Characters: Jack, Ianto, OCs.
Word Count: 3967
Summary: Has anyone survived on Erricam? Jack and Ianto won’t end their search until all of the missing are accounted for.
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 2
Armed well enough to take on a T-Rex if necessary, although Ianto sincerely hoped they wouldn’t come across anything worse than they’d already faced, Jack and Ianto headed back to where they’d left the two dead lizard creatures, ready to continue their search from there.
They didn’t encounter anything, or pick up any life signs on their scanners, until they neared the two bodies, but then the small screens lit up with dozens of tiny blips. The two men picked up the pace, treading carefully and quietly, rounding the rock they’d hidden behind earlier to be confronted by an unexpected sight.
At first, Ianto wondered if the creatures they’d killed somehow shared his and Jack’s inability to stay dead; they appeared to be twitching all over, but almost immediately he realised the impression of movement was actually caused by a host of small reptiles and amphibians, swarming over the bodies, feasting.
“At least those things are serving a useful purpose now,” Jack said mildly. “And if they were once the Regli, they’re fulfilling their duty by caring for the exhibits. Plenty of food for everyone.”
“The carnivores anyway. The vegetarian species are out of luck.” Ianto frowned at the small creatures. “You know the saying, ‘You are what you eat’? I hope what they’re eating doesn’t make all of them transform into something dangerous. We’d really have a fight on out hands then.”
“Not much we can do about it right now anyway. A fully equipped scientific expedition can be sent later, if the board of directors think it’s warranted; our priority is still the search for survivors. At least now we can report back that some of the exhibits are still alive, if not thriving. They’ve probably all been preying on each other since their habitats got wrecked, the stronger, bigger species eating the smaller ones. I don’t envy the people who’ll have to round them all up and try to figure out what survived and what didn’t; that’ll be one hell of a job. Let’s just leave these little guys to their feast; might be the first decent meal they’ve had in weeks.”
They skirted around the corpses and continued on through the park, the ground ahead of them lit by the diffuse radiance of Erricam’s two moons, both having now risen, and the brighter beams of their helmet lamps. As they walked, they spotted countless scurrying shapes heading in the opposite direction, more reptiles going to join the feeding frenzy. It made walking difficult, since Jack and Ianto were trying to keep one eye on their surroundings, the other on their scanners, and now had to watch where they were putting their feet too, not wanting to trample innocent and possibly valuable creatures to death. But the further they went the fewer of the small reptiles they encountered, although they did find the bones of several larger lizards, perhaps herbivores that had become dinner for some of the larger carnivorous species.
Reaching the perimeter fence at the far side of the park, which was miraculously still mostly intact, they turned to follow it, intending to work their way around to the main entrance again. The park covered almost ten square miles, a lot of ground for two people to search even in optimum conditions, the task made considerably more difficult by the rough terrain, but splitting up wasn’t an option, especially if there really were more of the monstrous lizard creatures about.
“Maybe they already killed and ate each other,” Jack said hopefully. “Ran out of people to eat and decided their own kind was more useful as food.”
“We can hope,” Ianto agreed, perking up slightly at the thought. That hope was soon dashed though as only a short while later the sound of a weapon being fired split the darkness, and both men heard the same hissing snarl as earlier, although this time it seemed further away. “Or maybe not,” Ianto sighed as he and Jack headed towards the sounds, making what speed they could over the uneven ground.
Jack couldn’t go all that fast anyway, burdened as he was beneath the size and weight of the plasma gun. The laser cutter was lighter, but still awkward to carry, bouncing about on Ianto’s shoulder as he ran, and it wasn’t long before they slowed to a jog, for their own safety on the treacherous terrain as well as to ensure they didn’t reach the source of the intermittent hissing too spent to deal with the creature responsible.
They were forced to detour around a deep crater that abruptly loomed in their path, but picked the wrong direction, meaning they had to climb over the wrecked fence surrounding one of the park’s habitats in order to get back on track. It was awkward but unavoidable since a few yards beyond the crater there was an undamaged section of fencing that stretched as far as they could see, too high for them to climb in space suits and topped with some kind of barbed wire to prevent tourists trying to climb in with the exhibits. Ianto went first, reaching down to pull the plasma gun up, then Jack scrambled up beside him, looping the strap around himself once more. Both men were breathing hard.
“Could’ve done without that,” Jack panted.
“You’re the one wanted to bring that thing; don’t blame me if it’s too much for you to handle.”
“Bite me!” Jack snapped back. “You just wait until this beauty saves your life.”
“Been there, done that,” Ianto said in a bored tone, flashing Jack a grin. “You okay to keep going or do you need to rest for a bit and get your breath back, old man?”
“Are you serious? I was doing stuff like this before your grandparents were born. If anyone needs to rest it’s you. Come on, lazybones, up and at ‘em!”
