Laboratory Skills by isawien



Summary: Hannah discovers something unusual while working on her PhD in Invertebrate Zoology. Her find attracts the attention of Cardiff's favourite secret organisation and the Universe's favourite lonely alien. Set after Planet of the Dead, before Waters of Mars. Post series 2 of TW, pre-Children of Time.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Tenth Doctor, Torchwood
Characters: Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness, Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Martha Jones, Mickey Smith, The Doctor (10th), The TARDIS, Torchwood, Unspecified Companion
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, General, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2010.02.11
Updated: 2010.02.22


Index

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Chapter 2


Chapter 1: Introduction

Hannah glanced at her watch. 2am. She sighed, leaned back from the bench and looked around. The laboratory was a mess: test-tubes, weighing apparatus, pipettes, microscopes and samples were scattered everywhere. The bench in front of her was covered in notes and print-outs of tissue analyses, pens and scrunched up pieces of paper scattered everywhere. Her tutor would have a field day if he saw this.

Another sigh. The room won’t clean itself and her notes still made no sense. It would be easier to sort them out in the morning. In the meantime, she would have to tidy up. Tying back her long black hair, she grabbed the disinfectant and got to work.

She looked at the time. 5am. It had taken her three hours to clear everything away, but the room was finally spotless. No-one would know she’d been in here! Satisfied with the lab, she grabbed her notebooks and folders, stuffing them into her bag and left, locking the door on her way out. Looking around to see if anyone was about, she walked down the corridor and out of the silent building.

By the time she was back home, the sky had turned to a grey-purple, indicating the sunrise. Climbing into her bed, she heard the birds call, waking up to a brand new day.

Hannah was twenty-three years old and a postgraduate at Cardiff University, studying Invertebrate Zoology. She was born and bred in Cardiff and loved the city. Her parents tried to encourage her to go elsewhere for her university studies, but no matter what university she looked at, she ended up coming to her favourite: Cardiff. She’d studied undergraduate Zoology receiving a First, and after taking a gap year travelling and volunteering, she’d returned home to continue her studies. She’d always loved animals, and as an undergrad she’d developed a love for molluscs. Her friends thought her mad — what was so interesting about snails, mussels and squid? But she was fascinated. So much diversity in such a simple body-plan!

That’s why she ended up in a laboratory at 2am, looking at the tissue samples of these organisms under the microscope. But her tests didn’t make any sense! She needed to see someone about this — but who? There was only one conclusion she could draw from the results, but no-one on earth would believe her. She could hardly believe it herself.

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Author's Notes: Hannah needs help.


Hannah stared at the computer screen. That can’t be right! She ran the scan again. Nope, this software never made mistakes. So, she was right after all. Who could she talk to about this? This was like nothing she’d seen before — like nothing anyone had seen before. People needed to know, but she had to be careful. The right people had to know.

Her thoughts were disturbed by the clicking of the door-handle. The door opened, and in walked Justin, another postgraduate. Hannah quickly minimised the screen and turned to her report on the behaviour patterns of earthworms.

“Wow, that looks exciting!” Justin laughed, peering over her shoulder.

“Oh, it really is,” she replied, sarcastically. “Did you know that the reason why earthworms are seen on the surface after rainstorms is because when the ground becomes too saturated with water, carbon dioxide produced by other organisms can turn the soil acidic?”

“Fascinating,” yawned Justin. “So, what are you really up to?”

“Working on a project on the behaviour —“

“No, I mean what were you up to before I came in?”

Hannah shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “My report!” she replied, persistent.

He looked at her disapprovingly. She knew he didn’t believe her, she’d never been able to lie to him. “Look, I saw you last night sneaking into one of the labs!! He exclaimed. “What were you doing in there? You’ve been acting strange for weeks now”

“It's nothing!" She paused, looking at him. She'd never been any good at lying to him. "You wouldn’t believe me if you tried.” She laughed nervously.

Justin sat down next to her, suddenly concerned. He looked at her, and could swear that she’d suddenly came over pale — as if sick with worry. “Look, Han. We’ve known each other since primary school. You can talk to me! I may not believe it, but there’s no harm in trying”

Close to tears, Hannah looked up at him. Oh, she wanted to tell him so badly!

“You see, the thing is, I found this strange —“ She stopped short as she heard the Crazy Frog ring-tone go off.

Sheepishly, Justin pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Bloody hell, sorry Hannah — give me a minute...”

He answered the call. “Hello? Oh, hi, Mum. Yeah, I’m fine thanks. No, I don’t need you to do any washing. Yes I am eating fine. Look, how long have I been here?” He turned and gave Hannah an apologetic smile, and wondered out of the room with his phone to his ear.

Still giggling, yet annoyed, Hannah turned back to the computer screen. She was glad the phone had rung, she couldn’t have told him. She went onto Google and typed in a few keywords. Maybe she could find someone she could contact about this. Ten minutes later she had found a site that seemed perfect for her. Flicking through the pages, she found a contact she was looking for. She picked up her own phone, typed in the numbers and gave them a call.

