Beth Turner walked back from the vaults, through Hub Central and up to the tourist office. It was eleven thirty and the office was closed, but she preferred to sit in there when the Hub was empty. It was bright with all the posters she had put up and she could make a cup of coffee in the little back room behind the bead curtain and read until Ianto and Alun got back from investigating the larger of the two rift openings that had occurred earlier in the evening.
She liked working at the Hub, but tonight was a full moon. Ray was in his cell in the vault. He had changed, of course. He didn’t even recognise her when she looked in on him. He just snarled and threw himself against the cell wall in his animal rage. Sometimes she let herself hope that he was improving and that he might know her even when he was at his most animal. But other times, like this, the man she loved was gone completely.
That was why she didn’t want to be in the Hub. There were two weevils locked up at the other end of the corridor and some kind of bat-winged grey creature hunkered in the corner of the cell opposite. She didn’t want to be near any of them, at least not on her own.
She made the coffee and found a packet of biscuits. Sitting in the little back room with the light on was nice. She was still on duty in her own way. There was a CCTV screen that showed what was happening outside on Mermaid Quay and on the Plas above the Hub. Mostly it was quiet. A concert at the Millennium Centre was over and everyone had gone home except for the crew putting the band’s equipment into a lorry to go to the next venue. On the Quay there was a drunk who came up as far as the closed door of the tourist office before ambling away in the opposite direction. He didn’t worry her even though she was alone inside. That door was much stronger than anyone might expect.
The phone rang. It was Gwen Cooper’s mobile.
“Hi, Beth,” she said. “We’re coming in with something we found at the secondary Rift opening.”
“I’ll put the coffee on,” she answered. “See you soon.”
That was all right, too. She went down to the kitchenette in the Hub. She made a big pot of coffee and set a selection of biscuits on a plate. She liked Gwen and Rhys. They didn’t act like Torchwood professionals, always thinking about alien invasions. They were happy to chatter about rugby and what was on TV. Rhys was the most down to earth man she knew and Gwen was an ordinary woman who did an extraordinary job without it ever taking her over. Beth felt she needed a friend who had mastered that.
It wasn’t long before they came down the pavement lift. Rhys was holding a shoebox so carefully it was obvious it no longer contained a pair of Umbro trainers.
“You’re going to love this,” he said, setting the box down on the recreation area table next to the biscuit tray. Gwen smiled knowingly as he carefully opened the lid.
“Ohhh!” Beth exclaimed. “What is it?”
“We have no idea,” Gwen answered. “Except it’s alien. We found it at the Rift site, sitting there, absolutely soaked with Rift energy otherwise we’d never have seen the poor little thing. It was just sitting there in the grass, shivering and looking miserable.”
“It’s alien…” Beth reached out a hand towards the odd little creature hunkered down in a cotton wool nest. “I mean… it must be of course. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s…”
“It’s got teeth,” Rhys warned. “It was cold when I picked it up. Torpid, you see… reptiles are like that. I saw that on David Attenborough. But it’s warmed up in the car and it’s a bit perkier now. So mind out. It might have alien rabies or something.”
“I’m sure it’s all right,” Beth said. She reached out one finger and stroked the head of the creature. It was certainly reptilian. It was six inches tall. The skin on its body was pale blue-green and scaly like a small crocodile. But the head was round and flattened. It had two big black eyes that blinked every so often, a pair of slit shaped nostrils but no nose as such, and a small mouth that did, indeed, have some needle like teeth inside. There was a thin neck and then a wide body. It stood upright on its two back legs with a gait rather like a kangaroo. A tail gave it balance in the same way. The two shorter front limbs had long-fingered hands that reached out hopefully towards the biscuit tray while it made a soft mewling sound.
“I wonder if it’s hungry,” she added. “Do you think we could feed it?”
Gwen and Rhys looked at each other and shrugged.
“I suppose we could,” Gwen admitted. “Not sure what with. Jack said when Myfanwy hatched they gave her strips of kebab meat. Maybe we could try…”
She stopped talking about meat and stared as Beth picked up a chocolate digestive and offered it to the alien creature. Its mouth was no more than a centimetre across. It was like offering an adult Human a whole twelve inch pizza.
