“I think we’re due a break after all that, don’t you?” Jack said, as Ianto rejoined him on the flight deck of the Happy Wanderer. They’d just completed the last of three back-to-back runs delivering medicines and emergency supplies to a struggling new colony that had been hit by floods. Because of the urgency of the missions there had been no time between runs to do anything but get the next load of supplies onboard and secured in their holds before setting off again, and despite them both being immortal they’d been run ragged.
“What sort of a break are we talking about?” Ianto asked, sprawling bonelessly into the co-pilot’s seat, catching his breath from the vigorous exercise of unloading the final crates of food and building materials for the grateful colonists. Rebuilding the settlement was underway, but on higher ground this time, out of reach of unexpected storm surges.
“A long one, a proper holiday; I was thinking somewhere with unspoiled beaches where we can kick back and relax for a month or so. We can afford it, and you can’t say we haven’t earned it over the last six weeks.”
Ianto had no intention of disagreeing.
“A month at the beach?” he murmured, smiling slightly at the thought. “I could go for that. Any particular planet in mind?”
“I was thinking maybe Callalonia. It’s beautiful there; sunshine, vast oceans, endless beaches of gleaming sand… You’ll love it! We could rent an island all to ourselves, never have to see another living soul for the whole of our stay if we didn’t want to. Just you and me, the sand and the sea, clothing optional.”
Jack nodded. “There are a couple of medium sized continents towards the poles but the rest of the planet is one vast ocean dotted with islands of various sizes. There are literally thousands of them poking up all over the place because the seas are so shallow. Some are clustered together in groups and you can literally wade from one to another. We could get one that’s larger and a bit more isolated, equipped with its own landing pad so we can take the Wanderer down instead of shelling out for docking fees at one of the orbital space stations and shuttle fares to the surface.
“Would we have to live onboard?” As much as Ianto loved their comfortable quarters on the Wanderer, he’d rather hoped that a holiday would involve other accommodations, preferably with windows that opened to let the breeze waft through.
“Not at all. Most of the islands have bungalows or beach huts on them, complete with all the modern conveniences, but the weather’s pretty much the same all year round, climate controlled, so we can just as easily sleep out under the stars at night if we want to. A lot of visitors do. And we can leave the Wanderer’s ramp down and the doors open, give her a good airing out. There’s very little in the way of land based native life-forms, and nothing that’s likely to find its way aboard.”
“She could use an airing,” Ianto agreed. “It IS getting a bit whiffy in here.” Even with the scrubbers going full tilt all the time the air carried lingering odours and it had been a while since they’d been able to make planet-fall and do a full purge of the air supply and ventilation system.
“The air on Callalonia is fresh and sweet, almost completely free from pollution, and because the oceans are shallow the water is pleasantly warm. We can swim whenever we want.”
Leaning back further in his seat, his eyes closed, Ianto smiled dreamily, conjuring up images of the world Jack was describing. He could almost hear the sound of the waves lapping against a sandy beach. “Sounds idyllic; just the place to relax and recharge our batteries. Do we need to book in advance?”
“No, we just show up in orbit and the Island Administration should be able to find us a little piece of paradise perfectly suited to our requirements. Most people prefer to go to fancy resorts these days and be waited on hand and foot. Self-catering places aren’t as popular as they used to be so there’re always plenty of vacancies. All we have to do is stock up with food and other supplies; that way we can stay put and immerse ourselves in island life until it’s time for us to leave.”
“We’ll have to head back to civilisation to do a supply run,” Ianto said, a little disappointed tat they couldn’t head straight for their vacation destination. Reluctantly he sat up straighter, reaching for the bank of controls in front of him. “We’ve done all we can here; better get airborne. We can grab some sleep once we’re travelling through the vortex. Are we returning to Pendagam?”
Jack nodded. “Might as well; it’s the closest space station and we’ll be able to get everything we need there.”
“Good; I’ll programme the nav computers while you take us up.”
“Yes Sir!” Jack snapped off a salute.
“Twpsyn!” Ianto chucked.
Jack just flashed one of his widest grins and started to run his pre-flight check as Ianto set to work on plotting their course.
The supply run was time consuming but necessary, their food stores had been getting low and they’d needed to refuel as well. Still, everything went smoothly; they picked up all the necessities, a few treats, and at Ianto’s insistence bought some clothing more appropriate for the beach, even though Jack said they wouldn’t need it. They were off again as soon as they had everything stowed, and only a couple of weeks after leaving Pendagam the Happy Wanderer came out of the vortex approximately a day’s journey from Callalonia.
As they approached the blue ball hanging in space, Jack contacted the Island Administration Service aboard one of the four orbiting space stations, relaying their ship’s details along with their own, and a request to rent an island with a landing pad for four galactic weeks, with option to extend their stay for another four. He went back and forth via radio and computer with one of the officials, finally transferring the agreed rent and in return receiving coordinates to their little piece of vacation paradise.
Ianto entered the coordinates in the navigation computer and down they went on autopilot until it was time for Jack to take control and bring the ship to rest on the plascrete landing pad that jutted out from the island’s edge into the crystal clear turquoise sea. They came down with only the slightest of bumps, and Ianto was out of his seat and heading for the nearest exit almost before Jack had powered the Wanderer down, eager to get out and explore.
