A Brief History of the Lammergeier in Wales
Set before Countrycide

1. Étude (Gwen & Owen)

Yr Wyddfa. The volcanic tomb of the ogre Rhita vanquished by the gallant Arthur of folk romance and legend (so the tourists are told). The reality may be divorced from the mythology but it is no less impressive for it: a craggy expanse of cold magma, squeezed and folded over the aeons by inconceivable pressures, stretching skyward for a thousand meters to touch the canopy of heaven. The Place of the Eagles – though there have been none here in modern times. Instead the lower slopes and pastures are home to wheatears, pipits, choughs, ravens, curlews. A panoply of smaller avian species.

The quaint curio of a mountain railway has vanished with the less hardy tourists to winter indoors. The summit cafe lies shuttered and dark, its stone walls barked occasionally with discarded packaging thrown as if in a tantrum by the high winds. This place of stark beauty was once a hinterland of the industrial age. In the valleys below the mountain lie the ruins of mills and quarries. Copper, lead, zinc and slate stoked the dream of Victorian expansionism, yet long before them another empire mined gold here for the majesty of Rome. A thousand years removed from the annals of the Romans this ancient land that claims Arthur as her own still clings irrepressibly to her great heritage of high culture and noble language:

"Bugger this for a game of soldiers," Gwen muttered glancing at her watch again. Three hours twenty two minutes fifty seven seconds of – well – mind-numbing boredom… Here she was, charged with saving the planet from all manner of ravening extraterrestrials, with nothing more to do than lie flat on her fanny until her elbows wore out, worrying about how long it took for frostbite to take hold. She should have been a detective. At stake-outs you ate pizza and listened to the radio in relative warmth. The ignominy of it: Crime Scene Investigations: Snowdonia. Eight hundred and forty square miles of nothing more dangerous than a few teenage joy riders and a couple of sad doggers in a battered old Volvo.

"Ssh!" hissed a voice beside her jabbing a finger towards a dark speck in the distance. It was almost at the horizon before the true size of the creature became apparent. "It must be two and half metres across!" Despite the dampness of the grass and the cramp in her legs she was almost impressed. Perhaps today size was everything… Part of her felt for the creature. A fellow traveller pulled from normal warm climes into the chill mountain air. Poor thing. Only it had flown here of its own accord whilst she was merely obeying orders.

Owen grinned behind the binoculars. "Old Bone Crusher is certainly big, I grant you. He used to be known a lamb vulture."

"It's a vulture?" Gwen asked, suddenly feeling less warm towards the bird. "Carrion eater?" If it wanted bad meat then it ought to better off in Cardiff with its Friday-night tradition of trampling kebabs onto pavements.

"Actually he prefers bone to rotting flesh. He picks up the larger ones and drops them onto rocks to smash them."

"Clever." She wiggled on the blanket to try and get some blood back into her feet. "How come you know so much about them? Wikipedia?"

He looked at her disdainfully for a moment. "Bird watching's a hobby of mine."

"I notice you didn't say ornithology," Gwen responded as tartly as she could in the circumstances.

He snorted, then relented and grinned. "You mean you can look at a majestic creature like that and not feel the wondrous magic of nature?"

"Not particularly. Once you've met Myfanwy everything else pales by comparison."

He smirked. "Muggle."

"Muggle? Owen Harper there's a side to you I haven't seen before. A book reader of all things."

"Audio book," he said. "I listen to them in the car." He turned back to the tree line and tried to zoom in. "Bugger. Lost it."

A cloud with the face of a weevil separated from the grey mass and slid amorphously out of sight. It's getting to me, she thought. All those long hours imprisoned in her subterranean office. No windows to gaze out on the rain and be thankful for the mercies of central heating. No ray of sunlight over the desks to remind her of afternoons at the beach. Only concrete and stone echoing with strange cries from the cells and lit with the flickering algorithms of Toshiko's computer screens. Sometimes it was too much and she had felt herself drowning in a sea of terrors, the urge to flee hanging heavy in her throat. She had not even fired a gun before joining the organisation. She had been police liaison, for God's sake; a rubber truncheon and a sharp word had been her only weapons. Now she woke up next to Rhys sweating from nightmares beyond his understanding. Jack understood; he had explained that darkness itself was comforting – that it was the harsh light of day which exposed the entrails of danger, laid bare the sinews of horror. It had helped her sleep at night though not calmed her nerves in the early morning before departing for work.

