Ianto was caught between a Roc and a hard place, literally, and the irony of his situation didn’t escape him. He’d been in some unenviable positions during his Torchwood career, but pinned by massive talons against the uncomfortably lumpy, rock-strewn ground at the base of the cliff was definitely in the top five. He stared up at a savage beak, which from this angle seemed to be roughly the size of the SUV, and wondered if this was how he was going to die, gulped down by a mythical bird with a serious attitude problem. It wasn’t the heroic end he would have chosen for himself.
If it decided to snack on him, he’d be barely a mouthful for the creature, which resembled nothing more than an oversized eagle, but maybe he’d get lucky and it would choke on him. Right now that seemed about the best he could hope for. He didn’t remember capturing Myfanwy being this difficult. Of course, he’d had some help with that.
Speaking of Jack…
“Ianto?” The voice in his ear brought a faint smile to Ianto’s face despite his predicament. At least he might get to say his farewells to Jack before he was eaten. “Any sign of the mystery creature yet?”
Raising one hand slowly and cautiously to his ear, Ianto clicked his bluetooth to reply. “Yep, I’m looking right at it.”
“You found it? Great work!”
“No so much,” Ianto replied dryly. “It’s got me pinned down and I think it plans to eat me. Sorry,” he added as an afterthought. “Not the way I thought I’d go.”
“What? No! It can’t do that! Shoot it!”
“Yeah, would if I could, but I can’t reach my gun.” It had fallen from his hand and skittered away when the Roc had knocked him over with its wing before planting its huge, scaly foot on him. Thankfully, most of its weight was on its other leg, otherwise he thought his ribcage would be crushed by now. Birds might weigh less for their size than other living creatures, on account of having hollow bones, but something the size of a double-decker bus is never going to be exactly lightweight.
“Hang on, we’re on our way!”
That was reassuring, sort of. “I’ll do my best to, Sir.”
The team had split up to search the rocky landscape, where there’d been several sightings of a massive bird preying on the sheep and cattle that grazed the high pastures in the Brecon Beacons. It was just Ianto’s luck that he’d been the one to find it, and now he couldn’t even defend himself. His gun had come to rest too far from where he was pinned for him to be able to reach it without considerably longer arms. Mr Fantastic wouldn’t be having this problem. Elastic arms would really come in useful right now. Even at full stretch the only things his fingers could connect with were the ubiquitous rocks that scattered the ground up here.
Rocks! An idea gradually began to form in Ianto’s head. He blamed the jarring impact of hitting the ground, combined with the distraction of being stood on by a supposedly mythical creature, for the fact that it had taken him this long to get his brain in gear. Maybe he wasn’t quite as screwed as he’d thought. Or maybe this was a stupendously bad idea that would just get him eaten that much quicker, but it was still better than just lying here waiting for help that might not arrive in time to do any good. At least this way he’d go down fighting. Not that he could get much further down right now, considering he was already flat on his back.
Feeling about and closing his right hand around a rock about the size of his fist, Ianto flung it as hard as he could at the gigantic bird. He wasn’t in the best position for throwing things, but it wasn’t a bad shot, all things considered. The rock struck solidly against the base of the huge beak and even as the Roc twitched in annoyance, Ianto was grabbing a second, launching it upwards with all his strength, hoping none of his missiles rebounded and hit him. That would just add injury to insult. Being stood on was quite enough of an indignity, thank you very much, without managing to accidentally brain himself with a rock into the bargain.
‘I’m throwing rocks at a Roc,’ he thought bemusedly as he hurled another one, praying that he wouldn’t run out of reachable rocks before help arrived. He felt a bit like he was stuck in some sort of weird dream; everything about this situation was bordering on the surreal.
The Roc flinched slightly as a rock just missed its huge eye, and it mantled its wings. Even from this angle, it was an impressive sight. It flapped a couple of times and screeched, louder than a foghorn, almost deafening Ianto as the sound echoed off the tall cliffs surrounding this end of the valley they were in. Ianto hoped his friends might somehow be able to use the sound to pinpoint his location, despite the echoes.
