Characters: Jack, Ianto, OCs.
Word Count: 3892
Summary: Jack and Ianto find the first signs of the missing staff… and something else.
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.
Back to Part 1
They had a lot of ground to cover and it was already late in the planet’s seventeen-hour long day, approaching mid afternoon, unless Ianto missed his guess, which was unlikely; he’d developed an uncanny knack for measuring time, no matter what planet they were on, and was seldom wrong.
Ianto paused to study the position of the sun overhead. He’d studied all the available data on Erricam during the flight from Geminex, knew its seasons, the ratio of day to night at this time of year, the planet’s period of rotation… He made the necessary calculations almost without conscious thought.
“We’d best get a move on; the sun will be setting in less than four hours, full night in about six.”
Not that the sunlight was all that bright anyway, thanks to the amount of dust in the atmosphere; there was a hazy, unreal quality to the light that reminded him of what he’d experienced during a partial solar eclipse back on earth.
Jack nodded, turning to scramble back up onto the landing field and setting off at a jog across the cracked surface. Ianto caught up and fell into step beside him, both of them constantly scanning their surroundings both visually and with their instruments.
The port buildings were still more or less standing but their walls were cracked and unstable. A quick check of the interior revealed no sign of life. Contrary to expectations, the communications array was miraculously undamaged, still had a power supply, and appeared fully operational. That didn’t bode well for the staff left behind to take care of everything following the evacuation. Surely if anyone had still been alive they would have tried to get a message out.
If anything, the staff housing was in a worse state than the spaceport. A boulder the size of the shuttlecraft Jack and Ianto had flown down in had hit the farthest edge of what must once have been a picturesque little village, made up of cosy cottages, each standing on its own plot of land. Even under layers of dust, it was clear the gardens had been well-tended, filled with flowers, fruit, and vegetables, although now most of the vegetation was dead or dying, only the trees and shrubs still making a valiant effort to survive.
Some of the cottages had been damaged or outright crushed by flying debris, while others had cracked open thanks to the concussion wave created by the initial impact. What sent a chill down Jack and Ianto’s spines, however, was that the doors and windows to a couple of the least damaged buildings appeared to have been ripped from their hinges by powerful claws, gouges in the walls bearing an unsettling resemblance to the ones on the nose of the scout ship. Inside one of the torn open cottages, they found the walls, ceiling, and floor of the main room splattered with what their instruments identified as the blood of a Vilch.
“That can’t be good.”
“No,” Jack agreed, “and I’m not especially eager to meet whatever did this.”
The furnishings had been ripped to shreds and scattered as if in some kind of frenzy, and there were deep gouges in the walls.
“Neither am I, but we have a job to do. The scout ship crew might still be alive. Before we go looking for them though, I vote we stop by our shuttle first and arm ourselves with something that has a bit more stopping power than the laser pistols.”
“Agreed.” If there was even a chance there might be some unknown creature with a taste for flesh lurking out there it would be stupid to wander around without an adequate means of defending themselves.
Back at the shuttlecraft, Jack opened the weapon locker again and passed Ianto a high-powered projectile weapon not too dissimilar to his old Torchwood Special, but lighter in weight and with a larger magazine holding fifty small but deadly rounds. Ianto clipped four spare magazines onto his belt as Jack selected a needle gun for himself, along with several spare cartridges. The slivers of metal it fired would stop a charging Bozog so it should be effective against whatever they might find themselves dealing with.
Jack eyed the big plasma gun then shook his head; it was a formidable weapon, but it was also heavy and impractical considering they had a lot of ground to cover.
Ianto tapped him on the shoulder and passed him a small but powerful lamp that fitted into a clip on his helmet. Jack accepted it with a nod, fitting it into place; if their search continued into the planet’s night, as seemed probable, they’d need to use some sort of flashlight and the helmet lamps would leave their hands free.
Reaching past Jack, Ianto picked up a sharp hunting knife in a sheath and added that to the equipment on his belt. “You never know. Laser knives are all very well, but they have a bad habit of cauterising wounds, and that’s not always desirable.”
“You, Ianto Jones, can be quite bloodthirsty at times. I’m not sure I approve.”
“I guarantee if I have to use this you won’t be complaining.” Ianto’s tone was dry as the Sahara.
“You’re probably right about that. Ready?”
“What do you think?”
Armed to the teeth, and as prepared as they could be to face whatever they might run into, the two immortals exited the shuttle once more, and Jack used the controls on the sleeve of his suit to activate the craft’s forceshield. If there was indeed some kind of dangerous creature roaming the planet, the last thing they wanted was for it to rip open their primary means of escape. They could bring another shuttle down on autopilot, but they’d have to wait for it to arrive and if they were under attack that wouldn’t be ideal. Better to take all possible precautions with the one they already had.
