Characters: Ianto, OCs Alun Evans and Abby Oakley.
Word Count: 2655
Summary: Ianto begins teaching Torchwood’s newbies some of the many things they’ll need to know.
Content Notes: A bit of yuckiness.
Written For: Challenge 240: Feed at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
“Right,” said Ianto, coming to stand before Torchwood’s two newest recruits, ex-PC Alun Evans and equally ex-amateur athlete Abby Oakley. “Now the paperwork’s out of the way it’s about time I initiated you both into some of the routine tasks around here.” It was their first morning in their new jobs as Torchwood agents, and they had a lot to learn. “Let’s start with feeding the starving hordes.”
Abby glanced around the Hub at her new colleagues, busy at their workstations. “I thought they usually ate pizza?” She preferred to eat more healthily so had brought a packed lunch with her.
“Pizza is convenient, readily available, and can be eaten hot or cold, so it does get ordered a lot,” Ianto agreed, “along with Chinese, burgers, fish and chips… but I’m talking about the other staving hordes, our alien residents. You’ll need to know what to feed each species, when, and how much because you will be expected to help with caring for them. Put these on; it can be a messy business.”
He handed them old but clean overalls to put on, donning a set himself, before leading the newbies down the stairs towards the cells, and the auxiliary kitchen he used for storing and preparing what the various aliens saw as food.
“Now then, feeding Myfanwy is usually my responsibility, or Jack’s if I’m not available. She has fish heads twice a day.” He gestured to one of the big chest freezers. “I get a bagful out of her freezer every night so they’re defrosted by morning. Half goes in her bucket with a good dollop of her special sauce, the rest is for her evening meal. Feeding her before she’s let out means she’s less likely to go hunting. We don’t want her snacking on some farmer’s livestock; se’s done that before. It’s one of the reasons we mainly feed her fish; that way she’s less likely to see the local sheep as food. Until she gets to know you, if either of you ever has to feed her, just take the bucket up to her roost, put it down, and get out of there. She can be a bit boisterous, not to mention territorial. Okay so far?”
“Yeah. That really stinks though!” Evans wrinkled his nose at the bucket containing Myf’s fish head supper.
“Mackerel does tend to be rather pungent, but she like it, and it’s readily available at the docks. You’ll get used to the smell.” He smirked at them. “Eventually. Next, we have Janet and any other Weevils who happen to be staying with us.” Ianto pointed to several large plastic bins ranged against one wall. “Most of the time we give them dried dog food. The measures are in the tubs and we give them one measure each twice a day in one of these plastic dishes. We use plastic because they’re less likely to smash if they get dropped; Weevils can be a bit careless. Unfortunately they also like to chew their dishes hence the tooth marks, although they’ve been doing that less since we provided them with chew toys. Owen thinks they need to chew things to keep their teeth in good condition, so they get one of these dentastix every evening as well.” He gestured towards a large box on top of one of the plastic bins. “Keeps them occupied overnight. Once a week each Weevil gets a can of dog food for a change; they’re kept in the cupboard over there, and the can opener’s in the drawer above. Janet also likes the occasional rat, preferably skinned and cooked. If you think Myfanwy’s fish smells bad you’ve obviously never smelled roast rat.”
“I think I’ve just gone vegetarian,” Abby said, pulling a face.
“The whole team did that a few years back after almost getting slaughtered and cooked by cannibals. It didn’t last long. Once a month Janet also gets a pizza. She favours anchovies and pineapple, so if you ever take delivery of our pizza order and there’s an anchovy one, take it straight down to her. She likes it hot.”
“Does everyone around here eat pizza?”
“Mostly just us and Janet. Never feed pizza to Myf; she likes it but the cheese and the dough base play havoc with her digestive system, and you really don’t want to know what garlic bread does to her. Let her get her beak on leftover pizza and you’ll be stuck with the task of cleaning up after her. Trust me, it’s not pleasant.”
Abby grimaced. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Me too,” Alun agreed.
“Good. Let’s see, who’s next? Okay, the Hoix is basically our garbage disposal unit; it can eat and digest pretty much anything organic, and some things I’m not sure really qualify. Hoix have cast iron stomachs so it gets any leftover food, as well as the remains of Owen’s autopsy subjects. The alien ones that is, not the humans.”
“Isn’t that a bit barbaric?” Alun asked, just beating Abby to it.
