The Case of the Crashed Canine
by Amy L. Hull amilynh at
Written For Redshoeson in the 2008 Femme-Ficathon on LJ
Author's Notes: I did obsessive research that I hope a) doesn't take over the storytelling, and b) is generally accurate. To any Nepali readers (or readers who are familiar with Nepal), I apologise in advance for any errors I may have made with names, geography, climate, language, customs, etc. Please do let me know if you find something wrong so that I can modify accordingly. I was also unable, running so late, to get the story Britpicked, and so apologise for any errors in that realm. Flash-beta thanks to Missy and Valerie. Hopefully I've not introduced additional mistakes following their excellent suggestions.
Prompt: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Torchwood-style. Bonus points if Suzie had something to do with it.
Summary: Torchwood Three, minus Jack, is sent on a "wild goose chase to the Himalayas" by Harold Saxon. While searching for his MacGuffin they actually stumble across an alien creature.
Owen opened his mouth and Gwen's temper snapped. "So help me, if you ask one more time how long till we get there, I will kill you."
His mouth opened wider as his eyes scrunched closed. "We've been travelling for nearly two full days. I was yawning," he said, rolling his eyes at her. He leaned his head back just as the old truck hit yet another gaping hole in the road and his head bounced off the rear wall. "At this rate I'm going to get concussion long before we arrive."
The truck continued to jostle its way up the narrow road and Gwen peered through the dusty windscreen at the craggy peaks scratching against the sky. No matter how long they drove, the mountains' greens and blacks seemed to fill the entire horizon but never get any closer. When Torchwood Three, minus one Captain Jack Harkness, M.I.A., had first glimpsed the peaks through an airport window, all four of them had stopped dead and stared, speechless, until Owen had muttered, "Bugger me," just as Ianto breathed, "Incredible."
Now, in the open air, with the heat distorting the image now and again, the mountains looked unreal--nothing that enormous could truly seem real--and they were terrifying and ancient, breathtaking and majestic, humbling to behold.
The truck's engine laboured and then they shot out onto a plateau and slowed to a stop in a wide clearing ringed with shrubbery and trees. Gwen thought she saw an animal scurry away.
The driver pointed at a ramshackle outbuilding nestled against the rise of the next tier of the mountain. "We are here."
Gwen started to ask, "Are you sure--"
"How the hell is this any kind of 'here'?"
Gwen sighed and held her palm toward Owen. "I think we were expecting--"
Tosh's voice floated through the open window. "Gwen? Owen? Our driver says we've arrived and doesn't seem to understand--"
Owen flung the door open and stormed out as Gwen smiled apologetically at the driver. "Could you tell us where the resort is?"
"This is resort. Supplies are in hutch. Village and food--fifteen minutes' walk that way," he gestured to a rough path. "We will help you unload supplies and return on fourth day."
Gwen slid across the bench seat to the door and relayed their guide's information.
"Do you think they'll leave one of the trucks?" Tosh asked.
"Not possible," Ianto said. "We're not allowed to drive here."
"Not bloody allowed?? We're going to be stranded here for days in the middle of fucking nowhere without transport? How did you arrange this brilliant plan, tea boy? Someone offer you special perks?"
"Owen!" Tosh sounded taken aback.
Ianto was defending himself perfectly well. "How in hell could this possibly be my fault?"
"You are the one who books the travel arrangements!"
Ianto shrugged. "Not this time. It was all handled by the Ministry of Defence before I even heard about it."
"Oh, so that's how we got to spend twenty fun-filled hours in the airport at Abu Dhabi?"
"Owen! Will you shut up?" Gwen pushed stray hair off her forehead and blew out a breath. "We have work to do and this isn't helping. Tosh, you and Owen unload the sensitive equipment that we should handle ourselves."
Tosh gave a quick nod and soon the clearing had a neat stack of black plastic containers and another pile of zippered nylon bundles in bright yellows and reds.
Ianto handed paper money to the two drivers and bowed slightly, hands together. "Namaste."
They responded in kind and soon both trucks were clattering back down the road.
"I suppose we'd better put up the tents," Gwen said. "Tosh, you take the shielding off the containers and set up the surveillance equipment and the three of us will set up camp."
Ianto began unzipping the bundles and pulling out the lightweight frames.
"What kind of bloody fucking 'resort' has you set up your own tents on a naked mountainside? Bloody hell!" Owen unfolded the bright yellow heap and cringed away. "What is that odour?"
"It's what we'll be sleeping in, you and me," Ianto said brightly and Gwen tried to keep from giggling at his smirk.
"At least let's try to take advantage of that patch of shade." Owen picked up the flexible rods and began feeding them through the casings, then wiped his face on his sleeve. "How does anyone live in heat like this?"
"Well," Tosh said over her shoulder, "I've read that very high temperatures like these can dramatically increase the libido. Should be right up your alley, Owen."
Less than forty-five minutes later, they were sitting on the ground, gulping water.
"That went smoothly," Tosh observed of the assembled equipment and shelters. She punched a code into a remote device aimed at the last unopened case. A double beep sounded and she lifted the lid then pulled out their guns. Ianto rose and passed them out to the others.