It was almost dusk by now, Erricam’s sun a pale, hazy smear just above the horizon as Jack and Ianto trekked across the landing field heading this time towards the Reptile Land resort.
It was a bit of a wasted trip. They got there just as the last faint rays of sunlight were fading from the sky only to find most of the hotel complex reduced to a jumble of rubble at the bottom of a deep crater. Some of the outlying villas had survived more or less intact, but as with the staff cottages, their doors and windows had been ripped open. At least this time there was no trace of blood anywhere so presumably no one had been sheltering inside at the time.
Half a mile beyond the ruins of the resort, the Reptile Land theme park began, but the surrounding fences and the gates had been all but obliterated and the ground churned up. Even the cheery signs were damaged, some tipped over, several trampled into the ground, and those still standing scored with claw marks.
“Doesn’t look very welcoming, does it?” Jack commented.
“Wouldn’t be my destination of choice for a vacation, but I suppose it’s not looking its best right now. Do we go on or turn back and continue the search in the morning?”
A loud hissing snarl from somewhere inside the park made up their minds for them; glancing at each other, they clicked their helmet lamps on, drew their weapons, and turned in the direction the sound had come from.
“Whatever that was, it did not sound friendly. If any of the scout ship’s crew are still alive, we should probably find them before it does,” Jack said.
“Fun times.” Ianto checked his weapon and squared his shoulders. “After you.”
Jack pouted. “Why do I always have to go first?”
“You don’t; I’ll take the lead if you prefer…”
“No, that’s okay, just stay behind me and watch your back.”
“I have done this kind of thing before.”
“I know, we just have no idea yet what we might be up against. Aside from the staff, the exhibits, and the crew there shouldn’t be anything here. The planet’s supposed to be uninhabited; no native life forms.”
“Maybe something was hibernating underground and the recent bombardment woke it up.”
“Well that’s a cheery thought!” Jack scowled at his lover before stalking off into the park.
“It’s possible.” Ianto hurried after Jack.
“Never said it wasn’t, it’s just not a particularly pleasant possibly.”
The two men picked their way across the uneven ground, skirting their way around the occasional crater, peering into the depths as they passed, just in case anything was lurking down there, but there were no signs of life anywhere. If not for the sound they’d heard earlier, they could have believed nothing down here had survived Erricam’s close encounter with the comet. But something had made that sound; it hadn’t been the wind because there wasn’t any, and Ianto doubted it had been a rockslide either.
After walking for almost an hour, past what was left of the various reptile enclosures in this section of the park, they reached what had once been a group of low buildings, although they were little more than piles of rubble now, with corroded steel reinforcement rods sticking out here and there. It was hard to say what purpose they’d served; possibly they’d been souvenir shops, a café, facilities for visitors, the kinds of things you’d find in any zoo, or maybe they’d housed some of the more delicate species. There wasn’t enough left of them to even make an educated guess.
What they used to be hardly mattered because the first thing Jack and Ianto saw when they stepped past a crumbling section of wall were the skulls, perhaps a dozen of them, humanoid but somehow not quite human. They were piled in a corner, on top of other bones, all of them gnawed clean, and they didn’t have the look of age about them; they were too white, too fresh.
“I think we just found the park’s skeleton staff,” Ianto muttered, wincing at the unintentional bad joke.
Jack didn’t appear to notice. “What’s left of them anyway. Looks like mostly Rivans, and this.” He gently nudged a larger skull, too round for anything resembling a human. “Vilch.”
“There’re a few more over there.” Ianto pointed.
A careful search revealed the dismembered skeletons of several more beings. Altogether, they counted the remains of four Vilch and sixteen Rivans.
“Where are the other two Vilch?” Jack mused.
“Forget them for a moment; I thought you said there were only twelve Rivan members of staff.”
“I did.” Jack gave a gusty sigh. “The others must be the Izur’s crew.”
“Which means we’re still short by one Rivan, plus two Vilch.”
“And four Regli; none of these are Regli skulls, they’re too small and the wrong shape.” Jack gestured at their grisly find.
“Right, so until we find evidence to the contrary, we potentially have seven survivors.”
“Maybe.” Jack was bent over, carefully easing something from beneath the second pile of bones.
“What’s that?” Ianto joined him.
“Breather.” Jack straightened up, holding the shredded breathing mask, designed to filter out airborne pollution. “Ship’s crew were probably all wearing them. No sign of fabric though, which begs the question of where their clothing went.”
“I’d say the more important issue is where their bodies went.”
