Characters: Ianto, Jack, Owen, Tosh, Gwen, OAC
Spoilers: Nothing aside from references to Torchwood’s origins and Torchwood One policy.
Summary: Torchwood has gone from being a place of dread for aliens to being their first port of call for assistance.
Word Count: 3709
Written For: Challenge 10: Amnesty, using Challenge 7: Bug at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Torchwood was set up in the first place to deal with the threat posed by extraterrestrials, creatures not of planet earth, you know, aliens; those weird, unearthly monsters you see in all the old sci-fi B-movies.
Aliens aren’t all monsters though, and many of them aren’t even a threat to earth, they’re just civilised people who happen to look a bit, or a lot, different from humans. In fact, it’s the humans themselves that cause the most problems during encounters with extraterrestrials because of their prejudices and their discrimination. How would you feel if you were just minding your own business and someone decided to attack you just because you looked a bit different from them? Oh, right, that happens all the time between humans too; prejudice and discrimination isn’t just directed at creatures from other worlds.
Humans as a species are remarkably intolerant even of their own kind, usually for petty reasons such as skin colour, sexuality, or religion, ignoring the fact that they are all the same inside, apart from the obvious anatomical differences between males and females. It’s no wonder people from other planets prefer to avoid visiting earth if at all possible; it’s such an uncivilised, illogical place.
Truth be told, most aliens who come to our not noticeably fair planet are here entirely by accident. There are Rifts in time and space throughout the universe and sometimes people have the misfortune to get sucked in by one and dumped somewhere they never intended to go. It’s like an involuntary mystery tour without a return ticket. Thankfully for those who become stranded on planet earth, there is still Torchwood, and these days its purpose for existing has changed somewhat.
Don’t get me wrong; Torchwood is still in the business of dealing with hostile aliens, there are still races on other worlds who have yet to give up the invasion business, the slavery business, and a few other less than legal pursuits. Not all alien races are as civilised and honest as they might be and they see earth as an easy target. Well, they do until they get there and find the people are more trouble than they’re worth to enslave, and the world as a whole doesn’t take kindly to people trying to invade and take what’s theirs. Humans are very possessive.
Torchwood are no pushover either, even if their representatives are few in number they make up for it by being very good at what they do. Repelling invasions is only one small part of their job these days though. The organisation has been radically downsized since the turn of the century, ironically as a result of Torchwood themselves accidentally facilitating attempted invasions by two alien races at the same time while trying to acquire unlimited free energy for the planet. They’re under new management now, none other than Captain Jack Harkness, one time companion of the Time Lord known as the Doctor, and thankfully he has a much better understanding of the universe, and of the many peoples who inhabit it, than those previously in charge.
It’s become common knowledge among many races that anyone falling through a Rift, and finding themselves on earth in a quaint little place known variously as Cardiff or Caerdydd, should always seek out Torchwood for assistance. They might not be able to send all stranded visitors home again, although they do try their best, but any beings unlucky enough to find themselves faced with living out their lives on an unfamiliar world among strangers, can count on Torchwood to provide the necessary papers and help with acclimatisation, as well as such things as finding suitable accommodation and employment.
Those who have to remain of earth are mercifully few; earth is already crowded enough with its own indigenous populations without adding more from offworld. The majority of Riftugees get home eventually; they just sometimes have to wait a while for a lift.
As the door opened, Ianto looked up from the magazine he was reading at the tourist office counter to see who had entered, and his eyebrows shot up into his hairline. Lost tourists did find their way to the small shack from time to time, but they were generally human, or at least humanoid. This was the first time he’d been visited by a grasshopper.
“Good afternoon. Am I right in assuming that you’re a bit… lost?”
The grasshopper inclined its head graciously. “Indeed. I am Akkazzak of Pantolia. I seek a human, Captain Harkness by name. I require assistance.” The voice had a mechanical quality and issued from a metallic box suspended around the creature’s neck, which was obviously a translator.
“If you’d be so kind as to wait here for a moment…” Ianto reached under the counter and triggered the lock on the tourist office’s outer door so that nobody would wander in and see the man-sized insect.
The alien creature inclined its head again. “I will wait.”
Ianto imitated the gesture. “Thank you.” Stepping into the small office behind the beaded curtain, he tapped his bluetooth. “Jack?”
“What is it, Ianto?”
“There’s a giant grasshopper asking to see you.”
“Huh, that’s a first. Stranded alien Riftugee?”
“That would be my guess.”
“I’ll be right up. Does it seem hostile?”
“Not at all, it’s very civilised and polite. Says it’s from Pantolia.”
