Characters: Jack, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Gwen.
Summary: The Rift unhelpfully drops something off in the sewers, not the nicest place in Cardiff to go on a hunt.
Word Count: 3297
Content Notes: None necessary.
Written For: Challenge 51: Glow at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Another day, another Rift retrieval, and this one had presented the team with the unenviable task of having to search part of Cardiff’s sewer system. Trudging through the sewers of any city would have been unpleasant enough, but in Cardiff not only were the sewers damp, smelly, and disgusting, but they had the additional downside of being home to the city’s Weevil population.
Dressed in protective waterproof coveralls, with hoods to keep drips out of their hair, their hands gloved, and their feet clad in sturdy rubber boots, the team stood around a manhole in front of a row of derelict houses at the edge of Splot. It was gone three in the morning, but even if it had been the middle of the day the place would still most likely have been deserted since the houses were unliveable and scheduled for demolition. Jack had picked this particular manhole for that very reason; it was unlikely anyone would see them going down into the sewers and be nosy enough to follow them.
“This has to be the worst part of our job,” Gwen grumbled, pulling her facemask up over her mouth and nose.
“Look on the bright side!” Jack grinned, following suit, his voice sounding a bit muffled once his mask was in place. “At least now, thanks to Ianto, we have the proper gear, so no more ruined clothes, or at least not from sewer excursions.” He heaved the manhole cover out of the way and straightened up. “Right, who wants the honour of going first?”
“You’re the leader, so why don’t you go ahead and lead?” Ianto suggested.
“Oh alright, if you insist,” Jack sighed, turning his torch on and starting down the ladder. “I just thought someone else might like a turn. Never let it be said that I hog all the fun.”
“Because going down into dark sewers full of Weevils and rats, with nobody covering your back, is so delightful,” Owen griped. “At least if you get attacked and killed you’ll come back.”
“Excuses excuses,” Jack’s voice drifted back up to them. There was a muted splash as he jumped off the bottom of the ladder into a shallow stream of effluent. “Come on in, the water’s lovely!”
Gwen scrambled down to join him, followed by Owen, then Tosh, and finally Ianto. Once on the narrow ledge that ran along one side of the channel, still in a faint pool of light from the streetlamps above, the others pulled out their torches and switched them on, illuminating their surroundings. A rat squeaked shrilly, scurrying away into the darkness, and silence fell around them, broken only by the sounds of their breathing and the ever-present dripping of water.
Aside from their torches, Jack gripped his Webley and Ianto his Torchwood Special automatic, Gwen and Owen held cans of Weevil spray, their own guns tucked in the belts of their coveralls, and Tosh had her scanner, which she was studying by torchlight.
Jack turned towards his tech expert. “Which way, Tosh?”
“That way.” She pointed along the tunnel to their left. “I don’t know how far though, the walls of the tunnels make it difficult to get accurate readings.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jack sounded impressively nonchalant considering their surroundings. “As long as we’re headed in the right direction we’ll find whatever it is eventually. Do we know what we’re looking for yet? I mean, can you determine whether it’s tech or something alive?”
“I’m getting a lot of interference, but as far as I can tell, it’s inanimate, so probably a device of some kind, although I can’t be a hundred percent certain. I should be able to tell you more once we get closer.”
“Good enough. Okay, kids, time to play follow my leader, so let’s get going. The sooner we find what the Rift’s left us, the sooner we can all go home to bed.” Jack spun on his heel, which was rather less impressive than usual without his coat flaring out around him, and set off along the narrow ledge, Tosh right behind him to give directions and the rest of the team following them in single file. At the rear, Ianto played rear-guard, keeping half an eye on their back-trail to make sure no nasty surprises crept up behind them.
