Characters: Jack, Ianto, OCs.
Word Count: 3465
Summary: Jack and Ianto take on a search and rescue mission on a remote planet, home to the Reptile Land theme park and resort.
Written For: spook_me 2019, using Torchwood, Reptile, and this pic.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. Think of the fun I could have with them…
A/N: Set in my Ghost of a Chance ‘verse.
“Think Jurassic Park, but on a smaller scale and without the man-eating dinosaurs,” Jack said cheerfully. “Reptile Land has been a popular tourist attraction for decades; the people who run it have collected non-sentient reptiles and amphibians from all over the Galactic Federation, many of them critically endangered. Their natural habitats have been carefully recreated so they can be observed and appreciated as nature intended, and the park’s breeding programmes have pulled several species back from the brink of extinction.”
“Sounds like a very worthy enterprise, but why did they pick reptiles to focus on rather than something with more universal appeal? Furry creatures for instance; everyone loves the cute and cuddly.” Ianto had nothing against reptiles, he found many of them fascinating, but from a purely commercial viewpoint he doubted they’d draw the public in as well as most of the universe’s fluffy mammalian and marsupial species might.
“Exactly! I mean sure, a lot of cute furry critters are in danger of extinction too, but there are plenty of organisations out there intent on preserving them precisely because of their universal popularity. Reptiles and amphibians don’t have that going for them, but they’re equally important, they have their own vital roles in various ecosystems. Just because snakes and lizards aren’t as adorable as kneebles and shrodlets doesn’t mean they’re less worthy of protection. Besides, the Regli, the race that founded, and still maintain a controlling interest in Reptile Land, are reptiles themselves; tailless humanoid lizards with smooth, scaly skins. They have a vested interest in educating the rest of the universe on the wonders and beauty of reptilian life.”
Ianto nodded. “I can see how they would. So why exactly are we going there? I mean, not that I wouldn’t be interested in seeing reptiles and such from other worlds, I’m sure it would be very educational, but I get the impression this isn’t strictly a pleasure trip.”
“You’re right, it’s not. Call it a fact-finding mission, and possibly a rescue, depending on whether or not anyone’s still alive to be rescued.”
“Okay, I’ll bite; what happened? Or don’t we know?”
“Let’s just say no one’s entirely sure.”
“Oh, well that’s certainly enlightening.”
Jack smirked at his lover’s sarcastic response. “Here’s what I was told; approximately eight months ago Reptile Land was closed to visitors because a rogue comet was due to pass very close to Erricam, the planet where it’s situated. Space travel in the Erricam solar system was considered potentially hazardous while the comet was in the vicinity, so it seemed like a sensible precaution to shut down tourism for the duration and evacuate all non-essential personnel, just leaving behind a skeleton staff to take care of the exhibits. Erricam is small, about the same size as earth’s moon, and is basically one big resort. There’s a small spaceport, the park itself, tourist accommodation, hotels and stuff, a town with shops and entertainments, housing for staff, and that’s about it. The whole thing takes up less than a quarter of the planet at present, so there’s plenty of room for future expansion. One of the reasons Erricam was chosen as the perfect location for Reptile Land was that it had no native population, not even wildlife; the Regli took a blank slate and turned it into a home away from home for several hundred reptile and amphibian species, then added the resort so the place could more or less pay for itself.”
“Sounds charming, but I gather there’s been some kind of unanticipated problem.”
“That’s a reasonably safe assumption, although exactly what kind of problem has yet to be determined; that’ll be our job.”
“Of course it will; we’re good at that kind of thing.”
“Yes we are.” Jack grinned, obviously relishing the coming adventure. “Anyway, at first the Regli kept in contact with the staff left behind, but as the comet approached, long-range communications went down. That was expected, the comet was emitting all kinds of radiation and static, but the systems should have come back online once interference cleared again. Needless to say, they didn’t. Messages were sent, various scientific institutions attempted to make contact with the planet, but no replies were received. As soon as it was considered safe to do so, a scout ship was despatched to investigate. All but two of the orbiting communications satellites were found to be intact and fully operational, so there was no obvious reason for the lack of response. The ship’s captain reported that they were going to attempt a landing; it was possible that Erricam’s communications array had suffered some sort of damage. The man who’s hiring us, a senior member of Reptile Land’s board of directors, said that a message was received saying the ship had made a safe landing, but that was nine days ago; nothing’s been heard from the captain or any member of her crew since then.”
