It had been Jack’s idea to come here, and when they’d first arrived Ianto had been at a loss to understand why his husband had been so keen to pay this particular planet a visit. By daylight it seemed like a boringly ordinary place, little different from parts of his home planet that he was vaguely familiar with through countless nature documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. It was a world of open plains, rushing rivers, distant snow-capped mountain ranges, and tall forests, and while picturesque enough, as far as Ianto could see there was nothing particularly special about it. Certainly nothing to merit the amount of enthusiasm Jack was displaying.
Nighttime, however, was a different matter altogether.
The sun had set just over an hour ago and it would be some time yet before the two small moons rose to begin their stately journey across the night sky. Since the planet had not been claimed and colonised by any of the galaxy’s many sentient species there was no light pollution to drown out the stars overhead, and a myriad pinpoints of subtle colour sparkled against the blackness, like a handful of glitter scattered across dark velvet.
It was a beautiful sight, and normally Ianto loved stargazing on alien worlds, but for once his eyes weren’t fixed on the heavens, and neither were Jack’s. Indeed since darkness had enveloped them they hadn’t so much as glanced upwards; all their attention was focused on their surroundings, and with good reason. As glorious as the night sky was, in their eyes it was being completely eclipsed by the natural world.
The sun by day was hot and scorching, while high humidity scattered water droplets over everything, intensifying the sun’s rays like billions of tiny magnifying glasses to the point where it was enough to burn delicate leaves and petals. Nighttime temperatures were much more comfortable and so by day all but the hardiest forms of plant life, namely the trees and the grasses, sheltered below ground where they were protected from the withering heat. But after sunset…
Small, delicate leafy fronds had broken through the ground first, encouraged to the surface by a light, fresh evening rain. They’d grown incredibly fast, transforming the grasslands as if by magic into a garden the likes of which Ianto could never have imagined; it was like watching a series of time-lapse photographs. Dozens of different plant species were already standing knee high, their buds rapidly swelling only to burst open before Jack and Ianto’s eyes, filling the air with sweet and heady fragrances, so strong they were almost intoxicating. Every breath Ianto drew deep into his lungs tasted of the sweetest nectar; it was no surprise that the scents were drawing the planet’s native wildlife out of hiding.
This was a world that, aside from the herds of grazing animals and their predators, lived primarily by night. Already huge, feathery, moth-like creatures the size of Ianto’s hands were fluttering around the two men, hovering like hummingbirds to sip nectar from the upturned flowers, pollinating them in the process, while small creatures like furry lizards climbed the stems to claim their share. Other even smaller animals, long-nosed and shrew-like, scampered among the plants on fuzzy little paws, collecting ripe seeds to carry down to their underground burrows, while fat, fluffy caterpillars the size of cigars munched hungrily on the leaves.
Small carnivores hunted among the undergrowth too, preying on the shrewlets, lizards, and caterpillars, and sometimes on each other, the larger species making a meal of the smaller ones. There was nothing large enough to endanger the two men though. The big carnivores hunted exclusively by day, while the grazing herds were spread out and it was easier to pick off lone animals. At night, the herd animals clustered together for protection, the big males on the outside, the smaller females and vulnerable young in the centre, safely out of reach of savage teeth and claws.
Even the forests bordering the open plains came to life after dark, the vines that climbed and twined in abundance among the tree branches opening flowers of their own, while the forest floor seemed spread with a carpet of snow-white blossoms, delicately veined with blue and pink and peach and pale green, depending on their species, each one with a deep red, yellow, orange, or purple centre. Their colours, and those of the grassland flowers, were clearly visible to Jack and Ianto, thanks to the night-vision lenses they’d slipped into their eyes as the sun set. Their TARDIS had created them after studying the eyes of the native fauna, which could identify their food plants by their colours and markings as well as by their scents.
Pollinated flowers swiftly shrivelled, their petals falling to nourish the soil while the stems retracted beneath ground again, where the seeds would develop until it was time for them to be released. At that point the stems would emerge once more, bearing plump pods that would burst open to scatter their seeds on the wind, or by means of the burrowing creatures, which were never able to eat all that they collected.
“It’s like an unspoiled paradise,” Ianto sighed. “I hate to think what might happen if anyone ever decided to colonise it.”
‘That will never happen,’ the TARDIS assured him. ‘This world is protected from exploitation by the Shadow Proclamation. There is a space station in orbit from which small bands of tourists, in the company of a guide, are permitted to visit the surface on excursions, but they go to the eastern continent, where the weather is more temperate.’
“We won’t get in trouble, will we?” Ianto glanced towards one particular tall tree rooted at the edge of the forest, his TARDIS in her favourite form.
‘We will not be detected.’
“That’s good,” Ianto said with a smile. “I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Shadow Proclamation; they can be scary.”
“Especially their enforcers,” Jack agreed, thinking of the massive and hulking Judoon. “But they’re not here and we are, so how about we explore a bit? We’ve got all night.”
“Then let’s make the most of it.” Ianto twined his fingers through Jack’s, and hand in hand the two men wandered off among the trees to look for wonders they hadn’t yet seen.