Title: Through Time And Space: Chapter 15 – Chance Encounter
Characters: Ianto, OCs.
Word Count: 4405
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead
Summary: Ianto and his TARDIS stumble across someone in need of assistance.
Written For: Challenge #118: Wager at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Another spaceport on another world; Ianto had lost count of how many they’d visited, though he was sure the TARDIS knew exactly. The number wasn’t important though, what mattered was that he’d still found no trace of Jack. He kept telling himself it was only a matter of time before they struck lucky, but some days it was hard to remain optimistic. The universe was a very big place.
The back alley market he strolled into could have been the same one he’d visited on countless other space stations and planets. The beings that plied their wares from ramshackle stalls were the same mix of pirates, smugglers, weapons dealers and assorted rogues that he’d encountered everywhere he’d gone. Many were even known to him and he’d nod in greeting or bump fists with those he knew well enough to call friends.
None of them knew him by his real name; out here he called himself Des, short for Desmond Llewellyn, everyone’s favourite Q. He’d chosen the name in a fit of whimsy, partly because Q was his favourite character after Bond, but also because it was a name Jack would recognise if he heard it. It had seemed prudent to use an alias, even though away from earth no one was likely to have heard of Ianto Jones. He wanted to keep the two halves of his life separate; adopting a different name when dealing with the shady characters he encountered while searching for Jack allowed him to do so.
Many of his acquaintances were okay people, considering their professions, and they had their own strict code of honour; in some ways, they were more honourable than the supposedly respectable traders he’d met during his brief forays into the officially sanctioned marketplaces. But among the rogues and petty criminals, the devil-may-care buccaneers and the salvage merchants who usually made up the black market traders and their clientele, there was a sub-set of hard-core criminals, murderers and assassins, dealers in hard dugs and prohibited technology, the kinds of people it would be a bad idea to cross. Ianto Jones would have stood out like a sore thumb, but Des fit in just fine. If they all assumed he was a freelance smuggler and part-time gun for hire, so much the better. He’d let the rumours spread that bodyguard work was his speciality, making sure that deals went smoothly and no one tried to cheat or kill his clients. He’d even been hired a few times and was gaining a reputation for reliability.
The man who approached him as he moved among the stalls asking questions and browsing the goods on offer was unfamiliar. He was shabby and malnourished, clearly down on his luck, and his face bore a haunted, hunted expression. Yet despite his appearance, there was something about him that told Ianto he didn’t belong down among the lowlifes.
He sidled up to Ianto, glancing around apprehensively. “Rumour has it, you’re a gambling man.” That was true, after a fashion; a lot of gambling went on in these places, it was all part and parcel of making deals. The people would bet on pretty much anything and Ianto had found it necessary to participate in order to fit in and assuage suspicions. Luckily, he had an ace up his sleeve in the form of his TARDIS, who was able to advise him and stack the odds in his favour. If it served his purpose to win, he won; if losing was necessary, he lost, usually taking his losses with good-natured grumbling about the results of the wager being fixed. It was expected, and the winner would generally laugh and offer a re-match.
Ianto eyed the man thoughtfully; his words had sounded rehearsed and he was clearly nervous.
“Rumour has it right; I’ve been known to make the odd wager, if the stakes are right. But I don’t make bets with just anybody. I don’t know you, what makes you think I’d accept your wager?”
“You’re human, like me.”
That was true; seeing a fellow human was unusual, they weren’t all that common in space at this time, since earth had yet to develop interstellar space travel, and Ianto had only encountered a handful.
“I have this.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned fob watch, a plain, unadorned, but strikingly handsome antique piece made of rose gold. “It’s from Earth.” The man held it carefully, almost reverently; it clearly meant a great deal to him.
“Earth is out of bounds, thanks to the Shadow Proclamation giving it Prohibited status,” Ianto commented mildly as he took the timepiece from the other man and studied it. “Not much makes it off-world. How’d you get hold of this?”
“It’s been in my family a long time.” The other man never took his eyes off the watch, his fingers twitching as if he desperately wanted to snatch his property back.
