Characters: Ianto, Jack, Alien.
Word Count: 2228
Summary: Something has fallen to earth, so it’s Torchwood’s job to find it, but that’s just the beginning of the story.
Written For: Challenge 147: Amnesty at fan_flashworks, using Challenge 145: Metal.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: This is an idea I had way back a few years ago when I was doing Cottoncandy Bingo, but I didn’t pursue it back then because I realised it had the potential to be a long story and I was very short of time if I wanted to get a blackout. I decided to write something else much shorter for the square but I kept my notes. I tried to get it written for the Metal challenge, and I nearly made it, but it still needed a final edit and I ran out of time. Thank goodness for Amnesty!
The coordinates of the ‘meteor strike’ had turned out to be well off the beaten track, so despite the SUV having four-wheel drive, Jack and Ianto had only been able to drive it so far. The hill was just too steep and the track too narrow to accommodate their vehicle’s wide wheelbase, meaning they’d had to get out and walk the last few miles. Not that they’d minded. It had been a beautiful autumn day when they’d set out, the sun had been shining and only a handful of clouds had dotted the blue of the sky.
But this was Wales and the weather could be unpredictable. By the time they were approaching their destination, after more than two hours of walking over increasingly rough terrain, the sun had vanished behind steadily thickening cloud and a mist was starting to settle over the ridge they were walking along. The temperature was also dropping and Ianto, who only a few minutes earlier had been sweating from exertion, was starting to feel distinctly chilly.
He’d changed into casual clothes before leaving the Hub; jeans, sturdy walking boots, shirt and denim jacket, but the thick sweater he’d brought with him was back in the SUV because he hadn’t wanted to carry the extra weight up the steep incline. His standard kit was enough of a burden. He should have known better, but scrambling up onto the ridge had taken a lot longer than he’d anticipated and now he was paying the price for his lapse in judgement.
“How much further?”
Jack was carrying the hand-held GPS that was guiding them to whatever had crashed.
“About 500 metres, just past that pile of rocks ahead I think.”
“Good. The sooner we’re on our way back down again the better. The mist’s getting thicker; we need to get off the ridge before visibility shuts down completely.”
“I know. We just need to collect whatever came down and we can head home. What do your readings say?”
Ianto checked his scanner.
“Background radiation is normal, so it’s not radioactive.”
“That’s a plus.”
“I’ll know more when I can scan it at close quarters. Right now, I’m picking up too many readings from the surrounding rocks and vegetation.” Tucking his scanner under one arm, Ianto rubbed his hands together, trying to get some warmth into them; the mist was making everything damp.
A sudden gust of cold wind sent a swirl of thicker mist coiling around them, cutting visibility to just a few metres. They were nearly at the pile of rocks though, so they kept inching forward carefully, watching their footing rather than focusing on their destination. Ianto shivered as the clammy tendrils of fog brushed the bare skin of his face and hands. He tried thinking warm thoughts, but it didn’t help.
Past the rock formation, the ground dipped down into a small hollow, which took them out of the worst of the rising wind. Visibility was slightly better there too; the mist seemed to be getting blown straight past overhead without being given a chance to sink into the sheltered depression tucked behind the massive weathered sandstone boulders. Ianto turned slowly, keeping his eyes on the scanner.
“Can you see anything, Jack?”
“Not yet. No, wait, what’s that over there?” Jack pointed towards a clump of stunted bushes. Something seemed to be moving near them so they approached cautiously. It looked like they’d found what they were searching for.
“What is it?” Ianto asked, trying to keep his teeth from chattering. He crouched down and ran the scanner over it. The composition of the creature, if that’s what it was, registered as an amalgam of both known and unknown metallic elements.
It looked similar to a dragonfly, but about twenty centimetres long and made of delicate copper-coloured filigree. One wing was badly crumpled, presumably from the impact of its crash.
“Not sure. It’s not from around here though.”
“What gave it away?”
Jack glanced over at his partner and grinned, then frowned.
“Are you okay?”
“Bit cold, that’s all.”
Shrugging out of his coat, Jack draped it around Ianto’s shoulders.
“Here, put this on.”
“But what about you?” Ianto tried to protest. Despite being half frozen, he still felt guilty about taking the heavy wool overcoat from its owner.
“I’ll be fine, I can put up with the cold for a bit. You warm yourself up while I see about getting our visitor packed for transport, then we can head back down to the SUV.”
Ianto stopped arguing, letting Jack help him slip into the coat and gratefully pulling it close around him. It felt amazing; the lining was still warm from Jack’s body and Ianto’s chilled flesh drank in the heat gratefully.
Jack pulled a containment box from the rucksack Ianto had been carrying over his shoulder and carefully coaxed the injured dragonfly into it. As soon as it was inside, it settled down, folding its undamaged wing flat. It seemed to understand that they were trying to help it, or perhaps it just felt that anything was better than being stranded in such a cold, inhospitable place. Putting the lid on the box but leaving it ajar, Jack thrust it at Ianto.
“Here, tuck it inside the coat. I think the little fella’s nearly as cold as you are.”
Ianto did as instructed, looking at Jack dubiously. “Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
“I can survive practically anything; you can’t. Now come on, let’s get off the high ground before the weather gets any worse.”
“At least take my jacket. It’s not much protection, but it’s better than nothing.” With a bit of wriggling, Ianto managed to slip out of his jacket and pass it to Jack without completely removing the coat.
“Fine.” Jack pulled it on and picked up Ianto’s rucksack, slinging it over his shoulder before reprogramming the GPS to guide them back to where they’d left the SUV. “Can we go now?”
