Title: Through Time And Space: Chapter 12 – Going Coastal
Characters: Ianto, OFCs, OMCs, random alien.
Word Count: 3537
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead
Summary: The search for Talla is going to take some time, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t all have some fun along the way.
Written For: Challenge #106: Sea Life at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
As the days passed and their new travelling companions settled into life on board, Ianto’s TARDIS busied herself gathering information about Talla from their minds as well as from Ianto’s memories, painstakingly piecing together every scrap she could find. There wasn’t much. Talla had two suns, and five moons of varying sizes, none of them as large as earth’s. Ianto had noted at least two other planets in its solar system, but it was quite possible that there were others, either too far away or too small to be seen with the naked eye.
As sparse as they were, even these few facts gave her somewhere to start from; binary stars were fewer in number than single stars, so that immediately cut down the number of solar systems she would need to look at, and she could also discount any that didn’t contain a planet with five moons. Even so…
“This search will indeed take time, Ianto. I will endeavour to narrow down the number of possible solar systems further, but we will still be left with a very large number.”
“You can cross off all those known to have space travel or any form of industry. Tallans don’t use technology of any kind. They’re a simple folk, peaceful farmers and hunter-gatherers, vegetarians who’ve domesticated a few of the native creatures as beasts of burden and to provide milk. They live in tribes and clans, extended family groups, and are often nomadic, moving around their ancestral homelands with the seasons. I think the clan who took me in lived near the equator; we had rainy and dry seasons, but nothing like winter. Temperatures remained pretty steady throughout the time I was there.”
“That does not mean their world is without colder regions, or that it does not experience seasonal changes,” the TARDIS reminded him.
“True. Do you think we stand any chance of getting them home?”
“I think there is no doubt that we will locate Talla one day; however, I cannot guarantee that it will be within their lifetimes.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“I will do all I can, but the search for Talla is not our primary quest, we are also seeking your captain.”
“Both searches are of equal importance, or they should be,” Ianto chided her gently. “Jack and I are immortal; as much as I want to find him again as soon as possible, even if it takes a hundred years or more I can deal with that. Our friends from Talla don’t have that advantage. They understand that they might never get back to their families again, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to get them home.”
“You are correct, I apologise.”
“It’s okay. Just do what you can to narrow down the field of search; there must be a limit to how far they could have travelled from Talla in the time between when they were abducted and when we found them; they have to be from this general area of the galaxy, so start with the nearest planets that match what information we have, we can visit those first.”
“Are we not continuing the search for your Captain?”
“Of course we are. We’ll just stop off at whatever other planets we pass along the way, there are bound to be a few with spaceports. We’re just adding a second kind of planet to our search pattern.”
“That seems a sensible solution. Very well, I will calculate the optimum route to enable us to visit all spaceports in the vicinity as well as all planets that match the criteria we have established for possible matches with Talla.”
“Excellent!” Ianto smiled approvingly. “Um, I’m assuming you are keeping a log of which planets and spaceports we’ve already visited?”
“Right. We can start whenever you’re ready I guess, just let me know when we arrive somewhere.” With that, Ianto wandered off to the garden room to spend some time with his new travelling companions.
They visited nine more spaceports, where Ianto made cautious enquiries regarding Jack, before they arrived at the first world that might possibly be Talla. It was immediately obvious that this wasn’t the planet they were seeking; scans showed it was an ocean world dotted with small islands. Ianto and Auber stood in the console room, looking at images of the planet on the TARDIS’s viewscreens.
“Do you know if Talla has oceans?”
“I have never heard tell of any such great expanses of water.” Auber sounded slightly awed. “I have seen many lakes and rivers, the plains that are our home are blessed with numerous sources of pure, clean water, yet I have seen nothing so wide that the far shore was beyond sight. That does not mean they do not exist on Talla, but perhaps they lie beyond the mountains. To my knowledge, none of my people have ever found a way across; maybe there are other tribes on the far side who know of oceans.”
Ianto nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps that’s so,” he agreed. “Still, if you’ve never seen an ocean, it would be a shame to come all this way and just leave without giving you a once in a lifetime experience.”
The TARDIS understood immediately. “The atmosphere is breathable and I can detect no harmful organisms, or any large land-dwelling creatures. According to my observations, most of this world’s inhabitants are ocean dwellers and as such are unlikely to bother you if you wish to land.”
