Torchwood Three had always been an unpredictable place to work. Where Torchwood One had been all about regular working hours, three weeks’ annual vacation, public holidays off, and each department concerned with its own duties, Three, because of its far smaller workforce, tended to be more random. You could never know from one day to the next, and often from one hour to the next, what you might be expected to do. It was… interesting.
Ianto had grown used to arriving at the Hub to find things not quite the same as he’d left them the previous day, but even so, this took the cake.
“Jack?” he called, pausing just inside the cogwheel door.
The man himself emerged from his office, his usually cheerful smile of greeting looking a bit forced on this occasion.
“Ianto! Good morning! You look…” He trailed off at seeing the expression on Ianto’s face, a mixture of confusion, annoyance, and disapproval. “Um…”
“Jack, what is that?” Ianto pointed towards the cause of his displeasure.
“That? Oh, well, um, an apple tree?” Jack shuffled his feet, glancing sidelong at the Hub’s new feature.
“Humph.” Ianto folded his arms over his chest. “Yes, that’s what I thought it was.” He looked at the tree, the branches of which were laden with glossy, juicy looking, ripe green and red fruit. “Just what is an apple tree doing in the Hub?”
Jack seemed to slump. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that, because I don’t have an answer for you. When I got up this morning, it was just… there.”
“Apple trees don’t just appear overnight, Jack, especially not ones that big.”
“This one did! Honest! It wasn’t there when I went to bed at midnight, but when I got up at five…” Jack gestured helplessly at the tree. “I’ve been studying it, and I don’t even know how it can be growing like that, but it is!”
“What d’you mean?”
“Take a closer look.”
Ianto did as Jack suggested, approaching the tree, and taking a good look at it. It was growing straight out of the floor. Literally. The trunk of the tree was stuck in the concrete as if it were fitted into a hole exactly the right size and shape for it. The surrounding floor was completely smooth and undisturbed, which was impossible. If the tree had rapidly grown overnight, the concrete should have been cracked and broken, forced up unevenly around the tree, with roots poking through the cracks, only it wasn’t. It looked for all the world as if the tree had already been there and the concrete had just been poured around it, which was ridiculous, because Ianto knew for a fact that there had never been a tree there before. He considered it thoughtfully, cocking his head to one side, then turned back to Jack.
“Did you check the CCTV?”
“Of course I did!” Jack sounded offended that Ianto had even asked. It was basic procedure; if something weird happened in the Hub when nobody was there, the first person on the scene checked the CCTV to find out exactly how and when it happened. “At three forty-seven this morning, there was a bright flash of green light and then there was a tree, right there.” Jack pointed at it, as if to make absolutely certain that Ianto knew which tree he was talking about.
Ianto’s eyes followed Jack’s pointing finger back to the tree in question and he stared at it some more, hoping in vain to make some sense out of it. Not that it helped. No amount of staring changed what he was seeing in the slightest. Slowly, he walked around the trunk, which was a good three feet in circumference. This was no little sapling, it was a fully mature tree, probably hundreds of years old, and it towered over his head. Ianto had to admit to himself, as a connoisseur of trees, that it was a very handsome specimen; its broad branches spread out from about shoulder height, making it look temptingly climbable, it’s leaves were rich green and healthy, and its fruit looked unblemished and free from pests…
Quickly, Ianto wiped the smile from his face. So it was a nice, healthy tree; that was all well and good, but it shouldn’t be in the Hub. Trees the size of this one simply weren’t designed to be indoor plants, especially in an underground bunker with no natural daylight. It might be healthy right now, but it wasn’t going to stay that way for long; concrete was seriously lacking in the nutrients a tree would need, and they didn’t have a growing light big enough for it. Watering it might also pose something of a problem. How the Hell did a tree just pop up out of nowhere anyway? Did the Rift just arbitrarily decide the Hub needed brightening up?
He gave himself a mental shake. How it got here hardly mattered right now; the important question was what they were going to do with it. Transplanting it was out. They’d have to dig up half the Hub using jackhammers to even get at the roots, and nothing short of a crane would he able to lift it along with a good-sized root ball. Even if any of that was achievable, there was no way that tree would fit through any of the doors, and digging a hole through the ceiling of the Hub from up on the Plas was neither sensible nor practical. Besides, a tree the size of this one was unlikely to survive the move.
“As much as I hate to say it, unless we can figure out what caused this and reverse it, I think we’ll have to chop it down and remove it in pieces before its roots start causing damage to the foundations, if they haven’t already.”
Jack sighed. “I suppose you’re right. Can we at least harvest the apples first?”
“We don’t even know if they’d be safe for human consumption! For all we know, this tree could grow poison apples or something.”
Jack sounded so certain that Ianto turned slowly to face him. “And how would you know that?”
“Um, because I ate one?”
“Jack! What on earth possessed you to do something so idiotic?”
“I was hungry, and they looked so nice, sweet and crisp and juicy. It didn’t harm me, I feel fine, and it was delicious, even better than I thought it would be.”
