Stumbling over her two-inch heels, Rose Tyler plunked down the three over sized books she’d been struggling with onto the desk in the rear of the library. This stuff should have been in special collections–if anyone remembered or cared that it was still there. Of course, there wasn’t exactly a special collection for ‘sketchbooks by crazy blokes,’ so it was probably just as well. Sighing, she sat down and began flipping through the brown and yellow pages of the first volume on the stack.
An innocuous piece of alien technology had been found at an archeological dig in Scotland, and the “case” had been dumped on her desk. Most of those types of 'what the hell is this?' stuff ended up at her office–sometimes she knew right off the bat, like the sonic staple remover. But this thing? It was just weird.
This was a lousy use of her lunch hour, she really did need to go to the gym, or, Heaven forbid, actually eat lunch. The Torchwood Institute had become a bit warm and extremely claustrophobic this morning, though; especially after that ungodly procedural meeting. After Kevin Kenseth had been teleported 3,000 miles while poking around in the alien ship that had been recovered from the ocean, a bunch of new rules had been put in place. They practically needed a buddy system to go to the bathroom when they were outside the Institute now. And she hadn’t been allowed off the departmental ‘leash’ since that situation with the Hareethlek trader went badly. How was she supposed to know that kraa-lah-gee could be translated as “obliterate” and “negotiate”? Apparently her section-head thought she should have.
Oh well. Working on figuring out what that… thing on her desk was… it would redeem her in the organization. And it was something to do.
Turning another page, she slid out of her suit jacket and hooked it on the chair behind her. Jackie called it ‘going like a bat out of hell,’ but Rose was just keeping herself busy. It gave her a chance to actually use her experience with the Doctor without dwelling on the Doctor. A delicate balance, to be sure, but she wasn’t capable of crying another tear. It was exhausting work, and didn’t change the facts. She was here, he was there. The end.
Finding a sketch that kind of looked like the hefty, bumpy gold medallion on her desk back at the Institute, she slid the book around and looked at it from a few other angles. Maybe the guy who drew it was just a bad artist. Maybe she was remembering it wrong.
Reaching into her bag, she discretely pulled out the enhanced photograph of the thing, whatever it was. Comparing it to the sketch, she observed the differences. They might be related, but they weren’t the same thing. Sighing, she flipped a page. That definitely wasn’t it. The development team said it looked like it was intended to open, but it had no visible hinges or pins and the energy signals being let off by the inlayed metal work were in a “known range,” but no one could pinpoint if or when they’d encountered it before.
Turning a few more pages, she tried to find anything at all related. The design on the device looked like some sort of flower, made out of, it had been determined, some kind of copper that had oxidized blue instead of green. Definitely not of this earth. They’d found no similar flowers in a dozen international botany databases, living or extinct, so chances were, the inlay design wasn’t earthly either--hence the box on her desk this morning.
Towards the back of the book, she found the flower in the crazy man’s journal. It wasn’t much to go on, just a sketch in the margins of a three-hundred year old book, but it was more than two teams of researchers had come up with. She only knew to look in the crazy guy’s books because she’d heard the Doctor mention him, once.
Before she could think twice about it, she dove into the bag and pulled out a notepad and a pen, quickly scribbling down the page number. The Institute should really just buy them from the library; it’d make life easier. Of course, then she’d never escape the building during lunch, and that could be hell. The few who knew where she’d come from just looked at her weirdly in the cafeteria and rest couldn’t figure out how a girl with no A levels, and a horribly distorted perception of modern history could have a corner office, but was always the first to be sent out into the field. Yet another reason to work through lunch. Golden age of man… whatever. People were people. They talked.
Making sure she wasn’t missing anything on any of the other pages, she pushed it to the side and opened the next book. There was a scribbled reference to the night sky turning green, before something exploded in a meadow, and it rained fairy dust. Oh, to be able to distinguish crazy fact from insane-fellow fantasy.
Caught up in the ramblings, she barely noticed when the chair diagonal to hers slid out and someone sat down. Sparing a glance, she saw that it was just someone reading a newspaper. Besides, this account of the dancing shrapnel was just too good.
The pages of the newspaper crinkled intermittently as the pages were turned and Rose continued to flip through the second journal. What she wouldn’t give to figure out just how much was schizophrenia, and how much was the man’s actual encounters with the extraterrestrial.
Half-way through the third book, she felt eyes on her. Looking up, she saw the older gentleman in the straw hat peeking around the newspaper at her. “Can I help you?” she asked, a bit testy.
He smiled warmly. There wasn’t a single thing imposing about him–which put Rose on her guard. “Oh it’s nothing. It’s just… that’s interesting reading material, for a young professional on her lunch hour.”
Closing the book immediately, Rose tried to unobtrusively slide the photo and her notes onto the chair beside her. “Not really.” It was then that she saw the date on the newspaper–it was nearly fifty years old and looking like it had just come off the press. “I like a bit of history. Just like you like current events.” Nodding toward the front page, Rose used the distraction to slide everything on the chair into her bag.
