been dozens – she was determined never to get hardened to this. She’d known mates in the police who joked about the street detritus that they encountered, like they were objects and not people. They’d be shaken out of their cold indifference, she thought, if they’d seen how animals from other worlds really did treat humans like bags of meat. And then they might have a bit more respect even for Queen Street’s stinking vagrants or Friday night drunks slumped outside the Adonis Bar.

The Weevil was shaking its head slowly over the body. It wasn’t eating, it was mourning. The body in its arms was the other Weevil. Gwen almost laughed as she trained her gun on it. The surviving Weevil was trying to make itself look small, even in plain view. Did it think she wouldn’t see it?

It wasn’t hiding from her, though. It was now staring, terrified, at something opposite.

Another creature squatted just inside the overlapping plastic doors of a storage area. Gwen saw its breath steaming the cloudy, scratched plastic.

Abruptly, it lunged through the doors. The Weevil flinched, but did not flee. It was transfixed to the spot, or resigned to its fate. The attacker plunged its bestial face into the Weevil’s neck and shook it like a dog with a toy. The Weevil let out one pitiful, high-pitched squeal before sagging against the wall.

Gwen choked in horror. And the attacking creature immediately snapped its head up in her direction. It was the size of a Labrador. Its scaly black body had strong rear limbs. When it spread its thin, powerful forearms, the attached wings spread incongruously large either side of its tiny, savage head. Coal-dark eyes glittered in the light of the corridor, and it hissed a sibilant warning breath from a mouth wide with savage teeth. With the wings extended, it looked like a bizarre bat.

The powerful back legs shivered. Gwen had seen her mum’s cat do that as it prepared to leap at a bird in the garden.

Gwen feinted to her right. As the bat sprang, Gwen loosed off two quick shots in succession, and fell left.

The creature shrieked an echoing cry as both bullets tore through its wing. It continued its run, scraping past her and heading towards the exit ramp at the end of the grey corridor. Gwen launched herself after it, firing twice more at its back.

She burst out from the top of the exit ramp, squinting into the bright morning light, nerves jangling in anticipation of the bat-creature waiting for her. Instead, it was flapping around in a circle, unable to fly off and hemmed in by parked delivery vehicles. Its unforgiving black eyes bored into her, but it was going nowhere.

No more options.

Gwen adjusted her firing stance, feet at shoulder-width, left foot advanced, leaning slightly forward, right elbow almost straight. It had become instinct now, and she rarely had the need, or the luxury of time, to think it through.

She took a breath, and prepared to exhale half of it before she fired the round.

A lightning flash from the middle distance dazzled her. A streak of yellow-white light spiralled around the bat-creature, enveloping it and then dissipating.

Gwen whirled, half-fearing that the monster had got round her. But there was no noise from the ramp behind, nor any movement under the haphazardly parked transit vans nearby. High on a pole, a CCTV camera turned lazily towards her position, as though mocking her.

There was nothing for either of them to see. The creature had vanished.

The emergency vehicles speckled the market stalls with blue light. Traders were hurriedly bundling their goods into cardboard boxes or sheets as the crowds flooded out of the mall and into their pitches on the street. Empty plastic punnets scrunched underfoot in the spilled remnants of a fruit and veg stall, overturned in the evacuation. Gwen could hear Toshiko chattering in her right ear. Something about parking. Megan grumbled beside her into her left.

‘Madness it was,’ Megan babbled. ‘The air conditioning went crazy. There was clothes blowing all over the place. We got out through the emergency exit at the back of Valley Girl.’


‘Me and Robert.’ She thumbed a gesture towards the pink-faced lad nearby, and lowered her voice conspiratorially. ‘Bit of a looker, isn’t he?’

‘You go for a bit of blond,’ smiled Gwen.

‘Shut up,’ said Megan. ‘Better not let him see that jacket. You keeping it, or what?’

Gwen covered up the security tag in a self-conscious gesture.

‘Trina hadn’t heard about all this when I phoned her.’

Gwen raised her eyebrows. ‘You called Trina before you called me? I could have been trampled to death.’

‘You’re used to crowd control,’ replied Megan offhandedly. It was evident she’d seen nothing of Gwen’s activities after she’d raced from the store. ‘And Trina’s on speed dial. Look at this lot. Bloody students, I told you they were trouble. Rag Week seems to go on for ever, it’s just an excuse for them to arse around. All this mad panic for nothing.’

‘Someone said they’d been messing with knives.’ Robert had sauntered over to join them, and placed his hand on Megan’s shoulder. ‘People got hurt.’ He eyed Gwen thoughtfully. She put her hands behind her back to hide the security tag, and smiled back at him.

‘It wasn’t students,’ said Toshiko Sato, who’d emerged around the leather goods stall beside them. ‘It was skinheads on the rampage. I heard it from the police back there.’

Gwen felt herself relax a little now. ‘Megan, this is a friend of mine from work. Tosh, this is-’

‘Megan,’ beamed Megan. ‘I’m one of Gwen’s bridesmaids, you know.’

‘No, I didn’t,’ said Toshiko.

Megan was oblivious to her reaction. ‘Me and Robert are going to grab a coffee. Laters!’ she concluded cheerfully, linked arms with the surprised but pleased shop assistant, and was off. As they went, she glanced over her shoulder and gave Gwen a big grin.

‘You tart,’ Gwen mouthed at her.

‘I know,’ Megan mouthed back, wide-eyed.

Toshiko was fiddling about with her PDA now, sweeping it to and fro until she eventually settled on a route to the rear of the mall.

As Gwen retraced her steps to the loading bay, she said to Toshiko: ‘They weren’t skinheads.’

‘Weevils,’ agreed Toshiko. ‘Yes, you said earlier. But if you seed something like skinheads in people’s minds, it’s amazing what they think they remember afterwards. I’ve already dropped some pre-written draft copy in the local press inboxes. Faked a few eyewitness accounts on their participation blogs.’

‘What about the CCTV footage?’ asked Gwen. They’d reached the circle of transit vans by the loading bays, and she could see the camera rotating on its pole. ‘Or is nothing beyond your talents?’

‘Certainly not a closed system like that. Nice jacket,’ she added. ‘Are you going to buy it?’

Gwen smiled, embarrassed, as Toshiko tapped the security tag on the sleeve. And then gasped when whatever Toshiko did with the PDA harmlessly detached the tag. With barely a pause, Toshiko showed Gwen the display. ‘Now look at that – the Rift signature in this area has already died away almost to nothing. That’s quick.’

‘I haven’t seen that sort of alien before, Tosh. Nasty piece of work. Like a bat, but the size of a retriever. And it frightened the crap out of the Weevils.’

‘What, literally?’

‘It was like…’ Gwen pondered the reaction of the cornered Weevil. ‘Like they were its prey. I winged it, but it kept coming. We need back-up on this.’

‘Not any more.’ Toshiko closed her PDA. ‘Whatever is was, it’s long gone.’

‘It was right here less than half an hour ago,’ insisted Gwen.

‘Long gone in Rift terms.’

Gwen sighed in exasperation. ‘So where are the others? Why is it just me whose day off gets ruined? I bet Jack and Ianto’s date won’t be interrupted, will it?’

‘Oh, that’s what they were talking about,’ realised Toshiko. ‘I think they were going to Ianto’s for a meal. He told Jack he was cooking up something special.’

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