NP-Complete (np_complete) wrote,

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Fic: Heritage, Chapter Three

Title: Heritage, Chapter Three
Author:  NP-Complete
Rating: General
Characters: OCs; historical Rose/Ten
Spoilers: Doomsday 
Disclaimer: Not mine.  Not even close. 

Summary: Half Time Lord, all human

Author's Note:
  Thanks to everybody who commented on my previous two chapters.  Special thanks to kalleah for beta and persistent encouragement.  

They took the lift down to the street level, crossed the street, and walked to the next one, where some shops catered to the lunch crowd. It was late enough that there was no crowd to speak of. They stood in line, contemplating the merits of cheddar vs. cream-cheese. John, finding himself closer to the counter, moved to place his order, and then stepped back to let her place hers. The girl rang them up together, and John had passed over his card to pay for both before she could stop him.
“You shouldn’t have to pay for my lunch,” she said, as they moved down the counter to wait for their sandwiches. “Let me pay you back.”
John looked mildly surprised. “It’s nothing,” he said.
“Then at least let me buy tomorrow’s,” she said. 
Now he did look surprised. “If you want to, then, yes, certainly,” he said, and she realized that in defiance of the delicate protocol between them, she’d just openly invited him to lunch. But, he had accepted, so that was all right.
They exited the shop and stood on the sidewalk, bagged sandwiches in hand. “Bit cold today,” John said. “Else I’d suggest we eat in the courtyard.”
It was decidedly cold, England being just past the midpoint of a characteristically gloomy winter, overcast, with slush underfoot and spoiled snow in every corner. The Institute’s courtyard certainly would not do.   “We could eat in the conference room,” she said.
“No…” said John, drawing it out. “I tell you what, let’s go to the coffee bar in the Galleria. That’s indoors. We can eat there and get a coffee while we’re at it.”
“I thought you just had a coffee,” she said.
“Well,” he said, blinking, “I can always get another.”
On they went, for another few streets. She wondered how long this would take, vs. their lunch hour, but she supposed that a few minutes here and there didn’t matter if you were on salary. 
The Galleria was a former industrial building that had been turned into a shopping mall. The shell of the building was late Victorian, old enough that it was not entirely without beauty despite its utilitarian purpose. They entered through the revolving doors and walked to the coffee bar on the ground floor. John went up to buy drinks to justify their presence at the café tables, and she sat down, shed her coat, and took her sandwich out of its bag. After a moment of thought, she took his sandwich out, too, and arranged it in front of the other chair. She smoothed her skirt down over her thighs and waited.
John came back with two mugs of steaming liquid in hand and a bottle of Italian orange drink tucked under his arm, the kind made from blood oranges. “I’ve got a weakness for this,” he said of the orange drink. “I don’t know why.”
“It’s good stuff,” she said, taking her cup from his hand. She was merely making conversation, but John said, “We can share.”
Well. That was nice, too. She waited until he had settled into his chair and unwrapped his sandwich, before drawing on her almost-forgotten store of prepared questions, and saying, “How long have you been working at the Institute?”
John blew out a breath, and considered. “Since I was a post-grad,” he said. “There was never any question, not really. It’s the Tyler Institute. If I’m in favor of its mission – and I am – then it was obvious that this was where I would do my work.”
But you don’t actually do anything, she wanted to say. But she might be wrong about that. She said, “What do you see your work as being?”
He blinked at her. “Expanding human knowledge of the physical universe outside our solar system.” It sounded pat, and, indeed, she thought she’d read it in a mission statement somewhere. “Helping us understand the universe outside our own backyard.” He paused. “Helping us … catch up. As much as we can.” 
That, at least, sounded personal.   “Catch up?”
“To other species out there. You’ve no idea what some of them can do, the things that some of them know.” His enthusiasm was sudden, and a new thing to her: his face was transformed by it, vivid and alive. “If we’re ever going to get anywhere as a species, we need to learn as much as we can as fast as we can.” He paused, looking straight into her eyes. “We’re going to do great things. We’re just not there yet.”
“You sound quite sure,” she said.
“I am sure.” His eyes were bright, intent. “I believe it completely.”
She had no doubt of that. His intensity was a little disconcerting. “What’s your current project?”
He deflated a bit. “Oh… I had a theory about diastereoselectivity. Not anything, really.” 
She wasn’t going to ask what that was. “So what do you think is next?” she said. “What is the next big step for humankind?”
He tilted his head to one side, and then shrugged. “Explore space, I suppose,” he said, in a tone that suggested he hadn’t given much thought to specific milestones. “Learn as much as we can. Get our heads around alien points of view. Try not to get ourselves killed.”
That was as good a summary of the Institute’s mission as any she had heard so far. “Your mother’s a big part of that, isn’t she?”
He breathed out, almost in a sigh, and glanced away. Then he looked back. “We wouldn’t be here without her,” he said, again quite serious. “The situations she’s sorted out – I’m not supposed to tell people details, but – well, I, I shouldn’t. But we wouldn’t be where we are today, believe me, if she hadn’t been here.”