The creature blinked then grasped the biscuit with its two paws. Everyone expected it to nibble the biscuit like a hamster. They were astonished when the little mouth suddenly stretched around the whole circle. They saw its cheeks expand out around it. Then the whole biscuit travelled down its neck, the pale blue-green skin rippling with the peristaltic movement along its oesophagus until it disappeared, somehow, into its body.
The creature gave a satisfied burp and blinked hopefully at Beth.
At least that was how Beth interpreted its expression. It was an alien reptile, but to her it had the appeal of a lost kitten and her instinct was to indulge it.
She gave it another biscuit. The three of them watched again the amazing way its body accommodated the shape of the food.
“Wonder how it would handle a Wagon Wheel!” Rhys said with a laugh. “It’s mouth would be out here! It’d look like Queen Elizabeth with a big ruff round her neck.”
“We’re not going to try,” Beth told him as she fed the creature two more chocolate digestives and a wafer finger that it devoured lengthways like a log going into a sawmill. “I think I’ll call it McVitie.”
“It suits him,” Gwen agreed.
“So can we leave him with you?” Rhys asked. “Only we were on the way back from my mam’s when Ianto asked us to check out this Rift opening and I’m bloody knackered. I’ve got an early start tomorrow…”
Rhys drifted off into a long-winded monologue about the complexities of managing a major haulage firm with offices in Ipswich, Sheffield and ‘bloody’ Carlisle as well as Cardiff. Gwen looked benignly at the little alien, who stretched his head towards her and blinked endearingly. But Rhys was right. There was nothing else they could do here tonight.
“Never mind, McVitie,” Beth said as Gwen and Rhys departed and the Hub went quiet again. “I’m not going anywhere, yet.”
McVitie trilled and turned his head towards the biscuit tray again. Beth laughed.
“We’re out of digestives, I’m afraid. How about a choc-chip cookie?”
McVitie found those an acceptable food substance. He downed six of them in his own unique way and then fell asleep curled up in his cotton wool nest in his shoe box, snoring softly. She washed the coffee cups and checked to see if they had any more chocolate biscuits left. The cookies were Captain Jack’s particular preference with his morning coffee and he might be a little perturbed to find out an alien creature had polished them off. When that was done she sat down at the desk and read a magazine for a while. Strangely, with the little creature for company, she felt less reluctant to be in the Hub. She wasn’t quite as alone now.
It was an hour later when Ianto and Alun arrived through the garage entrance. Beth had dozed off with her feet up on a chair and woke with a start, feeling guilty for not being on full alert.
“What in the world have you got there?” she asked. Alun was carrying something tall and thin securely wrapped in plastic with the Torchwood logo printed all over it.
“Something not of this world,” he answered. “Alien plantlife. It came through the Rift. One for the hothouse with the other non-indigenous specimens.”
Beth followed the two men up to the fascinating room they referred to as the ‘hothouse’. It was an indoor jungle of the most exotic plants imaginable. All of them were from other worlds or other times. Some had come through time rifts just as the pet pterodactyl had and were known to science only as fossils in the coal seams. Some had never belonged on Earth. They came through the Rift, many of them as seeds that were grown in the hothouse purely to find out what they were. Sometimes whole plants came through, suddenly ripped from their alien soil and left on Earth. It was for that reason Alun and Ianto were sent to check even the smallest Rift openings. The possibility of alien plantlife taking root in the Welsh countryside was too dangerous to ignore.
“Looks like a Triffid,” Beth commented as Alun unwrapped the plant and stood its roots in a pot of compost. It was an odd looking thing. The long but very strong stem had purple veins running along it. The ‘head’ of the plant was a thick, bulbous mass with more of the veins. It didn’t, in fact, look anything like a Triffid, but it was the first thing that came to mind. “Better make sure it doesn’t have a sting.”
“I’ll do that, don’t worry. Gwen called to tell us you have an alien lifeform of your own. Why don’t you let Ianto examine it while I get on with cataloguing Audrey III.”
“McVitie. Come and see,” Beth said to Ianto. “He’s the sweetest little thing you’ve ever seen.”