Another rock, another solid hit, and the Roc jerked its head away, leaning back just a little. Ianto felt the weight on his chest ease, not a lot but perhaps just enough… He scrabbled at the ground with his heels, digging them in and pushing, trying to wriggle free, at the same time continuing to throw rocks to keep the bird off balance.
“Ianto! What’s going on? Talk to me!” Jack sounded out of breath; he must be running.
“I’m trying to persuade the bloody thing to get off me!” Ianto gasped, grunting with effort as he slung a rock almost too big for him to get a grip on. It didn’t go as far as the others had; he was running low on usable missiles.
“How? With chocolate?”
“No, by throwing things at it. Somehow I don’t think trying to bribe this brute with chocolate would work.”
“Fuck! Look at the size of that thing!” Owen’s voice came through clearly. “Whereabouts are you, Teaboy?”
“Half under its right foot!” Grabbing for another rock, Ianto’s hand closed around a long shard of flint instead, not good for throwing but in the spirit on the old saying ‘Waste not, want not’, he jabbed one end into the Roc’s foot, causing it to flinch, pulling back an inch or so. It was just barely enough, and Ianto wrenched himself free, tearing his jeans, and possibly his leg judging by the sharp pain in his left calf, on jagged stones. He hoped the scent of blood wouldn’t whet the Roc’s appetite.
Keeping his eyes on the Roc as he snatched up suitable missiles and threw them, able to aim a bit better now he was in a more upright position, Ianto scrambled across the slope towards his gun. He could just see it out of the corner of his eye, glinting in the autumn sunlight a few yards away.
A small boulder hit the slope a matter of feet from him and he yelped, glancing briefly over his shoulder to see the rest of Team Torchwood spread out and joining in the battle like a bunch of people at a coconut shy. He wondered why they weren’t using their guns. “Hey! Watch where you’re aiming! You almost hit me!”
“Sorry,” Gwen replied. “The big ones are hard to throw.”
“Try something a bit smaller then,” Jack advised. “We’re not trying to knock it out, just drive it back towards the cliff a bit so it can’t take off.”
Oh. That was why they weren’t shooting it; the valley was deeper at this end, the cliffs closer together, meaning there wouldn’t be enough space for the Roc to spread its wings. It was good strategy, although that still didn’t completely answer Ianto’s question. What good would it do to back it into a corner it couldn’t escape from? Scooping up his gun as he reached it, he retreated to join his friends.
“Take over from me, would you?” Jack asked. “I have things to get ready so we can deal with our visitor.” He shrugged out of the backpack he was wearing.
“Such as?” Ianto raised an eyebrow at Jack, stooping to pick up several rocks and lobbing them at the Roc in quick succession.
“You’ll see, just keep on forcing it back.”
Ianto rolled his eyes and threw another rock, limping slightly but keeping level with his teammates as they moved forward in search of fresh ammunition. The Roc screeched again, snapping at the stones as if they were flies buzzing around its head. It tried to raise its wings, but they brushed against the sheer, enclosing cliffs, dislodging small avalanches, pebbles and boulders alike tumbling down, some shattering on impact and sending stinging shards to further assail the beleaguered creature.
Despite the fact that it probably would have eaten him at some point in the not too distant future, Ianto began to feel sympathy towards the bird. It wasn’t some hostile alien intent on taking over the world and enslaving humanity, just a stranded creature doing its best to survive in an unfamiliar world. Maybe that was all the Roc of mythology had been too. What they were doing to it seemed cruel; whatever Jack had planned, Ianto wished he’d hurry up with it.
As if Jack had heard his thoughts, which actually wouldn’t have surprised Ianto much, the captain spoke. “Alright, I think we’re ready, just push it back a little further so I can put this on the flat rock there without risking getting my head torn off.”
The team redoubled their efforts and the Roc retreated, turning its head back and forth, frantically looking for a way out. Passing through their line, a heavy-looking device gripped in both hands, Jack made his way to the flat-topped rock and set his burden down. It looked disturbingly familiar to Ianto, but he couldn’t quite place it, out of context as it was. “Okay, let’s hope this works. Better close your eyes,” Jack said, flipping a switch and punching a button on the top of the device.