So it was a family heirloom; that explained the tender handling. Ianto idly turned it over in his fingers, letting the light catch it. “What is it?”
“An old device for measuring time.”
“Huh. Probably set up for its planet of origin; wouldn’t be much use out here, and anyway, I’m not in the business of trading in trinkets.”
“It’s made of gold, very high quality.” Ianto already knew that: 18 karat, unless he missed his guess. It would be quite valuable back on earth. “Even out here, it must be worth something.” There was a pleading note in the man’s voice.
Weighing it in his hand, Ianto shrugged casually. “It could have some value as scrap metal I guess.” The man winced visibly. “Suppose I was interested in wagering for this…” he dangled the watch by its chain, “what would I be putting up as my stake?”
“If you win, you get the… gold. If I win, you provide passage away from here for me… and my family.”
Ah, now there it was. Poor guy was ready to gamble everything he had just on the slim chance of getting his family off this station. There was a story there, but now wasn’t the time to hear it.
Ianto laughed. “Passengers cost money, you’d have to put up a far richer stake to make that kind of wager worth my while. There more where this came from?”
The man should his head. “That’s all I have.” Ianto was pretty sure he meant it literally.
“Then do yourself a favour; take your pretty bauble and stop wasting my time.” Ianto pulled open the breast pocket of the man’s tattered overalls with the tip of one finger and dropped the watch into it, along with a microscopic tracking chip. ‘See where he goes and guide me,’ he told the TARDIS silently. “Get out of here.” He turned away to browse the contents of a nearby stall, acutely aware of the distraught man still standing where he’d left him. As he started to bargain for a damaged short-range scanner, his TARDIS reported that the man was leaving the marketplace.
‘He appears very upset.’
‘Wouldn’t you be? He’s desperate and his last hope just shot him down. Can you tell if anyone is following him?’
‘It appears not; so far at least.’
After a few more minutes haggling, Ianto got the scanner for half the original asking price, with a rather nice laser knife thrown in to sweeten the deal. Slipping his purchases into the battered canvas rucksack he carried, Ianto adjusted his wide-brimmed hat and set out in the opposite direction to his quarry. Following the TARDIS’s directions he arrived by a rather circuitous route at a point ahead of the man and concealed himself in the shadowy mouth of an alleyway. As the man stumbled past, head bowed and shoulders hunched, oblivious to his surroundings, Ianto slipped out of his hiding place and followed at a distance, watching as he entered one of the many rickety shacks that made up a kind of shantytown inside one of the sector’s derelict warehouses. There was no one else in sight and the whole place gave off an air of disuse.
‘There are three other people inside the hut,’ his TARDIS informed him.
‘His family, I’d wager.’
‘You are most likely correct. Readings indicate two women and a child. A fifth life sign appears to be an animal.’
‘Huh. I wasn’t bargaining on pets. I hope it doesn’t shed.’
Striding across the open space, he flipped aside the ragged burlap curtain that served as a door and stepped through. Four heads turned towards him, eyes wide and afraid; the man immediately stepped between Ianto and his family, as if he could protect them from any danger the intruder might present. There was no way out of the hovel other than by the door Ianto was currently blocking. He shook his head, incredulous.
“How have you managed not to get yourself killed? You’re seriously bad at this.”
The man pulled himself upright and faced Ianto with as much courage and dignity as he could muster. “Have you come to take my great grandfather’s watch?”
Ianto shook his head. “If I’d wanted to steal your property, I would’ve done it back there at the market. No one would’ve tried to stop me, or even paid any attention. People like you walk into a place like that, you’re just asking to be robbed blind, and possibly killed into the bargain. Then what would your family have done?” he nodded past the man at the three people huddled behind him. “They’d be left fending for themselves with no protection and no assets. You really didn’t think this through, did you?”
The small family stared at him in confusion. Ianto sighed, took off his hat, and sat down cross-legged on the floor. “I have my own reasons for being here; my name is Ianto Jones, I’m searching for a friend of mine who’s missing. I’ve been searching for… well, quite a while, and I’ve learned how to blend in. I couldn’t talk to you back there without blowing my cover. They think I’m one of them, a smuggler, a gun for hire, but I’m not. I might be able to help you, but I don’t know if I can trust you, so first you’ll have to convince me.” He looked at the small group of humans expectantly. “Who are you, and how did you end up here?”
