Note: Part of my fake third season. This story can be read as the first fic in the series, or you can read "The War At Home" and "Ten Rules for Successful Dating" as prequels.
Title: The Extraterrestrial (1/4)
Prompt: "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"
Characters/Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Johnson, Lois, Alice, Steven, Rhiannon, OCs
Warnings: child endangerment per the film
Spoilers: up through CoE, set post-EW
Words: 25,500 (6,300 this section)
Beta: fide_et_spe and lawsontl kicked this into shape. All remaining mistakes are mine alone.
Disclaimer: Auntie Beeb owns the characters, Steven Spielberg owns the setting. William Kotzwinkle wrote the novelisation, which was a heavy influence.
Summary: Torchwood sees yet another alien menace, but to a lonely little boy, it's his new best friend. Written for the reel_torchwood challenge.
A/N: Fanfiction dot net keeps pulling out the damned scene breaks. I'm trying to fix it, but they change their damned code so often things will get missed. Tell me if you notice something weird because it looks fine on my end. Reason #253 why I kind of hate this website. *stabbity*
Back when Gwen first met Rhys, being up past midnight was just part of what they did, drinking strong tea and stronger coffee and weak beer, studying for exams or talking about books and films and who was shagging whom on the third floor. Some nights they'd stay up until dawn, and then crawl bleary-eyed to the back row of the class and try to make sense of the lecture. It was mad and it was fun and it was her life.
She tried to hold onto this thought, glancing at her watch as it passed twelve. The rain had finally stopped, which meant only her feet were still getting soaked. The rest of her was already wet to the bone anyway.
Midnight, in the puddles, as Jack prodded at the broken alien on the pavement, Ianto readied the body bag, and Gwen tried to make heads or tails of the readings on her scanner. Hit and run victim this time, unlike the earlier pair of Horendi that terrorised Llandaff until the pair had managed to shoot one another dead in the middle of the street. Or the three Weevils on the loose before that. Work had been one misery after another today.
Jack nodded at her, and Gwen shook her head. Had he said something while she'd been gathering wool? He tilted his head again, and then she glanced back, saw the approaching Heddlu, and sighed.
"There's nothing unusual on this," she said, and passed the scanner off to Jack before strolling over to smile, chat, and exert authority while trying not to come across as exerting authority. Behind her, the boys loaded the squashed alien into the bag for processing in the morning. No unusual toxins, nothing radioactive, just something fallen through the Rift in front of a cab. They could deal with it after some sleep.
"A few more minutes, and we'll be out of here," she said to the young constable nearest her, a sweet lass with a familiar mixed look of boredom, annoyance, and vague curiosity.
"The driver said he just appeared."
Gwen bit her lip. The alien (Jack still wasn't positive of the species) would have appeared out of nowhere, and the cab driver couldn't have stopped, and that was that. She gave a look back to Jack and Ianto, who were hefting the black bag between them into the boot of the SUV. "Dogs'll do that when they run into the street," she said.
"Great Dane. Had one when I was a girl. Size of a small pony it was."
"That wasn't a dog." The constable stared at her.
Well, she'd tried. "You know," Gwen said, clutching the small bottle in her pocket, "I think you and I ought to sit down with the driver and ask what he saw, maybe over a nice cuppa?"
"That would … "
"Dammit!" Jack's voice carried, and Gwen was already back to him, weapon drawn, before she registered that neither Jack nor Ianto was in danger. Jack looked at his wrist strap, which beeped in a too-familiar fashion. All the systems back at the Hub forwarded to it these days, what with the three of them always on the move, and also because Jack never spent the night there anymore unless he was working. Rift alert. She sighed.
"Near Bristol." He tapped something to make the beeping stop.
Ianto frowned. "That's further away than we've seen it extend before."
"Yeah." The Rift had grown in intensity but contracted its range for a while after the bombs, after … After. However, over the last couple of weeks, they'd found themselves chasing Rift spikes farther and farther afield. If they went to investigate this one, they wouldn't be home until two at the earliest.
Jack looked at both of them. Gwen tried to wipe the exhaustion from her face, but she probably failed as badly as Ianto did.
"Gwen, I want you to finish up here. See if there's anything else we need to know about this. I don't think we do, but let's not get sloppy because we're tired. Interview the cabbie, and if there are any problems, do a quick clean." Gwen went to protest, but she'd already considered the Retcon, hadn't she? Hardly necessary these days, though, after the planets in the sky and the Daleks in the streets. Everyone knew about aliens. Everyone knew they were murdering bastards. "Then go home. Get some rest. Try not to be in before nine or ten unless the world is ending."
