Characters: Ianto, Jack, OCs.
Word Count: 1731
Summary: Ianto has met plenty of aliens before now, but none quite as alien as these.
Written For: Challenge 246: Variation at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Set in my Ghost of a Chance ‘Verse.
Out in the wide universe beyond earth, intelligent life came in infinite variations, each ideally suited to its particular environment. Before leaving his home planet, Ianto would never have imagined just how alien some aliens could actually be. The SciFi movie monsters he recalled from trips to the cinema often paled in comparison. Not that he thought of the aliens he and Jack encountered as monsters.
The majority of the sentient or semi-sentient species that had come to earth, either by accident or by design, during his time with Torchwood had been more or less human shaped, having a head at the top, a body in the middle, one or occasionally two arms sticking out from each side, each ending in hands of some description with varying numbers of fingers and at least one thumb, and generally two legs beneath, ending in feet for walking on. The non-sentient species, basically alien animals and insects, had shown a greater variety in body shape and number of limbs, but then so did animals on earth, so that wasn’t surprising.
Ianto had met some less humanoid aliens before leaving earth; a sentient tree once, who’d been a very pleasant person, and a living rock, and even a couple of insect-like aliens, one kind decidedly hostile and the other very civilised and with impeccable manners. There’d even been the sex gas alien that fed on orgasmic energy, but the less said about that the better.
Everything evolved the way it did for logical reasons, even if those reasons weren’t immediately obvious, but it was hard to imagine why or how something like these aliens had come to exist. If anyone had ever told him that one day he’d meet living, not to mention highly civilised, intelligent, and technologically advanced, goo, he would never have believed them. Surely such a thing way impossible!
Well, apparently not, because he was looking at one right now and… It was… disconcerting, to say the least.
The people, for want of a better term, who lived on this particular world, were formed from a viscous and slightly sticky substance with the approximate consistency of toothpaste. They held themselves together by way of a tough outer membrane and were shape-shifters after a fashion, able to shape themselves however they wanted in order to carry out whatever tasks needed to be done. They could ooze their way through the smallest of gaps and that, combined with their encyclopaedic knowledge of engineering and electronics, made them some of the best mechanics in the known universe. They were able to get right inside any faulty machinery to locate the problem, and could often fix things without having to dismantle them first.
Amazingly, they were even able to speak, Galactic Standard for the most part although they were fluent in several other languages. They simply formed a mouth, lungs, and vocal chords out of their… substance, none on which they normally had since they breathed by osmosis, and ‘ate’ most wavelengths of light, though their preference was for ultraviolet. Apparently it had the best flavour; who knew?
As Ianto and Jack had already been in the vicinity of Beta Orvania, Jack had suggested bringing the Happy Wanderer in to the Orvanians’ space dock for a full service and perhaps some upgrades; they could afford to, they’d struck it rich while surveying an unmapped area of space, returning with their databanks full of valuable information and their holds full of rare elements, minerals and metal ores. It had been a very profitable trip.
The Orvanians had no use for money, but they could always use more raw materials, so they gave their services willingly in exchange for anything they could use, the accessible resources of their own planet being mostly exhausted by now. Jack estimated it would cost them no more than a third of what they had in the largest of the Wanderer’s three holds, and it would be money well spent, not only fixing the extensive damage the ship had suffered when an alien entity had got inside the main propulsion systems, but also making sure all the ship’s other systems, both mechanical and electrical, were in tip-top condition.
From what Ianto had been told, it wasn’t the first time Jack had come to Beta Orvania, so he was well used to the strange engineering experts, but it was the first time Ianto had seen them and he really hoped he wasn’t causing offence by staring. A team of almost thirty Orvanians were busy going over the whole ship, from end to end, evaluating what would need doing before presenting their estimate for the work. They were oozing through gratings, behind panels, and through conduits so narrow that Ianto could barely fit his little finger into them. It was bizarre and yet hypnotically fascinating to watch something approximately the size of a sheep extending a thin tendril from its body and slowly oozing out of sight, only to return a while later, flowing back out and forming several legs to walk along the corridor and enter another tiny gap. There could be no doubt that at least physically, they were ideally suited to the kind of work they’d chosen to dedicate their lives to. It was hardly surprising they were considered specialists at the head of their field.
