Ianto gazed around at his surroundings, looking as bemused as he felt. “Trees?” he said at last.
“Yes! Right first time!” The Doctor beamed at him as if he’d done something amazingly clever. Ianto had noticed he did that a lot, which made him wonder whether the Time Lord generally picked companions who weren’t terribly bright and wouldn’t recognise a tree, or an alien, or anything else commonplace if they saw it. Or maybe he just thought humans as a whole weren’t very bright and was therefore surprised when one proved otherwise.
“My first time on another planet, and it’s all trees, as far as I can tell exactly the same kinds as I’d find back home.” Ianto wasn’t sure whether to be amused or annoyed; truth be told, he felt a bit gypped. Jack had promised him amazing sights, alien landscapes, the wonders of the universe, and here they were, somewhere that looked a lot like earth, standing in a forest made up of suspiciously earth like trees. Pine trees, to be exact, mostly Scots Pines with a few other species dotted amongst them.
“Well…” Jack looked sheepish. “I thought we’d ease you into things gently. I know you like trees, and this is one of earth’s first colony planets. It was terraformed, carefully stocked with earth plants and animals…” he tailed off as he realised Ianto wasn’t listening; instead his lover was staring up into the canopy.
“Squirrels! Red squirrels! I haven’t seen any of those since I was a kid and there must be hundreds of them here! They only survive in a few places back home,” Ianto exclaimed excitedly, tearing his eyes away from the creatures scampering about to smile delightedly at Jack.
Jack looked nervously up at the trees. He wasn’t fond of squirrels, with their beady little eyes and sharp teeth. He’d had an encounter with one once that had left him more than a little wary of the rodents.
“When the first colony planets were developed, endangered species were transplanted first,” the Doctor explained. “To preserve earth’s heritage. I believe it was Torchwood’s idea originally.”
“So what I’m seeing here is something that Jack and I will set in motion at some point in our future?” Ianto looked at the Doctor, one eyebrow raised enquiringly. “What happened to avoiding spoilers?”
“Timey Wimey.” The Doctor waved one hand airily. “If you don’t know you’re supposed to do it, then it might not get done. Now you know, you can make preparations so everything’s ready when the time comes.”
Ianto nodded. “We know we have to do it because we already have. If we don’t do it we’ll cause a paradox, so showing us is the most efficient way of preserving future timelines.”
“Exactly!” The Doctor beamed proudly at him again.
“So how long do we have to prepare?”
“Oh, five hundred years or so, give or take a century; no need to rush too much.”
“When we get home,” Ianto said, turning to Jack, “we’ll need to divert some funds into conservation of endangered species.”
“Why squirrels though?” Jack frowned as one scampered across the forest floor only a few yards away.
“Oh, it’s not just squirrels,” the Doctor assured him. “It’s birds, and butterflies, apes and elephants, whales and dolphins and hedgehogs; all kinds of things. Flowers and trees too. Lots of important species that need saving.”
“And people?” Ianto raised that eyebrow again.
“There’s a settlement not far from here, just down in the valley. Do you want to see it?” The Doctor bounced on his heels.
“No, that’s okay, I see people every day; I think I’d rather wander about among the trees and watch the squirrels for a bit. Then maybe later we could go somewhere that isn’t just like earth?”
“I think that can be arranged,” the Doctor agreed. “How about Scheeeeeenknknknk?” It was more a screech and a series of clicks than a word, and it certainly sounded appropriately alien, but just to be certain, Ianto decided it might be wise to check.
“Are there a lot of trees there too?”
“Oh, hundreds,” the Doctor assured him. “Thousands, even. But they’re only three inches tall. The birds there are scared of heights and can’t fly anyway, so they prefer to nest close to the ground. Well, I say ‘birds’ but they’re a sort of reptile really, a bit like two-legged frogs with prehensile toes.”
Yep, that definitely sounded alien. “Now that I’d like to see.”
“Then we’ll go there next.”
As Ianto set off through the trees to do a bit of exploring and squirrel-watching, the Doctor fell into step beside him, and Jack scurried to catch up with them, practically plastering himself to his lover’s other side.
Taking Jack’s hand, Ianto squeezed it. “Don’t worry, cariad; I’ll protect you from the scary squirrels,” he promised.
Now it was Jack’s turn to beam at him. “My hero!”
Ianto grinned. “Always. And don’t you forget it!”