Title: Nerves of Steel
Characters: Jack Harkness, Ianto Jones, Owen Harper, Toshiko Sato, Gwen Cooper
Notes: Written for tw_unpaired Gen Fic Frolic.
Prompt: 265: Suddenly, tentacles
Comment: Thanks to Kay for the quick beta and i'm sorry for pestering you during your holiday :) Any mistakes are all my fault.
Ianto Jones sighed as he pulled yet another dust-covered untagged item from beneath the lowest shelf. The concrete was making his knees ache and he just knew his back was going to cramp up from the twisted position he was in.
“Has Cardiff ever had an archivist here?” he grumbled as he held it up for the Captain to take.
“There was Mervyn Welsh back in the thirties,” Jack remarked after giving the almost-certain rhetorical question some thought.
“Mervyn Welsh?” Ianto repeated with obvious disbelief. “There’s no mention of that name in any file I’ve seen.”
“Well of course not. He wasn’t human so we let him live down here in exchange for him doing the archives. He was Yullian, if I remember right. Great librarians they are. We gave him a name and something to do because we couldn’t send him home. We didn’t tell anyone. We couldn’t really. London would have taken him up for experimenting or just killed him outright.” Jack shrugged. “It worked out better for all of us.”
“And no-one’s done anything since then,” Ianto added, dragging what appeared to be a long pipe studded with crystals from under the shelf. “What happened to Mervyn?”
“He died. Earth has a heavier gravity than his homeworld and the atmosphere wasn’t quite the best for him either and it kind of wore him down. He lasted about three years which was kinda surprising actually.” Jack paused, lost in memories for a moment. “He was in the vaults for decades but I moved him out to Flat Holm in the eighties. Him and a few others. Had to keep them from Burke.” Jack grinned.
“Yeah. From Burke and Hare. Nineteenth century grave robbers?”
“I have heard of them,” Ianto replied with a roll of his eyes.
“Yes, well, we had a doctor here who liked to traipse through the vaults and whenever he found anyone interesting he’d take them out to play with them.” Jack looked vaguely disgusted and Ianto’s eyes went wide
“Play with them how?” he asked with deep foreboding in his voice.
“Oh not like that,” Jack replied quickly. “No, no, he was more medically inclined. He’d redo old autopsies every time new tech appeared. And when he got bored of that he’d go through the non-human corpses we had and use their organs to test viruses and various chemical mixes. He kept meticulous records and it was occasionally helpful but he was just too happy about it.”
“He sounds more disgusting than Owen,” Ianto commented lightly as he swallowed hard. Jack laughed.
“He sure was.”
“So what happened to him?”
“Ah, we had a deceased Wassre come through the Rift and he did the autopsy. He died when he ruptured the Wassre’s poison sac.” Jack leant against the shelf. “It was a particularly unpleasant death.”
Ianto shuddered. “I can imagine,” he muttered. Wassre poison was very acidic and smelt absolutely foul.
“Maybe I should get Owen to re-autopsy him one day,” Jack mused and Ianto’s breath caught at the lack of joking in his tone. Given very little encouragement Ianto knew Jack would be in the vaults and dragging Burke’s remains up to Owen, so he said nothing and reached under the shelf again. His gloved fingers found something circular and rather heavy. He leant over further, his face inches from the floor trying to get a grip on the object when it moved. It rolled and his gloves snagged on something sharp. Ianto shuffled back on his knees pulling the object with him.
It looked like a cannonball. It was black and looked so old. It wasn’t smooth and his glove had caught on one of the uneven pit marks. Ianto pulled his hand free of the glove and used his other still gloved hand to stop the ball from rolling further away.
“What is this?” he asked.
“No idea,” Jack said as he bent over to look at it. With little care for the normal handling procedures he picked it up and Ianto sighed.
“How many times have I told you to use gloves, Sir?” he asked not expecting an answer.
“It’s not like it can do anything permanent to me. Except maybe put my back out. It’s very heavy,” Jack gasped as he heaved it up and staggered back against the shelf. The shelf moved and several items fell. Ianto scrambled to avoid the falling artefacts. One – a small silver box landed on his un-gloved hand.
“Sorry Ianto,” Jack began. He stopped and both men stared as the silver box began to melt and sink into Ianto’s palm. “What…” Jack blinked.
