“You’re from pest control, then?”
A man who looks around eighty, all speckled skin and candy-floss white hair, has answered Gwen’s knock. A little stooped and shrunken, he peers upward at her with unexpectedly sharp eyes. She blinks, then plasters on the trademark Cooper smile and flashes her fake ID.
“Mr. Frobisher, isn’t it? I’m PC Gwen Cooper. D’you mind if I come in? We’ve got a few questions.”
“Thought you were from who-d’ya-call-it, Pearson’s Pest Management,” Frobisher says, stepping aside courteously to usher her into his cottage. A dark hallway leads into a bright, large-windowed parlour, all chintz and doilies and potted begonias, with a splendid view out over the meadows towards the ponds. He indicates an armchair covered with an ornate antimacassar, and they both sit.
“Mind you, if it’s about their equipment going missing, I can’t help. It’s their own damn fault for not sending someone along to supervise properly, or giving me warning they’d be in early. Told me they wouldn’t have an opening for a week, and that’s time enough for the coypus to do quite a bit of damage. I’d moved all the competition plants indoors as it was, and then they got into the conservatory, too –“
“Mr. Frobisher. If you please. I’m not here about your pest problem,” at least not in the way you might think, “but we noticed that yours is the closest house to the ponds over there. It’s a crime scene now, and we need to ask everyone in the area if they’ve seen anything there recently. Unusual lights, noises, that kind of thing.”
Frobisher blinks. “Well, the coypus, of course. Never had so many all at once, and they’re loud little buggers, too. You could hear them chirruping at night and splashing in the ponds, all the way over here. I may be seventy-nine but I’ve got my hearing still. And it beats all how they could have shown up so suddenly. Destroy a garden overnight, they will, and me and the begonias, well, we can’t be going on with that, can we? Not with the Royal Society Regionals less than a month away.”
Gwen wishes that Ianto were doing this one instead of her. He has more patience with monomania, not to mention a higher tolerance for walking anachronisms.
“But aside from the coypus, Mr. Frobisher. Any mechanical noises, or voices? Flashes of light?” Gwen knows better than to put words in a witness’ mouth, but she desperately needs to jog something besides wildlife sounds out of this man. He’s really the only one who lives close enough to have seen anything.
“Mechanical noises? Well, the pest machinery made an infernal racket, I must say. And I know that everything’s automated these days, but I still don’t see why they couldn’t have sent someone along. Because after all that, I’ve got seven broken pots out there, a good swath of meadow scorched, and the coypus are just as destructive as ever.”
“Pest machinery,” Gwen repeats. “What kind of machinery, Mr. Frobisher?”
“Tell me again why we brought Theresa?” Jack asks, turning over the scrap dredged from the pond. A table football game, a shopping trolley, a bicycle. All looking distinctly, well, chewed-up is the word that comes to mind -- as though something had nibbled its way across every surface, separating the component parts until they hang together by filaments. The Dalek head is the most intact item in the lot, but it has trailing wires and sports a distinctive notched pattern along the edges.
“Max,” Ianto corrects automatically as he fiddles with Tosh’s scanner. “He’s a smart dog, that’s why, and it’s good for his training. Besides, I’m not leaving him to Myfanwy’s tender mercies.” He begins a sweep of the pond, frowns, and starts backing away to re-calibrate.
The puppy in question, blissfully unaware of any tug-of-war over his name and schooling, follows Ianto and begins snuffling excitedly at the marshy grass. He’s on an extendable lead but for now sticks close to Ianto’s boots.
“I still say we should have left him with Rhys. Didn’t know what we’d find here, no thanks to UNIT’s panic, and if he comes back to the Hub all muddy, you know who’s going to bathe him.” Jack is turning the Dalek head over now to examine the – tooth-marks? – along the base. He represses a shudder; even dead Daleks give him the willies.
“Right, and he’ll get a bath before you lot get coffee. Some of us have our responsibilities sorted,” and now Ianto turns in a slow circle, scanning the whole meadow. “Jack. Have a look at this. Am I wrong, or are we getting massive readings of artron radiation all over this area?”
