When the Rift alarms started blaring, everybody in the Hub nearly jumped out of their skins simply because it was so unexpected. For the last four days, the Rift had been inactive, not so much as the smallest hiccup had been heard from it. Such lulls happened occasionally, so once they’d caught up with enough of their overdue paperwork to appease the Lord of the Hub, otherwise known as Ianto, the various members of Team Torchwood had turned their attention to more enjoyable pursuits. In several cases, that meant napping; in a job with no fixed working hours you could never discount the benefit of a good nap.
Owen shot upright with a yelp from where he’d been dozing at his desk and promptly fell off his chair, hitting the floor hard with another not terribly manly yelp. Almost at the same instant, Gwen leapt to her feet shouting, “I’m awake! I’m awake!” which surprised those who genuinely had been awake since she’d been snoring and drooling on her sleeve a few seconds earlier.
Mickey and Andy, who’d been using their free time slightly more productively, trying to repair Andy’s old cassette player so they could find out what had been recorded on the box of old cassette tapes Ianto had discovered in the archives the previous week, also jumped to their feet. Unfortunately for them, they both did so at the same time, cracking their heads together in the process before collapsing back into their seats, rubbing their abused heads and groaning.
Meanwhile, Jack and Ianto emerged from Jack’s office, looking decidedly mussed and hurriedly rearranging their clothes, annoyed and disappointed that their own very enjoyable downtime activities had been curtailed by the untimely interruption.
“What’ve we got, Tosh?” Jack called down to Torchwood’s pretty computer expert. Of all the team, she seemed to be the only one who’d still actually been getting on with her official work when the alarms went off.
Tosh was already tapping busily at her keyboards, pulling up information on the Rift spike. “I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it’s big and it’s alive.”
“Alive? Are you sure?”
“Yes, Jack, I wouldn’t have said so otherwise. I’m definitely registering life signs; I just can’t tell from my readings whether it’s a single big creature or a whole lot of little ones. Unfortunately, the Rift dropped whatever it is in a pretty rundown residential area, mostly terraced houses; there’s no CCTV in the vicinity so I can’t get a visual.”
“Never mind,” Jack said with a smile, briefly resting his hand on Tosh’s shoulder. “We can’t always get lucky. We’ll just have to prepare for both possibilities and wait until we get there to find out.”
“I know which I’d prefer,” Owen said, picking himself up of the floor and trying to pretend nothing untoward had happened to him. “I’ll take little every time. Small things are so much easier to deal with."
“I wouldn’t count on that if I were you. What if it’s a swarm of alien insects?” Ianto asked.
Owen stopped in his tracks, turning a bit pale; he’d never been too fond of bugs. “Fuck, I never even thought of that! Insects would be a nightmare to catch. I think I’ve changed my mind; hoping it’s just one big creature now. Bigger they are, harder they fall an’ all that. One of it against the lot of us suddenly sounds like much better odds than us against a swarm.”
“Amen to that!” Andy agreed.
“Well, we won’t get any answers by standing around here arguing about it.” Jack slipped into his coat as Ianto held it up for him. “Tosh, keep monitoring our visitor as best you can and track us; we’ll do what we can to gather some data for you to analyse.”
“Ianto, Owen, Gwen, you’re with me. Mickey, I want you and Andy in the van, but stay back a ways unless you’re needed.”
Everyone nodded, all business now that a basic plan of action was in place. Those who were going on the retrieval checked their weapons, grabbed anything else they might need, and hurriedly pulling on their own coats, headed for their assigned transport, leaving Tosh alone but for the non-human Torchwood Three personnel. Turning back to her computers, she sent the coordinates of the Rift spike to the Torchwood vehicles and crossed her fingers, hoping that whatever the Rift had chosen to gift them with this time would prove to be harmless.
Arriving at the site in record time, thanks to Jack’s enthusiastic driving, Team One disembarked from the SUV and studied the area, looking for the new arrival. Team Two, Mickey and Andy, had pulled in to the side of the street several hundred metres further back to await instructions. One of the benefits of adding a few new team members was that when something living but unidentified arrived via the Rift, the main team could investigate knowing that backup was nearby, just in case it was needed. This time though…
Jack tapped his bluetooth earpiece. “Tosh?”
“I’m here, Jack. Have you found anything?”
“Yeah, and you might want to check your readings; they must be wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said we were looking for something alive, but all we’ve got here is a pile of somewhere around fifty to sixty rubbery pink balls. Looks like the Rift’s playing games with us again; at least this time they’re football-sized and they didn’t get dumped in a lake, so they’ll be easier to collect than those Ping-Pong balls we had last year. No need to resort to rowing boats and fishing nets this time.”
