DISCLAIMER: Torchwood is copyright BBC, and Russel T. Davies. I'm making no money off this, and am not affiliated with the above. Why can't we have nice things!? The short film Dumplings was written by Lillian Lee and directed by Fruit Chan. No infringement is intended in either case-- only honest admiration.
Prologue | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine
In Amnion 10/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
The storm broke over Macao at quarter to one on the morning of July 15th. The sky, deepening one last time to a gray-indigo, didn't bother with preliminaries-- the rain came at once, a heavy downpour that was the trademark of Typhoon season. The bay rolled with its force but, apart from a few uncharacteristic flashes of lightening low in the sky, there was nothing truly remarkable about the summer fury. In the Entertainment District, tourists, wealthy foreigners, and Macao's business elite flicked dull, bored gazes towards the sky. The glitz and glamor of hotels, nightclubs and casinos quickly provided something more vivid for their eyes, and the rain was just an inconvenience. Officer Sun Gao Man-- Shuang's father-- ducked quickly back into his patrol car, coffee a little more diluted for his trouble. He sipped the overpriced brew, barking at his partner to roll the windows up despite the heat. The heavy shroud of drops blurred the endless neon lights and backlit towers, turning the skyline into a offbeat, cyber-impressionist painting.
Across the bay, near the warehouse district, Hua She Street accepted the downpour with the same reptilian malaise it used for everything else. Satellite dishes and TV antennae wavered on their precarious rooftop perches, and the few tenants who bothered with the constant struggle of keeping a tiny balcony garden received a brief respite. The freshly paved street-- which had baked uncomplainingly in the summer heat even as the storm gathered-- still held the warmth of the day. Just a few degrees cooler with the night, the rain sizzled against the blacktop, lifting the thinnest of misty veils. The fog twisted down the strange curves of Hua She Street and its smaller rambling offspring like a white snake. In the courtyard of Number Ten, the single crooked tree lifted its arthritic branches. The water lent it a strange texture, as if it were made of chipped pearl, or perhaps bone.
The street itself was possessed of a barely noticeable slope, a very gentle dip that began around Number Three and led one unsuspectingly downward. It was only if one happened to stop at the corner-- where dusty Number Fifteen marked the angle that turned into Fei Duan Road-- that the eye saw over the shoulder the jarring secrecy of descent. Already the gathering pools of rainwater began to run together, swelling the treacherous drains and washing the unsuspecting litter away. Bottles and wrappers were yanked along; the sewer drains roared like gnashing, wide mouths. The rain and debris of human living was consumed, falling away into the tunnels wandered underneath like a cancerous rot. Beneath the buildings and blacktop, the anatomy of Hua She Street endured, older than Macao or Haojing, which it had been centuries before. Its patience was the patience of the earth, which cares not for man; its lazy sprawl spoke of soil that has tasted blood and knows-- as all predators know-- that it need only wait long enough to taste it again.
Lan Wei was standing on her tiptoes in her canary yellow kitchen, elbows braced against the sink, when the storm's restless patter fell across her window. The woman herself barely noticed it, too busy tearing at the plastic of a donated bloodbag to focus on anything else. The Box was safely stored under her bed, wrapped in silk and locked in an old trunk, sighing in its not-quite satisfied sleep. Wei felt the prickle of its persisting desire on the back of her neck and shuddered. She stood in her underwear and faded, archaic camisole, pale and impossibly compelling in the gloom. Her slim frame shook with hunger and exhaustion-- her hair fell in an inky void around her shoulders, wisps quivering like the coils of Medusa's mane. Usually, she cooked the blood with dumplings, or at least warmed it in her creaky microwave, but the overwhelming force of her appetite blasted away the delicate veils of human pretense. Finally, she simply tore into the bag with her teeth, the slurp of her lips and thin tongue filling and washing against each wall. Sucking until the bag crinkled and had nothing left to give, Lan Wei reached for another, and another after that. In her bedroom, an ancient blossom-covered quilt waited to offer what little solace it could. For now, at least, the animalistic blast of her need drowned both memory and sorrow. Tearing into still another pouch of fluid, she sighed and tilted her head back. Little drops of crimson ran down her chin and neck, rolling across her breasts like an old lover's sure and familiar touch.
She made no move to wipe it away.
Jack Harkness, sleeping watchfully at Ianto's side, roused a little. His head, which had tipped back against the wicker rocker, lifted.
Please, not again. The thought sliced through his rest, which had been blessedly dreamless. His mind pulled from the tide of REM sleep, but not completely. Exhausted in both body and spirit, he could only founder directionlessly in that distressingly wide gulf between awareness and true waking. The sound of the rain on the roof pulled forth old, dormant associations.