It must have been a bit hard, growing up with that, she thought. “I suppose you must have seen all of that quite close up.” she said. 
“Enough of it,” he said, frowning a little, looking down at his hands.   He was toying with his sandwich, shredding little bits of bread off the edges onto the table top. “Mother kept me out of it, of course. I didn’t meet an alien until I was about sixteen.”
She still hadn’t met one, she reflected. “Was it what you expected?” she said.
He looked up at her again, and nodded, sandwich in both hands. “About,” he said. “I’d been prepared, of course. Mother was always very clear about that, that – if you’ll pardon the expression – aliens are people, too. Even if they have tentacles and faces like a wormy apple.” 
It wasn’t an image she particularly relished. “I suppose it must take a bit of practice, to bear that in mind,” she said. 
“Depends on the species,” said John, around his sandwich. “I have it on excellent authority that some aliens look and act exactly like us.”
Once they had finished their sandwiches, John opened the bottle of orange drink and handed it to her. She took a sip. It was good. 
“What about you?” said John, eyes on the crumbs he was brushing into a pile. “What brought you to the Institute?”
“Good luck, mostly,” she said, and took another sip. “I met somebody who knew someone. I wanted to get back into a research environment, and, well, it was the Tyler Institute. Exciting, prestigious.”
“Not half as exciting as they like to make it sound,” John said, “but you’ve seen that by now, I expect. You’ve done technical writing for a while, then?”
“Since I was doing a master’s degree course, after University,” she said. “I didn’t like the course much, but I liked the writing.”
He looked up. “You have a master’s degree?”
“Just barely. But yes.” 
“What in?”
“Evolutionary psychogenomics. Not terribly relevant to the physical sciences.”
“Oh, you never know,” he said. “All sorts of things wind up coming in handy. You didn’t want to continue with it?”
“I liked the theory..” she said. “I liked the idea of tracking down the origins of mental traits through the evolution of proteins. It seemed something worth spending your life on. But in practice, all you do is write computer programs. I found I’d rather write sentences than programs.”
“You could, ah, teach,” he suggested, head bent, molding a napkin around his crumbs and attempting to gather them up.
She wondered why he seemed eager to talk her into doing something other than what she was doing. “I didn’t want to,” she said, simply.
John seemed to accept that as the last word. “Best reason not to, really,” he said, looking up again, rolling the napkin and crumbs into a ball and sitting back in his chair. 
“I like what I do.”
“That’s always good. I—well. That’s good, that is.” he said.   He mused silently for a minute, eyes looking beyond her. Questions that wanted to be asked came to the tip of her tongue, but she held them back. It seemed best to let him say what he was comfortable with, in his own time.
“Well!” he said suddenly, with artificial joviality, turning back to her. “Fancy heading back?”
She didn’t, particularly, but she supposed it was inevitable. She handed him the orange drink. “Finish this, first.”
“Thank you,” he said, and put it to his lips. She said, “Geraint wants you to give me a summary of the department’s direction.”
“Well,” he said, lowering the bottle and looking the tiniest bit amused, “I can do that, I suppose. Right now?”
“No, let’s do it later.”
“When we get back, then.” He handed the bottle back to her, and she took the final sip.

Back in the Institute’s building, after they exited the lift, she fell slightly behind at the water fountain. “You go ahead,” she said, and gestured towards the door. There was nothing intrinsically compromising about having lunch with a colleague, but she didn’t want to draw attention to it by going through the door at the exact same time. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“All right,” said John. He flashed her a smile. “Don’t want to start a rumor, hey?”
She flushed. It wasn’t that she was thinking of them as a hypothetical couple, it was that she was thinking of other people hypothetically thinking of them as a hypothetical couple. Nonetheless it was embarrassing to be caught at it. “It’s not what you’re thinking.”
“I think it is,” he said, looking rather pleased. “But don’t worry. I don’t really want to be talked about, either. Any more than I already am.”
She flushed again, this time for being one of those who sometimes talked about him. 
“It’s all right,” he said gently. “I don’t mind.”
“I won’t do it again,” she said.
“It’s all right,” he said again. He turned to go through the double doors, and then paused. “Penny?” he called softly, looking back at her.
“Yes?” she said.
He smiled, suddenly a more-than-handsome man. “Thank you,” he said, and turned back, walking through the doors and into the office. 
Next Chapter
Tags: doctor who, fic, heritage
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