She faced enemies existing in a plane beyond humanity. All that she had known, all the minutiae of experience gathered from birth, useless now. Creatures so different in psychology that there was no common ground between them. They acted without recognisable body language or facial expressions. Eyes of glass and paper smiles. Then, just as she thought she was coming to terms with ravenous Martians, she had found out that there were home-grown horrors equally as alien. Truth be told it wasn't the things from space which frightened her the most. No. It had been the discovery that there was something malevolent at the bottom of the garden. That the frightening fairy-tales of her childhood did have some basis in fact… The others treated it all like a complex game. Even Tosh whom she expected to shy away from trouble shrugged it all off as an academic exercise in logistics.

She picked a stone out of her shoe and flicked it over Owen's back. It fell soundlessly into a fold on his jacket. She was going to end up like Dot Cotton, a wizened stick of memories and regrets, passing out advice to an uncaring audience. Or like Suzie. Stepping over the line between human and monster because she could no longer see things in perspective.

And Jack's conscience was as alien as anything else. How could a man who would never die begin to feel empathy for their brief lives? Whatever agenda he was working to, whatever powers, principalities, thrones or dominions to which he was answerable she couldn't begin to guess. The messages they received daily from official sources, whether government or United Nations, read more like advisories than commandments, to be acted on or discarded at his whim.

At first, after the constraints of the police force, she welcomed the absence of rules. Revelled in situations where she had free reign to act without recourse to legislation. They set their own limits, became masters of their own fates. Later she came to understand that the laws were there to protect both sides… They existed as much for due process as to curb the excesses of authority.

There was no turning back. She was in it for the duration. Death or Retcon, they joked, following their beloved Commissar with as much blind devotion as the Stalinists or Maoists before them. It wasn't a healthy environment to operate in but as the Captain was wont to point out who else could do the job as well? She had to admit that there was a certain amount of expediency to the Hub's setup. In the final analysis she wasn't quite sure why she stayed on but someone had to look after the victims whilst the others played toy soldiers with reality. And she also had a guilty feeling that the adrenaline buzz was getting addictive…

A winged shadow passed overhead as the second Lammergeier sought out its mate. She shivered, but not from cold. The doctor remained glued to his binoculars. That at least was unexpected. Or perhaps she was just being unfair to him. He did have a modicum of roguish charm about him. And besides, at least here she stood less chance of being covered in blue bile by the end of the day or having her limbs chomped off by something with more than the average number of legs. Overhead the shape made a return journey. "Are you sure we're safe?"

"As long as you're warm and breathing –"

"Not sure about the first. Can I have some more coffee please?" Sandwiches wouldn't have gone amiss either.

"Besides it has a very poor sense of smell." Finally the binoculars were lowered. For some strange reason Gwen expected to see black ink marks around his eyes.

She snorted. "I hope I'd have a poor sense of smell too if I had to stick my nose into decaying animal every meal time." Something bleeped in her pocket. For a brief moment she was lost as to its source. A text message. The screen was flicked open with a snap of her wrist. From Tosh. As she read it her heart sank further. Is there anyone here not fucked up, she asked herself.


"Just Rhys," she lied.

Her earpiece cracked into life with Ianto's soft voice. "It's time."

"This feels really wrong to me." But it was too late to back out now. Too late to return to the cosy domesticity of a nine-to-five.

"That's a bit rich coming from the girl who said she wanted to slip her boyfriend Retcon in a kiss-and-tell session."

Her stinging retort was almost at her lips when a dragon's silhouette fell over them, silencing them both.


2. Ésprit de Corps (Toshiko & Ianto)

The chrysanthemums had come late this year. Now the wind blew them across the path like the snowy wings of angels. They tickled her skin where they touched making her giggle. Grandfather admonished her for not being suitably solemn but the sun was out and she wanted to go home and play in the garden with her dolls, not spend the afternoon at the shrine listening to the priests droning on. They paused at the Torii gate outside the courtyard. It was a boundary he said, between the finite world of life and death and the infinite world of the gods. She hadn't understood but the tone of his voice made her look closely at it. She marvelled at how something made from simple wooden beams could be so elegantly beautiful. Grandfather bowed his head respectfully as they passed through, his bald pate shining like a lantern in the sunlight. Like a vulture's…

Toshiko awoke with a start, muddle-headed from the warmth in the SUV. It was becoming increasingly unpleasant; she wished she could open a window, blow the cobwebs away from her mind.

"You fell asleep." Ianto managed to make it sound like a capital offence as he stared out of the driver's window at the scrambling cloudscape. Beads of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead.

