Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, Alien.
Word Count: 2737
Summary: The alien dragonfly has a whole lot of surprises for its new human friends.
Written For: Challenge 147: Amnesty at fan_flashworks, using Challenge 145: Metal.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Morning came, as it always did, to the accompaniment of a much too loud alarm clock, and Ianto dragged himself from the warmth of Jack’s new and improved bed just after six. A quick shower and a shave later, he dressed in one of the suits he kept at the Hub and climbed the ladder. Usually, his first task was to make coffee, but instead of going straight to the kitchenette, he made a detour to check on their guest.
The dragonfly was still alive, which was a positive start to the day. It was perched on its rock, but had turned to face in the opposite direction. Ianto checked the various dishes and found it had eaten some more of the metal, the water didn’t seem to have been touched but about half the oil had gone. Whether the insect had drunk it or simply used it to clean and lubricate itself was anybody’s guess. Ianto wished he’d thought to set up a motion-activated camera to record the creature’s movements; he’d have to see if Tosh could get anything from the CCTV footage.
“Hello, how was your night?”
The dragonfly cocked its head and fanned its wings gently. Ianto frowned and leaned closer; he wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but the left wing didn’t seem to be as crumpled as it had been the night before. Maybe Tosh was right and it was starting to heal. If true, that would be good news. Humming to himself, Ianto went to make coffee before starting his morning rounds. Jack joined him in the kitchenette just as he was filling their mugs with the steaming brew.
“Our guest seems to be doing okay so far.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, I swung by to have a look at it; is it just me or does its wing look a bit better?”
“I noticed that too. When I left it last night it was sort of preening, maybe it’s making repairs, using its saliva to soften the metal then reshaping it.”
They’d barely sipped their drinks before the cog door alarms started to blare and Tosh entered, taking off her coat as she made her way over to her workstation, putting her bag in her bottom drawer and turning on her computers to warm up.
“Morning, Tosh,” Ianto called to her. “You’re not supposed to be in for at least another hour!”
“I know, but I woke up before my alarm and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I thought I’d get an early start.” Hanging her coat on the coat rack, she walked into the kitchenette. “Not interrupting anything, am I?” she asked as she accepted the mug of coffee Ianto offered her.
“No, not at all, we were just discussing the dragonfly; we’re not certain yet, but you might not have to do anything to its wing after all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Unless we’re both seeing things, the injured wing doesn’t look as bad as it did. We think our visitor might be able to make any necessary repairs by itself, given enough time, warmth, and whatever raw materials it needs for the job.”
“Really?” Taking her coffee with her, Tosh scurried over to the Dragonfly, grabbing the magnifying goggles from her desk as she passed. When she reached the little creature beneath its heat lamp, she set her mug to one side, slipped the goggles on, and leaned in to study the damaged wing from every angle.
Jack and Ianto wandered over to join her.
“What d’you think?”
Once again, Tosh jumped at the unexpected voice, pulling off her goggles to glare at Jack, who just smirked, amused at startling her for the second time in two days. “You did that on purpose!”
“Of course! Gotta keep you guys on your toes.” Jack was completely unrepentant. “So, the wing?”
“You’re right, there’s a definite improvement, I can even see tiny spots where the metal is shinier, newer looking than the rest of the wing, like fresh repairs. It must use its mandibles as tools.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Ianto agreed. “They have the most incredible dexterity, I noticed that when it was examining my hand on the way back from the Beacons, as well as when it was eating.”
“Looks like all we need to do is keep it warm, fed and lubricated while it fixes itself.” Jack smiled in satisfaction. “Our job just got a whole lot easier!”
“Our job?” Ianto raised an eyebrow. “Tosh and Owen are the ones who would’ve been trying to repair our guest, and I’m the one looking after it. I don’t remember you volunteering to help.”
“I’m the boss!” Jack pouted. “I supervise!”
“Yes, and you do it so well.” Ianto patted him on the shoulder. “Now, Tosh and I have a lot of work to get on with, and so do you. Why don’t you go up to your office and ‘supervise’ the piles of paperwork on your desk? I’ll bring you another coffee with your breakfast in a bit.”
Jack waited until Ianto turned away to get started with his daily tasks, then stuck his tongue out at him.
“I saw that, Jack! Put your tongue away before it sticks like that.”