"Well done, Tosh," Owen said, actually looking impressed.
Tosh might have blushed, but as red as all their faces were from the heat, Gwen couldn't tell with any certainty.
A satisfied smile did pass across Tosh's face. "It's good to know that the image transmitter can broadcast a false content signal even to airline security. I wouldn't want to be up here without our equipment."
"Maybe it's time," Owen said, head tipped back and eyes slightly closed, "for Torchwood to get its own plane so we don't have to bother with security details."
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Everything's working, then, Tosh?
Tosh nodded. "I've got the monitors set, the generator primed, and the boosters in place. The satlink should allow us to use the computers and our mobiles. According to the documents Saxon's people sent, this was originally tracked by both Torchwood and U.N.I.T. It was Suzie who submitted the report and the suggestion that the issue was not worth investigating." She inspected the file on her computer very closely. "It was during a review by Harold Saxon's people--"
"The bloke running for Prime Minister?"
"Yeah, him. The file says the Ministry of Defence wants to make a more thorough examination of all things possibly alien."
"A U.N.I.T. report was sent to us by the Minister of Defence? That's a bit odd, isn't it?" Gwen asked.
"It says here that their long distance scans showed a noticeable level of artron radiation as well as signs of a crash. The file says that the radiation has been being monitored for the past year by U.N.I.T. and that the fact that it has remained at steady levels indicates that some technology may have survived whatever crash brought it here. We're to...find whatever it is and see if it can be modified for defence purposes. Torchwood gets the honour of looking into it since we dismissed it in the first place."
"That seems fair enough," Gwen said. "And how often does work pay for a jaunt in the Himalayas anyway?"
"Since when does the M.O.D. know about Torchwood?" Owen asked.
"Apparently," Ianto said, "ever since Suzie sent them the surveillance scans of a possibly alien ship crash landing last April."
"Did anyone know she did that?" Owen asked.
There was general head-shaking and Gwen felt there was something she had meant to say. She tried for a moment to think of it but found that the attempt felt like wading through deep water. Maybe something more viscous. She closed her eyes to concentrate, felt weariness tug at her every fibre, and shook her head to clear it. "We should all get some sleep and approach this fresh in the morning."
"Gwen's right," Ianto said. He checked his watch. "It's a quarter to eight local time and, even though that makes it only two o'clock Cardiff time, we might ought to get some sleep. It's been over thirty-six hours since we left the Hub."
"This time zone is off by fifteen minutes?" Gwen felt her head swimming. "No, don't tell me. I can't work it out now anyway. See you in the morning." She glanced at the sunset scattering its colours across the terrain and then crawled into the nylon tent to sleep, hearing the others begin to settle in as well.
Owen groused, "God. I never would have thought I'd miss pissing in a real toilet."
"Be glad you're a man," Tosh countered.
Ianto chimed in, "And just wait till you need--"
"Don't, just... Don't," Owen said.
His voice was drowned out by the sounds of wind and water and rustling leaves and Gwen felt she'd just drifted to sleep when there was a loud crash, followed by a growl and a louder scream.
"Tosh!" she called, reaching for her gun as she heard the others shouting and cycling their own side arms.
There was a flurry of sound and footsteps, a hiss and another growl, a creaking squeak, and then three gunshots.
"What was it?" Gwen shouted.
Owen still sounded half asleep. "Fuck if I know! Are there any bloody lights?"
A torch clicked on and Ianto, strangely rumpled, blinked near its dim light. "I heard a trampling to the south. Whatever it was, I think it's gone."
"Tosh, you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Just shaken." The fingers of one hand worried at her earlobe and the other arm was wrapped tightly around her middle. "I heard, I thought, a whirring or a clicking sound, and I saw two yellow glowing...eyes...through the tent wall. I'm afraid I rather lost it."
"We should have had a schedule to keep watch," Gwen said.
"Yeah, well, I'm not getting back to sleep any time soon," Owen said, looking away. "I'll take this watch and kick Ianto up in two hours. It'll stop me having to listen to him snore."
The ground, which Gwen hadn't minded in the utter exhaustion of a few hours prior, now seemed lumpy and hard and sleep came less easily knowing that something was out there.
The morning's cursory examination of the area revealed no tracks or other useful information but, as Ianto pointed out, the baked-dry ground wasn't terribly likely to show marks. The trek to the promised village took twice the promised fifteen minutes, and, even in the early morning, the oppressive heat had them all blowing and panting.
There was no shade at all on the path and Gwen shrugged at her tank top, which was stuck to her back. Ianto was swiping at his face with his tee-shirt sleeve every few minutes, Tosh had her hair in two highly undignified and uneven bunches, and Owen's face was bright pink. Everyone's clothing was marked with large damp patches. "I wonder how bad the heat will be at noon or two," she said and they all groaned.
It was over the next rise that they finally saw the village.
"You have got to be kidding me." Owen's tone was flat and he leaned over with his hands on his knees.
"Well, it could be worse," Tosh offered. "There are a few signs and it looks like there's power and some shops."
