It was a fairly ordinary day aboard the Happy Wanderer, right up until the moment it wasn’t.
“Iantoooo!” Jack’s voice drifted through the ship’s echoing corridors to where Ianto had been passing the long flight quietly reading in the lounge of their quarters. “Ianto!” he shouted again as he burst through the open door in a flurry of arms and legs. “I think we have a bit of a problem with the systems controlling our artificial gravity!”
“Oh, really? What tipped you off?” Ianto asked sarcastically from where he was plastered against the lounge ceiling, book still gripped in one hand, and a now empty coffee mug in the other. His trip to his current location had been abrupt, unexpected, and not especially comfortable, rather reminiscent of falling ten feet or so, headfirst, only he’d gone up instead of down.
He spared a moment to be thankful that the furnishings were all bolted firmly in place, and that the bookshelves and various media cabinets had doors; it meant only a few loose bits and pieces had followed him up. The ones that had hit him had stung though, except for the multitude of cushions. Shame they couldn’t have reached the ceiling before him so he could have fallen on them instead of the hard metal.
Jack came to rest on the ceiling a few feet away from his lover, having been careful to avoid landing on him.
“Hi there! Nice place; d’you come here often?”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “You can be such an arse sometimes.”
“Only sometimes?” Jack beamed at him. “I must be improving!”
“Twpsyn. So, what’s up with the gravity generators?”
Jack shrugged. “Apparently we are.”
“That’s so not funny.” Ianto pinned his Captain with a withering look. “I spilled my coffee!” Granted there’d been less than an inch left in the mug when his world had turned upside down, but that wasn’t the point; good coffee shouldn’t be wasted, especially since only a few worlds cultivated anything worthy of the name. Inferior beans made inferior coffee, even when the person in charge of the brewing was as skilled in the art of coffee making as Ianto undoubtedly was.
“Sorry.” Jack sounded genuinely regretful. “It wasn’t my fault though; I didn’t touch anything, I swear! I’ve been running a routine check on the cargo, but you know I never bother with turning on the gravity in the holds.”
Whatever cargo they happened to be transporting was always held securely in place with straps and netting to keep it from moving around. That removed the need for artificial gravity so on most cargo carriers, it was turned off in the holds when the ship was in flight, in order to conserve power.
“So what did happen?”
“No idea. I came out of the hold and found myself on the ceiling instead of the floor, so I came straight up here to let you know.”
“How thoughtful of you.”
“Yes, well, I had to make sure you were okay, didn’t I?”
“I’m immortal, Jack, just like you. Takes more than a short drop upwards to put a dent in me. Being stuck up on the ceiling isn’t exactly ideal though. I was enjoying a well-earned rest and then this happened.”
“You’ve got plenty of cushions,” Jack pointed out. “You could make yourself comfy up here while I see if I can fix whatever’s causing this. Could be a short in one of the circuits, or a frayed cable somewhere. It’s been a while since I overhauled the gravity generator; those things are equipped with so many redundancies they almost never develop problems.”
“If you think I’m just going to lay around on the ceiling and wait to get dropped back on the floor you’ve got another think coming. Besides, you might need an extra pair of hands to help fix the problem. Just give me a few minutes to get into my coveralls, and then with a bit of luck we can get things fixed so that up and down are the right way around.”
So saying, Ianto set down his book and the empty mug, before crawling across the ceiling and into their bedroom, scrambling awkwardly up and through the top of the doorway, then across the bedroom ceiling until he reached the built-in cupboards that ran the length of one wall. Standing up in front of the wardrobe at one end where they kept their work clothes he jumped, trying to get a grip on something and pull himself up so he could reach the door he wanted. It wasn’t easy since gravity was not only reversed but also appeared to have increased in strength by about fifty percent.
“You’ll never reach it like that,” Jack said, crawling over to join him, that being easier than trying to walk in the current gravitational conditions. Pulling himself upright beside his lover he bent slightly, interlacing his fingers. “Here, I’ll give you a leg up.”
