Jack led the others into the Hub, glancing back at Suzie and Owen who seemed to be holding the captured alien between them without any difficulty. It hadn't surprised him; Aserifs were generally friendly, almost docile. When the Rift monitor had gone off they'd loaded up with weapons and gear only to discover that Cardiff's newest alien visitor could be lured into the back of the SUV with a ballpoint pen.
"They like shiny things," Jack had said, holding the pen out and coaxing the three-foot tall alien towards him.
"They are shiny things," Suzie had commented. It was true; Aserifs had smooth bodies and whitish skin, long scrawny arms and a thin face, round black eyes and an absence of body hair -- just a thin layer of fat under the skin to protect them from the elements -- the Aserif looked a little bit like a walking baby seal.
Now they were leading it down to the autopsy room so Owen could make sure it hadn't arrived bearing any Aserifian diseases that would wipe out half of Cardiff.
"And you say you've seen these creatures before?" Suzie asked, as Owen got the Aserif onto the medical table by setting his watch on it and helping the thing scamper up to collect it. They watched as the Aserif held its two Earth possessions, looking at one then the other as if comparing them.
"Learned about them," Jack corrected. They'd studied Aserifs in school, briefly. Jack remembered being mostly bored with alien zoology, but he'd wanted high marks to graduate top of his class. Well, he'd wanted high marks to impress Jeston, but really it amounted to the same result. He'd studied, and ended up learning bits of things that as a boy he hadn't ever expected to come in handy.
"And you're sure they're not dangerous?" Owen asked, frowning as he tried to retrieve his watch.
"We'll buy you a new one," Jack told him as the Aserif clutched its prize defiantly. "And no, they're not dangerous. Semi-intelligent, they rank a...let's see, about a 61 on the Mraferit Scale of Sentience. Which means they have a rudimentary system of communication, complex social groups, and can be taught basic tasks like...um...bringing in the newspaper and don't pee on the couch." He was pretty sure that was true -- it was possible he was getting Aserifs mixed up with Populos, but he didn't think so. Populos had a red streak and tails, and spat venom when annoyed.
Unless it was the other way around.
"People kept them as pets?" Suzie asked, sounding surprised and intrigued.
"Not often -- on their world they're considered a protected species. The dominant lifeform on the planet are close relatives. The Hasirahi. Look a bit like these guys, but taller, darker skin, and an extra set of arms. Comes in handy." Jack waggled his eyebrows and, as he'd expected, Owen scoffed and pretended to ignore him.
"I don't have anything on either species in our database," Tosh said as she came into the room, stopping at the walkway overlooking the open area below.
"I don't think any of them have been to Earth," Jack explained with a shrug. "Luckily it won't be hard to take care of it -- they eat fish and berries, breathe the same air as we do. They love sea water; I imagine this one was headed for the Bay when we caught it."
"So, what do we do? Let it live in the Hub and train it to bring in our morning paper?" Suzie asked.
"We already have Tea-boy for that," Owen said, smirking.
Jack gave him a scowl. "We have to do something," he mused. "We can't let it stay here. Can't lock it in the cells -- it isn't like the Weevils. It's harmless, and has enough intelligence and need for a social group that it wouldn't be happy. But if we let it wander around the Hub...well, they like to collect things." He nodded at where the Aserif was now holding onto the pen, Owen's watch, a scalpel it had picked up from a nearby tray, and the scanner Owen was trying to retrieve to continue his readings.
They watched for a moment as it looked the items over, then it shifted them around so it was holding the pen and scalpel in one hand, the watch in a second hand, and the scanner in the long, agile digits of its foot.
"Look at that!" Suzie said. "It's...grouped them."
"They do that," Jack nodded. "The Hasirahi are some of the finest librarians and scholars in the galaxy. They love information, learning everything they possibly can just for the joy of knowing it. The Aserif aren't as smart; they don't understand abstract concepts. But objects, on the other hand...if we let it loose in here it would have everything neat and orderly and--"
"Like I said, we have Tea-boy for that." Owen made a triumphant sound as he held up the scanner. He'd had to trade a roll of gauze for it, but the Aserif looked content with its new acquisition.