The tunnels were a veritable maze, twisting and turning, with passages leading off to one side or the other, the way ahead sometimes splitting in two, but Tosh kept them on track towards their target, switching between the readings on her scanner and a map of the sewer system on her PDA. Several times they heard the scuffling and grunts of Weevils somewhere down one of the tunnels they passed, but it seemed the aliens were keeping out of their way, perhaps aware through their empathic sense that none of them were the target of this hunt. Or maybe they just preferred to keep to the shadows away from the dazzling torchlight. The rats weren’t nearly so shy, often darting out from practically under their feet, barely avoiding being stepped on.
“We’re almost there,” Tosh said suddenly. “Take the next passage to the right, then where it divides in two, bear left.”
Jack did as instructed, coming out a few minutes later into a circular basin rimmed by a wide walkway from which almost a dozen tunnels led off in different directions. “Now where?”
“We want the tunnel directly opposite us,” Tosh said, pointing.
“We’ll have to take the long way around,” Jack said. “Unless anyone fancies taking a swim.”
Into pulled a face. “I’ll pass.” Then he lowered his torch, squinting across towards the tunnel Tosh had indicated. “Is it just me, or is there a faint light over there? Sort of a bluish glow…”
Walking over beside Ianto, Jack peered across the water. “It’s hard to be sure, but I think you might be right. Everybody turn your torches off for a minute.”
There were a few grumbles from Owen and Gwen, but they did as they were told, abruptly plunging their surroundings into almost complete darkness. Now everyone could see what Ianto had noticed. It wasn’t a particularly bright glow, but it was definitely there.
“What d’you make of it, Tosh?” Jack asked, flicking his torch back on, the rest of the team doing likewise.
Tosh checked the readings on her scanner. “Apart from Rift energy, I’m not picking up anything more than the usual background radiation, but I’ll run another scan when we reach the tunnel entrance.”
Single file again, they followed the walkway around the basin, jumping over the channels funnelling water into and out of the other tunnels until they reached the one they wanted, pausing once more before entering. The only difference in Tosh’s readings was a marked increase in Rift energy, proving they were on the right track.
Entering the tunnel, they picked up the pace a bit, all of them wanting to find this mysterious object as fast as possible and head back the way they’d come to where the SUV would be waiting for them. They’d only been wandering around the sewers for a little over half an hour, but it felt like a lot longer; none of them wanted to be down there for the rest of the night if they could help it.
Maybe ten metres into the passageway, Jack switched his torch off. The blue glow was now clearly visible, providing a cool and slightly eerie illumination to their surroundings. A few metres more and the rest of the team clicked their torches off too, no longer needing their light to see where they were going. Might as well save the batteries for the return trip. The further they went, the lighter it seemed to get until they came around a curve in the tunnel and there was the source of the glow, lying in the middle of the walkway a few paces in front of them.
Moving up alongside Jack, Tosh scanned the object. It was shaped like a rugby ball, or a large egg, a pale blue in colour, and the glow emanating from it was steady and surprisingly soothing. From the farthest end sprouted three slender black rods, in a sort of tripod arrangement, each one tipped with a round black blob.
“No dangerous radiation, and I’m not detecting electrical energy either, but it must have a power source of some kind for it to glow like that.”
“Maybe whatever it’s made from is luminous,” Ianto suggested.
“Possibly, I’ll have to look into that once we get it back to the Hub.”
Ianto slipped a backpack off his shoulders, opening the top and passing it forward to Jack. It was one of Tosh’s new ideas, the inside was shielded and had an airtight seal so they could collect the smaller items delivered by the Rift more easily from places where lugging a large containment unit about wasn’t practical.
Accepting the lightweight carrier, Jack crouched beside the strange, glowing egg and eased it point first inside, closing the seal carefully so as not to risk damaging the protruding rods. It wouldn’t do to break anything when they didn’t even know what it was. With the device shut away, they were plunged back into darkness once more, meaning that everyone had to scrabble for their torches and turn them on. The yellow light seemed harsh and ugly after the gentle blue glow, making their eyes sting and water, and for a few moments all they could do was stand where they were until their vision readjusted to the glare.
Finally, they were able to see well enough to start back, this time with the backpack slung over Jack’s shoulder.
