The peace and quiet of the Hub was abruptly interrupted by a resounding crash from down in the autopsy bay, followed by Owen yelling, “Shit!” and then complete silence.
Jack came haring out of his office, heading towards the source of the noise. “Owen, talk to me!”
“Sorry,” Owen’s voice drifted up. “You know that canister we found this morning?”
“I might vaguely remember it,” Jack said sarcastically. He’d been with Owen on that retrieval.
“Right, well, I was scanning it to try and find out what might be inside it, only it rolled off the table and now there’s a big crack in it.”
“So what are you saying? That whatever was inside it is leaking out now?”
“Um, maybe? There’s nothing comin’ out that I can see, so either it was empty or it contained a gaseous substance. But if it was anything we needed to worry about, the alarms would’ve gone off and the Hub would’ve gone into lockdown. I’m not hearing any alarms, so I guess we’re okay.”
“Either that or it’s something our detection systems aren’t set up to look for and we’ve all just been exposed to an unknown and possibly lethal airborne pathogen, in which case we might all drop dead soon,” Ianto added dryly.
“Well, yeah, there’s that, but I feel fine and I was right next to it when it broke. Incidentally, my scanners aren’t picking up any kind of contaminant, or anything else for that matter, so chances are it was just an empty canister. I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
“This time,” Jack added, reaching the railings surrounding the autopsy bay and scowling down at Owen. “In future, whenever you’re scanning any kind of mysterious container, make sure it can’t roll off anywhere and get broken. Anything could’ve been in there.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be more careful next time.”
“You should have been more careful this time, Owen. I shouldn’t have to remind you how dangerous the things that come through the Rift can be. You know the rules about handling unidentified items; follow them!”
Jack stomped back up to his office, muttering something unrepeatable and not at all complimentary about Owen.
The rest of the day went by quietly enough, and everybody who was going home managed to get away at a decent time. Ianto stayed late to finish up a few things, and then ended up not going home at all, so he was first up the ladder from Jack’s quarters the next morning, intending to make coffee, but he only got as far as the door to Jack’s office before something brought him to a halt.
“Ah, Jack, I think you’d better get up here and take a look at this…”
“What’s up?” Jack popped out of his manhole like a prairie dog, blinking in the light. His hair was uncombed and he was naked since he’d been about to have his morning shower.
“The Hub…” Ianto trailed off again, because honestly he couldn’t think of any words to describe what he was seeing.
“What about it?” Coming the rest of the way up the ladder, Jack ambled over to join Ianto and gazed out across the Hub.
“Please tell me I’m seeing things,” Ianto said plaintively, not taking his eyes off the sight before him.
“I could do that, but I’d be lying. That’s… different.”
“You’re telling me. It wasn’t like that last night. I would’ve noticed.”
“No it wasn’t,” Jack agreed. Everywhere they looked, the Hub was… sort of fluffy, like it had been upholstered in thick cream carpeting. Jack considered the transformation. “It makes the place look a lot lighter, don’t you think?”
Finally dragging his eyes away from the Hub’s new décor, Ianto turned to stare at Jack as if he thought he was out of his mind, which was a fair assessment. “Are you serious?”
“Well it does! I’m not saying I like it, or that I think it’s a good idea, but you have to admit it brightens the place up.”
“It’s everywhere! Not just the floor, but the furniture, the walls…” Ianto peered upwards, “even the ceiling! Where the hell did it come from?”
“That’s a very good question. In case you’re wondering, it has nothing to do with me.”
Suddenly Ianto snapped his fingers. “Owen! That canister yesterday, that’s got to be it!”
“Right. We have to locate that canister, find out what this is, and figure out how to stop it before the whole of Cardiff gets affected!” Decision made, Jack plunged out the door into the fuzziness beyond.
“Jack! Wait! Shouldn’t you put some clothes on first?”
Jack paused, glancing back at his lover. “Why? It tickles a bit, but it feels surprisingly nice.”
Ianto groaned and dropped his head into his hands, hoping Jack didn’t get any ideas of things the soft, fluffy surface would be good for. Ianto was open-minded, but the Hub had spontaneously sprouted fur and as far as he was concerned, that was a problem to be solved, not an opportunity for… experimentation.
Thankfully, Jack was on a mission and was back a few minutes later with the canister. Ianto took it from him a bit gingerly, turning it over when he noticed something. There were symbols on the surface of one end, a kind of writing. How had nobody noticed that yesterday? Taking a photograph of the symbols with his phone, Ianto uploaded it onto the computer in Jack’s office and set Tosh’s translation programme to work on it. A few minutes later, the computer went ‘ping’ and a new window opened, words slowly appearing within it…
‘The Amazing Carpet In A Can! Be the envy of all your friends; transform your home with this luxurious, easy maintenance floor covering. Simply measure out the quantity required for the size of the floor, sprinkle and leave overnight. Keep windows and doors closed, and ventilation turned off to ensure even coverage. Guaranteed no mess, no fuss, and a perfect fit every time. Each can contains sufficient for one thousand square metres. Colour: Cream.’
“Well, that’s just great, isn’t it?” Ianto grumbled, slumping across the desk, head buried in his arms. “We accidentally use a whole can of the stuff, leave the ventilation on, and end up with carpeting everywhere! Can you imagine trying to keep all that clean? I mean I like shag pile as much as the next man, but not all over the Hub!”
“Wait! Jack said, still watching the computer screen. “There’s more.”
Ianto’s head shot up, a panicked look on his face. “More carpet?”
“No; more writing.”
“Oh.” His shoulders sagged in relief. “Good.”
More words appeared in the translation window. ‘To dissipate carpeting, simply transmit sounds waves at precisely 194.3 kHz for a minimum duration of seventy-three seconds.’
“That’s all? That’ll get rid of it?”
Jack shrugged. “That’s what it says.”
Scarcely daring to hope, Ianto tapped into the alarm systems and spent a couple of minutes programming the required burst of ultrasonic sound. “Right. Here goes nothing.” He hit enter and they waited. The sound was far too high for even Jack’s ears to detect, and for a full minute, nothing appeared to be happening but then… Before their eyes, the carpeting just seemed to gradually fade away to nothing, as if iit had never been there in the first place.
Ianto breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God it worked.”
Jack stared out at the bleak grey Hub, looking vaguely disappointed. “It’s a pity we couldn’t have kept just a little patch,” he said at last. “Maybe around the sofa.”
Ianto disagreed. “I’d have been forever vacuuming up crumbs, and that colour is impossible to keep clean.”
“I suppose you’re right. Still, if it grows back at least now we know what to do about it.”
“Do you think it might?”
Jack shrugged. “Who knows? Owen couldn’t see whatever came out of the canister in the first place, so how can we tell if it’s all gone?”
“Good point. Ah well, we’ll deal with it if and when it does. In the meantime, I’m going to make coffee, and you should probably put some clothes on before the others get here.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, if you want anyone to get any work done today.”
Reluctantly, Jack went back down into his quarters and Ianto made his way to the kitchenette. The Hub did look a lot darker without its shag pile décor, but Ianto decided he could live with that a whole lot easier than the prospect of having to find a way to vacuum the walls and ceiling. Floor to ceiling shag carpeting simply wasn’t practical.