A/N: Set before Torchwood episode Everything Changes.
A used goods store in Cardiff.
A man in his late forties enters the back room from the outside. He carries in an old TV set. He puts the TV on the workbench and wipes the sweat off his forehead. He stuffs his handkerchief back in his trouser pocket. He grabs the cord of the TV and looks at the plug.
"Need to change that." He grabs some tools and sets to work.
Wiping his hands on his handkerchief he calls out to a person in the front of the store: "Luce, hey Lucy, could you come back here for a moment?"
A sixteen year old brown haired girl answers his call.
"What do you think this is?"
Lucy gives him a look. "A TV?"
"Yes, but not any TV. This very model was one of the most popular sets at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth."
"The Second." He gives her a wary look.
"George, need I remind you that this is a second hand goods shop, not an antiques shop?"
George rolls his eyes up at the ceiling and sighs.
"Does it still work?"
"We don't know that till we've tried it, will we? Will you do the honor of plugging it in?"
"Have you changed the plug? You know they've changed the plugs since the conception of this thing?"
"Yes, little miss know-it-all, I have changed it. Now, you plug it in so we can see if we can get a picture."
Lucy walks over to the workbench and takes the extension cord in her hand. She turns back to George. "I feel this is an historic moment. I think perhaps a little speech to mark the occasion is in order. George?"
"Plug that TV in or I'll find someone else to work for me on Saturdays."
"Very touching." Lucy turns around and quickly plugs the TV in.
The TV starts to crackle. George gives Lucy a big grin. "It's working." Then purple tendrils crackling with electricity lash out from the TV and grab George by the head.
"George!" Lucy screams. She rushes over to him.
"Turn. It. Off." George manages to groan.
Lucy turns back to the TV and yanks the plug from the wall. The purple tendrils release George and he falls to the ground on his side.
"George." Lucy rushes over to him and drops on her knees next to him. She tries to feel his throat for a pulse. She rolls George over and sees that his face is gone. Lucy screams.
Jack enters the front office of Torchwood Cardiff followed by Owen and Suzie.
"Ianto. Take this, clean it up and then put it in storage." Jack gives Ianto a slime covered weapon.
Ianto takes it with a hint of disgust on his face. He tries to hold on to it with minimal amount of skin touching the slime. "I'll see to it that it gets cleaned. How did you manage to catch it?"
"Don't ask." Suzie says. She's covered head to toe in the same slime.
"Oh, yeah. Ianto, the backseat of the SUV also needs to be cleaned," Jack adds.
"I'll get right to it. Anything else?"
"Coffee?" Jack shrugs.
Owen leans over the desk and presses the button to open the door that leads to the hub. Down in the hub Suzie rushes over to the dressing rooms to take a shower and wash the slime off her. Jack just washes his hands and puts on a clean shirt. When he returns to the hub he finds Tosh sitting behind her desk and Owen standing behind her. They are listening to a distressed sounding voice of a young woman.
"Please, this is not a prank call. You have to help. You have to send an ambulance."
"What is this?" Jack asks.
"Oh." Tosh turns the volume down. "I thought we could monitor alien activities by tracking the calls made to the emergency telephone numbers. Everything weird or unusual or listed as a prank by the operators gets put through to us."
"Sounds good. And that call we were listening to?"
"A girl called for an ambulance after her boss was electrocuted by a TV."
"Doesn't sound too weird."
"According to her," Owen says, "it happened while he was standing eight feet away from the set."
"That's more our kind of weird," Jack agrees.
"And then there's this." Tosh taps some keys on her keyboard to replay the emergency call. "When her boss fell to the ground his face was gone."
"The TV took his face?" Jack asks.
"That's what she says."
They listen to the whole recording.
"When was this call made?"
"Just a moment ago," Tosh replies.
"Owen, you're with me." Jack heads towards the exit shouting instructions. "Tosh, go through the database and try to find out as much as you can about face-eating TVs."
Lucy is sitting on a chair in the second hand shop. Her arms rest on one of the dining room tables. She holds the phone in her hand. "Why won't you help us?" she cries. "It took George's face."
The shop bell rings. Lucy wipes the tears from her face and gets up. "I'm sorry. We're closed."
"You're Lucy Yates?" Owen asks. "You just made a 999 call? Something's happened to your boss?"
Lucy doesn't reply. She just stares at them. At Jack more particular.
Owen waves a hand before her eyes. She doesn't blink. Owen turns his head to look at Jack. "Great," he mutters. He puts the black case he is carrying on the table. He takes a penlight from his inside pocket and walks over to Lucy. He lifts one of her eyelids and shines the light in her eye.
"Pupil reaction normal. She's not in shock. She's just not talking to us." Owen switches off the penlight and returns it to his pocket. "C'mon, sweetheart, we're good people you can talk to us."
"Congratulations. You just said your first word. Though most kiddies start with dada, so you may have to work on that a bit."
Owen glances over his shoulder at Jack. "I'll check the victim. Perhaps he's more talkative." He picks up the black case. "Where can I find him?"
