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 (6 page)

I am completely soaked and sodden. I will never be warm and dry. I absolutely hate being a woman.

Ianto saw something in the street ahead, a figure standing in the shadows by the scaffolding. Something really quite—

Oh is that a cab?

Ianto rushed towards the flickering amber light sluicing down the road. He knew that around him a mini-stampede of drunk boys and desperate girls were all lurching towards the cab. But Ianto knew that he needed it more than anyone else. Screw the shoes, he was going to get it.

He got his hand on the door and was met by the baleful, seen-it-all gaze of the cabbie. ‘You going to be sick?’ asked the voice.

‘Stone-cold sober,’ promised Ianto. The door clicked open and he climbed gratefully in.

‘There’s a charge for sick, you know. And I hate having to scrub the back out. Why they can’t do it in a bag, I dunno. Bloody animals.’

And the cab puttered away, taking Ianto home through the storm. He sat there, hands scrunched round his bag of damp chips, thinking back to what he’d seen on the street just before he’d noticed the cab, with all its amber promise of home and central heating and towels. Because, as he’d been waving his hands at the cab, there’d been a man standing just ahead of him in the street. The man had been standing in the shadows of some scaffolding by the market. He’d just been standing there, looking at Ianto. It hadn’t been a look of lust, desire or even disgust. The look had been one of shock, or fear. Like he’d seen a ghost.

Ianto unwrapped the dead bag of chips and stared at them. Am I a ghost?

Standing there in the rain, watching the taxi drive off, Ross Kielty couldn’t believe what he’d just seen.

Everyone in Cardiff slept badly that night.

GWEN IS AWAKE FIRST

Gwen lay in bed, killing time before the alarm by staring at the back of Rhys’s head.

‘I know what you’re doing, you know,’ mumbled Rhys without moving. ‘Stop it.’

‘Stop what?’ Gwen was all innocence.

‘You are staring at the back of my head. I can tell.’

‘How?’

‘Burning sensation. Will you be happy if I get a bald spot? I don’t think so.’

‘Oh, no worries about that. Fine head of hair. Few bits of grey, though. Quite a few.’

‘No way. We Williamses don’t go grey.’

‘Awwww, Rhys. It’s fine – get used to going grey. There’s no harm in a bit of grey. It’s… distinguished.’

‘I. Am. Not. Grey.’

‘Of course you’re not, love. Now, hurry up and storm off and make us some tea.’

‘Not until you admit that I’ve not got grey hair.’

There was a click, and then Gwen leaned over him holding up her camera phone jubilantly.

‘Yes. I think it’s called salt-and-pepper. See?’

‘That’s just bad light.’

Rhys pulled the covers over his head.

‘Just go and make the tea.’

IANTO IS STAYING IN BED

Ianto Jones had a difficult second day as a woman. It started with waking up from dreams of dark, cold water and then with a shock, as though he’d fallen, spread out in his bed. And he’d forgotten, for the first few seconds, stretching out to touch the radio alarm, seeing his long, slender arm – seeing it but not noticing it.

And then he’d remembered.

Normally, Ianto Jones would wake up, swing his legs out of the bed, slope off for a pee and a shower and be out of the flat in twenty minutes. He’d have laid out his suit and shirt the night before, his lunch waiting in a Tupperware box in the fridge. It was order and a system, and he was proud of it.

But that was the old Ianto Jones. The new Ianto Jones sat in bed, wrapped in a duvet, listening to the radio babble away, staring out of the window. He didn’t even have much of a view, but he didn’t really know what else to do. He just watched the barren tops of three trees sway about in the wind like empty flagpoles.

Nearly an hour passed by. He went and stood in the shower, staring at the mirror as it steamed up and hid his new body from view. And he stood there feeling invisible and warm and hidden until he felt guilty about using that much hot water. And then he got out of the shower and dried quickly before the mirror cleared. Then he crawled back into the warmth of the duvet.

He heard the click of the door, and ignored it. He knew it was Jack standing there in his bedroom doorway, looking at him.

Neither of them spoke for a bit. Then Ianto managed, ‘I never gave you a key.’

‘And I never really needed one, but the gesture would have been nice.’

‘Ah well.’ Ianto heard Jack move across the room and felt him settle on the bed next to him.

‘Well, here am I,’ said Jack, ‘in the bedroom of a beautiful, naked Torchwood operative. Anything could happen.’

‘You realise the only word I heard was “beautiful”?’

