"I don't care what you say," Gwen said, as they descended the stairs to the Hub, the rolldoor sliding back obligingly as Ianto swiped his keycard. "All I want is a bagel and a cup of coff -- "
She had stopped, Ianto realised, because she had bumped into his back. He didn't realise that he himself had stopped until she bounced off, rubbing her nose.
Something was wrong with the Hub.
"What's going on?" she asked, and he felt her moving to step around him. He put out a hand, stopping her, and then pointed.
"What's the holdup?" Jack called from behind Owen. "I'm freezing."
"Someone's been in the Hub," Ianto replied.
Sitting on Tosh's desk, the most visible from the doorway, was a large wood-and-metal contraption. It had certainly not been there when the call came in -- a giant snot-flinging monster, menacing early afternoon lunch-patrons at a local bistro.
He heard rather than saw the guns being drawn; Jack's antique from its leather holster, Tosh and Owen's modern pieces sliding out of their nylon. He put his hand down to his hip for his own sidearm and then swore softly when he realised his gun, like Gwen's, had been discarded in a pile of highly corrosive snot somewhere in a sewer grate.
"I go left, Tosh and Owen right," Jack said, pushing past them. "You two, sweep from behind."
They entered the Hub on alert, eyes skimming everywhere, taking in the gantries and the walkways over the fountain's pool. Ianto moved cautiously, inching towards Tosh's desk, studying the object with care. It didn't look very threatening; close-up it was some kind of woven-wood construction, about the size of a paper bag, with metal struts and a glass dome over the top.
There were oily marks beneath the desk, and he bent to examine them; as he did, something landed lightly on his back.
An ordinary person would have shouted and straightened instantly, but Torchwood training and two years with a grabby boss had taught better. He simply froze.
"Owen," he said, and Owen swung around, gun pointed in his direction. Ianto squeezed his eyes shut. "There's something on my back."
"Y HALO THAR," something said, somewhere above him.
Ianto briefly wondered if he were hallucinating.
"Is it," he asked carefully, "by any chance -- "
"A cat," Owen said flatly.
"There's a cat," Ianto said. "On my back."
"Hello moggie!" Owen said. "Where'd you come from?"
"IM IN UR BASE -- "
"And it's talking."
" -- SITTIN ON YANTOE."
There was a muffled snicker from somewhere to his left. The soft weight on his back padded over to one shoulder. It felt like a cat. And, when a furry face appeared in front of his, looked like one too.
"O HAI," the cat said.
Ianto straightened cautiously.
"Is that a talking cat?" Jack asked, off in the distance.
"It does appear to be," Ianto said carefully. The cat leapt from his shoulder to Tosh's desk. The others gathered round slowly.
"I HAS A HOOMANS," the cat continued.
"Jack, were there any mind-altering substances in the corrosive alien snot?" Tosh asked faintly. Jack put out his hand, and the cat butted its head against his fingers.
"Scanner?" he said. Tosh carefully slid a black box off the desk and aimed it at the cat.
"Definitely alien," she said.
"Talking alien cat?" Ianto asked.
"IM IN UR BASE," the cat repeated.
"Apparently so," Jack said. The cat rubbed its back along one of the monitors.
"I could be wrong," Owen said drily, "but it seems to be trying to communicate."
"PEACEFUL CAT COMES IN PEACE," the cat yowled. "WE BE MONITURRIN U."
"Are you the only one?" Jack asked, and the mental image of Jack talking seriously to a pale grey tomcat was one that Ianto suspected would linger.
"IN UR BASE, PRITTY DAM LOST," the cat replied.
"Fell through the rift, maybe," Ianto heard himself say.
"NIS PLANUT U GOT HURR," the cat said. It was odd how you could almost see the capital letters, Ianto thought.
"Captain Jack Harkness," Jack said, and offered his hand. The cat licked his fingers.
"O HAI SEXIE JAK," the cat said. Jack beamed.
"He catches on quick," Owen drawled.
"SEXIE JAK, DIS MAH SHEP," the cat told him. "I FLYZ IT."
"Did he just say something about sheep?" Gwen asked.
"Ship, I think you'll find," Ianto corrected. The cat gave him a curt nod.
That was a sentence he never thought he'd think.
"He's lost," Tosh said. "Poor thing. We can help."
"O HAI PRITTY TOSH. GOTS NO BUTTERYS."