“Well, I’m so happy for you,” Ianto snapped, before deflating. “Look, call Owen; I know it’s a bit early for him, but have him come in and run some tests. He’s the plant expert, not me.”
“I suppose that would be sensible.” Jack turned on his heel and went back into his office.
Owen was duly called, arriving in his usual grumpy mood. “Okay, what’s this about a tree? Oh.” He stopped dead, much as Ianto had earlier, and stared at the tree. “Well that’s bizarre.”
“We know that,” Ianto agreed, handing Owen a mug of coffee. “We just need to know if it’s harmful in any way. Jack ate one of the apples and it didn’t kill him, but I still think it should be investigated before we cut it down.”
“Fine, I’ll take samples of the fruit, leaves, bark, wood…” He frowned at the point where tree trunk met floor. “Huh. Getting at the roots could prove tricky so I’ll leave that for the moment. You take scans, use the portable medical scanner for the tree, and maybe that industrial one Tosh likes playing with will be powerful enough to pick up images of the root system through the concrete.”
Ianto nodded agreement and the two men set to work, gathering all the information they could. Ianto used the excuse of needing to collect samples for Owen and take scans of all parts of the tree to justify climbing it right to the top. He figured he deserved to get some fun out of the situation.
Everything went smoothly until he returned to ground level, handed over the samples he’d collected, along with the medical scanner so Owen could study the results, and turned his attention to the matter of the tree’s roots.
“Uh, Owen, I think you’d better take a look at this…”
“What now?” Owen grumbled, abandoning his samples and stomping up the steps from the medical bay. “Can’t get the scanner to work?”
“The scanner’s working just fine, but the results I’m getting are a bit… odd.”
“Let me see.” Owen studied the scanner’s screen and frowned. He tried increasing the resolution, but that didn’t help either. “Okay, now that doesn’t make sense.”
“Tell me about it.”
There were no roots. The scanner was easily penetrating the concrete floor; water pipes, the drainage system, and wiring conduits showed up clearly, but the trunk of the tree went down into the floor about eighteen inches and then simply ended.
“How does it not fall over without roots? All trees have roots!” Owen was baffled.
“I’m guessing this isn’t an earth tree, no matter how much it resembles one,” Ianto said, focusing the scanner in on the bottom of the trunk. He adjusted the contrast, but still couldn’t detect anything, just a smooth, flat termination; it didn’t even taper off.
Shaking his head, Owen returned to his samples, seeking answers there. They didn’t prove particularly enlightening though; everything about the tree, aside from its lack of roots, was perfectly normal as far as he could tell, with an emphasis on the ‘perfect’. The apple tree was a perfect specimen, in perfect health, no chemicals, pesticides, or growth hormones. Its fruit was about as organic as you could get, nutritious and, as they soon learned, just as delicious as Jack had said it was. When Tosh and Gwen arrived, they sampled it too, both exclaiming over the sweet, fresh taste once they’d got over the initial shock of there being an apple tree in the middle of the Hub.
“I vote we leave it,” Jack said, as they sat around the coffee table, drinking coffee, eating apples, and discussing their options. “It’s not doing any real harm, and we don’t have to worry about its roots damaging the Hub’s foundations, pipes, or power cables since it doesn’t have any. Right now, trying to get rid of it would be more trouble than leaving it be.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Ianto said. “Cutting it into small enough pieces to go in the incinerator would probably take days in between our other work. It might be a bit in the way but as long as it’s healthy we might as well leave it. If that changes, we’ll have to do something about it, but until then…”
“You just like climbing it,” Jack teased.
“Well, that and the fruit,” Ianto admitted with a smile. “Owen should probably run daily tests to be sure it remains safe to eat, but it would be wasteful to pick all the apples at once and kill the tree if we don’t have to.”
“Daily tests won’t take me long,” Owen agreed, “and fresh fruit we don’t have to pay for is a nice bonus.”
“It beats snacking on chocolate and crisps,” Tosh agreed, and Gwen nodded.
“We don’t often get nice things just popping up out of nowhere, so we should make the most of the ones we do get.”
“Looks like it’s unanimous, the tree stays for now.” Jack washed the last of his apple down with the final mouthful of his coffee and stood up, depositing the core in the bin and taking his mug to the small kitchen area for washing. The rest of the team finished their own drinks before getting on with their work. If they had to make detours around the tree to get where they needed to go, nobody seemed to mind all that much and as the days passed they grew accustomed to the tree’s presence, helping themselves to its fruit whenever they felt like it.
A month later, Ianto picked the last apples from the highest reaches of the tree, and the following morning, when he arrived at the Hub, there was no sign of the tree ever having been there; it had vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared, and the Hub looked oddly naked without it. Still, the team simply shrugged and carried on as before; the Rift was in one of its overactive phases and they had more than enough to occupy their time without worrying about the odd, rootless apple tree that had visited to bestow its fruitful bounty on them.
Late summer turned to autumn, and one morning Ianto arrived at work to find…
“Jack, did you know there’s a pear tree in the Hub?”
Here we go again…