“I think a day at the beach might be quite pleasant,” Ianto said with a smile. “It would make a welcome change from the smelly back alleys and derelict buildings I’ve been frequenting lately. I spent most of my life living near the coast; I miss the sea. Find us a good-sized island and take us down, please. Maybe we’ll even find some new plants for the garden!”
“Gladly!” The TARDIS sounded quite enthusiastic. “I would welcome the warmth of sunlight; artificial light lacks certain qualities.”
After some discussion, Ianto and the TARDIS had selected a wide but sheltered cove on the lee side of one of the largest islands. The beach curved out to twin headlands, getting narrower and rockier as it went, and the sand was littered with the planet’s equivalent of shells, driftwood and seaweed at the shoreline; plenty of interesting things for the curious Tallans to explore.
Ianto led the small group from the TARDIS onto short, tufty grass, a few metres inland from a beach of pinkish-white sand leading down to the vast expanse of a blue-green ocean. The ocean lapped at the shore in gentle ripples and the whole scene was like some tropical paradise; sun, sand and sea with a sweet sea breeze taking the edge off the heat.
Although he made sure to call them the people of Talla to their faces, in his mind Ianto still couldn’t help thinking of his new travelling companions as Space Wombles. The name had popped into his mind the first time he’d met their kind, and despite spending two years living among them on their home world, it had stuck in his subconscious. Watching them now, their dark eyes wide with wonder and their snouts twitching as they drew in the unfamiliar salty tang of sea air, he was having a hard time not breaking into a chorus of ‘Wombling Free’. They were like children on their first trip to the coast, scampering down onto the beach, running their strong, stubby fingers through the warm sand and exclaiming in excitement over the strange and wonderful things they were finding.
The younger members of Auber’s party, though still a little in awe of their rescuer, had mostly got over their initial shyness. Of the four, the most talkative was Kellik, the taller of the two females. She found everything fascinating and was always full of questions, some of which even Ianto struggled to answer. The smallest, and also the youngest of the party was Jatso. He was the explorer, the one who got into everything and had taken to leaving the garden room for whole days in order to learn more about the TARDIS. Ianto suspected the young Tallan had probably seen parts of his spaceship that even he had yet to discover.
The other two, Olan and Diller, stayed close to each other at all times and were clearly a couple. Olan was Auber’s second son and was a lot like his father, a calm, strong and good-natured fellow, quick to find humour in almost any situation. Diller was the dreamer of the group, with the soul of an artist; back on Talla, she had been learning the craft of weaving. The weavers were responsible for making not only the strong, serviceable, earth-toned fabric Tallans used for their work clothes, but also the more delicate, brightly coloured cloth used in the outfits worn on feast days and festivals. She was quiet and thoughtful, but sharply observant, her eyes picking up details the others often missed.
Smiling at their antics, Ianto followed the small group down onto the sand as he called out to them.
“Try not to get out of sight of the TARDIS, and if you go in the water at all, stay close to shore. It’s shallow here and there aren’t any dangerous currents, but we don’t know what kinds of sea life exist on this planet, so keep your eyes open for anything that could possibly be dangerous.”
“Yes, Ianto!” they all chorused. It had taken a few days to get them to call him by his given name; at first they’d wanted to call him Eridyen, a word in their own language that roughly translated as ‘Honoured One’. It was usually bestowed on the wisest of the tribal elders, but he’d told them he didn’t deserve it, pointing out that he was younger than Auber and really not very wise at all, so in the end he’d won that argument.
He watched them spread out, their natural inquisitiveness kicking in, and felt a warm glow of happiness. People like these were born to be free; he was glad he’d been able to rescue them from slavery.
Unsurprisingly, Jatso immediately headed out along the beach towards one of the headlands while Kellik started poking about among the flotsam and jetsam that had been deposited at high tide, no doubt gathering interesting things to ask questions about later.
Olan and Diller, arm in arm, wandered down to the water’s edge, dipping their hard soled furry feet into the warm water and expressing their delight with the low gurgling sound of Tallan laughter.
“The young find wonder and joy in the simplest things,” Auber commented.
“That’s how it should be,” Ianto replied. “Perhaps we would all do well to hold on to that ability. When we forget to find joy in simple things, we forget to enjoy living.”
