Tosh liked the mornings when she was alone in the Hub, just her and her computer, and she could get straight to work. It didn’t happen often – Jack lived in the Hub and Ianto was often in before her (although she often left after him), but when it did happen, she took the time to appreciate it. She slung her grey cardigan over the back of her chair and settled in to work. She got almost an hour of uninterrupted time, catching up on paperwork and working on a couple of coding projects that would hopefully improve the accuracy of the Rift monitor, before Owen stalked.
“Good morning, Owen,” she said with a smile.
“Morning,” he replied, without much enthusiasm. Owen always took at least three cups of coffee to get going in the mornings. “Where’s everyone else, then?”
He headed over to the kitchenette before she could answer.
“The coffee’s out,” he griped. “Where’s Ianto and what the hell has he been doing all morning?”
Tosh looked over to the kitchenette. She must have drunk more than she thought. That happened sometimes when she was in the zone.
“Jack and Gwen are on a call, and Ianto’s in the archives looking for information. He left a note, he’s been down there since before I got in.”
Owen started opening various cupboards, looking for where Ianto stored his precious coffee.
“Ianto will have your hide if you touch his coffee machine,” she warned.
“Well, he should have made sure there was coffee in the pot, then, shouldn’t he?” Owen said.
“Jack probably drank it,” Tosh said. “You know what he’s like.”
“Oh, yeah, and where’s he, then? You said he’s on a call, what’s up with that? Why are the rest of us not invited?”
“Well, Jack didn’t think it was needed,” Tosh said. “It’s one of Gwen’s old friends from the police who called it in – they’ve got someone in their custody who they think is one of ours but it’s under control.”
“Yeah? How come they figure that?”
“It’s either a bona fide Viking, or someone who’s really good at faking. The axe was certainly real – he killed an innocent bystander with it before the police brought him in. But he’s safe in custody now, they have him in a cell of his own and stripped him of all his weapons – he doesn’t seem to be anything other than an ordinary human being, except for the part where he’s from about a thousand years ago.”
“Ah. Yeah, probably one of ours. That sounds like the Rift, all right. Why can’t it deposit supermodels, why is it always death and gloom and people trying to kill us?”
“Not always,” Tosh said. “Sometimes it’s refugees or friendly aliens, or interesting artefacts.”
“Artefacts that bring death and gloom and want to kill us, more often than not,” Owen replied. “Still, I guess you’re not complaining; it got you a date, didn’t it. Shame it couldn’t last. How’s Tommy boy doing, anyway?”
Tosh looked away. It was still recent enough that the loss of Tommy really hurt. She’d only known him for four days, but he’d been kind, and open, and enthusiastic, and friendly, and he’d appreciated her. He’d looked at her as if she was desirable, someone worth having. Someone worth loving. It couldn’t have been, of course. Seeing each other one day per year? That was no way to have a life together. But still. The loss of what could have been still haunted her. That maybe she could have figured out some way for him to stay in this time after he’d done what he needed to do, some way to save him from his cruel fate.
Still, it didn’t do to dwell on it. She tried to plaster on a smile, but Owen’s face had fallen.
“Shit – sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, trying to smile. “It’s OK.”
“It’s not though,” Owen said. “It was a shitty thing to say, and I’m sorry.”
He gave up on trying to get the coffee machine to work, and stalked off towards the med bay. Tosh let the smile slide off her face. Well. Back to work.
“Is this it?” Ianto asked, handing her yet another file.
Tosh opened it and looked at the diagrams inside.
“Close, but not quite,” she said. “It was more twisty.”
Ianto nodded, placed it back where he’d taken it from, and moved on, to a completely different section of the archives. They were looking for a file on an object that Torchwood 1 had taken off them, many years ago. She could hardly remember what it looked like, it hadn’t seemed relevant at the time, they had filed it away with all the other “unknowns”, but she’d had some spare time to work on various projects – the Rift had been quite quiet for a few weeks, which meant that they were due an event soon, but she’d enjoy the relative peace while it lasted. But this unimportant thing was maybe, possibly connected to one of her spare projects, and since she didn’t quite remember what the file or the object had been, she and Ianto had decided it would be easier if she came down with him to look, rather than him bringing anything that could possibly be what she was looking for up to her. So far, they’d been down for almost an hour, and still nothing.
She didn’t usually come down to the archives, and it was really interesting to see Ianto among the shelves. This was his domain, his element. He really was astoundingly good at his job, she realised. They all were, but his job was far less flashy than the rest of theirs, so it was easy to overlook just how much skill it took to filing, organising and archiving items and documents that were so completely foreign to any system – literally alien – and they often had next to no knowledge about, not function, not age, not even origin. That he could do it, and also then find whatever item or document they were looking for when they wanted it – often on incredibly unhelpfully vague instructions – was nothing short of magic, really.
Ianto was better now about not fading into the background, or they were better at not letting him, but he was still usually quiet. But here he was confident, with a slight smile and easy steps between the shelves, and got to play the expert, a role she thought he relished. But she was always a bit wary about reading Ianto – she knew how good he was at hiding his feelings, doing everything he could to make himself useful and indispensable to the team while hiding a killing machine in a supply room, or smiling and chatting normally when he was terribly upset and grieving. He never said much, and asking him how he was would get a bland and pleasant reply in response – until he boiled over. It wasn’t healthy, but then who in Torchwood was?
It was quite cold in the archives, and Tosh shivered a bit. She wished she’d worn her grey cardigan rather than this rather thin burgundy blouse.
“You all right?” Ianto asked.
“Fine,” Tosh said, confirming that she was indeed a hypocrite.
Owen felt like a prick – which wasn’t exactly an unusual occurrence, but it was still never pleasant. Tosh hadn’t even mentioned Diane when he brought up Tommy, or when he’d complained that the Rift never brought them any supermodels – it would have been the obvious thing to go for if she wanted to lash out against him, and if he was honest with himself he had to admit that if the positions were reversed, he would definitely have said it – and probably felt about as horrible about it as he did now. But Tosh wasn’t like that, she didn’t take the cheap shot. She was a better person than him, in many ways, not just that one.
He went to the med bay to get everything in order for the day. They’d had a quiet few weeks, but that was no excuse to get complacent. He’d spend the day taking the inventory for the day, and then catching up on paperwork – things he’d promised himself he’d do whenever he had a quiet moment, and then when he did get one, when there was nothing else he needed to do first. But he was rapidly running out of excuses to postpone it any further, and it needed to be done, or Ianto would get even more prissy than usual about the lateness of Owen’s reports. There was a fine balance Owen liked to walk – he couldn’t let Ianto get too complacent, or he’d start thinking he ran the place, but he also couldn’t let Ianto get too annoyed with him, because then he might cut off Owen’s coffee supply, and then where would he be? He should really get to work on that paperwork, he thought he was probably sliding dangerously close to the no coffee line, but it was just so incredibly tedious. It was almost enough to make him wish for something to happen.
Tosh’s computer bleeped at her.
“We’re getting reports of something weird at the hospital – I’m just getting the case notes now,” she said. “Someone’s been brought in drowning in paperwork – literally. It just keeps replicating around him, and they’re trying to keep the paperwork out of his lungs.”
“I knew paperwork was evil,” Owen said. “Didn’t I always say paperwork is evil?”
He grabbed his bag.
“Well, let’s get going – we’ll leave Gwen and Jack to the hot Scandinavian warrior, you and I’ll go deal with the revenge of the trees.”