“Uh, Jack?” Ianto called from about twenty metres away where he was running his scanner over the balls. Gwen and Owen had gone farther down the street to retrieve one ball that had rolled away from the rest as they approached, and were now having an impromptu game of street football, laughing as they kicked the ball back and forth between them.
“Just a minute, Ianto,” Jack replied distractedly. “I’m giving Tosh an update.”
“No, seriously Jack, you need to look at this right now!”
The tense tone of Ianto’s voice got Jack’s attention. “Hold on a minute, Tosh; I’ll have to call you back, I think Ianto’s got something.” Clicking the bluetooth off, Jack strode purposefully over to his lover. “Okay, what is it?”
Ianto held out his scanner. “Tosh wasn’t wrong about them being alive; according to this, they’re eggs, and from the looks of it, I think they might be starting to hatch.” He pointed to the mound of pink spheres; several were now moving, rocking slightly as if whatever was inside them was shifting around.
“Oh boy,” Jack breathed; he swung to face his two other employees. “Gwen, Owen! Stop messing about and bring that one over here. Carefully!” he added as Owen went to kick the ‘ball’ again.
With an exasperated sigh and a glance at Gwen, Owen scooped their erstwhile plaything up off the tarmac and sauntered over to his boss. “What’s up now?”
“They’re not balls.” Jack gestured towards the rest of the imminent new arrivals. “They’re eggs, and you’ve probably scrambled that one now.”
“Eggs?” Owen’s eyes widened. “Eggs of what?” He hastily added the one he was holding to the pile and backed away, rubbing his palms on his trouser legs.
“No idea, but I think we’re going to find out before much longer…”
“And just our luck, we’ve got ringside seats for the show,” Ianto added.
“Shouldn’t we get them loaded in the van before they hatch?” Gwen asked nervously.
“Ideally, yes,” Jack agreed, “but it looks like it might be a bit late for that.”
“There’s no point just standing here watching and worrying while they’re hatching. We’ve probably still got a bit of time, we’ll just have to load as many as possible while we still can,” Ianto decided, toggling his bluetooth and calling Mickey to bring the van up.
“You’re right,” Jack said decisively, shaking himself and tearing his eyes away from the hypnotically rocking eggs. “Okay kids, we do this by the numbers, just to be safe. We don’t know what’s in these eggs; I do not want anyone coming into contact with any unknown fluids, so get your gloves on. As soon as the van stops, start loading eggs; the ones that look like they’re close to hatching better go in first, just handle with caution. If you don’t think you can get one into the van before it hatches, leave it. I saw ‘Alien’ at the cinema when it was first released, and I really don’t want to see the face-hugger scene played out in real life.”
That statement got a few nervous looks from Gwen and Owen.
“But those face-huggers were fictional, right?” Gwen asked. “It was just a scary movie.”
“Yeah, as far as I know. Still, probably best not to take any chances,” Owen replied. “Could be something equally nasty.”
“Mm, I suppose that’s true.”
Mickey’s van pulled in to the kerb beside Jack, and the man himself leaned out of the driver’s side window, an amused expression on his face. “We came all this way for a load of pink balls?”
For once Jack didn’t respond to the inherently suggestive statement. “Not balls,” he corrected Mickey, face serious. “Eggs, and they seem to be hatching.”
“Oh, that’s not gonna end well,” Andy groaned from the passenger seat
“You said it, mate,” Mickey agreed.
“Which is why we need to get them contained as quickly as possible.” Jack cut in over the top of them.
“Say no more, boss.” Mickey and Andy jumped out and went around to the rear of the van to swing the loading doors open. Because he never knew what he might end up transporting, Mickey had recently traded in his old van for one where the cab and the cargo area were separate; then he’d reinforced the back so it could withstand practically anything that they might have to put in it. Although the whole team still called it the van, in reality the new one was more like a small lorry, and most of the time it proved plenty big enough for all their needs. But on the rare occasions when they needed to transport something more sizeable, they still had to call Rhys at Harwoods and rent one of their larger lorries; they got a frequent customer discount though.
“Okay, kids!” Jack clapped his hands together. “Pick your eggs and get loading, and be careful! We already scrambled one; let’s try not to make that mistake again. We don’t want to make whatever’s hatching mad at us. Just get them in the back of the van as quickly and carefully as you can.”
Without another word, everyone set to work.