Contrary to what most people in the know probably believe, Torchwood’s job doesn’t end when the latest Rift arrival or invasion attempt has been dealt with. After every alien incursion comes the inevitable cover-up, complete with the creation and dissemination of a plausible explanation. That part is often a team effort, with everyone throwing suggestions into the ring until they come up with something that should satisfy the general public’s curiosity.
While the others spread the disinformation by whatever means necessary, Tosh takes charge of doctoring any incriminating CCTV footage and altering posts on social media sites. The rest of the damage control is left in the capable hands of Torchwood’s General Support Officer, the indefatigable Ianto Jones.
Cleanup is a large part of Ianto’s job; after all, extraterrestrial DNA can’t be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. It’s not all about getting rid of bodies, and clearing away the blood and gore that are so often left behind by rampaging aliens, or by Jack’s all-too-frequent deaths. Physical evidence of aliens comes in many forms, and all of it has to be swiftly and efficiently disappeared. It’s a thankless task.
Scales, fur, slime, bodily fluids and, not to put too fine a point on it, alien crap courtesy of Cardiff’s non-sentient visitors, all need to be dealt with; Ianto has a vast array of cleaning products and solvents at his disposal, many of them of alien origin, and some handy gadgets too. No matter what he’s faced with, he can generally find the perfect tool for the job in his well-stocked kit.
Surprisingly, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that part of a cleanup operation is pretty straightforward. Cleaning is something Ianto has a lot of experience with, and he’s got it down to a fine art. There’s one aspect of the job, however, that causes him endless problems.
Living creatures, whether sentient beings or animals, when finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment, seldom stay in one place waiting to be captured. They move, looking for somewhere to hide, something to eat, someone to attack, or even just in the vain hope that they might be able to figure out where they are. Inevitably, whenever they move, they leave tracks.
It’s not so bad on roads and pavements most of the time, unless the creature leaves a trail of slime or some other obvious mark, but through gardens and parks, or across beaches, nothing can really avoid leaving tracks. The same applies to snow, newly surfaced roads, wet paint, and freshly poured concrete, not to mention parked cars and the sides of buildings, which the larger species have an unfortunate tendency of bumping into or scraping against. Tracking aliens is the easy part; covering up or erasing their tracks, along with evidence of their passing, gives Ianto a headache. Sometimes he has to walk for miles, painstakingly restoring churned up ground to a more natural state, filling in holes, touching up paintwork, and generally putting everything back to normal, by Cardiff’s standards.
Ianto takes pride in his work, even those parts that he doesn’t really enjoy, because anything that needs doing is worth doing properly, but once in a while, even he has to concede defeat.
“There are big black paw-prints right up the side of Ty Pont Haern to the roof, Jack. I’ve cleaned as far up as I can, but I’m not Spiderman, there’s no way I can reach all of them!”
“Maybe it’ll rain and wash the tracks away,” Jack suggested.
Ianto shook his head. “It wouldn’t do any good, they’re sticky; I had to use solvents and a scrubbing brush to shift the ones I was able to reach, and if nobody can get at them to remove them, no one’s going to believe they were painted there as a prank. I think this time I really might be beaten.” Weary and despondent, Ianto trudged down to the archives in search of inspiration.
The unreachable tracks posed a serious problem; it’s hard to convince the public that what they think they saw was just a trick of the light or a hallucination when there are footprints half a mere long up the unscalable side of an apartment block. But like all Torchwood problems, there’s usually a solution if you think about it hard enough. Half an hour after leaving Jack’s office, Ianto was back.
“I know how to get rid of the tracks!”
Jack couldn’t help smiling at Ianto’s excitement and enthusiasm.
“That’s good news! So how exactly do you intend to accomplish this miracle?”
“We use the Kneebles!”
“Ingenius! Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Maybe because you’re not the one who has to feed them.” One of the small creatures had come through the Rift three months earlier, and had led them a merry chase because its feet acted like suction cups, enabling it to climb anything, even completely smooth surfaces. They’d eventually managed to stun and capture it, installing it in a spacious cage back at the Hub, where it had promptly laid eggs, eventually hatching almost two dozen babies.
Kneebles looked similar to the Duck-billed Platypus, but were smaller, being only twenty-five centimetres from beak to tail when fully grown. They came in various shades of grey or buff, mostly ate moss and lichen, which they scraped off rocks with their rasp-like beaks, but were also rather partial to slime, wet or dry. Ianto suspected that was partly due to the organic particles that tended to stick on anything slimy.
“What’s the plan?” Jack asked, getting up from his desk and reaching for his coat.
“We take some of the Kneebles to the top of the building and put them over the edge facing downwards. They should sense the slimy footprints and go down the wall to eat them. Then hopefully they’ll just keep going down the wall and we can collect them when they reach the bottom. They usually do head downwards after eating. Probably because it’s easier than climbing when they’re full. Once the first batch have eaten all they can manage, we just send some more down until all the footprints are gone.”
“And as a bonus, we’ll have a bunch of fat Kneebles who won’t need feeding for a few days?”
Ianto gave a self-satisfied smirk. “It’s a win-win situation.”
“What if the Kneebles don’t like this particular kind of slime?”
“They do, I tried them with a bit from our alien visitor. It was still oozing when Tosh managed to send it back through the Rift portal before it closed.”
“What’re we waiting for then? Grab your Kneebles and let’s go!”
Fortunately, Kneebles were nocturnal creatures, so Ianto and Jack had no trouble persuading them to go hunting for food. Ianto hadn’t fed them that night since they’d still been sleeping when he’d set out on his cleanup job some hours earlier.
Jack and Ianto used a nifty alien lock pick to gain entry to the building and took three carrying cages, each containing eight Kneebles, up to the roof. As soon as Ianto had released the first group, Jack went back downstairs to wait for them at the bottom of the wall, ready to collect stuffed Kneebles as soon as they got within reach. Ianto stayed at the top, so he could release the second team once the first eight had eaten their fill.
The operation went reasonably smoothly, although some of the Kneebles went wandering and had to be tracked via the microchips implanted in each fuzzy little body. Eventually though, all Kneebles were accounted for, stowed in their carrying boxes, and ready to go home.
The outside of the building still wasn’t completely clean, but the fragmentary traces of slime no longer looked anything like footprints, they simply seemed to be random smudges of dirt scattered here and there across the wall.
“Not bad,” Jack grinned. “Not bad at all. I think your Kneeble family just earned its keep.”
“Since when have they been my Kneebles?”
“Well, you do look after them.”
“I look after all the residents, but I don’t see you telling me that I own them.”
“Do you really want to own Weevils, Hoix, and that weird rubbery thing that fell through the Rift last week?”
Ianto pulled a disgusted face. “Really not.”
“Besides, what’s wrong with owning a few Kneebles? Seems to me that they could prove pretty useful on cleanups.”
Raising an eyebrow, Ianto stared at Jack incredulously, then looked at the Kneebles in the carrier he was holding. “Hear that, kids? You’ve just been downgraded from residents to cleaning equipment. On the bright side, I guess that means you get to have all the slime you can eat.” In the carrying box, a Kneeble hiccupped. Or something. “Right. Let’s get you home where you can sleep off your overindulgence. You’re on short rations for a few days though; fat Kneebles are lazy Kneebles.”
As he carried the Kneebles back to the SUV, trailing behind Jack, who was striding ahead burdened by only one box of Kneebles compared to Ianto’s two, Ianto smiled to himself. Maybe having Kneebles as cleaning assistants might actually be a pretty good idea. It was certainly something to think about.