“You say you are not old enough to be wise,” Auber rumbled, “but wisdom runs deep in you despite your youth, Ianto. You would be wiser still if you took your own words to heart and enjoyed the simple pleasures this place provides in abundance. I believe I shall sample them myself.” That said, he trotted across the sand and jumped into the water, deliberately splashing his son. Laughing, Ianto decided to leave them to it and set off after Jatso, intent on investigating the rockier terrain out towards the headland.
By the time he caught up with the young explorer, Jatso was already poking about among the multitude of tidal pools among the rocks, where strange and colourful creatures waited for the tide to turn and others were content to live out their lives. It reminded him of summer afternoons when he’d been ten or eleven, exploring rock pools with his mates, though they’d never found anything quite as peculiar as the creatures here.
Things like rainbow-coloured corals crept over the rocks, apparently eating them if the shallow gouges on the rock surfaces were any indication. Three-legged insectoids stalked slowly across the bottoms of the pools like stilt-walkers, hunting small purple tadpoles, catching them with long, sticky cilia that would dart out from their undersides whenever their prey came within reach. Blobs and clusters of silver jelly wobbled in the gentle currents, pink eyes on stalks occasionally popping up in random places, peering around briefly and then withdrawing. Bright green and gold slugs undulated about, slurping algae from the rocks and occasionally being sucked in by the silver jelly when they foolishly ventured too close to a cluster. They were all fascinating, and Ianto took dozens of pictures with the device he’d had the TARDIS create for him. It was more than just a camera, it also scanned whatever it was aimed at, collecting and recording information to add to the TARDIS’s databanks.
Some time later, Jatso and Ianto’s happy study of the rock pool inhabitants was interrupted by the excited cries of the rest of his party. Looking back along the shoreline, he saw them gathered in a cluster, waving at him and pointing out across the water.
“What have they seen?” he asked his TARDIS as he turned to look where they were pointing, shielding his eyes and squinting against the brilliance of sunlight shining on water.
“There appears to be some kind of ocean-dwelling creature approaching the shore. It is mostly submerged, but my sensors indicate that it is quite large.”
“Are we in any danger?”
“I do not believe so, I do not detect any signs of animosity. Perhaps it is merely curious.”
Keeping their eyes on the ripples that gave away the creature’s position, Ianto and Jatso started back over the rocks, wanting to reach the others before whatever it was got too close to the shore, just in case they all had to retreat to the safety of the TARDIS. They were still several hundred metres away when it reared up out of the water.
At first glance, Ianto was almost tempted to call it a sea serpent, except that the description was hopelessly inadequate. It had three long, serpentine ‘necks’, two of which ended in beaked heads, similar to those of snapping turtles; the third was topped by a silvery blue orb that pulsed steadily. Below that, encircling the ‘neck’ was a frill of fine tentacles that waved about as if sampling the air.
Ianto was unpleasantly reminded of the three-headed 456, though this couldn’t be the same species since it was breathing an atmosphere similar in composition to that of earth. Also, the third ‘head’ of this beast was nothing like the other two, whereas as far as he’d been able to tell through the murk in the tank, the 456’s three heads were identical. He concentrated his attention on the pulsing orb.
“It appears to be an organic sensor array,” the TARDIS mused. Ianto nodded; that would have been his guess too.
Aiming his scanner device at the sea monster, Ianto used it to get a look at the parts of the creature that remained below the surface. Its body was about five metres long, a flattened oval extending out at the sides into broad, fleshy ‘wings’ reminiscent of a manta ray’s, but blunt and rounded instead of coming to a point. Its tail was another broad, flat, curved fin, divided in two, each half able to move independently of the other, and the creature was using this tail fin to propel itself towards the shore, more or less the way scuba divers would use their flippers.
“What do you think it wants?” asked Kellik, sounding more interested than afraid, even though she, like the others, was quivering slightly, tense and ready to flee to the safety of the TARDIS if the need arose.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” admitted Ianto.
Auber studied the approaching monster warily. “Perhaps it would be prudent to move further away from the water.”