“I swear he has eyes in the back of his head,” Jack muttered, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets and shambling away in the general direction of his office, grumbling about people having no respect for authority these days.
Smiling, Tosh returned to her workstation. Ianto was right; she had more than enough work to keep her busy. Even so, she wasn’t sure whether she felt relieved or disappointed that she wouldn’t have to try her hand at repairing a dragonfly’s wing.
When Owen finally arrived over an hour later, Ianto quickly filled him in.
“Repairing itself? This I ‘ave to see.” Borrowing Tosh’s goggles, he went to look at the dragonfly, which was working away busily on its wing. Setting up a camera to record everything, Owen fetched a stool and settled down to observe, fascinated by the creature’s skill and patience. It was clearly slow and painstaking work, with frequent pauses to eat or rest, but the wing was gradually being straightened out, each tiny strut being carefully manipulated into its proper position and secured with drops of fresh liquid metal, almost as if the insect were welding the joins.
It took nearly three days before the injured wing’s framework was straightened out. The team took turns watching the process, all of them quickly realising that the wings were nowhere near as rigid as they had originally seemed. While they held a specific shape when left alone, they were extremely flexible, able to be twisted and bent in all directions as the dragonfly worked, yet springing back into their natural shape as soon as they were released. It was as though they were made out of some kind of memory wire.
“If it always goes back to its proper shape no matter which way it’s bent, how did the wing get broken?” Gwen wanted to know. It was a good question.
“Maybe it got too cold,” Tosh theorised. “Some metals get brittle at very low temperatures so when the dragonfly got blown into something hard, most likely the rocks, bits of the wing broke, circulation was impaired, and its elasticity was lost.”
Owen nodded. “Sounds about right. Now it’s warm enough it’s managed to restore proper circulation and the alloy its wings are made of is behaving like living tissue again, instead of inert metal.”
Even after the basic structure of the wing had been straightened out, there was still a lot left to repair and it took the patient dragonfly another three days to replace the filmy, transparent material that made up the wing’s surface. After its accident, what had remained on the creature’s left wing had been shredded and tattered, just a few scraps left clinging like torn rags to the damaged struts. The team had stood around the heat lamp watching in amazement as the dragonfly ate the last remnants before starting to lick its wing, spreading an opaque, silvery saliva across a gap between struts then leaving it to dry. As it dried, the substance became translucent, mostly see-through but with a faint coppery sheen that refracted light like a muted rainbow, beautiful but strange. Once a section was fully dried into a tough but stretchy material with similar properties to skin, the dragonfly moved on to the next area. It had started the job at its shoulder, where its wing joined its body, and then worked its way millimetre after millimetre out to the tip. Every time they checked on it, the job had progressed a little further.
Finally, less than a week after being brought to the Hub, the metal insect appeared to be completely recovered from its ordeal, its broken wing restored to full working order.
They were left with one problem: What were they going to do with it now?
Away from the lamp that kept it warm, the Hub was too cold for the dragonfly, and although living on a small rock and basking in artificial light and heat was fine while it was healing, that was no life for a creature designed for flight. It would be a miserable existence for it to be so confined.
Releasing it into a desert was out; the blowing sands would quickly erode its wings, if it didn’t starve to death first from the lack of suitable and readily available metallic elements. The hot and humid rainforests were out too; such a damp atmosphere would surely cripple the metallic insect with corrosion.
If they all worked together, they could perhaps construct a sort of vivarium here in the Hub, with integrated heat lamps and enough space for short flights, but that would still mean caging something that didn’t deserve to be locked away.
They opted to leave the dragonfly where it was until they could come to a decision about the best course of action. Their convalescing guest spent the next few days exercising its newly repaired wing to strengthen it, holding tightly to its rock and flapping for longer periods each day. On the fifth day after completing its self-repairs, it let go of the rock to make the first of several short flights about the Hub, leaving the warmth of the lamp for a few minutes at a time before returning to warm itself up again.
Over the following week, the test flights continued, increasing in frequency and length. They could all tell the little creature was gaining strength daily, and it was eating at regular intervals, no doubt fuelling itself for its vigorous exercise sessions and perhaps replenishing its reserves. Yet still no solution to the problem of what to do with it came to mind.
In the end, just over three weeks after its arrival, the dragonfly solved the problem for them.