"We'll check out the alert. If it's small, we'll take care of it. If it's large, we'll … " She could tell he didn't want to say, 'call UNIT.' Every time they called UNIT, they lost a little more of their autonomy, but they couldn't handle an invasion alone. "We'll think of something. Don't expect us in early tomorrow."
She nodded. "Good luck."
"Good night," Ianto said, and climbed into the passenger side of the SUV. As they pulled away, Gwen realised she had no vehicle of her own.
"So," she said, fixing the constable with a pasted-on smile, "where's that driver?"
Once the brightness from their arrival through the rift in space-time faded from their sensitive eyes, the team spread out in a wave over the darkened and misty forest floor. A crescent moon overhead peeked through the leaf canopy, winking at them when the clouds parted.
Over the ridge and across the way, the lights of a settlement set the night aglow, but here amongst the saplings and wet bracken, the team was hidden by the night. Zie breathed in, sampling the mixture of lush and noxious odours of this world. Every planet they visited had its smells and its flavours. Scents of luxuriant decay enfolded zir, the mulch of years under zir ducklike feet. Zir job was to collect and protect the tiniest and greatest of vegetable life, taking them to the Great Topiary so that samples might be preserved from every world. It was a holy mission.
Zie went to work.
At this hour, and with Jack's general disinterest in anything regarding traffic laws, the trip wouldn't take long. Ianto took readings at the dashboard, but they were too far out for more specific than "something came through," so he spent the time drowsing while Jack sang along with the radio.
Jack's tastes in music were as catholic as his tastes in everything else. He had obvious preferences, but at the end of the day (which it was) he'd just as happily take anything with a clear signal, and if he didn't know what he'd picked, he'd make something up. Often, after listening too long to Jack's version of a song, Ianto would have to look up the correct lyrics to jostle the new ones from his head. At the moment, Jack was serenading him, quietly, with "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
"Stop messing about with the words."
"Those are the real words."
"They don't make any sense."
"Nope." Jack had a distant look on his face, which usually meant he was thinking about things and people from a time before Ianto was born.
"If you're about to launch into a tale of how you shagged John and Yoko, please skip it."
"Consider it skipped."
They were getting close, and Ianto rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He and Gwen were in a silent competition with regard to who could go longer without complaining out loud about fatigue or being overworked. The winner would be rewarded with keeling over from exhaustion, he was certain, but telling Jack point blank they needed more people hadn't worked, and Ianto refused to follow Gwen's suggestion of denying Jack sex until he agreed. They didn't have many other options for staying sane.
He rechecked the scanner. "That's interesting. It's an atypical breach."
"I can't. That's what it says on the screen." Ianto wished, not for the first time, for a glossary. He'd gladly trade it for Tosh being there, warm and alive, to explain what she'd meant when she programmed it in the first place. He flipped over to the raw data coming in, hoping to make some sense of it. "The readings from the Rift are weird."
"This is a stable breach. There aren't the fluctuations we normally see." He turned the screen to Jack, mindful of the sudden road hazard they posed as Jack squinted at the moving graph.
"How far back does that save readings?"
"A few months."
"Damn." He followed the readings into a wooded area, the SUV bumping over the dirt road.
"It's a manipulation event. Someone's deliberately opened our Rift to come through from somewhere else." He didn't have to mention Hart for Ianto to get the familiar shudder. "See if you can get a lifeform count on non-terrestrials."
Ianto fiddled with the controls and let out a low whistle. "Unclear, but it looks like ten to fifteen."
"Any hints on what they are?"
"Not yet." The signatures didn't match anything in the scanner's database. They couldn't interface with Mainframe from here to cross-check records, and there was no-one back at the Hub to do it for them. But he wasn't going to complain.
They were coming on it fast, and Jack killed the engine. They shared a look. Ten to fifteen possibly armed aliens of unknown origin had come through the Rift intentionally, close to a populated area. The word "invasion" floated between them uncomfortably. This could be an expeditionary force, or, given the right species, the first wave. At least he knew for certain they weren't dealing with Daleks or Sontarans, or he'd have already pulled out his mobile to call UNIT for support.
Instead, he waited for Jack.