“It feels weird,” Ianto remarked just before his hand and arm felt as if they were on fire and he began to scream.
Jack dropped the cannonball and tapped his com unit before kneeling next to Ianto. Ianto had curled over holding his hand against his chest and a second scream echoed around them.
“Owen,” Jack barked. “Archives! Now!” He tried to pull Ianto up against him but the younger man twisted awkwardly, his back arching.
“God Jack!” Ianto panted. “It burns!” and he screamed again.
“Owen!” Jack called again urgently as Ianto thrashed in his arms.
“I’m here!” Owen’s voice echoed in his ear and around the room as the doctor appeared. “What’s happened?”
“Alien box melted into his hand,” Jack said briefly as Ianto screamed again. Owen knelt beside them and tried to ease Ianto’s arm out. The Welshman shook his head and clutched it tighter to his chest.
“No!” He struggled against Jack and the Captain tightened his grip. Owen frowned and studied the screaming man.
“You carry him to autopsy Jack, and I’ll have the sedatives ready,” he said getting to his feet and helping Jack stand up. He barely waited for Jack to lift Ianto up before he turned and headed back up to the main hub. Jack hurried along behind him.
Ianto had begun screaming continuously by the time Jack got him into the autopsy bay. He screamed louder as Owen and Jack tried to get him onto to the table. Ianto twisted and writhed and Jack called Gwen to help hold Ianto down while Owen administered the sedative.
He had to give Ianto a second dose before it took effect and the young man sank into unconsciousness. The others sighed in relief and Owen strapped Ianto securely to the table.
“Is that necessary?” Gwen asked.
“Yes,” Owen replied, setting up an intravenous line to the back of Ianto’s hand. “I don’t want him squirming all over the place when he wakes up.” He picked up a scanner. “So what exactly did happen to him, Jack?”
“As I said. A small box fell and melted into his hand.”
“Do you know what the box was?” Tosh asked from the top of the stairs. “I can look through the database.”
“I have no idea what it was,” Jack told her. “I didn’t see a tag for it. It was silver and about four inches square and it just disappeared into his palm and then he started screaming.” He thought for a moment. “We were in L13 if that helps.”
Tosh frowned. “Ianto does have Archive positioning as an entry tag but I’m not sure how specific it is. I’ll have a look,” she said and disappeared to the main Hub and her desk.
Jack turned back to focus on Ianto. Owen had the handheld scanner out and was running it over Ianto. It was beeping every now and again and Owen was staring to frown.
“What’ve you got?” Jack asked.
“Nerves of steel,” Owen replied blinking at the scanner.
“What?” Gwen asked just before Jack could.
“Nerves of steel. Literally.” Owen shook his head and went to the computer. A few quick clicks and the wall display lit up showing Ianto’s unconscious body. Another click and an intricate pattern of lines appeared.
“This overlay shows Ianto’s nervous system.” Owen pointed at the display.
“Why are the lines in his arm silver and the rest blue?” Jack asked.
“Because the blue lines are normal and the silver is abnormal. The blue shows the normal cellular material and it’s being replaced by the silver which appears to be some kind of metal. It’s like the metal is rewriting his nervous system.”
“Which would explain why he was screaming,” Owen continued as neither Jack nor Gwen seemed able to speak. “He was obviously feeling the pain. He wouldn’t let me look at his arm and I think it might have been because of the pain and also because he couldn’t get his muscles to work either. Judging from the scan the metal sank into him and started moving up his arm, changing the nerves as it went and that would have affected his muscles as well.”
“How much of his nervous system will be affected?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know. His left arm is completely silver and it’s spreading down his left side. The good news – if you want to call it that – is that the silver has moved downward and not headed up to his brain. The bad news is that despite the sedative it’s still moving.”
“What do we do?” Gwen asked and Owen shrugged.
“No idea. I can’t operate and remove it. I’ll try some muscle relaxants and see what other drugs I’ve got that work on nerves, but until I know what that box was and what it was meant to do there’s nothing more I can do.” Owen’s shrug looked casual but there was a tightness around his eyes.
“Keep him alive Owen,” Jack ordered. “And we’ll work on fixing this. Come on Gwen.”
“Keeping him alive’s the easy part,” Owen mumbled as he checked the drip again.
An hour later Tosh sat back and looked at Jack.