‘I realise. I’m checking that you’re OK.’

‘What do you think?’

‘I dunno.’ Jack nodded. ‘You never even considered getting somewhere in Grangetown with a view?’

‘There are no views in Grangetown.’

‘Good point.’ Jack leaned in and wrapped a big arm around the duvet and Ianto, drawing them both in. Ianto let himself be folded up, marvelling at how much wet hair he had.

‘I miss you, you know,’ said Jack. Ianto laughed. ‘I miss me.’

‘But you’re still in there.’

‘Am I? It feels less and less like me. This body just gets more and more perfect. I can almost sense it – it hates me. I don’t belong inside it. I’m the wrong soul in the driving seat.’ He looked across at Jack.

‘If the real owner is somewhere out there in your body, she’s not shown up. Nothing.’

‘It’s at times like this,’ sighed Ianto, ‘we need Tosh.’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Jack.

‘Apart from the whole science bit, she had some great jackets.’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Jack. He stood up and reached out his hand. Ianto took it. ‘Come on, Miss Jones. Let’s put on some clothes and face the day.’

EMMA WEBSTER IS PLOTTING
REVENGE

It was on Tuesday that Vile Kate finally noticed the change in Emma. It had taken her a day longer than everyone else.

Kate had been in one of Her Meetings. These went on for a long time, were supposedly very difficult, and she pretended she found them A Terrible Chore, while at the same time dropping simpering hints about how Vital she was to the organisation, and how close she was to all the powerful people. When Kate walked in, she was talking to Arwel, the new researcher. ‘Honestly, she put down her Blackberry and gave me a big hug and told me how nice this perfume was. Do you like it? It’s very similar to something Posh wears.’

And then Kate looked at Emma. And noticed her. New, slim, gorgeous, perfect Emma. And her mouth formed a lovely little ‘oh’ and a frown. And for a glorious instant she looked like a sex doll. Emma grinned. Kate snapped on a warm smile. ‘Oh, Emma lovely, look at you! It’s so nice to see you making an effort in the office!’ She turned around to her colleagues with a fond look that said ‘See, everyone, what she can do when she tries!’ and settled down to work.

To Emma’s horror, everyone nodded at that.

I can give her cancer
.

What?

I can give her cancer. Incurable, slow, painful cancer that burns away more steadily than your hate
.

Emma’s head flooded with a sudden, delicious view of Vile Kate, sat at her desk, weeping and clutching clumps of hair that had fallen out.

No.

Really? Too much? Not even for a couple of weeks? How about a bit of a scare? Go on, the tiniest non-malignant lump. But, you know, worrying enough that they’ll chop off her boobs. Go on…

Emma shut her eyes and felt dizzy. She breathed in deeply and then out. And felt the red mist gently float away.

No. I hate her. But I don’t really know her. I don’t want to… maybe later. Is there anything small you can do?

Well, she’s had work done. Those boobs aren’t real, and her lips have had a bit of plumping. I can soon sort that out
.

Really? Oh that’s brilliant.

And… I can make her fat
.

Emma giggled, remembering all the little comments about struggling to bring up bebbies and maintain her figure.

Do it.

Nice one! I think you’ll love the results. And then some day you can dance on her grave while her fat children watch
.

Emma smiled warmly and truly. A few minutes later some of the girls asked if she wanted to join them for lunch for the first time in ages. ‘You look really… confident,’ said one. And Emma beamed.

‘So how are you?’ asked Sharon. ‘We’re all dead impressed with your makeover. How are you feeling?’

Emma watched Kate walking over to the salad bar, laughing with one of the Divisional Sales Managers while ostentatiously picking out a few green leaves. ‘Perfect,’ she said.

IANTO TRIES BEIGE

Gwen walked along the wharf, trying to ignore how cold and wet it was. There are mornings when Cardiff Bay looks like Venice Beach, and there are mornings when it looks like Norway. Today was not one of the better ones, and sheets of rain lashed across the decking outside Torchwood. Gwen had already dropped her keys as she locked up the car and, added to that, a mild hangover refused to be ignored. Last night had been a late one, but she’d finally made it to Darren and Sian’s before Rhys drank all the wine. It was surprisingly fun, and the rat almost cute, even though she’d insisted Rhys wash his hands the moment they’d got home. Gawd, when had she drunk so much wine? She tried to clear her head. It felt like she hadn’t slept at all. The weekend seemed a long way away.

