Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, Alien.
Word Count: 3388
Summary: Having taken the alien dragonfly back to the Hub, it’s time to figure out its needs and look into whether or not its damaged wing can be repaired.
Written For: Challenge 147: Amnesty at fan_flashworks, using Challenge 145: Metal.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Tosh was fascinated by the metallic creature, perched contentedly on a smooth rock beneath the lamp Ianto had found for it. She examined it through alien magnifying goggles that made her look a bit like a large insect herself. Ianto had left their resident tech wizard in charge of the visitor while he and Jack got showered and changed into fresh, dry clothes. Despite the heat in the SUV, when they’d arrived at the Hub they’d still been feeling a bit damp and clammy from their trek through the Welsh mists.
She was so engrossed in her studies that she didn’t even realise someone was behind her until Jack spoke, making her almost jump out of her skin.
“What’s the verdict?”
“Jack!” Tosh put her hand over her pounding heart. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that, you nearly scared the life out of me! Where’s Ianto?”
“Fixing coffee and soup, we got pretty chilled out there, need something to warm us up on the inside now we’ve got our outsides warm.”
“I thought the two of you would have warmed each other up in the shower!”
“Cheeky!” Jack pretended to be shocked. “Anyway, back to my question; what d’you make of our friend here?”
“It’s amazing! I thought at first that Ianto’s scanner must be faulty, but I’ve checked and double-checked, it really is metal! Living metal! If I hadn’t seen it for myself I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“The universe is full of amazing things, Toshiko, and once in a while we’re lucky enough to see some of them. The big question though is whether or not its wing can be fixed.”
“I’m not sure, I think I’ll have to talk to Owen about that. He’s going over the results of his medical diagnostic scans, hopefully they’ll give us a clearer picture. The structure of the wings is so intricate I don’t think I have any tools small enough for such delicate work. If I could get a watchmaker’s or jeweller’s repair kit, then maybe I could do something, those are about the tiniest tools I know of that might be suitable, but…”
“It’s alive, and most living things heal when they’re injured. If we can straighten the wing, and I’m not sure if that would even be possible without causing more damage, then maybe it will mend itself given time and rest, like broken bones knitting back together.”
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’.”
“This is a totally unknown species, Jack, at least as far as we’re concerned. Everything is going to be guesswork and speculation until we learn more about it. I wish I could give you some answers instead of more questions, but right now we don’t know enough to do more than make educated guesses based on what little we’ve been able to discover about the few non-carbon based life forms Torchwood’s encountered, and none of them were metallic. This is a whole new field of biology for us and we’re flying blind.”
“I have faith in you, Tosh, you’ll figure something out. Ask Ianto to order whatever you think you might need in the way of tools and raw materials. Guess I’d better check in with Owen. Bring your findings to the boardroom in an hour, I’ll call a general meeting and we’ll go over what we know so far, okay?”
“Good. Don’t work too hard, you’ll give yourself wrinkles and that would be a shame. You’re too beautiful to be all wrinkly.” Jack winked and kissed Tosh lightly on the forehead, leaving her smiling fondly at his retreating back before returning her attention to her painstaking study of the dragonfly’s injured wing.
Down in the autopsy bay, Jack approached Owen, who had his scan results up on the wall screen and was going over them, making copious notes in the untidy scrawl he called handwriting.
“What have you got so far?”
“Quite a lot, just not sure any of it’ll help,” the medic grumbled. “It’s got a cellular structure similar to most life forms, but it’s mostly made up of a complex metallic alloy. About seventy-five percent is a mixture of metals that exist on earth; I’ve identified copper, zinc, aluminium, titanium, gold, silver, and platinum. But there are several elements in the mix that are definitely not of earth origin. Two or three of them we’ve come across before in alien artefacts and stuff, but that still leaves between ten and fifteen percent of its makeup that’s a complete mystery even to me. It has blood that’s similar to mercury, in that its metal that remains liquid at relatively low temperatures, but its circulatory system slows right down when its temperature drops below sixty degrees. Wherever it comes from, the climate must be pretty hot.”
“So Ianto’s right about the heat lamp.”