Jack bounds over – really, not much to choose between him and the puppy sometimes – and grabs the scanner. “Shit. You’re right. One Dalek isn’t enough to cause all that. And the radiation shouldn’t be that far off the charts this long after the invasion.” His eyes sweep the meadow, and Ianto fights down a momentary sense of panic. If one Dalek survived this far, there might be others. Instinctively, he reaches down to pluck up his beagle.
Except that Max (or Theresa) chooses that moment to tear away to the end of his lead. He’s pawing at a clump of grass about twenty feet away, yipping frantically, and Ianto jogs over in time to see a small furry snout and some unpleasant reddish teeth, poking out of a hole. “Max! Bad dog!” He scoops the puppy up and holds him wriggling against his chest.
“What is it?” Jack yells, still preoccupied with the scanner.
“Some kind of ground animal. With teeth. Probably rabid. You’re right, maybe I should put Max back in the SUV before he gets his nose chewed off, oh yes, we can’t have you getting biteys on that cute little nose –“
“Yeah, well, get him out from underfoot, and let’s get on with it before someone else gets his ass bit, and not in the good way –“
“Right, Jack, I do know how to do my job and look after a dog at the same time, unlike some of us –“
Fortunately, perhaps, for the sake of domestic harmony, at this moment there’s a slight crackle in their ears, and Gwen’s voice comes through. “Jack. Think you ought to hear about this.”
“Let me get this straight,” Jack says. As usual, he seems to take up all the room in the tiny parlour, for all that he’s using his least threatening body language. “Four days ago, at six in the evening, you heard a machine in the meadow and assumed that it was the pest control people.”
“Oh, yes. Thought it was one of those, what-d’you-call-em, robots. Looked like a giant Hoover.”
Ianto has offered to make tea for the four of them. He hopes that it will make Mr. Frobisher less querulous, and he can keep an eye on Max in the SUV while he waits for the kettle to boil. The puppy’s mostly Hub-trained now, but could use a little more car supervision. Jack tends to treat him like an animated plush toy, and he’d drive with him in his lap if Ianto didn’t put his foot down.
“And you didn’t call the company to check? Did you tell anyone at all about it?” Jack is plainly having some difficulty believing that anyone could watch a Dalek in action without a panic attack. Of course, he didn’t expect someone who had already called in the exterminators, either.
“Mr. Frobisher,” Gwen breaks in gently, with a quelling glance at Jack. “Suppose you just tell us exactly what you saw.”
“Well. I was repotting my prize Princess of Hanover and I heard this mechanical voice, and there’s that robot sweeping about the field. Looked like it was spraying the area with some sort of laser beam, and I mean, I’m all for non-toxic methods, but it did smash some of my best pots. Seventy pounds a pop, best imported Italian terracotta, and anyone who tells you that doesn’t make a difference come competition time –“
“The machine, Mr. Frobisher?” Jack asks through gritted teeth.
“Yes, well,” Frobisher continues sulkily. “Regular Pied Piper, wasn’t it? The coypus start popping out of the earth and swarming it, and it’s bleating that command and waving around, and then it trundles off toward the pond practically covered in the vermin. I thought it must have a trap set up somewhere on the other side, you know, to collect all the beasts. That’s what I’d asked for, no chemicals or poisons, just humane removal. Except that an hour later, there’s no sign of it, and all that pot and lawn damage, and I can hear the bloody coypus chirping and splashing away as merrily as ever. And if you ask me, that’s just irresponsible. I thought Pearson’s was a reputable firm.”
“I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding, sir,” Ianto says, coming in from the kitchen and distributing teacups. “We’ll contact the firm and make sure you aren’t charged, and see what we can work out about the damage.”
“Well,” says Frobisher, mollified by Ianto’s deferential manner. “It’s just the pots, really. And, of course, the coypus. Maybe if they send someone to supervise next time –“
“I think we may be able to help you on that score,” Jack says, slurping down his tea and standing up. “We’ve got to do a certain amount of – crime scene cleanup as it is. We’ll be in touch. Meanwhile, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t discuss this with anyone.”
