Characters: Ianto, Jack, OC.
Word Count: 3429
Summary: Ianto and Jack are facing several monotonous weeks aboard their ship before they reach their next destination, until they discover they’re not as alone on board as they’d thought.
Written For: Challenge 235: Ship at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Set in my ‘Ghost of a Chance’ ‘Verse.
Most of the time, there was nothing better than being co-owner of a cargo ship, plying their trade between planets, seeing all the amazing sights the universe had to offer as they travelled from world to world. There was such incredible diversity out here among the stars, so much more than Ianto could have ever imagined back when he’d only been familiar with a small fraction of his own planet.
It had been several years now since Jack had managed to reunite Ianto’s wandering soul with his body and revive him. Several amazing years of roaming from place to place, picking up cargo at one planet and transporting it to another, buying goods to trade along the way, and carrying out a variety of rescue missions. When there was trouble anywhere, if they could help they did, not just because it was what the Doctor would do, but because someday they just might need help from someone else. As well built and carefully maintained as the Happy Wanderer was, that didn’t mean she’d never break down.
Space might be a vacuum, but it wasn’t entirely empty. There was debris of various kinds floating around that could put a dent or even a hole in an unwary ship. The deflector shields took care of most of it, but accidents happened. There were also pirates out in deep space, looking to capture ships like theirs, steal their cargo, and leave them adrift. Sometimes they’d take the ship as well, but most often they’d simply disable the drive and communication systems, and then leave the unfortunate crew to their fate.
The Wanderer had far better security and weapons systems than most ships of its class could boast, things Jack had picked up and brought back in time from numerous trips to the future during his years of searching for a way to get Ianto back, but that didn’t render them invincible. Neither did it make them immune to the laws of physics.
Some planets were relatively close together, the distances between them easily traversed in a day or two, thanks to the ability of modern spaceships to cut corners as it were, slipping into what Ianto still thought of as hyperspace, thanks to years of watching sci-fi movies and TV. Most people, Jack included, called it the Vortex, but whatever name it was known by, it amounted to the same thing; a means by which spaceships could travel from point to point at many times the speed of light. Without Vortex travel capabilities, it would take ships hundreds or sometimes even thousands of years to travel between planets. Even with the Vortex technology, reaching some planets required weeks or even months of travel, especially out towards the rim where distances between worlds were unimaginably vast and many solar systems were uninhabited.
Jack and Ianto were on such a run now, carrying supplies to a recently colonised world just a few hundred light-years from the galaxy’s edge, way out towards the end of one of the spiral arms. It was a trip that would take them almost fourteen weeks, with brief stops at four other inhabited planets along the way. They’d left their fourth stop a few days ago and now they’d be completely on their own aboard the Wanderer until they reached their destination, which was still another six long weeks away. In Ianto’s opinion, this was the part of his new life that was the least enjoyable, drifting through nothingness in a big tin can with only Jack for company. Not that he didn’t enjoy Jack’s company, but with nowhere else to go, shipboard life could get a bit monotonous.
They weren’t without things to do; they were well stocked with a wide variety of entertainment, from books and games to music and Ianto’s old DVD collection. Along with those familiar items they had a good selection of visual entertainment from other worlds, much of it fascinating, if often almost incomprehensible. Every alien race had its own culture, even more diverse than those of earth. The nature documentaries were interesting and mostly understandable though, many of them helpfully subtitled, or overdubbed in Galactic Standard.
The Happy Wanderer also boasted a small gym, so Ianto and Jack could keep in good physical shape on long runs. It took more than artificial gravity, which throughout most of the ship was approximately three-quarters of earth normal, to keep muscles from atrophying and bones from losing density. The compartment containing the gym had earth normal gravity, and both immortals spent at least one hour a day working out there, lifting weights, running on the treadmill, and using the alien equivalent of a rowing machine. Press-ups, chin-ups, hand-to-hand combat, and aerobics… every little bit helped, and of course there was always Jack’s preferred form of full body workout for two. Ianto had no complaints about that either; Jack remained as innovative as ever.
