Characters: Ianto, Jam Jar Civilization, minor appearances by the rest of the team
Summary: "An entire intelligent civilization in a jam jar--It appears to be perfectly safe in there."
A/N: The best thing about this fic is the premise, and I can't claim any credit for that. As you may or may not know, the BBC and BBCA websites put up supporting documents for each episode. (There's an archive of them at iantos_desktop, if you missed them when they were up on the official sites.) One of the documents for the episode "A Day in the Death" was a list of the eccentric millionaire's alien artifacts, and one of them was...an entire intelligent civilization in a jam jar. So that much of the premise belongs to the Beeb. And the kel_reiley commented, "yes! yes! someone write a fic of ianto taking care of them - and then they make him their GOD!"
This is that fic.
To the naked eye, the jar looked like it held nothing more than a light coating of dust, concentrated on the bottom of the jar, but also clinging to the lower reaches of the sides. But under high magnification, the “dust” resolved into fantastic structures--office buildings and blocks of flats, shops, even a bridge, thin as a strand of spider silk, spanning the diameter of the jar. The bottom of the jar was a thin film of green--fields no larger than the head of a pin, houses and farm buildings even smaller. If he was very lucky and very patient, Ianto could even see the Jam Jar People themselves, going about their daily business. By making a recording and slowing it to a crawl, he could even see what they were doing--tiny people plowing the fields, going to work, hanging out laundry.
From so far away, it looked idyllic. He had to remind himself that they probably had crime and divorce, all the ordinary human miseries, just too small for him to see. Still, he had never seen them have a war.
“The spring is at full tension, sir,” Christofel’s assistant Gregor reported.
Christofel, looking out over the fertile farmlands below the airfield, nodded. “Unhitch the kine. We’ll launch in five minutes.”
Christofel circled around the Craft, making a final check. If the new wing design worked, he’d soon be higher above the world than anyone had ever been.
And if the new landing gear design didn’t work, he’d be looking over these fields and homes for the last time.
Still, scientific progress required sacrifice. He’d carefully documented his designs--if he was unsuccessful, others would follow. The older people may still be content to live as they always had--farming the fertile bottomlands, building that climbed the edges of the world--but his generation was different. Raised on stories of the Dark Years--the period when the world’s light source had inexplicably gone out--they knew how fragile their existence was. While the oldsters simply prayed that the God would not allow the Dark to descend on them again, men and women like him--men and women of courage and intelligence--worked tirelessly to understand the workings of the world, to develop technologies that would allow them to withstand the Dark if it came again.
Christofel spent a moment patting his patient kine. The dumb beasts, plodding on their treadmill to wind the great spring, were an integral part of the project. Without them, the Craft would never fly.
All too soon, the five minutes had passed, and Christofel was climbing into the Craft. “Good luck, sir,” said Gregor, squeezing his arm.
Christofel, too full of emotion to respond, simply nodded. Settling into the pilot’s seat, he strapped himself in. “Release the spring!”
“I don’t care. We don’t need a driving rota,” Owen said.
“Why not?” Gwen demanded
“I’ll tell you why. Because blokes are better drivers. There, I’ve said it. It may not be politically correct, but we just are.”
“Let’s vote,” Tosh suggested.
“Since when is Torchwood a democracy?” Owen asked.
“Since I’m tired of having it come up at every staff meeting,” Jack answered. “Fine. Let’s vote. All in favor of instituting a driving rota?”
Gwen and Tosh raised their hands.
Jack and Owen raised theirs.
“Ianto, you have to vote,” Gwen said.
“I really don’t care,” he demurred. He was fairly sure that even if there was a rota, he wouldn’t be doing any driving. Unless, for some reason, nobody else wanted to.
“It’s a tie,” Owen said. “You have to care.”
With a sigh, Ianto took a coin out of his pocket and flipped it. “Fine. I vote no. Can we move on?”
Owen, Tosh, and Gwen immediately protested, but Jack said loudly, “The motion is denied. Next item. Ianto?”
With a murmur of “Finally,” Ianto pushed back his chair and went to the screen at one end of the conference room. “A situation has arisen with the Jam Jar Civilization,” he announced, displaying on the screen a picture of the Jam Jar itself.
“Oh, God,” Owen moaned. “Is this going to be like the time you didn’t notice for two whole days that their light bulb burnt out? Because, honestly, who cares?”
“That event destabilized their entire ecosystem,” Ianto pointed out. “They suffered massive crop failures. It took them at least two weeks to recover.” Owen’s cavalier attitude toward the Jam Jar People never failed to rankle him. Just because they lived in a jam jar didn’t make them any less important.
Owen opened his mouth to respond, but Jack cut him off. “What’s happened to them now?”