“Thanks.” Putting one foot in the stirrup Jack’s hands made, Ianto braced against the side wall and pushed upwards from the ceiling as Jack straightened up, giving him a boost. He was almost in reach of the sliding door’s handle when gravity decided to change direction again, leaving both of them sprawled on the wall. At least they only fell a couple of feet this time.
“Well, I suppose that’s sort of helpful.” Ianto manoeuvred himself carefully around, doing his best to avoid kicking Jack in the head, and stood up on the wall. Now he had to bend to reach the door handle and pull upwards against the force of gravity, but with Jack’s help he managed to lever the wardrobe open just enough to quickly reach in and snag a set of coveralls from the jumble of clothes inside. Once the gravity generators were fixed, he was clearly going have quite a lot of work to do sorting out the mess being caused by the way ‘up’ kept changing direction; it was like being in a very slow tumble drier.
Quickly shedding his comfy jeans and sweatshirt, and leaving them lying on the wall since everything was a mess anyway, Ianto pulled the coveralls on, hoping the gravity would remain as it was at least long enough for him to dress.
“We’ll need tools, and we should stop by one of the spacesuit lockers, grab ourselves some gravity boots,” Jack said. “That way if gravity changes direction again at least we won’t fall.” The magnetic soles on the boots would keep them firmly stuck to whatever they were standing on.
There were fully equipped spacesuit lockers throughout the ship, just in case of hull breaches, and there was even one in their quarters. Unfortunately it was on the opposite wall to the one they were standing on, putting it far above their heads thanks to the size of the room, and therefore beyond their reach.
Ianto nodded. “Good thinking. Not the one in here though; we should go forward.”
Hopefully it would prove easier to access the locker near the bridge; the corridors were a lot narrower and the ceilings lower than in the ship’s cabins, so as long as gravity didn’t change so that ‘down’ became the tail end of the ship, the bridge shouldn’t be beyond their reach. There was an access hatch near there as well, one of several along the length of the main corridor that led directly into the maintenance conduits, which was where they’d need to go to locate the source of their current problem.
The two men set off again on hands and knees, eager to get things back to normal as quickly as possible; it was a bit disconcerting to be crawling around like flies on the wall.
From their perspective, the door leading from their bedroom to the corridor outside their quarters was situated in what was at present the floor, which simplified matters. Ianto was relieved they didn’t need to go back through the lounge to get out since the connecting door was now halfway up the wall and all but inaccessible, unless gravity happened to change direction again. Which, judging by recent events, was a distinct possibility, so they needed to get a move on before things could get any worse.
Between them they managed to pull the heavy door up, swinging it over to rest flush with the ‘floor’, out of their way. Jack sent Ianto through first and then followed, the two of them dropping down onto the opposite wall of the corridor a few feet below. From there they made their way forwards towards the bridge.
That was where they encountered their next snag because thanks to the skewed gravity the spacesuit locker was situated in the ceiling. Ianto had to kneel precariously on Jack’s shoulders and reach above his head to get the door open but as everything stored in the lockers was clipped firmly in place, nothing fell out on his head. Unfortunately, just as he reached up to unclip the first pair of boots, gravity swung through a hundred and eighty degrees, and he pitched headfirst into the locker. Jack landed unceremoniously on top of him, and the door slammed shut behind them.
“Ow!” Ianto protested.
“Sorry,” Jack mumbled, wriggling and squirming to get himself right side up. He fumbled for the emergency release on the inside of the door, a standard safety precaution on all ships, and shoved the door up and open before turning his attention to his lover. “Are you okay?”
Ianto blinked blearily up at Jack and unfolded himself, checking that all his limbs were intact and in working order.
“I’ll live, but I’d really rather not do that again. That’s the second time, and I don’t enjoy being dropped on my head.”
“At least we’ve got the gravity boots now!” Jack unclipped a pair from the wall beside him and passed them to Ianto. “Might as well put them on while you’re already sitting down.”