The first few times they’d done one of these long runs, Ianto had found the experience a bit claustrophobic. There was nothing visible on the viewscreens other than a formless, red-tinged black nothingness, no light, no sound, nothing remotely tangible. There was energy of a sort surrounding the ship, but it wasn’t anything Ianto’s senses were equipped to detect and he found it disturbing. He’d grown accustomed to it over time, now he just found it boring to look at and only ventured onto the flight deck when it was necessary to make course adjustments, or check the readouts on the various dials and gauges that took up most of the control panel. He was there now, running the daily systems check, it being his turn to carry out that essential duty. He and Jack alternated days.
Everything looked good, and on a whim he decided to flick through the onboard monitors, find out where Jack was, and then join him. He hadn’t seen his lover since breakfast, both of them having headed off in different directions after they’d finished eating, to carry out routine maintenance. That had been more than eight hours ago now.
The Happy Wander was about the size of the Millennium Centre back in Cardiff. It was perfectly possible to wander around her many corridors and conduits all day without running into each other. Being a couple didn’t mean they had to spend every second in each other’s company; everyone needed some alone time. Switching from one camera to the next, Ianto traversed the ship without leaving his seat, along each corridor and into each room in turn, knowing at some point he’d locate his lover. He camera-hopped into one of the smaller of the Wanderer’s three holds, moving around the circumference of the room the same way, viewing the feed from each camera in turn, and casting his gaze over the cargo there to make sure everything looked the way it should. He was just about to switch back to the cameras in the corridor outside the hold when he caught a brief flicker of movement in the shadows between crates. It was gone again almost immediately, but it made him pause; if he could believe his eyes, there was something in with the cargo that definitely shouldn’t be in there. Something alive.
Ianto tapped the comm. link he wore on his wrist. “Jack?”
“Ianto, hey there! What’s up, missing my company?”
“I was just running through the feed from the cameras and I saw something.”
Jack immediately turned serious. “What kind of something?”
“I don’t know; I only saw it for a split second, but I’m sure I wasn’t imagining it. Meet me at cargo hold two, but don’t open the door until I get there. I think we might have a stowaway.”
“On my way.”
Jack was waiting outside the door to the hold when Ianto arrived, armed with a flashlight and a stunner. Ianto had a flashlight of his own, and a humane trap in case the interloper was vermin of some sort. Rats may not have made it out into space yet, but other planets had their own kinds of fast-breeding pests, and the last thing the owners of a cargo ship needed was an infestation.
“Whatever it is, it can’t be very big or it would’ve set off the alarms,” Ianto said, punching in the code to open the small internal access door. It unlocked with a hiss and Ianto pulled it open, slipping quickly inside with Jack close on his heels. Jack closed the door again behind him so that whatever was in there couldn’t escape.
Inside the small hold it was almost pitch-darkness. The cameras in there and in the other holds were set to infrared, since the lighting was only turned on when necessary in order to conserve power. It wasn’t like the cargo needed to see, and unless there was a problem, nobody entered the holds between loading and unloading. There was rarely any reason to. Turning on their flashlights, Jack and Ianto set out in search of whatever it was Ianto had glimpsed.
Half an hour later, Ianto was beginning to think what he’d seen had just been an optical illusion of some kind when Jack called him from the other side of the hold.
“Ianto! Get over here!”
“What’ve you found?” Ianto dodged around several stacks of crates, held in place by stasis webbing, and found Jack on his knees, peering into a narrow gap between two crates. “It better not be a snurrel.” Of all the intergalactic vermin he’d heard about, snurrels were the worst, armour-plated rodents whose sharp teeth could chew through just about anything except solid metal or reinforced glass. Get some of them on board and you might as well kiss your cargo goodbye because they’d either eat or destroy anything they could get their teeth into, and they bred faster than tribbles.
“No, definitely nothing snurrelish about it,” Jack assured him. “Snurrels aren’t fluffy. I think it’s a woozle. It dived in there and now it’s stuck. There’s no other way out and no room for it to turn around.”
“What’s a woozle?” Ianto asked. He’d come across a lot of strange creatures over the past few years, but he didn’t recall hearing anything about woozles.