Ianto clicked to the next slide. He paused while Tosh and Gwen gasped in surprise, then said, unnecessarily, “They’ve developed flight.”
The slide--one still frame from the camera Ianto used to monitor them, magnified many, many times, showed what looked like a cross between a dirigible and a helicopter--a sort of bean-shaped body with a propeller attached to the top, and ski-like landing struts on the bottom. The craft’s operator was a tiny smudge inside the craft’s body.
“It’s amazing,” Gwen said, getting up and moving closer to the screen. “How big is it? The ship?”
“A few nanometers,” Ianto answered, “It’s hard to be more precise.” He clicked forward a few more frames. “The craft flew almost to the top of the jam jar--probably within sight of it, although we don’t know anything about how well the Jam Jar People can see--and returned--safely, I think--to the ground. Er, the bottom of the jar.” He showed another slide of the craft landing again next to a comparatively large shed. “It seems likely that the success of the mission will lead to further attempts.”
“What’s that in the background?” Tosh asked, pointing.
Ianto zoomed in on that area of the image. “That’s the bridge. It allows them to cross from one side of the jar to the other without descending back to ground level. To scale, it might be the longest suspension bridge in the world,“ he explained, with a glow of pride. He couldn’t really take any credit for the Jam Jar People’s accomplishments, but he felt proprietary nonetheless. “They’ve had it for about four days.”
“You’ve been holding out on us,” Jack said, looking at the image. “The Jar People have gotten interesting.”
“If you recall, sir, I gave regular briefings on the Jam Jar Civilization until I was asked to stop.” Ianto advanced to the next slide, this one showing a slightly enlarged view of the jar, next to a ruler. “I think their technological innovation may be spurred in part by population pressure. When we acquired the Civilization, they had developed the sides of the jar up to a height of three-point-eight centimeters.”
He changed slides again. “And this graph shows the readings from the sensors inside the jar--humidity, temperature, oxygen concentration. They seem to require a higher oxygen concentration than we do; fortunately, the green algae they farm provides it. Here--” he pointed at a dip in the graph “--you can see the environmental impact of the light bulb disaster, and here--” He pointed again “--their environment returned to normal, about two weeks later. Up until that point, they had been advancing up the side of the jar at a rate of about a tenth of a centimeter per month. But over the last month, they’ve expanded a full eight-tenths of a centimeter.” He showed a new shot of the jar and the ruler. “Which seems to point to a population explosion.”
Noticing that even Jack and Tosh seemed to be losing interest, Ianto moved on quickly. “The difficulty is, while they can expand vertically as much as they like, the base of the jar is the only place where they can grow their crops. They’ve managed to increase their usable agricultural area slightly by using terrace faming techniques--” He showed a new slide, this one illustrating one of the Jam Jar People’s terrace farms. “But they seem to have reached some kind of engineering limit; they haven’t expanded the terrace farms in over two weeks. We can see from the sensor readings--” He went back to the graph “--that their oxygen concentration is declining. They can’t grow enough plants to exchange carbon dioxide as fast as they’re producing it. I would expect there are food shortages as well, or will be soon.”
“So what do we do?” Owen asked. “Give them humanitarian aid?”
Ianto ignored his tone--snide--and said, “That’s one option. However, it may be damage them to rely on aid from a mysterious, incomprehensible source. Based on their level of technology, I’d be surprised if they didn’t also have science. They may be just beginning to understand how their world works--if they suddenly go from having a closed water system to having water mysteriously appear from above, who knows what effect it will have on them?”
“They could start worshipping you as a God,” Jack murmured.
Ianto ignored that. “Their new interest in flight may indicate that they are aware that they’re outgrowing their world, and are looking for alternatives. If we leave things as they are, they’ll never get through the semi-permeable field at the top of the jar. It’s calibrated not to allow anything larger than a water molecule through. They’re effectively trapped. They may find ways to adapt--perhaps they could learn to grow algae on the sides of the jar, or limit their population growth--but it’s not a natural situation. If the artifacts that come through the Rift are any clue, most species eventually outgrow their home worlds.” He paused a beat. “Certainly we are doing, and I doubt we’d appreciate it if another species clapped the lid down on us.”
Jack shifted in his chair. “You’re right, but I’m not having aliens roaming free in the Hub, no matter how tiny they are. They could pose a threat. Somehow,” he added doubtfully.
Tosh supplied, “If they decide to build their new colony inside a critical system, for instance, they could pose a risk to us without even realizing it.”
Ianto nodded. “I think the risk we pose to them is even more significant. We wouldn’t necessarily know where they were, and we could wipe out entire cities without realizing it. So I don’t think that’s the solution, either.”
“So stick them in a bigger jar,” Owen suggested.