"I'm going to check it out," Jack said, after a moment. "Stay here."
Ianto was already out of the SUV, and closed the door without slamming it. "They're in this direction." He started walking.
"Stay with the car, Ianto. I'll keep in comm contact."
"Are you coming or not?"
"I'll make it an order."
"Then you should think of an inventive way to punish me later for not following it. You want to go alone because you've got a good idea whatever this is will get you killed."
Jack nodded. "I'll be fine either way. If they're dangerous, I'll let you know and you can make the call for backup." He clipped his keys to his belt; they'd all lost precious time on missions before, trying to find the keys in Jack's pockets while dodging laser blasts and worse.
"And then I'll likely get myself killed anyway going into these dark, spooky woods," the description was belied by the glow of streetlights from a nearby ridge that overlooked the city, "all alone to retrieve your body from the invaders. So we'd best stick together."
In the crazy and embarrassing daydreams Ianto never admitted to, this was the part where Jack would place his hand on Ianto's shoulder and say: "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you." In reality, Jack bit his lips together, then said, "Fine."
Their torches at the ready, they walked deeper into the woods following the readings on the scanner.
Lights stabbed out, splintering through the trees, and zie squealed. The Captain swivelled zir head, and zir eyes went wide. The rest of the team felt the swift fear run through the two of them. Discovery! Danger!
The Captain placed a hand with long fingers on the shoulder of the Technician, who hurried with the machine. This world was full of uncatalogued flora, a new ecosystem on every island and continent, and at this location, their teleportation machine could easily move them here and home again. Other locations on this world had this same instability - Sedona, Giza, Perth - but none had this particular abundance of plant life. But now it seemed this site was lost as well.
The team gathered their meagre samples for teleport. Zir own sample, a tiny yew sapling, trembled in zir palm, and zie murmured to it tenderly. Footsteps came closer now, and the thread of panic snapped among them. They fled, spreading out among the weeds and prickly bushes.
Voices, low and harsh, came to zir ears, and zie held in another squeal as zie ran, no longer sure of direction or danger. Zie recognised the intruders as members of the dominant mammal species on this world, bloodthirsty and barely sentient. Zir people were peaceful, had no means of defence should the monsters attack them with their terrible teeth and primitive projectile weapons. The translator unit in zir ear said in a tinny voice: "Over here! I see them!"
Zie cowered, instinctively shrouding zir biosigns, cooling zir skin to the ambient air temperature, and shielding zir energy signature. Thus had their people always survived.
The other monster spoke. "Life signs disappearing. That can't be right."
In the back of zir mind, zie felt the sudden triumph of the Technician as the machine sparked back to life. A second's pause, and zie sensed the call from the Captain: Come now! As zir friends hurried towards the Technician, the monsters veered away from zir position to chase them. Heart pounding, zie hurried to catch up, rejoin zir team. Zie reached the clearing where the rest had gathered, but the monsters were there first, blocking zir escape.
"Wait!" said a monster. The Captain looked around at the monster, fearful, scanning the area for any stragglers, but zie was cut off. The Captain nodded to the Technician, who reopened this strange Rift in space-time, and zir team was gone.
Zie was alone.
"Residual Rift energy, but it's dissipating at the normal rate. No alien life signs."
"You said the life signs disappeared before they left." The monster held a stick with light shining out, cast it over the trees and bushes. Zie hid deeper within them, barely daring to breathe.
"They faded. Does this species have a chameleon ability?"
"I don't know. Never met them before."
The other monster opened its mouth wide, placed a paw over the opening while breathing deeply.
"Of course not."
The monster shined its light in zir direction. Then it pointed away. "All right. It's late, and whatever they were, they're gone now. If we're not overwhelmed tomorrow, I'll come back in the daylight and see if I can find anything. Assuming my subordinates will allow me to go someplace on my own."
The monsters walked away, out of range of the translator. Zie waited until they were long out of earshot.
The tiny yew in zir hand shook, and zie scraped dirt away to replant the poor thing before root shock killed it. Zie did not mean it ill, and at least the sapling would not be stranded far from home.
The horror hit zir full-force, and zie collapsed to the ground, heartbroken. This site would be off-limits now they had been discovered. The Shadow Proclamation took a dim view of races who interfered in the development of worlds such as this one. While they had been careful thus far, hiding away and collecting the minimum number of plants necessary for study, they could not claim non-interference if the dominant mammals noticed their efforts. The Captain would not, could not return for zir, and in fact would assume zie had been killed and consumed by the aliens. Zir friends and family would grieve, would celebrate zir life, and move on.