“Sure,” Tosh said, turning off her monitor. “I’ll let Jack and Gwen know what we’re up to, if you tell Ianto?”
Ianto’s earpiece clicked on, and Owen’s voice came into his ear.
“There’s weird shit going on at the hospital. Tosh and I are going to check it out.”
Ianto looked at Tosh who was going through one of the files he’d handed her. She seemed engrossed in it. He didn’t normally like other people coming into the archives, they were his sanctuary, his private domain, his place to retreat – Jack had come by often in the days after everything with Lisa, to check up on him, and he’d been relieved when Jack had decided that he was apparently trusted not to habour any more destructive secrets, and the visits stopped. He liked Jack (rather more than that, to be honest), but whatever relationship they had, he needed it to be on his terms. But Tosh was respectful of his space, didn’t touch anything or say much, let him wander in his own thoughts, tread the familiar patterns between the shelves on autopilot and didn’t disrupt his concentration as he oriented himself in his memory around the place. Having Tosh there wasn’t too bad.
He wondered why Owen hadn’t contacted Tosh directly, but who knew with Owen?
“Ok, I’ll send her up to you,” he replied.
Tosh looked up and frowned questioningly at him. Call, he mouthed, and she nodded, closed the file, and handed it back to him.
“What do you mean?” Owen demanded on the earpiece.
“I mean, Tosh and I are coming up to the main Hub, so you and she can go out on the call,” he said, partly for Owen’s benefit and partly for Tosh’s, taking the file from her. “Don’t worry, I’ll stay home and hold the fort.” Owen didn’t say anything about Ianto going out in the field and longer – he supposed he’d gotten used to it, and accepted it when Ianto had shown he was no more injury-prone than anyone else on the team (which wasn’t saying much, though, to be honest). Ianto still stayed back more than the others, but the tea boy comments had stopped, thankfully – although there was always the risk that they would start back up again. Owen wasn’t exactly known for his tact.
There was a momentary pause on Owen’s end, and Ianto took the opportunity to disconnect his voice for a bit – still keeping the audio in case Owen decided he had more to say.
“Do you want to keep this?” he asked Tosh, waving the file in her direction.
“No, I think I have what I needed,” she said. “Dead end, I’m afraid.”
“Ianto, Tosh is here with me,” Owen said slowly after a pause.
“Are you sure?” Ianto asked. Tosh looked questioningly at him, and he shook his head minutely. She frowned.
“Of course I’m bloody sure! I’m looking right at her,” Owen snapped.
“So am I,” said Ianto.
Three seconds passed.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Ianto agreed.
Owen took his hand off his ear and swore.
“What’s wrong?” Tosh asked. Jack and Gwen were finishing up with the Viking, who was suspicious but not belligerent, so they were going to take him off the police’s hands and take him to Torchwood – probably give him the cell next to Janet. They hadn’t managed to establish communications – ancient Norse was apparently not a language anyone spoke in the Welsh police force, and neither did Jack or Gwen. But it wasn’t the first time they’d dealt with communication problems, and it would likely not be the last.
“It’s nothing,” he said, but betrayed himself immediately by clicking on his earpiece again. “Hi, yeah, you and Gwen are going to have to go to the hospital. The police will have to deal with the Viking a bit longer. They’ll be fine. He’s not immune to bullets, is he? Something’s come up. Tell you more later.”
“What’s wrong?” Tosh asked again. “Is Ianto all right?”
“Yeah, he’s fine.”
“Then what’s wrong?” She was getting worried that he wasn’t telling her. “Are you all right? Or is it to do with me?”
Owne didn’t respond. Instead he looked towards the door that led to the corridor leading down to the archives, where she could hear footsteps and voices approaching. That was weird. Ianto had been alone in the archives, hadn’t he? There was only the three of them here – Jack and Gwen were definitely out, she’d confirmed that herself, and he hadn’t said anything about any visitors. She turned to look for herself, and saw Ianto appear in the doorway, followed by another, shorter figure, female, dark hair, looking worried, wearing her favourite burgundy blouse. She was looking at herself – almost like she saw in the mirror every day, but ever so slightly off. There was something uncanny about the Tosh she saw – she couldn’t quite put her finger about what it was that seemed strange, until she realised that she was used to seeing herself mirrored, and that what she was seeing was how other people saw her when they looked at her.
“Oh,” she said weakly.
The two Toshs (Toshes? Toshikos? – Toshikos, Ianto decided, that sounded least weird) looked at each other. Looking at them, it was impossible to tell which was the real Tosh and which was the fake – they looked completely identical, aside from their clothes, which both looked like clothes he’d seen Tosh wear before, and they were clearly good enough at imitating Tosh’s mannerisms to fool either Owen or him, whichever was the one who’d had the fake Tosh with him all morning. Ianto almost thought it was he who had been fooled – going down to the archives was uncommon, and it was entirely plausible that fake Tosh had come up with it as a ploy to find out more about the base for whatever purpose she had to come here, but he also prided himself on being a little more perceptive than Owen, and the other Tosh, the one who hadn't been with him, had been poking around in the Torchwood database, which would have given her access to more information than just following him around in the archives. Unless what she was after was specifically in the archives…
“Well, I have sometimes thought that the work would go easier with two of me,” the Tosh behind Ianto mumbled.
“I guess I should have known to be careful what I wish for,” the Tosh by Owen continued.
“Don’t tell me this was caused by a wish,” Owen groaned. “Of all the things…”
“I’ve had other, more recent wishes,” the Tosh by him said.
“And ones that matter more,” the Tosh behind Ianto said, looking at Owen, who was, as always, oblivious.
“When has that ever mattered?” Ianto asked. “Who knows what the wish-granting alien device might have latched onto?”
“We don’t know that this is a wish,” Owen said. “We haven’t ruled out doppelgangers, impostors, or shape-shifting aliens. Which, frankly, seems more likely than Tosh somehow having been granted the power to make wishes come true.”
“It wasn’t a wish so much as a stray thought,” the two Toshikos said, almost in unison. It was very unsettling, to hear Tosh’s voice and Tosh’s speech pattern come from two different places at once, none of them being a recording. It had been easier when they spoke one at a time, he could focus on the Tosh that was speaking and tune out the other, but when they were both speaking at the same time he got disoriented and confused. He saw Owen close his eyes and rub his nose against an incoming headache – he could emphasise with Owen in that, at least.
“I don’t think that’s what’s important here,” he said.
They called Jack and Gwen and briefed them on the situation. Jack confirmed what Owen had suspected – he and Gwen could deal with the paperwork victim, and he wanted Owen and Ianto to investigate the matter of the two Toshes. Saving the hospitalised victim was a priority, but if the Hub was compromised, that was an even higher one. The needs of the many and all that rot. Owen was no stranger to difficult decisions, you couldn’t work at a place like Torchwood without deciding what was an acceptable sacrifice to make and what wasn’t, but he was at heart a doctor, and he really wished things had worked out differently, so that he had been out and about, and would have been free to head to the hospital. He thought he would do more good there than Gwen or Jack – not that they didn’t know what they were doing when it came to dealing with aliens, but he was a doctor. If someone should head to the hospital to try to save a medical victim of weird alien shit, it should be him.
“Vikings, someone drowning in paperwork, and now two of me,” Tosh mused, the one in the black shirt, the one who had been with Owen all morning.
The one with the burgundy blouse had stolen the grey cardigan off the back of Tosh’s chair, and the other Tosh had let her. He wasn’t sure he’d be as generous if someone was impersonating him. Unless she was the impersonator, of course, and wanted to earn some goodwill by not making a fuss. It was all doing his head in.
