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Heritage, Chapter One: Commentary

This is dedicated to papilio_luna and to Rory Taran. Well done, you two!

[In early 2007, a cable company employee in the attic of my apartment building stepped on and broke a sprinkler pipe, causing eight apartments to be flooded, including mine.  Because it was uninhabitable (the ceiling gave way right over my bed!) and because of the resulting legal and insurance tangle, for a month my unhappy cat and I lived in corporate housing.

I spent a lot of time that month in escapism, reading fanfiction at places with internet access and then going back to the corporate apartment to ponder it.  I noticed a couple of tropes that interested me.  One was the idea of Rose having been pregnant at the end of Season Two.  A number of authors, including sensiblecat, and later earlgreytea68, wrote excellent treatments of Rose having the Tenth Doctor’s child.  

But there were many other stories, and one scenario often depicted was Rose being baffled and surprised by the charming, effervescent, precocious junior Time Lords she’d produced.  I started thinking about this.  What if this was, in fact, what Rose was expecting?  And what if, instead, she gave birth to someone who was merely human?  

So in about March of 2007, I sat down at the computer in my new apartment and started a story.

My stories usually come to me in the form of a scene seen through someone’s eyes, with a certain reservoir of feeling.  So the first thing that comes is the emotional tone, which is almost the same as the narrative tone of voice.  

I knew the observer was female, and quiet, and I could see John at a little distance, bending to write something or adjust something, his hair disarranged, his body a little hunched as if he’d rather not be there at all.  I knew, as well, how it would end:  with the observer noting John’s pulse in passing (the burden would be on the reader to understand what the absence of reaction  implied) and John saying something about his mother having expected something different.

When I started this I didn’t know Penny’s name.  The idea of not naming her, of making the entire story so completely from Penny’s POV that we never learn her name, occurred to me while I was writing.  It seemed to make the story more intimate, submerge us in her subjective impressions, and reinforce that we, the readers, know more about John’s background than Penny does.  I must say, though, that if I’d known I was starting a novella I might not have chosen to do that:  it has been very difficult to maintain when there are other women in the scene.  

This was originally a one-shot, which is why some of what it says (such as John saying he doesn’t know what his mother expected) is contradicted by later chapters.  I may at some point go back and rewrite it, but I’ve left it as originally written.]

It was on her third day at the Tyler Institute, after she’d been firmly ensconced in the Physical Sciences department, that she was introduced to Rose Tyler’s other legacy, Dr. John Tyler. [It’s meant to be implied that the Tyler Institute is Rose’s principal legacy.]  He wasn’t what she was expecting.   [I may have -- probably did -- intend the prefiguring of John’s final statement about his mother when I wrote that last sentence.  I don’t actually know what Penny was expecting:  someone more sure of himself, at a minimum, I would think.  ]

She asked what she should call him, and he seemed momentarily flummoxed by the question.  [This happens to me, although not with that question.]   “John,” he finally settled on. His eyes, earnest and serious, almost pleading, were a deep velvet brown, his skin pale, his brown hair escaping the constraints of whatever product he used on it. [There’s one particular set of Tennant photos I used for inspiration here.]  He seemed shy of her, glancing towards her, then away, then back again, and she decided right then that she liked him.  [This -- the difficulty with maintaining eye contact -- is another behavior that I share.]  She had always been attracted to what was fragile in people.  [I would today use the word “drawn” rather than “attracted”:  it’s more resonant.  The actual line was borrowed from the excellent X-Files fanfiction “El Quinto Sol”  by OneMillionAndNine.  This -- Penny’s attraction to the fragile -- has always seemed to me to be key to the whole narrative.  ]

As Rose Tyler’s son, he was nominally the principal expert on organic xenochemistry [It took some effort to come up with a name for his specialty], but the other scientists would whisper and occasionally snicker whenever his name was mentioned by some management figure. [Once a meme -- like, “John Tyler is useless!” -- starts, it’s hard to stop.] He would sit in meetings, sometimes drumming a pencil, but never spoke. [It made sense that John would be fidgety.]  He seemed to play no role in the daily activities and projects of the department. [He’s basically there for show, because of who he is.]  There was a large arrangement of tubing, retorts, flasks, and meters on one of the rear tables in the lab, with a sheet of paper taped to it on which someone had written “J. Tyler” in large letters, but as far as she could tell he never went near it. [We never find out what he was trying to do, there.  With this I attempt to establish that he has enough clout that nobody is going to tell him to clean up his mess and free up a lab table, but that he no longer attempts to actually do anything.  It also had a certain “felt life” to it.  I was just guessing, incidentally, as to what equipment would make sense in an organic chemistry lab:  I only took high school chemistry.]

He arrived reliably at nine every morning, sighing as he took off his dark overcoat and hung his scarf on the coat-rack. [He has a routine, even if he doesn’t like it.  Which kind of sums up his life:  he arrives reliably, where he’s supposed to, whatever he feels about it. His dark overcoat made sense for someone who didn’t want to be noticed.]  Sometimes he was absent for half a day or more, and she learned to associate those days with the times the Institute was giving or receiving some ceremonial honor. [I didn’t make it clear, but Rose is not present at these events, so he’s the designated Tyler representative.]  Occasionally he could be seen in the back of a picture of some tribute or official visit, hair tidier than usual, mouth set in a straight line of unhappiness.  [There’s one Tennant picture that is exactly this.]

