“What’re they doin’?” Owen asked, mystified, as the team watched the strange creatures that had just arrived, courtesy of the Rift, shuffling about into a huddle.
“Flocking?” Ianto suggested. “You’ve heard the old saying ‘Birds of a feather flock together’? Well, they’re definitely all of a feather.”
It was true, the twenty or so creatures did all seem to be of one species, although they varied in size, some as big as a large turkey and some only chicken-sized; probably adults and juveniles.
“They’re not birds though,” Owen pointed out.
“Not by earth standards, I’ll admit, but they do have feathers, after a fashion. Some kind of plumage anyway.”
“I think they look more leafy,” Jack said, studying the visitors thoughtfully.
Ianto shrugged. “Leaves, feathers, same sort of thing.”
“Try tellin’ that to a plant,” Owen scoffed. “Feathers wouldn’t be very good for photosynthesis.”
“You’re thinking in earth terms again, Owen. Whether our visitors are animal, vegetable, or mineral, I think we can all agree they’re not earth natives, so earth rules don’t necessarily apply.”
“Point taken,” Owen conceded. “Suppose we’d better round them up then, whatever they are.”
“I think they’ve beaten us to it.” Jack pointed to the newcomers, who by now had stopped jostling each other and were standing in neat ranks, four abreast, adults to the front and rear, and youngsters in the middle. A quick head count revealed they had a total of twenty-four, eight large and sixteen small. They were all looking at the team expectantly.
“O-kay,” Owen muttered. “Now what?”
Tosh giggled and Owen turned to glare at her.
“They remind me of when I went on school trips. All the kids bunched together, teachers in front leading the way, and more behind to make sure nobody wandered off and got lost.”
“You’re right,” Ianto agreed, grinning at her. “So…” He strode forward, stopping a few feet in front of the leading creatures. They really were rather peculiar; oval bodies on four thin legs, a long neck like a camel’s topped with a smaller oval for a head, which narrowed at the front into something resembling the beak of a dolphin. Two appendages like flexible arms emerged from their bodies just below their necks, and the whole thing was covered in overlapping feathers, or leaves, in various shades of brown and blue. “Welcome to earth; if you’d be so good as to follow me? This way.” Ianto turned and headed for the van, the beings marching along behind him as Jack scurried ahead to lower the ramp. Within a few minutes, Ianto and his followers were ensconced in the back of the van.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright back there?” Jack asked dubiously.
“Perfectly fine,” Ianto replied, seating himself on one of the benches that ran along the sides of the van as the flock of creatures followed suit. “Just tell Mickey to drive carefully; we wouldn’t want to bounce our visitors onto the floor.” He reached up to flick on the interior lights as Jack closed up the back.
“If you have any problems, just yell.”
Moments later, the engine started up, sending vibrations through the truck.
“Hold on tight,” Ianto warned, and twenty-four pairs of arms latched onto the wooden slats of the benches. Clearly these people had a good grasp of English, either that or some sort of translation technology. There could be no doubt they were sentient. “So, what brings you to Cardiff?”
A garbled series of squeaks and whistles erupted from the largest of the alien passengers before a toneless voice intoned in very precise English, “We are on a field trip. Our students are studying the history of the Torchwood Institute. It was decided that a visit to the Institute’s city of origin would prove beneficial. Cardiff is where many races, including our own, made peaceful first contact with humans through Torchwood.”
“You may just be making history then, there’s no mention of your race in our archives. Please forgive my lack of manners; I should have introduced myself sooner. Ianto Jones, at your service.”
There was uproar among the aliens as several tried to talk over each other. The gist of the argument seemed to be that the one who’d calibrated whatever technology they’d used to hitch a ride though the Rift had miscalculated, so they’d arrived several hundred years further back in time than they’d intended.
“It is an honour to meet the inestimable Ianto Jones,” the leader finally intoned after restoring order, bowing its head in respect.
Ianto bowed back. “A pleasure to meet you too. What world are you from, if I might ask?”
“We are Gnatrioons, from Gnatrioose. I am named Pilbim.”
By the time the van doors were opened back at the Hub, Ianto and the Gnatrioons were chatting like old friends. He introduced them to the rest of the team, and then the flock were given the grand tour of the Hub, followed by a question-and-answer session over a lunch of pizza.
Unsurprisingly, the youngsters all decided they wanted their photos taken with the historically famous Torchwood team, which was an interesting experience. Everyone arranged themselves on and around the sofa beneath the Torchwood sign, sixteen Gnatrioons perched on various laps and shoulders. There were a few fights over who got to sit on whom, but Ianto’s diplomatic skills managed to sort things out to everyone’s satisfaction.
Several hours later, it was at last time for the visitors to head home, and they were returned to their arrival point loaded down with souvenirs. After a round of farewells, the flock formed up in ranks again and vanished in a flash of golden light.
Ianto stood watching until the glow dissipated, then turned to the others with a smile. “Just goes to show, tourists are all the same. It doesn’t matter where they come from or why they’re visiting, they always take everything they can carry with them when they leave.”