"So sue me," she said crossly. But it was the first thing he'd said in hours and she really would rather they had an argument than fall back into awkward silence.

She was still recovered from the metaphysical bruises of last night's encounter. Relationships were like razor cuts, she thought sadly, only running warm when the blade went deep. Another wasted evening buying comradeship with sweet bags and deference, starving for something long-term and stable.

Gone too were the lights of London, the solitude of the crowds. The clubs where everyone was either beautiful or alone, and everywhere men spent more time on their own appearance than at any semblance of intelligent behaviour. You went out for sex and entertainment. If you wanted a conversation there was always the Samaritans… Half the venue off their heads on E or – as Owen would phrase it – Columbian marching powder. She missed the dynamism of the music, the tribal pulse of the dance floor. She did not miss the shallowness, the superficiality of the lifestyle.

Wales was different. Here a smile was a genuine smile and not the rictus of a predator sensing game. But it was, even in cosmopolitan Cardiff, the land of the parochial and the provincial. How many times had she been told she spoke English well. At least, she thought ruefully, you could get an honest laugh out of saying the same thing back to them.

She was lonely, that was easy to admit. In the capitol there had been any number of willing plonkers trying to get into her good books and her trousers. They pretended to listen to her out of pure selfishness. The men in Cardiff were too well brought up for such a ploy. They either ignored her or steered the conversation towards football or worse.

There had been one real attempt at partnership. Thomas. It had lasted a couple of months before the conversation turned onto CND and whether she had any relatives killed in Hiroshima she might like to talk about at his evening meetings… Always politics, history. Never asked to discuss what interested her. No one outside of university cared about the latest statistical algorithms, pattern recognition routines. At the end of the day all she was to them was a pretty freak. Owen had provided a release of sorts. Yet even he had drifted away towards the police woman. The lure of the new and the ordinary she supposed.

Sometimes she phantasised about being born an Amazon warrior princess, kidnapping virile young men for husbands and slaves as they fell at the feet of her horse, struck dumb by her beauty and might. It was a world a million miles away from a stuffy SUV and its dour misanthrope of a driver. Please God, she prayed, don't let me end up with Ianto.

He disconcerted her. It was difficult to make out what he was thinking, if he was actually thinking some of the time and not just walking around on automatic pilot. Even his attempts at flattery were clumsy, stilted. When he had told her she smelled nice she could only think of Hannibal Lector sniffing the air in his cell as Clarisse Starling came up to him. When he said her hair looked good she thought of 'trophies' and the tooth fairy. She had no idea whether he had a partner at all or whether he lived alone in a flat full of stray cats. Or maybe dogs. A brace of Pekinese. He didn't act like a pussy lover. She choked back a laugh at her phrasing. Perhaps that really was it…

Across the other end of the dashboard a scowl formed. Ianto had finally loosened his tie in the heat and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. He looked to her like a typical school bully. Or an accountant.

"Oh for goodness sake say something," Toshiko spat. "I'm sorry it's me here instead of Jack. I'm sorry my conversational skills aren't up to his. I'm sorry I'm of no significance or use today. Just stop sitting there resenting me for not being who you want me to be."

Cool blue-grey eyes looked at her steadily for a moment before blinking dismissively. "I've no idea what you're talking about."

Now she felt embarrassed. "Sorry. Late night." There – apologising again. Always putting yourself down. She didn't have the heart to tell him she noticed Jack's photograph in his wallet when he went to pay for petrol.

Ianto shifted in his seat. "Actually, I was quite enjoying the peace. It makes a nice change from Owen's constant complaining." After a short while he smiled. "You get used to your own thoughts wandering around the Hub at night."

The atmosphere inside the SUV was becoming increasingly poisonous. A foetid stench of sulphur and ammonia permeated the cab, wafting forward from the rear of the vehicle against the breeze from the air conditioning. Ianto seemed immune to it. In fact, now she thought about it, he was pretty much impervious to most things that sent the others into waves of hostility and hysteria. A good guy to know in a crisis she supposed.

She turned to ask him how long they had to endure the stench and the heat but his gaze was fixed on two birds gyrating in the sky above the trees. From their size and markings she guessed they were the lammergeiers. By rights the birds ought to have been hunting in the skies above the Alps or Spain. Somehow – and Jack had suggested the Rift could be the cause – their internal compass had drawn them off course to the only mountain in the area high enough for their habitat. Adults too, by their buff yellow body colouring and slate grey wings. But they were just birds to her. Something to be ticked on a manifest and filed away in memory under sightings: vultures. She got the feeling Ianto felt the same way too.