Thanks to Ianto, who was now in the lead, the return trip was both quicker and easier. The near photographic memory and excellent sense of direction that kept him from getting lost in Torchwood’s extensive archives proved equally useful for guiding them back to their starting point, and since they didn’t have to keep stopping at junctions for Tosh to work out which way they should go, they arrived back at the manhole they’d entered by after only a twenty minute walk.
Ianto stood to one side, letting his team-mates ascend first, then Jack handed him the backpack and sent him up, waiting until Ianto was a few rungs up before bringing up the rear. Even in coveralls, Ianto’s rear was worth close inspection.
“Oooh, I’m glad to be out of there!!” Gwen sighed, unfastening her hood and pushing it back before peeling herself out of the protective suit and putting it in the black bag Ianto handed her. The others were all doing the same, knowing they wouldn’t be allowed in the SUV otherwise. The suits would have to be decontaminated when they got back to the Hub, another job that would no doubt fall to the team’s most overworked member.
They tossed their bagged up overalls into the boot and climbed gratefully into the car. A wind had got up while they were underground and it was starting to spit with rain; the early hours of the morning in the middle of winter was no time to be standing around outside when there was shelter to be had. Ianto carefully placed the backpack containing the alien device in among the black bags, tucking them around it so that it would be protected as much as possible from the effects of Jack’s driving. Slamming the rear door shut, he climbed in the passenger side and had barely reached for his seatbelt before Jack slammed his foot down on the accelerator and the SUV surged forward.
“I know you want to get home, but would you mind slowing down a little?” Ianto asked mildly. “There’s a breakable object in the boot and these streets are so full of potholes our new toy is probably going to be in pieces before we’re halfway there, not to mention what this is doing to the SUV’s suspension. Of course, if you don’t mind paying out for new shock absorbers, and possibly a couple of new axles…” He trailed off as Jack slowed to forty. “Thank you.” Turning slightly in his seat, he peered into the backseat. “Didn’t leave anyone behind, did we?”
“Just my brain, as usual,” Owen grumbled, rubbing his head.
“That would explain a lot,” Ianto muttered under his breath as he twisted around to face front again.
“What was that?” Owen asked, frowning.
“Nothing important, Owen.”
Beside Ianto in the driver’s seat, Jack stifled a laugh.
Thankfully, their find was still in one piece when they reached the Hub, despite the potholes and Jack’s driving. Ianto unloaded the boot, handing the backpack to Tosh before taking the bags of overalls and boots down to the decontamination chamber, that being the most efficient method of cleaning them without causing damage to their waterproof coating. It only took him a few minutes to hang them up, put the boots upside down on boot trees, and start the decon process, so he was back in the main Hub by the time Tosh had the mystery object out of its bag and was running a more comprehensive set of scans.
In the bright lights of the Hub, the pale blue glow of the egg-like device was barely visible, which was sort of a shame. Still, at least they could get a better look at it now. Tosh had wiped it clean of the residue it had picked up in the sewers and set it in a small box so the black rods were sticking upwards. About the thickness of pencils, they looked quite fragile and she didn’t want them getting broken.
Ianto carefully prodded at the blobby end of one of the rods with a narrow probe, finding it to be soft and squashy yet resilient, quickly springing back to its normal shape. It was also slightly tacky. The three rods twisted together just before they entered the egg, and looking closely, it was just possible to see that they penetrated inside it for about five centimetres. The egg itself had the appearance of frosted glass on the outside, but it was hollow, the interior filled with what could be either a liquid or a gas. Whatever it was, it seemed to be the source of the glow, and it swirled around even when the egg was still, as if it had its own internal air currents or tides.
Tosh’s scans still didn’t register anything harmful, and since there was still no indication of any kind of power source, she theorised that the substance inside might absorb light and store it. “Perhaps the whole thing is a power source for some other device and the rods plug into a socket. Like a sort of solar battery.”
Jack nodded. “That makes sense. So, what do we do with it now?”