Snagging a second pair, he tugged off the soft-soled sneakers he and Ianto usually wore onboard and replaced them with the far heavier magnetic soled boots as Ianto did the same.
Ianto climbed to his feet, squeezed in alongside Jack. “Right, let’s get this show on the road.”
The locker was shallow, hardly more than four feet from the door to the back wall, so climbing out was relatively easy and within moments they were walking back down the main corridor on the opposite wall to the one they’d arrived on. The nearest maintenance hatch was about thirty feet from the bridge and halfway up what was currently the left-hand wall, but as the corridor was only ten feet wide it was still well within their reach.
Jack deftly unfastened the catches holding the hatch cover in place and lifted it out of the way, slapping it onto a magnetic grip pad on the wall so it would stay put if, or more likely when, gravity changed direction again. Then he climbed through the two-foot square hole and turned on the emergency lighting.
Ianto followed, unclipping a toolkit from the wall above his head.
They had to be careful where they walked since the walls of the conduit were covered in thick cables, bundles of wiring, pipes, and readout panels with dials, gauges, little lights, buttons and switches, but there was a strip about eighteen inches wide at what would normally be the base of the wall which was left bare, so they walked along that towards the gravity generators, situated approximately halfway along the ship.
It was quite a trek; the Happy Wanderer was a medium sized cargo vessel, which meant she wasn’t much smaller than the Millennium Centre back on earth, and by the time Jack and Ianto reached the bank of machinery in need of repair, gravity had changed direction three more times and they were dangling upside down from the conduit’s floor like a couple of oversized bats. Since that technically meant they were the right way up in relation to the machinery they were intent on fixing, they decided to just stay like that, even if it meant the blood was rushing to their heads. It would be less confusing than trying to make sense of upside-down circuit boards and wiring.
Jack unfastened an access panel and clipped it out of the way. “Okay; let’s see what’s going on in here, shall we?”
Ianto peered past his lover’s shoulder, holding a torch, and aiming the beam wherever Jack indicated as the two of them followed wires and traced circuits, seeking out the root of the problem.
“What’s that over there, in that clump of wires?” Ianto pointed and Jack leaned further into the machinery, reaching to pull something out. Several loose wires came with it.
“Oh, lovely,” Jack sighed, examining the ragged blob. “Something’s been building itself a cosy little nest out of the wiring.” He prised it open a little way, and there inside was a small shrew-like creature with bluish grey fur and beady black eyes. It didn’t look especially healthy.
“Must’ve sneaked onboard a couple of days ago while we were on Leffle’s World.” Jack handed the nest to Ianto who shifted tools around so he could put it in one of the toolbox’s lidded compartments for safety while he and Jack took the gravity generators offline and repaired the damage the little creature had done.
“Good thing it didn’t decide to munch on the life-support systems,” Ianto commented. “A few gravity issues are preferable to a lack of oxygen.”
“Mm,” Jack agreed. “We’d probably better do a complete systems check when we dock at Millibee station, just to be sure nothing else got chewed. One systems failure is more than enough.”
They completed their repairs, double-checked everything, examined the rest of the gravity generator’s wiring for damage, and once they were sure they hadn’t missed anything, Jack re-started it. Suddenly they were upright and standing on the floor, which felt a bit odd at first, having weight again after being weightless for the couple of hours it had taken to replace the chewed sections of wiring.
“Better get our stowaway clear of temptation and give it something better to eat than insulation and scraps of old rag,” Ianto said, gathering up the toolkit.
“I’ll rig up a tank to keep our new friend in; there’s some Perspex sheeting in the workshop, I can use some of that.”
Making their way back along the maintenance tunnel to the open hatch was a lot easier now that everything was the right way up, but it was still a relief to get out into the corridor and replace the access hatch.
“You know,” Ianto said, straightening up outside the spacesuit locker after changing back into his usual footwear, “I’m never going to take gravity for granted again. It gets confusing when ‘up’ keeps randomly changing direction. Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer being the right way up.”
Jack laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”