Jack had gone to the negotiating tables at the Geminex Space Station looking for cargo while Ianto had the Wanderer refuelled, supervised the unloading of the cargo they were carrying, and made sure the various goods got to the right people. The two men had already gained a reputation for being willing to take on exploration assignments, rescues, and other missions most independents would steer clear of no matter how much money they were offered, and Jack had barely taken a seat at a table after registering at the desk as available for hire before a green-haired man from the Rivas Cluster approached, introducing himself as Kalen Murfe.
Aside from his hair colour Murfe could almost have passed for human if not for the translucent webbing between his fingers, which Jack knew was also to be found between his race’s longer than human toes, a necessity for a race that spent as much time in water as they did on land. The Rivans were also smaller and slighter than humans, few of them more than five feet two in height.
Murfe got right down to business; he wanted to hire Jack and his ship to investigate the situation at Erricam. Curiosity piqued, Jack had got all the details and negotiated a mutually acceptable fee for his services; half to be transferred into their account in advance, the remainder payable on completion of the mission.
“Apparently the captain of the ship sent to Erricam is our employer’s eldest daughter, Hilzen. Naturally, he’s worried about her, but finding anyone willing to put themselves and their ship in possible danger in order to investigate was proving difficult.”
“Until we came along,” Ianto said with a smile.
Jack shrugged. “We’ve never turned down an adventure yet.”
“And we won’t this time either. Looks like we’ll be on our way to Reptile Land as soon as we’ve got the rest of this stuff safely stowed.” Ianto gestured at the stacks of supplies and equipment Murfe had arranged as an addition to the agreed payment.
“Always good to be prepared for anything. We can stow whatever we might need planetside in one of the shuttlecraft once we’re underway. We have no idea what we might find down there so I’d rather not land the Wanderer unless we have to.”
“Sensible,” Ianto agreed. “Well, this lot isn’t getting aboard under its own steam; better get to work.”
With the help of a couple of burly Geminex dockhands, they set about loading everything onto their ship, and barely an hour later, the docking clamps released and a couple of tugs guided the Wanderer clear of the station.
The journey to Erricam took five days, during which the two men sorted out what equipment, food, and water supplies they thought they might need down on the planet, stowed them on the largest of the Wanderer’s three shuttles, and thoroughly checked all the shuttle systems. They also readied one of the two smaller shuttles and set its controls so that if necessary it could be called down to the planet on automatic pilot. There was no way of knowing in advance what conditions might be like on the surface, so it never hurt to make contingency plans.
When they arrived in orbit, they didn’t go down right away; first they ran scans of the small planet’s surface, studying it for any kind of volcanic disturbances that might have resulted from its close encounter with the comet. If it had passed near enough it might have exerted a gravitational pull strong enough to cause tremors.
They didn’t find any evidence of volcanic activity, but their scans did reveal a significant number of what appeared to be impact craters.
“I was afraid of that,” Jack sighed. “The planet’s gravity must have captured debris from the comet’s tail as it passed.”
A few dozen rocks of various sizes looked to have settled into a roughly equatorial orbit, giving Erricam a small asteroid belt that hadn’t existed previously, while a number of the larger, heavier chunks must have made it through the atmosphere without burning up completely to impact with the planet’s surface. There was a fair chance that all the people who’d remained behind to take care of the reptiles had been killed during the bombardment, either by the impacts themselves or in the aftermath. Ianto wondered if any of the reptiles had survived. Maybe it would have been better if everyone had been evacuated in advance of the comet’s arrival, including the park’s exhibits.
“What now?” he asked.
“Now we locate Captain Hilzen’s ship, find a safe place to land, and see if there are any survivors.” No matter how sensitive the Wanderer’s sensors were, they couldn’t pick up a handful of individual life signs from high orbit; the only way to find out if anyone was alive down there was to get a whole lot closer. From low orbit in the shuttle it might be possible to pick up something, but there was a lot of dust in the atmosphere. Rocks the size of small buildings hitting a planet’s surface at speed will do that.