“Well, I’d like to run more tests, just out of curiosity, try to figure out how it absorbs light and see if I can work out the chemical composition of its contents. Unfortunately I can’t see any way of getting a sample without breaking it open, and I’d prefer not to do that. It could prove useful; maybe I can adapt it to power other technologies.”
“Fine, but that can wait until tomorrow,” Jack said firmly. “It’s late, or early, depending on how you want to look at it. We could all use some sleep, so barring any Rift emergencies, I don’t want to see any of you until after lunch, and that includes you, Tosh. Go home.” Turning away, he made for his office and the private bunker below it.
“About time,” Owen grumbled, heading for the door, and Gwen followed a moment later, calling out a cheery goodnight to her colleagues. Tosh saved the results of her scans and shut down her computers, looking a bit reluctant about leaving. Having new tech to play with always made her feel energised.
“It’ll still be here tomorrow, Tosh,” Ianto teased. “It’s not going to get up on its legs and wander off.”
Tosh laughed softly. “I suppose not. Alright, I’m going. Goodnight.”
“Night, sweet dreams.” Ianto hugged his friend and watched her leave before making his way up to Jack’s office. “Jack?”
“Down here.” Jack’s voice drifted up from the hatch set in the floor and Ianto climbed down the ladder to join him.
“We’re staying here then?”
“Well, we could spend the next half hour shutting everything down, driving to your place, getting undressed…”
“I see your point; if we stay here we can be in bed in five minutes.”
“There are definite advantages to living on the premises.” Jack winked.
“Yes there are.” Sitting down on the edge of the bigger bed he’d persuaded Jack to get for his quarters, Ianto pulled off his shoes. He was bone tired; sleep sounded like the best idea in the world.
Five minutes later, they were snuggled together beneath the covers, warm and cosy. Ianto’s last thought was for the softly glowing thing up in the Hub, wondering what it could have been designed to power. There was something nagging at him about it, a vague sense of familiarity that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Maybe it would come to him if he slept on it. Closing his eyes, he drifted off.
Ianto woke suddenly from a deep sleep and sat bolt upright in bed. Beside him, Jack stirred and muttered, feeling about in the darkness but failing to find his lover. He rolled over and could just make out the shadowy form sitting on the edge of the bed.
“What’s up? You okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine, I was having a dream and it just suddenly clicked!”
“What clicked? One of us isn’t making sense, and I don’t think it’s me.”
“Sorry.” Ianto turned to grin at Jack, his teeth white in the darkness. “I think I know what that device is!” He threw back the covers and pulled on his trousers, shirt, and shoes before starting up the ladder.
Groaning, Jack followed, not bothering with clothes. “Couldn’t this wait ‘til morning?”
“Technically, it was morning before we went to bed. It’s almost nine already and I’d have to get up soon to feed the residents anyway. I don’t like disrupting their routine too much; it makes them cranky.” He padded down the steps from the catwalk outside Jack’s office and crossed the Hub to Tosh’s desk. The device was still softly glowing in the dimness. Reaching out, Ianto lifted it from the box and turned it the other way up. “See?”
“Um, no, can’t say I do.” Jack looked perplexed.
Ianto laughed. “I thought it looked vaguely familiar; I used to have something similar when I was little, but mine plugged in and had a bulb,” he explained, not that his explanation was particularly enlightening to Jack. “It’s a night light, or maybe a table lamp, and the black rods are the stand!” He stood it upright on Tosh’s desk, where it sat, glowing gently and somehow looking almost smug at having fooled them so completely.
Jack stared at it, mouth open; it was like looking at one of those optical illusions where you can only see two black faces until someone points out the white candlestick in the middle. Now he knew what he was looking at, it seemed obvious and he couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t seen it before. He broke into a broad grin.
“Tosh is going to be so disappointed that it’s not an alien power source,” he chuckled.
“Perhaps,” Ianto agreed, “but I think she’ll see the funny side. Just shows what a difference it makes when you turn something the right way up!”