“Definitely. Teaboy said he’s set the temperature at around eighty, but from the data I’ve collected, your metal bug could probably stand being quite a lot warmer. I’d recommend trying it at a hundred, see how it likes that.”
“I’ll pass on the message. Have you figured out what it eats yet?”
“Yeah, metallic ores. No surprise there, you are what you eat. It needs metals because that’s what it’s made up of. To grow or to heal, it needs the raw materials; only way to get them is to ingest them.”
“So what? We give it a snack of scrap metal?”
“No, not just any metal, I’d recommend a mixture of the elements it’s made from, either in raw form or filings, something easy to absorb. About five percent of its body is made up of non-metallic elements, probably from whatever ore-bearing rock it’s been munching on. It probably excretes most of the minerals.”
“I’ll have Ianto look into getting hold of some ore, copper will probably be easiest to come by… Would zinc supplements be any good?”
“The zinc content would be pretty low, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.”
“Give me a readout on the alien metals in its makeup too, we might have some in the archives. If we can’t grate it down, maybe the dragonfly can lick it… does it have a tongue?”
“Sort of, but it’s more like a rasp for scraping the surface off rocks. If the metals are soft enough, I suppose it might be able to scrape particles off that way.”
“Okay, that gives us something to work with. Meeting in the boardroom in forty-five minutes, bring your findings.”
“Fine. Now get outta here so I can get on with my job, or I won’t have anythin’ else to report.”
“Just don’t be late.”
“Yeah, yeah, now scoot!”
Laughing, Jack left Owen to his notes, going in search of Ianto and the promised soup.
The meeting didn’t add much to what they already knew. Ianto had found some junk in the archives made from the same alien metals that were part of the dragonfly’s biology, plus some bits and pieces of aluminium, copper, a broken length of silver chain from a pendant, and a couple of titanium screws from a futuristic medical implant. Owen had okayed the potential food, so after the meeting Ianto planned to see if their guest was hungry, then he’d look into sourcing some metallic ores, although that might have to wait until the following day. There was a place in the St. David’s Shopping Centre that sold crystals, fossils, and geological specimens; they might stock what was needed. The dragonfly wasn’t very big, so hopefully it had a modest appetite, however there was always the possibility that it might need to eat more than usual because of its injuries.
Owen had some interesting things to report about the very alien creature’s internal organs, which amounted to the fact that inside, it looked like some kind of steampunk mechanism except that there weren’t any miniature cogs and gears. Jack noticed that Ianto seemed a bit disappointed about that.
“It has recognisable circulatory and digestive systems, a nervous system made up of microfilaments, and a brain. Nothing identifiable as sexual organs, but then, there’s no way of knowing if this thing is an adult or a juvenile. Maybe it just isn’t mature enough to have developed them yet. So far, so good, but…” Owen shrugged helplessly. “Half the organs are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, I can’t even begin to guess at their functions.”
“Do you think it could be dangerous in any way?” It was probably a bit late in the day to consider that possibility, so far the creature had done nothing that could be considered even remotely threatening, but Jack still had to ask. Even though it seemed perfectly happy sitting on its rock under the heat lamp, more grateful for being rescued than hostile, all possibilities needed to be considered.
“Always possible; for all we know it could be venomous, but it doesn’t have anything resembling a stinger, so your guess is as good as mine,” Owen admitted.
“If it wanted to hurt us, surely it would have done so by now,” Tosh said.
“Playing the Devil’s advocate,” Jack suggested, “could it just be waiting until it’s warmed up enough to attack?”
“Could be, but it doesn’t seem likely,” Owen decided. “It’s very placid, shows no signs of fear. Most creatures only attack when they’re scared. It’s more likely to cause unintentional harm, but my scans haven’t picked up anything that could be hazardous to our health. No radiation or toxins, no potentially harmful microbes. In fact it reads almost completely sterile, not even a trace of bacteria on its outer surface, just a few specks of dust, pollen grains, and earth-normal fungal spores it’s probably picked up since it crash-landed here.”
“So we keep an eye on it, but consider it harmless unless it proves otherwise,” Jack said decisively.
“Is it just an alien insect, or could it be sentient?” Ianto asked.
“A race of intelligent insects?” Owen looked thoughtful. “Haven’t really seen any evidence either way, I’m not even sure how we could find that out. How would you go about trying to communicate with a bug?”