This was far from the first alien planet he’d visited in the dozen or so years since he and Jack had started travelling the universe; it wasn’t even the first alien beach he’d seen. He’d been slightly disappointed at first to discover than alien beaches were almost exactly like earth beaches; sand, sea in various shades of blue and green, and occasionally brownish, sometimes rocks on the shore and in the water, covered in algae and seaweed, alien species but still easily identifiable. He’d come to the conclusion that beaches were beaches, sort of a universal concept, but within a few seconds of stripping off shoes and socks and stepping onto the sand, he realised this one was a bit different.
It wasn’t just that the sea had an appealing lavender tinge to it where it met the beach, there was something odd about the sand itself. He’d been expecting the usual: greyish, golden yellow, pale brown, or silvery white, the grains rough and gritty beneath his feet and between his toes; even the finest sand tended to grate when it got into sensitive places. But instead of being abrasive this sand felt soft and sort of… fuzzy. He was still staring down at his feet, a bemused expression on his face as he dug his toes into the powdery grains, when Jack joined him.
“What d’you think so far?”
Ianto glanced up at him. “This sand… I’ve never felt anything like it before, it’s…”
“Fuzzy?” Jack was grinning.
“Yes! How is that even possible?”
“There’s not much in the way of exposed rock here to erode into sand, especially in Callalonia’s equatorial regions,” Jack explained. “So the sand here comes from a different source. The creatures that live in the oceans shed their skins as they grow. Over time the skins soften and crumble, and…” He gestured at the expanse of slightly pinkish white sand. “They turn into the softest sand to be found anywhere in the universe.”
“So this is what, a sort of fish dandruff?” Ianto asked, wrinkling his nose a little at the idea.
“More like crumbs of crab or lobster shell. You know earth’s sand is made up not just of powdered rock but of bits of shell and bone as well; this isn’t much different, it’s just ninety-five percent shell and only five percent rock.”
“That doesn’t explain why it’s so soft. Crab and lobster carapaces are generally pretty tough.”
“Not these; they’re more… fluffy.”
Ianto blinked, wondering for a moment if Jack was teasing him. “Are you having me on?”
“It’s an alien planet, Ianto, with alien life-forms; it’s no use thinking in earth terms. You should know that by now. Anyway, you’re seen stranger things on our travels.”
He had, but still… “There are fluffy crabs and lobsters in the ocean?” Ianto looked dubious, still not completely convinced.
“Not exactly crabs and not exactly lobsters, but similar sorts of things, yes.”
“Don’t they get waterlogged?”
“Of course they do! How else are they supposed to stay on the bottom where their food is? The water’s shallow; it wouldn’t do them any good to keep floating to the surface all the time.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“We might even come across some if we swim out far enough. Or we could take one of the boats out sometime and do a bit of snorkelling, meet the locals.”
“Are they sentient?”
Jack shook his head. “No more intelligent than earth’s crustaceans, but very tasty. We’re permitted to catch and cook a limited number, although regulations specify they have to be above a certain size, and there’s no fishing allowed during the breeding season. We’re fine though, that’s not for several months yet.”
“Not sure I’d want to dine on fluffy crabs,” Ianto admitted. “Anyway, we brought plenty of food with us.” It was all stored in the galley’s stasis storage units; vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, cakes, cookies… far more than they could get through during their stay.
“Whether you try them or not is entirely your choice,” Jack said easily. “No one’s forcing you to do anything you don’t want to. We’re here to relax and enjoy ourselves. What d’you say we get changed, check out our living quarters, and then go for a stroll around the island? According to the info packet we were sent, it’s approximately five miles all the way around, plenty to explore over the next few weeks if we feel like it.”
“Good idea,” Ianto said with a smile, turning to look at the low bungalow set back amongst some trees a few hundred yards along the beach, not quite out of sight of the landing pad and their ship but enough that the Wanderer wouldn’t dominate the view. There was a wooden jetty leading from the wide veranda across the sand and well out into the sea, alongside which were moored three or four small boats of various kinds. It would be a good place to dive into the sea from, assuming the water was deep enough for diving. He’d have to check that out later.
It didn’t take long to change out of their ship’s overalls into something more suitable for the beach and collect their holiday baggage. They’d made sure they had everything packed and ready in advance; it had given them something to do during the two-week flight from Pendagam Station. Within ten minutes, barefoot and clad in shorts and t-shirts Ianto had dug out from the back of their closet, which they’d bought on a trip to earth a few years earlier, they were carrying their bags across the soft, fuzzy sand towards their holiday home. They didn’t bother going inside, just left their luggage on the veranda to take indoors later; it wasn’t as if there was any risk of it being stolen since nobody else was on their island. The doors didn’t even have locks; they only existed to keep sand from blowing inside when the bungalow was unoccupied.
Bags dropped off, they set out at a leisurely pace along the beach to begin their circumnavigation of the island. Jack said they’d have plenty of time before the sun went down as it wasn’t even midday yet and the days here lasted just under twenty-seven earth hours. Strolling unhurriedly over the soft ground, his feet sinking slightly with every step, Ianto could already feel the tension and stresses of the last couple of months melting away, his whole body relaxing as he drank in the clean, fresh air and listened to the soft breeze, and the wavelets gently lapping the shore.
“This is beyond perfect,” he sighed, twining his fingers through Jack’s as they strolled along, in no hurry to get anywhere. Here they were, on the coast of somewhere breathtakingly beautiful, with the sun, the fluffy sand, the sea, and each other. What more could they possibly need? Jack was right; they’d earned this vacation, and they would make the most of it for as long as they were here. Eventually they’d have to head back out into the universe, plying their trade from world to world and providing assistance to anyone who needed it, but for the next month or two they’d just forget about everything else and be a couple of beach bums in paradise, taking one day at a time, without a care in the world.