“So basically, we’re dealing with coypus who can take down a Dalek?” Gwen demands as they walk back out to the SUV. Max jumps up and starts yipping ecstatically at their approach.
“They’re not coypus. Well. If they’re what I think, they might be alien coypus,” Jack answers, swinging open the driver’s door and scooping up the puppy. He plants a kiss on his nose and then tosses him casually to Ianto, who fumbles the catch slightly and cradles Max protectively. He fixes Jack with his best I’m-withholding-sex-until-you-behave-yourself glare. Jack counters with his toothiest ve-have-vays-of-making-you-reconsider grin.
“Okay, time to pull up the databases. Ianto, I need you to find a file on ‘Masticarians,’ should be cross-referenced with Torchwood Two and alien infestations in Scotland, date around, oh, 1982. I also want any references to sightings of the Doctor in this area, check the UNIT files going back about forty years. Gwen, we’re going to need a little help from local law enforcement, get this area sealed off. Tell them to hang on to the parks people who did the dredging – say it’s for further questioning, though it’s gonna be retcon sooner or later. Oh, and find out what kind of high-tech sound equipment they have on tap. That’s a long shot, but I don’t want to go to UNIT if I don’t have to, it’ll just mean a delay.”
Ianto locates the UNIT record first, while Gwen is charming the local constabulary. “Jack, I’ve got an anecdotal report of a Doctor-Dalek confrontation in this area in 1976, a couple of witness statements and some comments the Doctor made to the Brigadier. No one saw the Daleks, apparently, but the TARDIS was definitely in the area.”
“Good to get the confirmation, although we really didn’t need it. What about the other report?”
“Half a sec…here it is. ‘Masticarians,’” Ianto reads aloud. “’Semi-aquatic species of unknown planetary origin, apparently shares base DNA with terrestrial Myocastor coypus. Breeding habitat: marsh or meadowland areas near bodies of fresh water, always in the presence of artron radiation or its trace residue. Extremely destructive, especially to materials with mineral alloy components, on which they feed after subaquatic oxidation…’”
“…meaning, they can chew the shit out of anything metal once they drag it underwater. Skip ahead to the Scotland sighting,” Jack interjects, accelerating as the village comes into view.
“Last confirmed terrestrial sighting, Loch Lomond, November 1983,” Ianto continues, scrolling down. “This report’s from Torchwood Two, cross-referenced to our archives because --? Oh, of course. Jack Harkness, mission consultant.”
“Thatcher era,” Jack grunts. “Bad times in Cardiff. I took just about any assignment that got me out of town for a few days. Plus, I’d heard about these creatures before, from the Doctor. They used to follow him around like a plague of mice. He wasn’t exactly the most popular planetary guest for awhile, until he figured out a way to mask his artron trail.”
“’Masticarians possess powerful body shielding that apparently permits unpropelled travel through space,’” Ianto continues reading. “’Their strong artron signature also suggests limited time-travel capacity. The shielding appears impervious to conventional weaponry, but not to pulses of high ultrasonic frequencies…’ They can hear Mouse Alarms, but a Dalek laser can’t take them out? Wow.”
“Yeah, they’re basically indestructible, so it’s a good thing they’re relatively harmless, except to metal. Little suckers can hear anything, though – it’s how they detect the artron radiation. Reason they showed up in Torchwood Two’s back yard is that the Doctor was there in 1879. Masticarians must have picked up the radiation and bounced in time when they tried to come in – landed a century later.” Jack snorts a little. “Know the feeling.”
“So how did you get rid of them?’ Gwen asks, peering over Ianto’s shoulder.
Jack grins at them in the rear-view mirror. “Took a little trial and error. We thought at first that all we needed was a steady, amplified signal at the right frequency. That stirred ‘em up plenty – they took out Torchwood Two’s Land Rover – so we tried some variants. Campbell, the Scots tech—he finally figured out it had to be syncopated, like a dance beat. So we plugged in a new single, cranked it up to the right level, and voilà.”