“Please, after you,” Ianto gestured graciously. “Age before beauty.”
Jack laughed. “I may be older than you, but I still look damned good for my age.” He grew serious again. “Keep your eyes peeled, we must be getting close.”
“You too.” Scrambling down the other side of the ruined fence they pushed on in the direction they’d been heading, but when they heard weapons’ fire again it was coming from a different direction.
“Damnit!” Jack muttered, changing course. “Why’d they have to move?”
“Maybe because whoever’s shooting doesn’t know we’re looking for them,” Ianto suggested.
“Oh come on, they must have heard us shooting earlier!”
“Perhaps, but then we stopped and went back to our shuttle. For all we know, whoever that is out there could be trying to find us.”
“Great, so we could wind up chasing each other around all night.”
Ianto raised an eyebrow, looking enquiringly at his lover through his helmet’s faceplate. “You got something better to do?” Seeing Jack’s grin, he shook his head. “Or course you do; forget I said that.”
He set off at a fast jog, Jack practically on his heels, this time heading deeper into the park again. In less than half an hour they found themselves once more approaching the jumble of buildings near the centre of the park, where the creatures that may or may not have once been the Regli had made their nest. This time, however, they were coming at them from a different direction.
Through gaps in the crumbling walls they caught sight of movement; one of the lizard creatures appeared, having climbed up a pile of rubble to crouch at the top, its back half turned to them. It was focused on a still mostly intact section of wall some distance ahead of it, and as it let out another one of those hissing snarls, they could just make out the flickering movement of its tongue tasting the air.
Jack and Ianto exchanged a glance, not needing to say a word, and started forwards again, Jack heading straight for the monster while Ianto, with less to carry, circled wide to the left, aiming to reach whoever was behind the wall and make sure they kept their head down. Plasma guns the size of the one Jack was carrying could be a bit indiscriminate and it wouldn’t do to accidentally kill one of the survivors they’d been looking for.
Over his earpiece, Ianto heard Jack say, “I’m in position; got a clear shot at our friend.”
“Hang on, I’m nearly there,” Ianto answered, voice tight, as he dodged around boulders, keeping low, not wanting to get shot at by mistake. Then he spotted the figure, ahead and to his right, a small, slight woman dressed in ship’s overalls and a breathing mask like the one he and Jack had found earlier. Her green hair almost glowed in the moonlight, a bright splash of colour against the hazy brown and grey tones of the wall behind her.
She must have caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye because she suddenly swung her weapon towards him and he half raised his hands in the universal gesture that meant, ‘it’s okay, I’m not a threat.’ Her shoulders relaxed marginally and she gave a short nod, turning her attention back towards the real danger, the approaching lizard creature.
Ianto darted over to her, glanced around the end of the wall, and jerked back behind it.
“They’re both here, Jack,” he hissed into his suit radio.
“No, twpsyn, the damned monsters! The other one’s slinking along on all fours, and it’s a lot closer than I’d like.”
“Can you take that one out while I handle the other?”
Ianto rolled his eyes, even though Jack couldn’t see him. “Isn’t that why I’ve got the laser cutter? I don’t want to be shooting at it when you open fire though, I didn’t come this far to have you accidentally blow me to kingdom come. We’ll keep our heads down while you take out your target; with any luck that might distract this one and give me an opening.”
“Understood. You might want to duck. Firing on three. One…”
Ianto tugged at the Rivan woman’s shoulder, urging her down. She looked at him, uncomprehending, a tiny frown creasing her forehead.
Ianto ducked down, pressing as close to the base of the wall as he could, tugging at her again, and she got the message, dropping beside him.
The sound of the plasma gun was a muted roar, and the lizard creature’s snarl turned into an ear-splitting screech as Jack hit his target.
“Let’s see how well you do without a head!” Jack’s voice came clearly to Ianto’s ear.
“No need to sound quite so gleeful,” Ianto responded mildly. “I take it yours won’t be causing any more trouble?”
“Not unless it can grow a new head.”
“Don’t even joke about that. Okay, hold your fire; my turn now.”
Readying the laser cutter, Ianto leapt to his feet, swung around the end of the wall, and came face to face with what he hoped was the last of the monsters. Last time he’d checked it had already been way too close for comfort, but now it was practically on top of him, less than two yards away! It opened its jaws wide as it hissed, malevolent red eyes fixing on him, a string of yellowish green saliva dribbling from the side of its mouth.
On the plus side, there was no way Ianto could miss at this range; he hit the trigger, firing the laser’s beam straight down the thing’s throat, then sweeping it upwards, cleaving the body in half along its spine so the two sides fell open while remaining joined along the creature’s belly.