Jack gave the doctor another fierce scowl, but didn't say anything. Ianto seemed to have finally settled in and the rest of the team seemed to have adjusted to their newest co-worker. Jack knew perfectly well that Owen thought Ianto had been hired for Jack's entertainment, but the truth was...well, actually, Jack had to admit that hiring a secretary for his charms was an honorable tradition. And since Ianto really could type and take phone messages without losing them, all the better for Jack.
"So if we can't lock it up in the cells, what do we do with it?" Tosh asked.
"I suppose...." Jack thought it over, but he really didn't like the conclusion he was coming to. "It can't roam free, and it isn't safe to leave it here. Maybe if we set up a few rooms down below...but then it still would need company." Jack sighed.
"Someone's going to have to take it home and keep it as a pet, aren't they?" Suzie asked, giving him a dirty look. Possibly, Jack thought, because she knew she was going to end up being the volunteer.
"If you have a better idea--" Jack began, then stopped as Ianto walked in and started down the stairs.
"Sorry, sir, but there's a--" He slammed to a halt, staring at the Aserif.
"Oh, don't tell me this is your first shiny alien?" Owen asked. Then he stared, clearly as shocked as the rest of them when Ianto walked up to the Aserif and hissed at it.
The Aserif hissed back, leaping off the table and waddling over to Ianto. The others watched, stunned, as the Aserif and Ianto hissed and clicked to each other. Ianto rubbed his hand across the top of the alien's head, and it began showing Ianto each of the items it had collected. As it displayed each one, Ianto made a noise which the Aserif repeated carefully.
Naming it, Jack realised. Telling the Aserif what the things were.
"Ianto?" Jack was glad to hear he sounded confident and stern instead of squeaking in surprise.
Ianto looked up, guiltily. He put his arm around the Aserif's...what would have been shoulders if the thing had been built that way. The Aserif shuffled close, looking from Ianto to Jack with a soft frown. It clicked at Ianto, and Ianto clicked back.
The Aserif waggled its tongue at Jack and Ianto laughed.
Jack couldn't decide which had stunned his team more. The gesture -- which Jack thought he recalled as being a threatening one for its race -- or the sound of Ianto Jones laughing.
"Ianto?" he asked again, keeping his tone more even. Aserifs were mostly harmless, but when angered... well, they couldn't do much damage but they did have sharp, if small, teeth.
"I'm sorry, sir," Ianto began. "I hadn't expected to see him here. I'm guessing he's what came through the Rift?"
"We picked...him?" Jack glanced at the Aserif, unable to see how Ianto could tell. He continued, "up about half an hour ago." The Aserif had gone back to studying the ballpoint pen and repeating the sound Ianto had made for it. Suddenly there was a click, and it blinked as the tip of the pen appeared.
It hissed excitedly at Ianto, who tried to both listen, and shush it.
Ianto looked like he'd rather talk to the Aserif than explain himself, but the way everyone was glaring at him made it clear that wasn't an option. Ianto sighed. "I... my parents fell through the Rift when I was an infant," he said quietly. "We ended up on Galvershine 9. Their home world," he added, as everyone but Jack looked confused. In a soft voice, he said, "I grew up there."
Jack blinked. "You grew up among the Hasirahi?" He caught himself mentally reviewing Ianto's records, which he'd thought he'd studied closely. Then he mentally slapped himself. Of course there wouldn't be any hint of it in his record. Who puts 'primary schooling, Hasirahi Academy for Aliens' on their transcript in the 21st century? "How...when did you get back?"
Ianto looked uncomfortable, but answered easily. "When I was fourteen, two of the Hasirahi brought me back. Said I should live among my own people. My biological parents had already died, right after we'd arrived on the planet. Mashin and Cori brought me back to Earth, stayed for a bit posing as my parents. Mashin was a xeno-anthropologist, specialising in textiles. It wasn't hard for him to set himself up as a tailor. They used holographic collars to appear human," he added, apparently interpreting the looks he was getting from Tosh and Suzie.
"I thought they died when you were seventeen?" Tosh asked, then guilt flashed as she realised she'd just admitted to reading Ianto's personal records.
"They returned home," Ianto replied. "Stayed long enough to get me settled."
There was a moment when no one spoke -- Jack supposed they were all absorbing this bizarre array of new information. Then Tosh asked, "Don't you miss them?"