Zie buried zir face in zir hands.
Above and around zir, the yews in this grove offered their comfort and sympathy, as much as trees could comfort anyone without roots, but what is loneliness to a tree?
Beyond the ridge, the lights beckoned. Zie could go among them, scavenge for food. It meant courting death from more of the monsters, but zir stomach was empty, and zir heart was emptier.
Zie went down, keeping out of the lights, following the smells of what could be food. Large metal and polymer containers lined the throughways of the settlement, and within, zie found discarded melon rinds, sticky half-eaten sweets, mouldy breads, and more delights. Zie stuffed zir face with whatever zie could find, going from container to container, eventually feasting on the sticky cheese inside a greasy pressed-paper box outside one of the many dwellings in the settlement.
The mammals were diurnal. The night would end, the mammals would awaken, and zie would be found, caught, killed.
Just the thought of it made zir upset again, and zie looked around. From a porthole of one of the dwellings, a small round face stared out, mouth open. Zie stumbled back, terrified. Based on the size, the monster appeared to still be in the nymph, or juvenile, stage, but it could summon an adult. Zie fled, scrambling for safety. From inside the dwelling, zie heard a cry.
Away, away, and there was a small building with tools like zir people used with the plants they loved, and zie hid and cowered and gave over to despair.
Ianto woke to the sound of his mobile. One eye cracked open, and he grabbed it from the table by the bed. Flipping it open told him two things: it was just past eight AM, and his sister was calling him.
"Why aren't you at work?"
"What?" The sunlight peeking through the cracks of his windows landed on the duvet, poking matching holes of headache into his skull.
"I just called your work number. Are you skiving off today?"
As his brain kicked into gear, Ianto tried to make sense of her words. Work number. The Tourist Centre. Yes. He'd given it to Rhiannon after he'd returned from his suspension. She'd been worried about him after the hours he'd spent on her sofa in his "delayed" grief over losing Lisa. Sometimes she called just to say hello, but he had nothing to say to her, nothing that he could say about his work or his love life or his friends, or how the three intersected so heavily he couldn't breathe some days.
Beside him, Jack rolled from sleep into full wakefulness. His eyes glittered, and Ianto made what he hoped wasn't a futile hand motion for him to stay quiet. "No. Just getting a slow start today. Worked late last night." He'd napped on the way back to the Hub to drop off the hit and run victim, then they'd come home. His second (third?) wind had corresponded with Jack's, and they'd finally fallen asleep around four.
"Folding maps half the night isn't work, Ianto."
"Who is it?" Jack mouthed.
"Don't worry about it," Ianto mouthed back, and then said to her, "Was there something you wanted?"
"Mica's birthday is next Sunday. You should come round, have a piece of cake, say hello. You haven't been by in months." Not since right after the bombs. They'd been insanely busy, but Jack had ordered them both to take a damn day and spend it with family. Jack himself had been gone the whole day as well, which had neatly precluded any chance of inviting him along. Perhaps that had been intentional.
Ianto lay back on his pillow. Jack took this as an invitation to slide his hand under the covers and over Ianto's bare leg. Ianto glared at him. "Um. I'll see what I can do. I probably have to work."
"Civil servants don't work weekends." Oh God, next weekend was also the wedding. The three of them had promised Martha they'd try to make it if the Rift allowed, but they'd be lucky if they could spare Jack, who really ought to attend, much less his Plus One.
"It's a very busy time in the tourist industry." Jack squeezed and Ianto took a breath. He mouthed, "Stop that!"
"Nothing. I'll try to come, all right?" This was the wrong thing to say around Jack, who grinned and dipped his head under the covers to replace his hand. Ianto tried not to yelp. Or moan.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. I really need to go."
"Ianto, do you have a girl there with you?"
"You could bring her round, you know."
"I'll talk to you later. Goodbye." He rang off. Then he lifted the sheet to see Jack looking up at him, as innocently as possible under the circumstances. "That wasn't very nice."
Jack made an apologetic noise, which felt pretty bloody amazing. Ianto decided to let Jack make it up to him, just this once.