“Do we even want to know what song you picked?” Gwen asks warily.
“What else? ‘Lucky Star,’ Madonna’s first big hit in the UK.”
“All right, so we know what brought the Masticarians,” Gwen says, furiously typing her notes into the database, “but that still doesn’t explain how the Dalek got here.”
“And I’d be a lot happier about this mission if we could be sure that it was the only one,” Ianto mutters, fondling Max’s ears for reassurance.
“That I don’t know,” Jack replies. “But at a guess? I’ll bet it got caught in that tow rope we threw around the earth when we brought it back from the Medusa Cascade. It would shield any stray Dalek that hadn’t been caught in the carnage. We released the rope and the Dalek with it, and it promptly made for the nearest source of artron readings. Probably hoping to find some other surviving Daleks. You could almost feel sorry for the bastard.”
“Save your compassion for the local police, when Ianto and I get done with them,” Gwen says with smug satisfaction.
In the event, it’s five hours of hurry-up-and-wait before they get back to the meadow, but they have interim tasks that require all of Jack’s authoritative charm, Gwen’s crafty persistence, and Ianto’s skill at foraging, whether in police stations, databases, or the local Tesco.
Two hours of Jack’s most lethal phone manners secure the equipment they need from the MOD labs at Portsmouth and a recording studio eighty miles away. Ianto makes sure the shopping list includes a pair of extra-small sound-excluding earphones, because puppies can hear the ultrasonic pulses even if humans can’t. Jack next delves into the specs Ianto’s produced from the 1983 report. He has a Tosh Moment when he realizes that her tech translation program will allow them to set the new equipment to the cited frequencies.
Simultaneously, an hour of Gwen’s trademark good-cop skills, abetted by her sexy red top, gets them through the interrogation of the dredging crew at the police station; they have very little to add, except that they didn’t turn up any other bits that could belong to a dismembered Dalek, and found no squishy, mollusc-like creatures in the pond. Ianto, meanwhile, cleans out the station coffee machine, coaxes something drinkable out of it, and supplies coffee and retcon to the interrogees as well as the over-curious station personnel.
It takes a half hour for Ianto to locate croissanwiches at a local Tesco, no time at all for Jack to absent-mindedly leave the bag open on the SUV seat, fifteen seconds for Theresa to wolf down half of them, and another ten minutes before he vomits the lot on the car floor. It takes another half hour for Ianto to stop muttering under his breath about appropriate discipline of humans and dogs, the words “cock ring,” “ring gag” and “muzzle” distinctly audible amid vaguer obscenities.
Jack remains cheerfully oblivious to Ianto’s pointed glares, humming happily to himself as he digs out Tosh’s backup scanner and figures out how to get readings of the coypu signature under the mask of the artron radiation. This takes him around an hour, and he has another Tosh Moment when he succeeds, knowing she’d have done it in five minutes flat.
The MOD van and the truck delivering the amplifiers and console arrive almost simultaneously at four p.m. Jack deals with both deliveries, signing receipts and engaging in routine Harkness Misdirection, when Ianto, Gwen and Max emerge from the station, followed by a nosy desk sergeant (last on the retcon list, and still sipping Ianto’s coffee).
“Putting on a rock concert, are we?” he drawls, leaning against the doorway and scoping out the equipment piled next to the SUV.
“Something like that,” Ianto grunts. He checks to make sure the headphones have arrived with the cables, deposits Max in the rear seat, and then throws open the boot. He glances at Gwen and they both dissolve into sniggers.
The entire boot, of course, is taken up with the Big Gun and its attachments, the Dalek head sitting like a battle trophy on top. Well, say the word “Dalek” to Jack Harkness and he reaches for the heavy weaponry – not that he doesn’t love an excuse to trot it out in any case. This time, however, there’s no call to shoot their way out of the situation. Ianto and Gwen can communicate all this with a few eyebrow twitches; they begin hauling the kit out and breaking it into components for easy storage under the SUV seats, out of puppy range, before carefully slotting the sound equipment in its place.