"Maybe there's even a toilet," Ianto said, patting Owen's shoulder as he started down the gentle hill.
Gwen was pleasantly surprised to see a large, Latin-alphabet worded sign pointing to "Resort Custom."
The shop was staffed by a young man who bowed slightly, palms together like the drivers from the day before. "Namaste," he greeted them, and they attempted to respond in kind. The clerk identified himself as Wangchuk and offered packaged foods, bottled water, village maps, and information about hiring guides.
The information mostly washed over them as they recovered by consuming energy bars and drinking nearly an entire litre of water each. Then Ianto and Tosh gathered supplies for the evening while Gwen addressed the clerk.
"Last night our campsite was attacked by something. It sounded large, had a deep growl, and the eyes seemed to glow. Do you have any idea what this could be?"
Wangchuk's eyes grew wide and flitted amongst the team members. "No, no idea. Perhaps you were very tired, perhaps the unfamiliar place is frightening?"
"Look here, there was no imagining or dreaming involved--"
"My equipment was damaged," Tosh said. "Something must have been there."
"I have no information. Perhaps you might inquire at the tavern? Our best guide, Mingma, is often there as well." Wangchuk's hand brushed rapidly against the countertop and his voice quavered.
"All right," Gwen said slowly. "Could we leave our supplies here until we head out this afternoon?"
"Most certainly. You will find the Basgavari Tavern along this street."
The walk was hot and dusty, but short, and the dimness inside was welcome after the glare of the sun.
"How do you people live like this?" Owen groaned, flinging himself into a chair and downing a draught of water.
"One grows accustomed to it."
They turned abruptly toward the voice with the posh accent, blinking.
A form stepped away from the bar, hand extended, "John Strathmoor."
"Gwen Cooper." His handshake was firm in spite of the slick sweat coating their hands. "This is Owen Harper, Toshiko Sato, and Ianto Jones." They each shook hands in turn. "We didn't expect to find..."
"An ex-pat in this tiny village?" Strathmoor's smile split his ruddy face. "Well, I'm a businessman and I think there is an excellent chance to turn this village into a major tourist spot. For the parts of the year with the better weather, that is."
"And when is that?" Owen asked.
"October through March is quite pleasant. If you think this heat is bad, just stay for a fortnight or so until monsoon season."
Gwen exchanged a tiny grin with Tosh as Owen swore under his breath and rubbed his forehead.
"What is it that makes you interested in this area for tourism?" Tosh asked.
"The novelty, mostly. Basgavari is a little way from Kodari and I believe it could appeal to a class of travellers more interested in experiencing an authentic Nepal. Kodari is much more like a city, crowded and bustling like Kathmandu. Basgavari, however, is perfect for a relaxing vacation. Once my resort is built, it will offer small houses for tourists and will build up local business to provide food and guided tours-- but now I'm giving you a sales pitch. Sorry about that; I often get carried away."
"I'm just sorry you hadn't built it all before we had to come here. We're staying at a 'resort' that has us in tents."
"Doctor. Dr. Harper." Owen flashed a rueful smile for an instant.
"My apologies. Dr. Harper, that is precisely why I am so passionate about this. You four have come here on holiday and is there any relaxation or comfort for you? No." Strathmoor sat back on his stool and sipped the drink on the bar.
"Actually, we're not here so much on holiday as on," Tosh paused, "expedition. We're interested in local superstitions, stories, tales of strange goings-on."
Strathmoor chuckled. "If you're hoping to find an adventure, that's what Everest's for, or the parts of Nepal more populated with Maoists. You'll see that Basgavari has nothing of that sort."
Gwen found Strathmoor's wheedling smile disingenuous but smiled back anyway.
"Well, we'd heard from a few places that there had been a strange explosion or meteor strike a little over a year back," Ianto said.
"I've only been here for nine months. You'd have to ask someone who lives here."
"Do you know where we might find a group of people willing to talk to us? And are there enough English speakers for us to have any success?" Owen asked.
"You mean to say you speak no Nepali and didn't bring an interpreter or guide?" Strathmoor looked like he was trying to control a laugh.
Gwen felt a bit sheepish. She glanced at Tosh, who was arranging things in her rucksack, and at Ianto, who was walking casually around the room while closely examining the layout, the trinkets, the high-perched altar.
Owen looked directly at their new acquaintance and said flatly, "Well, Ianto here speaks Welsh, I can get by in French, and Tosh speaks Japanese, but I suspect that won't get us any farther than English in this area. Especially the Welsh."
"No, Mr. Strathmoor," Gwen said. "Our travel agent didn't arrange a guide. Could you suggest one?"
"Jamyang!" Strathmoor called. "Jamyang? Is Mingma here today? He may have some customers."
A tiny woman who looked to be in her thirties appeared. "Namaste," she said quietly, making the slight bow. Gwen saw Ianto and Tosh match the woman's gesture. "Mingma is getting supply. Back in...half hour?"
"That sounds fine," Gwen said. "Could we possibly ask you about large animals that live in this area? We thought we saw something in our camp last night."
