The next Bank Holiday weekend after their Cambridge adventure, Sarah Jane again took Luke, Clyde and Maria on a trip. This time, she drove them to Cardiff, at the special invitation of Captain Jack Harkness. Sarah Jane didn’t know much more about it, except that he had rung her and talked for a long time about certain things they had in common.
Yes, all right, she admitted when the boys laughed sarcastically. They talked about The Doctor. They also talked about Clyde, Luke and Maria, and how terrific they were, and Jack had invited them up to Cardiff as a treat, a reward for their unwitting part in the time experiment.
Clyde and Luke were of the opinion that some kind of consumer electricals – say a new laptop each - would be a good way of saying thank you for tricking them into a time machine that no adult would dare set foot in. Maria thought it was really nice of him to invite them and had been quite excited about it all.
They got there by midday, and Captain Jack took them all for lunch in a nice bayside restaurant. Sarah Jane threatened to throw the boys into the bay if they didn’t put away their stopwatches and stop counting how many times she and Jack talked about The Doctor, but otherwise it was a nice lunch and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
And afterwards, they got to see something that definitely wasn’t in any of the tourist brochures extolling the virtues of modern Cardiff.
“So, what did you kids think of my workplace?” Jack asked as he drove them back to Cardiff Central Station a little after six o’clock in the evening of what rated a pretty incredible day even for them.
“I think it was the strangest and most incredible thing I have ever seen,” Maria said. “You work in a secret, underground sewer. Like… I don’t know. A cross between Batman and the Ninja Turtles.”
Jack laughed softly. “A filled in coal dock, actually. And the remains of a really crazy Victorian plan to connect London, Glasgow and Cardiff by underground railway. Winston Churchill had a go at finishing it during the war, but they never really got far with it.”
“Not surprised,” Clyde commented. “Loopy idea or WHAT!”
“I agree,” Jack answered him. “Besides, the weevils are enough of a nuisance in Cardiff without them having a ready made route to other places.”
“Oooh, those I didn’t much like,” Sarah Jane admitted. And she had seen some ugly things in her time.
Actually, there had been a bit of a debate about the weevils. On the one hand, they were hideous, snarling, ghastly things with too many teeth and creepy eyes that repulsed them all. On the other, and it had been Maria who led this camp, they were sad, lonely creatures who were a long way from where they belonged, and it was terrible that so many of them were imprisoned in the cells deep in Jack’s strange headquarters. She thought there had to be a better way to deal with them than that. To her surprise, Jack had agreed with her. His people were constantly looking at ways to send the creatures back to where they came from. If they only knew where that was.
“The pterodactyl was fantastic,” Luke said, and all of them agreed about that. Of all the wonders that had seen in their adventures with Sarah Jane, a real, living prehistoric creature jumped right into their top ten. They hadn’t been able to get close up to it, of course. But they watched it for ages on the CCTV cameras pointed at its nest and fed through to a big viewscreen on the wall of Jack’s office.
Among other details they were unlikely to forget were the cryogenic store and the lift that led up to an invisible paving stone by the fountain in the plaza above the Torchwood Hub. Emerging into the ordinariness of life outside after spending their day in such an incredible place ought to have been an anti-climax, but it wasn’t. Standing there, watching tourists and ordinary people going about their lives, unaware of what was beneath their feet, gave them all an amazing feeling of being in on a great secret.
Maria wondered what it would be like to arrive at work in the morning down an invisible lift. What qualifications were needed to work at Torchwood?
“Do you think Hub tours might take off as a tourist attraction then?” Jack asked them.
“I think, possibly not,” Sarah Jane laughed. “You’d never be able to make the tour wheelchair friendly. That’s an important regulation. And I doubt you could get liability insurance in case the pterodactyl bit anyone.”
“Best it remains a secret then?”
“I think so.”
“I liked hearing about Jack when he was a pilot in the war?” Clyde said. “I think that’s totally cool. I mean… there was an old man who lived near us before mum and dad split. He was a fighter pilot. But he was, like, 85, and he was losing his memory sometimes. But you…”
That reminded Maria of something. She pulled her camera out of her pocket and looked at the photographs on it. Jack had been very strict about what she could take pictures of inside the Hub. Mostly it had been group photos in his office. But she flipped through them now using the inch and a half wide display screen. She was relieved to see that Jack was in the pictures.
“What? Did you think he wouldn’t be?” Luke asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I had a sort of an idea… that maybe he’s a…” she blushed. The idea seemed silly now. And saying it in front of him seemed rude.
“Go on,” he said to her. “Out with it.”
“Well… I thought you might be a vampire… a friendly one, obviously. I thought that was how you’ve been around so long. But you’re in the photos and everyone knows you can’t photograph a vampire, because cameras use mirrors inside to make the picture.”
“Digital ones don’t,” Jack said as he parked the black SUV in the car park next to the railway station. “But if you want to be certain…” He waited until they were all out of the car and then he called Maria to him. He stood behind her, one hand on her shoulder and with the other he adjusted the wing mirror. She saw herself, and Jack standing behind her.