“Gods, Ianto, watch where you’re aiming that thing!” Jack lunged to one side although in truth the laser’s beam was aimed too low to have even hit the pile of rubble he’d been lying on.
“Sorry, turns out these lizard things are not easily distracted when they’re hunting. It was a lot closer than I was expecting. You alright?”
“Fine, just a bit of warning would’ve been nice. You find the survivors?”
“Only one; someone from the ship. Why don’t you join us?”
“I’m on my way.”
Ianto turned his attention to the woman, now on her feet and watching him curiously. The top of her head only came up to his shoulder. He turned his suit radio to external broadcast and spoke to her in Galactic standard.
“Hello! Ianto Jones, first mate of the Happy Wanderer, at your service. And you are?”
“Hilzen Murfe, captain of the scout ship Izur.” She half-shrugged. “Or I was. Now my crew are dead and my ship damaged beyond repair.”
“I’m sorry for your losses. My partner and I got here as fast as we could.”
“I am grateful. I did not truly believe anyone would come to aid us.”
“Your father encountered some difficulties finding anyone willing to come all the way out here looking for you,” Jack said, joining them, the plasma gun slung over his shoulder.
“My father sent you?”
“You said ‘us’,” Ianto butted in. “Are there other survivors?”
“One other, Emsa, one of the Vilch who stayed to care for the reptiles. There were two, but her mate, Gursa, succumbed to his injuries yesterday. I did all I could for him, but the wounds became infected and I didn’t have the right medicines.”
“You did the best you could in impossible circumstances,” Jack reassured her. “Captain Jack Harkness, of the good ship Happy Wanderer.”
“You said you spoke to my father?”
“I did.” Jack nodded. “He’s the one who hired us for this mission. He’ll be glad to know you’re alive.”
“Would that the rest of my crew were as well, but those monsters…”
“Do you know if there are any more of them? We killed two others earlier, the same kind as these two.”
“I’ve only seen four, and Emsa says the same; four monsters that seemed to hunt in pairs. My science officer had a theory that they could be the four Regli we were told were among the staff left behind to serve as caretakers. She was the last of my crew to be killed, trying to prove her theory. According to Emsa, none of the other staff had seen the Regli since the meteors started to fall. Then the monsters came and started picking them off, one or two at a time. They were unarmed, merely park staff; they had no defence against such creatures.” Hilzen sighed heavily. “By the time my crew and I got here, most of the caretakers were already dead but we didn’t know that. We split up to cover more ground. Maybe if we’d kept together we might have had a chance, but by the time we found Emsa and Gursa and learned what had happened, two of my crew had already been taken. We regrouped, but Curren Sarde, my second in command, fell covering out retreat from two of the creatures; he gave his life to save us.”
“A brave and noble sacrifice indeed,” Jack said solemnly. “How long ago…” He couldn’t finish the question, wondering if some of the crew might have been saved if he and Ianto hadn’t wasted so much time on scanning the planet from orbit.
“Erien Gilse, my science officer, perished four days ago. The only reason I survived as long as I have is that Emsa found me while she was searching for food in the ruins of the town. She took me to her hideout, the vault beneath the town’s bank, where she had taken her mate for safety after he was injured in a rockslide. It was the safest place to be; not even the monsters could have breached the vault.”
“But you left that safety,” Ianto pointed out.
“What else could I do? I knew we would never be safe with the monsters stalking Erricam day and night, and we could not stay there indefinitely; we needed supplies, but food is hard to find. I soon realised if we were to have any chance of survival I must at least try to kill the predators, but the weapons I had available were not equal to the task.” She looked ruefully at the gun in her hand. “I was running low on ammunition anyway; if you had not appeared when you did, I think I should be dead. I owe you my life.”
Jack shook his head. “You owe us nothing. We accepted a job, to come to Erricam and search for survivors, and we would have kept searching until every staff member and all of your crew had been accounted for; we don’t leave jobs half done.”
“We should go and collect Emsa, then take both of you back to our shuttlecraft and get off this planet,” Ianto said quietly. “After we lay her mate to rest.”
“Ianto’s right,” Jack agreed. “When we get back to Geminex, your father and the other Reptile Land board members can study the footage from our suit-cams and decide whether or not there’s anything worth salvaging here. Some of the smaller lizards are still alive, although there’s no way of knowing how much longer they can survive.”
Hilzen nodded sharply. “Yes, I would be off the cursed planet as soon as may be. There is too much death here, the lives of too many good people have been lost.”
“We can stop off at your ship, collect anything you want from there,” Jack said. “Plenty of room aboard our shuttle.”
“Thank you, that would be appreciated. There are personal items belonging to my crew that I would return to their families. I would have liked to take their remains also, for proper burial, but perhaps it would be best to allow all the dead to rest together undisturbed. Their bones would bring no comfort to those who loved them.”