The small woman nodded. "Maybe sheep or dog. Maybe leopard."
"Leopard??" Gwen squeaked in unison with Tosh and Owen.
Even Ianto's eyes were wide as he said, "That would fit with what we heard and saw."
"Jamyang is just trying to scare you," Strathmoor shook his head. "Unless you had small animals or quantities of food at your site, the local fauna are unlikely to venture close to humans."
"Guess that means we'll be leaving those supplies in the village, then," Owen said wryly. The others nodded.
"Our main reason for coming is that we wanted to find out if there had been anything strange that happened around a year ago, maybe something falling from the sky," Gwen said. "Or anything odd happening in this past year." Jamyang still looked blank. "Any unexplained illnesses or deaths?"
"Ah, yes. Several fever deaths this winter. More than usual."
Owen pursed his lips. "Anything more...out of the ordinary?"
"Before two month, death from fear: one old and one young. And two tourist eaten by animal last week."
Gwen exchanged a look with the others. "Is there anyone who could tell us more about these deaths? The ones from fear and animals? Were they in a similar area?"
"Old man die on path from Tatopani. He was using hot springs for health. Very, very nice, hot springs. You want to visit?"
Gwen shook her head slightly. "Perhaps. But...what about the younger person? Was that at the same time as the old man?"
"Young man after old man. Young man die night before wedding, found outside of village, eyes very open, skin very pale." Jamyang shuddered.
"That must have been awful," Gwen said softly.
"Very sad for wife, yes."
"What about the tourists?" Owen asked.
"Tourist come before two week. Stay, talk, then, last week, they go on hike to Bhote Kosi River, never return. Part of one body found by river."
Gwen flinched. "Part?"
"Were they just sight-seeing? Or maybe visiting anyone in particular?" Ianto asked.
Strathmoor said, "I had a few meetings with them. They were possible investors in my resort."
"Guess they're not going to be much help now," Owen said.
Gwen shot him a piercing glare.
"Has there been any talk in the village about what may have frightened the first two so badly?" Tosh asked.
"I've heard some of the locals claim that there is a powerful fiend from hell, prowling for unwary travellers." Strathmoor shook his head dismissively. "So much country superstition is entirely unfounded. A few children have talked about a dark canine creature. But it is all conjecture; no one has seen anything themselves. It's just gossip and speculation."
"It is not wise, to speak so. To mock spirits is to invite anger."
"I'm sorry, Jamyang. It's something that sounds entirely silly in my perspective of the world."
"So where are these places on a map?" Owen asked. "Is there anything the locations share in common?"
"They all seem to be outside the village itself," Ianto said.
Tosh quickly pulled up a topographical map of the area on her handheld. "The tracking systems we had placed the event around here," she pointed. "Jamyang, could you show us where the bodies were found?"
The woman pointed to three spots. They were somewhat scattered, but within a 2-mile radius of the strongest residual energy signal Tosh had.
"Good work, everyone," Gwen smiled. "Now we just need to go looking at sites."
"Do you think this Mingma could take us there?" Ianto asked.
"I can guide anyone anywhere within ten miles, even without looking," announced a newcomer. His shirt and shorts were as bright as his smile.
"Ah, here's my friend," Strathmoor said, slapping the man's shoulder. "He's shown me everything there is to see in the area as I've decided where I want my resort. You may depend on him."
"All right, then. Could you lead us here?" Tosh showed him the screen.
Gwen raised one hand. "Actually I, um, thought we should split up and check the site by the river where the mauled bodies were found as well as the area with the energy readings that might show the original disturbance."
"I'm going down to the river site," Owen announced.
"All right," Gwen said. "Tosh and I will check the possible crash site. Mr. Strathmoor, could you lead us here?" She indicated the spot on Tosh's handheld map.
"I would be delighted."
"Then Mingma can take the fellows to the river, if that's all right."
"Certainly. Let us go," Mingma said, heading out the door.
Gwen called after them, "Ianto? Owen? Try not to kill one another."
Gwen's hiking-boot clad feet felt heavier with every step. The exhaustion was daunting; they'd been climbing in the harsh afternoon sun for nearly two hours. She kept on regardless; the prospect of sleeping tonight--in the dark clearing, in nylon tents, in the middle of nowhere--without knowing what had attacked them the night before didn't bear thinking of. She determinedly did not contemplate the possibility of its return.
"It's here," Tosh announced. Her handheld beeped softly.
"The most gorgeous view?"
Tosh didn't even turn but shrugged out of her rucksack and pulled more equipment from it.
Gwen circled the area where Tosh was kneeling. "These bushes have some scarring that could have been caused by singeing. I'm not sure I see a large enough impact site for a crash."
"There is a slight indentation," Tosh said, "and according to Mr. Strathmoor's account of the weather patterns, this would have landed before the last rainy season, so much of the change in terrain could have been washed away."
"What are you people looking for?"
"That's a good point. My scanner is detecting something here," Gwen knelt and brushed at the dirt. "Ow!" She pulled her hand back, pressing her thumb to where the index finger was welling blood. "Tosh, look here."