“It’s too much of a coincidence that it’s happening at once,” she continued. “It must be connected somehow.”
“But how?” the other Tosh asked. “Do we think the Rift is causing this directly, or is it some kind of alien or some artefact that’s come through?”
“All right, that’s quite enough of that,” Owen cut them off. Normally he’d love to see Tosh dig into a problem this way, knowing it wouldn’t be long until she came up with an answer, but since he didn’t know that Tosh was Tosh, it was disconcerting, and he was worried the real Tosh might accidentally tell the fake Tosh everything she wanted to know. “If it is the Rift’s doing, we’ll sort it out. But right now, we have a more immediate problem.”
“I take it by ‘we’ you don’t mean me,” said the burgundy-blouse Tosh with a slightly wry smile.
“It will when we’ve established that you’re you,” Ianto soothed. Owen snorted at his optimism. He had a feeling that would be easier said than done.
Owen and Ianto agreed seemingly without words to split them up and investigate them separately. Tosh shouldn't be surprised, it was what she would have done in the same situation, but it did smart a bit, not to be trusted. She knew she was the real one – or at least, she thought she was: she felt like Tosh, she could remember being Tosh, she had all of Tosh’s knowledge and memories and nothing else, but that was hardly proof. She thought of poor Beth Halloran, who had a whole life’s worth of fake memories, a job, and a husband, and hadn’t known anything else until her life had blown up in her face. She really hoped that wasn’t what was going on with her.
She went along with Owen for a medical exam, watching while Ianto led someone who looked exactly like her in her favourite burgundy blouse (and the grey cardigan she’d worn this morning) to the interrogation room. Owen drew blood some blood and scanned her with one of the mane alien medical devices they had found over the years, all the while asking her about her favourite colour, favourite food, and details of cases they’d been on over the years.
She felt oddly vulnerable in the interrogation, and said as much to Owen.
“Well, you’re lucky. The other Tosh is with Ianto in the interrogation room,” he snorted. “She’s the one you should feel sorry for.”
“It’ll be my turn soon,” she said. “After all, you’ll have to do a medical exam of her too, to see if her results match my files.”
“Yeah, well,” Owen said, clearly uncomfortable. “It has to be done, right?”
Tosh tried to smile at him, but was aware that it probably came out looking quite weak and forced.
“Right, carrying on. What made you join Torchwood?”
“Owen, you don’t know that,” Tosh said. At least, she hoped he didn’t. She hadn’t told anyone, and she could imagine Jack telling them about fishing her out of UNIT custody for treason. He wouldn’t do that to her, and if he had to tell anyone on the team her story, he’d tell her later, so she’d know who knew and who didn’t. And Owen didn’t. “You can’t ask about things you don’t know, that defeats the purpose.”
“Well, how do you know I don’t know?” he asked petulantly. She gave him the withering look that he deserved.
“Because, as Tosh, I know what I’ve told you and what I haven’t. And stop asking about cases, I could have read about that in a file somewhere. You need to ask me stuff not in the files. The in-between stuff.”
“Personal things, you mean,” he clarified.
She swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling dry and her throat tight.
“Yeah. Personal stuff. Stuff I said to you after cases or on after-work drinks. That kind of stuff.”
He looked blank and panicked for a moment. She could recount in her mind almost every occasion they had spoken outside or work, all the meals they’d shared, the jokes they’d made with each other, the moments of comfort and of sorrow. Watching him wrack his brains for things to ask made her realise that he hadn’t put nearly as much weight on those moments as she had, that none of them had lodged in his memory, dismissed almost immediately after they happened as unimportant, and her heart broke all over again.
“Well, mine seems real,” Owen said as soon Ianto reached the main Hub from the interrogation room. He didn’t even wait for Ianto to ask, or move aside so the Tosh he was examining couldn’t hear. Shit. He’d been hoping Owen had discovered something in her blood, some alien marker or something, or that she’d have obvious gaps in her memory, but he supposed that was too much to ask for.
“So does mine,” he said, because she did. It had been almost like having any other conversation with Tosh, except they were in the interrogation room, and he’d been asking all the questions. He would have wished Jack were here, Jack was good at interrogation, but his method of interrogation was to be as intimidating and cold as he could be – he wasn’t sure he’d have wished that on Tosh. If she were Tosh.
“Well, they can’t both be Tosh,” Owen said.
“Why not?” Ianto countered. “What if Tosh got accidentally split in two? We’ve seen weirder. We’d have twice the brainpower available to us.”
He wasn’t usually the optimist, that was normally Gwen, but since Owen was always the pessimist, and Gwen wasn’t there, he supposed someone had to be. Still, it wasn’t a role that came naturally to him.
“This is where Jack would make a sex joke,” Owen said, and Ianto rolled his eyes. Trust Owen to go there in the absence of Jack. “But what if they’re not both Tosh? What if something has taken not just Tosh’s appearance, but also her memories, and is planning to use them for ill? What if we let an incredibly skilled impostor loose?”
“I guess we’ll just have to keep an eye on her,” Ianto said. “Is it time to swap?”
“Yeah, I guess it is. I don’t think I’ll get anything more out of mine.”
The second interrogation had gone no better than the first. Had, in fact, been almost word for word identical to the first, and Owen wanted to throw something at the wall. Of course, that’s when his earpiece clicked on.
“I need you to drop whatever you’re doing and get out in the field,” Jack said.
“Is that really a good idea?” Owen asked.
“I don’t care if it is, we need you. There’s a rampaging bear and a giraffe in downtown Cardiff.”
“Sounds like a matter for RSPCA, not us,” said Ianto, so clearly the call had gone to him as well.
“And whatever the RSPCA has doesn’t work on them. And they don’t have any fur or skin, and yet they’re running around anyway. Unnatural, was the word the RSPCA guy used.”
“Fuck,” Owen said. That was the last thing they needed, as if they didn’t have enough to deal with.
“Gwen and I are having no luck with the drowning case. We can’t handle whatever the hell called these animals up as well. I don’t care what you do, if you go, or send Ianto, or you both go and take the Toshikos, just get someone out there and sort it out.”
Ianto left “his” Tosh to find Owen, who’d strapped the other Tosh down and was loading sedatives into a bag.
“If Jack and Gwen are in trouble, I should help,” Tosh was saying, echoing the conversation he’d cut short in the interrogation room. It was uncanny how much the two Toshikos mirrored each other. If one of them was an impostor, she was a really, really good one. That was not a comforting thought.
“I’m me, Owen, I promise.”
“That’s what the other you said as well,” Ianto said, entering the conversation.
“There is one way to find out,” Tosh said, sounding hesitant. “What about the mind probe?”
“The one that kills people?” Owen asked. They’d used in on Beth Halloran just recently, and Ianto remembered making jokes and miming exploding. It didn’t seem as funny now, when it was Tosh who might be the next victim. The image of her head exploding bothered him a lot more than Beth’s.
“That doesn’t seem like a good idea,” he said mildly, to cover up the horror he instinctually felt. God, he was a hypocrite. When it had been someone he didn’t care for, he was all for it. He supposed it was a sign he’d been working at Torchwood too long, had become too inured to death and horror, that it didn’t seem real unless it was happening to someone he knew.
“If it’s the only way to prove I’m me, I’ll do it.”
“Yeah, you’ll prove you’re you by dying. No thanks,” Owen said curtly. “We’re not doing it, and that’s final.”
“Even if we were willing to, which we’re not, you’re the one who knows how to use it.”
“The other Tosh does as well.”
“Yeah, that’s a brilliant idea,” Owen said. “Let’s put the power to kill one of you into the hands of the other, and just hope it’s the impostor that dies.”
“Except Tosh would never, so whoever does kill the other one must be the impostor, so we’ll have to kill her, and then you’ll both be dead,” Ianto filled in. Tosh was clever, but clever people could be so stupid sometimes.
“Then how can I prove to you that I am who I am?” Tosh exclaimed in frustration. “How can we find out who’s the real me? I don’t want to have an impostor walking around!”
Owen and Ianto exchanged looks.
“Well, we need to do something,” Ianto said. “Make a decision. We can’t just stand around here arguing all day.”
Right now, he was quite happy that Owen technically outranked him, and that it wasn’t his decision to make.
“Why is there never one crisis at a time?” Owen asked in exasperation. “Why do they always pile on top of each other?”
Ianto just shrugged.
Tosh fiddled with the sleeves on her black shirt. She was used to being alone with her thoughts, but it was never comfortable being locked up in a cell – not again. She’d made sure her flat was large and airy, with plenty of daylight filtering through large windows. The Hub was large enough that she could manage the lack of windows, but here, locked in the interrogation room, she was starting to get claustrophobic. Owen had been right when he’d said she should feel sorry for the Tosh in the interrogation room with Ianto, but not for the reasons he thought.
She was counting up in prime numbers when Ianto opened the door again, with an apologetic smile. Throughout the process, although Owen and Ianto had been suspicious, they’d always been courteous and relatively friendly – they didn’t want to anger her in case she was the real Tosh, she supposed. She wondered how her doppelganger was getting on, and if they had worked out whether she was real or not yet.
“Sorry about that,” Ianto said. “There’s been more of a development, and we think we’re going to need your help. Both of you.”
“Does this mean you think I’m real?” she couldn’t help but ask.
“Still undecided, I’m afraid. But there’s a situation downtown that means we can’t keep up the interrogation any longer, so we’re letting you out, for now. Under supervision.”
As they emerged into the main Hub, Tosh again saw herself – she was standing with Owen, zooming in on an area of Cardiff.
“Right,” she was saying. “The Viking was found here, and the paperwork victim here, and where did you say the animals were?”
As Owen named the address and the other Tosh dropped the third pin on the map, the pattern was undeniable. The occurrences were all within 500 yards of each other, and 500 yards of –
“That’s where I live,” she said, at the same time as her other self. It was weird – it was almost like hearing a recording of herself, except without any of the other cues that indicated it was a recording, like the tinny quality you’d get sometimes, or interference. If a perfect recording were possible, that’s what it would sound like, she thought. It was an experience few people got to have, but she wasn’t particularly sure that it had enriched her life.
“So, our working hypothesis is that this is all connected,” she asked. It had to be. Four instances of weirdness, all within 500 yards? That was so unlikely that it couldn’t be down to coincidence. She hadn’t tested it, but the p-value of that was miniscule. The other Tosh glanced at her.
“Must be,” the other Tosh said. “It’s so unlikely it can’t be down to coincidence. The p-value of this being non-significant must be miniscule.”
A shiver went down her spine. She’d just thought that, a second ago. If the other Tosh was a copy, she was an exceedingly good one. She moved like her, spoke like her, thought like her. They were indistinguishable, even to Tosh herself. It wasn’t pleasant, doubting your own reality.
“So, whatever it is made a duplicate Tosh because she wanted it to help her with her work, and made someone literally drown in paperwork – fair enough, I can see the connection there,” Owen said. “But where the Hell do the Viking and the furless animals come into it?”
“We don’t know for certain that they’re connected,” Ianto said, sounding extremely dubious himself. She got the feeling he was more acting devil’s advocate, making sure they hadn’t missed anything in their thinking.
“Seems like hell of a coincidence if they’re not,” Owen said. “Well, we know where we’re headed. Come on, Tosh – Toshes. You stay here with Ianto,” he pointed at her, “and you’re with me,” he pointed at the other Tosh. She felt an immediate jealousy of her other self, both because she got to go out in the field, and also because she got to go with Owen. Mainly the latter factor, if she was honest with herself. Not that she didn’t like Ianto, she did, it was just… well. She was sure her other self would relish the time spent with Owen. She’d just have to cope. If this went on for a while, she’d have to make sure it evened out, but she was an adult, and a professional. She wouldn’t kick up a fuss just because her crush went off with someone else.
“Good luck,” she told Owen and her doppelganger.
“Thanks,” the other Tosh said. They both stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to say next. How did you speak to someone who was a copy of yourself? What did you say to someone like that?
“Just to clarify, we’re taking a possible impostor with us to a suspected site of an alien incursion, while also leaving a suspected impostor in our Hub, with virtually unrestricted access and only the receptionist to stop her if she has any ideas,” Owen said. “This is either the key to solving the case, or a very, very bad idea.”
“Given our track record, I’d give it a fifty-fifty chance of being either,” Ianto said. “Now hurry up – you’re burning daylight. Gwen and Jack have the van, so you’ll have to take one of your cars.”
“Well, I’m not trusting Tosh behind the wheel, and I don’t think she’d like me driving her car, so I guess I’m the lucky bastard who gets to make the sacrifice,” Owen said.
“And I’m sure we all commend you for it,” Ianto replied easily.
“If I get animal guts on my upholstering, you’re cleaning it up,” was Owen’s parting shot over his shoulder.
Gwen and Jack returned shortly after Owen left with one of the Toshikos.
They’d brought the Viking, and had stashed him in the cell next to Janet. It was difficult to tell who was the worst behaved guest, to be honest, Janet or the Viking. Although Ianto was well aware that the cells weren’t exactly the most comfortable, and if he were put in such a cell by future people he didn’t know with technology he didn’t understand, he probably would have kicked up a fuss as well.
Jack took the other one back to interrogation, looking grim.
“Is she going to be all right?” Gwen asked, worried. “Jack can be a bit… intense, sometimes.”
“He won’t be too hard on her. He knows her, and likes her,” Ianto tried to comfort her. She didn’t look any less worried. She was probably thinking of Beth Halloran, and how hard he’d been on her. It was different, though. Beth wasn’t one of his. Jack could be ruthless, but he looked after his team. It was what made him a good leader.
“What’s going on at the hospital?” he asked.
“We’re nowhere near solving it. They’ve put him on a ventilator for now, and they have someone clearing up the paperwork around him so he doesn’t suffocate in it. Just have to hope it holds until we solve this thing. We weren’t doing much good there, to be honest. The doctors and nurses were the ones to set up the system.”
“What must they think is going on?” Ianto asked.
“I have no idea,” Gwen said. “Magic, perhaps?”
Humans could rationalise a heck of a lot, but self-replicating paperwork appearing out of thin air. That was beyond what most people could accept. Then again, most people in Cardiff could swallow more than people who didn’t live on top of a Rift in space and time.
Tosh and Jack came back out, with Tosh looking a bit shaken, but otherwise none the worse for wear. She was allowed to access the computer network.
“She seems legit to me,” he said to Ianto in his office, still keeping half an eye on what Tosh was doing down below. “Should have sent her with Owen, and left the other one here.”
“They’re indistinguishable,” Ianto said. Jack hadn’t seen them together, he didn’t understand how identical they were. “If we’d kept the other one here, she would probably have seemed just as legit.”
“Well, we’ll find out when they return,” Jack said, making it sound both vaguely ominous but also entirely reasonable.
“What a situation,” Jack sighed. Then his mouth curled up at the corners. “What would you do if there were two of me?” he asked.
“I figure one of you is more than I can handle,” Ianto returned, allowing amusement and flirtation to colour his voice.
“Is it now, Mr Jones?” Jack asked, matching Ianto’s tone. The moment hung between them, but then Jack sighed and turned back to watch Tosh through the window. Right. They were on a case. There was a time and a place, and this was not it.
Tosh did something fiddly to his car’s radio, to allow him to listen to the police scanners – he wasn’t a huge fan of allowing her to poke around in his car, not when he didn’t quite trust that she was Tosh, but needs must. If he trusted her enough to take her with him on a call, he should trust her enough to do her job and make sure they could find the escaped animals.
The RSPCA people were milling about the site – they’d cleared it of civilians, thankfully, but they themselves seemed not much better, if he was honest. The giraffe was lying on its side. It had the shape of a giraffe, with its long legs, long neck, but he could see all the muscles, and how they connected to each other, and it made for a rather gruesome sight. He had never wondered what a giraffe looked like under its fur, and to be honest, that was knowledge he could have lived without for the rest of his days.
“The bear is still loose,” said what seemed to be the leader. “Our tranqs don’t work on it, and we’d rather not kill it, but we will if we have to.”
“Right,” Owen said. That meant he had to bring out the big guns – alien tranqs. He always hated using them, he didn’t know their exact chemical makeup and there had been no large-scale trials done on their safety and side-effects, but needs must.
“You take this,” he said, handing Tosh a net while he prepared the tranq gun.
“I’d really feel better if I had a gun,” Tosh said.
“Tough,” he replied. “I’d really feel better if you didn’t have a gun, and right now, I’m calling the shots.”
They set off in the direction of the bear – the roars led them to him easily. If the giraffe had been a grisly sight, the bear was monstrous. It was still up and about, making the muscles underneath it bulge with every movement the bear made, and he could see the blood move about in its veins. It looked gruesome. It looked dangerous. It looked alien. He could see the places where the small darts had lodged in its body, the inefficient Earth tranquilisers the RSPCA had shot at it.
Owen positioned himself to where he had a clear shot, but before he could fire, the bear spotted Tosh and let out a large roar and trampled towards her. She threw the net over it, right over its face and started backing away. It clawed at its face, shaking itself to dislodge the thing that had just been thrown over it, and in its thrashing, one of its paws reached out and raked Tosh right over the stomach, tearing her burgundy blouse into shreds. Owen watched as Tosh clutched her stomach as the blood started welling up around her hands. He fired a shot, two, three in desperation and the bear collapsed.
So did Tosh.
In a flash Owen was by her side, ripping his med-pack off his shoulder and finding a press to put against the wound. She blinked blearily up at him – not unconscious, then, that was good.
“You’re ok, Tosh,” he said. “You’re going to be ok.”
He wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince her or himself. It was his fault she’d been hurt. If he hadn’t been so obstinate, so suspicious, she would have been armed with more than just a net, and she would have been able to shoot the bear at a distance.
He considered waiting for an ambulance, but he knew that he was just as competent, if not more so, at taking care of his team, and besides, there was something weird going on with Tosh. He didn’t think she was an impostor, not any longer, not after she’d gone after him in a dangerous situation armed with only a net to help him – no impostor would risk her skin for him like that – in fact, he wasn’t sure his other teammates would, but Tosh, yeah, Tosh would. She was always dependable, and always brave.
He wished he had a driver, though, so he could stay with Tosh and look after him. He also wished he was in the van, and not his personal car, which didn’t have any sirens or lights. But Tosh was conscious, she was holding up, he’d done emergency care on her wounds, and he thought she’d be all right until he could get her back to the base. The RSPCA were dealing with the animals.
“Do you want us to take care of them, or shall we deliver them to your base?” the leader asked.
“Do you even know where we are?” Owen asked.
“Around Roald Dahl Plass, right? Near Millennium Quay?”
Owen swore. They really were the worst secret organisation in the history of secret organisations.
“You keep them. Call us if you need us to come out and sedate them again, but if you keep the bear in a secure zoo cage, it should be fine,” he said. “But keep them away from the public. Let’s not give the kids nightmares, eh?”
“Will do. Good luck, and take care of yourselves.”
He nodded to Tosh in the back seat, clutching at the white bandage around her stomach. She smiled weakly back at him.
Owen put his foot on the gas pedal.
With Tosh cleared by Jack, they settled down to find any connections they could to solve this, and work out what was happening, although Ianto did notice that Jack kept an eye on what Tosh was doing at her terminal. They’d only had a brief communication with Owen and the other Tosh, right before they went out on a beat hunt. Ianto hoped they were ok.
The earpiece clicked to life.
“Prep the medical area,” Owen said. “We’re on our way back. Tosh’s hurt.”
“Badly?” Gwen asked in concern.
“Can’t talk, driving,” Owen said, curtly. The rest of the team exchanges alarmed looks. Ianto was clearly not the only one to have interpreted that as a ‘yes’.
Owen came down the lift, cradling Tosh in his arms.
“She’s fine,” he said, “she’s absolutely fine. She’s just lost some blood, she’ll be fine as soon as I set her up with a transfusion.”
“Use mine,” the Tosh who’d remained in the Hub said.
“We’re identical, right? Her blood is my blood, you didn’t find any differences? So you can use my blood.”
“I keep a couple of pints from all of you just for these situations,” Owen reminded her. “And blood goes off, so I’d rather use that, so it’s not wasted.”
“Then why don’t you use my blood to replenish your stocks of what you take,” she asked.
They all looked at each other, but nobody could think of a reason why not to do that, so both Toshikos were set up in the med bay with needles in their arms, one with blood pumping into her body, and one with blood pumping out.
While Owen was looking after the Toshikos, Jack took Ianto and Gwen to the conference room.
“There’s nothing in any of their actions that say either one is an impostor. They say the same thing at the same time, they both think, move and act like Tosh. They’ve both been only helpful – why would a Tosh impostor put herself in danger? Why would a Tosh impostor donate blood to help the real Tosh?”
“Unless she’s playing a long game,” Jack said, darkly.
“You can be so bloody paranoid sometimes, you know that?” Gwen said.
“Yeah, I do. But it’s saved the world a couple of times,” he said.
“And it’s cost lives and almost damned it on a couple of others,” she responded.
They glared at each other.
“Look, our best evidence so far seems to suggest they’re both Tosh, as weird as that seems,” Ianto said, playing peacemaker. Both Jack and Gwen could be so stubborn sometimes. “So why don’t we treat them as if they are, but maintain caution?”
They both agreed to this, which was good, because that was essentially how Owen and he had been playing it up to now.
“How are you feeling, Tosh?” Gwen came out and asked with a comforting smile. Tosh knew they’d been talking about her up there, she wasn’t so far out of it that she didn’t understand that. She was still a little woozy from the blood loss, and her stomach hurt like hell, but other than that, she was fine. She was a bit upset about the blouse, though. She’d really liked that blouse.
“I’m fine,” Tosh said, hearing echoed from the other Tosh to her left, the one who was donating blood. That was awfully kind of her, Tosh thought: either she was an impostor going out of her way to help her impostee, or she thought Tosh was an impostor, and was helping her anyway.
“That’s going to get really confusing,” Jack said. “If you’re going to hang around together, you can’t both be Tosh.”