"No batteries," Jack muttered.
They all looked at each other.
"I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?" the cat asked.
"I'm sorry, we don't understand," Jack said.
"HUNGRY CAT IS HUNGRY," the cat tried, looking pointedly at Ianto.
"There's cream in the fridge," he said, offering his arm. The cat leapt into the crook of his elbow and purred contentedly.
"I HAS A YANTOE," it informed them.
When the cat was settled on the conference-room table, lapping at a saucer of cream with a noise that sounded suspiciously like OM NOM NOM NOM, the others took their seats.
"It makes sense, when you think about it," Owen said.
"How does a talking cat make sense?" Gwen asked.
"Well, not the talking bit. Though that makes sense too, alien and all." Owen leaned forward. "He said he'd been monitoring us."
"Moniturrin," Ianto murmured.
"Now, if you were lost and you went to a planet full of humans that didn't speak your language but were still quite obviously human," Owen continued, "What would you do?"
"Tap into the local literature," Jack said. "Ten points for Owen."
"Our local literature's the internet," Tosh said.
"And the only time you see cats meaningfully communicating on the internet is..." Jack tapped a few keys on the side of the screen. A webpage appeared. At the top was an image of a cat, wild-eyed, captioned I CAN SEE FOREVER. "So if that's the only way you know how to speak to the locals..."
"Are you telling me," Gwen said, "That we have an alien LOLcat?"
"Makes sense," Owen repeated.
"In what universe does this make sense?"
"Ours," Jack replied. "Tosh, see if you can get his..."
"Basket," Ianto helpfully supplied.
"...spaceship fixed. Owen, find out if he'll let you take some blood samples for the archives. Gwen, I want research. Ianto, try and teach him some decent English."
"I rather like the way he talks," Owen said.
"Right on your level," Ianto muttered, but he didn't say it very loud.
Bent over the cream, lapping contentedly, the cat continued. "OM NOM NOM NOM NOM."
Ianto, chin resting on the table to be on a better level with the cat, sighed.
"Well, it's close enough." He sat back. "This is Torchwood."
"TURCHWAD!" the cat looked positively gleeful.
"We mean you no harm."
The cat gave him an inscrutable look.
"U BE SEXXIN SEXIE JAK -- "
"Shh! Sh!" Ianto said, frantically.
"What did he say?" Owen asked, appearing in the doorway.
"O HAI!" the cat bounded over to him, rubbing its head along his chest.
"Just coming in to tell you, Tosh says the space-ship takes Earth batteries all right," Owen said. "Should have it up and running as soon as we get the contacts cleaned."
The cat stopped rubbing, suddenly, and looked up at him.
"INVISIBLE HART BEET," it said, sadly.
"Yes, well," Ianto replied, scooping him up and brushing past Owen. "He ded of Torchwood."
"AHAHAHA," the cat yowled.
"NOT FUNNY!" Owen called.
"DED OF TURCHWAD! FOR GRATE LOLZ!"
There was a tiny helmet in the tiny cargo bay of the cat-basket space ship. Ianto wasn't sure why he had thought it would be otherwise.
"BRB," the cat informed them. "GOIN TO SPACE."
"Hopefully not -- " Jack's lips twisted as he tried to figure out how to say brb. "Hopefully staying in space."
"DIS MAH SHEP. HAPPY CAT IS HAPPY. PRITTY TOSH IS PRITTY," the cat said, shoving its head into the helmet and curling up on the cushion. Steam began to issue from the vents on the side of the ship as it rose into the air.
"THANK U TURCHWAD!"
"Hey," Jack said, as the ship hovered. "We didn't get your name."
The cat gave them all a feral smile and lifted off, aiming for the bright square of light that marked the ceiling exit of the Hub. As it did, a faint tinny communique echoed back to them.
"CEILING CAT IS WATCHING U!"
The first time the Doctor met Ceiling Cat, he was still recovering from the end of the Time War. He was never certain how the cat got into the TARDIS to begin with, but he awoke one morning to find it curled up on his chest, purring contentedly.
"O HAI," it said, when it noticed him staring. "I HAS A TIMELURDZ."
"Go away, moggie," he said, sighing. It sat up, fixed him with a steely gaze, and flicked its tail. It leapt off his chest and walked with dignified gait to the door.
"CHEER UP, EMO KID," it informed him, and vanished into the hallway.