(Dirt falling. Thick, rocky clods of it, down onto the lid of a casket. Caskets, for hadn't he stood at more than one funeral and watched the numb, despairing ritual take place over and over again? Something so hopeless about the soil as it slipped between fingers, as it fell from a fist that railed against the injustice of Death but could do nothing in the end.
And, worse still, those terrible flecks of earth against the face. On his cheeks, his forehead. Holding terribly still as his soldiers, his comrades, hoisted dirt onto the fallen. One more trench forced to serve as impromptu grave. Or, Belgium during the most hideous of winters, the kind that made even the memory of warmth seem pale and incomplete. The stillness of snow and bare trees torn apart by German artillery, men screaming, the forest exploding, and still everything-- even the fire-- was cold.)
The muscles in Jack's body locked up and went still in the centuries-old instinct to 'play dead'. His mouth opened wide, desperate for air, even as his chest tightened with the memory of John, John laughing. That mocking tone mingled with Grey's, with the voice that had once been young and trusting, and oh, god, he could feel the dirt on his face, they buried him, they left him down there for almost two thousand years!
"No more, not again," he mumbled, unable to wake enough to open his eyes. His hand, still cradling Ianto's, tightened briefly. The lines and shape of that familiar touch found him even in his dreams, and the Captain began to relax. Ianto was here. The slim, long fingers of the other man's hand clutched back for the smallest of seconds, quicker than the flutter of a ghost's eyelash. Another image sifted to the forefront of Jack's mind, buoyed by that fragile, new connection. The feel of Ianto against his back, strong arm across his stomach as the younger man moved inside him, and Jack murmured every dirty promise he could think of to feed the pace. A thin, psychic tendril uncurled and embraced Jack's thoughts. It came from a mind that was still very far away, still more than asleep, but it was also a mind that was used to protecting in its own careful, unobtrusive way.
There was no one to see it, but Ianto's eyes moved with sudden rapidity under their closed lids. As Jack's pulse and breathing evened again, even that small movement ceased, and Ianto was still once more.
The apartment Sun Jun Shuang shared with his father was on the third floor, in the building on the right side of the courtyard at Number Ten. The seven year-old was asleep on the top bunk when the rain started, resting on his stomach under his brightly colored dinosaur blanket. His mind-- which was at its most vulnerable when he was dreaming-- caught hold of an image that did not belong to him.
Dirt, Shuang whispered in his darkened consciousness. Burying. He rummaged through his mental corridors, chasing something more insubstantial than smoke. The dirt was falling on a coffin, on a hole in the ground. The picture was strong, thick and sticky with sorrow. It's discordance chased Shuang into waking-- Mama had been cremated, in keeping with Buddhist tradition. He remembered the bright orange and yellow flames, like thousands of blazing butterflies, catching up around her wooden coffin. The dream had not lasted more than two minutes, but the feeling was so strong that-- even as the boy suddenly pushed himself up off the mattress-- Shuang scrubbed at his face as if he expected to find dirt on his cheeks.
Groaning, he rolled onto his elbows to peer over the edge of the bunk. The little digital clock on the night stand read 12:50 am, casting a greenish glow on the cellphone that lay beside it. Shuang regarded this new silvery tool with some bemusement-- it seemed to sum up everything about the past week in its tiny, cheap casing. It was 'prepay', Baba said, which didn't mean much to Shuang, though he was given to understand that it wouldn't work for long periods of time. His father had pressed it into his palm earlier in the evening, just after they'd both washed their dinner bowls and left them to dry in the dish rack. Tonight was the first night Baba had gone to work since the 4-5-6, and there had been more strenuously repeated instructions and shakings of Baba's thick finger than the boy cared to remember. His father-- while watchful and loving in that distant, masculine manner modeled by his own male relatives-- had never been one for an abundance of rules or reminders. There was a space between Baba and Shuang, one the child was only peripherally aware of. It was not a terribly wide gulf, or one that was obscured. Instead, they were like two kingdoms that could see each other across the sea, familiar and foreign all at once. Shuang read his father's emotions with the ease of a mystic with a dowsing rod, but that didn't mean what he found always made sense.
This evening, the air had almost shimmered with all of Baba's busy, buzzing worries. The boy himself had been distant, his few safe certainties upheaved like broken bedrock by the apparition in the courtyard. He'd eaten his noodles with a heavy helping of guilt, and it burned his heart. There had been no words between himself and Ming when they parted-- just the awful, grating echo of his panicked accusation.
("Oh, Ming, why did you say that, before? Why did you say we never see dead-things here!? The gods heard you! You made it come true!")
Instead, they'd stepped slowly away from each other, each sending quick, furtive looks towards the tree. When it became clear the Blue Ghost wasn't coming back, they'd bolted for their respective homes without so much as a 'goodnight'. Ming's face had been perfectly calm, a painted dancer's mask, but the set of her jaw had betrayed her hurt. Shuang had seen that twitch of muscle, and known she was biting down on the inside of her cheek. Then she'd turned in a flurry of black hair and clicking plastic sandals, and he had run as well, not wanting to be the one alone amongst whatever unknown debris the Blue Ghost might have left.