“Why?” Ianto asked, just as a light flared from the front of the box and the world, including the Roc, was illuminated in a lurid shade of pink with yellow dots. He shut his eyes quickly. “Oh, right. You know Jack, every so often you come up with a completely brilliant idea.”
“Glad you think so, but it’s only brilliant if it works,” Jack replied as the weird light faded away. He clicked the switch to the off position before removing the power source to make everything safe for transportation.
Ianto opened his eyes to see a complete absence of Roc. “Did it work?” he enquired, limping towards Jack, who was in a better position to see.
“Oh yeah! Now that’s much more manageable.” Where the Roc had stood, a bird about the size of a buzzard lay, spread-eagled on the ground. It was unconscious, but breathing, which was a relief. “Owen, check it over. I don’t know how long it’ll be out for.”
“What am I, a vet now?” the medic muttered, stomping over to the shrunken Roc.
“When necessary. It’s an alien creature anyway; look it over, make sure it’s not injured or carrying any kind of contagion, alien microbe, anything that could harm the ecosystem.”
“If it was, there would’ve been some indication by now,” Owen grumbled, running a scanner over the bird. “It’s clean,” he reported when his examination was complete. “Couple of minor nicks from rocks and a scratch on one foot, but that’s it.” He stuck medicated dressings over the small wounds on its foot and face. “That should prevent infection; they’ll fall off once the cuts are healing. What’re we goin’ to do with it now? ‘Cause I’m not volunteerin’ to carry it.”
“We don’t have to do anything,” Ianto said with a smile. “That’s the beauty of shrinking it. All we need to do is leave it here to live out its life, more in proportion with its environment. It’s far kinder than keeping it caged.”
“Will it stay like this now?” Gwen asked. “What is that thing you used anyway?”
“It’s called a Shrink ‘n’ Store,” Jack told her, “and yes, its effects are permanent unless they’re reversed by the machine.”
“It’s not recommended for use on living creatures,” Ianto added, “because the effects are disorienting and can be quite painful, but it doesn’t cause lasting damage. Jack and I got shrunk by it once.” He turned to Owen. “You should probably give the poor thing a dose of painkiller before it wakes up. I guarantee it’ll have a headache.”
“Fine. Soon as I’ve done that, I want to look at your leg,” Owen said, reaching for his bag and measuring out a very small dose of the universal pain medication he used for non-terrestrial species.
By the time the miniaturised Roc regained consciousness, Ianto’s leg wound was cleaned and dressed. It was little more than a deep scrape, although it was quite sore.
The bird fluttered, looking around groggily. Ianto had poured water into a concave stone nearby and finding it, mini Roc drank. That seemed to help with its recovery. Ten minutes later, after some very industrious preening, the bird took to the air, soaring upwards, screeching.
“Now that’s a sight to gladden the heart!” Jack smiled. “And at least now it won’t be snacking on livestock.”
“What if it breeds?” Gwen asked.
Owen shook his head. “Unlikely. It’s a male, according to my scanners, and the only one of its kind. The chances of it being compatible with any species of earth raptor are probably a billion to one. It might hook up with another bird of similar size for company, but there won’t be any offspring.”
“Right, I think our work here is done!” Jack shouldered the backpack in which the Shrink ‘n’ Store was once more safely stowed and turned back along the path that had brought them here. “Time to go home, boys and girls.”
Ianto fell in beside Jack as he set off, the other three trailing behind. “Why didn’t you tell me you planned on shrinking it?”
“Because if it turned out to be as big as reports indicated, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get close enough to try. We might have been forced to just shoot it down. I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.” He grinned at Ianto. “Luckily for us, you seem to be irresistibly attractive to birds.”
Ianto shook his head, amused. “Twpsyn.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m glad you didn’t get eaten,” Jack admitted.
“So am I,” Ianto replied. “It would’ve ruined my whole day.”