It was flitting about the Hub on one of its test flights when it abruptly stopped, hovering in mid-air. There was an audible ‘pop’ of displaced air, and the dragonfly seemed to wink out of existence, reappearing almost immediately with another ‘pop’ a dozen or so metres away.
“Teleportation!” Tosh jumped to her feet, sounding as excited as she looked. “It can literally jump from one place to another! I wonder what its range is.”
“If it can teleport, why didn’t it just jump to safety when it arrived?” Gwen was frowning in puzzlement.
“Maybe it was disoriented from its trip through the Rift,” Owen suggested.
“Possible, though we’re still not certain that’s how it got here,” Jack reminded them.
Tosh shook her head. “It looks like it needs to hover before making a jump, maybe so it can orient itself on where it’s jumping to. But if it popped up in the middle of a gale, it would’ve been helpless, just swept along with no chance to pause and see where it was or where it was going.”
“That makes sense,” Jack nodded. “Poor little fella just had some really bad luck.”
They watched at the dragonfly continued to flit about, popping in and out of existence, usually vanishing from one part of the Hub to reappear on its rock where it would rest briefly, or have a bite to eat, before flying off again. When Tosh scanned it, she discovered that it seemed to be building up an electronic charge inside its body, in one of the organs Owen hadn’t been able to identify.
“Maybe it needs that to teleport,” Ianto suggested.
“I’m not sure,” Tosh admitted. “It’s more as if the act of flying, and of making those short hops, is adding to its store of electrical energy instead of using it. Like it’s charging its battery.”
“Could the stored electricity be its defence mechanism? To zap anything that threatens it?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know, I suppose that’s one possibility. It could certainly give someone a nasty shock.”
The stored charge continued to build throughout the day, and the dragonfly was eating a lot more than it had while it was healing. It was less choosy about what metal it ate too, leading Ianto to believe that before, it had been consuming only the raw materials that it would require to reconstruct its wing. Now it was eating for a different purpose.
By the middle of the following day, the dragonfly’s mass had doubled though its size remained the same. Tosh’s scans also indicated that the peculiar organ in the creature’s thorax was charged to capacity. There was a strange sense of expectation hanging in the air and every member of the team felt like they were waiting for something to happen.
After eating one more big meal and lapping up almost a full dish of lubricating oil, their guest took to the air again, flying from one member of the team to another, landing on each of them briefly before taking off again. It visited Ianto last of all, alighting on his outstretched hand and sitting there, staring at him with whirling, kaleidoscopic eyes.
“I guess this is goodbye then,” Ianto murmured. “It was nice having you here; take care of yourself.”
The insect lowered its head to nibble gently at his fingers then jumped into the air, flying up to hover about three metres above the floor. As they watched, there was a louder than usual popping sound and what looked like a shimmering spherical force-field snapped into existence around the dragonfly. It hung there in midair for a few moments and then with a final ‘pop’ it was gone.
Everyone let out a breath they hadn’t realised they were holding.
“Where do you think it’s gone?” Gwen asked softly, as if unwilling to disturb the silence that had fallen over them.
“Home, I hope,” Tosh replied, equally quietly.
“Maybe it’s an explorer, visiting other worlds. Think about it; if you can create and teleport inside your own safety bubble, you could go pretty much anywhere you wanted as long as you could find enough fuel,” Ianto mused.
“Spacefaring dragonflies,” Owen huffed. “Now I really have seen it all.”
“Well, wherever it’s going, I wish it a safe journey.” Jack looked at his team, smiling. “We rescued another lost traveller and sent it on its way, that’s something we can all feel good about.”
“Calls for a celebration, I think,” Ianto declared.
“Good idea!” Jack agreed. “Everything’s quiet right now so grab your things; we’ll go out for lunch, my treat!”
No one was about to say no to that, so doing as they were instructed they closed down computers, fetched their coats, and headed for the cog door.
Ianto started after his friends then paused and went back, turning off the heat lamp over the rock where their guest had sat for the past few weeks. “Good luck,” he whispered. “Be well. We’ll miss you.”
“Ianto, you coming?” Jack’s voice rang loud in the silence.
“Be right there.” Picking up his overcoat and shrugging it on, Ianto jogged across the Hub and fell in beside Jack, hurrying through the cog door, which closed behind them with a familiar cacophony of noises. He smiled; the universe was so full of extraordinary, wonderful things and he felt privileged that once in a while, he was lucky enough to see some of them.