Lucy nods faintly to the door in the back on the shop. Owen follows her directions. Lucy continues staring at Jack.
"What's your name?" Jack asks.
"Lucy." Lucy says after swallowing.
"Hi, Lucy. I'm Jack. Can you tell me what's happened here?"
Lucy looks over her shoulder at the back door. She starts to cry again. Jack leads her to an armchair and makes her sit down. He sits down opposite of her on a coffee table.
"I'm sorry, but I can't offer you a tissue. I'd offer you my sleeve, but a great coat is made of a coarse material. Not nice to blow your nose on that."
"That's all right." Lucy smiles through her tears and tries to wipe them away with her hands and shirt sleeve.
"That's better." Jack gives her an encouraging smile. "Now, tell me what happened before you made the emergency call."
"George had brought in an old TV set. You see, this is a second hand shop, and ..." Lucy waves her hand around. "Well, as you can see it's mainly furniture and clothes, sometimes fridges and a stove. George likes to bring in old computers and TVs and tinker with them; see if he can make 'm work again. Today he brought in a TV that must have been a hundred years old. People watched the Coronation on that, he said." Lucy stops talking and looks at the back door.
"And he thought he could make that work again?" Jack asks drawing her attention back to him.
"Yeah. He changed the plug and asked me to plug it in."
"Did it work?"
"It started crackling. George smiled; he thought it worked. Then these purple beams jumped from the TV and grabbed him. I didn't know what to do. I unplugged the TV and these beams let go of George, but they had taken his face. That's not normal, is it?" Lucy looks up at Jack.
"Doesn't sound normal."
"But that's what happened. You have to believe me. It really took his face."
"I believe you. Just because it isn't normal doesn't mean it's impossible."
"I have to take a look at George. Will you be all right here?"
Lucy nods. Jack gets up to go to the back room.
In the back room Owen is kneeling down by the faceless George. Owen has a puzzled look on his face. He doesn't look up as Jack walks in. Owen acknowledges his presence by talking to him.
"Well, he's alive, but I don't know how. His face is all gone: eyes, lips, nostrils. I haven't seen a complete removal of facial features since I used to watch the Muppet Show."
"And that's the TV that took his face." They both look at the TV. "Looks pretty harmless right now."
Owen shrugs. "I can't think of anything else that could have taken his face. Might as well be the TV."
"But you can give him back his face?"
Owen and Jack turn to Lucy who stands in the doorway.
Owen gets up. "I don't know if that's possible." He gestures to George. "We'll have to take him with us. And the TV too."
Lucy nods and tries to smile. "But you'll make him better? You'll try to make him better?"
"I can't make any promises."
Jack puts the TV set down at Suzie's work station. He climbs the stairs to the computer work stations where Tosh and Suzie are. In passing he hands his coat to Ianto.
"What have you got?" He crosses his arms as he stands behind Tosh.
"I found one incident of TVs that took the faces of people," Tosh replies. "It was in the old Torchwood One files, but they didn't investigate this case themselves." She nods at one of the screens. "London Police managed to keep this to themselves for quite a long time. It started in early May 1953 in the Muswell Hill area of London. People started losing their faces. The police were at a loss what to do. They just rounded them up and put them in a cage hoping the matter would sort itself."
"Completely gone," Suzie says leaning closer to a photograph of faceless people in a cage. "You can't even tell whether they were men or women from looking at their faces, or their ages. That blond with the petticoat, how old would she have been? A teen getting ready for a party? Such a teen's mum following the same fashion?"
"Did it sort itself out?" Jack asks. "What was it?"
"According to the report it was an alien that called itself the Wire," Tosh replies. "Through people's TVs it was feeding on human energy. Leaving the humans faceless in the process."
"Like what has happened to George."
"It sounds like it. But this Wire was defeated. The details of it are missing, but apparently it got trapped on a videocassette. The victims got their faces back."
"So it could be this Wire again," Suzie concludes. "Where did the videocassette go? Did Torchwood One take it?"
"No, I don't think so. It doesn't say. These are only eye-witness accounts. None of these people had the videocassette."
"And knowing Torchwood One, they would have looked for it," Jack says.
"That means someone else's still got it. I could try to run a trace on that TV." Tosh starts tapping keys on her keyboard. "Track it back where it came from. Somewhere along that line, it probably intersects with the videocassette."
"I don't think you're going to find it that way," Jack says calmly. "Videocassettes weren't invented yet in 1953."
"Then how ...?" Toshiko turns to him.
"Probably another alien has it. And we're not going to find it that way."
"But if this alien has released the Wire again, we have to find it. Before it makes more victims. It's the best lead we've got. It's the only lead we've got."
Jack nods. Tosh turns back to her screen.
"Perhaps this alien didn't release the Wire again, but part of the Wire was still stuck in the TV," Suzie suggests. "And if that alien could catch the Wire, then we can do too." She smiles. "Where is the victim? Maybe I can work out what the Wire did if I see him."
"Owen took him to the Autopsy Pit."