“Not a vampire. Or a zombie?” She took hold of his wrist and felt for a pulse. “No, you’re alive. You’re real. Just really….”
“Don’t push your luck,” Maria told him. He smiled and told them to follow him. They were a little puzzled. He seemed to be taking them out of the car park and towards the station.
“But, Jack,” Clyde protested. “We didn’t come by train. The car’s on the second floor of the car park.”
“Something else I want to show you before you go. Another secret to share. I know I can trust you all, and I think you’ll get a kick out of this.”
He wouldn’t tell them anything more, and Sarah Jane didn’t know anything else. Jack led them into the busy station. At the ticket barrier he showed some kind of identification and the ticket inspector saluted him and called him “sir”. They all passed through without any questions being asked and continued on down the long central platform, beyond where the snack bar and newsstand and the toilets were, and the crowds waiting for a late train to Bristol Parkway. Down there it was quieter and strangely old fashioned. There were windows in dark, unused offices with the British Rail logo still on them, and some that actually still said “Great Western Railway” like the big 1930s façade on the main entrance. It seemed a very long way from the busy, modern part where all the noise and people were. Maria turned and looked back to reassure herself that it was all there.
“This way,” Jack said, turning under an archway that led to another platform.
“Platform 9 and ¾,” Clyde said as they looked at the old-fashioned, disused platform and the black steam locomotive that stood there, where it had absolutely no business being, as far as he could see. “Hogwarts Express?”
“Not a bad guess!” Jack laughed. “But nothing magical here. Just another outlet for the rift in time that runs through Cardiff. That train… it slipped through the rift a month ago. We’ve been waiting for the same conditions to recreate themselves. And tonight, it’s going to happen. Hang on.”
He turned away from them slightly and pressed a button on the blue tooth earpiece he wore. He told whoever responded to him that they could bring them in now. Then he waited. A few minutes later a door opened further down the mysterious platform and people began to pour in.
Most of them were children, though there were some adults with them. They looked like teachers. Maria wasn’t sure why she thought that, but she felt that the word ‘teacher’ was probably imprinted on their spines or something. They all looked like teachers.
And the children, all in warm coats of an old fashioned sort that went with the train and the platform, looked like…
“Evacuees?” Sarah Jane said it first, but they all thought it at the same time. “From the war? Being taken off to the countryside away from the bombs? My aunt Lavinia used to talk about when she was evacuated. She was sent to Gloucester and lived with a nice old couple who kept goats.”
“How come they’re here?” Clyde asked.
“Like I said,” Jack continued. “The train slipped through time. These kids and their teachers were aboard. We’ve been looking after them ever since, hoping we could find a way of getting them home. We usually get two or three people coming through the rift a month. But a hundred and fifty was a bit more than we knew what to do with. We had to get U.N.I.T. to help. They let us keep them in an old army barracks. The important thing was not to expose them to too much modern culture. They’re from 1940. TV is practically unheard of. They don’t have pizzas and computers, pop music… We really hoped we could get them back without too much harm. And we think tonight’s the night.”
“You think?” Maria looked at the children. They all looked scared. No wonder. It must have been bad enough being evacuated in the first place. Then they got lost. And now they were being herded back onto a train that MIGHT take them back to 1940. Or it might just as well take them to the planet the weevils come from or somewhere even worse.
“We are confident that the rift is lined up exactly as it was when they arrived here,” Jack said. “More than confident. It’s a risk. And I wish it wasn’t kids. They don’t have any say in this at all. But we talked to their teachers. They decided to risk it. So did the train driver and his crew.”
“How will you know if it worked?” Clyde asked.
“This,” Jack said and handed Clyde an old newspaper. It was dated April 16th, 1941. “Two days after they disappeared. One of the teachers has been told to put a small ad into the paper. Under personals. Page two… keep an eye on it after the train leaves.”
Luke wasn’t listening. He was watching a boy about his own age who had slipped away from the line of children getting onto the train. He was hiding in a dark alcove behind an old GWR luggage trolley. Luke stepped quietly towards the spot.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you. But why aren’t you getting on the train?”
“I don’t want to go back,” he said. “I know what happened. I overheard that man and Mr Todd, the housemaster, talking about it. This is the future.”
“I….” Luke wasn’t sure if telling him that he was right was a good idea or not.
“But you have to go back. You’ve got a mum and dad there, friends…”
“No, I haven’t,” he answered. “Mum died when I was little and my dad was killed at a place called Dunkirk, and I hate the children’s home. And I’ll hate being evacuated, too.”
“But…” Luke didn’t know what to say. “But you have to go,” was all he could think of. “It’s important. You have to…”
“There’s no war here,” the boy continued. “I don’t want to go back to the war. I don’t want to be scared any more.”
“What’s your name?” Luke asked.
“Fred,” he answered. “Fred Dixon.”