“Sweet?” Ianto and Alun exchanged glances. Sweet was not a phrase usually associated with the lifeforms that came into the Hub. “He?” Personal pronouns were not usually applied to the said lifeforms, either. And as for…
“Just come and see,” Beth urged him. “Come on.”
Ianto turned and winked at his lover as he got on with taking tissue samples from the alien plant and then followed Beth down to the rest area. He was surprised to find the alien animal just left there, uncontained except by a cardboard box, and said so.
“I know it’s not exactly procedure,” Beth replied. “But he’s no harm, I’m sure. Really, look.”
Ianto’s eyes widened as the tiny creature yawned and stretched and trilled at Beth as if it knew her before turning its slim neck and sizing up the other face that now looked at it.
He slipped on a protective plastic glove before reaching out and picking up the creature Beth had christened McVitie. She was a little surprised when it allowed him, and just a tiny bit jealous. Then Ianto gave a surprised gasp and she looked down into the box.
“He’s not a he, he’s a she,” he said. “And she’s a mother.”
“Ohh!” Beth cried in glee as she saw three perfectly formed miniature versions of McVitie looking up at her and blinking endearingly. “Oh, how lovely.”
Ianto said nothing, but his expression didn’t suggest ‘lovely’ was the word foremost in his mind. He looked at the creature he was holding, noting that it had no obvious sex organs of either gender.
“Well, how did it have babies, then?” Beth asked.
“I don’t know,” Ianto replied. “But it doesn’t have any obvious way of feeding them, like mammary glands, either. It isn’t nursing them. So I’m guessing it will be all right to take it to the lab and scan it without the babies coming to any harm.”
“Don’t hurt him – or her,” Beth insisted. “No vivisection…”
Ianto gave her a hurt look.
“As if I would. But we have to find out more about these creatures – such as what are they? At the very least we ought to find out if chocolate biscuits are good for them. I wouldn’t like to think what happens if they all get diarrhoea. Especially since I’m not sure where THAT part of their anatomy is, either.”
Beth reluctantly agreed to that. She stayed with McVitie’s unexpected family while Ianto took her away with him. She spoke to them soothingly and their little black eyes watched her expectantly. It wasn’t very long before she was comforting them with pieces of biscuit that they all happily devoured whole.
Alun came down presently from the hothouse. He seemed quite pleased by the results of his tests on the alien plant.
“It’s an insect eater,” he said. “You know, like a Venus fly trap. It responds to insects landing on it by putting out a long, whip-like ‘tongue’. Fascinating to see. Actually, scary to see the first time it did it. Nearly needed a new pair of underpants. I was thinking about what you said… about the sting. But it doesn’t seem to have any kind of venom. Just really good reflexes.”
“So we’ve got a plant that eats insects and a family of alien reptiles that eat biscuits!” Beth summed up their night’s work. She smiled as Ianto came back with McVitie nestled in his hands. He passed the little creature back to her and she cuddled it in her arms possessively. He, himself, went to the coffee machine and made a fresh round before sitting next to Alun.
“No more biscuits for McVitie,” he said to Beth. “From what I found out using the species scanner these creatures reproduce asexually. Pregnancy is triggered when they have enough protein, sugars and fats in their bodies. You feeding it all those chocolate digestives pushed the levels up so she was able to produce three offspring.”
“Oh!” Beth wasn’t sure whether to feel pleased or upset at her accidental contribution to the creature’s fertility.
“It’s not your fault,” Ianto assured her.
“Well… yes, it is,” Alun contradicted him. “Beth, love, you let your kind nature get the better of your sense, to say nothing of all you ought to have learnt as a Torchwood agent. We have rules about handling unknown species. You shouldn’t have fed it. You shouldn’t have handled it… you definitely shouldn’t have named it. Yes, I know Jack has names for the Weevils, but it’s not because he’s emotionally attached to them. He does it to make them seem just a little less creepy. But… giving that thing a cute name, and treating it as a pet… Jack is going to go mad when he finds out.”
He wasn’t telling her off, not in a cruel way, anyway. But he made it perfectly clear that she had made a mistake and that they now had to deal with the consequences.
The consequences being….
She looked around at the shoebox and gasped. It was empty.
