“Okay, so you’re not a Weevil,” Jack stated, staring at what looked somewhat like a bearded, longhaired Neanderthal. He appeared to be rummaging behind one of the rubbish bins in the smelly alleyway that ran behind the Indian restaurant near the docks.
When the call had come in about a monster lurking in an alley, Jack had naturally assumed one of Cardiff’s resident aliens had ventured out of the sewers to forage. Since it had been a slow day and an even slower evening, and because none of them seemed to have anything better to do, he’d taken the team with him to check it out, tag the creature, and drive it back where it belonged. In retrospect, maybe he should have had Tosh check the CCTV footage before they’d left the Hub, because now he didn’t have a clue what he was dealing with.
The man, or whatever it was, straightened up, and Jack almost took a step back; upright, he was easily seven feet tall, and looked like he had the strength to match his impressive height. Everyone froze in place, but the stranger just stared back at the team where they stood blocking the end of the alley, an assortment of aerosol cans filled with Weevil spray, flashlights, and Torchwood Specials held at the ready. He made a sound somewhere between a cough and a grunt before speaking. “Put your weapons away, I’m not armed. What’s a Weevil?”
“Uh, it’s an alien, about yay high,” Jack indicated a height of about five feet eight inches, “mostly bald, wrinkly face, sharp teeth. Not very friendly.”
“Huh. Haven’t seen one.”
“Yeah, they usually live in the sewers, but we got an alert. Looks like it was a case of mistaken identity. So, who might you be, and where did you come from, big guy?” Jack holstered his Webley, looking the stranger over from head to toe appreciatively.
“How do you know my name?” A note of suspicion entered the deep, gravelly voice and the man in question eyed the team warily.
“Your name? Seriously?” Owen blurted out with his usual lack of tact. “People call you Big Guy?”
“Huh. My friends do, not you.”
Owen shut his mouth with a clack of teeth, feeling like he’d been firmly chastised.
“And do your friends all look like you?” Jack asked, his mega-watt smile widening.
“No, we don’t.” A woman’s voice sounded from further down the dark alley and a moment later, she stepped into the pool of light around the back door of the restaurant. “Hello, might I assume judging from your attire than I’m addressing Captain Jack Harkness and other members of the Torchwood Institute?”
“You can assume anything you like.” Jack turned his attention and his smile to the newcomer.
“Spare me the flirting, Captain, it will do you no good, your reputation precedes you. I’m Helen Magnus, perhaps you’ve heard of me? Torchwood and my organisation have crossed paths on a number of occasions, although the majority of my dealings with the institute were with the London branch. I confess I wasn’t at all sorry when it fell. That level of arrogance and xenophobia is a danger to all.”
“You won’t get any argument from me on that score. So, you’re Helen Magnus, head of the Sanctuary Network. Yes, I’ve heard of you, although… I thought you’d be older.”
“Appearance is not always an accurate indicator of age, Captain. You of all people should know that, if the stories told of you are true.”
“Touché,” Jack smirked. “So what brings you and your… friend to Cardiff?”
“A rather pesky abnormal; nothing you need to worry about, at least not at present, but if allowed to complete its gestation cycle, you could find yourself with several hundred of them, and then you’d really have a problem. Thankfully, they’re very rare and they don’t breed until they’re fully mature, which takes fifty years or so, but they really don’t like the company of their own kind, so the spawn have an unfortunate tendency to fight each other to the death until only the strongest survives.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Owen said with a shrug. “Why don’t you just let nature take its course?”
“Because in their hyper-aggressive state, the spawn don’t discriminate between their own kind and other life forms, they simply attack, kill, and consume anything that moves, and they have voracious appetites at birth.”
“I can see where that might cause problems, especially in a populated area,” Ianto put in.
“Indeed. Mister Jones, isn’t it?”
“So you understand that it’s imperative we find this creature before it spawns.”
Jack pulled a face. “Oh yeah,” he said feelingly. “The last thing we need is something else trying to eat the citizens of Cardiff. So, Doctor Magnus, what can Torchwood do to help?” He was suddenly all business.