Jack looked flatly at his lover. “I’d think that was self-evident; the bones have been gnawed, obviously something ate the rest.”
“Yes, but exactly what ate them and where is it now?” Ianto looked around nervously.
“I don’t know, but safe to say that whatever it is, this is its nest and it’s most likely out hunting. We heard it earlier…” Jack looked out into the night. “It could be anywhere, it’s got a whole planet to roam around on, but it’s a safe bet it’ll return here eventually. Maybe we should just sit tight and wait.”
“What about the seven missing people? Are we just going to hang around here while it systematically hunts down and kills them all?”
Sighing, Jack shook his head. “No, you’re right, we can’t do that; not while there’s still a chance we can save them. Looks like we’ll have to do some hunting of out own.”
“Let’s get to it then. The sooner we find any survivors and get out of here the happier I’ll be.”
“The happier we’ll both be,” Jack corrected. “This place is starting to give me the creeps.”
“Only starting to?” Ianto muttered as he traipsed after his lover to continue their search. “Sometimes I worry about you.”
“Only sometimes?” Jack threw back, a faint chuckle in his voice.
It wasn’t one of the survivors they encountered first, however. Thankfully they saw the creature before it caught sight of them.
“What was that you said back at Geminex Station about Jurassic Park?” Ianto hissed.
“That is definitely not one of the park’s exhibits,” Jack replied, voice equally hushed even though it was doubtful the creature would hear them since all their communications were through their suit radios, transmitted directly into the earpieces they wore inside their helmets. “They didn’t have anything that big!”
What they were looking at was undoubtedly a reptile, bipedal, and approximately nine feet tall. Its legs, covered in green scales, were powerfully muscled and ended in three-toed feet, each toe tipped with a heavy claw. The chest and stomach were protected by some kind of natural bony armour plating beneath the leathery skin, while the back, shoulders, and head were not only scaled but also covered in short, wicked looking horny spikes. The arms were long, and the hands five-fingered, again terminating in viciously sharp claws.
The creature’s head gave the impression of being a bit small for its body, and the mouth far too wide, lined with teeth like knives. A forked tongue darted in and out, tasting the air, making Ianto glad he was wearing an impermeable spacesuit; the monster wouldn’t be able to scent him through that. He didn’t know how well it could see with its small, red eyes, so he kept as still as he could, uncomfortably aware that his and Jack’s helmet lamps were shining out like beacons in the deepening darkness.
“So what do we do now?” Ianto kept his eyes fixed on the slightly hunched figure as it stalked slowly across a rocky landscape, presumably the carefully recreated habitat of one of the exhibits, visible only because the first of Erricam’s two large moons had already risen, casting diffuse light across the ground. He didn’t want to risk losing track of it, preferring to know exactly where it was.
“Any doubt in your mind that’s what’s responsible for the bones we found back there?”
“So we kill it; problem solved.”
“And what if it’s sentient? Some race we’ve never encountered before?”
“You want to go out there and try making conversation with it, be my guest, but anything that’s happy to eat twenty sentient beings…”
“Okay, you’ve made your point; we kill it. We can worry about whether or not it was sentient later. Just one more question.” Inside his helmet, Ianto gnawed on his bottom lip.
“Have we got enough firepower? I wouldn’t want to shoot at that thing and just piss it off. It’s pretty well armoured.”
“Good point. Best get as close to it as we can then aim for its mouth, eyes, underarms, anywhere the armour looks weakest. I knew I should’ve brought the plasma gun.”
“It’s a bit late to go back for it now.” Ianto took a quick look around the edge of the boulder he and Jack were now hiding behind, re-checking the monster’s position; it was much closer now, moving in their general direction, and if it didn’t change course would pass maybe four or five yards to their right. “This better work; I have no desire to find out if I can come back from being eaten.”
“I’m not eager to put that to the test either. If it comes close enough I’ll just use the laser cutter, take its legs right off. Might slow it down a bit.”
“And you called me bloodthirsty.”
“When it’s a matter of life or death, I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we’re the ones left alive.”
Luckily for them, the lizard creature seemed not to have detected their presence; it was sampling the air as it stalked across the barren ground, obviously following a scent. Ideally, they would have let it go past and then attacked it from behind, the hell with sportsmanship, but its back was even more heavily armoured than its front, and getting hit by ricochets wouldn’t do them any good, so they waited until the last moment before jumping out of cover and opening fire with everything they’d got, aiming for its head and neck.
It swung one long arm at them, slashing with its claws, while the other swatted at the tiny projectiles being fired at it as if they were nothing more than annoying insects, but the projectiles and needles hit and they stung, and when the creature opened its mouth to hiss at them, Jack swung the laser cutter around and fired straight between the gaping jaws, obliterating a good portion of its head. It toppled over like a felled tree and lay still, unmoving.