“Where have they gone?” she asked. Ianto and Alun both looked as guilty as she did as they realised they had taken their eyes off the three babies. Ianto hunted in the cotton wool in case they were just hiding, and then looked under the table.
“They’ve escaped.” It seemed a rather obvious thing to say, but it had to be said.
“We’ve got to find them.”
That was equally obvious. Beth stood, slipping McVitie into the pocket at the front of her woolly jumper. The creature snuggled down untroubled by the crisis involving her children. She started searching around the recreation area. Ianto widened the search to the Hub generally while Alun went down to the archive to find something that would help with the problem. He returned a few minutes later with two hand held gadgets that had been developed from alien technology.
“Lifesigns detectors,” Ianto said. He switched his on and aimed it at Beth. He carefully calibrated it so that it showed her Human lifesign and the sleeping alien lifeform in her pocket. “It’s a very distinctive trace. The DNA is unlike anything indigenous to Earth. That means we’re not going to be chasing mice, at least.” He calibrated the second monitor the same way.
“Getting traces in the kitchenette,” Alun said. “And the storeroom.”
“Ohhh…” Ianto responded. “Getting them in the Boardroom, too. And… oh…”
“What’s wrong?” Beth asked. “What is it?”
“We’re getting a lot more than three lifesigns,” he answered. “Far more. You fed the babies, didn’t you?”
“Go and sit in Jack’s office and close the door,” Alun said to Beth, gently. “Take McVitie with you. Keep her quiet and very definitely do not feed her.”
Beth did as he said. Once she was out of the way Alun went to the armoury and checked out two stun guns.
“The lowest setting should be enough to knock these little imps out at two or three feet range. Beth wouldn’t like it, but I don’t know any other way of rounding them up.”
Ianto took the gun and headed towards the kitchenette while Alun went to the boardroom. He was disturbed to see that the fridge door was ajar and significant lifesigns were coming from there. He pushed it open fully and stared at two dozen or more of McVitie’s descendents devouring everything in the fridge, including a pork pie that had been there since New Year’s Eve and barely qualified as edible.
He raised the stun gun and selected a wide ranging charge. Most of the creatures were hit by it. A few managed to scurry away. He grabbed a Tupperware box and started to pile the unconscious bodies from the fridge into it.
He was only partway through the job when he saw movement in the box. In amongst the unconscious creatures something was scurrying. Then a half a dozen small heads popped up.
“Alun,” he said over the communicator. “They’re breeding again. They eat and breed… there’s dozens of them already.”
“Dozens?” Alun remarked. “I’ve just gone down to where the bins are stored and disturbed about fifty of them. They polished off all the pizza remains and then opened up a maternity home. I’m stunning them as fast as I can, but they’re getting away.”
Ianto turned to see the Tupperware box flip over on its side. The stunned creatures were coming round and scurrying away. It was back to square one.
“Same here,” he admitted. “We have a serious infestation on our hands. I don’t think stunning them is going to work.”
Alun rejoined him. They looked around the Hub despondently. There were small blue-green bodies running around all over. The sound of their little feet on metal and stone was almost a gestalt noise. So was the sound of chewing whenever they found anything remotely edible.
“We have one option,” Ianto pointed out to his lover. “A really desperate one. Fumigation. We fill the Hub with poison…”
“Can’t do that,” Alun told him. “Not before morning, anyway. We’ve got Ray in the vault. Plus three weevils and a Rafottian absconder waiting to be extradited when the prison ship comes into Earth’s orbit.”
“Maybe we can isolate the air supply in that part of the Hub,” Ianto suggested. “We’ve got to do something. At the rate they’re breeding we’ll be knee deep soon.”
“Surely they’ll run out of food? This isn’t a supermarket. We don’t have very much that’s edible in the place.”
“If they get into the emergency stores, there’s enough food there to keep a Torchwood team from starving through a nuclear winter!”
“Could they get into those?” Ianto thought about it and his heart sank. Yes, they very probably could. The doors to the emergency storerooms were all sealed. But there were air vents, conduits for electricity, all sorts of places that something only six inches long could squeeze in.
“Oh, ffwrch!” he said out loud. “You know what this is, don’t you?”
