Title: Through Time And Space: Chapter 11 – Random Acts Of Kindness
Characters: Ianto, OFCs, OMCs, Jack
Word Count: 3827
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead
Summary: Ianto knows the kind of person he wants to be in his new life. While he searches for Jack, he’s going to help as many people as he can, regardless of species.
Written For: Challenge #104: Kindness at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Weeks had passed since the mining colony. Ianto and his TARDIS had travelled to every spaceport in the vicinity of every world they knew Captain Lukek had visited, which made forty-seven spaceports so far. Despite showing Jack’s picture to literally hundreds of people, no one seemed to have seen him and Ianto was becoming deeply demoralised.
“That was the last spaceport anywhere near the part of Lukek’s route we have data on. Either Jack hasn’t been to any of those worlds or we haven’t asked the right people. I’d expected him to teleport to the surface of a planet, or onto a space station, then head for the spaceport to find transport, but what if he simply teleported directly onto a docked ship, or even one in orbit? There’s almost no chance we’ll find someone who’s seen him if that’s the case.”
“Your plan was logical.” The TARDIS sounded puzzled.
“Yeah, well, Jack used to be a con-man long ago, or maybe far in the future, I’m not exactly sure. Point is, he must know all the tricks for covering his tracks. I’m not sure there’s any way we could find him if he doesn’t want to be found.”
“I do not understand; why would your Captain not wish to be found?”
“He’s grieving. Sometimes people who have lost loved ones just want to hide away because being around people who are happy just hurts too much. It reminds them of everything they’ve lost.”
“Is it not a bad thing to spend too much time alone? I do not enjoy being by myself.”
“Most of the time it’s better to have company, or at least to know that you can have company when you want it. But sometimes people want or even need to be alone with their thoughts and memories. You’re right though; too much time alone isn’t good.”
“It will be much more difficult to locate your Captain if he is avoiding contact with other sentient beings. What should we do now?”
“I don’t know. Keep looking, I guess. He’s out there somewhere, I can’t just give up; I need to keep trying even if it’s pointless. It’s better than doing nothing.” He ran his hands through his hair and sighed. “Okay, where’s the next spaceport?”
“I believe we should visit the main port at Mormin next.”
“Fine, set the coordinates please.”
It was a short hop to Mormin-port and within a few hours, Ianto was striding through the main port facility, showing Jack’s picture to crewmembers of all the ships currently docked there, as well as to the port’s customs officials; once again, he drew a blank. As he made his way back to the TARDIS again, a sudden thought hit him, almost stopping him in his tracks.
“We’re doing this all wrong!”
“We are? In what way?”
“I’m so stupid! Jack wouldn’t hang around the main port concourses, not if he’s trying to pass unnoticed. It’s possible he might try to get work aboard a freighter as crew, but I doubt that he has any papers, so it would probably be easier and cheaper to con his way aboard a ship that isn’t so concerned with staying on the right side of the law.”
“The vessel of one of the black market traders, perhaps?”
“Exactly! We’ve probably been looking in all the wrong places!” Ianto hurried back to the TARDIS and mere minutes later they were materialising in a shadowy back alley on the edge of Mormin-port’s mostly illegal black market. This time, Ianto couldn’t go flashing Jack’s picture around openly, that would have quickly aroused suspicion. Instead, he dressed casually, armed himself discreetly, and surreptitiously showed Jack’s image to various stallholders, offering a reward to anyone who could provide a genuine lead. He told people that the man in the image had been his partner and had stolen something of great value from him. Well, technically that was true; Jack had stolen Ianto’s heart, after all!
Even though they didn’t get any leads at Mormin-port, Ianto felt sure that this time he was on the right track. He was also convinced that word would spread among the black market traders, getting passed from world to world as they travelled. All he needed to do was keep frequenting the illegal and semi-legal markets that existed in the shadowy areas of most ports and sooner or later, he would run into someone who had seen Jack, or maybe even done business with him. He knew it would take time, but that was okay; time was one thing he had plenty of.
Three solar systems away from Mormin, at a market set up in what used to be the planet-side spaceport before a shining new space station had been built in orbit, Ianto was once again prowling among the stalls seeking information about Jack when he came across something that filled him with rage. One reptilian but basically humanoid trader had a pen beside his stall in which five furry aliens, dressed in shabby tunics and trousers, sat huddled together, their wrists manacled and heavy collars locked about their necks. Slaves. Ianto’s blood boiled at the thought of sentient creatures being forced into slavery and sold like cattle.