“Our readings indicate it’s definitely somewhere in this area, so extra manpower for the search would be most welcome if you and your team can spare the time.”
“You’ve got it. Mind telling us exactly what it is we’re looking for?”
“It resembles a millipede, black and shiny, and approximately two metres long, but it can fit into surprisingly small spaces when it’s coiled up. The parent dies after spawning and is eaten by her young before they turn on each other.”
“Sounds delightful,” Ianto quipped.
“The species likes dark places, preferably dry and warm. They have an aversion to water.”
“That rules out the sewers, thank God,” muttered Owen.
“Quite. Also, since it’s due to spawn in just a few days, it will seek out somewhere quiet and hidden, where it’s less likely to be disturbed.”
“You tracked it here using a scanner of some kind?” Tosh asked.
“Yes, but it’s of limited use. We’ve been able to narrow down the search area, but our equipment isn’t sensitive enough to pinpoint the creature’s exact location, there are too many other anomalous readings causing interference. All I can say for sure is that it’s somewhere within five-hundred meters of our current position.”
“Can it climb?” Ianto asked.
“Very good question, Mister Jones, and the answer is no, not unless it has access to stairs. Its legs can’t grip to climb walls and such the way normal species of a much smaller size can, therefore we can assume it’s most likely to be at ground level or thereabouts.”
“That narrows things a bit further, at least. Where have you already searched? No point in wasting time going over old ground, so to speak.”
Helen smiled approvingly at Ianto, nodding slightly. “We haven’t got very far yet, to be honest. We’ve only been here a short while, just long enough to work our way this far down this alleyway and the side passage a little further down.”
“Perhaps Torchwood’s scanners might be able to narrow down the search area further, if you tell me what parameters to input,” Tosh suggested.
“That could well be worth a try, Ms Sato. As I understand it, Torchwood has access to some really quite advanced technology of non-terrestrial origin.”
“You understand right,” Jack agreed, “and Tosh in the expert on all things technological. Why don’t the two of you work on reconfiguring her scanners while the rest of us spread out and keep looking the old-fashioned way?” he suggested. “Then if you can get something workable going, we’ll have an even smaller search area to use it on.”
“Agreed.” Helen turned to Tosh. “Shall we?”
Leaving Tosh and Helen working on adjusting Tosh’s Torchwood scanner to register the life signs of the abnormal they were looking for, the rest of the team spread out across the surrounding area, checking every potential hiding place, no matter how small and cramped it might appear.
“Is this thing likely to bite?” Owen threw over his shoulder as he shone his torch into a battered dustbin.
“Yes,” Biggie grunted.
“Okay, might’ve been nice to know that sooner.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“I’m asking now. Is it venomous?”
“Not enough to kill, but it could cause pain and swelling in the affected site, especially so in those most susceptible to its venom, so I’d advise you all to avoid being bitten if at all possible,” Helen commented as she and Tosh rejoined the searchers.
“Ianto, give me your scanner, I’ll recalibrate it while you use mine. It should register the creature when you’re within ten metres of where it’s hiding, the signal strength increasing the closer you get. When the indicator goes into the red, you’ll be within a metre of the target.”
They switched scanners and Ianto moved to an area that hadn’t yet been searched. A few minutes later, Tosh set off in the opposite direction, eyes fixed to the readout of the scanner in her hand.
The search continued for another quarter of an hour before Ianto’s voice came though the team’s comm. units. “Think I’ve got something, my scanner’s going crazy.”
“We’ll be right there,” Jack replied, turning to call to Helen. “Ianto’s got something.”
Abandoning the search, the Torchwood and Sanctuary people converged on Ianto’s position. He pointed to a pipe sticking out of a wall. “Drainage down-pipe bringing rainwater from the roof. We’re in a rare dry spell though, it hasn’t rained all week, so it should be dry inside and quite cosy.”
“If that’s what we’re looking for, how do we get it out of the pipe?” Owen looked at the narrow opening.