“Heard of it; never been there though. Highly advanced culture; millennia ahead of present day earth. I’ll come up via the stairs.”
The staircase led up to a concealed door at the back of the tiny office. It was much smaller than the main Hub access door, making it a bit of a tight squeeze, so it didn’t get used much, but it was useful when any of the team needed to come up to the tourist office on the rare occasions when people were present.
“Okay, see you in a minute.” Ianto clicked his earpiece off and returned to the tourist office where their visitor was waiting patiently. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Captain Harkness will be with you shortly. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“There is not, but I thank you for your consideration.”
A couple of minutes later, there was a rattling sound as Jack pushed his way through the strings of beads that helped to conceal the cubby-hole behind the counter from view. He was smiling his trademark film star smile, the one he used to charm, or attempt to charm, everyone he encountered.
“Captain Harkness, this is Akkazzak of Pantolia.” Ianto turned to the grasshopper. “Sorry if the pronunciation is off.”
“A commendable attempt,” their guest assured him. “Captain Harkness of Torchwood, it is my understanding that your organisation assists those citizens displaced by mischance, is this correct?”
“We do what we can to return people to their homes where possible, or to help them settle locally, yes. Did you get taken by the Rift?”
“By one such; there are many. Some are avoidable; others shift to take the unwary. Rift physics is my field of study. I was engaged in taking readings from a small one situated on a remote planetoid in the solar system adjacent to my own. I believed I was at a sufficient distance; it would appear I was mistaken.”
Jack nodded. “Rifts can be unpredictable like that.”
“Thus the reason they must be studied, to learn how their actions might best be predicted and guarded against.”
“We’ve made some progress in that area, at least with regard to our local Rift. I’ll have my technical expert provide you with a copy of her notes and the data she’s collected, it might prove useful to you.”
“Most generous. I would reciprocate, but at present that is not possible; all the data I have collected during my years of study is currently aboard the science vessel on which my team and I are based. It remains in orbit around the planetoid at some considerable distance from your world. If your people would assist me in contacting the ship in order that my team might mount a retrieval mission, I should be pleased to share my findings when they arrive.”
“I believe that can be arranged. If you’d come with me? Ianto, the door please?”
Ianto pressed the button to open the main entrance to the Hub. The wall swung open and the three entered the hidden passageway, making their way down in to the lift that would take them to Torchwood’s base below the Plas.
On the way down, Ianto couldn’t help noticing that Akkazzak seemed to be moving a bit awkwardly.
“Were you injured when you came through the Rift?” he inquired, frowning.
“It is not serious, minor damage to my left middle foot. Do not concern yourself.”
“Minor or not, I’ll have our medic take a look at it when we reach the Hub,” Jack decided. “You’re our guest and we’d be poor hosts if we left you in unnecessary pain. How did it happen?”
“My foot was caught between two rocks and wrenched in an unusual direction as I was pulled into the Rift. The surface of that particular planetoid is quite hazardous, with many crevices and loose rocks. Great caution is required in negotiating such uneven terrain in order to maintain stability. In trying to avoid being taken, I placed my foot badly and now I suffer for my error.”
Ianto nodded. “I can imagine. I’ve hiked over a lot of similar terrain; always have to watch where I put my feet to avoid breaking my ankle. It’s difficult enough with only two feet, having six must complicate matters quite a lot.”
“I am accustomed to keeping track of where all six of my feet are, it is natural to me, though I confess I find it remarkable that you can balance and move around with only two. Quite extraordinary!”
“Like you said, for us having two feet is natural. We’re each well adapted to our own forms.”
“As are all living beings.”
The lift doors opened and they passed through the cog door into the vast cavern that was the main work area of the Hub. Far above, Myfanwy was circling on the thermals generated by the heating system. Akkazzak gazed upwards, intrigued by the flying reptile.
“Amazing! On my world, the only creatures that fly are the very small, furry insects that pollinate our crops.”
“Bees are universal,” Jack explained. “Most worlds have them.” Turning to Akkazzak, he added, “You’d better watch your footing around here too; our base isn’t exactly designed for your kind.”
“So I see,” the grasshopper agreed, eyeing the flights of steps and the narrow catwalks.
“Owen?” Jack yelled. “Get up here, got a patient for you.”
They could all hear Owen’s footsteps as he stomped up from the autopsy bay. “Yeah, yeah. Who stuck their finger in the wrong place this time?” he asked in a bored tone before stopping dead in his tracks, staring at their visitor. “Fuck! It’s a giant bug!”