“Be still, Ianto,” the TARDIS warned in his head. “If you draw the wrong kind of attention, you will put yourself in danger. While being killed would not be a permanent problem, your revival would doubtless cause complications; these people seem to be somewhat skittish.”
“I can’t just ignore this!”
“Nor would I expect you to. However, for the safety of yourself and the beings that have been enslaved, maintaining your cover is of paramount importance. The traders are beginning to think of you as being like them, existing on the wrong side of the law. A business transaction would serve you better than a fight.”
“You’re saying I should buy those poor people?”
“Once they are in your possession they will be safe and we can perhaps find a way to return them to their homes.”
Ianto forced his anger back down. “Okay, good point. Do you think I have enough credits?”
“I believe so. However, there must be a certain amount of haggling before the transaction can be made; it is expected. The trader appears to have had these people for some time, judging by their condition. He will want to make a sale, so you must not appear too interested.”
“Like with the birds, I remember. Okay, let’s do this.” Ianto schooled his features into an expression of bored indifference and stepped out of the shadowy alleyway he’s been observing the market from. Hands in pockets, he sauntered over to the nearest stall, looking over the items displayed, poking at one or two, then wandering aimlessly towards the next stall. Slowly he made his way through the market, purchasing a couple of small items and asking about Jack, until in due course, he found himself in front of the stall selling the slaves. He made a point of studying them critically.
“You wish to buy? Good slaves!” The scaly, reptilian creature prodded at his captives with a stick, urging them to their feet.
“I’m looking for workers,” Ianto told him. “This lot are scrawny, how much work would I get out them? They look like a strong wind would blow them over.” That wasn’t entirely true; they looked underfed, but not to the point of weakness. Good food and rest would fix them up.
“They strong, work hard. Not eat live food, had to buy other food, just for them. Didn’t get enough.” He shrugged as if to say ‘how was I to know?’
Ianto stepped closer and examined the small group; he recognised their species, which just made their plight seem even worse. They kept their eyes averted, heads bowed, but he could see the tension in them. They weren’t comfortable beneath his scrutiny and he wished he could reassure them, but he had to keep up his act.
“They’d need a lot of feeding up to be of any use to me, but I guess I could take them off your hands for… oh, twenty credits a head,” he said in a bored tone.
“Twenty?” The reptilian sounded scandalised. “You insult! They worth hundred a head, easy!”
Ianto shrugged indifferently. “If you’re not interested…” He started to turn away.
“Wait! Not be hasty. Eighty.”
“Too high. I’ll go up to twenty five.”
“No good. Seventy!”
Back and forth they went while the ‘slaves’ pressed close together, looking miserable and scared. Ianto’s heart almost broke for them.
“Two hundred the lot, final offer.” Ianto hoped he was reading the situation right.
The seller sighed heavily and held out his hand. “Done. You drive hard bargain! Is not much profit, but don’t need buy food now.”
They shook hands. “They better be worth it, or I’ll be after your hide!” Ianto forced a smile to match the other’s satisfied, toothy grin.
“You not disappointed,” he was assured. “They young; be good workers, many years.”
Handing over the agreed amount, Ianto waited as the trader dug out a set of keys, unlocked the captives’ chains from a metal ring in the wall and handed the lot to him. “All your.” He turned to the ‘slaves’. “You belong him. Go with,” and he shoved them in Ianto’s direction.
“Come,” Ianto said brusquely, lightly tugging the chains in this hand, and he set off towards where he’d left the TARDIS. The sooner he had these poor people away from here the better.
This time, the TARDIS had disguised herself as a crumbling doorway in a concrete wall. She was actually parked neatly in the entrance to a derelict building that no longer had a door of its own.
Pushing the door open, Ianto stood aside and hustled the small group of aliens inside, following quickly and closing the door firmly behind him. He leaned back against it with a sigh of relief, closing his eyes for a moment. “Thank God, I was worried that might not work. I half expected him to come running after me saying he’d changed his mind!”
As he’d spent some time living among them a few years earlier, Ianto was familiar with the aliens’ species. They were a peaceful, agrarian race, completely vegetarian; kind, gentle souls who existed in harmony with nature. Back then, he’d dubbed them Space Wombles, because of their striking resemblance to the pointy-nosed, furry characters in the TV show he’d watched repeats of as a boy. Now the Wombles stood in a cluster just a few steps further inside the TARDIS, staring about themselves apprehensively, not knowing what they should do now and clearly worried they might anger their new ‘owner’.