They parked the Wanderer in geostationary orbit a safe distance outside the new asteroid belt, so they’d be able to find her again later; despite her size, from Erricam’s surface she would still be little more than a small speck in the vastness of space, and if they had injured to transport aboard they wouldn’t want to waste time trying to get a fix on her position. That done, they shut down unnecessary systems and made for the shuttle bay, getting into full spacesuits before boarding, although they left the helmets off for now. Conditions planetside were as yet unknown; at the very least, the air quality probably wouldn’t be too great. Better to be safe than dead. Just because they were immortal didn’t mean they could afford to take risks, especially not when other lives might be at stake.
The planet’s relatively small size meant that they’d been able to park closer in than they normally would have and the flight down to the surface would have taken less than an hour if it hadn’t been necessary to circumnavigate Erricam several times just outside the atmosphere in an effort to get more detailed scans of the damage and pinpoint the scout ship. That was their first priority.
The airborne dust particles made it difficult for the shuttle’s instruments to get a clear picture of the surface and life signs were still proving elusive; the thermal scanners registered an occasional fleeting blip, but it was impossible to tell whether they were indicative of living creatures or merely the result of random hot spots in the vicinity of impact craters.
On their third orbit, they did at least manage to get a lock on what appeared to be a small ship, so as they came around again they dropped down into the atmosphere and zeroed in on its position, scouting out the area thoroughly before bringing the shuttle gently down on a solid slab of plascrete near the centre of what had once been the planet’s small spaceport. The pilot of the other ship had made the mistake of setting down too close to the edge of the landing field, and by now the already destabilised surface had given way, crumbling beneath the ship’s weight until the small vessel had succumbed to gravity and tipped halfway onto its side. It wouldn’t be going anywhere without extensive repairs, judging by the buckling to its hull, clearly visible even from a distance of several hundred yards.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” Ianto said, checking the instruments in front of him one last time before shutting them down. “No life signs. How many would have been onboard?”
“Aside from the captain, there were four crewmembers,” Jack replied. “Presumably all Rivans, although I could be wrong about that. I don’t recall Murfe telling me; probably should’ve asked. Park personnel numbered twenty-two; twelve Rivans, six Vilch, and four Regli.”
“Vilch? Not sure I’ve come across them before.”
“Humanoid, maybe five-ten in height, bald, light brown leathery skin…”
“Sounds like you’re describing a Weevil.”
Jack laughed. “I’ll admit there are some slight similarities in general appearance, but the Vilch are toothless vegetarians. Not the brightest people in the galaxy but very placid and good-natured. They generally work as labourers. Nice folks, not very stimulating conversationalists, but friendly.”
“Right. So that means we’re looking for a grand total of twenty-seven people, plus any of the exhibits we might come across.”
“We’re here primarily for the people, the crew of that ship first since they have the best chance of still being alive, then the park staff if any of them came through the bombardment in one piece. Once we’ve sorted all that out, it’ll be up to the board of directors whether or not they try to salvage anything else from down here.”
“But what about the endangered species?”
“You want to spend weeks here searching under rocks and in crevices for small lizards and amphibians?”
Ianto stared at the shuttle’s forward viewscreen, taking in the bleak view. “Not particularly.”
“Besides, even if we did try to salvage any of the residents, where would we put them? A lot of them probably require very specialised environments; we’d most likely kill them by trying to save them. No, right now they stand a better chance if we just leave them to fend for themselves.”
“I guess you’re right.” Ianto unfastened his seat restraints and stood, reaching for his helmet and putting it on as Jack shut down the viewscreen and a few other non-essential systems to conserve power. After giving each other’s suits a final safety check, the two men picked up portable scanners, and clipped flashlights, small tool pouches, and first-aid kits to their suit belts. Jack opened the weapons locker, taking out two hand lasers, slotting one into his holster and handing the other to Ianto, along with extra power packs.
“Just in case we find anything injured.”
“Hopefully we won’t need them.” Ianto holstered the weapon and secured it as Jack slung the strap of a larger laser cutter over his shoulder.
“Best be prepared; might have to cut our way inside the ship.”
“Should I take one as well?”
Jack shook his head. “One should be enough. No sense both of us being overburdened.”