“About eight inches long, not including the tail, reddish fur…”
Ianto cut him off. “You mean a weasel?”
“No, I mean a woozle. How many weasels do you know with six legs, a nose like a shrew, and fuzzy antennae?”
“Oh. Right. Woozle.”
“This one’s not much more than a baby. They can grow up to eighteen inches in length.” Lying flat on the floor, Jack stretched his arm into the gap and tried to reach the creature. “Damn it, my arm’s not long enough.”
“Move over and let me try.”
“Be my guest.” Pulling his arm out, Jack rolled onto his side to make room for Ianto.
“If I can reach it, what’s the best way to get hold of it?” Having never handled a woozle, Ianto thought it wise to ask first.
“Gently,” Jack said. “Try to get your hand around its middle, but be careful not to squish its legs.”
“It won’t bite, will it?”
“Doubtful, I’ve never heard of one biting, they don’t have much in the way of teeth. It’s facing the wrong way anyway.”
Ianto shone his torch into the narrow space. All he could see of the woozle was a bushy, pinkish red tail attached to a long, thin body. “Okay, woozle, just keep still and I’ll see if I can get you out of there,” he told it. Sliding his arm into the gap, he stretched as far as possible; he couldn’t see what he was doing, he was working by touch alone, the tips of his fingers fumbling at the soft, silky body. “I think I’ve got it,” he gasped, sliding two fingers around in front of the hind legs and pulling gently.
The woozle was too frightened to resist, going limp as he pulled it towards him, soon able to get his hand around its body. He wriggled backwards until he could get his arm out of the gap, and sat up with the small animal dangling from his hand.
“Well done!” Jack said.
“Open the trap, will you? I’ll put it in there until we can find somewhere better for it.”
Jack pulled the discarded trap towards him and flipped open the door, but as Ianto lowered the woozle towards the opening, it suddenly panicked, wriggled free of his grasp and…
“Um, Jack? I seem to have a woozle up my sleeve.”
“So I see. The poor thing must be scared; your sleeve probably looked like a safe hiding place.”
“Not how I’d describe it, there’s barely enough room for my arm in there, never mind an alien. What should I do now?”
“Take your shirt off?”
“You’ll have to help. If I bend my arm I’ll squash the woozle.”
“Can’t have that,” Jack agreed, “and you know I never object to the prospect of undressing you,” he added with a leer, waggling his eyebrows
Ianto huffed an exasperated sigh. He loved Jack, but sometimes the man had the attention span of a gnat. “Jack, for once can you keep your mind on the matter in hand? Or in this case, up sleeve?”
“Woozle removal, right, sorry.” Jack set about helping Ianto with his shirt, unfastening it and slipping it off, managing to do so complete with woozle.
Taking the shirt from his lover, Ianto carefully tipped the woozle into the trap. It slid out backwards and landed with a soft thud before huddling into one corner, peering up at them with anxious black eyes and a twitching nose, which Ianto now saw did resemble a shrew’s. “Poor little thing. Probably got onboard back at Braxilius Station. It must be hungry and thirsty. I wonder who it belongs to.”
“Chances are we’ll never find out.” Jack closed the door of the trap so the woozle wouldn’t escape again. “Hundreds of ships dock at Braxilius every week, some for a few hours and some for days. There’s no knowing how long this little guy might’ve been wandering around the space docks there before it found its way onto the ship. For all we know, it might have been hiding in the cargo we brought aboard there. We can ask around on our return trip, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to trace the owner, if it even had one. It could be a stray, or someone might’ve abandoned it. That’s not important right now; we’d better get it a drink of water and something to eat.”
“Have we even got any woozle food?”
“Woozles are omnivores, so it can eat pretty much anything we do; meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains…”
“That solves one problem. How come I’ve never heard of woozles before?” Ianto asked, picking up the woozle in its temporary accommodation and following Jack through the hold’s access door, back out into the corridor.