“There’s nothing in the database,” she said tiredly. She pulled her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. “There are hundreds of silver boxes in the database. Four hundred of them are the right size and half of those are without any markings whatsoever. Only fifty of them seem to have complete descriptions and none of them mention melting or nervous systems.”
“What about contact with bare skin?” Jack asked. “I wonder if that box had landed on Ianto’s gloved hand if this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Nothing. No warnings at all.”
Jack frowned. “Sneak into UNIT’s database and see if they’ve got anything.”
“Okay.” She turned back to her screens. “I could really use a coffee right now.”
“I sent Gwen to get some,” Jack told her.
“Good. How is Ianto?”
“Still sedated, but the metal is still spreading.”
“What does this say?” Gwen asked.
“This way up,” Jack replied as he looked at the printout she held.
“What language is it in?” she asked as she scrunched her face up at his easy reply.
“Latin?” Gwen repeated in a disbelieving tone. “You can read Latin?”
“Yes. A lot of old documents are in Latin.” Jack smiled slightly. “You look surprised.”
“I am.” She shook her head as if to clear it. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Ianto knows Latin, but…” she paused unsure how to proceed.
“It’s ok. I had some spare time in the twenties and I learnt a few languages.”
“Which ones?” Gwen asked curiously.
“Hindu, Greek and Latin of course,” he said easily.
“Of course,” she muttered. “Why did you learn them?”
“It’s always handy knowing other languages,” he answered. “Although I don’t think I’ve ever used the Greek,” he added thoughtfully. He blinked. “So is there anything in the stuff from Archie?” he queried with a wave at the printout.
“No,” she sighed. “He’s never heard of anything like before and he said that the Torchwood House database would be back up in four hours rather than the original ten. Sounds like he got onto the technician and shouted at him.”
Jack laughed. “Archie does like to shout. Make sure Tosh knows so she can start searching there as soon as it’s available.”
“I already told her and we’ll split the information so we can both search at the same time.”
“JACK!” Owen’s horrified shout interrupted them and they dropped everything and ran.
“What the hell?” Jack spluttered in a shocked voice as he, Gwen and Tosh stood at the top of the stairs and stared down at Owen.
“I don’t know,” Owen responded as he added an extra bag to the IV stand while trying to dodge the multitude of wildly waving silver tendrils that seemed to be attached to Ianto’s still unconscious body. “I was just changing scanners when suddenly… tentacles!” he exclaimed with flustered movements of his hands. He batted one away from him and looked up at the others. “You could come down and help you know,” he told them with a sarcastic edge.
Jack hurried down and stopped a few feet from the table looking from the silver strands to Ianto and back again.
“Where are they coming from?”
“I’m not sure. I need to get him undressed but the bloody things keep moving and trying to grab me,” Owen replied.
“Up the sedative?” Jack questioned.
“No, he’s had enough of that for the moment,” Owen replied. “But I have added the muscle relaxant. Hopefully that’ll help.”
“How far as the silver spread?” Jack asked.
“It’s all down his left side and starting to travel to the right.” Owen paused to step away from the tendrils again. “And its adding things as it goes which is worrisome.”
“How do you mean?” Jack looked puzzled.
“It went up his arm and then down his left side flowing existing nerves but as it was doing that it formed a ganglia mass around the lymph nodes under his arm. Once it got to his abdomen and pelvis it’s sought out more lymph nodes and wrapped itself around them as well. He’s got ganglia growing where he shouldn’t. It’s following both his nerves and the lymph vessels now.” Owen took a deep breath. “I was getting an x-ray set up when these tentacle-things suddenly appeared. They are coming out of him somehow.”
“We can’t find anything,” Tosh said with a dejected expression.
“No-one seems to know what that box was,” Gwen added looking equally depressed.
“Keep looking,” Jack commanded. “See if you can’t find anything about organic metals. If we can’t find anything about the box then we need to concentrate on the metal.”
“Okay.” Tosh and Gwen nodded and went back to their desks.
“Okay Owen. I’ll help you get him undressed. Do you have anything we can tie these tentacles down with? Although I don’t know as they’re technically tentacles,” he added, his head to one side as he studied the metallic strands.
