Jack had always hated the way twentieth century humans insisted on categorising and labelling each other, as if people were things that could be fitted into neat little boxes, one size fits all. Intelligent beings, of whatever race, were far too complex for such generalities, each one a distinct individual, and trying to pigeonhole them stifled their ability to express themselves. It was no wonder humans grew up with so many hang-ups and insecurities when they were indoctrinated from an early age to be a certain way or face ridicule, bullying, prejudice, and discrimination.
He’d hoped that the turn of the millennium might change things for the better, but he should have known it wouldn’t be that simple. Humans were stubborn, and they clung to the habits passed down to them by their parents like limpets clinging to a rock to keep from being swept away by the tides of progress. Apparently, humans coped with change by creating more labels, another row of neat little boxes to file each other in, and if you didn’t fit any of them, well, they’d stick you in whichever one suited them, whether you liked it or not, then try their best to make sure you stayed there.
Why couldn’t people let everyone be who they were without need of categories and labels? Gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, social class… The list went on and on, every person being harshly judged by every other person, and most found wanting in one way or another.
An elbow dug sharply into Jack’s side. “You’re being awfully quiet. What’re you thinking about?”
“What makes you think I’m thinking about anything?” Jack tried to sound casual.
Ianto rolled his eyes in the darkness. “Oh please, I know you, and anyway I can practically hear the gears grinding away.” There was always a distinct quality to the silence when Jack was thinking deep thoughts; his brooding was so tangible Ianto sometimes wondered if the right filter would allow him to see it hanging around Jack like a dark aura. “So, what’s on your mind? We don’t have anything else to do right now so you might as well tell me.”
“Fine, I was just thinking about the way twenty-first century humans still insist on labels, and filing each other away in neat little boxes,” Jack huffed.
Somewhere beside him, Ianto snorted. “How appropriate. Isn’t it refreshing to know that it’s not just a human thing? Some aliens apparently do it as well.”
“Oh, very witty,” Jack grumbled.
“Just trying to keep our spirits up.” Ianto shifted slightly, trying to get into a more comfortable, or as least a less uncomfortable, position.
“Ow!” Jack complained as a knee jabbed him in a sensitive spot.
“Sorry, not much room for manoeuvre in here.”
“Then maybe you should try not moving around so much.”
“Id love to, but my legs have gone to sleep. Be thankful I didn’t poke you in the eye the way you did to me a bit back.”
“I was trying to get us out of here!”
“I know, and I appreciated your efforts, despite your lack of success, just not the finger in the eye.” Ianto patted whichever bit of Jack was nearest to his hand, although which bit it was he couldn’t tell since it was too dark to see much of anything. “Why do you think they stuck up in here?”
“How should I know? I’m not even sure who ‘they’ are.”
Jack and Ianto had been investigating mysterious activity in and around a vacant warehouse in the docklands; they’d actually gone down there to do one of their regular sweeps for Weevils but had become suspicious when not a single one of the toothy aliens was to be found. Ianto had known for a fact that nobody was currently using the warehouse, not officially anyway, but they’d found a large number of packing crates inside, and when they’d gone to take a look at whatever might be inside them… Well, suffice to say, the next thing they knew, what was inside one of the crates was them.
“Maybe we’ve been put in here for transport.” It wasn’t an especially comforting thought.
“Boxed up for shipping?”
“The crates have air holes.” Which was fortunate, since otherwise there’d be a good chance of them suffocating before they could be rescued. “Maybe they’re here to steal humans and sell them into slavery. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Slavers don’t generally pack their wares in boxes,” Jack pointed out. “That treatment’s usually reserved for animal species.”
“Wonderful, so maybe we’re to be exhibits in an alien zoo. Again.” A nasty thought occurred to Ianto. “Or specimens for scientific study, lab rats for experiments and dissection.”
“You’ve been spending too much time with Owen.”
“Speaking of Owen, shouldn’t he be here by now?” Ianto’s infallible sense of passing time told him Jack had sent out the distress signal from his wrist strap almost an hour ago; Owen, who’d been left in charge while they were out, should have responded immediately, but he seemed to be taking his own sweet time. A loud crash abruptly echoed through the warehouse. “Never mind,” Ianto said. “Sounds like the cavalry’s arrived.”
Beside him, Jack winced at the sound of gunfire. “I really hope the team doesn’t hit any of the crates. We never did get a look to see if there was anything in them.”
“Plus it wouldn’t be particularly helpful if they accidentally shot us,” Ianto pointed out. Just because they’d recover didn’t mean either one of them relished the thought of being killed, even by mistake. Especially not by their own people.