Jack laughed. “There are thousands of life forms you haven’t heard of yet. You’ve barely seen two percent of what’s out here. Even I’ve probably not encountered more than thirty percent of the sentient races, and they’re outnumbered a thousand to one by the non-sentient species. Anyway, we’ve not visited the planet woozles come from yet. It’s mostly desert, very sparsely inhabited, and woozles are one of the main exports, along with minerals from the mines. They make good pets, friendly, easy to housetrain, low maintenance… If we don’t find its owner, maybe we could keep it.” Jack turned left at the end of the long corridor, making for their quarters and the kitchen.
“I don’t know, Jack. I mean we’re travelling all the time. What sort of life would it have, always onboard a ship, no fresh air…”
“Loads of ship owners have pets that go everywhere with them, it’s common practice. Besides, woozles are very adaptable. It’s what makes them so popular a shipboard pets.”
Ianto eyed Jack suspiciously. “You didn’t bring this one on board, did you?”
Jack stopped and spun around so suddenly Ianto almost ran into him. “What? Of course not! If I had, I wouldn’t have left it to fend for itself in the cargo hold for four days!”
“Of course, sorry, stupid question.” Ianto knew Jack would never be so cruel to a poor defenceless little creature.
“Understandable though, under the circumstances.” Jack pulled open the kitchen door and held it for Ianto to go through. “It’s a good thing you spotted it when you did, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived much longer; woozles can go without water for longer than most small creatures, but even so six or seven days is about their limit.”
Setting the caged woozle on the kitchen counter, they gave it a saucer of water, which it lapped up eagerly, looking at them hopefully for more. “You can have more in a bit. Too much at once isn’t good for you,” Ianto told it sternly. “What should we give it to eat?” He turned to Jack, who was opening cupboards and getting things out.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry too, so why don’t we just fix ourselves some dinner and the woozle can have a bit of whatever we’re having?”
Dinner was a quickly heated meat pie and vegetables, which the woozle appeared to enjoy as much as its human hosts did. Of course, it hadn’t eaten in days so it probably would have eaten anything they put in front of it. After clearing away dishes and giving their guest another drop of water, Jack carried the small creature in its cage through to their living quarters.
“We can’t leave it in the trap, it needs more space to move around,” he said.
“Looks like that’s our next task then. Maybe we can build a pen for it. How about over there?” Ianto pointed to a vacant corner of their lounge.
“Why not? We’re not using it for anything else.”
They built the woozle pen using some of the raw materials they’d brought for trade purposes, constructing the pieces in the machine shop where they built and repaired the parts they needed for the Wanderer’s systems and equipment. The task took them several hours, but at last they could carry the sections back to their main room and fit them together. It was a fairly basic set-up; just two long fence panels that they secured to the lounge walls using industrial strength sealant, but it gave the small animal a good sized space where it could run around and play. There was a water dispenser incorporated into one panel, and a self-cleaning litter tray that had been one of many items left aboard the ship when Jack had bought it. The previous owner must have owned a pet of some kind. They’d also made a padded platform for the woozle to sleep on.
Ianto smiled. The little animal would be safe in there until it was bigger and properly trained. They’d have to start training it as soon as it was recovered from its ordeal. He paused at that thought, realising he was already starting to accept the newcomer as a permanent part of the crew. They were stuck with it for at least the next twelve weeks anyway, as they delivered their cargo to the colony and then made the return trip to Braxilius, so maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. He and Jack sat on the floor by the pen, watching the woozle explore its new quarters.
“What’re we going to call it?” he asked eventually. “We can’t just keep saying ‘the woozle’. Our new shipmate needs a name.”
“Does that mean we can keep it?”
“I’m leaning towards that, unless we find its owners when we get back to Braxilius Station. We can’t just kick it off the ship somewhere, that would be cruel, and I don’t like the thought of selling or trading it, so I guess it would be better off staying with us.”
“Yay!” Jack kissed Ianto thoroughly. “Thank you!” Turning back to the woozle, he gave the matter of naming it some careful thought. “Fluffy? No. Pinky? No… How about Scamp?” he suggested at last, as the small creature scampered about on its six short legs, wriggling its little nose as it sniffed at everything.
“That does rather suit it. Okay, Scamp it is.” Ianto had a feeling that the rest of their long trip was going to be much more interesting than he’d been anticipating.