Ianto half-smiled. "Not really. They weren't the ones who raised me--" He stopped, suddenly looking guilty again.
"Which brings me to my question," Jack put in. He thought he'd done a remarkable job staying quiet until now. "How do you know how to communicate with the Aserifs? Not even the Hasirahi could do that."
Ianto didn't answer, but the truth was beginning to look very clear. If impossible.
Jack felt his jaw drop. "You were raised by the Aserifs?"
Ianto nodded, not meeting anyone's gaze.
"For how long?"
"From infancy until I was about thirteen. Then the Hasirahi found me, and "rescued" me. Taught me how to be...human, as best they could from what they knew about Earth culture. When I'd acclimated, they brought me here." He looked around, as if seeing the planet beyond the Hub. Then he glanced down at the Aserif by his side. The Aserif was happily clicking the pen, over and over.
There was another minute of silence, then Owen spoke. "So are you telling me that Tea-boy was raised by primitive alien librarians?" He shook his head slowly. "It explains so much."
Ianto scowled at him and the Aserif waggled its tongue at Owen.
Owen sneered at it. "Why's it keep doing that?"
"It's a show of aggression," Ianto said.
"What, it'll lick me to death?"
"They do have teeth," Jack put in. "Not poisonous, but not exactly pleasant."
Ianto nodded. "And I'd be happy to tell him where to bite you where it would do the most damage." His gaze dropped, briefly.
"Boys, play nice," Jack put in. "While this is...unexpected, it does give us a solution to our problem. Ianto, would you be willing to take him home with you?"
"Of course," he said quickly. "For how long? I mean, what are you planning to do with him?"
Jack shrugged. "Nothing."
Ianto blinked. Jack just waited. Then Ianto pulled out his mobile and opened it. Jack half-expected him to be phoning in an order for raw fish, when Ianto hissed into the phone.
Again, everyone stared as Ianto spoke in an alien language -- not the same as he'd spoken to the Aserif, but this one Jack recognised as the native language of the Hasirahi.
When Ianto shut his phone, he said, "They'll be around to pick him up tomorrow. I'll look after him until then."
"You can--" Jack began, and stopped.
"Did you just ring another planet?" Suzie asked. Ianto gave her a nod. "How much does that cost?"
"4p a minute," Ianto said.
Suzie and Owen both looked stunned. "How d'you manage that?" Suzie demanded.
"Hacked into the Torchwood satellite when I started in London," Ianto said.
"Can you--" Suzie started, and Jack glared her down.
"A little focus, please," he said. He waited until his team looked like maybe they wouldn't interrupt, then looked at Ianto. "So. You just placed a phone call to the Hasirahi?"
"Cori insisted I be able to, just in case." He looked sheepish. "If I don't ring on Christmas, Mother's Day, and the fourth of June she gets worried and starts calling me asking me if I'm wearing my shoes properly or eating enough or if I've been run over by a lorry."
Jack opened his mouth, then nodded. "Fair enough. Why the fourth of June?"
"National holiday on Galvershine 9. Emperor Xig's birthday -- lots of parties and phone calls home. People get together and read ancient books out loud and get drunk." Ianto shrugged. "Quite fun, actually."
"Now I know you were raised by aliens," Owen said.
But Jack was grinning. "Oh, you don't know what books they read." He took a step closer to Ianto. The mission was more or less closed -- by tomorrow the Aserif would be on its way home and Torchwood hadn't had to Retcon anybody, pay damages, or bail its employees out of jail. It was time to celebrate.
Ianto raised his eyebrow, trying for a casual expression. But Ianto knew what sort of books got read, better than Jack did. He cleared his throat. "I have a copy of Dangerous Assignations," he said. "Not in English, but I don't suppose that matters?"
Jack shook his head. "Not a bit. Don't speak a word of Hasirahian, but the gestures don't need translation."
"And another alien incursion ends in shagging," Owen said, sounding disgusted. "Welcome to life at Torchwood."
Jack ignored him and just asked, "Can we lock the Aserif in the bathroom for the night?"
Ianto nodded. "If we fill the tub and give him a can of tuna, he'll be fine."
And, once again, planet Earth was saved.
Well, until later.