Alun looked blank.
“We’re a living parody of the silliest episode of Star Trek, ever.”
Alun still looked blank for a moment and then understanding dawned.
“The Trouble With Tribbles!”
They both laughed. But the sight of a dozen small blue-green bodies scurrying across the floor with fragments of stale donuts from the kitchen bin sobered them up.
“I’ll get down to the stores and check them,” Alun suggested. “You’d better… I don’t know… see if Beth is ok.”
“Be careful,” Ianto told him. “You never know… maybe these things are… We know they’ve got teeth. I suddenly had a vision of those vicious little dinosaurs in Jurassic Park…”
“I think we should find something else to do in our spare time than watch DVD’s,” Alun replied. “It’s giving you too many ideas.”
“Yeah, but our other favourite leisure activity doesn’t take up THAT much time,” Ianto replied with the sort of suggestive expression he was only capable of making without blushing in Alun’s presence. He hugged his lover and repeated his caution then turned and sprinted up the steps to Jack’s office.
“Are you all right?” he asked Beth. She was sitting at Jack’s desk. McVitie was curled up on the mouse mat. Beth was looking at the computer monitor. Her face was pale and worried. It was obvious that she knew what was happening.
“You’re going to have to kill them all, aren’t you?” she said glumly.
“I can’t see what other choice we have,” Ianto answered. “We can only hope they’re contained within the Hub until we find a solution. Can you imagine what would happen if they were allowed to get out. If they started rummaging in bins, picking up thrown away food - before the night was over they’d be the dominant species in Cardiff. We’d have a major problem.”
“What if Gwen and Rhys hadn’t found McVitie in the first place? What would have happened then?”
“She’s cold-blooded and it’s January. She might have just died of exposure. In which case there would have been no problem.” Beth looked distressed by that idea, but it was the plain truth. “Even worse, if she HAD survived and found a food source, this would be happening in the Welsh countryside. Her offspring would be ousting all the small indigenous mammals just like grey squirrels ousted red squirrels last century. Except that it would happen in a matter of days. Your little Tribble is just the same as Alun’s Triffid. Neither belong in our ecosystem. And that’s why we HAVE to destroy them all.”
“I do understand,” she said. “Completely. It happened when I was a little girl. I had a hamster… a Russian Dwarf hamster, tiny little thing. Only when I bought it, it was already pregnant. It had nine babies. And I didn’t want to part with them so I got a bigger cage. Only… in a few weeks they were all having babies. And… then some of them escaped and before we knew it, there were hamsters in the skirting boards, eating food, leaving droppings all over. My dad called an exterminator. I cried, because they were all the babies of my little hamster.”
“Well… I’m sorry, Beth. But you’re going to cry again. Because once we work out how, Alun and I are going to have to exterminate all McVitie’s offspring. And we’ve got to do it very quickly. Before it really becomes a problem.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I know you have to do that. I wish there was another way. But… I know.”
She stroked the little creature sleeping on the table. Its snore changed in pitch as if it knew she was there. Ianto put his hand on her shoulder gently. There was nothing else he could say or do.
Then they both heard the sound of breaking glass. Ianto jumped to his feet and ran to the door. Beth followed, slipping McVitie into her pocket again and putting her hand over the creature reassuringly.
“What is it?” she asked. “What happened?”
“It’s the hothouse,” Ianto answered. “Stay there. Keep behind the desk. Here… if you have to use it…” He pressed the stun gun into her hand. She knew how it worked. She just hated the thought of having to use it, especially on something she cared about. She had used it on Ray once when he was especially troublesome and that had felt bad enough. Having to use it on these creatures that she had formed such an attachment to was worse.
Ianto closed the door behind him, even though he was no longer sure that was protection enough. He stepped towards the hothouse. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see there. Surely the little aliens couldn’t break in through the hermetically sealed glass door?
They hadn’t. Nothing had broken in.
Something had broken out.
He knelt carefully and examined the splinters of glass in front of the door. Something had come through it with some force. Definitely not the little creatures. They weren’t capable of that.
“Ianto!” He heard Alun’s yell and turned. From his vantage point on the hothouse landing he could see his lover at the heavy, round entrance door. He was staring at something under the landing and trying not to make any sudden movements. Ianto moved forward carefully and looked down over the railing.
