Chapter 4- Gwen Cooper
The world’s weirdest zoo
Gwen followed Abby through the rabbit-warren of corridors that made up the ARC, through a short tunnel, where they emerged in what she could only think to describe as a zoo. The entire area was covered with a bio-dome, presumably to keep out prying eyes, with fenced areas of grassland and desert landscapes, along with some smaller pens.
She had already been told that she would be spending today with Abby and the other keepers, helping out where she could and getting to see some of the ARC’s odder inhabitants.
“Sometimes, like with Rex and Sid and Nancy,” Abby explained as they walked, “the anomalies close before we can get the creatures back through. In that case, we have no choice but to keep them here until we find another anomaly back to their time. If we left them loose, they’d not only be a danger to the public but to themselves. There are all kinds of things in this time that they have no immunity to, from animal illnesses to foreign plant life.”
It made sense; in Torchwood they had the cells for those aliens that they had to contain, as well as a larger confinement area at Torchwood One where they could send their prisoners if necessary. Somehow, this place seemed much more fun. Torchwood’s inhabitants were usually murderers and psychopathic aliens, where as this was like a small child’s idea of the perfect petting zoo.
“We have a full time staff of keepers who take care of the creatures, and a couple of Vets on call who area aware of the uniqueness of the creatures here.”
As she paused by the feed-preparation area, Abby passed Gwen a large bucket filled with fruit and took another herself. She grinned back at her guest.
“Come on, you’ll love this.”
Gwen had to admit that she was a little wary about this to begin with. Small creatures such as the ones that Abby and Connor kept as pets were fine, even cute, but the thought of what else could be here made was worrying.
Abby stopped in front of the largest metal gate Gwen had ever seen outside of a King Kong movie and set her bucket down. Once Gwen had done the same, Abby turned to the gate and made a low clicking sound with her tongue. Almost at once, the sound of heavy footsteps from behind the gate could be heard and a huge hairy trunk came out through the bars. At Abby’s insistence, she got a little closer and saw that the trunk belonged to a massive woolly mammoth.
“Meet Manny. One of the keepers named him; I think she’s seen Ice Age one too many times,” Abby said, reaching out to stroke her hand along the mammoth’s trunk. “He’s one of my favourites.”
She held out a chunk of melon on her outstretched hands and the mammoth curled its trunk around the treat and took it from her with unexpected delicacy.
“He’s perfectly friendly,” she told Gwen. “Here, give him this. Just hold your hands out flat and he’ll take it from you.”
Gwen held the piece of fruit and couldn’t stop the smile from forming as the massive creature took it from her carefully, hooking it back through the bars and placing the melon in its mouth. It crunched noisily for a moment and then it was gone, the trunk returning to look for more treats. She looked up into the intelligent black eyes of a creature more than twice her height, hardly able to believe that she had just fed a real live mammoth.
“He’s gorgeous,” she told Abby as they tipped the rest of the fruit into a large trough on the front of the cage. “Where did you find him?”
“On the M25,” Abby replied, regaling Gwen with the story as they watched the mammoth enjoy his lunch. Once finished, the mammoth wandered away again. “The pen opens up into a massive area for him but it’s easier to feed him here,” Abby explained, seeing the disappointment on Gwen’s face as Manny left.
Abby took her around some of the other pens, pointing out her favourite creatures and telling Gwen stories about how the had caught them or the chaos they had managed to cause out in the streets where the anomalies had left them. It was clear that Abby loved her job here, as did the other keepers she was introduced to, Gwen through. Then again, who wouldn’t? Working with these fantastic creatures was on a par with her work at Torchwood; she could still remember the overwhelming wonder she had felt at discovering that aliens not only existed but were on earth and she could actually meet them.
Just the tour around the pens took the best part of the day and it was almost 3pm when they finally returned to the main ARC buildings. They had actually missed lunch and Gwen hadn’t even noticed, her thoughts too taken up with all of the wonderful creatures. They headed for the canteen but just as they were about to go inside, Danny appeared.
“Abby, Lester is looking for you,” he said, then glanced at Gwen. “Go on, I’ll keep Gwen company for a while.”
Abby hurried off toward the offices as Danny escorted Gwen in, carrying her tray to the table for her.
“So how are you doing so far?” he asked. “It’s a lot to take in at first, I know.”
Gwen nodded, picking up her fork and stabbing at a piece of her salad. “Abby took me to see the animals,” she said. “I still can’t actually believe I’ve just seen some of them.”
“They had that effect on me for the first few weeks too,” he confessed, telling her about his first week here. “It was a bit of a change from what I was used to.”
“What did you do before the ARC?”
“I was with the police,” he told her. “That’s how I met this lot; I arrested Connor.”
Gwen laughed, trying to imagine what on earth the innocent-looking kid she’d met at Torchwood a few weeks earlier could possibly have done.
“Look, he was trespassing and he pissed me off,” Danny told her, although he was smiling himself. “It turns out they were tracking something that had come through the anomaly and I had wandered right into the middle of it. A few weeks later, I sort of accidentally-on-purpose found my way to another anomaly site at the airport.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess they liked me because Lester hired me not long after.”
And what wasn’t to like, Gwen found herself thinking. The ex-cop was handsome, especially when he smiled and his eyes sparkled, and he was good company. He was easy to talk to.