“He already has arms and these are not extra arms or legs, so tentacles they are,” Owen stated firmly. He held up a roll of bandage. “All I’ve got is this and surgical tape. It’ll have to do for the moment until Teaboy wakes up and tells me where the duct tape is.”
“Oh, I know where that is,” Jack smirked slightly as he caught the bandage Owen tossed him.
“You would,” Owen retorted with disgust. “Gloves too,” he said as he threw a pair to Jack.
Together they began to bind the metal strands together. Owen thought the muscle relaxant had started working as the strands slowed down their frenetic movements. He clumped the tendrils together wrapping the bandage tightly around. It appeared to be strong enough but it was fiddly trying to keep the strands from slipping free.
“How many of these tentacles are there?” Jack asked in frustration as the strands kept trying to pull at his coat and hands.
“Thirty so far here,” Owen said after a quick count. “I grabbed them in groups of five and then tied the whole lot together.”
“I think there’s more than that this side,” Jack said trying to count and losing track again.
It took them ten minutes to bind the strands together until they had two long tentacles heavily bandaged lying at either side of the table. Owen and Jack removed Ianto’s jacket and shirt having to cut it to get it from under the restraints.
“Ianto won’t be too happy about this,” Jack remarked as he held up the now useless shirt.
“Too bad,” Owen retorted absently as he studied the unconscious man. Silver patterns tracked over his torso. “It’s like someone painted his nervous system on him,” Owen said. “We need to turn him over. The tentacles must be coming from his back.”
They loosened the straps enough to turn Ianto over and then they stopped staring at the Welshman’s back.
“Fuck me,” Owen swore. The silver patterns were all over Ianto’s back and Ianto’s spine appeared to have been pushed outwards so the vertebrae were more noticeable. And from each vertebra the silver strands came. Blood was smeared around each one. Owen quickly grabbed his portable scanner and ran it along Ianto’s spine.
“Damn it. It’s gotten into his spine.”
“How bad is it?” Jack asked.
“Pretty bad I’d say. Look what it’s done to his back. Although it doesn’t look like it’s pushing his spine any further out of place.” The scanner beeped continuously and Owen adjusted the settings several times. “It’s forming bloody ganglia around every vertebra. And it’s getting into his spinal column.” Owen cursed again and looked at Jack. “We have to find some answers Jack.”
“We’re doing all we can Owen.”
“I know but we need to do more. This stuff is spreading everywhere inside him.”
Another hour later they convened in the board room. Owen slumped into his chair with a nearby monitor showing Ianto in the autopsy bay. Several takeaway coffee cups sat in front of him.
“How is he, Owen?” Tosh asked as she took her seat.
“He’s still alive,” Owen replied, his words slurred with exhaustion.
“That’s good,” Gwen said as she sat heavily next to him.
“When will he wake up?” Jack queried.
“In half an hour. If the pain’s too much I’ll be putting him straight back to sleep,” Owen informed them.
“And his… tentacles?” Gwen asked hesitantly.
“They’re growing. They’re getting thicker. They don’t move too much and I think that’s because I gave him another dose of the muscle relaxant.”
“What about removing them?” Jack asked.
“I tried that and they just grew back. The stuff’s all through his body now except for his head.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“Don’t know but there has to be some reason. It’s replaced just about every nerve, wrapped itself right into his spinal cord, is all through his lymphatic system and it’s created a large ganglia node around his cervical vertebra and there it stops. Right under his skull.”
“How did you remove them?” Tosh asked.
“Wire cutters,” Owen replied. “The metal is incredibly flexible and the individual strands were easy to cut when I first tried. It’s a bit harder now that they’ve thickened up.”
"Can I have the strands you removed to test?” Tosh looked at the tired man.
“Any luck with organic metals?” Jack asked Gwen and Tosh.
“Not much,” Gwen replied. “The information from Archie mentions several artefacts but says they were kept in London.”
“Which means they’re long gone,” Owen muttered.
“UNIT salvaged a lot of tech from London after the Battle,” Jack mentioned. “Have another wander through their databases, Tosh and see if they’ve picked them up.”
“Okay,” Tosh nodded. “And there’s nothing in our archives either. The one time they had anything close to it, it exploded during testing.”
“What about you Jack? Have you found anything?” Gwen asked him.