She wondered what the other two were doing out on their field observation rounds. Ianto concluded that Owen would be regaling Gwen with fanciful tales of recent nocturnal conquests and Gwen herself would be regretting ever leaving the sanity of the police force. Toshiko thought otherwise. It was pretty obvious the two of them had a certain chemistry. They had probably ignored the mission and were cavorting around in the undergrowth like a pair of rabbits.

A rough bark from behind brought her back to her senses. "How much longer?" Myfanwy might be enjoying the Jurassic temperatures inside the car. Toshiko Sato was not.

"Very soon." He glanced at the sky. "It's almost dark enough." Almost subconsciously his hand touched his wallet through the jacket fabric.

I saw that, she thought, then conspiratorially, forgetting her earlier suspicion, I wonder if Gwen knows… She took out her mobile to text her. Beside her Ianto turned round to unstrap their passenger's cage.

Soon a dark shape was flapping its way over the landscape, hungry and eager.


2. Élan (Myfanwy)

It is was an unfair fight from the start. There was no natural predator like Myfanwy in the lammergeiers' wetware. Eyes blinked and wings turned instinctively but the response that would be correct for an eagle or other larger raptor was misplaced here. They danced across the sky, feathers and leather. The vultures were eerily silent, an occasional harsh rasp reverberating over the rocks and tree canopy. From Myfanwy's elder throat came a noise like tearing steel. Given a larger brainstem the birds may have developed a strategy to cope with the flying saurian, but the imperatives of avian adrenalin had locked on to flight-or-fight and the pterodactyl had the benefit of a larger jaw and serrated teeth.

Viewed from the perspective of the ground it was compulsively horrifying. Spreading her wings wide to steady herself on the autumnal thermals the creature bent her neck towards the nearest lammergeier. As it veered to the left the leading wing came within snapping distance of Myfanwy's jaws. She bit. A quarter of the wing came off in her mouth. The remains of the lammergeier, scattering droplets of blood as it went, spiralled out of control to the earth below. Its companion, presumably the female, swooped inconsolably over the body in low arcs a mournful cry escaping its beak.

Almost in glee the pterodactyl dropped like a stone towards the still warm corpse, catching it in the end of her mouth and crunching it whole. The noise echoed like a gunshot around the glade. Not yet sated she rounded on the other bird. The second fight was shorter, as if the remaining partner had lost the will to continue. Soon the only visible sign of the lammergeiers were a few discarded feathers. Screeching victory Myfanwy made a lap of honour around the field before landing awkwardly on a large rock and eyeing her fellow Hub companions with a strange intelligence.

"Good doggy," said Gwen nervously, feeling supremely stupid as soon she said it. For some reason her hunger had quite vanished. The pterosaur dropped its head low, looked slyly at her. Close up it did look a bit cute, she admitted to herself, reaching out tentatively to scratch its pointed head.

"Christ" Owen exclaimed, pulling her back forcefully as Myfanwy's jaws snapped at the space previously occupied by cold fingers. "She's not a bleedin' chihuahua."

She wrenched herself out of his grasp, then remembering how the teeth made short work of bone and feather, turned and retched emptily on the grass. Behind her the doctor made sympathetic noises. It didn't sooth the feeling of stupidity or the rising flush of embarrassment in her cheeks.

"She's a dinosaur – with the brain the size of a walnut and an inversely proportional appetite."

"How the fuck do we get it back in the cage without losing a finger?"

A chuckle. Not malicious. "We wait." Simple really. "Myfanwy's cold-blooded, right? Used to the tropical climate of the Jurassic age. We wait for modern Welsh weather to freeze her into a stupor."

"She's okay normally," he added. "She just gets a bit excited when we let her out for a bit."

A bit like you, Gwen thought. She could have murdered a coke to take away the bitter taste in her mouth. It was a shame about the birds really. Rare, she knew, but as Jack had pointed out their Myfanwy was far rarer. Best to let her out and eat an island visitor rather than any indigenous species, he said, and she did get very tired of her daily repast of sewer rats, dried dog pellets and stale pizza.

On the rock the pterosaur shivered visibly, hugging its featherless wings close to its body. With any luck no one would have spotted their saurian in the twilight. Night would have been better however pterodactyls were day hunters and in the black sky the dark-adapted eye of the vultures would have been a significant advantage.

"Bring the cage. We're going home." Owen's voice came disconcertingly from beside her and over her earpiece simultaneously.

Ianto's sardonic reply was lost in momentary static.