Torchwood wasn't a job that had much respect for dignity; Ianto had long since lost any hope of retaining even a shred of it, especially during field missions. It was of little comfort to realise it wasn’t just him and that the other members of the team were in the same boat more often than not. He reasoned that under normal circumstances, that is normal for the rest of humanity rather than what passed for normal with Torchwood, he was generally more dignified than his colleagues, so it stood to reason that he had more to lose. Unfortunately, the Rift seemed to take a particular delight in stripping it away from him.
Today was a case in point.
Ianto was sprawled on the floor of one of the museum’s exhibit halls when Jack arrived, no doubt summoned by the completely undignified yelp that had been torn from him as he’d hit the ground. The impact had knocked most of the breath out of him so he’d opted to remain where he was, at least until he stopped wheezing.
“Ianto? Whatever are you doing down there?”
“I decided to take a nap!” Ianto snapped sarcastically. “What does it look like, twpsyn? I slipped.”
“Falling down on the job, Mister Jones? I thought you could hold your liquor better than that,” Jack laughed, stepping towards him, intending to help him up. “You Welsh have a reputation in that area, don’t you?”
As so often seemed to happen, they’d been on a date when the Rift alert had come in. Tosh had called Jack’s mobile, apologetically explaining that the rest of the team needed their assistance at the Natural History Museum to capture an unknown and elusive alien creature.
“I can ‘hold my liquor’ as you put it just fine; I had two beers, Jack, and they had nothing to do with me being flat on my arse.”
“You sure about that? Whoa!” Mid-step, Jack’s feet abruptly shot in two different directions; his arms windmilled wildly as he tried to keep his balance, but to no avail, and he tumbled down in a heap a few metres away from Ianto.
Raising an elegant eyebrow, Ianto smirked at his captain. “I think you’ll find the ground is a bit slippery, Sir,” he said mildly. “You should watch your step.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Jack grumbled, rolling over and attempting to get up. He made it as far as hands and knees before finding himself flat on his face again. “Yuk! What is this stuff?”
“I believe the technical term is slime,” Ianto replied in a dry tone of voice, “although ‘yuk’ seems rather fitting. On the bright side, it’s not corrosive, it doesn’t seem to stain, it has no smell, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t dissolve clothing, so it could be worse.”
“Huh. Where’d it come from?”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “From the alien we’re supposed to be catching, I imagine.”
“Then why are you just lying here instead of getting after it? You can rest later. Come on, up and at ‘em!” Jack tried to get up again, and once more, found himself flat on the floor before he managed to get further than his knees. “Ianto? How do we get up?”
“I have no idea. I’m not just lying on the floor for fun, Jack. If you fall and break your neck, you’ll come back. I won’t. It’s safer down here.”
“Oh. Good point.” Jack thought for a few minutes, then… “Did you see which way our fugitive went?”
Ianto pointed. “It sort of slithered that way. We could probably follow its trail, if we could get up and stay up.”
“Maybe we still can.”
“What’re you on about?” Ianto stared at Jack, puzzled.
“Bear with me.” Wriggling and squirming, Jack managed to get back to the doorway, which was flanked by two signs. It only took him a few moments to dismantle them, giving him two flat boards and two posts with weighted bases. “Okay, let’s see if this will work.” Jack rolled so he was sitting cross-legged on one board and used the post to propel himself across the slick floor.
“Clever!” Ianto waited for Jack to reach him with the other makeshift toboggan, settled himself aboard, or on board anyway, and off they went, sliding along in pursuit of the alien.
Whizzing through the exhibition halls was fun, Ianto had to admit. The liberal coating of slime on the floors meant there was little friction and they were able to travel quite a bit faster than the creature they were chasing. By the time the rest of the team caught up to them, they had it corned by the gift shop. Ianto was pleased to note that he and Jack weren’t the only ones dripping slime; it looked as though they’d all fallen foul of the slippery substance.
Turning his attention to their captive, Ianto studied it carefully. It sort of resembled a slug except that it had big pink eyes on stalks, and a pair of feathery white antennae extending from the top of its head. It was also about the size of the SUV, but twice the length. It slumped in the corner, breathing hard, clearly worn out from being chased; thankfully, it didn’t appear to be hostile, just lost and confused.
“Now that we’ve got it, what do we do with it?” Gwen asked. “Getting it back to the Hub would be difficult and I don’t think it would fit in one of the cells even if we could get it down the stairs.” In all their chasing, it had stayed on the same floor, despite passing several open staircases, so it seemed likely that negotiating stairs was beyond its capabilities.
As it turned out, they needn’t have worried. While they were still trying to work out what to do with their visitor, Tosh’s PDA started beeping.
“What is it, Tosh?” Jack leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen.
“The Rift’s opening again, in the next gallery, same spot as before.”
Tosh had barely finished speaking before a low, mournful moan echoed through the museum. The alien lifted its head, antennae quivering, and answered the call in a slightly higher voice. It looked apprehensively at the strange beings surrounding it.
Jack smiled and gestured for everyone to move out of its way. “Looks like it’s time for you to go home,” he addressed the creature. “Go on now.” He made shooing motions with his hands. “The Rift won’t stay open forever!”
It slithered slowly forwards, keeping a cautious eye on them, but when they made no move to stop it, it seemed to gain confidence, moving faster and calling again.
Team Torchwood followed it, Jack and Ianto sliding along on their boards, the others keeping to the edge of the spreading slime trail where they were less likely to fall over, even though they slipped and slid, clinging to each other for support. They stopped when they reached the doorway to the next gallery and watched the alien slither towards a Rift portal, glowing golden in the middle of the room. For a moment, the head of a larger version of their visitor was visible, poking through from somewhere else and calling.
“Mummy’s calling her baby home,” Jack guessed as the alien slug speeded up, gliding into the portal and vanishing from sight. With a flare or brilliance, the opening in the Rift snapped shut, leaving everyone half-blinded and blinking. “Don’t you just love happy endings?”
“It’s not completely over though, is it?” Ianto sighed.
“What d’you mean?”
“Well, who’s going to clear up all this slime? Can’t leave it; when the museum opens again in the morning a lot of visitors could get hurt.”
Jack’s shoulders slumped. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Great,” Owen moaned. “Now we’re the sodding slime cleanup patrol.”
“I’ll see if I can find some mops and buckets,” Tosh offered.
“Looks like we’ve got a long night ahead of us.” Jack shrugged out of his coat and hung it over a convenient railing, rolling up his shirtsleeves. “Sooner we get started, the sooner it’ll be done.”
“Amen to that!” Ianto hung his slimy jacket over Jack’s equally slimy coat; at least this time the entire cleanup wasn’t being left to him.
A Torchwood agent’s work was never done!