Gwen turned when she heard the cog wheel open. Unsurprisingly, the boys came in together. She'd only been in for about ten minutes herself, long enough to turn on her monitor, skim the police reports from the last couple of hours, and wonder if she should run back out to the nearest café for more coffee.
"Good morning," she said. "How was Bristol?"
"Fast," said Jack, as Ianto moved towards his culinary domain, thank goodness. "We had an incursion. They saw us and left."
"Better than an invasion," he said, and went to Tosh's station. Gwen hadn't noticed the scanner plugged in to the system. Jack typed something on the keyboard. "We don't have anything matching them in the records."
"Maybe. If we aren't busy today, I'll ask Ianto to … "
The Rift alert went off, as though it'd been merely waiting for him to say the words.
Gwen grabbed her jacket from her chair, while Jack called up the information on Tosh's screen. She was not going to complain. She was not going to point out that, had they more people, the job could go back to being a job rather than a death march.
"Okay, kids. Off to Victoria Park. Weapons should be ready and loaded from yesterday. Looks like we're gonna need them." It wasn't as if any of them had taken the time to unload the SUV except, she hoped, for disposing of the dead body.
From the butler's pantry, Gwen was certain she heard swearing. "Two minutes," Ianto said. "Might as well bring this with us." She heard him ready the travel mugs.
She glanced at her watch, saw the time click over to nine. Another great day had started.
The rhythms of this world were unfamiliar. Zie closed zir eyes in darkness but opened them again in stabbing light. The stunted apple tree in the garden hummed in lazy ecstasy, its leaves drinking in the sunshine. Around them among the dwellings, zie sensed the quiet orgy of oaks and poplars and yews, and zie envied their communion. Chlorophyll was not part of zir physiology, but zir people had their own rituals of replenishment that mimicked those of the plant forms they studied and worshipped and emulated.
As awakenings went on foreign worlds when one was utterly alone, it could have been worse.
The noise was horrific. Vehicles, burning stinking petroleum, growled by along the throughways, as the monsters chattered to each other in their rough tongue: "Be home later, I have a meeting this afternoon." "Mummy, I'm hungry!" "Traffic accident on the M4, with delays." "Let's just try to pretend we like each other, all right?" "I saw a goblin. I swear!" "Don't make up stories. I have to leave for work soon."
On and on, the noises came through zir earpiece, and zie trembled. After a while, they settled. Fewer vehicles, some of the nymphs and juveniles out in the streets. The dwelling nearest zir opened, and an adult monster exited. Zie peered through the slats of the small building to watch it go.
When it was well out of sight, zie thought perhaps zie might be safe. One step out, then two, then three. Zie could flee back to the trees, if nothing else, to hide, to wait for zir Captain who would not return. Zie would exchange the quick death for the slow one once more.
Zie jerked and squealed, falling backwards. The voice was one of the nymphs. They all looked similar, these monsters. It could have been the one from last night or another entirely.
When the nymph saw zir, it screamed, and zie screamed again, and ran. The gravity on this world was different than on zir own planet, and where zir low centre of mass and short legs were advantages there, here zie tangled in clinging grasses and tripped over strange plastic shapes as zie squealed in terror.
"Wait! Come back!"
Zie ran, and kept running, and found a low hedge and hid, trying not to cry from fear. After some time, zie heard the nymph come close, and zie hid deeper, silencing all zir biosigns. But the nymph didn't poke and prod, didn't bring weapons and fire and fear.
The nymph brought food.
As the hours passed, zie smelled it: something sweet and sticky and good. Small mammals came, and avians as well, picking at the food left by the nymph. It must have been for them, zie thought. Perhaps the larger mammals cared for the smaller ones.
Time passed. Zie slept on and off, each time expecting to be awakened and eaten by the monsters from last night. Once zie heard voices nearby.
"Mum, it really was a goblin. It came back."
"I know you think you saw something, sweetheart, but it was probably a dog, or someone in fancy dress." The second voice was an adult, possibly stalking its evening meal. Thankfully, while the adult and juvenile came close, they did not locate zir.
After, zie smelled the sweets again, and as the darkness settled, zie ventured out, finding more piled on the ground. Zie was very hungry, and the sweets were unlike anything zie had ever tasted before, even with last night's scavenged meal. More were further along, and zie greedily gobbled them, feeling melted goo drip down one edge of zir mouth. There were more sweets closer to the dwelling.
Zie hid in the small building, the garden building, until zie was certain the diurnal creatures were abed, and then zie looked for more of the delightful food.