Jack grimaced. “Not so far,” he said. He’d spent most of the time on the phone ringing around various contacts trying to find anyone who could help. No-one could and Jack was now worrying between the two last choices. One was Martha who could – if he asked nicely – probably get hold of the Doctor. And the other was to Helen on Flat Holm. They’d had a few patients with organic metal attached and Jack knew that they’d never managed to successfully remove it. But they would have plenty of information on how it reacted and behaved. He stood up.
“Let’s do what we can until Ianto wakes up and then we’ll review again.”
Ianto woke slowly. He yawned and felt confused he realised he was sleeping on his stomach. He never slept on his stomach. He went to roll over and couldn’t. He blinked trying to clear his bleary eyes and managed to focus on the tiled wall of the autopsy bay. He groaned as he began to remember what had happened.
“Good evening teaboy,” Owen’s cheery voice greeted him.
“Uhh… Owen. Wha’s goin’ on?” Ianto tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry.
“You got your very own Dr Octopus attachments,” Owen told him and Ianto rolled his eyes.
“Be serious Owen,” he managed to say hoarsely.
“I am being very serious. You have tentacles. Nice lovely metal ones.”
Ianto shuddered and tried to move. He felt the restraints tight across him and he arched up against them. His breathing increased and he could hear his heartbeat getting loud in his ears. Something heavy was dragging at his back and he twitched trying to remove it. Metal flashed and appeared in front of his face and he froze as he looked at it. Nearly two inches thick, long and silver with bandages wrapped around, it looked like very shiny steel cabling. Except that it was weaving slowly, almost snakelike, hypnotising him. He blinked.
“Tentacles,” he repeated in a hollow voice.
“Yeah,” Owen answered as he moved into Ianto’s vision. “How’s the pain?”
Ianto frowned remembering the earlier burning agony. “I ache all over.”
“But no pain?” Owen asked.
“Not really, no.” Ianto looked confused.
“Okay. Tell me if you can feel this.” Owen moved out sight and Ianto waited.
“You’re touching my elbow,” he reported a moment later.
“Describe it,” Owen ordered.
Ianto tried to shrug and failed. “It feels like you’re pressing down with a finger.”
Owen looked at the needle he had inserted into Ianto’s elbow where the nerves were closest to the skin. He pulled the needle out and pressed it into Ianto’s shoulder.
“Now you’re poking my shoulder,” Ianto responded.
“It’s not hurting at all?” Owen questioned.
“No.” Ianto tried to turn his head to look at Owen. “I thought you usually used a needle for these types of tests. Why are you just using your finger? ”
“I do. And I am.” Owen moved back and held up the thin needle. “You’re not feeling it for some reason.” Owen heaved a loud breath. “You always make things difficult teaboy,” he said as he walked away. Ianto almost smiled at the lack of rancour in the words.
“You’d get bored if I didn’t,” Ianto replied.
“Yeah right,” Owen responded as he returned with a small tray and held up a scalpel. “Now I get to cut you open. Tell me when it hurts.”
Ianto frowned. “What about anaesthetic?”
“What about it? Owen grinned at him. “You won’t feel a thing. I hope,” he added. He strapped Ianto’s arm out, extending it fully and having to twist it slightly due to Ianto still lying face down on the table. He reached for the disinfectant.
Ianto stayed silent until something wet trickled down his arm and he couldn’t move it. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just going to open your elbow up a bit,” Owen replied so matter-of-factly that Ianto didn’t understand the words at first.
“What?” he exclaimed after a moment.
“The elbow’s one of the few places where the nerves aren’t buried so deep. I just want to have a look at yours.” Owen made sure the area was cleaned and disinfected before he began to cut. He made a small incision and Ianto didn’t move. “Can you feel anything?”
“Just feels like your pressing down hard. And wet.”
“That would be the disinfectant and a bit a blood,” Owen replied as he worked slowly and carefully.
“I still think I should have some anaesthetic.”
“You don’t need it. You still have muscles relaxant and sedatives floating in your system and these nerves of steel of yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“You remember that little box that melted in your hand? It’s gone and spread itself all over your nerves. Looks like they’ve replaced them all except what’s in your head. Having a look now will show if they have been completely converted or just coated, but I think …” Owen stopped speaking as Ianto suddenly writhed against the straps. The two tentacles rose and snapped wildly above his back and Owen had to step back to avoid getting hit by the flailing appendages.