“It’s okay,” Ianto hastened to reassure them, pulling out the set of keys he’d been handed and setting about unlocking the manacles from their wrists. “You’re safe now. Let me get these chains and collars off you and then I’ll get you something to eat and drink. You look like you need it.”
“As you wish, sir,” one of the beings murmured deferentially.
“Please, I’m not your boss or your… owner,” Ianto told them gently. “I only paid that trader because it seemed the safest way to get you away from him. You’re free, and if it’s at all possible, I’ll get you back to your homes. I promise I’ll try my best to anyway.”
“Why would you help us? You do not know us.” They still seemed wary, as if they thought he might be playing some kind of cruel trick on them.
Having removed the last of the collars and tossed it towards the door with the rest, so they could be jettisoned into space, Ianto sat down on the floor in front of the Wombles, the way they would sit while reciting their legends and sharing tribal knowledge. Through long habit, they automatically settled themselves in a semi-circle before him, patiently waiting for him to begin.
“My name is Ianto Jones, I come from a planet called Earth,” he began, knowing that the TARDIS was translating his words into their own language for them. “A few years ago, I became stranded on your home planet. Your people could have just left me to fend for myself, but they didn’t; they took me in, gave me a home, shared what they had with me and treated me like family until after many months, I was able to return to my own world. In return, I taught them the languages of my people and told them tales of the legendary heroes of Earth. In helping you, I’m finally able to repay a debt of honour to your people. Besides, intelligent beings should not be traded for money as if they were animals, it’s just wrong in so many ways. I couldn’t walk on by and leave you there. I got a second chance at life and I know the kind of person I want to be; someone who helps those in need because it’s the right thing to do.”
“You will take us home?” one Womble asked, as if scarcely daring to believe.
“I’m certainly going to try. The only problem is, I’m not sure exactly where your world is, or even by what name it’s known to races other than your own. I came to your world through a Rift in space and time, and I returned to my own world through the same Rift; I never saw your world from space so I don’t know what to look for, other than the four moons. I don’t understand how you came to be on another planet; I know your race doesn’t have space travel.”
“We are farmers; we had no knowledge of other worlds, and no need or desire to travel to them. All we need exists on Talla.”
Ianto nodded. “I remember. Can you tell me how you came to be where I found you?”
The Womble who had spoken stood and moved away from the others, trading places with Ianto, who settled himself where the Womble had been sitting. Everyone waited in silence for the new speaker to begin.
“I am Auber, of the Tribe of Nerrim,” the Womble began in a clear, lilting tone. “I and my companions had left our village three sunrises before, gone in search of honeydew.”
Ianto smiled, remembering the rich, sweet sap that a certain kind of flowering plant produced. Throughout the growing season, small parties regularly travelled to where the plants grew in order to collect the ripe stems.
“We were almost to the honeydew meadows when a roaring sound filled the sky and a dark shadow fell across us. We looked up in fear and wonder and saw a big metal bird pass by, away to sunward, coming down too fast. We thought it must be injured. When it fell to the ground, we ran to see if we could help it, but when we reached the place it had fallen, it was surrounded by beings we had never before seen. They were hairless, tall, pale and thin, and they wore clothing all in one piece, the colour of the sky at dusk. There was much smoke pouring from inside the metal bird and the beings were stumbling about, rubbing their eyes and coughing.
We helped them, bringing them water and making a cooling salve to ease their sore eyes and the burns on their pale skin. They said the metal bird was their spaceship, that it carried them from world to world, but it had become damaged. We stayed with them for two days, providing them with food and water while they repaired their spaceship, and in return for our kindness, when the repairs were done, they took us captive and forced us to go with them. They took us away from Talla and our people to a strange place made of cold metal, and there we were traded to another being in return for fuel for their ship. This being traded us to another, who took us to a different world and traded us to Gaff, the being you found us with.
It is hard to know the passing of days away from all that is familiar, and even harder when there in no sun by which to tell day from night, but as best we can tell, we have been gone from Talla for more than one hundred days. Our families must believe that we have fallen prey to some terrible disaster. They will have searched for us in vain, mourning our loss. That is our story.”
Tale told, Auber returned to sit with Ianto and the others. “What must we do now?” he asked quietly. “How are we to find our home again if you do not know where Talla is?”