“They like the variety involved in engineering, especially where it involves spacecraft,” Jack said, coming to stand beside Ianto and watch the engineers assessing their ship. “Almost all races use their services, so the Orvanians get to work on all kinds of craft, from in-system shuttles to the vast luxury cruise ships. They don’t just service the spaceships though; they’re responsible for designing and building many of the components that are essential for space travel. They’ve come up with improvements on most systems built by other races, and they’ll even build complete spaceships to order, although that’s very expensive because the buyer has to provide the necessary raw materials. A lot goes into a spaceship. The majority of the Wanderer’s systems are Orvanian technology; there’s not much more than the hull that’s still original.”
“You’ve had the Wanderer serviced and upgraded before?”
Jack nodded easily. “At least a dozen times over the years, always improving on what I already had. I couldn’t afford an Orvanian-built ship, but I’ve used whatever profits I made through trading to improve what I’d already got. It’s paid off; she’s one of the best and fastest ships of her kind in the galaxy after all the work I’ve had done on her. I knew I needed a ship that would last for centuries, and that’s exactly what I’ve got. Or I should say it’s what we’ve got. As long as we take good care of her we won’t need to worry about trading her in for a good long time yet.”
“That’s comforting to know. Whoa!” Ianto took a hurried step back as an Orvanian oozed out of the floor grating right in front of him. “I wish they wouldn’t do that!”
A mouth appeared on the top of the emerging blob. “My apologies, I was unaware of your proximity. Sounds echo through the conduits, it is often quite difficult to determine their source with any degree of accuracy when inside the narrowest ones.” It oozed all the way out and came to rest so close that Ianto could have reached out and touched it, although he refrained, thinking that might not be considered polite.
“It’s fine, I was just startled,” he said quickly. “I didn’t know anyone was down there.”
“Human senses aren’t as sharp as those of some species,” Jack admitted.
“I have noticed this. It is most curious. Aliens come in a great many forms; each appears to have its share of advantages and disadvantages,” the Orvanian mused.
“We’ve all evolved to suit the worlds we’re from,” Jack said with a smile.
“Indeed. Your form would not survive long on Beta Orvania, as our world is known in your tongue.”
“No, I don’t imagine we would,” Jack agreed. The planet below was a very inhospitable place to anyone who didn’t happen to be a blob of sentient goo.
“It is unfortunate that so many races are unable to change form at will; it must be a great disadvantage to be so rigid and inflexible.”
“I’ve often thought that,” Jack admitted.
“It makes such races fragile, easily damaged or broken. We are far more flexible, and thus not prone to serious damage. In addition, our form allows infinite variation. Whatever shape we require, we become.”
“They do say variety is the spice of life,” Ianto put in.
“They do? Who is it that says this?” The Orvanian regarded Ianto with an obvious air of curiosity, despite not having anything resembling eyes with which to look.
“Um, my kind, humans.” Ianto blushed slightly.
“It is a wise saying; I approve. Variety is something to be prized. For my part, I could wish we Orvanians might be more colourful.” All the Orvanians were varying shades of beige or cream. “Or perhaps have this…” It reached out with a long, thin tendril to touch Ianto’s hair lightly, and then Jack’s. “The texture is pleasing, though I suspect it might get in the way while carrying out repair work.”
“It does, even for humans. It can be quite painful when caught on something and accidentally pulled out,” Ianto said ruefully, remembering many such occasions.
“Then perhaps it is best that we do not have this. We are each as the creator thought best for us and must therefore be satisfied and endeavour not to envy others for what they have which we do not.”
Ianto nodded agreement. “The universe would soon become boring if we all looked alike.”
“Indeed. I thank you both for an interesting conversation. You have given me much to consider. Now I must continue with my assessment of your ship’s ventilation system. I believe I will be able to improve efficiency of the oxygen reclamation by almost thirty percent.” Inclining its body at an angle in a sort of bow, it extruded several pairs of legs and undulated down the corridor to the next ventilation duct, oozing inside.
“They have to be the strangest people I’ve ever met,” Ianto said, watching the Orvanian disappear. “Very pleasant, but still…”
Jack grinned widely. “Oh trust me; you haven’t seen anything yet!”