Characters: Jack, Ianto, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, OC.
Summary: On a Rift retrieval in the countryside, the Torchwood team find something they weren’t expecting.
Word Count: 1621
Written For: My own prompt ‘Any, Any, Animal instincts,’ at fic_promptly.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
It was perfectly natural for any creature that felt scared or threatened to seek a safe hiding place. People did it too, and so did aliens. Every species obeyed its most basic animal instincts and the need to feel safe was one of the things that united all living creatures. Of course, some creatures were more than capable of defending themselves if threatened, so it was usually the smallest and most vulnerable that were the best at hiding, something everyone who worked for Torchwood knew well. They’d all been involved in numerous hunts for creatures that had been sucked through the Rift, and on most occasions it had been the small ones that caused the most trouble, often getting themselves into ridiculously inaccessible places. The big ones couldn’t hide so easily, and in many cases didn’t have such an instinctive need to, unless it was to lie in wait for their prey.
Rift retrievals were unpredictable at the best of times; there was only so much information that could be gleaned before the team arrived at the coordinates of a Rift spike. Tosh’s computer programmes could generally provide some basic information, such as whether or not the item was organic, and a very rough estimate of size and weight could usually be made. If they were lucky and there happened to be a CCTV camera in the vicinity they were sometimes even able to get a look at what had come through, although the pictures tended to be a bit grainy and indistinct. Tosh had other programmes that could clean the images up to a certain extent, but that took time they couldn’t always afford.
The latest Rift spike was rather unhelpfully out in the country, where there weren’t any cameras. So as Jack drove them at high speed towards the coordinates, Tosh tried to get a close-up picture of the area via satellite, no easy task while bouncing around like a cork tossed on a rough sea. Fortunately, Tosh was used to such feats of dexterity, typing swiftly and surely, but her efforts weren’t yielding much of use due to trees and undergrowth blocking the satellite’s view of the ground.
“Sorry, Jack; looks like we’ll just have to wait until we get there.”
“Not your fault, Tosh. Maybe someday you’ll invent a way to see through obstructions, but until then we’ll just do what we usually do and play it by ear.”
“Or by eye,” Ianto quipped.
They had a bit of a walk from where they left the SUV, pulled off the winding road on a wide verge where it wouldn’t get in the way in the unlikely event of anther car coming along. Grabbing their field kits, they set out, following Tosh, who was tracking their progress towards their destination on her PDA.
After a couple of miles they came out of a small copse onto a hillside, dotted with trees, and underbrush, and the ubiquitous Welsh sheep, their lambs frolicking around them. “According to my readings, whatever we’re looking for should be somewhere within two hundred metres,” Tosh said, gesturing ahead of her across the hillside. “I wish I could be more accurate, but the readings are meandering all over the place. From the data I collected earlier, I thought it was probably inanimate, but there’s a chance we might be looking for something alive.”
“Alright, people, spread out and start looking, keep your eyes and your scanners peeled!” Jack called as he went striding off across the grass. “Leave no stone unturned!”
Everyone headed off in a different direction, with Owen muttering about the smells, and the sheep, and all the other things he didn’t like about being in the country. The only thing they knew for sure about what they were looking for was that it was small; their scanners would pick up residual Rift energy, but as Tosh had already told them, there seemed to be Rift energy all over the place, as if whatever had come through had been wandering about since it had arrived.
“Maybe it’s more than one object,” Gwen suggested over her Bluetooth.
“That’s a possibility,” Tosh agreed. “Or it might have broken into fragments when it hit the ground.”
“The sheep don’t seem bothered, so I doubt there was an explosion,” Ianto said. “They would have panicked.”
“Not to mention we’d see some evidence, a crater, or a blackened area on the ground,” Jack added. “I’m not seeing anything like that.”
“There doesn’t need to be an explosion for something to break,” Tosh pointed out. “If it was fragile enough it could have just shattered.”
“If it’s alive, it’ll want a safe place to hide.” That was Owen of course, expert on all things living, great and small. “Look for holes in the ground, crevices, check under bushes. It could be anywhere so watch where you’re putting your feet.”
