Coming out of his office at the sound of the cogwheel door alarms, Jack stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the object Ianto was carrying in a big, straw-lined box.
“Whoa! Is that what I think it is?”
Ianto raised an eyebrow. “Well, that would depend on what exactly you think it is, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t you mean eggsactly? Because it looks to me like a very big egg…”
“Yes it does; give yourself a gold star.” Studying Jack thoughtfully, Ianto added, “You’re being remarkably observant for six-thirty in the morning, and you haven’t even had your coffee yet! I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be. I’ve been up since three, chasing a Weevil down by the harbour.”
“And you didn’t wake me to help?”
“When you left here last night, you looked like you needed the sleep.”
“Hmmm, maybe you should award yourself a cookie as well as the gold star.” Ianto caught the guilty expression on Jack’s face and decided he’d better add cookies to the shopping list for later. If Jack had been up half the night, there probably weren’t any left. He tended to get the late-night munchies when left by himself.
“So, where’d your new toy come from?” Jack gestured to the huge egg, nestled in its makeshift nest. “That’s got to be the biggest egg I’ve ever seen.”
“Funny thing, that.” Ianto frowned at the egg. “I got up this morning, and there it was.”
Jack’s eyes went wide. “You don’t mean you…”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “Don’t be daft! No, Jack, I did not lay an egg during the night. I found it in the planter outside my front door when I went to get the morning paper. You know, the one the daffodils were growing in a few weeks ago.”
Jack nodded. “The one I kept losing my keys in. I remember. So why’d you bring it to work? Have they started that ‘Go to work on an egg’ thing again?”
Ianto’s only reply to that was a withering glare. Jack looked suitably withered.
“It was just a thought. So, why?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I mean look at it; it’s not your average egg. This didn’t come from the robins in the holly bush, or the blackbirds in the hedge. It’s too big even for an ostrich! Not that I’ve noticed any of those in the neighbourhood.”
“Maybe it was a kiwi, don’t they lay pretty big eggs?”
“Why would a kiwi be wandering around Cardiff laying its egg on my doorstep? No, don’t answer that; forget I even asked. This,” Ianto shoved the box at Jack, “is not from any kind of earth bird.” When Jack opened his mouth to say something, Ianto cut him off before he could make a sound. “Not a reptile either, at least not a terrestrial one.”
“So you just decided to stick it in a box and bring it to work?”
“What else was I supposed to do? I could hardly just leave it there like some bizarre doorstep ornament! Besides, either the Rift dropped it outside my door, or it was left there by some unknown creature, and in either case I thought we should probably investigate. It was still warm when I found it, so I tucked it up with a hot water bottle. If it’s fertile there’s a good chance of it hatching.”
“And if the parent comes back for it?”
“Then we should catch her too, because anything that lays an egg this size is going to get noticed sooner or later.”
Jack studied the egg; it was a pale greenish colour, speckled in several shades of brown, and somewhat larger than a rugby ball. “So, we’re looking for something bigger than an ostrich would you say?”
“From the look of this egg, around twice the size at least, I would think.”
“And we don’t even know whether or not it can fly. Of course, that’s assuming it wasn’t just the egg that came through the Rift. We probably shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”
“Good point. Well, I guess we’ll find out one way or the other soon enough. Owen can scan your egg when he gets in, see if there’s any chance of it hatching, but if there is, how d’you plan on incubating it? More hot water bottles? That’ll be a lot of work.”
“No, actually I was hoping Myfanwy might give me a hand with that part. She does get rather broody at this time of year, after all. Might as well take advantage of her natural instincts, if she proves willing.”
“Oh yeah,” Jack sighed feelingly. “You never know what she’ll adopt next as her ‘baby’. It’s not so bad when she chooses an inanimate object to mother, but living creatures don’t generally take it so well.”
Ianto winced at the memory of the previous year’s fiasco. “I still don’t know where she got that turkey from.”
“That was scary,” Jack agreed with a shudder. “I never knew they were so vicious.”
“It was funny seeing it chasing Owen around the Hub though,” Ianto smirked.