The man smiled, folding the paper. “Fair enough. I’m just curious that the Whetcomb papers still circulate.” He held out a hand. “Hello. I’m the--” he stopped when Rose’s eyes shot upward, meeting his with sudden intensity. “Last person to be pulling those off a shelf, I bet.” Scratching his cheek, he wagged a finger at her. “You looked like you fully expected me to say something else, there,” he said with an unworried laugh.
Rose began restacking the books. “Oh, no. Y’know. You just reminded me of someone. For a moment.” She avoided eye contact as she fiddled with the books. “What sort of interest do you have in the journals?”
Pressing his hat more firmly onto his head, the man folded the paper and slid it into the breast pocket of his tweed jacket. “History buff. And I enjoy the occasional bit of fiction.” The last seemed a little too casual. “I was just waiting for someone. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
Shaking her head, Rose tucked her hair behind her ears. “No. Nothing like that. Lunch’ll be over soon. Gotta get the nose back to the grindstone and all that. Have fun waiting for your friend.”
Just as she was about to snatch up the books and make a quick retreat, her mobile phone began vibrating annoyingly against the binder in her bag. Digging through it, she ripped out the phone, looked at the number on the ID and answered hastily. “Hi mum. No, it’s nothing like that. I’m at the library. Again. Yes, I’ll make sure I eat.”
The man hooked his umbrella (it was a crystal-clear day?) on his arm, and then grabbed the books, sliding them towards himself. “No worries. I have it.”
“Is that Violet screaming like that? Well, put her in that bouncy thing Pete built. I don’t know. She likes it. Then she’ll stop screaming, y’know.” She quietly walked around the table and leaned around, looking into the stacks, watching the man put two of the books on the shelf, the began leafing through the first, stopping on the page with the scribbled flowers, nodding in something that looked like approval.
Sliding back over the table, Rose turned away from the stacks. “I dunno, mum. Yeah. I’ll bring home a teething ring or something. Gotta go.” Shutting off the phone, she slid it into her pocket, turning back towards the stacks.
Just as she moved around the first row of shelves, the man stepped out in front of her. “All put away, no worries.”
He was smiling at her again. It wasn’t quite a knowing smile, but he really did seem to have no worries. Rose folded her arms over her chest. “Ok. So what’s your story, then.”
The smile never left his face. “Oh, nothing at all. I’m just a traveler who’s passing through.”
Rose shifted her weight to her other leg. “Yeah. I knew someone who was just a traveler once.”
He seemed to give her real and serious consideration. Like he should recognize her or something. “I was just flipping through the book. The flower–it’s a Tarillian Tirran if that helps you at all. It probably won’t. A symbol of friendship in many places.”
He might have said places, but she heard ‘worlds.’ By all rights, she should report this. But then a lot of people she didn’t want to talk to would be involved. “I’ve seen it on a half-inch medallion, the flower’s blue copper. It looks like it’s meant to open, but I can’t figure out how.” She might as well just lay it out on the table.
“It opens. For some people. But if you’ve touched it, and it hasn’t, it won’t.”
Which she hadn’t done. It had been a 'white gloves only' affair with the device. Now she wanted like mad to go back to that stuffy, oppressive office. “I’ll try that. What’s inside?”
Shoving his hands into his trouser pockets, the man shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. It’s like a gift box; the thing itself doesn’t indicate what’s inside.”
Rose jumped out on a limb. “But it gives an indication as to the size.”
The man smiled. “Sometimes.”
“Glad we got that all cleared up.” There was an awkward silence. Rose looked around the small space between the bookcases. “You know, my friend that I used to know…” She didn’t know how much or how little to say. “He used to get into a lot of trouble.” Present tense, he still was getting into the thick of it, somewhere out there. “If you happen to… get into trouble when you travel…” Not really knowing what to do, she thrust her business card at him. “Just give me a ring. I’m half-way decent. At dealing with special kinds of trouble.
He looked at the card, the plaza address and smiled. “Your friend is very lucky to have you.”
“Was.” That she could speak of in the past tense. Her eyes were completely dry, and it was an entirely factual assessment of the situation, but her voice had wavered, and she was sniffing now.
“He IS lucky,” the man corrected compassionately. “He’s lucky to have someone who cares so deeply about him.” The man looked up at the ceiling, seeming to gather his thoughts. “It’s a big universe, and a difficult place. And those times when we truly connect to another soul…” The smile spread across those lips again. “Like I said. It’s a big, tough universe. And if it makes plans for us that we didn’t make for ourselves, we still have those times to hold close to us.” Those times and people that changed us, Rose could almost hear in the subtext. She wondered just how good the TARDIS was at translating the unsaid.
“I just miss him, y’know. It’s not like your best friend from high school, and you just stop seeing each other every day… but you know they’re around, somewhere. My friend… The door is closed.” It hurt less to talk about it with this man, for some reason.