He ate in his office, alone. She made a point of smiling whenever her eyes caught his, and she thought he looked faintly hopeful. [I don’t like the last clause of this.  I like the idea that her smiling has some impact on him, but hopeful?  Not the best word.]

One day, towards evening, she found herself alone in the lab, lingering around his doorway. He peeked out. [I’m inconsistent here about the lab vs. the offices in their department.  I also think this makes her sound more deliberate in hanging around his door than she really was.]  

“Come on,” he said, beckoning. It was the first time he’d ever asked her for anything. [Something belongs here, but not that sentence.]  His office was full of books, data storage media, and papers. At first there seemed to be no order, yet he had clearly arranged everything in a way that made sense to him.   She had a sense of pattern being there, but it seemed almost too subtle to take in. [Needs a little editing.  I like the idea, though:  it suggests (I think) that he is an unusual and perhaps gifted person, who is in the wrong setting.]  What he had to show her was in the back, where a little lab bench was set up and a cabinet had been arranged to block the view from the door.  [He’s spending his days on his own projects, out of desperation, but he’s not willing to make it blatant that he’s doing nothing.]

It was a plant, a budding flower, in a box filled with what looked like blue sand. “Watch this,” he said, and let loose a drop of clear liquid from an eyedropper onto its leaves. A she watched, the flower unfolded its petals.

“Listen,” he said. She listened. Just barely audible above the air conditioning was a soft little sound, like a sigh, musical and sweet.

“It’s a Xenolilium tylerii,” he said, softly, near her ear. “It’s from Hyrflixenposa. They don’t flower often. You have to feed them and water them and think soothing thoughts.”

Soothing thoughts.  “You like flowers,” she said, feeling as if a door she’d known must be there had finally opened. [Like the thought, don’t like the sentence]  “It’s named after you.”

“After my mother, actually,” he said. “I always liked plants. I would have studied botany, but my mother preferred xenochemistry.” [And here we establish explicitly what a force in his life his mother has been.]

She could see him, a shy, private boy, forced by his heritage into the ranks of Earth’s defenders.  [“private” isn’t the right word, but neither “quiet” nor “reserved” seemed to cover it.  As for the sense of it: he’s Rose’s son, Pete Tyler’s grandson:  what would he be born for, but to save the world?  The other side of his heritage Penny of course has no idea of.]   “What was your father like?” she asked, hoping he’d say more.

“I never knew him,” he said. “He parted company with my mother before she even knew she was pregnant. She was very young then. I’m not sure she even knew his real name.”  [I particularly like this last sentence:  it was meant to imply all that John *doesn’t* know about his father, how little he can know, based merely on his mother’s stories.  And as he says, his mother was very young when she knew the Doctor:  John, though still young-ish,  is meant to be much older than Rose was then.]

It seemed natural to take his hand, and she felt his pulse beating, slow and sure. [Get it?  Get it?]  He sighed.

“I always got the impression I wasn’t what she’d expected,” he said at last. “But I couldn’t have told you what that was.”

[Well, there you are.  In actuality, as things have turned out, I’m fairly sure John knows -- has a list, even -- of all the things he was expected to be:  a Time Lord, a hero, a bright charming babbler.   And although we don’t get into this until much later in the story, there’s also the matter of him being Rose Tyler’s Son and Pete Tyler’s Grandson.  As John says (in a scene that never made it into the novella, about his school days):  “They thought that anyone whose grandfather had led shock troops against the Cybermen ought to be better at games.”  ]


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 2nd, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
I love this so much. I've always loved how this story sort of subverts the stories one usually reads (including mine) about all those little Time Kids taking after their over-the-top father. I've always loved that this story takes the opposite direction, and how you can both sympathize with Rose's surprise at what she got and also feel bad for John being saddled with those expectations to the detriment of his mother realizing what a gem she has. Your writing has always struck me as so deliberate and precise, almost like poetry in that respect, and I loved getting a peek into your thought process here.
Jul. 5th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I admire your work very much (esp. since you started writing Sherlock and I realized how very versatile you are!) So I have always been delighted that you like this story!

I've always loved how this story sort of subverts the stories one usually reads (including mine) about all those little Time Kids taking after their over-the-top father.

You do realize, I hope, that yours was not one of those somewhat same-ish stories I was responding to? I believe I began writing some time (maybe even as much as a year?) before the Chaosverse appeared.

Your writing has always struck me as so deliberate and precise, almost like poetry in that respect, and I loved getting a peek into your thought process here.

That's a very great compliment! Thank you!

Thank you for always cheerleading my writing! I appreciate it enormously!
Jul. 2nd, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
Oh, this is wonderful! :)

(I want to make a more detailed comment, but I'm all headachey so this will stand in for now. )
Jul. 5th, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you!

I hope you have recovered from your headache! I'd be delighted to read whatever you have to say!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )