Risk Assessment - By James Goss




In which the events of last night are recounted, the seventh seal is broken, and our heroes encounter something quite remarkable

Jack, Gwen and Ianto stood in the Torchwood Hub, looking at the coffin. All around them, the vast space clicked and groaned as the storm raged outside. It had been a long night.

Jack reached out to touch the coffin, then drew back his hand and shook his head grimly. ‘This is bad,’ he said. ‘Very, very bad.’

At that point, alarms went off. Red lights pulsed angrily, sirens whooped, and deep within Torchwood chimed the striking of a very old bell.

‘But not that bad!’ Jack protested, reacting in terror. ‘No! No! No! No!’

It’s a pity no one could remember who’d owned the buildings before they had been an air force base. But they had gone valiantly through two world wars, survived a few grim decades as a private airstrip, and finally they had become an industrial estate. But they had always contained a large amount of storage, which had long ago been unhappily converted into the Swindon Self-U-Store.

People kept a lot of things there – from furniture they’d never need through to books they’d never read. Old carpets came and went. Exercise bikes piled up like abandoned dreams. But, through all that time, no one had ever opened the door of Storage Unit Seven. Well, there’d never been a need.

And now, with the distant striking of an ancient alarm bell, the door opened with a gentle creak, and a figure stepped out into the harshly lit corridor. It was the figure of an immaculately dressed Victorian lady – properly attired from her well-polished boots through to her neatly tied hat. She looked around herself with grim approval and, hoisting her skirts up as far as decorum would allow, made her way gingerly along the dank corridor towards an area labelled Reception.

At the desk, nodding with late-night fatigue, a fat man in an orange fleece slept through a news channel. For a moment, the woman paused, watching the screen with a mixture of fascination and disapproval. And then she tapped the man smartly on the shoulder. Startled, he woke up, blinking, and looked at her.

‘Good morning,’ she said, crisply. ‘I would like to know two things, if you please.’

He rubbed at his eyes and struggled to focus on her. ‘Where’ve you come from?’ he demanded. ‘It’s 3 a.m.!’

‘I know that,’ she said, smiling politely. ‘But I would very much like to know the year.’

Without thinking, he told her it was 2009. She nodded with mild interest and tilted her head to one side.

‘And might I trouble you for a copy of Bradshaw’s railway timetable?’ She started to look mildly bored.

He got as far as opening a drawer before realising that they didn’t own such a thing as a railway timetable.

‘It’s of little consequence,’ she sighed. ‘There’s unlikely to be a service until dawn. No matter. Thank heavens I have my Little Dorrit.’ And then she expertly knocked him unconscious and strode out of the Self-U-Store and towards the railway station.

An hour later, she guiltily crept back in and stole his wallet.

It had all been a bit of an anticlimax, really, thought Gwen as she coasted over the last speed bump on the way to work. After the horror of the last few days, the alarms last night had seemed like some absurd warning of doom. She’d been expecting explosions, fireworks or the imminent launch of Thunderbird Two. But, after less than a minute, they had just stopped, the bells ringing out like a missed call.

Jack, hands clamped round his head, had straightened up sheepishly and realised Gwen and Ianto were staring at him.

‘What,’ Gwen asked, more sharply than she meant, ‘was that?’

Jack laughed nervously. Which wasn’t like him at all. ‘Oh . . .’ He windmilled his arms around. ‘False alarm. Hey, it was nothing.’ He looked as casual as a politician caught in Jeremy Paxman’s headlights.

Ianto clearly wasn’t convinced either. ‘I take it that was some kind of warning system?’

‘You think?’ Gwen was oddly charmed by this.

Ianto nodded. ‘But what’s it for, Jack?’

Jack jammed his hands in his pockets and, for an instant, looked as though he was about to start whistling. ‘Ummm. An obsolete failsafe. That’s all. Redundant. Yeah. Defunct. Out of date. Past its sell-by date. We’ll unhook it tomorrow. Hock it on eBay.’

He realised his friends were staring at him. Decidedly unconvinced. He looked down at his boots.

‘Look,’ he mumbled – actually mumbled – ‘It’s