“Ianto!” Owen moved quickly to bend down in front of Ianto’s face. The young man was white and his eyes wide and panicked. “Ianto! Stop now! You have to calm down!” Owen eyed Ianto’s partially opened elbow and the confining straps uneasily as he tried to make Ianto listen.
Ianto thrashed against the restraints uncaring of the possible damage he could do. His back twitched and the weight of the metal tentacles pulled at his muscles. Only the tight restraints kept him from actually moving. His heart rate soared and he could hear his blood pounding his ears. Breathing was hard and he struggled to speak.
“No, Owen, NO! No conversion, get it out! Get it out! Please God, get it out!” Ianto’s voice rose.
“What’s going on?” Jack demanded as he appeared above them.
“Panic attack,” Owen said succinctly as he caught one of the tentacles and tried to hold it still. Jack hurried down the stairs to help.
“You’ve got to remove it! Jack! Owen has to get it out!” Ianto kept repeating himself and Jack reached out and grasped Ianto’s head in his hands.
“Listen to me Ianto. I need you to calm down now. Everything will be fine but you need to stop moving and just lay here quietly now,” Jack spoke clearly and evenly, ignoring the almost hysterical expression on Ianto’s face.
“It’s converting me, Jack! You have to get rid of it! Get the fucking thing out of me!”
“You’re not getting converted Ianto. Just calm down and breathe with me for a bit. Come on, let’s just breathe in and out and then we’ll talk. Just in and out, nice and slow and easy. It’s okay Ianto, let’s just breathe. In and out, that’s it,” Jack soothed as Ianto’s breathing hitched as he tried to follow Jack’s instructions.
Owen watched for a moment and sighed with relief as Ianto began to listen to the Captain and the tentacles became more manageable as Ianto began to calm down. Owen considered tying the tentacles to the table legs to keep them out of the way but decided against it for now. He returned to Ianto’s elbow and was relieved to see that the clamps had held.
“I don’t want to be converted,” Ianto whimpered as he tried to take a deep breath.
“You won’t be,” Jack told him reassuringly. “We’ll figure this out and everything will be fine.”
“But Owen said…” Ianto didn’t finish as Jack turned to glare at Owen.
“I shouldn’t have used that word. I didn’t think,” Owen said almost apologetically. “But all I was saying was that I didn’t know if the metal had con… changed his nerves or just coated them. Which is what I am trying to find out.”
“See, Ianto, Owen was just being a bit of a prat, that’s all. You’re doing fine,” Jack said.
“But what if it has converted my nerves? What if it spreads?” Ianto’s breathing quickened again.
“We will take care of it, Ianto. Everything will be fine. You need to stay calm for us. Okay?” Jack stroked his fingers through Ianto’s hair and Ianto calmed down again.
“Sorry,” he murmured.
“It’s okay. You have every right to be worried, but we’ll fix this,” Jack kept speaking and shot a quick look to Owen.
“Yeah, of course we will,” he agreed completely unconvincingly with a roll of his eyes worthy of Ianto and the Welshman snorted.
“Don’t strain yourself, Owen,” Ianto said weakly but drily and Jack laughed. Ianto was still too pale but the panic had faded from his eyes.
“Well don’t you be getting yourself worked up over things, teaboy,” Owen remarked as he worked deeper into Ianto’s elbow. “I’ve already gone too long without your coffee and the sooner you let us fix you, the sooner you’ll be back making it.”
“I foresee decaf in your future, Owen,” Jack remarked.
“Not if teaboy doesn’t want the large needles used at his next physical, there won’t be,” Owen retorted as he slipped his scalpel between several muscles layers and used the blunt edge to push them aside. He looked to where the nerve should be and smiled as he saw the silver line. “Need you to stay completely still now mate,” he said as he picked up a small probe. “Tell me the moment you feel anything.”
Owen studied the nerve. Most nerves had a silver look to them but this had a completely different sheen to it. No longer a sleek fibrous sheath, it looked exactly like highly polished wire. He carefully pushed the probe against it and it didn’t move. There was no give to it and he frowned. He bent closer and tapped gently. He wasn’t sure if he imagined the small metallic tinging sound. He looked at Jack and Ianto for a moment before he swapped the probe for his scalpel and brought it to bear on the silver line. Lightly at first and then with greater pressure he tried to make a mark on the nerve.