“Hm,” Ianto said. “Moving them without destroying them poses significant practical challenges. Here’s what I have in mind.” He showed yet another slide, this one a scan of a sketch he’d made by hand. “We recalibrate the semi-permeable field--the lid--so that it will allow their ships to pass through. Then we put the orignal jar, along with these four new ones, in a fully sealed tank. They still won’t be loose in the Hub, but four new worlds to colonize should hold them for a while.”
Tosh asked, “What if they don’t develop flight fast enough to colonize the other jam jars?”
“That’s their problem,” Jack answered. “Ianto’s right; most species outgrow their home worlds. But they don‘t all make it out into the galaxy. Some of them self-destruct. It’s not our job to decide which way the Jar People go.” He nodded. “But we have to give them a chance.”
“I’ll get to work on the semi permeable field generators,” Tosh said. “Ianto, you’ll let me know the specifications?”
He nodded. “Thanks, Tosh.”
“I can bring in some jam jars from home,” Gwen volunteered. “Rhys refuses to throw them out; he says they might come in handy someday.”
“Well, sure,” Owen said. “You never know when you’ll need to collect a urine sample or provide a home for an alien civilization.”
Christofel returned to the landing pad, shaken but exhilarated. Shaking off Gregor’s questions, he hurried to his study to make sketches of everything he had seen, before any of the amazing details passed from his mind. It wasn’t until some hours later, when Gregor brought him a hot drink and some food, that he looked up from his work. “It was astonishing,” he said, sitting back in his chair and taking up a piece of bread. “I saw the sun, covered in strange writing. And all of our world, stretched out below me. It looked so tiny.” He sipped his drink, wondering whether to say the next thing. If he admitted it publicly, it might discredit him forever as a scientist. But he couldn’t keep it to himself. “You must never share this with anyone, unless I give you permission,” he warned.
“Of course, sir,” Gregor answered. “What? What did you see?”
“I think I saw--” He swallowed hard. “The face of God.”
Late that evening, Jack went down into the vaults and found Ianto, sitting at a table with five glass jars, a desk lamp, and a light meter. “What’s up?” he asked, putting his hands on Ianto’s shoulders and leaning down to look at what he was doing.
“I’m just trying to decide the best arrangement for the jars. I don’t want to add another lamp, or change its position relative to the original jar, if I can avoid it,” Ianto explained. “Since it would probably confuse them. But all five jars need to have enough light for them to grow their crops.”
“Right,” Jack murmured, slightly amused. He pulled up another chair to watch Ianto work. He had to admit, like Owen, he had originally thought that Ianto’s interest in the Jam Jar Civilization was…eccentric, at best. He’d thought of them as a hobby, slightly more interesting than sea monkeys or an ant farm, but not anything the rest of Torchwood really had to pay attention to.
But in the middle of Ianto’s painfully earnest presentation about the future of the tiny species, he’d been reminded of the Doctor’s benevolent interest in humanity. As Martha had told the ragged remains of the human race during the year that never was, the Doctor had saved them dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times, without their ever knowing it. And he’d dropped enough hints to let Jack conjecture that other Time Lords had found that pretty bizarre, too.
Too, there was the thought of the last secret project Ianto had carried out in the basement. He tried, and failed, to save Lisa. But here he had another chance, this time to save an entire species, with nothing more than a few semi permeable field generators and some jam jars from the cupboard under Gwen’s sink.
After a few more minutes of fiddling with the light meter, Ianto looked up at him and said, “What?”
Jack realized that he had a slightly goofy smile on his face. “You.”
The sendoff for Christofel’s second Great Flight couldn’t have been any more different from the first. Instead of only himself, Gregor, the kine, and the Craft, he was attended by fellow scientists, politicians, journalists, and curiosity seekers. Instead of Gregor’s simple “Good luck, sir,” he was forced to listen to speeches until his buttocks were numb, before he was finally allowed to climb into the cockpit. And even then, he had to make a few remarks before flying off.
“Colleagues,” he said. “Gentlemen. Gentlewomen. Children,” he added, looking at the excited youngsters clustered near the front of the area roped off for the general public. If he’d had his choice, he’d have invited only the children--they were the future of flight, and if even one or two decided to continue his work, the buttocks-numbing speeches would be worthwhile. "When our grandfathers and grandmothers built the Great Bridge, our species claimed our right to the vast open space within the surface of the world. My first Great Flight, six years ago today, was an extension of that claim. Since then, we’ve made several small flights. My distinguished colleagues have designed and built their own airships, ships capable of carrying people and material from the northern cities to the south, creating in a sense a new Great Bridge, this one not a structure of glass and fiber, but a bridge of motion. On this second Great Flight, our species will go farther than we have ever gone before, to see what, if anything, lies beyond the boundaries of the world. Will we find other civilizations with which to trade? New fertile bottoms for our sons and daughters to inhabit? Or wonders beyond even our imaginings?” He paused, allowing his words to sink in, allowing the children time to imagine themselves traveling to new worlds. “By this evening, we will know! Gregor, is the spring wound?”