“Job done.” Jack grinned triumphantly back at his partner, but Ianto was looking past right him.
“Uh, not quite yet. There’s another one.” He pointed.
Jack spun around, eyes scanning the area, seeking out what Ianto had spotted. This creature was the same as the first but moving on all fours, head swinging slowly from side to side, tongue flickering in and out of its gaping mouth.
“Retreat and regroup,” he ordered, grabbing Ianto by the arm and pulling him away.
The second of the lizards had no immediate interest in them; drawn more by the scent of fresh blood, as soon as it reached the first lizard’s body it settled down to eat, which pretty much answered the question of whether or not the beasts were intelligent. While some sentient species did for one reason or another eat their own kind, there were generally elaborate rituals involved, and they tended to frown on outsiders doing the killing for them. With its attention directed elsewhere, it proved easier to dispatch than the first one as Jack simply approached from behind and used the laser cutter to slice its head most of the way off.
Jack studied the two bodies carefully, tipping the second one over onto its back, with Ianto’s assistance.
“I wonder how many more of these things might be out there.” Ianto stood guard, gun at the ready.
“Two more, most likely.” Jack straightened up.
“Huh?” Ianto turned to stare at him. “How d’you work that out? Do you know what these things are?”
“I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I have a feeling they might be the Regli, or at least used to be before… something happened to them. It’s like they’ve evolved somehow from a peaceful, civilised people into…” Jack shrugged. “Monstrous versions of themselves. Look, it’s just a theory, I don’t have any proof, and these things are taller, more muscular than any Regli I’ve ever met, but the similarities are hard to ignore. Five fingers and three toes is a rarity, most species have the same number of fingers as toes; the Regli have always been a bit of an anomaly in that respect. Then there are the wide mouths and flattish faces… Okay, Regli are omnivores and these are clearly carnivores, but still, it would explain why we didn’t find any of the Regli among the dead.”
“But why would the comet only affect the Regli, and not the Vilch or the Rivans?”
“How do we know it didn’t? All we’ve found are the skeletons of the other two races; we’ve got no way of knowing whether or not they experienced their own transformations before the bigger, stronger creatures killed and ate them.”
It was a good point.
“Assuming you’re right, that would leave two more of these monsters still out there, and potentially only three survivors that may or may not have been similarly affected. I don’t know if that puts us in a better or worse position than before, but I guess we’d better get on with our search before we run into any more of these things.”
“The laser cutter’s down to less than a quarter charge. How much ammunition do you have left?” Jack asked.
Ianto checked his gun. “This magazine’s about two-thirds capacity and I’ve got one spare, plus two re-loads for the laser pistol.”
“Didn’t look like the pistols had much effect on these creatures, and I only have two more cartridges for the needle gun.”
“You’re thinking of going back to the shuttle for the plasma gun?”
“It would make short work of the other two nasties, or any other hostiles we might come across. I could take that and you could have the laser cutter with a couple of spare power packs. Better to delay the search for an hour or two than to run out of ammunition while battling one of our friends here.” Jack nudged the nearest dead monster with his foot.
“That’s true. Okay then, back to the shuttle it is, but we need to resume the search as soon as we’ve re-armed. If there are still survivors…”
Jack nodded understanding. So far during their search the only life signs they’d picked up on their scanners had been those of the lizard creatures, but that didn’t mean there was nothing alive still out there. The dust still hanging in the air was interfering with their instruments to the point that their effective range was reduced to somewhere in the region of fifty galactic rels, which in earth measurements was approximately twenty-seven yards. Anything beyond that wouldn’t register; they could already have passed relatively close to the survivors without even knowing.
On the plus side, at least they wouldn’t have any trouble finding their way back to the shuttle; its beacon was a great deal more powerful than the portable scanners, and their suits had a lock on its position at all times. Rather than retracing the circuitous route they’d taken to get here, they could head straight towards it by the most direct route, only detouring around any obstructions they ran into, and cut their return journey by more than half.
Jack logged their current coordinates into his suit’s computer, Ianto beside him doing the same so that they could return to this point once they were re-armed. Before leaving Ianto also crouched down by the dead lizards, snapping open a pouch on his belt and taking samples of blood, scales, and flesh from both of them for later analysis. With luck that might provide answers to whether these were two of the missing Regli, evolved out of all recognition, or something else entirely.
Snapping the pouch closed, Ianto rose to his feet, and weapons at the ready he and Jack returned to the shuttle once more. It was a good thing they’d packed the big gun; they might well need it before the night was over.
TBC in Part 3