Tosh stepped over and quickly dug up a bit of scuffed black. "It's jointed, and looks like an anodized alloy. Definitely mechanized."
"Now, look, I've not brought you all the way up here to be ignored," Strathmoor declared.
"I'm sorry," Gwen said, standing and brushing dust from her uninjured hand on her shorts. "We do appreciate your time and help, truly. We're just...this is very sensitive information."
Strathmoor gaped. "Who are you?"
"We really can't explain that," Gwen said, putting on her best apologetic expression and smiling gently. "What do you think, Tosh? Is there any indication of more fragments?"
"I've found a few more bits, but it looks like this is pretty much it. The residual energy readings are consistent with a year-old crash of something small and very light--possibly an escape pod of sorts--probably containing only one passenger. I suspect there's nothing more than this one fragment. Looks like a long trip for nothing."
"Well, if that's solved, then I guess we can head back."
"Am I to understand," he blustered, "that you've had me lead you on a miles-long hike up the mountain and you're not going to tell me what that bit of metal is, why you're here, or--"
Gwen deliberately put on her most charming smile. "Mr. Strathmoor, I'm famished. Does the tavern serve dinner?"
"Excellent dinner, Ms. Cooper. Have you had Nepali food before?"
"I have," Tosh said. "Rice and lentils with vegetables and meat is what I remember."
Strathmoor's face showed respect. "Very good. It's called dhal bhaat and I recommend it with vegetables and chicken or lamb."
"That sounds excellent." Gwen smiled at him again. "Let's head back. I'm nearly out of water. Tosh, do you need help with the fragments?"
"No. I have everything in my rucksack."
The return trip, mostly downhill, was a relief, especially without the sun as high in the sky. The mountains cast long shadows and the shafts of sunlight lit an already magnificent vista that kept distracting Gwen so that she almost tripped several times.
"That was truly amazing food," Owen said as they trekked back to the campsite.
"I ate so much I'm stuffed," Tosh agreed.
"I think we all did. Makes it seem more like a holiday now, doesn't it, knowing that there isn't a real problem here," Gwen said. "And you two are sure that you didn't find anything significant by the river?"
"Nothing worth noting. Definitely evidence, but not anything terribly useful for us. A couple of people died and now the area's been cleaned up."
"It was absolutely beautiful there," Ianto said.
"I can imagine," Tosh said. "With the river there and the mountains in the background. Gwen, you were right about this being an excellent job perk."
"Hello?" Owen turned, walking backwards for a bit and waving at them. "A perk? We've got Vera, Chuck, and Dave as practically our only source of information. We've got bodies of people eaten by animals. I'm failing to see the 'perk' of this."
Ianto shook his head then turned to Gwen, "I'm going to do a search for the information about the victims, coroner's records and the like when we're back. Mingma also mentioned that they'd come to discuss business with Strathmoor, so I'm going to look into his business plans and background."
"That's a good idea. Then we can see that there's nothing going on and we can get out of here tomorrow."
"I don't think that's possible," Ianto said. "Our transport won't be back until 'the fourth day' which is, at the soonest, the day after tomorrow."
"Just don't get too caught up in how 'beautiful' everything is. We need to find out what's going on, deal with it, and get out of here soon. You should have heard what Mingma said about monsoon season."
"And what was that, Owen?" Gwen asked.
"That it's starting soon and there's so much rain for over two months that you can't even see buildings over the road through the downpour. He's said travellers have been stuck here for a whole month because the transport couldn't get back across the engorged river or up the muddy paths."
"Then we'd best figure this out quick as possible," Ianto said, stepping around Owen and towards their camp.
They all fell silent as they stepped into the clearing. Their tents had been torn and broken and their equipment was scattered, boxes tipped over and left open.
"Fuck!" Owen stomped into the clearing, fists clenched.
Tosh ran for the pile of black cases, making quick work of the first lock. "Side arms!" she said, and the others claimed their weapons.
"Set up a perimeter!" Gwen said, weapon at the ready. She, Owen and Ianto circled while Tosh opened the next container.
"Our laptops and monitoring information are still here," she called. "It's a good thing we locked up half the equipment."
It was not long before they declared the area clear.
"Whoever it was, they've been gone for hours. It's like someone knew we were going to be away from the site all day." Gwen took one more look at the scattered debris. "Let's start cleaning up, see what's salvageable."
An hour later, the debris was gathered and either junked or set back up. The tents were a loss, though fortunately there had been extra ones in the storage hut. Gwen noted that Owen's face was smeared with dust turned to mud from the sweat and Ianto looked grungier than she'd ever seen him. From the condition of her arms and shins, she suspected she was a similar sight. She walked over to Tosh and sat beside her, offering a bottle of water and draining her own. In Wales she would have floated away by now, drinking so much water.
"What's the damage?"
Owen and Ianto turned to listen to the response.
"We have limited generator power, but it is still functional. I've got the satlink working, so we have comms and one computer. Any more will drain the generator. My handheld seems to be functioning well enough. Not too bad, after all, as it turns out." Tosh smiled, her face as beet-red as everyone else's.