“I’m Luke. And I know about being scared. About doing things that are frightening. I understand how you feel. I really do. I think… sometimes you have to do those sort of things. Because if you don’t do things that scare you, then you’ll never do anything. You’ll spend all of your time hiding and miss out on everything.”
“But….” Fred looked at him. Luke didn’t say anything else. It had to be the boy’s decision. But he had to make his decision quickly. Behind them, the train whistle blew and there was an increase in engine noise. He wasn’t entirely sure - he didn’t know much about steam trains - but Luke was almost sure that it was nearly ready to go.
“All right,” Fred said, seeming to make his mind up. “All right, I’ll go back.”
“Ok, come on.” Luke reached out his hand to him. He took it. They turned to see the train starting to move. “Jack!” he shouted. “Jack, there’s one more.”
Jack turned and saw Luke and Fred. He waved frantically, but nobody on the train realised he was signalling to them to stop. They just thought he was waving. Luke and Fred ran to him. He grabbed the boy and ran towards the train. It wasn’t fast yet, but it was moving, and he knew there was very little time. To his relief, somebody on board saw what he was doing and opened the door. He grabbed Fred up off the ground and passed him up to hands that reached to grab him. The door closed behind him. Jack stepped back and watched as the train started to go into the dark tunnel ahead of it. He looked at his watch and bit his lip anxiously.
Then something amazing happened. The locomotive was suddenly surrounded by a bright, glowing, orange light. It kept on going and the coal truck, then the three passenger carriages and the guards van all went into the light. The sound of the train seemed to be swallowed up by the light.
Then it was gone, and there was nothing but a dark tunnel and when Maria and Luke looked closely they saw that it was actually bricked up about ten yards inside.
“Did they make it?” Sarah Jane asked. “Jack… are you sure?”
“YES!” Clyde’s shout echoed around the suddenly silent platform. “Yes, look.” He waved the old newspaper frantically. “Look!”
Sarah Jane took the paper and looked where he pointed. In the middle of all the ordinary personal ads was a short message that proved without a doubt that the plan had worked.
“Hogwarts Express arrived safely.” She laughed, not just at the joke of a message like that, but with relief to know that they were all safe. Or as safe as anyone was in 1941. Of course they still had a long, frightening war, and all sorts of problems to go through. But that couldn’t be helped.
“It was right to send them back, wasn’t it?” Luke asked.
“Yes, it was,” said a strange voice. They all turned and looked at the old man who stood by the entrance to ‘platform 9 ¾.’ “You were right, Luke. I did have to face up to my fears.”
“Fred?” Luke did the sums. It was 68 years since 1941. Fred was fifteen then. That made him eighty-three now. That had to be about right. He looked well for it. He leaned heavily on a walking stick, but he seemed to be in pretty good health. He nodded.
“Hello, Luke. Nice to see you and your friends again. It was all right in the end. The place I was evacuated to… I loved it. I never went back to London, you know. I got a job here in Cardiff after the war. Station master here, at Cardiff Central. I made sure this platform didn’t get interfered with when they brought in diesel trains and electric trains. By the time I retired, they’d forgotten it was even here.”
“Torchwood remembered,” Jack said. “It’s good to see you, sir. Sorry I was a bit rough shoving you on the train.”
“No harm done. But I had to come and see. I still don’t quite understand it, but maybe it’s not my place to do so.”
“I’ll be glad to explain some of it, sir,” Jack told him. “If you’d like to go and have a cup of tea in the café up on the main platform, I’ll just see my friends back to their car and then I’ll give you a lift home.”
“That’s very kind of you, young man,” Fred agreed. They all walked with him as far as the café and Jack bought a pot of tea for him before he came with the rest of them back to the car park.
“That was amazing,” Sarah Jane told him. “You really helped those people.”
“Now and again, we get to do stuff like that, as well as fighting monsters. I suppose it must be the same for you? Not all Slitheen and gorgons?”
“Yes, sometimes,” she agreed. “Not as often as I’d like, but sometimes.”
“And what do you kids think? How would you fancy a career with Torchwood?”
“Seriously?” Maria’s voice had a touch of eagerness in it. The boys, too, looked at him with interest.
“Why not? You’ve already been doing the work we do along with Sarah Jane. When you’re older, when you’ve got your university degrees or whatever, you’ll be just what we need.”
“Jack!” Sarah Jane looked at him crossly. “This was a recruiting drive?”
“Not exactly,” he answered. “I just wanted to give them a fun day and show them that what we do isn’t always bad stuff. But you have to admit, these three have potential. And there’s no way they’re just going to get desk jobs when they grow up. They’re too much like either of us for that.”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane agreed. “Yes, you may be right there. But they’ve got a lot of years yet before they’re ready to choose careers. They don’t have to decide.”
But Maria had decided. She liked the idea of going to work down an invisible pavement lift to a place where people worked to protect Earth from terrible things, and now and then helped to make good things happen. She looked at Luke and Clyde and thought they were thinking the same.