A sudden thought occurred to Jack. “Hey, you don’t think it might be a Pteranodon egg, do you?”
That was something Ianto hadn’t considered. “I have no idea. I suppose it’s possible.”
Jack grinned, suddenly excited. “Wouldn’t it be fun if it was?”
A dubious expression formed on Ianto’s face. “I’m not sure that ‘fun’ is the word I’d choose…” Jack’s laughter followed him as he carried his burden down to the autopsy bay to await Owen’s arrival.
“Ianto’s got an important job for you,” Jack called the moment Owen came through the door. For once he was more or less on time. The girls both had the morning off so Jack had told him to be in by eight; preferably sober.
“Already? I haven’t even taken me coat off yet!” Owen grumbled. “Can’t it wait until I’ve had a coffee?”
“Won’t take you long.” Jack bounded down the steps to join Owen, hustling him past his workstation to the stairs leading down to the medic’s domain. “You just need to give his new arrival a health check.”
Naturally, Ianto got there ahead of them; he’d covered the egg with a blanket to help keep it warm and he removed it as they joined him. Owen stared at the contents of the box.
“It’s an egg.”
“Yes, Owen,” Ianto said with strained patience. “We know it’s an egg. What we need you to do is scan it and see what, if anything, is inside it. There’s no point incubating it if it’s never going to hatch.” Ianto fussed over the egg, checking its temperature like a concerned parent caring for a newborn. Jack hovered beside him.
Owen looked from Ianto to Jack and back again. “Is there something you two want to tell me?”
“Like what?” Jack asked.
“Well, I don’t know how much human biology has changed by the 51st century, and you’re both acting like anxious parents-to-be…”
Ianto turned his patented withering glare on Owen this time, although Owen didn’t wither as easily as Jack. “You’re as bad as Jack.”
“Hey!” Jack said indignantly, at the same time as Owen grumbled, “Don’t lump me in with your boyfriend!”
Ianto cleared his throat and waited until their attention was back on him. “I found it abandoned on my doorstep this morning; it was still warm, so if there’s a chance it could survive, shouldn’t we at least try to hatch it?” he asked Owen.
“As long as I don’t have to take care of it, be my guest. You two goin’ to take turns sittin’ on it until it hatches?”
“Keep that up and you’ll be drinking decaf for the next month,” Ianto scowled.
“Lighten up, Teaboy, that was a joke. D’you always have to take everything so seriously? Right, what’ve we got ‘ere.” Owen picked up his stethoscope and listened to the egg, his eyes widening after a moment. “Definitely something alive in there, I can hear a heartbeat! Here, have a listen.” He handed the stethoscope to Ianto, who took it and listened for a few moments, smiling, before handing it to a very impatient Jack.
Cramming the earpieces in his ears, Jack pressed the stethoscope gently to the egg’s surface, his face lighting up with excitement. “Hello beautiful!”
“Okay, now we know it’s alive at least.” Owen rummaged through his equipment until he found the scanner he wanted. “Now let’s see if we can take a peek at whatever’s in there.”
The image the scanner produced was as formless and grainy as an ultrasound, the blobby mass inside the egg not really identifiable as anything in particular, but it was moving quite strongly and for the moment, that was enough for all of them.
“Far as I can tell, whatever that is, it’s healthy. The problem for the moment’s going to be keepin’ the egg warm, especially as we have no idea how long the incubation period should be, or how far along it already is. I can tell you this egg’s not newly laid, the embryo’s already a fair size but still far from fully developed, so we’re looking at another couple of weeks of incubation, minimum, probably longer. I suppose I could rig up a heat lamp…”
“Let’s just try Myf first and leave the heat lamp as a last resort,” Ianto cut in.
Owen looked a bit sceptical. “You want to give it to your bald budgie? D’you think she’ll accept it?”
Ianto shrugged. “She’s incubating two rugby balls at the moment, and I don’t even want to know where she got those.”
“At least that’s better than the turkey last year.” Owen shuddered at that memory. He still had nightmares about it.