He was astonished to see the alien plant that he and Alun had brought into the Hub. Except it wasn’t acting like a plant. It was moving across the floor, the large purple veined head extended forward and the stem crawling snakelike, dragging the thick purple roots, muddy with damp compost, behind it. As he watched the long ‘tongue’ whipped out of what would be called a ‘mouth’ in any animal life. It caught one of the renegade alien creatures and swallowed it whole. The tongue whipped out again and again, picking off the creatures.
Alun judged that he was probably safe while it was thus engaged and made a run for it. He clambered up the steps to Ianto’s relieved embrace.
“Can you believe it?” he asked. “The plant… is hunting them down.”
“It really is a Triffid!” Ianto noted.
“I wonder…” Alun continued as they watched the extraordinary plant picking off the little aliens one by one. “Did they come from the same planet? The plant and the first of the creatures? The two Rift openings had near identical resonances.”
“Does it matter?” Ianto asked.
“Yes. Because it means… they’re part of the same food chain. The little aliens are preyed upon by the plants, which would help balance their rapid reproductive cycle, keep them at acceptable numbers.”
“That makes sense,” Ianto agreed. “But… we can’t just let it… surely…”
“It’s more natural than gassing them,” Alun pointed out. “We ought to let it carry on.”
Ianto looked down again. The strangely mobile plant was not stalking the creatures silently any more. The noise as its roots thumped the ground was a sinister rhythm. And, they realised, not in any way random.
“The noise… is attracting the creatures,” Ianto noted. “They react to the vibration… or the sound… and come out of their hiding places…”
“Only to be devoured. Wow. Mother Nature is a tricky bitch on their planet. But that confirms it. They are part of the same eco-system.”
“It’s doing it,” Ianto confirmed, examining the lifesigns monitor carefully. “There’s only a few of them left now. It’s going to get them all.”
“Just one thing,” Alun replied. “What do we do with THAT when it’s finished? Have you noticed its growing?”
“No surprise, considering how much protein it’s ingesting. By the way, that’s something for the catalogue entry. This plant can convert animal matter to vegetable in a few seconds. The potential use of its enzymes…”
“I just catalogue the alien plant species. Martha can deal with its enzymes. But what ARE we going to do? Unless it comes home to its compost for a snooze after dinner it’s going to be a bigger problem than a Weevil on the loose in a minute. We’re going to have to…”
Alun’s sentence ended in a yelp and Ianto was surprised to see his lover suddenly vault over the railing and land on the Hub floor below. The next moment he was running for the stairs. He didn’t have Alun’s training or agility, but he too saw the necessity of reaching Jack’s office quickly. The carnivorous plant had polished off the last of the creatures, but now it stood upright on its stem, its head moving from side to side, the long tongue snaking out as if tasting the air. And then it began to move far more quickly than a cellulose based lifeform ought to be able to move.
Even so, Alun reached the office door a fraction of a second ahead of it. He stood in the gap as the plant thumped the ground with its roots angrily and rose up to a full seven foot height. Its stem was a good six inches round now and the head so huge it seemed scarcely possible even that could hold it.
“Alun, be careful!” Beth cried out. “It could take your head off.”
“It’s not me it wants,” Alun answered. “It’s the little alien. It knows it’s in here. It killed the rest already.”
“Oh no!” Beth screamed and backed away holding onto the creature in her pocket desperately. “Oh no, Alun. Don’t let it. Please don’t.”
Alun had no intention of letting it. The way it stalked the creatures around the Hub was nature, the food chain, survival of the fittest. But to just hand over a helpless creature to it wasn’t on.
“Get back, Beth,” he answered. “Get down into the lair. You’ll be safe there.”
That made sense. But the sound of the roots crashing menacingly on the floor was scaring her. She couldn’t take those last few steps to the manhole cover over Jack’s former bedroom. She pressed herself against the wall and watched in horror as Alun duelled with the plant creature, ducking to avoid its deadly head and hitting back with the stun gun. It had very little effect on it, of course. The electronic pulse was meant to disable animal life. The central nervous system of this lifeform was completely different. But he held it at bay and prayed that Ianto had some ideas.