The shooting continued for several minutes, Torchwood bullets on one side, and judging by the sounds they could hear, possibly some sort of energy weapon care of the opposition.
Then everything went silent for several long minutes. Ianto and Jack waited, scarcely daring to breathe, not knowing which side had come out on top in the fire fight, until at last…
“Oi, Harkness! Jonesy! Where the hell are you hiding?” Owen, of course.
“We’re in here!” Jack bellowed at the top of his voice, making Ianto wince this time since Jack was yelling right in his ear from a distance of less than a foot.
“Deafen me, why don’t you?” Ianto wasn’t quite petty enough to jab Jack with his elbow again, although he was tempted.
“Sorry.” Jack hammered on the inside of the crate instead, which wasn’t much better, making Ianto feel like he was inside a drum.
After what felt like ten minutes but was only three or four, they heard the distinct sound of a crowbar working on their crate, which was made of a substance a lot harder than wood; Ianto knew that because he’d almost broken his foot trying to kick a hole in it.
The front of the crate finally fell away, and a light shone in their eyes.
“Fuck! Owen!” Ianto clamped his eyes shut, turning his head away.
“Oops, sorry.” Owen lowered his torch and stared at them for a moment, tangled together as they were in the tight confines of the crate. “Y’know, most people like a bit more room for playing Twister.”
“Hilarious,” Ianto grumbled, trying to disentangle himself from Jack, but only causing both of them to topple out of the crate onto the dirty warehouse floor.
“Seriously though, how’d they even get you both in there? I’d have said it would be a squeeze for one of you.”
“With great difficulty, I suspect. We were unconscious at the time.” Jack unravelled himself and tried to stand up, but his legs had been cramped into the same position for so long that they wouldn’t work.
Ianto didn’t bother even making an attempt, just sat up and massaged his legs, trying to get some feeling back into them and soon developing excruciating pins and needles from his knees right down to the tips of his toes. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to move his legs, wiggling his toes inside his shoes and flexing his ankles. Jack appeared to be doing the same.
“Did you get whoever put us in there?” Jack ground out, voice tight.
“Yep! Half a dozen of the ugliest things you ever saw. Make a Weevil look pretty! The team’s loading ‘em in Mickey’s van for the trip to the Hub. Tosh has relieved them of their weapons and tech, including some kind of teleportation doohickeys they’ve got. She thinks they’ve probably got a ship in orbit; all the crates are fitted with a transmitter she says would enable them to be beamed aboard by someone on the ship, kinda like in Star Trek I guess.”
“Makes sense; we didn’t see any kind of landing craft.” Jack winced his way upright, stamping his feet and grimacing, then held out a hand to help Ianto up.
“Anyone find out what’s in the other crates yet?” Ianto asked, trying to ignore his unpleasantly tingling feet.
“Yep, Andy and Gwen opened a couple; there’s heavily sedated Weevils in them.”
“Weevils?” Jack turned to Owen so fast he almost fell over again and Ianto had to grab him to help him stay upright.
“Maybe they’re the original owners, come to reclaim their property,” Owen suggested.
“If that’s the case they should’ve gone through official channels,” Jack huffed. “Not that I would’ve been willing to hand the Weevils over just on their say so, and especially not if they’re in the habit of stuffing living beings into boxes too small for them to even move around in. It’s inhumane.”
“They might not have been kept in the crates once they were aboard,” Ianto pointed out, playing Devil’s Advocate. “This might just be the best and safest way to get them up there.”
“Either way, I don’t care; the Shadow Proclamation can sort it out. If our attackers have a legitimate claim to the Weevils, we might have to let them be taken, but until we know for sure one way or another they remain Torchwood’s responsibility, which means we’re getting them out of these crates and back into the sewers.”
“Right,” Ianto agreed, taking the crowbar from Owen’s hands and limping toward the nearest closed crate. “Not even Weevils deserve to be crammed in boxes. It’s not nice; I should know.” He set to work prising the crate open while Jack hobbled away in search of another crowbar.
“Weevil liberation it is then.” Owen headed off after Jack; he needed to get his kit out of the SUV and check the sedated Weevils, make sure they were all okay.
Alien or human, no one was being taken from Cardiff against their will; Torchwood wouldn’t allow it. Slavery of any kind was unlawful, unethical, and just plain cruel. However much of a nuisance Cardiff’s Weevil population might sometimes be, they had as much right to freedom as anyone else, and Torchwood would preserve that right, no matter what it took.