“I’m sure you’re no oil painting to his visual receptors either,” Jack admonished. “This is Akkazzak, he’s from a planet called Pantolia. The Pantolians are just one of many insectoid races in the universe. They’re noted scholars and scientists in their sector of space so it won’t kill you to show him some respect.” Jack smiled apologetically at their guest. “What Doctor Harper lacks in manners he makes up for with his medical skills, I assure you that despite appearances, you’re in good hands.”
“Then I will trust your judgement.” Akkazzak turned to Owen, inclining his head politely. “Doctor.”
“Uh, yeah, right. So, what seems to be the problem?”
“I appear to have sustained some damage to my central left foot,” the grasshopper replied, turning sideways and lifting the foot to show Owen. “I do not believe it is serious, however it is causing me some discomfort.”
Owen snapped into doctor mode. “Okay, wait here a minute while I get my scanners. Not met your species before so I’ll need to scan your good foot first so I know how it should look, they I’ll have a better idea of the extent of the damage to the injured one.” He trotted back to the autopsy bay to fetch his equipment; he’d never imagined himself having to treat a giant insect, it made for an interesting challenge.
Once the scans were taken, Owen studied the results carefully though it wasn’t difficult to see where the problem lay
“You were right; nothing serious, looks like you’ve just sprained your… foot joint. I’ll put a bandage on it; that should help ease the discomfort by supporting the strained muscles and tendons.” Owen dug out a crepe bandage and soon had the joint strapped up. “Try that.”
Akkazzak tested his foot and waved his antennae approvingly. “That is much better, Doctor. You have my thanks.”
Owen shrugged. “No problem; just doing my job. Um, would you mind me taking a few more scans? Only, there’s so much I don’t know; mostly all I see are dead aliens and there’s only so much I can learn from them about treating the living. There’s not much on insectoid races in our databases, anything I learn could benefit future patients.”
“Make your scans; scientists must always seek to extend their knowledge whenever such an opportunity arises. I will answer any questions that I can, there will be ample time. But first, I must contact my ship and arrange for my retrieval.”
“Of course. Whenever you have time.”
Akkazzak made his way carefully over to where Jack was standing by Tosh’s workstation, explaining the situation. Not that he needed to explain much; Tosh was quick to figure out what was needed and between them, the trio soon had a workable method of transmitting a message to the science vessel via the Rift. Several hours later, they received an answer, assuring them that the ship was on its way, although its ETA was estimated at twelve days.
Naturally, Akkazzak had to remain in the Hub for the duration, but he didn’t mind; there was plenty to occupy him. He had long discussions with Tosh about Rift science and prediction, explained Pantolian anatomy and biology to Owen, talked of far-off worlds with Jack, and exchanged information about the history and culture of their respective planets with Ianto. All in all, it was a fascinating and informative time for everyone, and whenever there was a Rift alert, Akkazzak would remain at the Hub with Tosh, helping her to collect data and guide the team.
The alien scientist was very favourably impressed with the level of hospitality he received while a guest of Torchwood. They provided him with a suitably comfortable resting place, ample vegetation to eat, and a ready supply of tasty beverages to supplement his water intake. The bathing facilities also proved most pleasant, although reaching them meant negotiating several flights of steps, something his species weren’t used to because with six legs, ramps proved a more practical solution for getting from one level of a building to another. Akkazzak settled in well and found himself enjoying his unexpected sojourn on earth.
All good things, however, have to come to an end, and almost before they knew it, they were receiving a transmission from the Pantolian spacecraft as it entered earth’s solar system. Jack and Tosh had already selected a good, secluded spot on a hilltop a dozen or so miles outside Cardiff where a shuttle could land safely, so Tosh relayed the coordinates and a time for the rendezvous to the ship’s crew. When that was done, Akkazzak had a few words with his people, instructing them on the Rift data exchange and arranging for copies of all their Rift research to be brought down in the shuttle.
Ianto organised a small farewell party for the afternoon, with good food and non-alcoholic drinks for all, and Akkazzak’s last few hours with the Torchwood team flew past in the wave of an antenna. It seemed no time at all before everyone was piling into the SUV and the van Ianto had rented from Harwoods to transport their visitor to the pickup point.
Jack, as usual, took the wheel of the SUV, while Ianto drove the van. He opened the window between the cab and the rear compartment so that he and Akkazzak could chat on the journey and the giant grasshopper could see some of the scenery as they passed through the Welsh countryside. Pantolians had remarkably good night vision and could see in the dark better than humans, so even though it was already dark when they left, it didn’t inhibit the grasshopper’s sightseeing.