Ianto did. He ran to the kitchenette. All the food on the shelves, everything from the muesli that Martha liked for breakfast when she was on nights to the tomato ketchup had been knocked to the floor and devoured by the hungry little aliens. But he managed to find one condiment that hadn’t been completely to their taste. He grabbed it and ran. It occurred to him that with an alien creature on the loose and a Hub full of exotic armoury he was packing the most unlikely weapon in the world. But it was the weapon he needed right now. Along with a little bit of luck.
“Alun, hold on!” he called out as he sprinted up the steps towards the office door. Alun was having a bad time of it. The plant’s head butted against his and he lost his footing. He dropped his stun gun and dived for it, barely missing the tongue lashing out.
“No, throw it to me,” Ianto yelled. Alun was surprised, but he knew Ianto had an idea. He tossed the gun to him. Ianto caught it first time and lunged at the far too lively plant. It didn’t make any difference other than distracting it from Alun and making it turn towards Ianto instead. He stepped a few feet back and as he hoped the creature thumped after him, drawing away from the door. He lunged again, but this time the tongue was quicker. It lashed around his arm. It wasn’t painful. His jacket sleeve protected him. and he pulled away after a short struggle. He ducked as the head reared towards him again and dropped the stun gun. Instead he used both hands to squeeze hard on the plastic bottle of barbecue sauce. A deep brown-red gout covered the plant head and he emptied the bottle down the stem before ducking and pulling away. He put two fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle before flattening himself on the ground.
He felt the air displacement as Myfanwy the pterodactyl swooped down from her lair. He wasn’t sure when she had come in from her nightly hunt around Cardiff. She wasn’t there when this began. But he had glimpsed her in her nest when he chose the kitchen rather than the special weapons room.
And his idea worked perfectly. The pterodactyl’s beak opened wide and crunched down on the stem just under the great head, severing it in one bite. As the head fell to the floor she speared it before deciding that she didn’t like the taste of alien vegetation after all. She squawked loudly and took off again back to her nest.
Ianto stood up slowly. He stepped over the messy remains of the alien plant and embraced his lover first before turning to Beth.
“Nothing a hot cup of coffee wouldn’t cure,” he said, hugging her tightly. “Come on, love. We’ve no biscuits left. But that’s probably for the best.”
By the time Jack Harkness arrived in the Hub first thing the next morning the kitchenette had been tidied and the remains of the Triffid hermetically sealed in a specimen container for Martha to analyse later. Even so, he wasn’t well pleased when he heard the full story from Ianto.
“Let me see this creature,” he said to Beth. His expression was dark. Her instinct was to back away from him. He held out his hand insistently. Reluctantly she lifted McVitie from her cardigan pocket. Jack took her in his own hands and examined her with a critical eye. Beth moved closer, ready to grab her back any moment. She wondered if he would be cruel enough to kill the little creature right in front of her, perhaps breaking its neck with a quick movement of his long fingers or stopping her little heart with a small amount of pressure.
“Please…” she begged.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” he said. “But I think Alun’s right. It came from the same place as the walking tree. Part of the same food chain – the bottom part, apparently.”
“But… can I keep her?” Beth asked, reaching out her hands hopefully. Jack looked at her for a long minute, his sapphire blue eyes steady and his expression giving nothing away. Then he passed the little creature back to her. She hid it in her pocket possessively.
“Let Martha do a complete set of tests on it,” he said. “Blood, DNA, whatever. We need to know exactly how much it CAN be fed without triggering the reproduction. It doesn’t leave the Hub, EVER. Get a cage, tank, hutch or whatever. And you’re responsible for cleaning up after it. I don’t want to step in piles of alien reptile crap everywhere.”
Beth beamed happily at him and left the office taking her new pet with her. Jack looked at Ianto and Alun and shook his head.
“I don’t know, am I going soft in my old age? I think I’ll take you two on a Weevil hunt tonight. A bit of manly exercise and mild threat of imminent death would do us all good. Meanwhile, go and let Ray out of his cell for the day. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to meet the new addition to his family, too. And tell Gwen I want to see her in my office ASAP.”