Tosh looked at her counterpart, both wondering who would volunteer to be known by something else. It wasn’t like Tosh never used Toshiko – her mum called her that, and Jack sometimes. She didn’t feel an aversion to her full name. Just. She was Tosh. She preferred her nickname. And she’d been clawed by a bear. Surely that earned her a little goodwill? But the other Tosh wasn’t saying anything.
“You can call me Toshiko,” she said, because someone had to. The other Tosh said it at the exact same time.
“That still freaks me out, every time you do that,” Owen grumbled.
“Well, we can’t help it if we think the same,” Tosh said. “Since we might possibly be the same person, in duplicate. But I don’t mind, I can be Toshiko.”
“You’re injured,” the other Tosh countered. “You can keep the nickname. I’ll be Toshiko.”
“Well, you can’t both be Toshiko, that’s no use either,” Jack said. “Injured Tosh can be Tosh, uninjured Tosh can be Toshiko. Everyone happy?”
Well. Nobody was exactly happy, but she figured it would do. She looked at the other Tosh, Toshiko, and felt her own feelings reflected on that face, so similar to hers. They understood each other.
“Since we’re pretty sure neither of us is an impostor, just duplicates, does that mean we can go home?” Tosh – Toshiko, as she was now known – asked. She didn’t want to stay overnight at the Hub unless she had to. She saw her counterpart look up hopefully where she was still resting on the bunk in the med bay. Toshiko had been given orange juice and a biscuit, just like any NHS blood drive, and sent up to continue working.
“No,” Jack said. “We have to maintain secrecy, we can’t have two of you running around being seen.”
“Well, who’s to say Tosh doesn’t have a twin?” Gwen asked. “If I see two identical people out and about, my first thought isn’t usually ‘I wonder if there’s some weird alien effect that’s duplicated them’, it usually ‘oh, look, identical twins’.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Owen said to the injured Tosh. “Not in that state.”
“I feel fine, really,” she protested, but Owen just gave her a dirty look.
“Well, if she’s staying here, can I go home? Nobody will see anything out of the ordinary,” Toshiko asked.
“No. Not until we sort this out,” Jack said. “There are bunks here, you can use one of them.”
“Sorry, I tried,” Gwen said to Toshiko. Gwen didn’t know about Tosh’s history, but she knew that if possible, Tosh really liked to go home to nap whenever she could, rather than stay in the Hub.
“Thanks,” Toshiko replied. She’d slept in the bunks before – they all had, when a case ran late and they needed to catch a couple of hours of sleep before getting back to work but didn’t have time to go home. It was just the lack of windows, and the cramped space that bothered her. The feeling of being locked up in an underground base.
“At least there are bunks,” Ianto said. “So you don’t have to sleep next to Janet or Halvar. Speaking of which, I’d better go make sure they’re fed.”
“Do you want me to get you some stuff from your flat, Tosh, love?” Gwen asked. “I could pack you an overnight bag and a change of clothes?”
“Yes, thank you, that would be great. I have one change of clothes here, but I stupidly didn’t prepare for when I’d need two changes at once.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gwen said. “I only have one as well – it’s the rare unlucky occasion when you get something gross over your clothes twice in a day! I’ll sort that for you.”
Tosh and Toshiko bedded down in the bunks – Tosh was glad to be out of the med bay, even though the bunk rooms were smaller and more claustrophobic – the medical bunk was really not comfortable to spend the night on.
They’d decided to share a room, Tosh and Toshiko – if Toshiko really was Tosh, then she’d share her aversion to being alone in a small, enclosed space without windows. And she thought she was, they’d made up beds next to each other without needing words, without needing to check in with the other, because they both knew what the other was feelings.
“This is weird, right?” Toshiko asked from the bunk next to hers. They’d kept a small night light on, again, deciding without words that that was what they were going to do. It helped, a little.
“So weird,” Tosh agreed. “It’s a completely new perspective on myself.”
She laughed, and so did Toshiko.
“You’re me, and I’m you,” Toshiko said. “It’s almost beyond comprehension.”
“What do you think will happen when this is over? Will we be two people forever, and diverge more and more, or will we merge back into one, or will one of us just… disappear?” Tosh asked. Morbid questions, but Torchwood opened up for consideration of the morbid. One couldn’t work this close to death and destruction without picking up some morbid thoughts.
“I’m not sure,” Toshiko answered. “I hope we merge. But if I do disappear, you’ll still be around, so I guess in some way I’ll live on.”
“Yes,” Tosh agreed, because that was exactly how she felt. “And if I disappear, you will still live on.”
It was nice being able to talk to someone who really, truly understood.
“How do you think the others would react to being duplicated?” she asked.
“Ianto would carry on like normal, I think, just twice as efficient.”
“Yes, and Owen would get into lots of arguments with himself.”
“The two Gwens would have a long heart-to-heart about their feelings and would make sure to validate each other.”
“Would Jack have sex with himself?” Tosh asked. They both considered this a moment, then said at once: “Who wouldn’t Jack have sex with?”
“I wonder if sex with yourself would be amazing, because you know exactly what you like, or whether it would be really boring because there’s nothing to discover?” Toshiko mused aloud. Tosh looked over, and for a moment the possibility hung in the air between them, before they both burst out into laughter.
“Ow, my stomach,” Toshiko said, when they calmed down.
“We’re not Jack,” Tosh said.
“No, we’re not,” Toshiko agreed.
When Owen arrived at the Hub the next day, he found the two Toshes already up and working cheerfully beside each other. They had decided to split Tosh’s usual desk, with one at the computer, and one next to her doing something fiddly with a bit of wiring.
One of them looked up at him when he came in – they’d changed clothes from yesterday, so he didn’t know if it was the one they were calling Toshiko or the one who went by Tosh still.
“I don’t know if you heard, but the paperwork victim died during the night,” she said.
Owen felt terrible about it, but he’d actually almost forgotten about the paperwork victim – he’d never had anything to do with him, and the worry about that had been subsumed by the worry about the two Toshes, and then the naked bear, and then Tosh’s injury. If he had focused on him, could he have saved him? If he had remembered that there was someone in acute danger, who could have used his combination of medical and alien expertise, would that person still be alive? He guessed he’d never know. One more thing to chalk up on his conscience.
“They opened him up, his lungs were filled with pulp,” Ianto said, taking a deep sip of his coffee, sounding not at all cut up about it.
“God,” Owen said. “What an awful way to die.”
“Yeah,” Tosh-or-Toshiko agreed, sounding about as hollow as he himself felt.
“Sometimes I think we lose more than we save,” he said.
“That’s not true,” the other Tosh-or-Toshiko said, looking up. He hadn’t even known she was listening, but of course Tosh was aware of everything that went on around her. “We’ve saved the entire planet on more than one occasion. If you average it out, we’re about six billion or so up, if not more.”
“That still doesn’t erase the feelings of inadequacy when we lose one,” Owen said.
“No,” both Toshes agreed simultaneously, then glanced at each other. Only one of them continued: “No, it doesn’t. But it’s still something to think about when everything feels bleak and hopeless.”
“So, where are we at?” Jack asked, striding into the main Hub.
“We think there’s some kind of psychic resonance that’s causing this. Creature, or artefact, picking up on people’s thoughts,” Toshiko said.
“We don’t think it’s picking up on wishes, just stray thoughts they happen to be having when they pass whatever it is,” Tosh filled in.
They seemed to have found a balance so that one would start and the other take over, rather than saying the same thing both at once. He wondered how they worked out who would start – if they both had the same thought at the same time, did one of them imperceptibly stop to see if the other was going to speak, and if so, what stopped the other one from also waiting? Watching them bounce back and forth between each other was impressive, if a bit boggling. Ianto was quite relieved that it seemed neither of them was evil – he was pretty sure Torchwood would be able to stop Owen or Gwen if they started working against the team, absolutely sure they’d stop him (based on past evidence), but so-so on both Tosh and Jack – Tosh because she could outthink them all, Jack because he was to all intents and purposes indestructible. They wouldn’t know what to do with him. Cryo-freeze him, he supposed. But that was a morbid thought that he chased from his mind.
“Where is that, then?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know,” Tosh said in frustration. “Somewhere close to where all the occurrences have been, but I can’t say anywhere closer than that. I don’t exactly keep track of where I have all my stray thoughts.”
“I just thought, briefly, that it would be nice if there were two of me to make the work easier,” Toshiko carried on. “If I’d known my thoughts could somehow come true, I would have been a lot more careful.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Owen said. “It’s whoever wondered what a bear and a giraffe would look like without skin – that’s some disturbing shit right there.”
“We can’t have people’s stray thoughts coming true,” Gwen said. “We need to do something. We’ve already had one death.”
“Yeah, and it’s only a matter of time before someone thinks themselves out of existence. Who here hasn’t wondered what would have happened if their parents or grandparents had never met?” Owen agreed.
Ianto glared at Owen. That was practically inviting disaster.
“Shit,” Owen said immediately.
“Well, if Owen’s still here tomorrow, we’ll have some idea of how far this thing spreads,” Jack said.
“But people have stray thoughts all the time,” Gwen objected. “It should be happening much more than just the, what, four cases we’ve seen?”
“Just focus very hard on only thinking deliberate thoughts,” Ianto suggested, knowing it was a useless suggestion as he said it.
“But Gwen’s right, though,” Tosh said. “If it was everyone within a radius, we’d be completely overrun.”
“So we need to find the people who thought up Vikings and naked bears, and figure out what connects you,” Owen said. “Should be easy, right? Just go out and ask – are you interested in history, or are you a very disturbed individual?”
“Somehow I think it’ll be a bit more difficult than that,” Toshiko said.
Using the biometric data Owen had gathered yesterday, Tosh was able to mock up a map of her own brainwaves – it was always a bit weird working on your own data, and watching the print-outs knowing that it was your own brain you were studying.
“It seems like my brainwaves are at a slightly higher frequency than the average,” Toshiko said, and even though she knew Toshiko was her, she was glad it had been Toshiko who’d said it, and that Tosh hadn’t had to. It felt a little bit like a brag, even though it was a completely true factual statement, and actually the frequency of her brainwaves had nothing to do with intelligence.
“I think that’s new,” Tosh said. “If you compare it to just last week, it wasn’t this high.”
“Is that new?” Owen asked. “I thought you’d always operated at a higher brain frequency than us.”
“Not quite this literally, though,” Ianto said, and Tosh flashed him a grateful smile. She did feel a bit self-conscious when her intelligence was brought up. She met the eyes of her other self, and an understanding smile flashed between them. It was weird (or perhaps not so weird), but Tosh had never felt so seen before.
The two Tohikos set out to isolate that particular frequency and make a scanner that could detect it. They were working on the hypothesis that whatever was weird with Tosh’s brain waves was also affecting the others, and that they might be able to either track the people who’d conjured up the Viking and the furless animals (sadly, they didn’t need to look to find the paperwork victim, and Ianto wished he’d at least survived until they could test whether his brainwaves had the same anomaly as Tosh’s did, but when did things ever go that smoothly for them?), or that they’d be able to track down the source of the weirdness – which was the ideal, really. Watching the two Toshikos work in tandem was almost a work of art. They should have put them together to start off with, that might have been smarter – they wouldn’t have been crippled by needing to supervise both Toshikos, which meant having to separate the team, but at the time they’d thought that the not-Tosh might have wanted to harm the actual Tosh, and harm them using Tosh’s appearance, and they hadn’t known which one was the not-Tosh. It had seemed, and been, safer to keep them apart really.
But there had been a lot of time lost, and they could have done so much earlier if they hadn’t had to work at half power. When Tosh got going, all Ianto really had to do was fetch her things from the archives of hand her tools when asked for, and now he was even more superfluous – the other Tosh had already handed the thing to the counterpart before she could even say “could I have - ”. He almost wished they could keep both, even though he knew there would be issues in the long run. Like faking an identity for her, or telling her family, or both of them being in love with the same person.
New scanner in hand, the Torchwood team, minus the injured Tosh, set out to track down weird psychic resonances. Owen had wanted to stay with his patient, but she had told him she was fine, and promised not to overdo it, and really, he wouldn’t be much use in the Hub, anyway, and if there were any injuries, he might be needed in the field.
They took Ianto, since Tosh was holding the fort, and he’d come a long way from the receptionist and tea boy he’d been when he first joined them. Still, Owen thought he would probably rather have an extra Tosh, if given the choice. Not that there was anything wrong with Ianto, as such. He just wasn’t Tosh.
They had two scanners, but as soon as they took the first scanner out of the van, before they could decide how and where to split the team, the scanner beeped. they followed it as a group as the beeping got more and more intense, until they were standing on the grate of a storm drain. Owen could see the conclusion to this excursion a mile off, and closed his eyes. It had to be the drainage system, didn’t it? Shit. And that swear was more literal than usual, because of course that was what working for Torchwood brought him. Literal shit.
“It’s coming from down there,” Gwen said, as if they couldn’t have worked that out for themselves. She didn’t sound as if she’d realised what the inevitable conclusion was, but one look at Toshiko’s face showed that she had.
“Hope you brought your wellies,” Jack said. “Also, we’re within the zone, let’s be careful from here on.”
“Don’t think of a pink elephant,” Ianto murmured, and Owen glared at him. Really? At least Owen had kept his inappropriate stray thought to the Hub, where they were relatively safe, and not when they were standing right on top on whatever was causing it.
He glared even harder when there was a loud trumpeting noise coming from around the corner, followed by the sound of heavy footfalls, followed by – yeah, no prizes for a correct guess – a pink elephant.
“You fucking idiot,” he snarled, before grabbing the tranq gun from yesterday. It was seeing heavy use this case. “Keep your smartarse thoughts under control.”
“Sorry,” Ianto said, looking vaguely sheepish.
Once the animal had been tranqued and RSPCA had been called in – again (they didn’t ask questions, just accepted that there was a pink elephant to go with the miraculously still alive skinless bear and giraffe) – and they had all gotten their wellies and coveralls, they popped open the grate and lowered a ladder, heading down into the drain.
“We should split up,” Jack said.
“I’m not going with Captain Elephant here,” Owen said.
“You can come with me,” Toshiko said quickly, waving the second scanner in the air.
“Right, Owen and Toshiko, take the left path, Ianto and I will take the right, Gwen, you’re with us,” Jack decided.
“Make sure they behave themselves and don’t get carried away and have a romantic encounter in the sewers,” Owen said, mostly tongue-in-cheek. She still glared at him.
“Don’t be gross, Owen,” she said.
“I’ve been on worse dates,” Jack said.
“Really?” Ianto asked, because clearly that was what was important here, Jack’s romantic history. Not like they had other problems at the moment, or anything like that.
“Sure. Not many, but yeah.”
“Technically, it’s a surface water sewer, not a waste sewer, so it’s not actually that bad,” Toshiko said, not sounding 100% convinced herself. “It’s just rainwater, really.”
To Owen, it didn’t make much difference. A sewer was a sewer, and he wasn’t particularly keep on going down one, even if it was “just” surface water. Still dank, wet, and disgusting. Ah well. Nothing for it. He lowered himself through the hole and started climbing down.
For all her bravado, Toshiko wasn’t any fonder of going down into the sewers than Owen, even though it was only ground water, not actual waste. They were dark, and dank, and smelled bad (she could only guess how bad the actual waste water sewers smelled), and the ground beneath them was by turns slippery and an inch deep in water. The only light they had was from their own torches – Toshiko had hers strapped to a helmet, but she still needed to carry the scanner, which meant she didn’t have her arms free to draw her gun, if it was needed. Owen walked in front of her, so hopefully he’d deal with anything before it came too close. He was more determined than usual, and images of him carrying another version of herself, bleeding and pale, flashed through her mind. For all that he didn’t love her the way she wanted him to, he did care. He just wasn’t very good at showing it.
They walked in silence, and the minutes stretched out between them. She wasn’t sure what he felt, but she was antsy, on edge, like there was something pressing in on her mind. There was a sense of dread permeating the air around them. She tried to keep her thoughts blank, counting up in primes – abstract thoughts could probably not kill her if they became real. She wasn’t quite sure what the thing would do with the concept of ‘397’, but it was better than many things that she resolutely tried not to think about.
There was a sound off to the distance that sounded like a roar. It felt wrong, out of place, and it took Toshiko some time to work out what was wrong. There was no reverberation, which there should be in these tunnels. The sound was in her mind. She looked at Owen, who looked back at her, clearly spooked. Without saying anything they both picked up the pace, towards the roar.
The sense of dread, of pressure was overwhelming, and she had to fight her own instincts with every step. She heard the roar again, closer, louder, more present.
They didn’t see the creature. There was nothing to see. There was just blackness, rolling towards them. An absence of anything. Owen fired three shots at it, but still the blackness rolled closer.
In sync, Toshiko and Owen turned to run. She stumbled, and Owen grabbed her hand to steady her. He didn’t release her hand as they ran.
She could vaguely hear Owen try to raise any of the others on the comms, but none of them replied. Had the thing gotten them? There was no time to wonder, they just had to escape.
A ladder leading up to a manhole cover was their salvation. Toshiko climbed up first. It was locked. She felt around for any kind of clue as to how it was fastened and how it was opened. Luckily Toshiko was used to doing fiddly and difficult things under pressure. With all her strength, she hoisted the manhole cover up above her head and dragged herself up.
They were wandering aimlessly through the sewers when Owen’s voice came over the comms.
“Is everyone ok?” he sounded vaguely frantic.
“We’re fine, Owen, are you ok?” Jack asked.
“We found the thing,” Owen said. “I have no idea what it was, just scary.”
“An empty void,” Toshiko said. “Just blackness.”
Ianto shuddered. That sounded terrible.
“Where are you?” Jack asked. “We’re coming to you.”
Owen gave some directions and they set off in that direction.
“I’ve been working on the brainwaves,” Tosh said. They sounded identical, and Ianto was relying on context clues to keep them apart. Maybe they should have set up some kind of system for that, but so far it hadn’t seemed to cause any massive problems.
“Fucking workaholics,” Owen muttered. “You’re supposed to be resting!”
“There’s a metaphor about stones and glass houses somewhere,” Ianto commented idly, because Owen was a notoriously bad patient. “Hang on, it’s on the tip of my tongue.”
“Fuck off,” Owen’s voice snarled in his ear. Ianto was about to respond when Jack frowned a bit at him. Right. Keep it semi-professional on comms. He could do that.
“Anyway,” Tosh continued, “I figured out a way to block them. Aluminium. They can’t go through about a centimetre of aluminium.”
“No way. No fucking way.”
It took a few seconds for everyone to process what that would mean. Ianto rounded the corner just to see Owen’s look of absolute horror. It was like Christmas come early, and a sight Ianto would treasure for the rest of his days.
“Of course, that’s so obvious, I should have thought of that,” Toshiko said, at the same time as Tosh said:
“It’s so obvious I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”
That was still creepy, but he noticed that they were diverging a bit, as they had separate experiences and separate points of view. If they didn’t solve this, would each Tosh develop into her own person? Or would they still be echoes of each other? Metaphysical questions to ponder in the night.
“I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat,” Owen protested rather pitifully.
“Buck up, champ, I think we all are,” Jack replied.
Ianto looked ridiculous, with his shirt, tie, pressed suit, waistcoat, and tinfoil hat. It almost made up for knowing that Owen himself must look like an absolute knob. He’d avoided getting any good looks at himself, spruced up with the finest tinfoil Tesco stocked. They were headed back down into the sewers – this time they were prepared with both scanners and blockers – thin aluminium sheets that they could use to block the blackness in and trap it.
“Do you think this will make everything go away?” Owen asked, holding one side of the sheet steady while Ianto stuck it in place. Jack and the girls were off doing the same on the other side of the blackness. They couldn’t sense it anymore, but their scanners told them they’d got it pinned between them, and all they had to do was put the blocking up. Simple, really, when they’d figured it out.
“Don’t know. Guess we’ll see.”
“What do you think will happen to the two Toshes?” Owen pressed. “It’s impossible to tell who the original is. If they’re functionally identical, can you say one is Tosh and the other one is just a copy?”
“If they’re merged, are we killing one of the Toshikos?” Ianto countered.
“That’s grim,” Owen said. He didn’t know why people called him the pessimist, when Ianto came out with such bleak statements all the time. Just because he smiled a bit when he said it, people didn’t realise what he was saying.
“Or are we letting them both achieve their full potential as one human being?” Ianto continued.
“Let’s hope for the second.”
Tosh woke up. Her stomach hurt, when it hadn’t yesterday. Her stomach felt a lot better than it had yesterday, like it was half healed. She remembered running through the tunnels with Owen. She remembered being stuck in the Hub monitoring the comms. The bed next to her was empty. Her head hurt like a particularly bad hangover, and she was feeling nauseous. She supposed that was the effects of having two sets of memories.
She didn’t know which one of them she was. She was wearing the pyjama top of one and the bottoms of the other.
She got dressed on autopilot and made her way up in the main part of the Hub. At least, she thought, Jack would let her go home now.
He was already up, and she saw the coffee was on, indicating that Ianto had made it in.
“Morning, Toshiko,” Jack said.
“Which one are you?” came Owen’s voice from the medical area, shortly followed by his face.
“Both,” she said. “I think we reintegrated.”
They gathered round the security cameras – it was a bit creepy that they’d monitored her in her sleep, but she knew about it in advance, and she understood why they did it. About halfway through the night, one of the two bodies lying in the beds next to each other blinked out of existence.
“I never got to say goodbye,” Owen said. Was it her imagination, or did he sound a bit wistful?
“She’s still here,” she said, reaching out a hand to squeeze his arm in comfort. “I’m her, and she’s me. I remember everything that happened yesterday and the day before. It’s weird, like I have two sets of memories, but they don’t feel split, they feel integrated. I’m not her, but I’m not not her, if that makes sense.”
Owen looked at her thoughtfully.
“Yeah, I reckon it does.”
“Well, glad that’s sorted, good to have you back in one piece, Tosh,” Jack said. “Now, back to work.”
They settled in at their various work stations, ready for a new day at Torchwood, whatever the new day may hold.