Leaving the shuttle via the forward airlock they made their way across the cracked and blistered plascrete towards the scout ship, scrambling carefully down the pile of rubble at the edge of the landing field before making a complete circuit of the craft, looking for a way in.
Ianto paused, frowning, running his gloved fingers lightly across deep scoring that marred part of the hull near the small vessel’s nose.
“What’ve you got?” Jack joined him.
“Not sure.” There were four shallow parallel scrapes etched into the surface. “What do these look like to you?”
They exchanged a look; if it had only been one or two scratches they could have easily been dismissed as scrapes caused by sharp rocks, but not four, and not the way they were arranged. More than anything else they resembled claw marks. Ianto spread his hand out, measuring it against the gouges, but if they were indeed made by claws, whatever made them had hands quite a bit bigger than his own.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Jack said. “I didn’t ask much about the lizards on display here so there could be some large species wandering around loose, or this could have been caused by some kind of tool, a grapple maybe.”
If that were the case, then where was the grapple now, and where was the person who’d deployed it? Ianto refrained from asking; he was reasonably certain the marks hadn’t been made by any kind of tool, and from the expression on Jack’s face, he didn’t believe that either. Something was out there, something with claws. It could be a member of the scout ship’s crew, of course; like Jack had said earlier, they might not all be Rivans. Or maybe it was one of the Regli; Jack hadn’t mentioned whether or not they had claws, but right now Ianto wasn’t inclined to ask.
“Okay, let’s find a way in, see if anyone’s home.” No life signs were registering on their handheld scanners, so either the scout ship was shielded too heavily for the scanners to penetrate, or if anyone was aboard, they were no longer alive. Whichever was the case, they needed to find out.
They continued their search around to the other side of the craft, where they found an airlock that was accessible if Ianto gave Jack a boost onto the stubby retractable wing used for atmospheric flight. Once there, Jack reached down a hand to assist his lover. Surprisingly, the control panel, set inside a small hatch by the door, was still operational and the airlock’s outer door slid open, grating a little from the dust. The two men stepped inside, closing the door behind them and waiting impatiently while the airlock cycled and the inner hatch opened.
There was still power because the lights came up as they entered, giving them a clear view of the main cabin’s interior. Bits and pieces of equipment were strewn everywhere, along with personal belongings, most likely scattered when the ship had toppled over. There was nobody about though, and no bodies to be seen either.
“I’ll check aft in the crew quarters,” Ianto said. “You check the bridge and the engine room.” That was accessed via a hatch in the floor just outside the door to the bridge.
They searched the scout ship end to end, checking in every nook and cranny, but there was no sign of the crew, either living or dead, and no blood, so it was a reasonably safe bet that all five crewmembers had been in one piece when they’d exited their ship, presumably under their own stream, to begin their investigation. The last recorded entry in the ship’s log was Captain Hilzen, an attractive green-haired woman, reporting a safe landing.
“The planet has suffered significant damage, bombarded by space debris. We’re about to commence the search for survivors; we’ll start with the staff housing, while my communications officer assesses the damage to the relay station. If we fail to find anyone, we’ll extend the search to the resort itself, and then the town. It’s possible the staff might have been forced to relocate for some reason. Hilzen Murfe, Captain of the scout ship Izur, out.” The date stamp on the entry was fourteen days earlier; it must have been recorded shortly after the ship landed.
“Well, now we know which way they intended to go that at least gives us some idea of where to start our own search,” Jack commented. “Come on; no point wasting any more time here.”
Ianto gave the main cabin a final look before following Jack back into the airlock. “What I want to know is, since the ship is still habitable and with plenty of supplies aboard, why haven’t any of the crew returned here since they left?”
If anyone had, they would have updated the ship’s log, at the very least reporting their progress with the search.
“I don’t know,” Jack said quietly. “That’s what we’re here to find out.”
“Where to first?”
“The spaceport buildings and the communications array,” Jack said. “After that we’ll follow in Captain Hilzen’s footsteps; staff quarters, the resort buildings, then the town. If we haven’t found the Izur’s crew or any sign of the missing staff members by then…” He trailed off, setting the airlock to cycle them out, and a few minutes later they exited the ship, closing the airlock behind them and sliding down off the wing.
TBC in Part 2