“Hoix are scavengers by nature and they’re almost always hungry. What it can’t eat goes in the furnace.” Ianto turned to face the two newbies. “I know it sounds terrible, even disrespectful, but we have to be practical; we can’t store an unlimited number of corpses, we don’t have the facilities. Most of the creatures that come under Owen’s scalpel are non-sentient species, some predators and some prey. To a Hoix it’s all the same. We do our best to treat deceased sentients with respect, which usually means incineration unless they have family who want to take care of funeral rites themselves, but everything else has to be disposed of somehow. Better it should go to feed a living creature than just go to waste, don’t you think?”
Alun nodded a tad reluctantly. “I guess so.”
“We only kill when we absolutely have to. Most of what the Hoix eats is dead before we get to it. Not everything can survive conditions on earth, or the trip though the Rift, and some creatures fall foul of traffic on arrival. It’s tragic, but it happens. Makes it even more important to properly care for those creatures we do manage to rescue in time. ”
“It’s so sad though,” Abby sighed.
“Yes, it is,” Ianto agreed. “Hopefully the two or you will help us save more accidental visitors. Now, where was I? Ah yes, Weevils and Hoix are both classified as sub-sentients; about on the intellectual level of Stone Age man, but we also have some non-sentient residents. At the moment that’s just our Kneeble colony. We have a family group, more or less, one mature female and her twenty-three adolescent offspring. They’re almost as big as mum now. Genetic tests Owen ran on the family indicate that mum must have mated with at least four male Kneebles, which bodes well for us if they start breeding among themselves.”
“Kneebles?” This time it was Abby asking, a grin tugging at her lips.
“Yes, they are as cute as they sound,” Ianto said with an answering smile. “They look a lot like duckbilled platypuses, except they’re smaller, only growing to about twenty to twenty-five centimetres in length, and their feet are sticky, allowing them to climb even the smoothest surfaces.”
“Awww! They sound adorable!”
“They are, and you’ll meet them in a minute. Now, as to their feeding, Kneebles mainly eat mosses and lichens, that kind of thing. Ours do well on a diet of seaweed and moss, watercress, lettuce, and pondweed, but what they love best of all is slime. Any kind of slime will do, they’re not fussy; as long as it’s organic they’ll eat it. We often use them to help with cleanup; they’re very efficient. Something slimy comes through the Rift and we put the Kneebles to work clearing up after it. They love it.”
Abby nodded. “So they earn their keep.”
“As the Hoix does,” Ianto agreed. “We do our best to give the residents the best quality of life we can manage, but with some that’s not so easy. First we have to figure out their needs and what they like, which can take a while. We treat every creature that falls through the Rift as well as we can; it’s not their fault they get stranded on earth, but those that wind up here immediately become our responsibility, and that’s something we take very seriously. Most of the non-sentients, those that are suited to outdoor life and can eat the local vegetation, along with a few sentients who are too… different to fit into Cardiff society, live a few miles outside the city at a compound we call the Reservation. I’ll take you out there as soon as circumstances allow.”
Both of the newcomers grinned at the prospect of a field trip.
“We have one other resident here at present, mostly because we don’t know what else to do with it. It has very caustic secretions, which are toxic to humans and most earth life, and so far we’ve been unable to determine whether or not it’s sentient. All we can do is keep it in a cell, feed it, and hope it’s comfortable.” Ianto got some raw meat out of one of the fridges. “The only thing we’re sure of is that it’s carnivorous and prefers its food raw. It gets fed once a day; we tried feeding it more often, but I guess it doesn’t have a big appetite.”
Carrying the meat in an old enamelled frying pan, Ianto led the way out of the kitchen and into a section of the cells Alun and Abby hadn’t seen on their original tour. He’d fed most of the other residents before the new team members had arrived, but he’d left this one; unlike the others, it didn’t seem to care much about having a regular feeding schedule. He stopped in front of the only occupied cell. “We call it ‘Yuk’,” he explained.
“Ugh!” Abby leaned forward for a closer look, pulling a disgusted face. “I can see why!”
The shapeless, black, slimy, rubbery lump squatted in one corner of the cell. It had no limbs, no visible eyes, nose, or even a mouth that they could see, but every now and then it shuddered and wobbled like a black jelly, sending ripples over its surface.
“Does it always just… sit there?” asked Alun.