“There are quite a few sentient insectoid races, and some aren’t much bigger than our friend, so we shouldn’t rule it out. I’ve seen stranger intelligent races; tree people, living plastic, even living stone. The universe contains a great many civilisations that have never had any contact with earth, there are wonders as yet undiscovered; you people have no idea. Okay, back to work or…” Jack checked his watch, “go home. It’s gone seven already.”
“Really?” Gwen checked her own watch. “Oh my God! I’d best get off. I told Rhys I’d try to be home by seven-thirty tonight. He’s cooking lasagne.” She jumped up and headed for the door. “’Night, everybody.”
“I’ll feed the dragonfly, then see to the rest of the inmates.” Ianto stood up and started putting the empty coffee mugs on his tray to take back to the kitchenette.
“I left some programmes running, I want to check the results before I leave.” Tosh got up too, closing her laptop.
“Don’t get carried away and stay here all night,” Jack warned her.
“I won’t, I promise. Another hour at most.”
“I’m outta here too.” Owen didn’t bother to say goodnight, just got up and left.
Jack followed Ianto to the kitchenette in the hopes of getting more coffee, and possibly some biscuits, but Ianto slapped his hand away from the biscuit tin. “If you stuff yourself with biscuits, you won’t want dinner. Thought I’d order Chinese and get enough for Tosh too.”
“I like that plan! Does that mean you’re staying here tonight?”
“Of course! Can’t leave you alone all night with a strange alien loose in the Hub,” Ianto teased.
“Good thinking, I might need protecting,” Jack smirked back. “Why don’t I feed the residents in the cells while you feed the ones up here and order our food?”
“Works for me.”
“Don’t forget to order my prawn balls!”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “You only get those because you like asking people if they want to taste your balls.”
“That’s not the only reason! I happen to like them.” Jack pouted.
“Fine, you can have some prawn balls with your order. What else do you want?”
“You know what I like; surprise me.” Jack set off for the cells, leaving Ianto to get on with his own chores.
Ianto’s first visit after quickly washing the mugs and putting them away was to the alien dragonfly, where he’d settled it in a quiet corner of the Hub beneath one of the spare heat lamps Owen used for his plants. He’d considered putting the insect in the hothouse, which was the warmest area of the Hub, but quickly discarded the idea, worried that the moist, humid atmosphere might corrode it. Dry heat seemed like a better environment for a creature made of living metal, the damage it had suffered when it crashed was bad enough, the last thing it needed was to go rusty.
“Hi there, brought you some food, of sorts. Not sure it’s what you’re used to, but it’s the best I can do right now.” He set the small assortment in front of the dragonfly, arranged on a saucer so it could pick and choose.
The dragonfly showed immediate interest, cocking its head to one side as if studying the saucer’s contents. After a moment’s consideration, it reached out with one of its front pair of tentacle legs, using the sticky tip to pluck up one of the small pieces of a soft and flexible alien metal which Ianto had sliced into narrow strips a couple of centimetres long. Placing the fragment on the rock and holding it down with its foot, the creature bent its head and its mandibles went to work, shaving off tiny particles and transferring them into its mouth. Ianto watched in fascination. It didn’t take long for the insect to consume the whole strip, and next it reached for a small scrap of copper.
This time, instead of chewing bits off the harder metal, it licked with its rasp-like tongue, coating its meal with sticky saliva that made the surface of the metal bubble, then licking it away repeatedly as the copper dissolved. Ianto realised its saliva must be a kind of acid solution, just strong enough to melt harder pieces of metal to a sticky consistency that could be lapped up. The dragonfly used the same method to consume one of the titanium screws, followed by chewing up two more strips of the alien metal. That seemed to be enough for the moment and it settled comfortably on its rock, presumably digesting its meal. The whole process had taken no more than five minutes.
“I’ll leave the rest so you can snack whenever you get hungry,” Ianto assured the dragonfly. “Tomorrow Tosh and Owen will take a look at your wing and see if they can figure out some way to fix it. I just hope that’s not going to hurt too much.” With that, he set off for Myfanwy’s aerie with her evening meal. It wouldn’t do to keep her waiting too long; she might come looking for him.