“Why should we trust you?” To Ianto’s surprise, it wasn’t the man who spoke but the elder of the two women, grey haired and looking to be in her mid-sixties. From the resemblance between her and the younger woman, they were mother and daughter.
“I honestly don’t know. You certainly have no reason to. On the other hand, who else are you going to trust? You seem to be stuck here with no means of getting away, no money to pay for passage. I have a spaceship, with enough room on board for the four of you, and just what is that?”
The family’s pet had crept out into the open and was looking at him. It sort of resembled a dachshund, if you were to stretch one to about four feet in length and add three extra pairs of legs, a fox’s tail, and the head of a lion, complete with mane. It was also a rather alarming shade of pink.
“That’s Henty, my Quoat,” a small voice piped up and a freckled face peeped out from behind her mother.
“Surilla, be still,” her father admonished.
“But he asked!” the girl protested. She looked to be about seven, the same age as Mica. The thought brought a lump to Ianto’s throat.
“She’s got you there,” he said with a chuckle. “I did ask, and now I have my answer. I’ve never come across a Quoat before. Are they good pets?”
“The best,” Surilla stated firmly. “Papa gave her to me when I was little and she was just a baby. She’s nearly full-grown now.”
“She’s very… pink.”
Surilla giggled. “I like pink.”
“I can see that.” The little girl had a tattered and drooping pink bow in her dark hair and her clothes had once been various shades of pink. Again it was the older woman who spoke rather than the man, who still stood as if uncertain what to do.
“We have nothing to lose by being polite, Garten,” she admonished. “This man could surely have harmed us by now if that had been his intent.” She turned to Ianto. “My name is Izelle Villery. This is my daughter, Jessa, her husband Garten Megilly and their daughter, Surilla.”
Ianto inclined his head politely. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Garten sank to the ground like a puppet with its string cut and put his head in his hands. “This is all my fault.”
“Nonsense, Garten,” Izelle told him firmly. “You have done everything you could and kept us all alive this long, that’s more than most could have done.”
“Why don’t you start by telling me how you wound up in this place?” Ianto gestured around their hovel. “I get the feeling you’re not from around here.”
Garten sighed. “You are right. It’s a long story though. I hardly know where to begin.”
“I’m in no hurry. From what you’ve said so far, I gather that your great grandfather was from earth? As I understand it, the beginning of a story is usually the best place to start.”
Garten nodded. “Very well. My great grandfather and Izelle’s grandfather were among a group of people taken from earth by an alien race. They never learned who their abductors were, but they were held captive aboard a spaceship for some time and experimented upon. Eventually, the aliens must have learned everything about humans that they wished to know, and the survivors were abandoned on another world.
They set up their own colony and they thrived, trading with the planet’s natives and learning new skills, but some of the younger men, including my grandfather, became restless and started signing on with the ships of traders that visited the world they now called home. They saved their wages and eventually were able to buy a small freighter of their own, crewed entirely by humans. The venture was a great success and all involved prospered, so they bought more ships, each one run by a family, and all helping to support the colony.
Everything went well until my brother decided we should expand our range into another sector. He had become captain of our family’s ship the previous year when our father passed beyond the veil; as the younger brother, I was promoted to Berrin’s former post of First Mate. Because we are away from home for many turns at a time, our families have always travelled with us, working alongside us. Our children are raised onboard, born into the life we have chosen for ourselves. It’s a good life, or at least it was.
My brother’s ambition brought us to the attention of another spacefaring race whose trading routes we were encroaching upon. They were not happy and told us to go back where we’d come from, but Berrin said that space belongs to no one and that we had as much right to be there as anyone. I tried to make him see reason, but he was always stubborn and strong-willed. He refused to back down, so our rivals sent a band of brigands to deal with us.
