ He took the pill, which tasted pleasantly fruity.

‘Hmm,’ said Jack. ‘Hope that was the right pill.’ He patted down his pockets. ‘Ah well. Let me know if you start seeing clowns.’

‘Right,’ said Ianto quietly. ‘Well, let’s wait and see.’ He looked around the room. ‘What’s next?’

‘The ferry crash. Well, by all accounts, more of a ferry prang, really. Although that hasn’t stopped David Brigstocke calling it “a major maritime disaster” on Radio Wales.’

‘Tosser,’ tutted Gwen and Ianto together.

Jack stood up. ‘We should get going.’

Ianto remained seated. ‘Can I stay behind? If that’s all right? I’d like a chance to, you know, work on my memory. Do a few cosy, familiar things. Clean the coffee filter. Feed the Weevils. Stuff.’

‘Good idea,’ beamed Jack. ‘And anyway, I don’t trust you round sailors looking like that. I’ll take Gwen. Much safer.’

He swept out. Gwen scowled at his back and followed him.

Ianto waited until they’d gone, and then slumped onto the table, auburn hair spilling out across the lacquer. ‘Oh god,’ he moaned.

CAPTAIN JACK IS FEELING
BUOYANT

You can navigate Cardiff Bay by a succession of expensive follies with interesting names.

Beyond the Welsh Assembly Anti-Terrorist Barriers (erected at vast expense before someone pointed out that you could drive round them) but not quite as far as Cardiff International Heliport, lies the newly opened Cardiff International Ferryport.

Really it was just a patch of Docks not suitable for executive homes or freight due to poisonous mould. So someone had come up with the idea of running a highly subsidised ferry route to Ireland.

It took longer than going via Swansea, but was cheaper, and the ferry had been painted a cheerful shade of green. It had launched a couple of months earlier, with a lot of carbon-neutral fanfare.

When it had opened for business, Gwen had toyed with going. #8216;Ooh, it’s just like the Eurostar,’ Rhys had cooed mockingly, which had put an end to it.

And now here she was, standing at the terminal with Jack, watching the remains of the ferry dragged into the Docks by a tugboat.

The ferry had been a fine bit of 1970s engineering, kept afloat with Norwegian pride and a fresh lick of paint. Now it looked like a kicked tin can, strips of metal fluttering in the breeze like flags.

‘Bloody hell,’ breathed Gwen.

‘I’ve been in worse,’ said Jack, with a hint of professional pride. ‘I’ve seen a World War Two mine rip a battleship apart like wet cardboard. Believe it or not, that ferry is still pretty much seaworthy. Ah, Norway, I salute you. Strong ships and even stronger sailors.’

‘Right,’ thought Gwen. ‘I’ll be spending the day interviewing stunned survivors in Portakabins while Jack’s chatting up the crew. Marvellous.’

The ferry chugged past them, filthy water gushing from tears in the sides.

‘No scorch marks,’ said Gwen.

Jack shrugged. ‘Not that unusual. Those are secondary explosions from the inside out.’ He squinted. ‘Yup. Good news. Definitely not claw marks.’

‘You just don’t want the paperwork,’ teased Gwen.

They watched the ferry bump unsteadily into port.

‘I don’t want any of this,’ he told her. ‘Aliens are the new Health and Safety Nightmare. There are people in high places who are desperate to blame a Rift-related cause for this. It’s more likely the boat just hit something – a World War Two mine’s a World War Two mine you didn’t see coming, whether or not it’s drifted through the Rift. I don’t like being scapegoated every time something goes wrong.’

‘Aliens ate my homework?’ Gwen laughed.

Jack laughed. ‘What a brave new world. Now go and find some eyewitnesses to talk to.’

‘What about Iantoya?’ asked Gwen. ‘Sure we don’t need him?’

‘Oh, he’s best off at the Hub. Until he feels… you know… himself.’

‘Jack Harkness, you are terrible. The poor lamb’s got nothing to look forward to apart from filing, making the coffee and sexual harassment.’

‘I know,’ said Jack. ‘I just want to surround him with familiar things.’

DORICE IS HER USUAL RED

Ianto had a quiet first morning as a woman. There was very little Rift activity, and only a few elderly tourists popped into the Tourist Information Centre that he manned above Torchwood. And then there was Dorice from the Shopping Centre, who dropped in with leaflets once a month. Dorice was, mostly in her own opinion, a right laugh. There was something about her that was a bit too red. He was never quite sure if it was her hair, her dress, her make-up or her nails, but the woman glowed.

He was surprised that he still couldn’t work it out. He’d kind of hoped that, now he was a proper woman, he’d have some kind of X-Ray Fashion Vision that would allow him to solve the mystery of Dorice’s redness. But no. There she was, leaving a huge lipstick mark on a cup of his excellent coffee, talking away, all hair and noise and redness. And still just as puzzlingly red. She was just a vaguely unattractive, slightly untidy, mildly overweight woman in her late forties.