“Yep!” Ianto shoved his scanner into one of the coat’s deep pockets and stood up, following Jack out of the hollow and immediately feeling the wind buffeting him as he left the shelter provided by the rocky outcrop.
The path along the ridge was narrow, the hillsides dropping away steeply to left and right, not that they could see much through the enveloping mist. Jack took the lead, with Ianto close behind holding on to his belt, head down and watching his feet, trusting his captain to guide him safely down. They didn’t talk, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. Time lost all meaning; the mist made everything unreal, muffling sound and making them feel as if they were the only living things left in the world. Even wrapped in Jack’s coat, Ianto soon started to feel cold again and he knew it must be even worse for Jack, but there was nothing to do except keep going.
As they made their way down the steep track, Ianto noticed the mist was gradually getting thinner, but it still came as a surprise when they suddenly stepped out of the low, swirling cloud into the grey light of an overcast afternoon. The improvement in visibility allowed them to pick up speed, and that, combined with the absence of clammy vapour against their skin, soon had them feeling if not warmer, then at least less cold.
“We’re on the home stretch now!” Jack said to Ianto, who was now walking alongside him on the widening path. They were off the ridge at last, making their way down a hill towards a stretch of woodland. On the other side of that was the rutted track that would lead them to where the SUV was parked.
Ianto glanced up at a steadily darkening sky. “Good thing too, because it looks like it might rain soon.” That would be all they needed.
Thankfully, they beat the rain, arriving back at the SUV just as the first drops started to fall. They quickly swapped coats again before climbing into the car and shutting the doors behind them, settling into their seats and listening to the pattering of raindrops on the roof.
“Soon be warm now.” Jack started the SUV and turned the heater on. “How’s our little friend doing?”
Ianto lifted the lid from the box that was now on his lap and looked inside. “Wing’s still badly bent, but aside from that it seems okay. Have you ever come across living metal before?”
“No, but I’ve heard stories of metallic creatures.”
“From the Doctor?”
“Of course. He’s seen a lot of strange things in his travels.”
“I imagine he has. Do you think we’ll be able to fix the damaged wing? It looks so delicate.”
“I hope so, otherwise he’ll not be able to fly.”
The metallic insect fanned its good wing gently. It seemed to like the growing warmth in the SUV. Ianto coaxed it onto his hand and held it in the stream of warm air from the heater, studying it curiously. Its six legs didn’t seem to have any joints, they were more like flexible tentacles, the feet merely a slightly rough area near the tips which seemed able to cling to surfaces, preventing the creature from slipping. Its head bore two large compound eyes, similar to those of earth insects, and a set of quite dextrous mandibles that it was using to investigate his finger. The touch was gentle, it seemed as curious about him as he was about it.
Instead of having a neck, the head was attached to the long, streamlined body by a kind of ball joint, giving it an impressive range of movement. Unlike an earth dragonfly, it had only two wings. Ianto estimated the undamaged one to be about fifteen centimetres long by approximately six or seven centimetres at its widest point. The other wing was at present half that length, bent and twisted. Ianto hoped it wasn’t causing the little creature pain, but it really didn’t look comfortable.
“I wonder how it got here.”
“You saw the reports, a bright light was seen by hikers several miles away, appearing to drop from the heavens.”
“Humans aren’t the most reliable witnesses. Besides, it can’t have come from space unprotected. Even if it can survive in a vacuum, and considering its dislike of cold that seems unlikely, it would have burnt up on re-entry, yet the only damage is to its wing. We could’ve missed something in the fog, maybe it had a spaceship, or an escape pod.”
“The bright light was most likely the refraction of sunlight off its body. Maybe it came through the Rift and got caught up by the wind. With the gales we’ve been having the last few days, it wouldn’t be surprising. It could have been carried for miles, out of control, until it was blown against the rocks and injured, then crawled into the hollow trying to find shelter.”
Ianto nodded. “Seems as likely an explanation as any I guess, but we’ll probably never know for certain.”
“I’ll have Tosh monitor the area closely for a few weeks, just to be on the safe side. If there’s anything else out there, we’ll find it.”
They were driving along narrow lanes by now, working their way back to the main road. The rain was a fine but steady drizzle, just heavy enough that Jack had to keep flicking the wipers on briefly to clear the windscreen. Behind the clouds, the sun would be moving slowly down towards the horizon, but it looked like they should be back in Cardiff before it set.
Ianto relaxed in the passenger seat, thinking of hot soup; he was hungry. They’d expected to be home by two thirty at the latest, so they hadn’t bothered to bring a packed lunch with them. Not that they could’ve eaten it even if they had; scrambling over slippery rocks in the mist isn’t ideally suited for having a picnic, but Ianto did regret not bringing a flask of coffee.
He looked at the dragonfly. What would a creature made of metal eat? That was a mystery he’d need to solve quickly; they couldn’t let it starve while trying to work out how to send it back where it belonged. If that was even possible, which seemed unlikely, considering they had no sure way of finding out where it had come from. There was a good chance it would be stuck on earth for the rest of its life. That was a depressing thought. It should be soaring through the air, flying free, not locked away in the Hub. Speaking of which…
“Home sweet Hub!” Jack announced, pulling the SUV into their underground garage. “Time to wake up!”
“I wasn’t asleep, I was just thinking.”
“Must’ve been some deep thoughts,” Jack teased.
“Not really, mostly a lot of unanswered questions about our guest,” Ianto admitted with a wry smile. “And thoughts of hot soup.”
“Oooh soup, that sounds good!”
“I’ll heat some up after I shower. First, I need to set up suitable accommodations for a metal dragonfly, preferably with a heat lamp.” Ianto climbed out of the SUV, the dragonfly still perched on his hand, and led the way into the main Hub to show their find to the rest of the team and get it settled.