Characters: Ianto, Jack, OC.
Summary: As technology gets more advanced it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep Torchwood and the things it deals with secret from the general public.
Word Count: 1411
Written For: Challenge 143: News at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
“We’re in the news again,” Ianto said, striding into Jack’s office and dropping the local paper on his desk.
“What? How? We’ve been so careful!” Jack snatched up the paper, scanning the front page, but finding no mention of Torchwood.
“The wobbly thing that popped up near the Gorsedd Stones yesterday morning. It’s on page five,” Ianto added helpfully.
Flipping to the right page, Jack stared at the grainy photograph, which didn’t do the mysterious object justice but was just about clear enough to show something out of the ordinary, and looked otherworldly enough to grab people’s attention. “But we Retconned everyone who saw it!” he exclaimed, sounding put out.
“Correction; we Retconned everyone who was there when we arrived.” Which, if Ianto recalled correctly, was three people walking their dogs, a pair of joggers, a paperboy taking a shortcut home after finishing his round, and someone with a metal detector, hoping to find buried treasure. “The guy who took the photographs must have already left before we got there.”
Jack started to read the accompanying story; a photographer had been out early to get photographs of the stone circle as the sun came up. He was working on a calendar for the Welsh Tourist Board, featuring some of Cardiff’s most famous landmarks and beauty spots. Apparently he’d just taken a few shots and was about to pack his equipment away when there was a flash of brilliant golden light and suddenly this… thing appeared practically in front of his camera, shimmering with a kaleidoscope of colours and wobbling like a jelly. He’d snapped off a couple of quick shots before going to take a closer look at it, but then it had started making weird moaning sounds and, unsure if it might be alive and possibly dangerous, he’d beat a hasty retreat.
“So he saw and photographed something weird; not the first time that’s happened and it’s unlikely to be the last, but it can easily be explained away as a trick of the light, or a hoax of some sort. He didn’t see us arrive and collect it, if he had he would have said something to the reporter, so I don’t think we need to do anything,” Jack said firmly. For a moment he’d been worried, but now he’d taken a look at the story he couldn’t see any cause for alarm.
The wobbly thing was now switched off and sitting quietly on a shelf down in the archives; it appeared to be some kind of mobile sculpture, or perhaps the alien equivalent of a lava lamp. When it was turned on it glowed, every colour imaginable flowing within it in complex, ever changing patterns, while its smooth surface undulated and rippled, constantly changing shape. It was really quite pretty, and oddly relaxing to watch. The moaning would most likely have been caused by the wind blowing through gaps and fissures that opened and closed as the object moved.
“I don’t know, doing nothing might not be a wise move. Read further,” Ianto encouraged.
Doing as instructed, Jack ran his eyes down the column of smaller type and paused. “Oh.”
The wobbly thing wasn’t the photographer’s first encounter with something weird. A few days earlier, he’d been photographing the water tower on Roald Dahl Plas. He hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary, but when he’d developed the pictures, one clearly showed what appeared to be the heads of two men protruding through the ground at the base of the tower.
“Okay, he was using film so that can be explained as an accidental double exposure, can’t it?” Jack looked hopefully up at his lover.
“I imagine so, and that theory should satisfy the general public, but now this photographer’s curiosity has been piqued. You can bet from now on everywhere he goes around Cardiff he’s going to be keeping his eyes open for anything else out of the ordinary, hoping to get some kind of story he can sell to the newspapers for a bigger payday than this one will have netted him.”
Jack buried his head in his hands and groaned. “You know, it was so much easier to keep Torchwood business a secret back before people had all this modern technology at their fingertips. Used to be, cameras were a luxury a lot of people couldn’t afford, what with cost of film and development. Now everybody can take photographs on their phones and post them on the Internet for the whole world to see, and we have to spend half our time deleting stuff off social media.”
Ianto nodded. “When it comes to secret organisations, Torchwood must be the least secret one in the world.” It didn’t help that their official vehicle had ‘Torchwood’ emblazoned in yellow along the edge of the roof, but Ianto chose not to mention that. Even though half the population of Cardiff knew Torchwood existed and many people, especially the police, weren’t fond of the organisation, few had any real idea of what it was they did. They were generally considered to be a special ops team, attached either to the police, the military, or the government, depending on who you talked to.
Whenever aliens were mentioned, Torchwood made haste to discredit and Retcon any witnesses in order to maintain some degree of secrecy, but there was little point in trying to hide the organisation’s existence completely. With the way Jack marched onto supposed crime scenes, taking over and chasing the police away, staying beneath the radar was impossible.
“On the plus side,” Jack said, brightening a little at the realisation, “nowhere in the story do they mention Torchwood by name.”
“I suppose there’s that,” Ianto agreed. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
“And it’s only the local paper, not the national news. The locals are so used to weirdness they’ll most likely just forget about this latest example as soon as they’ve read it. Cardiff isn’t suddenly going to be inundated by news crews from all over the country, snooping around where they’re not wanted and getting in our way.”
“Also true. We should still make an effort to get hold of the photo of us coming up on the invisible lift though. If that gets out, and if we’re recognised, people might realise Torchwood’s base is under the Plas, and then we’d really be in trouble.”
“Any suggestions on how to do that? We can hardly just march up to this photographer and ask him to hand over the picture he took of us leaving our secret base.”
“No, that would be a bad idea. Fortunately for us, he isn’t a news photographer; I looked him up. He does weddings, family portraits, school photos, calendars and greeting cards. He’s just about making ends meet, but he could always use more work.”
“So maybe we should talk to him, see if he’d be interested in a little freelance work for us. He gets around the area, sees things, photographs them… Could perhaps alert us if he comes across anything we should know about. We can have him sign the Official Secrets Act; pay him a retainer, with bonuses for any work he does on our behalf.”
“That might not be a bad idea at all. You’re ingenious, Ianto Jones!”
“I try,” Ianto replied with a smirk. “And if after we talk with him we don’t feel he can be trusted, we can always Retcon him and take the incriminating photos and negatives.”
“Okay, we‘ll talk to him first, see if he’s interested in our proposition, and if not we’ll go with Plan B. Grab your coat and let’s go. You have an address for this guy?”
“Of course I do. You want to go right now?”
“No time like the present. The sooner we deal with this situation the better.”
“Right. I’ll get some Retcon and the paperwork. Best to be prepared for either eventuality.”
So that was how Torchwood came to have a photographer on the payroll, and why for as long as Torchwood Three remained in operation, there was a large photograph of Cardiff’s famous water tower on the wall of Jack’s office, with two heads visible, apparently sticking out of the ground at its base like they’d been buried up to their necks in concrete. Jack said it was the most unique portrait he’d ever seen, and a timely reminder that while the perception filter could fool most people, cameras would always be immune.