Our ship was attacked while I was off duty, with my family in our quarters. I had to make a decision, either join the fight against an unknown number of attackers with superior weaponry, or try to save my family. I chose my family, but perhaps it might have been better for all of us if we had remained on the ship and faced our fate alongside our kin.
We gathered what we could as quickly as we could and made for the nearest lifepod, jettisoning it as soon as the hatch was secured. The pods are small and somewhat cramped, but kept fully provisioned; we could have lived aboard for several weeks, perhaps long enough to get back to our own sector of space where our distress beacon might have brought assistance, but we must have been spotted. The brigands’ ship fired upon us, and our life support systems were damaged. We repaired them as best we could, but were only able to make it as far as this space station. When we explained our situation, we were permitted to dock, but the Port-Master said we must pay a docking fee.
It cost us most of what we had brought with us from our ship, except for what I hid with great grandfather’s watch inside Henty’s pouch. We were left without enough funds to pay for repairs to the lifepod, and every day we were in dock we were being charged rent for the berth we were using. We tried to find work, but we were told there was none available because we didn’t belong to the union, and we couldn’t join it because we were foreigners. When we could no longer pay the fees, we were evicted and our pod became property of the station in partial payment of the money we owed. We ended up here because we needed what little money we had left to pay for food, but now even that is gone. Gambling with great grandfather’s watch seemed the only chance we had left, but I was wrong; it was a foolish idea. I would have done better to sell it so that at least we might eat for a while longer, but I was desperate. All I could think of was how badly I had failed my family.”
“You didn’t fail us,” Jessa said softly. “This place is corrupt, it would not have mattered what you did; the people here were intent on bleeding us dry. I cannot help but wonder how many others have suffered the same fate at their hands. There is more honesty among the thieves at the black market where we brought our food than among those who own this space station.” Turning to face Ianto, she asked, “Will you help us?”
“Yes, I believe I will. You’re welcome aboard my ship, and I’ll do what I can to get you back to your homeworld.”
“Thank you! We will forever be in your debt.”
Garten was still suspicious. “What is this generosity on your part going to cost us? We have no money to pay our way; only this.” He held out the watch once more, but Ianto shook his head.
“That has more value to you than it would ever have for me. Besides, I already have one. What use does one man have for two watches?”
“Then what is your price?”
“The one commodity you have that I need; knowledge, information, call it what you will. Your people are traders; you know your sector of space better than anyone. You can tell my ship and I about all the worlds you’ve visited, along with as much information as you can about this sector and the brigands who attacked your ship.”
“And what would you do with this knowledge? Prey on other people?”
“As I told you, I’m not like the people who attacked you. Forewarned is forearmed; if I know what I’m likely to encounter, I can avoid getting myself into trouble. I will fight if I have to, but I prefer not to if it can be avoided; it’s messy, and sometimes, innocent people get hurt or killed.
There’s one other reason; I already have some passengers aboard my ship who were abducted from their world by slavers. Their race doesn’t have space travel and finding where they were taken from is proving difficult. Perhaps you know of their world and can help me return my friends to their home. They’re good people, they didn’t deserve what was done to them any more than you did. Like you, they just want to go home.”
“I hope we will not come to regret trusting you, but in truth, we have no choice. However, there is a problem; how do we reach your ship? If we enter the spaceport, we will surely be recognised and arrested for non-payment of debts.”
“Then it’s a good thing we don’t have to go there; my ship can come to us.” In his head, Ianto added, ‘How about it, beautiful? Can you materialise around us? A touch of theatrics might go down well.’
‘I believe that will pose no problem.’
Even as the words formed inside Ianto’s head, the sound of the TARDIS materialising filled the shack.
“What is that sound?” Garten wrapped his arms protectively around his wife and child.
“Nothing to be afraid of, it’s just my ship picking us up.” The walls of the TARDIS flickered in and out of visibility for a moment before solidifying around them. “Here we are! Welcome aboard, everybody.”
There were gasps of amazement from the small family and curious whines from the Quoat, while inside his head, Ianto heard his TARDIS ask, ‘You think me beautiful?’
‘Of course; I’m surprised you have to ask,’ he replied.