But Dorice had talked, on and on, loudly and excitedly about developments and redevelopments in the Bay. Most of her talk was about the ferry crash, ‘which is a shame, as I hope it catches on. I was dead excited at a trip to Minehead. Fancy that – me and Harry taking a mucky break to Butlin’s. You know they’ve got their very own version of the Millennium Dome? Isn’t that nice, especially as I never got to make it to the proper one. Did you dear?’

Oddly enough, Ianto had. One of his very first jobs at Torchwood had been at the Dome. To this day, whenever he saw a picture of it, he’d remember what was sealed underneath it, and shudder.

And now suddenly Dorice was at the door, and smiling. ‘You do look lovely, dear. How long is my little bit of crumpet on holiday?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘The nice lad they normally have running this place. Flirts like crazy, never serious though. You know the type. He’s a very neat young boy. His hair is very carefully arranged.’ She put the last two words in italics.

‘Oh.’ Ianto felt vaguely insulted. ‘Not long, I hope. I’m just a temp.’

Dorice gave him a pitying look. ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear it, dear. Still, with that pair, I’m sure you’ll go far.’

And then the door shut with a tinkle, and Ianto checked his watch. He realised for the first time how wrong it looked – a bulky man’s watch around his tiny wrist. He was going to have to do something about it. Probably involving shopping. And Gwen. Hmm. She’d been a bit odd today – slightly like a cat defending her territory. Hmm. She’d not been like this around Tosh.

The thing was, Owen and Tosh would have been really handy right now. He’d admired Tosh – she was the only person in Torchwood who loved the place as much as he did. Something Ianto could only respect. She was quiet, polite, and thoughtful. Owen was just – well, he could be as nasty and bullying as he could be brilliant and charming. Even in those last months, when he’d hung around, all wrong and broken. Between them, they would know what to do.

He realised, with a certain dread, that he needed to pee again. That was a horror show he still hadn’t got used to. And these shoes were starting to hurt. Really hurt. He’d barely noticed them when he’d slipped them on this morning, but now it was like wearing a small pair of stilts made out of rusty chisels. Unsteadily, he hobbled off to the loo.

When he got back, Jack was there, leaning over his desk with a big grin that didn’t quite meet his eyes.

He reached in the pockets of his greatcoat, and brought out two bottles of beer. ‘I think we should drink to your first day.’

Ianto took them, and snapped them expertly open on the edge of the desk, passing one to Jack. They clinked bottles. Jack wiped it against his sleeve before drinking. ‘I got them from Owen’s medical fridge. He never got round to drinking them, and never got round to throwing them away. But I’d give it a wipe first – one of the livers is leaking.’

Ianto shuddered, and suddenly realised he no longer had sleeves. What was he supposed to do? He made a mental note to buy some tissues. One of those neat little packets. In the meantime, he made do with a leaflet about the new ferry service.

Jack leaned forward over the desk, as relaxed as a cat. ‘Miss Ianto Jones! As your manager, I’m here to ask how your first day in your new body is going.’

‘Fine, thank you,’ said Ianto, not quite meeting his eyes.

‘Settling in? No unexpected… wrinkles?’

Ianto shrugged. ‘It’s… strange. Actually, being a woman is a lot like being a man. Just unsettling. I’m like… You know when your mobile breaks and they give you a replacement that looks OK but isn’t quite right? I’m that wrong phone.’

Jack placed a hand on Ianto’s, and Ianto suddenly realised how small his hands were now. Jack’s touch felt suddenly strange, and he drew back a little.

‘Ianto Jones, I wouldn’t know. Whenever my mobile breaks, you always get me a replacement that’s exactly the same. That’s what I love about you.’

‘Yes, because you can’t stand change. And don’t use that word.’ Ianto looked away. Jack had put the tiniest pause around the word ‘love’. Beneath all that casual Jackness, he was trying to talk about feelings. Ianto had long suspected that Jack didn’t really have feelings – just a succession of sugar rushes.

‘OK. I just want you to know that this doesn’t change things. I know you’re still in there. We’ll get you out.’

‘Good.’

‘And if you want to… after work…’ A raised eyebrow and the Harkness grin.

‘Oh god, no!’ Ianto stepped back, aghast. ‘No. Oh no! Not yet.’

‘I’ll take that as a maybe,’ said Jack, unabashed. ‘Look, we’ll get you your body back. I’ve fired off a few emails to UNIT. Martha’s on the case. And Gwen’s been going through the archives. You’re not unique – Torchwood’s dealt with this kind of thing before. There’s a protocol, some forms, even a pamphlet. The main thing is to try and find out if this is your body that’s been altered somehow… or if there’s been a body swap.’

‘I had been wondering,’ said Ianto. ‘What if my body’s still out there with this poor woman’s mind in it?’

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