"Good. Let's see what we can find out about the dead tourists, then," Gwen said.
"And I'm going to check out Mr. Strathmoor," Ianto added.
"Good. He's just...too smooth. Too--" Owen grappled for a word, then shrugged and lay flat on his back.
"Something's still not right about the attacks on our camp." Gwen frowned, casting about mentally for what was standing out as wrong at the edge of her consciousness.
"How do you mean?" Owen turned toward her slightly.
"It's that...we did have food here. Only a bit, but some, and we were here as well. And this animal...deliberately attacked our equipment. Then today, something came back. Doesn't that seem odd to you?"
"Hmmm," Owen said. "I see what you mean. It would be quite a coincidence. What do you think it means?"
"I don't know."
"I've got something," Ianto announced.
"I do too," Tosh said, still poring over her handheld. "It looks like the dead couple were Strathmoor's former business partners."
"The laws here about land ownership, especially regarding agriculturally viable land, are very strict. He does seem to have applied for permission to purchase land, but he will need Nepali partners and any farm land may not be developed for tourism. He must be trying to form a partnership with someone in the village." Ianto looked up at the others.
"So any external interest, any other foreigners expressing business ideas, would be a threat." Gwen said thoughtfully.
"Maybe his village friend has a scary pet that he used to scare off the former partners so he could capitalize on the whole thing himself," Owen suggested.
"That doesn't explain the attacks on our camp," Tosh said.
"Collateral damage. He thought we were more competitors. It looks like this is all the concern of local authorities. We can tell them our suspicions and head home." Owen rubbed his hands together. "Showers, fast food, pubs. I can't wait."
Ianto squinted at him. "Wouldn't there be more to this if the Ministry of Defence felt the need to send us?"
"What do they know? They're government."
"We're kind of like government," Gwen said.
"Better than. But Saxon's running for Prime Minister. He's preoccupied. I say we go home and report that there was nothing here."
"But what about the piece of alien tech?"
"That could be...just a coincidence," Owen said. "We find stuff all over Cardiff, after all."
"The Himalayas aren't set right over a huge rift in time and space," Ianto said.
"That we know of," Owen added.
Ianto rolled his eyes.
"We'll check into it further. But I think Owen has a point. There isn't much more to do if all we have is the one fragment and the rest...it may well be a local matter." Gwen stood and stretched. "Who wants first watch tonight?"
"I'll take it," Tosh volunteered.
Owen raised a hand. "I'll do second."
"Ianto, do you want third or last?" At his shrug Gwen said she'd take third and crawled into the newly assembled tent for sleep.
"Lucky her. She has the tent to herself for this first bit. I have to sleep in a confined space with this one." Owen pointed to Ianto. "Not that it matters which of us it is. We all smell like old wet yak."
"There will be showers when we get back to Kathmandu," Tosh said.
"Oh, good. At least when we get back to Abby Dabby--"
"Abu Dhabi," Ianto corrected.
"At least we won't be there looking and smelling like vagrants for--how long is our wonderful stay there this time?"
"Much shorter. Ten hours this time," Tosh said brightly.
"Ugh. At least it gets us on our way home. I'm going to sleep now. Tosh, wake me for my watch, all right?"
Gwen woke to shrill screams of pain, shouts, and the low sound of a growl. Her hand was on her pistol grip and she was out of the tent in seconds, her torch shining across the clearing and joining two others. The growl sounded one more time, then there was an uneven thudding that faded into the distance. The screaming faded to a gasp and groan and her torch found Tosh kneeling beside Owen, who was spattered with blood.
"Fucking thing bit me!"
By the time she shouted, "First aid kit!" Ianto was already lifting it from a container.
Tosh's torch shone uselessly across the ground as she held hands over Owen's thigh while blood seeped through her fingers. Gwen held her torch to light the area and Ianto, ever calm, pushed Owen's shorts above the wound and started packing gauze onto it. Owen cried out again and Gwen felt her hand on the torch shaking.
"I've got this one, Tosh," Ianto said.
"Where else are you hurt?" Tosh asked, picking up her own torch and checking him with eyes and trembling hands.
"I'm fine. Don't make such a fus--ow!"
"Owen, I need you to take a look and let us know what we need to do for you," Gwen said.
Tosh helped Owen sit enough to see the injury and Ianto pulled the gauze gently away to allow glimpses.
"No femoral artery involvement. Three punctures, two negligible, one...deep. Into the muscle, I expect. I'm most worried about infection from the bacteria any wild animal may...wait. Shine that light...oh, give it to me!" He grabbed the nearest torch and shone it close to the wound, taking the gauze from Ianto and peering at the punctures. "The edges of the sites are clean."
"You sound surprised. What does that mean?" Gwen demanded.
"It means that it wasn't a tooth. There's no crushing to the area. These are slicing injuries, caused by a sharp object, probably metal." Owen shifted slightly. "Gwen, look on the bottom of my leg. What do the corresponding bites look like?"