There was a rustling coming towards them from the front of the library. A girl in a black jacket thunked a large bag on the table. “If ya want me to go do something, you shouldn’t wander off.” Pushing the brown braid of hair over her shoulder, she looked at Rose, entirely unconcerned about the presence of an outsider. “The solution to all of our problems, including the lack of Nitro Nine. Auton, meet C4.”
Arms folded across her chest still, Rose tried not to smile. “Plastique, plastic men. That’s fantastic.”
The man (whose name Rose now refused to ask) touched the side of his nose with a finger, and then pointed at her. “I can see why your friend likes you.”
Rose took a step back, gesturing for them to take their leave. “Have fun, be careful. Take care of each other.” There was something extremely light in her heart suddenly; she was almost giddy from it.
The man grabbed up his umbrella again and tipped his hat. “Thank you. For the card.”
Without thinking, Rose handed another one to the girl with the thick French braid. “You too. Any time–just call.”
The man nodded. “The same goes for you,” he looked at the card, “Rose Tyler, Senior Analyst. Call on us whenever you need to.”
The man gestured with the end of the umbrella towards the front door, and she was reminded of the Doctor’s glasses–entirely pointless most of the time, but entirely part of him, too. “Time to get on with it, then, Ace.” The girl dragged the oversized bag cautiously through the books, but he hesitated. “Doors close. They can open again. Even if they’re bricked over. There’re no promises, and no certainties in the universe. I can’t promise the door can ever open. But your friend also can’t promise that it’ll always stay shut.”
Saying nothing further, he departed to parts unknown.
He’d said the universe makes plans that we wouldn’t make on our own. It seemed that the universe was throwing her a bone. Maybe not a bone, Rose conceded, as she slung the black leather bag over her shoulder. More like a comforting cuppa tea.
Leaving as quickly as possible she tried not to stumble too badly on the heels she swore she’d never get used to wearing. The dress code was a bit annoying. Envying the girl, ‘Ace’ her sneakers, Rose dodged a sewage grate as she stepped off the curb. Join up with the Doctor, save the universe…and his dress code requirements were even more lax than the shop she used to work in. With the occasional chance to play dress-up, of course.
The revolving doors couldn’t move fast enough as she dug for her security card for the VIP elevator. Sliding across the polished floor, she made it into the lift, and then had to tap her foot for another minute as the glorified metal box ascended. Remembering what he’d said about calling any time, Rose wondered how. Well, her Doctor always managed to show up just where and when he was needed–another gift of the TARDIS, she supposed.
It dinged once at her floor, and took a relative eternity for the doors to open. Waving her security badge, she dashed through the maze of cubicles back to her office. Almost stumbling over the heels again, she kicked them off as she closed the door. Both shoes clacked against the window taking up the entire north wall. Dropping her bag, she grabbed the box containing the medallion. Ignoring the glove policy, she yanked it out and stared at it, waiting for something to happen.
Sighing, she collapsed into the chair. It was probably a little too much to ask that this thing be meant to open for her.
Leaning back in the chair, she took a few cleansing breaths. The door might open, the door might not. This thing might have opened…
Clutching it in her hand, her middle fingers touched the copper flower and a jolt went up her arm. With a gasp, Rose dropped it on her desk.
The petals of the flower separated like the iris of a camera opening. There was nothing but blackness inside.
Slowly picking it up again, Rose squinted, trying to determine why the half-inch thick, palm-sized medallion appeared…bottomless. Trying not to have hope, she dug her fingers into the medallion and they slid down in, well past the half inch of the metal shell. Certainly bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. A few inches in, she grasped hold of something cold and metal.
Pulling it out of the nothingness, she stared at the key. Then laughed. Rose had no idea what it meant or how it had gotten there, but she had a TARDIS key.
There was a knock on her office door. “Ms. Tyler… everything OK in there?”
As the door opened, she dropped the medallion and the tiny door slid closed and she palmed the key. She began twisted her hair innocently as her supervisor’s head wrapped around the door. “Oh nothing, William.”
He looked at the device on her desk. “Figure that thing out yet?”
Rose slid the key into her pocket. “Still working on it.”
Looking around her desk, he tsked. “Gloves, Ms. Tyler. Who knows what that thing’ll do.”
Grabbing them out of her desk drawer, she waved the gloves at him before putting them back on. “Safety first.”
William stepped back out, closing the door behind him.
Things were looking up. In the end, absolutely nothing had ‘happened’ today, but suddenly, the condition for the possibility existed that, for once, her Doctor might be wrong about something.
Picking up the device with a glove, she looked at the little flower. Maybe she could stick her makeup in here. Reduce the size of her purse…
The door opened suddenly, and she dropped it again “I didn’t mean to startle you–I just meat to ask, ‘cos I remember what it’s like… How’s Violet and the whole teething thing?”
Rose smiled broadly, and finally meant it. “She’ll get over it. She’ll live.”
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