Zie spied another pile on the ground, and another, and a form mostly asleep in the middle of the yard. The nymph. Was this then merely a hunting technique? Had the nymph lured zir there to make a kill, or to ready zir for the adult to swoop in? Did it matter anymore? Zie collected the last handful of sweets, carried them gravely to the sleeping nymph, and as it woke and watched zir, placed them on the fabric nest the nymph had constructed to disguise itself. Zie would show it that zie was not afraid to die.
The nymph awoke fully, and gasped, trying to call out in a choked voice.
Zie watched it curiously. Was this a failure of the hunt?
At the back of zir mind, something tickled. The creature's thoughts were tiny, and tinny, and scrabbling for entrance like an untrained fool. No, like a child. This species lacked true telepathy, but could access features of it from another. Zie felt the child's thoughts, as distant and out of focus as any would be just learning. No anger, no hunger, no danger. The child radiated simple curiosity, and …
Like gazing into a pool of water far below in a deep well, zie saw a reflection of zir own loneliness.
"Hello," breathed the child.
Zie held up zir hand.
The child led, with sweets and hope, and zie followed, wanting the former and lacking the latter. The dwelling was huge and frightening, so zie ignored it along with the rest of the overwhelming fear, focused on the piles of food, the calm and coaxing sound of the child's voice. Up to the second level of the dwelling they went, and the child shut the door behind zir, and zie was trapped but zie knew the child meant no harm.
"You're not just in fancy dress, are you?"
Zie tilted zir head. The child tilted its own head. Zie looked around the items in the room, while the child watched, and gabbled in its tongue, and zie was unafraid.
"This is a fish. You know, fish? The shark eats the fish, but nothing eats the shark. And this is Pez. You can eat it. This is a peanut. You can eat it, but not this peanut, because it's a bank. It has money in it. You know, money?"
The child spoke quietly. Oh yes, the adult, and zie felt the fear that the adult would wake up. Why? The child had been so eager to show zir to it earlier. But now zie was a secret, a special secret, and the child's well of loneliness called out for a friend more than acknowledgement.
The child's eyes grew heavy, and strangely, so did zir own eyes. "It's past bedtime," said the child. "We should get some sleep. You know, sleep?" It closed its eyes and made a loud honking sound. "Sleep."
It led zir to a smaller room within the room, filled with soft animals and coverings, and zie easily made a nest.
Bloody Hoix. Bloody midnight. Bloody not seeing Rhys awake for more than ten minutes this whole week. Bloody cold dinners and worse takeaway. Bloody lack of sleep. Bloody lack of sex, come to think of it (quickies in the morning before work didn't count), though if she ever said that out loud, she knew it'd only lead to Jack saying something inappropriate again because he thought it was funny to make the 21st century humans twitch.
Bloody Jack, for not admitting they needed people, as much as they all missed Owen and Tosh. Bloody Gray and bloody Hart for causing it.
But she was not complaining, dammit.
Zie stayed in the smaller room, the one the child called "wardrobe," until the adult left the dwelling.
"About time," said the child. "I'm hungry."
Zie understood hunger and hoped for more of the sweets, but when zie went to follow, the child said, "Stay. I'll be right here. I'm just going to get us some breakfast." It closed the door behind itself, leaving zir alone.
Zie took the opportunity to paddle around the room. Tiny fish swam in a bowl, their unblinking eyes staring at zir as zie stared back. With a long finger, zie moved across the glassy surface, and the fish followed in a swarm of smoothly wriggling silver bodies. As zie had suspected, these mammals kept other species as pets. Possibly food as well, but then wouldn't the child have simply plucked one out of the water and eaten it?
On the table with the fish, zie found small, plastic figures. These were unlike the mammals on this planet, images of alien species zie hadn't encountered. They all had weapons and snarling faces.
"Do you like those?" The child had returned, placing something good-smelling on the table before taking the plastic figures. It made noises with its mouth, like laser blasts. (Zir people had encountered many violent species, to their sorrow.)
"I've got other toys, too." The child, ignoring the food, pulled out a box filled with models of vehicles, the four-wheeled petroleum-burners and metal vehicles with wings. "This is a rocket ship. Did you come here in a rocket ship?"