Gwen leaned down and angled the torch and her head to see. "Not even a word, Harper." She checked the fabric of his pants and the skin carefully. "There's not a mark here," she said.
"Then it can't have been a bite, per se, can it?" Tosh asked.
"I could have sworn it bit me. But these injuries are more consistent with a knife attack, not an animal bite. Whatever got me was not organic."
They secured camp more thoroughly before heading out. The previous day they had locked their weapons away at camp. Today they each had a gun in their knapsack, expecting the situation to escalate. The trek to the village took twice as long with a bandaged and stitched Owen limping and complaining every step of the way.
At the top of the final rise, Tosh was the first to speak, "My God. What happened?" The village looked entirely different. Debris was strewn about and there were dozens of people in the streets who seemed to be in mourning.
Gwen ran ahead and heard Ianto behind her.
"We'll just catch you up, then," Owen called.
The resort shop was closed and they sprinted toward the tavern, barely noticing the sweat pouring off of them or the villagers moving quickly out of their way.
They burst into the tavern and found Jamyang there, alone. "What's happened?" Gwen demanded, reaching into her knapsack and nodding for Ianto to check the premises.
"There are more dead. Wangchuk's sister. Mingma's father." Jamyang did not look up and was turning and turning the blue beads of a bracelet she wore.
"How? Who did this?" Gwen tried to soften her voice in spite of the adrenaline rush.
"Before one year, Mingma find Nuba. Nuba...like dog with three legs. Sharp teeth. Mingma plead it not hurt him and it sit, sound like cry with sorrow. Nuba not leave Mingma side after."
Ianto gave the all clear and Gwen gestured him over then prompted, "Where did Mingma find this three-legged dog?"
"Near where you go yesterday with Strathmoor."
Gwen looked around nervously. "And where is Strathmoor?"
Jamyang looked up, whole face wet with tears. "Strathmoor very angry. He believe you know too much, you here to stop his business. He threaten Mingma and Wangchuk and me, show us what he can do to family. He make Nuba kill."
"I thought you said that Nuba was devoted to Mingma. Did Nuba obey everyone?"
"Nuba here for three month until Strathmoor come. Everything good until he speak more Nepali. Now sometimes Nuba obey Strathmoor. After tourist death, I order Nuba: obey none but Mingma and Wangchuk and me."
"But it didn't work," Gwen said slowly.
"Jamyang, where are they now?"
"Mingma and Wangchuk, they take Nuba to hunt Strathmoor. Get revenge for family. They go up. High up."
"We'll make sure they're all right. We'll bring them back, okay?"
Ianto followed her out of the tavern and they could see Tosh and Owen, nearly there.
"Tosh! Get out your handheld. And leave Owen. He can wait at the tavern. They've gone up the mountain!"
"Leave me? Who's 'they'? What do you think--?"
"Sorry, Owen," Tosh called as she followed the others.
"Let us know if Jamyang thinks of anything else we should know!" Ianto called back.
The running did not last very long, not on the incline, and not in the heat. Now that Tosh knew what to look for, the energy readings, although faint, were steady and as reliable as a GPS.
"It's stopped moving," Tosh said.
"Thank God," Gwen gasped. "Hopefully they'll stay wherever they are and we'll only need to catch up. I don't know how much more I can do, especially since it's only getting hotter.
Ianto touched his headset. "Go ahead, Owen."
"Jamyang said to tell you that both Mingma and Wangchuk are carrying large knives. She wants you to be careful."
"Great," said Gwen. "Alien robot dogs, greedy entrepreneurs, and well-armed vengeful villagers."
"This way," Tosh panted. "Do you think they know it's a robot?"
"I think they must," Ianto said.
"The piece we found must have been part of the leg that was destroyed. At least, I'm assuming it was originally a four-legged robot dog. That seems easier somehow."
"Very likely. The piece we found was jointed. I'm also guessing the energy readings we're getting are generated in part by its power source." Tosh stopped, turned, adjusted their course, and continued up the mountain.
They'd walked another fifteen minutes when Gwen held up a hand to Ianto and tapped Tosh on the shoulder. "Shh. I think I hear something."
Most of what was being said they could not understand, but at least one voice sounded like Mingma. The voices grew louder and, as they crept nearer, they could hear the growl of what must be Nuba.
They were soon able to see around the rocks and shrubs to where Mingma and Wangchuk were shouting at Strathmoor. The robot dog stood on its three remaining legs between the villagers, growling at the other man, a black alloy skin reflecting the sunlight. A row of spikes on the robot's back stood up just like an angry or frightened dog who'd got its hackles up. Its eyes were lit up with a yellow glow that must have been what Tosh had seen that first night and its mouth was open, revealing tooth-like three-sided metal structures around the top jaw.
Gwen turned to Strathmoor, whose face looked entirely avaricious, a mask of greed and power.
He roared over the two villagers' voices, "You have no choice. I will fulfil my plans and you will help me or I will see every member of your families dead. I can destroy everything you care about, and I'll be able to do it because of the creature you brought home. It was the instrument of death and you harboured it and comforted it. This is on your heads!"