“Leave that to me,” Jack said, winking. “I’ve got an idea.”
“Really, Sir? Should we worry?” Ianto raised an eyebrow, eyeing his boss and lover dubiously.
“Hey, I can have good ideas!”
“Of course you can. So, are you going to share this brilliant idea of yours?” Ianto teased.
Jack threw a glare Ianto’s way and received an amused smirk in response. Turning away from his lover, he addressed the rest of the combined search party. “Our friend’s hiding in a nice, cosy, dry pipe, right? So why don’t we make its hiding place less appealing? I’ll just go up on the roof and pour some water down the pipe.”
“You know, that might actually work,” Ianto agreed. “But you’re unlikely to find enough water up there so you’ll need to take some up with you. Wait here.”
Five minutes later, Ianto was back with four large bottles of water poking out of a backpack, which he handed to Jack, who slipped it on after removing his coat and giving it into Ianto’s safekeeping.
“Where’d you get that at this time of night?” Owen asked, amazed. “Even the chippie’s shut by now.”
“I always keep water in the SUV. Never know when it might be needed to rinse things down, top up the radiator, re-hydrate an alien…”
“He’s so prepared for everything he puts boy scouts to shame,” Jack quipped to Helen. “Okay, better get ready to catch mama as she exits that pipe. See you in a bit!” With that, Jack scrambled atop a brick wall and started climbing the building, with the help of a drainpipe.
“Is that a good idea?” Helen asked. “Surely there’s a better way of accessing the roof.”
“Probably,” Ianto agreed, “but he likes to show off. Don’t worry though, he’s good on roofs.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Jack soon disappeared out of sight, and moments later, the team’s comms. activated with Jack’s voice coming through clearly. “Okay kids, I’m in position and about to start pouring.”
“Hold on a minute, Jack.” Ianto turned to Helen. “How exactly do we catch this abnormal of yours?”
“I grab it and put it in here.” Biggie held up a metal canister that looked small in his huge hands. “You stop it escaping.”
“Works for me!” Owen sounded relieved.
Ianto clicked his earpiece. “Okay, Jack, we’re ready.”
“Right, here goes. Keep your fingers crossed that this works.”
Up on the roof, Jack emptied the first bottle down the pipe. Nothing happened, so the contents of the second bottle followed.
“I hear something,” Tosh whispered.
Helen nodded. A faint scrabbling noise was coming from inside the pipe.
“What if it just turns out to be rats?” Owen asked.
Nobody needed to answer, because just then a trickle of water flowed from the pipe, followed by a long, shiny, bulging black body. It was barely halfway out when Biggie moved, far faster than the Torchwood team had expected anyone of his size to be able to. He grabbed the abnormal just behind its head and it immediately started trying to wrap its multi-legged body around his arm. Helen stepped forward to assist, unwinding the creature and feeding its length into the canister Biggie held in his other hand. As soon as it was all in, the lid was closed and secured.
“Got it,” Ianto told Jack through his bluetooth. “You can come down now, and don’t forget the empty bottles; I’ll need to refill them and put them back in the SUV, ready for the next emergency.”
“On my way.” Jack returned the bottles to his backpack and started back down the drainpipe, hopping off the wall at the bottom, onto the rubbish-littered floor of the alley. He looked around. “So where is it?”
“Safely contained,” Helen told him.
“Huh. I flushed it out and I don’t even get to see it?” Jack looked disappointed. “I’ve never seen an abnormal.”
Helen smiled, amused. “You can see it when we get back to our vehicle and transfer it into the stasis unit for transport. This way.” She set off, Team Torchwood trailing behind, except for Ianto, who took the backpack from Jack and went back to collect the SUV, driving around to meet the others at the van Helen and Biggie were using, parked unobtrusively in another alley at the edge of the search area.
Ianto was surprised to see that they’d waited for him to join them before carrying out the transfer, and he took up position at Jack’s side as Helen and Tosh checked the stasis unit and made sure it was ready for use.
