The Doctor’s visit was completely unexpected; usually he only showed up when he needed Jack’s help with something, although that seemed to have changed since he’d regenerated into his Eleventh incarnation. To Ianto’s relief, the Eleventh Doctor wasn’t as willing as his previous self to use Jack as expendable canon fodder. Even so, it had been well over a year and a half since the last time he’d dropped by, and the team had gained a few new members since then, so curious heads turned at the weird sound and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the TARDIS materialise beside the Rift pool.
“Wow!” Andy exclaimed. “It wasn’t there and then it was!”
“Yeah,” Mickey said, sounding unimpressed the way only a former companion could. “It does that. You’ll get used to it.”
The TARDIS’s door opened and the Doctor bounded out, throwing his arms wide. “Surprise!”
“Tea?” a voice at his elbow asked, and there was Ianto, steaming cup of tea in hand.
“Thank you.” The Doctor accepted the offered cup and took a sip, then frowned at Ianto. “How do you do that? I didn’t even know I was going to stop by until a few minutes ago.”
Ianto merely smiled. “I know everything. Jammy Dodger?” He offered the plate of biscuits in his other hand.
“Ooh, don’t mind it I do!”
Jack ambled over, greeting his old friend warmly and stealing a biscuit from Ianto’s plate; the rest of the team soon joined them, abandoning their current tasks. The Doctor probably wouldn’t stay long, so it was wise not to waste the opportunity to pick his brain. A lot of strange things came through the Rift, and who better than the well-travelled Time Lord to help them identify mysterious bits of tech?
“Nice to see you all again!” The Doctor said cheerfully, before spotting a familiar face. “Mickey Smith! What are you doing here?”
“Captain Cheesecake offered me a job, and I didn’t have anything better to do,” Mickey said with a shrug. “New body?”
“Not so new, I’ve had it a while now. Wasn’t sure about it at first, it’s a bit gangly, all arms and legs, but it’s growing on me.” That was about as far as the greetings and introductions got before the Doctor saw something that made his jaw drop. He pointed a finger, mouth opening and closing soundlessly for a moment before he finally managed to get the words out, in a slightly higher than usual voice. “Is that a Dellabrixian Fluff Worm? I don’t believe it! Do you have any idea how rare they are? They’ve been completely extinct in the wild since the planet they came from was destroyed by a meteor! There are only two or three hundred left in private ownership because they’re almost impossible to breed, and here you’ve got one just wandering around your base!”
Jack didn’t think he’d ever seen the Doctor so excited; it was rather a nice change, being able to surprise the Time Lord. He smiled smugly. “Doctor, meet Nosy the Fluff. It fell through the Rift a year or so ago. Been living with us ever since.”
The Fluff slithered over and goggled up at the Doctor. “Humm,” it said politely.
The Doctor dropped to his knees. “It’s lovely to meet you too.” He looked up at Jack. “I never thought I’d actually meet one in person, as it were. How extraordinary! They’re extremely valuable, you know, treated like priceless heirlooms by the families lucky enough to have one. They’re reputed to be quite intelligent, too.”
“Nosy’s certainly very bright,” Jack agreed. “It learns fast and already helps Ianto keep the place clean and tidy.”
“You’re making it work for its keep?” The Doctor sounded appalled.
“We don’t ‘make’ it do anything,” Ianto said stiffly. “It helps because it wants to.”
“HUMMM!” Nosy agreed emphatically.
“Oh. Well, that’s alright then.”
Jack shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. “So, Doctor, you know a bit about… what did you call Nosy? A Dellabrixian Fluff Worm?”
“That’s right. I know a bit of their history. Quite a sad story really.”
“Come and sit down,” Jack urged, “we want to know everything you can tell us about Fluff Worms!”
“Well, if you insist.”
“I do. All we know is what we’ve learned since Nosy came to live with us.”
The team herded their guest over to the collection of comfy sofas and chairs grouped around the coffee table, settling themselves around him like a bunch of children waiting to be told a story. Nosy fetched a blanket and curled up on it, staring intently at the Doctor with its big green eyes, as curious as its friends to know more about its origins, as well as hearing about others of its kind.
“Right, well, Dellabrixian Fluff Worms. That’s what the people of Dellabrix call them anyway, and they have the only surviving population…” He shook his head. “No, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s see. The Worms evolved on a planet in the Dellabrixian system. There were originally seven planets orbiting the sun, the outer three being gas giants, and the one closest to the sun little more than a barren rock. Dellabrix is the second planet, the third is mostly desert, the Dellabixians have research facilities there so they can study the native fauna. They planned to do the same on the fourth planet, but it was out of reach for a long time after they developed space travel because of its rather eccentric orbit.
When it finally swung close enough for the Dellabrixians to reach it, they discovered a world of jungles and open plains, an unspoiled wilderness, home to many exotic species. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to study it before they became aware that a huge meteor was on a collision course with it. They tried to come up with a way of diverting the meteor, but when that failed, they did the only thing they could, rounding up as many of the native creatures as possible and transplanting them to their own world. They made several trips and got as many off as they could, but they were still only able to save a small percentage; the rest were wiped out when the meteor hit. There’s no life of any kind there now; the planet was completely destroyed.
The Dellabrixians did everything they could to care for the creatures they rescued, but only a handful of the species thrived in captivity; most quickly died out, unable to cope with the changes of climate and the unfamiliar diet. The Worms did well though; they seemed to bond either with individual Dellabrixians or with whole families, and because they turned out to be extremely long-lived, they got handed down from generation to generation, becoming the family’s most treasured possession. But there were nowhere near enough Worms for every family that wanted to have one, and they seldom bred, leading to speculation that the rescued ones were mainly juveniles or those too old to reproduce.
On the rare occasions they did breed, families would come from all over the planet to try to bond with the new Worm. The family it chose would then move in with the family who owned the parent, living with them until the youngling was considered old enough to be on its own, usually ten years or so. By all accounts they’re treated very well, more like members of the family than pets, but in the last seven hundred years, only forty-seven new Worms have been bred, and quarter of those who were rescued have since passed away, presumably from old age. The scientists have tried to discover why the Worms breed so slowly, but it’s a mystery. In another thousand years they might well be completely extinct.” The Doctor sighed sadly. “It’s a shame you only have one, or you might have been able to breed them and save them from extinction.” He reached down to pat Nosy. “Still, you’re very lucky to have this one, and it seems healthy and happy so you must be doing something right.”
“Good food, a comfortable bed, lots of exercise, regular grooming, and plenty of things to keep it entertained.” Jack shrugged. “It’s really not hard to look after a Fluff. Nosy mostly takes care of itself. And us,” he added. “It knows when any of us are feeling down and gives very good hugs. It’s our friend and a very valued member of the team.”
Nosy hummed happily as it munched on a Jammy Dodger; it was always nice to be appreciated, and living here was far more interesting than the hill it had lived on before, back on its home world, even if it did sometimes miss the company of other Fluffs. Still, it would do something about that when it was ready to share its people, there was no need to rush, and besides, there wasn’t enough room here for too many Fluffs.
It didn’t understand why this Doctor person seemed to think it was so difficult to make more Fluffs though, or why its kind were apparently dying out where they lived now. It could start making a dozen Flufflets right now if it wanted to. Obviously the other Fluffs must not be drinking enough coffee.