Gwen nodded to Ianto and Tosh. Ianto moved to the side to come at the men from another angle and Gwen drew her weapon, aimed it, and shouted, "Stop! All of you!"
"Stand down," Tosh said. "Drop your weapons!"
"Do it now!" Ianto ordered.
"Thank God you're here," Strathmoor babbled. "These crazy locals brought me up here and were going to murder me, probably for my money or--"
"Give it up, Strathmoor," Gwen said, training her gun carefully on him. "We know you've been manipulating these men and the town, and using the dog to kill for you, all just to try and build your resort to make money."
Tosh edged closer. "Mingma, Wangchuk, set your knives on the ground."
The men lowered the knives but continued to hesitate. "How can we know you will help us and not your countryman?" Mingma asked.
"Because Strathmoor is a greedy bastard who's guilty of murder. We'll arrest him and take him away," Gwen said firmly.
Mingma and Wangchuk set their knives down and Strathmoor immediately shouted something Nepali. Nuba growled louder and crouched as if to leap.
Wangchuk yelled a command to Nuba that sounded similar to what Strathmoor had just said, and Nuba leapt on the Englishman, knocking him off his feet. The dog bit the man's leg and dragged him to the edge of the steep path then shook. Strathmoor screamed. Nuba tossed his head and the man slipped. Ianto dropped his gun and leapt toward them. Nuba pushed harder and Strathmoor fell, grasping for purchase and getting hold of Nuba's leg.
Ianto scrambled closer, reaching out. "Grab my hand!"
Mingma joined the fray, reaching for the glossy black of the dog.
Then Strathmoor and Nuba were tumbling head over heels until, with a last scream, the man toppled over a steep edge and could be heard no more while the robot bounced down the hillside, a piece occasionally flying loose and shining in the sunlight.
They took the men back to the village, then made the long hike to retrieve whatever they could of the robot. Leaving it behind was now only a last resort, though they gladly left Strathmoor's body to the vagaries of the wild.
That night they deactivated Nuba--surprisingly intact--and packed the robot away in the containers with their equipment and supplies. Tosh reactivated the image transmitters.
The next morning they headed into the village to get breakfast and say goodbye. This time Owen declined to limp his way there and stayed instead to wait for their transport. He asked only that they bring him back a couple of gallons of water and decent food since the "wild animal" had been Nuba and so was no longer a concern.
The village was still cloaked in mourning, but Mingma and Jamyang greeted them.
"Namaste," they replied, bowing in return.
"Thank you for what you have done," Mingma said.
"You're welcome. I'm just sorry we weren't able to prevent the deaths in your families," Gwen said.
"At least there will be no more deaths."
"We're sorry for your losses, and that we couldn't return your dog to you."
"I will miss Nuba, but, of course, I miss my sister more," Wangchuk said. "Strathmoor was determined to force us to apply for the land purchase in our names and threatened the rest of our families and much of the village. My wife is soon to have our second child. We had to stop him before he harmed anyone else."
"There wasn't anything else you could have done," Gwen reassured them. "And since we've found out that Strathmoor didn't register his visas that he was here, his disappearance will never be connected to you."
"Thank you. That is relieving."
"You're welcome. Would you like to know how Nuba came to be here?"
"Yes, thank you."
"What we were able to recover of Nuba indicated that he was built in the Yegros system," Tosh said quietly. "When we fed the Nepali for 'Please don't hurt me,' into our translator, it showed that Nuba would have heard something similar to, 'I am your master. Obey.'"
"Well, that's certainly handy," Ianto said.
"After that, its translation program would have begun to assimilate your language, which is why Nuba responded to Nepali but not English. He would have been made with his primary function to be a companion and would have been miserable if he'd had no one fond of him, no one to please."
"He was a good dog. Faithful and true," Gwen added.
"Yes," Mingma agreed. "He was, even if he was metal. I am glad that at least he had a home with us in his exile."
Owen breathed in deeply and smiled as they stood outside their hotel in Kathmandu. "Ah, real air again. And we're back in the land of toilets. All is right with the world."
Gwen stared at him then shook her head, smiling. "You're impossible."
"And you love me for it," Owen smiled.
Tosh and Ianto stepped out of a taxi. "Everything's checked in," Tosh said brightly. "They let us give them all the equipment and containers for tomorrow's flight. It's amazing what a false content projection and government ID will do. All we have left to do is enjoy sightseeing and dinner for the evening."
"That sounds wonderful," Gwen said.
Ianto held up a newspaper with a photo of a smiling face. "The English-language papers say that Harold Saxon is the new P.M."
"We missed the vote. I was going to vote for him, too," Owen said. "Well, all's well, and all that, I suppose."
Tosh took the paper, reading, "He says he's been contacted by aliens?" The others leaned over her shoulder to read along. "Do we know anything about the Toclafane? This says there's going to be a televised First Contact tomorrow."
Ianto checked his watch, doing calculations. "We should be in the middle of our layover in Abu Dhabi for that."
Gwen shrugged. "It looks like we might get to watch then. Should be interesting. Let's get dinner."
o fin o