Written for Challenge 398: Scenery at fan_flashworks.
Set in my Ghost of a Chance âVerse.
Working for Torchwood, Ianto had met members of several alien races, some hostile but most of them friendly. He’d cared for alien creatures from various planets and had even helped Owen with the occasional extra-terrestrial plant, one species of which had turned out to thrive on cold coffee, although it had been completely indiscriminate in its tastes, equally happy with the cheapest instant as with Ianto’s finest blend. In retrospect, maybe he shouldn’t have felt so insulted by that. After all, why waste premium coffee on a plant when he and his colleagues could enjoy it themselves?
Then there was all the alien technology and the other artefacts that fell through the Rift. He’d studied, and even used, countless devices, speculated on the purpose and potential uses of dozens of unidentified objects, and learned to read several alien languages in the process.
Yet in spite of everything he’d seen and handled, he’d never given all that much thought to what other planets might be like. He supposed he’d always assumed they’d be somewhat similar to earth, since the majority of aliens who came through the Rift were able to cope with his home planet’s gravity and atmosphere without any real difficulty. It was only now that he was travelling out among the stars with Jack, aboard their cargo ship the Happy Wanderer, that he was getting to experience other worlds for himself.
To be fair, a lot of the planets he and Jack had visited were quite similar to earth. Oh, the architecture varied wildly, from highly futuristic to curiously organic, and more often than not the building materials were like nothing he’d ever imagined. Added to that, worlds with only one moon were in the minority, most having at least two, and yet there were a lot of things that gave alien vistas a comforting familiarity.
Most places had hills, mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes. Many had oceans and beaches, continents and islands. Inhabited worlds almost always had vegetation, at the very least grasses of some description for herbivorous herd animals to graze on. Trees were also commonplace, although that didn’t necessarily mean they looked like the trees back home. Some resembled gigantic mushrooms, prehistoric tree ferns, or crystalline sculptures, while others were small, scrubby, and hardly more than bushes from a human perspective.
This particular planet had trees that looked like bunches of pink and purple balloons, with their strings twisted together in complicated braids to form the trunks and branches. The sky overhead was pale pink and lavender, and the short grass beneath their feet, which was actually more like a moss, was in amethyst shades edged with silver. Taken all together, Ianto found it rather beautiful. Even the heavy-looking sun overhead, a red giant that gave off a much more muted light than earth’s primary, only seemed to enhance the unearthly scenery rather than detracting from it.
“So, what d’you think?” Jack asked, smiling at his lover, eagerly awaiting Ianto’s reaction.
They hadn’t come here delivering cargo; this was a side-trip for a few days to visit a planet Jack had told Ianto he just had to see for himself, because it was so difficult to describe. They were standing on a hillside beyond the spaceport, looking out across a vast silvery purple valley, dotted with groups of balloon trees, towards another range of hills that extended towards a range of towering deep purple mountains, oddly curved like gigantic waves frozen on the verge of breaking.
Around them, fat, fuzzy, colourful balloon-like creatures, the planet’s version of birds, fluttered around snatching the occasional silvery bubble out of the air and landing to devour it. Ianto wasn’t sure whether the bubbles were some sort of insect, the airborne seeds of the balloon trees, or something else entirely; not that it really mattered.
“It’s amazing, and you were right; your descriptions didn’t do it justice.” Ianto smiled brightly. “Out of all the worlds we’ve visited so far, this is the first one that’s felt totally alien.”
That wasn’t to say the other planets he and Jack had stopped at on their travels hadn’t had a certain alienness about them. There were almost always details that made Ianto want to stop in his tracks and take a closer look, but this one took it to a whole other level.
“Well, wherever we go you’re always saying it’s not all that much different from earth. I didn’t want you to get the idea that everywhere looks the same. Besides, this is still only moderately alien. You just wait; you haven’t seen anything yet. I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much, too soon.”
Drawing a deep breath of air that tasted faintly spicy, Ianto swept his gaze slowly from one end of the valley to the other, drinking in the scenery, before frowning slightly.
“The only thing that spoils the view is that.” He pointed to something about a mile and a half away, an ugly, misshapen pinkish-grey lump that stuck out of the mossy purple groundcover like a sore thumb. It reminded him a bit of a termite mound, only it was much bigger; he estimated it to be almost the size of Cardiff Castle. “What is it, a rock formation or something?”
“Ah, no, that’s… I suppose you could call it a sort of commemorative monument.”
“You mean it’s that shape on purpose?” Turning to Jack, Ianto raised an incredulous eyebrow.
“And whoever built it just stuck it out here in the middle of all this beauty? Couldn’t they have found somewhere less conspicuous?”
“I suppose they want it to be seen. There’re about a hundred of them scattered around the planet. Once a year, the locals decorate them with dried flowers and a ceremony is held, a bit like wreaths being laid at the cenotaph.”
Ianto smiled, shaking his head. “Even on the most alien world we’ve visited so far, some things remain oddly relatable.” He stared at the ugly lump, a blot on an otherwise spectacularly beautiful landscape. “Would it be okay for us to take a closer look, do you think?”
Jack laughed. “A moment ago you were complaining that it spoiled the view.”
“I know, and I still think it’s an eyesore, but it’s significant to the people of this planet, so we ought to treat it with due respect.”
“You are a quite remarkable man, do you know that?”
“What d’you mean?”
“Most humans are a lot less respectful of other cultures, even those on their own planet, but here you are on another world, wanting to show respect for local customs even though no one here will ever know.” Jack offered Ianto his hand. “Let’s go pay our respects. Who knows, maybe it looks better from close up.”