Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, random Snock.
Word Count: 2228
Summary: An important and very sensitive piece of the Hub’s equipment breaks down unexpectedly, but discovering the cause is just the beginning.
Content Notes: None needed.
Written For: Challenge 222: Breakdown at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Thanks to smallhobbit for inventing snocks and generously giving me permission to write about them!
“Problems?” Ianto asked when he noticed Tosh tapping at her keyboard and frowning at her computer screen.
“What?” his friend looked up at him distractedly, then, “Oh, no, not really; the Rift predictor seems a bit sluggish this morning, that’s all. Probably just a temporary glitch.”
“Huh. Should be fine, I only overhauled the systems yesterday, but maybe I missed something. I’ll check it out as soon as I get a minute; bit busy right now.” Leaving Tosh’s coffee on her desk, Ianto picked up his tray and continued on his way.
“Thanks, Ianto,” Tosh called after him.
“You’re welcome,” Ianto called back over his shoulder as he disappeared into Jack’s office.
Ianto really did mean to check the problem out as soon as possible, it wouldn’t do to have the Rift predictor break down if it could be avoided, but unfortunately what had already been a busy day got ever busier a short while later. Aliens always seemed to pick the most inconvenient moments to invade earth; was someone somewhere sending out a memo? Gearing up, the team headed out to put a stop to the latest attempt.
It was hours later when the team, minus Gwen who they’d dropped off at her flat on their way back, finally straggled wearily back into the Hub. Ianto made straight for the coffee machine to brew the rest of them a revivifying hot drink. Despite being worn out, they were all in high spirits; victory against seemingly impossible odds tended to have that effect.
At her workstation, Tosh turned her computers back on, brought the Rift monitor online and began checking the logs for activity to make sure they hadn’t missed any alerts while they’d been otherwise occupied. She hadn’t got very far before the sub-etheric resonator started to make a weird clonking noise.
Abandoning the coffee, Ianto dashed out of the kitchen carrying his toolbox. “It shouldn’t be doing that! Shut it down, Tosh!”
Tosh did try, inputting emergency shut-off codes as fast as she could type, but it was a losing battle. Over the next thirty seconds, the clonking speeded up to a rapid clatter that became a whine and then rose to an ear-splitting screech. Ianto was almost to the resonator when there was a loud bang; the Hub shook, and the lights flickered, blinking out briefly before steadying again.
“Oh, that did not sound good!” Ianto picked himself up off the floor, where he’d been tossed by the explosion, and dusted his suit off, staring at the wisp of smoke curling from behind the panels concealing the sub-etheric resonator.
“Ianto! Are you okay?” Jack arrived at his side, reaching out a steadying hand.
“I’m fine; a few more bruises to add to my collection. Not so sure about the resonator though.”
“Sorry, Ianto,” Tosh called down from her workstation. “I shut it down as fast as I could.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Ianto threw a glance back over his shoulder towards his friend, smiling wryly. “It’s completely off now, right?”
“Good, thanks. Don’t want to get myself electrocuted on top of everything else.”
“Maybe I should open it up, just in case,” Jack suggested. “If it’s going to kill anyone, I’d rather it be me than you.”
Under normal circumstances, Ianto would probably have refused, but since he had no way of knowing how much damage might have been done inside the machinery, it was a sensible precaution. “Okay, but be careful, and put these on.” He handed Jack a pair of heavy-duty rubberised gloves that should provide protection from power-surges and random electrical discharge, and donned a pair himself. “Just go slow and careful.” He stood to one side, fire extinguisher at the ready, as Jack unclipped the access panel and set it to one side.
More smoke filtered out of the opening, but whatever fire might have ignited inside had already burned itself out, leaving behind only some charred wiring. Side by side, Ianto and Jack peered into the interior.
“Can you fix it?”
Ianto sighed heavily. “Should be able to, doesn’t look like any of the major systems are damaged. It’ll take a while though; some of the components are fried.”
“Tosh and I can help, can’t we?” Jack turned to Tosh, who’d joined them without Ianto noticing.
“Of course we will; just tell us what you need us to do.”
“Right, well one of you can start by passing me the current detector; I’ll need to get right inside the housing to strip out the damaged components, and I’d rather know if there’s anything live in there before I try it.”
Tosh dug through Ianto’s toolbox and passed him the requested piece of equipment. “Here.”
“Thanks. What I really want to know is why it’s broken down now. I ran my regular monthly maintenance check on it less than twenty-four hours ago and oiled everything. It was fine then; no loose wires, no overheating components, no visible wear and tear, nothing whatsoever that could have caused it to seize up the way it has. I’d stake my reputation on it.” Ianto somehow managed to sound baffled, indignant, and pissed off, all at once. Jack never failed to be impressed by the way his lover could multi-task anything.
“Machinery’s perverse that way. It always breaks down at the worst possible time. Maybe a gremlin got inside it.” That was a typically Jack opinion.
“You watch too many movies.” Having checked there was no risk of bumping into anything carrying a potentially lethal current, Ianto slipped inside the machinery and began removing damaged components while Tosh made a list of what would have to be replaced and Jack passed his lover whatever tools he needed.
They worked steadily for twenty minutes before Ianto suddenly stopped. “Ah, I think I can see what caused the problem. Something’s jammed in the cooling system.” Ianto twisted awkwardly in the confined space, shining his torch on the mystery object, and the other two heard his horrified gasp. “Oh no!”
“What?” Jack demanded. “What is it?”