She shouldn't have talked to it, Shuang reasoned to himself, edging down towards the ladder at the foot of the bed. He navigated the metal rungs easily, dropping to the floor from the third set and landing with a simian carelessness. Coming to the night stand, he picked up the new cellphone, turning it over a few times before losing interest. Dinner had been even more quiet than usual, and Shuang had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts it had taken him a moment to realize Baba had started speaking. The older man's voice had been low and tense-- heavy, like when he chastised Shuang for not taking the Tunnel, but without the anger.
"I have to go to work tonight," Baba had said with uncharacteristic insistence. The boy had looked at him uncomprehendingly, for the thought of Baba not going had never even crossed his mind. The aliens were gone; the doctors had poked and prodded their fill, school was back in session and even soccer was on offer again-- why shouldn't everything go back to the way it had been? And yet, those strong hands had closed around his slim shoulders as Baba knelt beside him, touching their foreheads together. Shuang was to use the cellphone to call the hospital if he started feeling funny at all, did he understand? Any weird things in the body, any loss of time, or if he should somehow hear the aliens again-- Shuang must call the hospital, and then Baba's work mobile.
"Baba," the boy muttered hesitantly, as if tiptoeing around a giant. "The aliens are gone. The TV and the teachers said so."
"Huh!" His father let loose with a strong of curses he never would have uttered in Mama's presence. "And who told the TV and the teachers all this wonderful news? Lying English dogs, deceitful sellers of children who kept secrets for over forty years! What a world we live in!" Then, he lifted Shuang's chin with one large thumb. "You listen to me, son. If those demons are gone, that's all very good. But if a man I've been chasing reaches for something, I don't wait to see if it's a gun or not. I shoot him. Got it?"
"Yes, Baba." The dutiful but seemingly earnest response had soothed the older man-- which was what Shuang wanted. The boy understood that his father was speaking of caution, of what Mama called 'self-preservation' during their talks about dead-things and when it was okay to lie. But Shuang didn't have a gun and, anyway, he hardly thought one would work on aliens. They almost never did in movies. He'd never speak the words to his father, but Shuang had far more pressing concerns than the truthfulness of Great Britain amongst the international community.
Presently, Shuang turned his gaze away from the mobile and the alarm clock, looking instead at the single, silver picture frame propped against the wall. He picked it up, holding it carefully between both hands and bringing it close. In the diffuse illumination of the city's many lights, the details were blurred, but Shuang knew them all by heart. This was Mama, and the sight was so familiar that his mind's eye filled in the gaps effortlessly.
"There was a ghost on Hua She Street," he said softly. "Or, at least, something like a ghost." In the picture, Mama stood frozen forever, smiling. She was standing by a fountain-- much younger than even the young mother Shuang had known-- arms hidden girlishly behind her back. Her short hair lifted a little in the endless breeze, pulled back by one of the many ribbon headbands she preferred. She was wearing a short green dress, one low heel canted outward, and her smile was one he knew well. I've got a secret, that playful grin said, and I'm not gonna tell you, but you're welcome to guess. Resisting the urge to hug the frame to his chest, Shuang instead set it back on the night stand. In a fit of restless frustration, he flopped down on the hard wood floor, fisting his hands in his red pajama bottoms.
"Tian sha de e mo!" That was a curse he'd learned from some of the older boys at school, but there was no one to scold him for it here. No, sir-- here was Sun Jun Shuang, all safely locked and bolted in Apartment 307, with the mobile and all his father's new concerns. Not to mention the bits of ghost-dirt from his dreams. Screwing his face tight, eyes burning, he locked up his body to keep from kicking and screaming. He didn't even like that picture of Mama all that much. She was so pretty when she smiled, but that was an old picture, and Shuang knew who that long-ago woman was really grinning at. That was College-Mama, and the sparkle in her eyes was for College-Baba, who stood behind the camera lens. The seemingly happy, carefree woman in the green dress was how Baba remembered Sun Zhu Liao. Shuang alone understood the secret isolation, the vast skies of her inner world lit by flashes of cheerful bravado-- it changed the picture in such a way that he and Baba might as well have known two completely different women. A little black kernel of resentment flickered in his child's heart, though Shuang was not capable of truly comprehending it. He only knew that he was alone, that he'd yelled at Ming and now wished he hadn't. Baba could worry about distant aliens and other television concerns, but all of that was vague and unreal to Shuang. Theory, wispy as fairytale or games of let's pretend. The world itself wasn't real, because Hua She Street was the world.