Some time later, Ianto, Jack and Tosh were sitting around the coffee table eating their own dinner, including the prawn balls that, as expected, Jack had offered to Tosh, making her laugh and blush. Sometimes Ianto wondered if Jack would ever grow up.
“I was watching the dragonfly eat earlier,” he told the other two. “It was amazing, it uses its forward pair of legs almost like hands to pick things up and hold them in place. Kind of odd to see it eating metal though.”
”As long as it doesn’t get the munchies during the night and start eating our equipment, it doesn’t look like it’ll cause us any problems,” Jack joked.
“It doesn’t seem to have a huge appetite anyway,” Ianto said with a grin. “It wouldn’t be able to make much of a dent in the Hub’s systems, just a little nibble here and there. Besides, I doubt it’ll stray far from the heat lamp and it can’t fly right now anyway, not with a broken wing.”
“The tools I asked Ianto to order should get here sometime tomorrow, so I’ll take a closer look at the damaged wing in the morning, make some comparisons with its good wing and put together a set of detailed schematics to work from. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to repair it well enough for the poor thing to ever fly again though.”
“All you can do is try, Tosh. I know you’ll do the best you can.” Jack took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Now, go home and get some sleep, you’ll need to be well rested.”
“You two just want the place to yourselves so you can get up to something kinky,” Tosh giggled. “You might as well just admit it.”
“You’re right, Tosh,” Ianto deadpanned. “Jack just loves doing kinky things like helping to wash the dishes and then laying on the sofa, watching DVDs.” He winked at his friend. “I’ve tried to persuade him to take off all his clothes and hang upside down from the catwalk while I lick chocolate sauce off him, but he told me he’s already done that a million times, and it’s not as much fun as it sounds.”
“You are getting as bad as Jack!” Tosh scolded, shaking her head in mock disappointment, eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter. “And as for you!” She pointed at Jack. “You should be ashamed of yourself, corrupting my best friend with your kinkiness!”
“Hey, don’t blame me!” Jack raised his hands. “I’m innocent! He was already kinky when I got him, it’s one of the reasons I was attracted to him in the first place.”
“It’s true,” Ianto admitted with a sigh. “We’ve corrupted each other.”
“But only in the fun sense of the word,” Jack added with an outrageous leer.
“You are both certifiable!” Tosh laughed. “Have fun, but don’t stay up all night. You both need your rest too.”
“We’ll be good,” Ianto promised.
“I’ll only keep him up for half the night,” Jack promised solemnly. “Goodnight, Tosh.”
“Goodnight, boys.” She leaned over and gave each of them a quick kiss on the cheek. “See you in the morning.”
“We’ll be here.”
Tosh slipped into her coat, picked up her bag and headed for the exit, the sirens on the cog door announcing her departure.
“Alone at last.” Jack leaned in for a kiss, but Ianto evaded him.
“Dishes first, then we’ll have the rest of the evening to do whatever we want.”
Jack pouted, but obediently followed his lover to the kitchenette. There wasn’t much to wash up anyway, so with Ianto washing the dishes while Jack dried and put them away, they were done in ten minutes.
“Set everything to night mode while I check on the dragonfly and let Myf out,” Ianto told Jack.
“Since when have you been the boss?”
“Since you put me in charge of running the Hub.” Ianto’s smile was positively smug.
“Oh. Right, I’ll just set everything to night mode, shall I?”
“You do that.” Ianto gave the captain a quick peck on the lips. “If you’re good, I’ll give you something nice.”
“Yep! A gold star on your report card.” Laughing at the expression on Jack’s face, Ianto strode away to do the last of his chores while Jack attended to his own assigned tasks.
The dragonfly was preening its wings when Ianto decided to check on it one last time before going down to Jack’s recently expanded quarters for the night. It looked happy enough, as far as he could tell with a creature so familiar and yet so completely alien. As an afterthought, not knowing if it needed fluids of any particular kind, he set a small pot of water and another of high grade lubricating oil just beyond the pool of light from the heat lamp. That was as much as he could do in an attempt to ensure the creature’s comfort overnight, so after wishing it a good night, he left it in peace. Jack was no doubt getting impatient.