“The spring is wound,” Gregor said. It had been for some time, but they had decided that asking would be a good way to end the speech.
“Then--” He waved to the crowd. “Release the spring!”
Three days after the Jam Jar Civilization discovered flight, and only hours after Ianto established them in their new tank system, an alarm sounded.
“What’s that?” Tosh asked. “I’m not showing any Rift activity.”
“It’s the Jam Jar Civilization!” Ianto said. “They’ve left the jar.” He quickly pulled up the feed from their camera and slowed the video until they could see what was going on. Gwen, Jack, and Tosh quickly gathered around to watch. After a moment, Owen followed suit, muttering, “If no one else is working….”
The tiny ship--it looked like the same one as before--hovered above the top of the jar for a moment, then moved to the left. When it reached the edge of the jar rim, it hovered again.
“They’re looking,” Tosh murmured. “Maybe taking sensor readings, even. Checking if the new worlds are habitable.”
“They are,” Ianto said. “There are two centimeters of culture medium at the bottom of each jar, and adequate moisture and oxygen to support life. Anything else they need, they can bring with them.”
“One small step for a Jam Jar Person, one giant leap for Jam Jar Kind,” Gwen said.
Too soon for the watching humans, the tiny ship retreated, going back to the center of the jar and descending through the semi-permeable field.
“Can you track it?” Jack asked. “See if he lands okay?”
“It could be a she,” Tosh pointed out. “You don’t know.”
“Tracking,” Ianto said. He managed to find the ship again just in time to see it land, and the pilot disembark. This time, he didn’t scurry alone into the aircraft hangar--there was a crowd of Jam Jar People waiting to see him land. The pilot hesitated in the doorway to the craft.
“Look at him,” Jack said. “I bet he’s making a speech.”
“Is there any way to hear what he’s saying?” Gwen asked.
Ianto shook his head. “There’s no way to amplify it enough to distinguish sounds, much less translate.”
After less than a minute, the pilot climbed down and went into the hangar, and the rest of the crowd dissipated. “Short speech,” Owen said.
“I think--” Ianto hesitated. It was Owen asking, after all. But he answered anyway, “I think they live faster than we do, somehow. That bridge went up in about two hours.”
They all watched the screen for another moment, until Jack said, “All right, the historical moment’s over. Everybody back to work.”
By the time of the third Great Flight, Christofel was too old to go. Still, as the flight pioneer, he was invited to speak, and made (he was sure) a pest of himself, buttonholing the flight crew and the young colonists to tell them, once again, how marvelous it was to see the world from the air for the first time, to set eyes on worlds no one had ever seen before. Now, it was the next generation’s turn to travel to those worlds and make them a home.
He was more than a little jealous.
The new ship was a hundred times larger than his first Craft, requiring a crew of twenty instead of one pilot, and large enough to carry all of the colonists, seeds and rootstock, infant livestock, and everything else they needed to begin a new life in the new world. Still, he could see in the lines of the ship the traces of his original design. He paused next to the patient kine that wound the spring, patting their heavily muscled necks.
He tried to ignore the obvious security presence, posted at both the perimeter of the shipyard and around the craft itself. He was continually surprised anew by the opposition faced by the colonization project--not just from the hidebound oldsters of his youth, but by men and women his own age.
There had always been occasional murmurs of disapproval, but the opposition really took hold the first time the auroras, which tickled the edges of the world every fourteen years, failed to appear. The auroras were widely believed to be a sign of the God’s presence, and even those who were not deeply religious found their regularity comforting, a sign of some larger presence beyond ordinary understanding. The auroras had never in recorded history failed to occur on schedule--they varied by a few days, under a schedule no one had been able to figure out, but always occurred in fourteen-year cycles. Not even the Dark Years had prevented the auroras--the light had come back in the middle of a fourteenth year, and that year’s auroras had been the longest and most brilliant ever seen.
A few months ago, the second Aurora Year since his Great Flight had ended, and once again there had been no auroras. The shipyard was ringed with protesters who believed that the God was punishing them for traveling beyond the boundaries of the world.
Christofel had never told anyone--except Gregor--of the vision he saw during his first flight. Now, he wondered if it would have made a difference if he had. Still, watching the colony ship taking off, he knew that, auroras or no auroras, the God wasn’t punishing them. Because on his first flight--the first flight in the history of the world--Christofel had seen the face of God, and he knew that God was pleased.