Muttering more bits of borrowed foul language, Shuang hauled himself up and walked towards the window by the door. The glass was glazed here, too, but he only had to stand on his tiptoes to reach the latch that opened the lower pane. Pushing at his already short pajama sleeves, he worked to inch the window open, peering up out over the sill. The rain roared down through the spaces between the tall buildings, splashing off railings and concrete walkways. The courtyard was already full of big puddles that oozed between the cobblestone. Shuang took in the scene with careful attention, eyes searching for the blaze of the Blue Ghost, or any dead-things that might have crawled in, suddenly alerted to the breach in his sanctuary. For all his fears, there was nothing, not even shimmering remnant of the ghost's dark blue corona.
Except, he considered with boyish cynicism, it wasn't really a ghost. It had a color, and dead-things don't have those. 'Ghost' is just a good word to use, like when Baba or the people on TV say 'demons' and mean 'aliens'. Why are you here, Daaihlou? He flinched a little, well aware he'd fussed at Ming for using the same familiarity. Please go away. I'm sorry you're lost, or dead, or whatever you are, but please go.
Unwillingly, his eyes lifted from the courtyard to the building across the way. The window on the far corner of the fourth floor was still lit, a single blazing square in the otherwise darkened hulk. Ming's window.
She has to forgive me. This thought did not quite reach the surface of Shuang's mind. For all his secret life and extrasensory gifts, he was still just a boy of seven. He loved Ming, but was far from a time when that could be articulated in any coherent way. The feeling was there, though, rippling in fathomless reaches of his mind. She has to, because she can't leave me, too.
Then, with that odd mixture of determination and practicality he'd inherited from each of his parents, Sun Jun Shuang visited the bathroom and finally climbed back into bed.
Across the courtyard, awash blazing light of the apartment she shared with her mother, Yao He Ming also heard the tinkling stampede of the summer downpour. In the far corner, the television blared a distressingly cheerful jingle, echoing around the small room as the late-night station switched away from the news and on to some program about gambling. Ming looked up briefly from where she sat on the small bed, her face a study of doll-like serenity. Surrounded by mismatched sheets and swimming in one of her mother's old nightgowns, the girl froze completely. Her eyes were the only part of her that moved, taking in her surroundings with a caution so deep it was more than instinct.
Some distance away, Ming's mother lay stretched out on the sofa, oblivious to the television's blather or the sudden roar of the storm. She'd drifted off earlier in the evening, limbs arranged in a thoughtless-- and somewhat sloppy-- echo of her usual elegant poise. The linen of her skirt road up ever so slightly, and her right hand still cradled the empty globe of a wine glass.
Ming gazed on this woman, her mother, whose body very deliberately invited the lustful caress of a man's gaze. Her thin arms pickled pins-and-needles pain from where Mother's manicured nails had pinched earlier in the evening. Rubbing absently at her already bruising skin, the child thought, 'She fell asleep in her nylons. Oh, she's going to be cross.'
In a little while, Ming would rise to gather the wreckage of cigarette butts that kept company with Mother, her glass, and the long-necked green bottle. She'd rinse everything carefully and perform all the little rituals that would put the apartment to rights-- up to and including setting out one of her mother's carefully tailored skirt and blouse combinations for the next day. Here, however, as the clock lurched with tired determination towards 1 AM, Ming snatched a bit of the night for herself. Her tiny fingers played over the tin she held in her lap, carefully plucking up each of her precious art pencils without making a sound. Most of them were little more than nubs, whittled down by her passion for the blank, two dimensional world she could fill by her own hand. Each pencil she selected was set in a line with the others, forming an orderly arrangement on the edge of her emerald nightgown. She looked at the colors she had arranged with a philosopher's patient contemplation, examining each shade of blue. One of these was labeled lantian, and that was the one she curled in her tiny fist. Gray, brown, and her ridiculously small shard of flesh-tone joined it quickly-- Ming put the others away and reached for her art pad.
Lantian, she thought, ignoring the twist in her heart that echoed with Shuang's words. That was the color. The Blue Ghost.
Angling the pencil against her paper, Ming began to draw.
Haojing- 'Oyster mirror'. The original name for Macao. The current title for the port is thought to come from the name of a temple founded there, 'A-Ma-Gao'. The temple was built to honor the goddess Matsu, who protected sailors and fishermen.
Tian sha de e mo- 'Goddamn monsters'. A curse.
Daaih louh- lit, Elder brother. Also used as respect for a male aquaintance younger than one's father.
Lantian- 'sky blue' or 'azure blue'.
So, we have Daleks and Cyberman dancing the conga, most likely with the Master in the lead (he doesn't follow well, that one)... what else? How about some Slytheen? Good ol' Margaret bopping along, most likely dancing with the Blowfish guy. They probably came in his sports car.
... I should not be allowed to type comments this late, clearly. ^^; Y'all know how I feel about feedback though, Blowfish or no. Come on... *Harkness leer* Please?