Twenty minutes’ drive back to the meadow, a test with the second scanner to confirm that the north side of the pond is coypu-free, and they’re ready to set up: another half hour to position the generator, consoles, and amplifiers, hook up cables, test calibrations. Max’s occasional barks from the SUV warn them of coypus poking their heads up beyond the pond; Jack uses the wrist-strap to send out a few ultrasonic pulses, just enough to warn them off before the gear’s ready.
Finally, Jack grunts, “Okay. We’re there,” as he makes a final tweak to the controls. “Where’s that mix tape of Owen’s?” He roots around in the glove compartment and then brandishes a CD. “Everyone in the SUV.” Ianto and Gwen pile in, and Ianto carefully adjusts the headphones over Max’s oversized ears, cupping a hand on his scruff to still him. “Showtime, kids!” Jack yells, hopping back into the car as the sounds of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” fill the air, before abruptly whiting out at the edge of hearing.
Even for jaded Torchwood ops, it’s a jaw-dropping sight.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of furry streaks shoot up out of the field and pond, straight into the sky. Gwen gapes open-mouthed, and Jack whoops with abandon. Ianto, meanwhile, looks anxiously at the puppy, who circles on the seat, whimpering and scratching at the earphones. “Jack, are you sure this isn’t going to damage Max’s hearing?”
“Naw, it’s just making him restless. Here, hand him over; I’ll calm him down,” and Jack pulls the puppy onto his chest, wrapping the coat securely around him. “There, Theresa, you know that smell, yeah, those pheromones’ll fix what ails ya.”
“You think your pheromones fix everything,” Ianto mutters. Jack gives him a cheesy grin, and drops a kiss on Theresa’s head.
In five minutes, the upward launch of furry bodies tapers off. Ianto and Gwen jump out of the SUV, scanners at the ready. “Artron readings dropping,” Ianto calls. “No more of the coypu signatures,” Gwen confirms. “We did it!” Ianto hurries over to the console and switches it off.
Jack doesn’t move from the driver’s seat, even when Max wriggles free and scampers over to Ianto, tail wagging. He removes the dog’s earphones and glances up at Jack, whose elation has given way to a slightly sheepish expression.
“Uh,” Jack says. “Think Theresa widdled on me a bit. Coat needed to go to the dry-cleaners anyway, right?”
Ianto rolls his eyes.
“Well, you’ve made a good job of it and no mistake,” Frobisher says, stroking the puppy’s ears with one hand as he accepts a cup of tea from Ianto with the other. “No more coypus, and with a little luck I can replace the pots in time for the show next month. I really suppose I ought to offer you some sort of fee for your services.”
“Not done, sir, we’re civil servants,” Ianto replies a little stiffly. “Still, it’s nice to be appreciated.” He hopes the retcon has dissolved thoroughly, but counts on the tannin in the tea to disguise it.
“Well, what d’you say to a nice begonia? Brighten up your office a treat, I daresay. Here,” and reaching from his chair, he pulls a riotous bloomer off the sill, still in its plastic planter. “This is from my Princess of Hanover stock. Took first prize in its class three years running, I’m proud to say. Although I’m afraid I can’t offer you a good pot to go with it.”
“That’s a lovely gesture, sir. Thank you,” and Ianto smiles as he accepts the plant, then leans down to collect Max. “And not to worry, I think we’ve got the perfect planter. Bit of a trophy, actually, in memory of services rendered. Don’t bother getting up, sir, I’ll see myself out.”
A/N: Myocastor coypus, known in the UK as “coypu” and US as “nutria,” is in fact a very destructive semi-aquatic species, and UK pest control firms do use specialized procedures to remove them from inhabited areas (and there is the usual animal-rights controversy over extermination vs. other forms of abatement).
I have no knowledge of Ministry of Defense labs or recording studios in Hampshire, and have made a conjecture about the timing of the Doctor’s visit, based on the information posted when the Dalek head turned up in the pond.