“My fingers are tingling,” Ianto announced and Owen stopped immediately.
“Which ones?” he asked.
“Fourth and fifth,” Ianto told him.
“Wriggle them for me,” Owen directed and watched as Ianto’s fingers moved. He looked at the nerve and could just make out it shifting slightly as the muscles worked. He reached for a small handheld scope and looked closer at the nerve. He discerned several scratches on the metal. “Okay, stop wriggling now.”
“Well?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know. It’s definitely working like a normal nerve. The tingling usually occurs when you pinch the ulnar nerve which I’ve just been scratching at. Not sure if that means the nerve is under the metal or whether the metal is the nerve. Don’t want to cut it completely either. You probably want to keep the use of all your fingers.”
“Nerves can regenerate,” Ianto managed to say.
“Yes, but not always and that’s normal human nerves, not this strange weird alien metal-looking thing.”
“You said the tentacle strands grew back,” Jack pointed out and Owen frowned at them both.
“Are you two really suggesting that I cut Ianto’s ulnar nerve?” He glared.
“Well no, I’d rather you didn’t,” Ianto said. “But…”
“but you don’t want to be converted,” Owen finished for him with a grimace. “Sorry teaboy, but I’m not about to start experimenting on live humans. No matter how much you beg. Even if this has nothing to do with cyber-tech.”
“Ianto rarely begs,” Jack smirked and Owen groaned. Ianto rolled his eyes.
“And you never stop begging, Sir,” Ianto retorted. He suddenly winced. “Fingers have got that very bad pins and needles feeling,” he said.
“Move them as much as you can,” Owen said. He studied the nerve and Ianto’s finger movements for a moment. “Okay, stop now. I’m going to close this up so stay still again. Tell me if the pain gets any worse.” Owen cleaned the exposed area with a quick saline wash and suctioned it out before removing the probe and letting the muscles slip back into place. He removed the clamps holding the small incision open and turned to his table for a couple of sutures.
“Owen, this is really hurting now,” Ianto said. Jack reached over and held Ianto’s hand massaging the fingers and palm.
“How badly?” Owen asked noticing the sweat beginning to bead on Ianto’s forehead.
“Badly,” Ianto took a deep breath. “Very badly.”
“I’ll add some morphine to your drip and if it gets too much I’ll knock you out again, okay?”
“Okay.” Ianto closed his eyes tightly for moment tensing up. “It burns like it did before,” he muttered.
“Owen,” Jack said overly casually and Owen looked at him puzzled.
“Don’t forget to sew him up,” he said meaningfully with a dip of his head and Owen’s eyes went wide as he saw the unclosed incision. What appeared to be silver metal was bubbling out and running down Ianto’s arm.
“What’s happening?” Ianto asked suspiciously.
“Not sure,” Owen replied easily. “But I think I’ll be putting you to sleep now. I think your pain’s about to get a lot worse.”
“You…” Ianto hissed as pain spiked up his arm. He panted. “Okay, that actually sounds like a good idea.”
Owen pushed the sedative into Ianto’s drip along with the morphine and saw the blue eyes close. He placed a bucket under Ianto’s arm to collect the dripping metal.
“Jack, take some of this to Tosh and get her to run a comparison with those strands I gave her earlier,” he ordered as he withdrew a small sample and handed the vial over.
“On it,” Jack replied and went up the stairs at a run.
Owen set up several scanners and watched the monitors. Ianto’s heart rate climbed and despite the drugs in his system he began writhing beneath the restraints. The tentacles flicked sluggishly twisting and curling over itself. The slow screech of metal on metal set Owen’s teeth on edge but he ignored it as he watched the molten metal running down Ianto’s arm.
“It’s stopped,” Owen announced as he appeared in the main Hub area.
“What has?” Gwen asked as she looked up from the files that surrounded her.
“The metallic flow,” Owen clarified as he dropped into the chair next to his desk. “It’s stopped.”
“Is it all out of him?” Jack asked. He and Tosh had been running various tests on the metallic samples they’d gotten earlier.
“No,” Owen frowned with slight unease. “Some of his major nerves are still coated in the stuff but the peripheral nerves are all clear. When he wakes up I’ll test his pain responses. Hopefully they’ll be back to normal but that stuff does seem to block the pain receptors.”