“Hmm, good idea,” agreed Ianto, “let’s do that.” He ushered everyone back up the beach to the high tide mark, which would hopefully be beyond the creature’s reach. “The TARDIS doesn’t believe it’s hostile, but that doesn’t mean we can be certain it wouldn’t try to eat us, given the opportunity. On the other hand, it might just be curious about what we are. I don’t suppose many people come here.”
Cruising to a halt, still a good ten metres from the shore, the huge beast stretched out its necks and regarded them curiously with small, reddish eyes.
“You are not the Doctor.” The voice was deep and booming, conjuring images in Ianto’s mind of deep caverns carved into towering sea cliffs by the endless pounding of the waves. He was so lost in his imaginings that it took him a moment to register what had been said.
“The Doctor? No, no I’m not. Sorry. Were you expecting him?”
“Always,” came the reply. “It has been long since last he came.”
Ianto wracked his brains, trying to come up with a suitable response, but in the end it wasn’t necessary as the strange sea creature continued speaking.
“You are not Time Lord, nor are you Oomin.”
“No, not… Umm, Oomin? Oh, do you mean human? No, I am, or I was, but…” He struggled to find a way to explain before giving up and simply shrugging. “It’s complicated.”
“Yes.” The sea monster, or whatever it was, seemed to study them with its sensors. “You are different species.”
“That’s right,” Ianto confirmed, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. “What gave it away?” He almost winced at his own flippancy. He’d never even met the Doctor, but from listening to all Jack’s stories of the Time Lord, he suspected he was acting just like him. The creature, however, took his question seriously.
“The shape of your ears.”
“Ah, well spotted.” The Tallans had rounded, furry ears on top of their heads, like a bear’s. Apparently, that was a more significant difference than the fact that they were furry all over and he wasn’t. He mentally berated himself for expecting such an alien being to look at things from a human perspective. That was a habit he’d need to break himself of quickly if he wanted to survive out here. The first thing he’d learned at Torchwood Three was not to ascribe human motivations to aliens. Apparently he hadn’t learned that lesson as well as he’d thought. “I’m Ianto Jones, these are my friends and travelling companions.” He introduced them all to their new acquaintance.
“How do you tell them apart?” It didn’t wait for an answer. “Never mind. I am named…” It made a loud, roaring sound, like gravel in a blender on high speed. There’d be no way either human or Tallan could reproduce that! “However, the Doctor calls me Norman.”
“Oh, right, nice to meet you. You don’t mind if we call you Norman then?”
“That would be acceptable.”
“Thank you. We were just passing and thought we’d stop for a little while; my friends had never seen an ocean. This is a very beautiful place you have here.”
Norman looked around. “Is it? I had not noticed.” He turned his attention back to Ianto. “It does not compare with what lies beneath the water’s surface.”
There wasn’t really anything Ianto could say to that, not having seen Norman’s underwater world.
“I expect land dwellers view such things differently,” Norman continued thoughtfully.
“That seems likely,” Ianto agreed.
“You have seen many worlds?”
“Uh, not yet, I only recently started exploring. I’ve seen a lot of spaceports, but not much else.”
“Spaceports, I do not know.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t. They’re not really designed for water dwellers.”
“Few things are, but then we water dwellers have few material needs, so it is of no matter. It was pleasant meeting you. If you should encounter the Doctor, relay my greetings, if you would.”
“Certainly, I’ll do that. Nice meeting you too.”
Norman nodded. “Good day. Enjoy your visit.”
“Thank you, I’m sure we will,” Ianto replied as Norman’s long necks submerged once more beneath the surface, gentle ripples the only sign of his presence as he swam back out into deeper water.
Ianto sat down on the sand. “Well, that was interesting. I think.” In his head, he added, “Is there anyone who doesn’t know the Doctor?”
“I do not have that information,” the TARDIS replied.
“That’s okay. I’m not sure I want to know the answer anyway.”
Excitement over for the moment, Ianto pushed himself back to his feet and dusted off his trousers, deciding they should all make the most of their time in this idyllic spot while they had the chance. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any more strange interruptions. As much as he liked meeting new… people, one per day was quite enough when they looked like that.
“Alright guys, why don’t we have some fun?” he called out cheerfully. “There’s a traditional earth pastime I think you might enjoy!” And so, after collecting buckets and spades from the TARDIS, he set about teaching the Tallans how to build sandcastles.
After all, what else are people supposed to do on a day at the beach?