“This is your ship?” Garten sounded awed.
“This is the console room. I have quite a lot of ship. She’s great company, but it’s good to have other people around. Now, if you’ll all come with me, I’ll show you to your quarters; looks like you could all do with a rest and something to eat.” In his head, he thought at the TARDIS, ‘Is there any chance of a suite near the kitchen?’
‘Already completed: Central lounge, two connecting bedrooms, one separate bedroom for Izelle, all with en suite bathrooms. I took the liberty of decorating Surilla’s room in pink.’
Ianto smiled as he led the family out of the console room and towards the staircase leading to the residential level. ‘Nice touch.’ Aloud, he said, “I hope you’ll like the accommodations. My ship prides herself on making everyone on board as comfortable as possible.”
“You speak of your ship as if she were a living being,” Izelle commented.
“That’s because she is. She’s sentient; not just my transport and my home, but my closest friend too.”
“I would introduce myself,” the TARDIS spoke audibly for once, “but Ianto has yet to decide on my name.”
“I’m sorry, I just haven’t found the right one for you yet. Any old name won’t do; it has to fit you perfectly.”
“Then I shall try to be patient. Welcome,” she greeted her new passengers. “If there is anything you require, simply ask and I shall do my best to provide.”
Garten looked stunned. “A ship that speaks! I would not have believed such a thing was possible if I’d not heard it with my own ears. How did you come to own such an extraordinary vessel?”
“I don’t know that I own her, as such; she belongs to herself. As for how we met, she rescued me from a fate worse than death; there was an explosion, and I was thrown into the void. She was already there and she saved me. As both of us were alone, we joined forces; exploring the universe is a lot more fun when you have someone to share the experience with.” Ianto stopped outside a door across from the kitchen and opened it to reveal a spacious lounge area. “Here you are; the bedrooms are though those doors. If you have any questions, just ask the ship. The main kitchen is through there,” he pointed to the door across the corridor. “It’s fully stocked, so help yourselves to food, there’s always plenty. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave you to rest; tomorrow I’ll show you around. Oh, and there’s a laundry room just down the hall if you want to wash your clothes. Goodnight.”
As the door closed behind their host, Garten gazed in wonder at the unexpected luxury of his surroundings. He was pulled from his stupor by Surilla’s excited cry.
“Mama, Papa, Gramma, my room’s pink! Come see!”
Jessa smiled. “Better not keep her waiting.”
Linking arms with his wife, Garten followed Izelle towards the open door to one of the sleeping chambers. It was indeed pink, in carefully chosen shades that combined to give the room a warm, welcoming feel, perfect for Surilla.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” the little girl exclaimed.
All three adults agreed, but Garten crouched before his daughter, reminding her that they were only visitors and might not be staying long.
“I know, Papa, but it’s all so lovely I know me and Henty will be happy here, no matter how long it takes to get home.” Suddenly remembering the manners her parents and grandmother had drilled into her, she looked up at the ceiling. “Thank you, ship, I love my room!”
“You are welcome, Surilla. I hope you will all enjoy your stay.”
“I’m sure we shall,” said Izelle. “We are most grateful to you and your travelling companion for your kindness and hospitality.” As the eldest of her people present, it was her privilege to speak for the family. Jessa and Garten nodded agreement, murmuring their own thanks.
While the women went to freshen up, Garten considered how completely their lives had been turned around in the space of just a few hours. His desperate gamble had paid off in ways he never could have anticipated; he’d been ready to sacrifice everything he had, including his own life, to save his family, and Lady Fortune had smiled on them. What was it his grandfather used to say? ‘To win big, you have to be willing to bet everything.’
Garten had never been a gambling man, unlike his brother. He’d always been the prudent, level headed one, warning against the dangers of taking risks and advising on the safest course of action. Perhaps that was why the two of them had worked so well together, creating a balance between rashness and over-caution. But his brother was gone. Now, it seemed he would have to learn when to throw caution to the stars, put everything on one roll of the dice and hope for the best outcome.
It was a daunting prospect; he only hoped he was up to the task. Only time would tell.