She let herself into the Tourist Information entrance to Torchwood and shivered. Despite living in Cardiff for years, Gwen had never bought an umbrella. It always struck her as giving in. Anyway, she hadn’t been allowed them on long nights on police duty, and it seemed silly to get her own when Rhys had a ridiculous golfing one with a daft corporate logo.

It was an odd day. Ianto was late for work. When he finally arrived, he seemed fine, bustling around, very much his old self. But every now and then, Gwen thought she caught a look of utter misery on his face. Plus, he was wearing a really inadvisable beige trouser suit.

‘I’ve been shopping on the way in,’ he explained. ‘Everything so far has been Lisa’s. But I figured it’s a bit… you know…’

‘Creepy?’ Gwen was quietly appalled.

Ianto nodded. ‘Yeah. Dead girlfriend’s clothes. I know. But I still had some of her stuff, and I figured… well, she’s the woman I know the most, really. Well, that’s not true. There’s also my mother. But, firstly, it’s just wrong, and secondly, floral print.’ He put on a brave smile, showing off perfect teeth. ‘Anyway, I spotted this on the way in. It feels a bit more… me.’

Gwen nodded, kindly. ‘Yes. Very nice.’

Jack wandered past. ‘Ianto. Beige. No.’ He vanished into his office.

Ianto sighed. ‘Were you being polite?’

‘No, no. No. Well. A little,’ she admitted.

‘OK. It’s so hard being… you know… A woman. I thought I was doing OK, but the shopping is just…’

‘Hard?’

‘Yes. And expensive. Jack really doesn’t give you a clothing allowance?’

‘No.’

‘Right. And I can’t take this back – I’ve already got Weevil blood on the cuff, and that’s a stain that never lifts.’ He gave her a look, and suddenly Gwen saw the old Ianto shining out of this new body – all Valleys Boy mildly confused by the world.

‘We’ll go shopping. Promise. Or get Jack to take you.’

‘Um.’

‘Is everything… OK… between the two of you?’ Gwen asked.

‘Not really. He’s fine… you know. But at the same time, I think he still worries that I might not be Ianto. And I can’t talk to anyone else about it. Not my friends, not my family. How do I explain? I’ve told my neighbours I’m flat-sitting while I’m… he’s on holiday. If you get what I mean. But they’re not going to believe that for ever. It’s all so bloody… and I can’t talk to anyone. You’re… Gwen… you’re it.’

Christ, Ianto’s unspooling, thought Gwen. Poor lamb.

‘Come on, Ianto. Jack will get you your old body back. Don’t give up. Any luck with the memory pill?’

Ianto shook his head, his long, beautiful hair following lazily, like it was in a shampoo commercial. ‘No, not really. I can suddenly quote all of
Under Milk Wood
and vividly recall having my wisdom teeth out. But nothing useful.’

‘Never mind. Tomorrow we’re bunking off. You’ll love shopping.’

‘Thank you, Gwen.’

Don’t mention it, thought Gwen, feeling a lot better.

Ianto had combed through Patrick’s Facebook profile and failed to come up with any coherent theories on who might want to kill him, or any brushes he might have had with alien technology. He and Gwen had been delighted to find a picture of Patrick running across a beach in speedos, but that was about it.

Jack was kept fairly busy dealing with reports of atmospheric disturbances around the city. Apparently static electricity was up by a quarter now, which Jack seemed to find curiously amusing.

Gwen was occupied assuring a rather weasel-like Assembly liaison that the Rift honestly had had nothing to do with the ferry crash in the Bay. It was one of those things – slightly mysterious, which meant that Torchwood had to be all over it. But she couldn’t quite work out what to do really, other than interview the survivors, who all seemed a bit dazed and not very communicative. But then, most of them had either hypothermia or concussion so it wasn’t really that surprising. As far as she could tell, the ferry had started taking on water just outside the Bay, listed alarmingly, but had made it into dock. Even Jack’s theory of a mine seemed off – Gwen had examined the hull, and couldn’t find any evidence of an explosion. So: more talking to gruff Norwegians and dazed people who’d been on a hen night.

EMMA WEBSTER IS HAVING IT
MEDIUM

Emma Webster logged off from her computer and got ready to go home. She was glowing but exhausted. Who knew being this beautiful would be so tiring? She acknowledged a couple of friendly nods from the boy totty in sales as they left for the day. Tiring, yes, but worth it.

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