“As you wish. Perhaps we can do something for the dead before we depart though. It seems disrespectful to simply leave them as they are.” Ianto looked towards the shattered building where they’d found the remains of both staff and crew less than half a day earlier.
Jack agreed. “We should at least cover them, give them what dignity we can.”
Captain Murfe led the way to the bank vault where they found Emsa patiently waiting. The Vilch had obviously not expected to be rescued any more than Hilzen had, and clasped first Jack’s and then Ianto’s hands, murmuring her gratitude.
“We will leave this place?”
“We will, yes,” Ianto assured her. “Your mate…”
“Gursa will stay, with the others.” Emsa nodded slowly. “It is best. Gursa’s siblings, their mates, all stayed. Gursa would not wish to be parted from them, even in death. I will go, explain to the families, perhaps return someday, help rebuild.” She picked up her mate, wrapped in what looked like a tablecloth from one of the town’s restaurants. “We go. Tend the dead.”
The Vilch was clearly grieving the loss of her mate, but she did so with a quiet, resigned dignity that brought a lump to Ianto’s throat so that for a moment he couldn’t speak.
Jack inclined his head. “I’ll lead the way.”
As the four of them filed out of the bank, Ianto made a brief detour to grab some more tablecloths from the first restaurant they passed. They’d do well enough as shrouds for the rest of the dead. When they reached the other bodies, Emsa laid Gursa beside the largest pile of remains, then helped collect the rest of the scattered bones, adding them to the pile. Working together they covered the dead with the tablecloths before building a rough cairn over them.
Hilzen and Emsa said prayers over their deceased colleagues and friends in their own languages while Jack and Ianto stood by, heads respectfully bowed. Privately, Ianto hoped the dead would be allowed to rest in peace, undisturbed, and that if Reptile Land was ever rebuilt, it would be on some other planet. Happy tourists no longer belonged here; the sound of laughter would feel like sacrilege in the wake of such carnage.
None of the small group looked back as they walked away. The sun was up by now, making their surroundings seem even more bleak and depressing than they had been beneath the light of the two moons. The wreckage of what once had been a beautiful tourist attraction now stood out as a stark and ugly reminder of the destructive power than could rain down from above. The universe could be cruel.
At the Izur, Hilzen went in alone, collecting the personal effects of her crew and passing out bundles to the other three. She joined them at last with her own belongings in a bag slung over her shoulder, having closed the airlock door on her way out. Looking up at her ship, she ran one hand lightly over the battered hull.
“She was a good ship, she served us well, but now my crew is gone and I do not think I have the heart to begin again, with a new ship and a new crew. We were together for more than a decade.”
“What will you do now?” Jack asked.
“Perhaps stay home for a while. I miss the oceans of my world.”
Emsa laid a kind hand on Hilzen’s shoulder. “Purpose returns when grief fades.”
“Yes.” Hilzen’s eyes softened. “Those are wise words, Emsa.”
Wearily they made their way to the Happy Wanderer’s shuttle, securely stowing the bags and placing all firearms, including Hilzen’s gun, in the weapons locker for safety.
They all breathed a sigh of relief once pre-flight checks were completed and the shuttlecraft finally took off, glad to be leaving Erricam and its monsters behind, but knowing it would likely haunt their dreams for a long time to come.
No one spoke during the short flight up to the Wanderer, each of them sunk so deeply in their own thoughts that it almost came as a surprise when the ship’s bulk loomed ahead of them, the shuttle bay opening to welcome them inside as they approached.
As the doors closed automatically and clamps locked the shuttle in place Jack broke the silence. “Next stop Geminex Space Station.” He turned to address their two passengers. “Ianto will show you to your quarters, then perhaps when you’ve both had a chance to freshen up you’ll join us on the bridge. I can put a call through to your father,” he told Hilzen.
She nodded slowly. “I thank you, it would ease my heart to speak with him.”
“Another mission completed,” Ianto said, joining Jack on the bridge a short while later having settled their guests into two of the Wanderer’s passenger cabins.
“I notice you didn’t say ‘successfully’,” Jack observed.
“Was it a success? Only two survivors out of twenty-seven people.”
“Two is better than none. We did everything we could, Ianto.”
“I know, but still… All those people died horrible deaths; they survived being bombarded by asteroids only to be killed and eaten by… things that might have once been their friends, peaceful, civilised people evolved by some unknown means into monsters. Who’s to say the same thing might not happen on some other planet unlucky enough to be in the path of that comet?”
Jack sighed. “It could happen, but bear in mind only the Regli appear to have been affected, there must have been something in their body chemistry that made them susceptible, and perhaps the samples you took will help scientists figure out what. We did everything we could,” he repeated.
Ianto slumped down in his seat, nodding slowly. “I know we did.”
Difficult as that was to accept, it would have to be enough.