Once the medical examination was over, Ianto went up to Myfanwy’s aerie alone, carrying the box with its precious cargo. As soon as she saw the egg, Myf started making soft chirruping sounds, and a faint squeak came from inside the egg in response. Lifting herself up, Myf unceremoniously shoved her two egg substitutes out of the nest, rearranged the soft lining she’d gathered over the last few weeks, and looked expectantly at Ianto.
Carefully, he lifted the egg out of its box and set in into the hollow Myf had created for it. The huge Pteranondon settled herself carefully over it, purring. Ianto could only hope her mothering instincts were good enough to keep her from accidentally damaging the egg. He knew he’d be gutted if the creature inside didn’t survive. Even without knowing what it was, he felt like he’d already bonded with it.
When he arrived back in the autopsy bay, Owen was just speculating on what the egg might turn out to be. “Could be an alien or some kind of dinosaur, and not necessarily one that can fly. They all laid eggs, so it could just as easily be a Tyrannosaurus Rex or one of the giant herbivores. Either way, that could be a serious problem. Might even be a Weevil egg.”
“Do Weevils lay eggs?” There was a look of horrified fascination on Jack’s face.
“No idea, haven’t really been able to figure out much about Weevil reproduction. We’ve never found a nest though, so probably not. How’d it go?” he asked Ianto.
“Good so far. Anyone want a rugby ball?” Ianto held up the two discarded balls. “Myf seems to prefer the real thing. I want to keep a close eye on her though, make sure she’s caring for it properly so I can rescue it if necessary. I’m going to set up a couple of cameras to watch the nest, then we can see what’s going on up there on one of the monitors and I won’t have to disturb her too often.”
“Good idea,” Jack agreed. “Tosh can help you with that, she should be here soon.”
Tosh was delighted to help, and within half an hour of her arrival, she had the feeds from the two cameras Ianto had set up, displayed side by side on one of her monitors, even though all that could really be seen was Myfanwy sitting patiently on her nest. Ianto could almost have sworn she was smiling.
Over the next three weeks the live feed from the nest-cam was avidly watched by the whole team, effectively distracting them from doing their actual work. Myf practically took root on her nest, only leaving it for brief periods to stretch her wings. Ianto checked on junior each time he took food up to the aerie, carefully sliding the end of Owen’s stethoscope under Myf and listening to the egg at first, making sure the heartbeat of the creature inside remained strong. After a week or so that was no longer necessary; even without it he could hear the small squeaks coming from inside the egg in response to Myfanwy’s chirps.
Twenty-three days after Myfanwy took over as mum, the first small crack appeared in the egg; at long last, it was starting to hatch. It was a good thing that the Rift chose that day to be quiet, because no one wanted to stray too far from the monitor. Myf was restless, frequently rising from the nest to check on the egg, which was rocking about quite violently as the creature inside worked at breaking free of its confining shell. Even so, it took most of the day for the small crack to widen and the egg to begin splitting open.
Myfanwy used her beak with incredible delicacy to assist from time to time, chirping encouragement to her adopted baby, and at last the head poked free, followed over the next half an hour by the rest of the body as the team watched in wonder.
It could scarcely have looked more different to Myfanwy if it had tried, but Myf clearly couldn’t care less; she had a baby to care for, and that was all that mattered to her. The creature, about the size of a large cat, was a deep red colour all over, its skin formed of thousands of miniscule scales. It had a graceful but not overlong neck, four legs, each ending in a foot tipped by tiny but very sharp-looking claws, a long tail with an arrowhead point at the tip, and a pair of delicate, membranous wings on its back, which unfurled and fluttered occasionally as it squeaked demandingly at Myf, obviously hungry from its exertions. Myf wasted no time in tearing small morsels from the haunch of lamb Ianto had taken up for her earlier and poking them into the eager mouth.
“It’s adorable!” Tosh cried, delighted.
“Is it just me,” Ianto said hesitantly, “or does it look a lot like a little dragon?”
“It’s not just you,” Jack replied. “I think we just hatched the first dragon Wales has seen in centuries. We’d better hope it’s not the fire-breathing kind or we could be in serious trouble!”
The End (For Now)