“And the… ah… tentacles?” Tosh asked.
“They’ve broken off, but his spinal column is still coated so there’s every chance they could redevelop.”
“Didn’t you say they grew back last time?” Gwen queried.
“Yes, within minutes of when I removed them. It’s been ten minutes and they haven’t grown back yet.”
“Well, we think we know why the metal began melting,” Tosh said with a wave at the screen in front of her. Owen looked interested.
“Good. So why did it?”
“Oxidation,” she told him. “It looks like the scratches you made allowed oxygen inside the metal and that caused an accelerated reaction. I can’t determine all the elements in the chemical structure. Most of it is just not found on Earth, which could be why it’s reacting in ways normal metals don’t. Normally oxidation or rusting of metals would be highly damaging to human tissue but this seems almost designed to integrate with it.”
“So our teaboy has the equivalent of adamantium coating his nerves?” Owen rolled his eyes and Tosh giggled.
“What’s adamantium?” Jack asked and Tosh gave a small giggle.
“It’s a fictional metal, supposedly indestructible and there’s a character has his skeleton coated in it,” Tosh informed him before turning serious again. “The organic metals that exist at the moment just aren’t capable of coating nerves.”
“It’s the finding of alien metals that allows organic metals to properly develop,” Jack stated. “There are whole species out there that are silicon based, or crystalline based and there are some that rely on metal.”
“Like cybermen,” Owen said discouragingly.
“No. The cybermen were created. There are others that have evolved, developing on heavily metalled planets, from single cells and incorporating the metals into the whole evolutionary process,” Jack informed them. “It was a two-way street. The metals seemed to evolve just as much as the civilisations did. There was a great demand for that sort of metal once it was discovered.”
“What does that mean for Ianto?” Gwen asked.
“Sounds like teaboy will keep his nerves of steel,” Owen commented drily. “We aren’t going to know what it’s done to him until I’ve run a few tests on him when he’s awake, and despite everything that has happened it seems to be mostly harmless.”
“Harmless?” Gwen protested. “It gave Ianto tentacles!”
“Nothing wrong with tentacles,” Jack leered easily, and Owen waved a hand at him.
“More than enough innuendo from you,” he said pointedly. “And Gwen, the tentacles are gone now and I’m betting that so will his imperviousness to pain that he had earlier. It hasn’t gotten into his brain and it really hasn’t affected him to any great extent.”
“He was screaming,” Gwen pointed out.
“Getting your nerves dipped in metal would make anyone scream and he did settle down once the process was finished. Sedating him this time means we’ve avoided letting him feel all that pain again.” Owen leant back in his chair. “From a medical perspective, Ianto is as fit and healthy as he was yesterday. If his pain threshold has dropped back into the normal ranges now then the addition of this metal to his system really doesn’t seem to have any drawbacks in the short term that I can see.” Owen shrugged. “Only long term observation will show if there’s any serious detrimental effects.”
Ianto opened his eyes and saw white. Fuzzy white that looked so far away. He blinked slowly and stared at the white expanse. It took him a long moment before he realised he was looking at the tiles on the autopsy bay ceiling. He yawned and stretched his arms out, arching his back slightly. It took him another long moment to realise that he was no longer strapped face down to the table. He rolled onto his side and levered himself up.
He sat up and looked around him. He could hear voices upstairs and was tempted to join them but his head was aching slightly and he felt very tired. His arm was sore and he looked down to find his elbow neatly bandaged up.
“You’re awake,” Jack’s voice interrupted Ianto’s perusal of his arm.
“Yes. How long was I out for?”
“Six hours,” Jack told him as he walked down the stairs. “Owen wants to runs some tests on you.”
“I expected that,” Ianto sighed, reaching behind him. “I see the tentacles are gone,” he said with relief.
“You still have some metal in your body. You could get them back again one day.”
“Leave the teaboy alone,” Owen ordered as he came down the stairs. “And no I will not try and reattach the tentacles.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to, Owen. One day was more than enough,” Ianto shook his head carefully.
“You never got to try them out properly. If you had you’d be wanting them back by now.” Jack grinned at him and Ianto rolled his eyes.
“Let me guess, you like tentacles,” Ianto said matter of factly.
“Oh yeah,” Jack grinned. “There’s quite a list.”