“You know, before I joined Torchwood I was in the police. Jack hired me, I’m told, for much the same reasons,” she said.
“Well then, I guess we must be doing something right.” Danny paused for a moment before asking, “Gwen, would you like to have a drink with me sometime? Or maybe dinner?”
“That sounds good,” she said.
He grinned. “How about tonight?”
Later that afternoon, as they packed up to leave for the day, Abby called to Gwen.
“I thought we could grab a pizza on the way home, and maybe a couple of DVD’s?”
“Actually, Danny’s taking me out for dinner,” Gwen told her. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Abby shook her head. “Why would I? Go, have fun.” She smirked and then teased, “So, should I expect you home later on or will I see you here tomorrow morning?”
“Abby!” Gwen glanced around to make sure that Danny hadn’t heard that comment. He walked into the locker room and eyed Abby suspiciously when she started to giggle upon seeing him.
“Ready to go?” he asked Gwen.
She nodded and followed him out to his car, trying to ignore Abby’s call across the car park of,
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Since Abby had been asleep when Gwen had got back to the flat last night, she had spent the entire journey into work trying to get all of the details she could about the date.
“We had dinner and then went for drinks and he was the perfect gentleman,” Gwen insisted.
Abby frowned. “Oh well, better luck next time.”
“I enjoyed myself,” Gwen protested, before adding smugly. “And we’re going out again tonight.”
She was about to say more when the portable anomaly detector in her bag began to bleep insistently. Instructing Gwen to get it, she checked the location and they turned away from the ARC to head for the anomaly instead. Gwen called in to the ARC to let them know that she and Abby were on their way to the site and would meet them there.
They were the first of the ARC team to arrive at the warehouse where the anomaly had opened up, bit that wasn’t to say that the area was deserted. The workers who had previously been unloading the delivery truck before the anomaly had appeared were now standing at what they obviously considered a safe distance. When Abby and Gwen got out of the car and walked up to it, they tried to warn them away, calling for them to stay clear.
Abby turned to the one who had called out, going over to where he was standing, half behind the truck.
“Were you here when this appeared?” she asked.
The man nodded.
“Did you see if anything came through?”
His eyes flicked curiously over her and Gwen, his expression suspicious now. “Just who are you people? And what the hell is that thing?”
Abby smiled in what she hoped was a harmless, just here to help, way. “It’s OK, we deal with things like this all of the time but I need to know if you saw anything come through.”
“Nothing,” he said.
He looked toward the door as a four by four arrived with Danny, Sarah and two soldiers. They began unloading and setting up the anomaly sealer and the soldiers clearing the public from the building as Danny came across to find out what they knew so far. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much.
“Well, it looks like we’ll just have to go and have a look for ourselves then, doesn’t it?” Danny announced happily, his eyes shining at the thought of going through the anomaly.
Sarah had activated the seals and come across to join the conversation, arriving just as Danny announced his intention. She looked dubious at the prospect of going through.
“We don’t know where it leads,” she pointed out. “We could end up walking into anything.”
“Actually, I might be able to help with that,” Abby said. “Connor once made this little remote control camera to check through anomalies; I’m sure we still have one back at the ARC somewhere.”
She phoned in to the ARC and gave them instructions, and fifteen minutes later another car pulled up in the entrance to the warehouse. Abby took the boxes from the back seat and unpacked what looked like an all-terrain radio controlled car with a micro-camera fixed with a moving bracket to the roof.
“How do we see what the camera sees?” Gwen asked. After all of the hi-tech gadgets and flashy gizmos that they had at the ARC, the ‘remote camera’ looked a bit out of place. “It looks like something from a Scooby Doo cartoon,” she said, noticing that Danny and Sarah looked every bit as amused.
Abby smiled. “It does a bit,” she admitted, “but it works.”
Setting up the monitor, she instructed Sarah to open the anomaly again, before setting the little car on the ground and picking up the handset. It went through smoothly, disappearing from view.
“Have we got a picture?” Sarah asked, not wanting to come and see for herself as it would mean leaving the anomaly sealer. Just in case anything did head this way, she decided she would rather be ready to close it.
The picture was clear and Abby tilted the camera to take a closer look at the area until they were all satisfied that there was no immediate danger outside of the anomaly. Two hours later, after a trip back to the ARC for supplies and getting it cleared with Lester, the team were back in the warehouse.
This time, everyone was armed, even Gwen, and they also had a passenger. Their research with the camera had revealed a familiar sight in the distance; another Dracorex, which also let them know that the anomaly had opened in to the late cretaceous period. Since it was the first time that an anomaly had opened to the correct time, Lester had instructed them to release the creature. It might not be the exact same year, but if the species was still there, and hadn’t gone through any major evolutionary changes, then it was the Dracorex’s best chance at freedom.
Actually, his exact words had been, “Finally. One less of the damn things to feed.”
Heavily sedated and on a massive wheeled stretcher, the Dracorex had no clue that this trip would take it home. Abby checked on it one last time, kind of sorry to see it leave, but this was for the best. This had been their intention all along, to release the creatures once the opportunity arose.
“Get ready to lock the anomaly behind us,” Danny told Sarah. “Open it again in three hours.”
Sarah nodded, going to the laptop and opening the anomaly. One final check and they were ready to go, stepping through. Looking back once they were through, they saw the anomaly seal behind them.
“OK, let’s wake our guest and let him go and then we can explore.”