“It’s a snock.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, quite sure,” Ianto said sadly. “One must have slipped in yesterday… Damn, all of this is my fault; I ran out of grease, I should’ve closed the panel before I went to fetch another tub. The poor little thing must have been curious and snuck inside while I wasn’t there.” He bent with difficulty and carefully extracted the small creature from where it had become wedged in the blades of the intake fan. It took some doing, but after several minutes he managed to free it and backed out of the hatch, cradling the mangled little body tenderly in both hands.
“Poor little snock.” There were tears in Tosh’s eyes. “What a horrible way to die, all because curiosity got the better of it.”
“Wait a minute,” Jack gasped. “Did it just move?”
The small grey snock twitched feebly and Ianto stared wide-eyed at Jack. “It’s still alive!” He spun on his heel, hurrying towards the autopsy bay, yelling, “Owen, get over here! Got a patient for you!”
“What is it?” Owen grumbled, ambling over. He’d been dozing at his desk and wasn’t too pleased about being woken up.
“Injured snock; it looks serious.”
Hurrying beside him, Tosh fetched a sterile cloth and spread it on the autopsy table for Ianto to put the snock on. It was leaking pinkish fluid from several tears in its body.
Jack joined them a moment later. “I’ve closed the hatch to keep any other curious snocks out.”
Ianto nodded. “Good, thanks. I should’ve thought of that.”
“You had your hands full. Literally.”
Owen almost fell down the steps in his rush to reach his patient. “A snock? Any idea which one?”
“I don’t recognise it,” Jack said, peering over Ianto’s shoulder. “Must be from one of the other flocks, probably the one based near the interrogation room.”
Practically skidding to a halt on the tiled floor, Owen looked at the snock. “I’ll have to scan it to determine the extent of its injuries.”
“But… we don’t know if scanning it will harm it!” Jack frowned worriedly at the medic.
“No, we don’t,” Owen agreed. “But from the look of its injuries, it’s dead anyway if we do nothing, and without knowing more about snock anatomy I could kill it while trying to help it. If it’s to have any chance of surviving I have to do this.”
Jack drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Alright; do it.” He looked down at the patient. “Hang in there, little snock. Owen will take good care of you.
Owen ran his medical scanner the length of the snock, nose to tail and then back again, studying the readouts. “Fairly rudimentary internal organs; that’s probably a good thing. It has a basic digestive system, a small brain, lungs, heart, and a circulatory system. If I stitch the wounds and administer fluids, it might have a chance, providing shock doesn’t kill it.” He dripped a tiny drop of a mild sedative into the snock’s mouth, waited a moment for it to take effect, and then set to work, delicately cleaning and stitching each of the tears, using a magnifier so he could see what he was doing.
The rest of the team stood back so Owen could work without them getting in his way, but none of them could bear to leave, even though it was getting late and Ianto still had the repairs on the sub-etheric generator to complete. Right now the life of an innocent snock hung in the balance.
After nearly an hour, Owen set his medical instruments to one side. “I’ve done all I can, now it’s up to this little chap. Ianto, can you dig out the incubator we used for those eggs a while back?”
“On it.” Ianto went to fetch the incubator from the equipment storage locker, bringing it back and placing it on the cabinets at the side of the autopsy bay.
Owen left his patient just long enough to get everything set up, adjusting the temperature to a level that would be comfortable for the patient, lining the interior with sterile cloths and providing a small pot of fresh water before carefully lifting the snock and settling it in the warm interior, careful to jostle it as little as possible. Jack disappeared, returning a few minutes later with several plump dust bunnies, in case the snock got hungry. Owen took them without a word and placed them in the incubator, near the snock’s head, so it wouldn’t have to move much, then pulled a stool over beside it so he could keep a close eye on his patient while he wrote up what he’d learned about snock anatomy.
“Suppose I’d better finish fixing the resonator and check there aren’t any more snocks stuck in it.” Ianto shambled tiredly towards the steps, and after a brief moment, Jack and Tosh followed him.
Repairs and a thorough snock-check took another hour and a half, by which time it was past eleven at night. None of them had eaten since breakfast, and because of the invasion attempt and the sudden and unexpected breakdown of the sub-etheric resonator, they hadn’t had a drink since their mid-morning coffee either. Worn out though he was, Ianto made tea and doled it out with hurriedly ordered pizza. They all needed to keep their strength up.
At midnight, Tosh said a reluctant goodnight and headed home in the hope of getting a few hours’ sleep before she needed to be back at work. Owen set up monitors to alert him to any problems with his patient, who lay unmoving but still breathing, and staggered out of the autopsy bay to crash on the battered old sofa. Jack set the Hub to night mode before going in search of his lover. Unsurprisingly, he found Ianto sitting on Owen’s stool beside the incubator.
“It’s not your fault.” Jack rested one hand on Ianto’s shoulder.
“Isn’t it? I know better than to leave access panels open on sensitive machinery, and I should be doubly careful now I know about the snocks. Bad enough that my carelessness has resulted in one being seriously injured, but the entire Hub could’ve blown up and killed all of us.”
“Not this time, no, but I should’ve been more careful.”
“You will be in future; we all will. I’ll ask Owen in the morning about the feasibility of tagging all the snocks so we can keep track of them more easily. How’s this one doing?”
“Better than I would’ve expected.”
The snock stirred, turning its woolly head slightly and lapping up a drop of water with its fuzzy grey tongue, then nibbling at a bit of dust bunny before dozing off again. It was a reassuring sight.
“Come on; let’s leave it to rest. It’s been a rough day; you should get some sleep too.” Jack urged Ianto to his feet.
“I suppose I should.” With once final glance back at the recuperating snock, Ianto let Jack lead him out of the autopsy bay towards the cramped bunker beneath his office.
As he climbed down the ladder, Ianto promised himself this was absolutely the last time any of Torchwood’s equipment was going to get accidentally snocked; once was already one time too many!