It held out its palm, and zie took the tiny red metal toy, stroked the fins. The child pulled out a larger one made of plastic. "This is Boba Fett's ship. See, Boba Fett?" It placed on of the plastic toys inside the ship and made whooshing noises with its mouth.
Zie tried to mimic the whooshing sound, and the child showed its teeth. "Yeah, like that. Mum doesn't like rocket ships. We can play, though." It made more whooshing sounds. "Mum is working a half day today, so we can only play until she gets back."
Zie set down the rocket and wrapped zir fingers around the bowl on the table. "That's cereal. Do you eat cereal?"
The food was crunchy and sweet and drenched in milk. Zie loved it, slurping loudly while the child laughed, and then slurped its own.
Jack opened his mouth, and Ianto immediately shoved a pastry into it.
"What?" Jack asked around the food, chewing noisily.
"You were about to make a comment about how quiet it is today, weren't you?"
Jack's voice was muffled. "I wasn't."
"You were," Gwen said, hands wrapped warmly around her coffee. "Don't say it."
"Fine, fine." He swallowed. "Won't say a word. I have projects for the two of you, and I believe," he said, treading carefully, "that you may have time to work on them."
Gwen and Ianto shared a look, both waiting to see if this was enough to set off the damn alarm. No. So far, so good.
"Ianto, I want you to do a quick search in the Archives. See if you can find anything on the aliens we found the other night. A description, something. If they can manipulate the Rift, we've probably seen them here before. This isn't a top priority for now, but if we can have a file in hand, we'll be more prepared if they come back."
Jack paused, and it drew out for a long moment. "Do a search. UNIT files, hospital files, MoD, even call the Home Office. I want a list of names, a long one. Plenty of choices, plenty of data. Ianto, when you're done in the Archives, you can help her with background checks."
"We're recruiting?" Gwen asked.
"We're open to the possibility." He finished his coffee with a loud slurp, which Ianto managed not to wince at, and stood. "I'll be in comm range."
"Where are you going?" Ianto hurried behind him to help with the coat.
"Back to the Bristol site. I'm going to check out the area, see if I can find any more clues in the daylight."
"Are you sure you want to go alone?"
"Positive. Anyway, you two want more help around the place. You two can find it."
And he was gone.
Ianto counted to thirty inside his own head while he cleared the dishes. Gwen already had a pad of paper out and scribbled notes excitedly. "I'm going to see if we can expand the team to six or seven," she said under her breath. "More hands make lighter work."
Ianto nodded absently then went to his station. Sure enough, Jack had left the SUV and taken his own rarely-used car. It could be that he intended to leave them the SUV in case of emergency, but Ianto thought it might have more to do with the fact that Jack's car didn't have a tracker. This was one of those times Jack would rather not let on where he was going.
Ianto frowned to himself. He headed to the kitchenette to wash out the mugs.
Zie heard the sound from below of a door opening and closing. The child made a face. "That's Mum. You stay here and be quiet." Zie went back into the wardrobe, huddling among the soft toys.
From below, the adult bellowed, and the child hurried down the stairs. "Coming, Mum."
Zie was alone. The mental link they'd formed said the child was dissembling. The parent wanted it to go outside and enjoy some recreation. It was still in the summer months of this hemisphere's growing season, but the child had thoughts of daily education beginning soon.
It came back up the stairs and closed the door. "I told Mum I didn't want to play outside. You're more fun." It showed its teeth again.
The child returned to what it had been showing zir: a primitive computer with access to a world wide information database. Currently, they were viewing a page on star systems. As zie took in the information, zir last hopes crumbled. This planet was so backwards, they had only left their own world to go to their own moon. Zie had already known there would be no interstellar freighters loaded with goods on which to barter passage, but really, not even so much as a scientific survey ship out to another planet in the same system?
Zie tried to make sense of the star maps on the screen, but without a ship, there was no point other than to torture zirself.
Downstairs, a door opened again. The child frowned. From below, zie could hear the muted tones of another adult. Ah yes. This species required two sexes to breed, unlike zir own. This would be the second parent returning. The expression on the child's face was matched by happiness in its mind.
"In town for work," came the translation in zir ear, of the rumbles below. "Thought I'd drop by."
"Hide," it said, and zie went into the wardrobe once more. The child forgot to shut the bedroom door on its way down the stairs, so zie could hear it clearly as it ran.
From below, zie heard the other voice rumble, "Hey, Tiger!"
The child's mind was overrun with joy. "Uncle Jack!"