A few moments later Suzie, Jack and Ianto are looking down on Owen and George in the Autopsy Pit. George is sitting on the examination bed. His shirt is open. Wires attach him to a monitor. Owen is standing next to him in his white scrubs.
"As you can see," Owen points to the monitor, "George here has hardly a heart rate and very little brain activity. Whatever it was that took his face, it also seems to have taken most of his neurological energy and left him with minimal resources. Such as clenching his hands." Owen lifts up one of George's hands to show the others George is continuously clenching and unclenching his hands. "And the most basic of reflexes." He hits George with a small medical hammer underneath the knee cap of his right leg. A moment later George's leg kicks up a little. "But his reflexes are delayed and not as prominent as they should be. If I were to hold a flame by his hand he would not pull his hand back."
"You've tried that?" Suzie asks.
"Uh, yes, I have. I'm a scientist. I don't make claims I haven't tested." He gives her a cheeky grin. Ianto coughs lightly. "Right. That's all I can tell you. Don't know what took his face. Don't know how it took his face, and I also don't know how it can be returned to him." Owen turns to George and starts to remove the electrodes.
"What if we can reverse the process?" Suzie suggests. "I don't know. Hit him with another dose of whatever came out of that TV, and maybe they'll give him back his face."
Owen gives her a look over his shoulder. "Are you referring to the common misconception brought on by slapstick films that someone can get his memory back by whacking him over the head again? That doesn't work in real life, and you could give someone serious brain damage that way. Another dose of that TV and George is probably going to lose something else he'd like back."
"How do you know he hasn't lost that already?" Jack asks.
Owen just raises an eye brow at him. "While Suzie tries to think of a better way of curing George than exposing him to the same pathogen, where can I put him? He can't stay here; he'd be in the way."
"Take him to one of the holding cells. I doubt he's going to be bothered about the lack of ambiance."
"I think I will first try to find out what's inside that TV," Suzie says. "And then how that came out and took George's face. It's probably best if I set up for that in one of the lower level storage rooms. I don't want any of us getting accidentally hit by whatever this is. We're not using most of the storage rooms anyway." She directs her last remark at Ianto.
"You should know. You're in charge of internal logistics." Suzie turns around. "I'll go and set up."
"I'll help you." Ianto quickly follows her.
"Tell George to watch his step when you take him down to the cells," Jack says to Owen before he returns to his office.
Each holding on to one end of the TV Suzie and Ianto slowly proceed through the corridor.
"How about here." Suzie nods at the nearest door.
"I think that one is locked and I haven't got the key on me," Ianto replies. "Better take that one over there. At least I know that one's open." He nods at the door that stands ajar.
Suzie pushes the door open further with her heel and they shuffle past it into the storage space. They put the TV down on the floor. Ianto switches on the light and they look around.
"Well, at least there's plenty of room. We've got power, and there's a workbench so I won't put my back out. All I need is my computer and my instruments." She quickly heads out the door.
Ianto straightens his jacket and follows at a slower pace.
Lucy is standing by the window of her attic room. She overlooks the street and the terraced houses on the other side. She holds a picture frame in one hand and plays with the little metal bit that keeps the back of the picture frame in place. She finally decides to open the frame and takes out two pictures. The top one is of Lucy and a woman in her early fifties, her mother, sitting on a garden swing together. The other picture shows the same woman but about fifteen years younger. It is taken form very up close and only shows her smiling face and that of a man: Jack.
Lucy leans against the window sill and stares at the picture.
"Are you my dad?"
The smiling faces don't reply.
"Luce? Lucy, are you home?"
Lucy quickly turns her head to the door. "Just a minute, Mam." She returns the pictures to the frame and puts the frame face down on her desk before heading out the door.
Lucy hurries down the stairs, but stalls at the before last step. Her mother is in the hallway putting on her coat. Lucy leans against the banister.
"I thought I heard you come in earlier," her mother says. "Why didn't you come in and say hi?"
"How was work today?"
"George brought in a TV that ate his face," Lucy says without emotion.
Her mother gives her a curious look and then turns to the mirror to comb down a few stray hairs.
"And my father came into the shop." Lucy studies her mother's back but can't discern any signals of initial shock. "Or at least, a guy came in that looked just like that guy in the picture you said was my dad."
Lucy's mother slowly turns around. "That's not likely. He should look at least seventeen years older."
"Perhaps it was his younger brother."
"Did you talk to him?"
"A bit. He said his name was Jack."
Her mother musters up a smile and changes the subject. "I'm going to have a girls' night out with Elly and Sarah. So, don't wait up for us. Are you going out tonight?"
"Don't think so. Probably just watch some telly."
"I've made you a salad. It's in the fridge." She pulls on Lucy's arm to make her come down the last steps. She brushes her daughter's hair behind her shoulder. "Don't fret too much about that man you saw at the shop. It was probably just the bad light that made him look like Jack."
"Now, give us a kiss." Lucy kisses the cheek that is proffered to her. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Have fun." Lucy waves at her mother as she heads out of the door. Lucy walks into the living room and flops down on the sofa. She reaches for the remote, but stops when she thinks of what has happened earlier in the afternoon.