“No, it moves around its cell, but we’re not entirely sure how. Owen did try to examine it when we first found it a year or so ago, but it melted his instruments. As far as we can tell it’s not hostile, it’s never made any attempt to attack us, but I suppose being so toxic it doesn’t have to. Its skin is all the defence it needs.” Ianto opened the front of the cell, tipped the meat on the floor a few feet from Yuk, and retreated, sealing the reinforced Plexiglas barrier again behind him. Yuk showed no interest in the food, just continued to sit where it was, wobbling. “It never eats when anyone’s watching.”
“I thought Weevils were alien enough, but that has to be the most alien thing I’ve ever seen, even in Sci-Fi movies!” Alun sounded awed.
“I’ve seen a lot of aliens, and Jack’s seen even more, but even he agrees for sheer alienness, not much can beat Yuk. Okay, who wants to feed the Kneebles?”
Two hands went up.
“Alright then, lets get some seaweed and go down to their quarters. Kneebles are primarily nocturnal but we have the automatic lighting set so they’re up and around when we are. It’s just more convenient that way.”
Collecting some fresh seaweed from the kitchen, Ianto led the way to a lower level and along a dimly lit corridor to the Kneeble habitat he and Jack had built. Inside, the small creatures were active, swimming in their pool, climbing walls and rocks, chasing each other, squeaking and trilling happily. Their antics were the perfect antidote to Yuk.
Opening the outer of the two doors, a set-up that prevented the Kneebles escaping when anyone entered, Ianto got everyone squeezed in and the door closed before opening the inner one. The moment the three were inside, Kneebles swarmed around them, climbing their legs. Kneebles were friendly and very sociable, always happy to see people, especially if they were bringing food. A chubby dark brown Kneeble scaled Ianto until it reached his chest and clung there, purring contentedly. Ianto petted it. “Hello, Pat. How are you today?”
“Do they all have names?” Abby asked, stroking a pale brown Kneeble.
“They do; there’s an identification chart outside, you’ll soon learn who’s who. Pat is the troublemaker, he goes walkabout by himself given half a chance, and he eats too much so he has to have regular walks on a leash. Walking something that can climb walls and hang from the ceiling is… interesting.”
“Which one is this?” Abby asked.
“Kate; she has a white tip to her tail. The reddish brown one is Rufus.” Ianto went through the rest of the names, finishing with Mama Kneeble. “We didn’t know she was expecting when we found her, but shortly after we got her settled in she built a nest and laid eggs. She’s an excellent mother, keeps most of the kids in line, except for Pat. Nobody can keep him out of trouble. Okay, kids, feeding time!”
Going back to the entrance, Ianto opened the inner door and retrieved the seaweed he’d left in the small area between the two doors, handing it to Alun and Abby.
“What do we do?” Alun asked.
“Throw it everywhere; up on the rocks, in the pool, up their tree… The idea is to make them search for it. That’s much more fun for them than just having it set in front of them and it makes sure they all get their fair share. Not even Pat can be everywhere at once, although he’ll give it a good try.”
Strands of seaweed were soon flying everywhere, with hungry Kneebles swarming after each handful that was thrown, grabbing a bit and retreating with their prize. They were a delight to watch. Once all the food was distributed and the small creatures were busy eating, Ianto led his new teammates back outside, warning them to check themselves for hitchhikers.
“It’s not unheard of for a Kneeble, usually Pat, to cling to someone’s back and try to get out that way. They’re quite smart. The most important thing to remember when feeding any of the residents, no matter how busy and rushed you might be, is to always double-check that every door is securely closed. We can’t have any of them getting out, for their own safety as well as ours.”
As the three of them headed back towards the stairs Abby fell into step with Ianto in the narrow passageway, with Alun walking behind. “So how often do we get feeding duties?”
“I’m in the process of setting up a new rota to include everybody, but you won’t have to feed all the residents when it’s your turn, most of the time you’ll either get the ones in the cells, or the Kneebles. Two people for the cells because several different meals need to be doled out, one for the Kneebles. The feeding schedule for all residents is on the kitchen wall, but I’ll give you a printed schedule when I hand out the rota. Bear in mind that the number of residents can vary, the Rift is active by night as well as during the day, so when it’s your turn always check the overnight logs to see if anything new has arrived. I don’t want to hear of any creature going hungry because it got overlooked. Got it?”
“Got it,” the newbies replied.
“Just one,” said Abby. “How do you roast a rat?”