As they got close to their destination, the two vehicles turned off the road onto a rough track, following it to a point about three quarters of the way up the hill. Parking, they got out and walked the last mile or so through the darkness, coming to a halt still within the cover of the trees surrounding the wide meadow where the shuttle was to land. Their guest’s foot was healed by now, so the walk didn’t cause him any trouble, he just had to watch where he stepped on the uneven ground to ensure that he didn’t re-injure himself.
They’d timed their journey so that they’d arrive early enough for Akkazzak to enjoy the fresh Welsh air and have a look around before he had to leave. After all, he’d been cooped up in the Hub for almost two weeks and all he’d seen of earth in that time had been CCTV footage of Cardiff and a wide selection of nature documentaries and other interesting programmes on the TV in the boardroom, where he’d spent much of his time whenever the team were kept busy with their work.
A couple of hours after they arrived at the clearing, Tosh drew their attention to a dark shape above them, obscuring a patch of the star-studded sky. The Pantolian crew had, on her instructions, tucked their ship away behind the moon where it wouldn’t be spotted and now the smaller shuttlecraft was coming in to land. It’s engines were surprisingly quiet, no louder than a small plane even though it was about four times the size. It landed neatly in the centre of the meadow and the Torchwood team crossed the moonlit clearing to greet the new arrivals as they stepped out onto the grass.
Introductions were made, gifts exchanged, and the crew stretched their legs, enjoying the fresh air and mild temperatures and getting to know their hosts. It was a very pleasant interlude, but all too soon it was time to say their farewells, so that the shuttle could get beyond earth’s atmosphere before sunrise.
“It is my hope that at some future time, the people of earth and the people of Pantolia might become friends. We could learn much from each other,” Akkazzak told them. “Farewell, my friends; may food and water always be abundant for you, and may the winds blow gently.”
“Likewise,” Jack replied. “Safe journey, and if you’re ever in the neighbourhood again, call us, we’ll have lunch!”
“It would be my pleasure.” Akkazzak nodded to them, then followed the shuttle’s crew aboard, the access ramp withdrawing back into the craft and the doors sealing with a muted thump and a hiss. Team Torchwood retreated to the edge of the clearing and watched as the shuttle rose slowly into the air before angling its nose upwards and shooting away at speed, heading up to rejoin the science vessel. Soon the ship would be on its way back to the planetoid where Akkazzak’s whole adventure had begun; he still had work to do there, studying the Rift.
“Guess it’s back to the Hub for us then,” Owen sighed. “Y’know, I think I’m going to miss that guy, he was okay for a bug.”
“We’ll all miss him, Owen. I learned so much.” Tosh smiled wistfully.
“You’ll hardly notice he’s gone,” Owen scoffed. “You’ve got a ton of scientific data to keep you busy.”
“That’s true. I can’t wait to get started on these!” She held up the data cubes and the reader she’d been given.
“It’ll keep until tomorrow, Tosh. It’s been a long day; when we get back to the Hub, you’re all going home to get some rest.” Jack set off back the way they’d come, the others falling in behind him. “I don’t want to see any of you until after lunch.”
“What if there’s a Rift alert?” asked Gwen.
“Then I’ll handle it, but there won’t be; Tosh’s predictor says tomorrow will be quiet so rest while you can. These lulls rarely last for long.”
“We’ll be up to our ears in more aliens before we know it,” Ianto agreed. “Too bad they’re not all as civilised and friendly as the Pantolians. It would make our job a lot simpler.”
“We do seem to get more than our share of hostiles.” Jack draped an arm around Ianto’s shoulders as they walked, hips bumping together. “On the other hand, it looks like our reputation as the first stop for stranded aliens is spreading. Wasn’t so many years ago that lost travellers would’ve avoided us like the plague, and with good reason; that they’re coming right to our door now to ask for help is a big step forwards for interplanetary relations.”
Ianto nodded, glad that their actions were gradually erasing Torchwood One’s legacy. The institute had done a lot of harm in the past, treating all aliens as their property and experimenting on them indiscriminately. Since Jack had taken over as head of Torchwood, he’d implemented a lot of changes, reshaping the organisation into a place that cared about the welfare of all species, whether sentient or not, and helped those in need, no matter what they were. “That’s mostly down to you. You’ve done good, Jack.”
“I hope so.”
“Believe it. Even the Doctor couldn’t have done better.”
In the moonlight, Jack smiled. The Doctor may have been his inspiration, but it was this young Welshman’s faith in him that kept him on the right track, and he knew he’d do whatever it took to live up to Ianto’s expectations.