“My ship is alive and she knows a great many things. I will tell her all I remember of Talla and she will search for worlds that match. Then we’ll simply visit each one until we find your home. Until then, know that you are welcome here.” Ianto rose to his feet. “Come with me, I think I have the ideal place for you all to live while you’re on board. You’re free to explore my TARDIS of course,” he added as he led them along a corridor towards a set of wide doors, “but I think you’ll be happiest in here.” Pushing the door open, he led them inside and they gasped in wonder at finding themselves standing in a lush, green valley among gently rolling hills. In the middle of the valley, a silvery stream burbled over smooth stones. There were trees and bushes scattered about, many bearing fruit, and a small forest topped a hill away to the right. Tiny, jewel-bright birds flitted about from tree to tree, meeping happily.
“How can there be a world inside your ship?” Auber asked in wonder.
“I don’t understand it myself,” Ianto admitted, smiling, “I just delight in it. The water is clean and fresh, there’s plenty of fruit, leaves and tubers to eat as well as everything you’ll need to build huts. If there’s anything else you need, just say so and we’ll do our best to provide it. For now, rest and refresh yourselves. The TARDIS is already searching for worlds that might match my memories, but you can help by trying to picture Talla in your minds.”
“We thank you, Ianto Jones. Your kindness will be remembered, even if we never find our home again.”
“I can promise we’ll never stop looking,” Ianto replied. “However long it takes. Until then, let this be your home.” He gestured around what the TARDIS termed the garden room. “Any time you wish to speak to me, the TARDIS will guide you to me, or I’ll come to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll let you get settled in. There are things that need my attention before I can rest.” He held out his left hand to Auber, who pressed his own left hand to it palm-to-palm, as though they were about to start arm-wrestling. Auber’s snout crinkled in the Tallan equivalent of a smile.
“Rest well, Ianto Jones. I hope to talk more with you when you have time to spare. The others are young and shy, but when they feel bolder, I am sure they will wish to talk with you as well.”
“I’ll look forward to it. Rest well, Auber.” Ianto nodded to the others. “Daughters and sons of the Tribe of Nerrim.” They nodded shyly in return, and then Ianto turned away, leaving the small band to relax and recover from their ordeal.
Aboard the Fiori Winnik, lying on the bunk in his sparsely furnished cabin, Jack thought back over the celebrations of the previous night. The party had been both a family reunion and a joining ceremony, as Jenek, youngest daughter of Lukek and Mikek, became Jenly, wife of Tomly, navigator-in-training aboard the Fiori Domnik.
It had been a joyous occasion and Jack, thanks to a dose of Diamond Daze, had drifted through the gathering, talking with the other guests and joining in the dancing, floating on a sparkling haze through which he could feel no pain. He had five more doses stashed away safely and though it was tempting to take another and allow his grief to slip away again for a time, he resisted. He didn’t deserve to be free of the terrible emptiness that haunted him and anyway, he hadn’t taken the drug for his own benefit; he’d done it so he could repay his hosts’ kindness by celebrating their happiness with them. After all they’d done for him, it was the least he could do and he knew they’d appreciated the gesture, just as they’d appreciated the gifts he’d bought for them and for the happy couple.
By the end of the all-night party, the drug was starting to wear off and he’d felt the weight of his grief laying heavy on his heart once more, so after saying his farewells, he’d slipped back here to wallow in misery and memories. He hadn’t slept, just lay on his bunk reliving those five dreadful days and thinking of all the loved ones he’d lost over his long life. There were too many and his most recent losses made him feel that his heart was being ripped from his chest. He thought that sounded like a fitting punishment, except that then he wouldn’t be able to feel the ache of loss, or the guilt and regret over what he’d done.
If only he could turn back the clock and live those days again. There were so many things he would do differently if only he could. But even if he could fix his VM, changing the past wasn’t an option. As much as he wished he could go back and save Ianto and Stephen, to do so would be to risk creating a paradox that could destroy the world. He wouldn’t risk billions of lives for selfish reasons; he’s done that once before, back in World War II, and if the Doctor hadn’t fixed the damage he’d caused… What might have happened didn’t bear thinking about. He hadn’t deserved the second chance he’d been given, but he’d tried so hard to be worthy of the kindness the Time Lord had shown him. Well, obviously he’d failed and as a result, he’d lost everything that mattered to him. What goes around comes around. With all the bad things he’d done in his long life, he should have known the good times wouldn’t last.
He knew he couldn’t stay aboard the Winnik forever though; someday soon he would have to go out into the universe and start trying to make up for his failures. Maybe if he tried hard enough and long enough he’d eventually succeed. At least it would be something to work towards.