Everyone watched as Biggie unscrewed the lid of the canister, holding it firmly in place until he’d positioned the metal tube at the stasis unit’s hatch. Then he slid the lid away, jamming the open end of the canister into the circular hatch, and the creature inside surged out into the much larger container.
Jack moved closer, looking through the clear window in the side, studying the strange creature. “What a beauty! Look at the way the light reflects off it, like it’s made of polished Obsidian. Too bad it’ll die when it spawns. What happens now?”
Helen pressed a series of buttons on the control panel at one end of the unit, putting the abnormal into stasis in preparation for its journey. “There, all set.” She smiled at Jack. “To answer your question, we’ll take this one back to the Sanctuary where a suitable environment has been set up for it, and let nature take its course. One or two of its offspring should survive the frenzy and in another fifty years or so will be of breeding age, then the whole cycle begins again.”
“You’ll take care of the survivors?” Ianto asked.
“Of course. When they’re not in their initial feeding frenzy they’re quite charming creatures and completely vegetarian, existing mostly on a diet of lichens and mosses; they only eat meat during their first ten days of life. It’s quite remarkable; the survivors pupate and their internal organs change while their outer appearance remains the same. They’re predominantly cave dwellers, usually living in quite remote, arid regions. This one must have slipped into a cargo container or some kind, perhaps one containing geological samples or finds from an archaeological dig, and travelled here by sea; they’re able to go into a kind of dormancy when food is scarce, so it could easily have survived a voyage of several weeks, even as long as three months, without food or drink. I understand there are several new exhibits being planned at Cardiff’s Natural History Museum, so I would imagine it arrived in one of their consignments.”
Jack nodded. “Makes sense. So, when will you be returning to the States?”
“We’ll be flying out tomorrow, I’ll file a flight plan first thing in the morning. Why do you ask?” Helen looked at Jack curiously.
“Well, since you’re here, I thought the two of you might enjoy a guided tour of the Torchwood Hub and a chance to meet our house guests. It seems only fair. We have an underground garage where you can safely park your van, and we can offer refreshments. It’s a little known fact that despite being best known for his coffee-making skills, Ianto brews an excellent cup of tea, and he probably has some chocolate hobnobs hidden away somewhere.”
“I have to hide them,” Ianto explained. “Otherwise Jack would eat the whole lot the moment my back was turned.”
Helen smiled at that. “I’ll admit it’s a very tempting offer, I should like to learn more about Torchwood, however I’d rather not wake up in the morning with no memory of this evening’s events.”
“How about if I give you my word that we won’t try to Retcon you? It probably wouldn’t work on you anyway owing to your unusual physiology, but to be honest, I’d rather have the Sanctuary as allies; we might need your help someday, or you might need ours.”
Helen inclined her head. “That’s certainly a possibility, and an alliance between your Torchwood and the Sanctuary could well prove mutually beneficial. Very well then, we accept.” She turned to Tosh. “And perhaps you’d care to join me for a drink afterwards, Toshiko? We’ve had so little time to talk and I’d very much like the opportunity to get to know you better.”
“I’d like that,” Tosh replied, smiling at the taller woman.
“Then that’s settled. Lead the way, Captain.” Helen climbed into the van’s driving seat as the Torchwood team walked back to the SUV.
Falling in beside Tosh, Ianto winked at his friend. “Looks like you’ve made a conquest, Dr. Magnus seems quite smitten with you.”
Tosh blushed. “She’s a fascinating woman, I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about.”
“She’s also very attractive.”
“I noticed that.” Tosh smirked at Ianto cheekily before climbing into the back seat.
“If I didn’t have Ianto, I think I might be envious,” Jack admitted, settling into the front passenger seat and slamming the door. “Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Ianto put the SUV in gear and pulled away, checking the rear view mirror to make sure the van was following. “There’s practically nothing you wouldn’t do, or haven’t tried at least once,” he teased.
“Your point being?”
“Nothing; just thought I’d mention it.” Ianto turned onto the main road towards the centre of Cardiff. What had started out as a very routine excursion had turned into something far more interesting than any of them could have anticipated.