Gwen had another alarming thought. “What if it was a seedpod or something? We might never find all of them!”
Owen laughed. “Can you imagine? Could end up with triffids in the Welsh countryside.”
“Don’t even joke!” Tosh scolded. They’d all seen enough to know that wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. It was never a good idea to tempt fate.
It took nearly half an hour before Ianto found the small device they were looking for stuck to a lamb, which accounted for the trail it had been leaving all over the hillside. Getting it off the lamb was a bit more difficult, since the mother wasn’t too pleased when they tried to catch her baby, bowling over first Owen, then Gwen as it tried to get to its frantically bleating lamb.
“Got it!” Tosh cried triumphantly, finally detaching the sticky object from the lamb’s fleecy tail. Ianto let go of the lamb, which ran over to its mother, while Tosh showed the little grey object to Jack. “What is it?”
Jack studied it. “Huh. One for you, Owen; it’s an Aachtenite diagnostic device, designed to stick to the patient’s carapace. The Aachtenites are an insectoid race,” he explained.
The object was far too small to warrant being put in the containment unit they’d bought with them, but too sticky to simply be tucked in a pocket. Tosh was already having problems detaching it from her hands; every time she freed one finger the device stuck to another.
“Hold on, I should have a containment pouch on me somewhere.” Jack dug into one of the capacious pockets of his coat, then the other. “What the…” He drew his hand back out, along with something long and fluffy. It dangled from his hand, purple and black and completely out of place.
“Dizzy!” Tosh gasped. “What were you doing in Jack’s pocket?” The Flufflet blinked its big violet eyes at her innocently before peering around, curious to find itself in a very different place from the surroundings it was used to.
“I wondered where it had got to,” Owen said mildly. “Last I saw of it was this morning. It was napping under the sofa when Mickey dropped his toolbox and startled it. Never knew it could move so fast.” The baby Fluff was only three weeks old and a bit lazy, preferring to spend most of its time eating and napping, which when Owen thought about it, wasn’t that different from most babies, human, animal, or alien.
“And you didn’t think to go looking for it, make sure it was okay?” Tosh chastised her boyfriend.
“Hey, don’t blame me!” Owen said indignantly. “I figured it was going to find Nosy. How was I supposed to know it would hide in Jack’s coat pocket?”
“Must have slipped in while my coat was hanging over the back of my chair.”
“Don’t you bother to check your pockets?” Ianto asked.
“Why? I know what’s in them, more or less. Not like I expected something to sneak into one.” Jack tried to hand the Flufflet to Tosh, but she shook her head.
“I’ve got this.” She held up the device she’d unstuck from the lamb. “I don’t want to get it stuck to Dizzy. We might never get it off.”
“Oh. Right.” Jack shoved the accidental stowaway into Owen’s hands instead and dug in his pockets again, pulling out the bag he’d been looking for and opening it. With some difficulty, Tosh managed to detach the medical device from all of her fingers and get it into the bag, although her hands still felt unpleasantly tacky.
“I’ve got something back in the SUV that should get rid of any sticky residue,” Ianto assured her.
“Thanks. I’d better avoid touching anyone or anything until we get there, I don’t know how much of the stickiness transferred to my hands and I don’t want to get stuck to anything else.”
“Okay, kids! Now we’ve got what we came for we should probably get back to the Hub. Nosy must be getting worried about its missing offspring.”
“In future, we’d better all check our pockets and bags before leaving the Hub, just in case there’s a startled Flufflet hiding in one of them,” Ianto said. “No harm done this time, but can you imagine pulling Dizzy out in the middle of a restaurant, or on a Weevil hunt?”
“That would be bad,” Owen said, keeping a firm but gentle grip on the Flufflet so it couldn’t wander off and get left behind. “If it gets seen in public, everyone’ll want one.”
As they set off back to where they’d left the SUV, all promising to be a lot more careful in future, Dizzy coiled itself around Owen’s arms and went back to sleep, confident that its human would keep it safe from harm.