---

Hannah glanced at the map she’d printed off. Well, here she was. Roald Dahl Plass. She looked around. It all seemed so normal. It didn’t look like what she expected it to be like. No obviously security cameras, no barriers, no army patrol. Nothing. She had been expecting something more, considering the organisation she was apparently about to meet.

She sat down on a nearby bench. It was a gloriously sunny day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun shimmered off the sea in the distance. The schools were just finishing for the day, and there were a few young kids milling around, trying to demand ice creams from their parents. Reminiscently, she remembered the days she had came here with her family. It was a weekly thing — they’d come to this part of the city and eat ice creams, just like these kids. And she still visited here, occasionally. Sometimes with friends, sometimes on her own. Coming to the area just to sit, chat and watch the world go by.

She was rudely disturbed from her thoughts as she shivered when a cloud passed over the sun. It was at that point she noticed five people walk towards her. In the middle walked a man with a long navy military coat. With him were two women, and two men.

They came up to him. The man in the military coat smiled a dazzling smile. “Hi,” he said, with a distinct American accent. “You must be Hannah?”

“Erm, yeah, that’s me... Was it you I was talking to on the phone?”

“Yes, it was! My name’s Captain Jack Harkness. I’m head of Torchwood 3, and here —“ he pointed to his companions, “are Ianto, Martha, Gwen and Mickey.”

Hannah looked on, slightly dazed.

“Hi Hannah! Don’t worry, we’re here to help. You can talk to us, we’ll understand." The woman to Jack's right smiled.

“Yeah, listen to Martha. She’s seen and experienced things that you or I can hardly dream of. She’ll help you.”

“OK, shut up, Mickey Mouse! We’re all here to help — not just Martha. Besides, she’s helping me out at the moment with a little project of mine...” The Captain teased his team.

“Look, Jack, we haven’t got time for this. Who’s this person? Why does she need us?” The other woman in the group had a strong Welsh accent.

“Well, Gwen, I was hoping SHE could tell us.” Jack smiled at Hannah.

“But, erm, I don’t know where to start...” Hannah mumbled, suddenly shy.

“Nothing should be said out here. I think the best place to start is back at the Hub, with a cup of coffee. What do you think, Jack?” The tall, handsome man in the waistcoat stepped forward.

“Great idea, as always, Ianto.” Jack winked. “Hannah, follow us, you’re going to love Ianto’s coffees.”

---

Entering the Hub for the first time was an experience Hannah never would forget. The pterodactyl flying up above swooped so low, almost knocking Hannah off the lift. The others laughed and joked, it was all so normal to them! She wondered what other things they’d seen and experienced, and what interest they’d have in what she had to say.

Sat in the conference room around a table, mug of coffee in her hands, Hannah began to explain why she was here. The others listened closely, and as she talked she felt more confident that these people understood her, and knew that.

“It began, oh, I don’t know, three months ago? I was on the sea-shore a few miles from here, collecting small animals and shells to study for my project. I started off just collecting various shells, and then I came across this strange... well, growth, on one of the rocks. This.”

She dived into her bag and pulled out her precious cargo. In a Tupperware box full of sea water was what looked to the others like a strange shell. Everyone leaned forward for a closer look at the small creature.

“Isn’t that just a-, what do you call it? A limpet?” asked Martha, visibly disappointed.

“That’s what I thought too, when I first saw it,” smiled Hannah. “I just walked straight past it. But, oh I don’t know. I was attracted back to it, as if it was almost calling me. I picked it up on my way back to the car without really thinking. It went into an aquarium in the lab for a few days whilst I carried on with my project, but my mind kept wondering back to it. It sounds stupid, but it’s like it was willing me to have a closer look. So I did, and that’s when I realised that it isn’t a limpet.”

The Torchwood team leaned even closer to the inanimate being. What seemed to be a conical shell was the size of a fist. It was perfectly dome-shaped, unlike the normal limpets found on rocks. The shell itself was pale peach-coloured and on closer inspection found to have intricate dark red spiral-patterns covering the shell.

“Is it alright if I...?” Jack moved to pick it up.

“Sure, but be careful! It’s fragile,” warned Hannah.

Jack winked and carefully lifted it out of the water.

“Hang on, that’s not right! This isn’t shell! It’s soft!” He laughed in surprise. He looked more closely at it and grinned even more.

Hannah looked at this man. There was something about him — he was just as enthusiastic about the creature as she was, yet she had a feeling that seeing new animals was an everyday occurrence for him. He was strange, mysterious. Her mind told her to be wary of him — he could be dangerous. Yet in her heart she trusted him.

“It’s not shell. Limpets are molluscs, and they have shells made up of proteins and calcium carbonate which makes the shell hard. Yet this ‘shell’ is soft. I did a test on it to determine the biochemistry...”

“And what did you find?” chipped in Ianto.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?!” asked Mickey, incredulously, “What do you mean nothing?”

“The scan didn’t recognise the chemical structure,” Hannah replied, looking only at Jack, who was looking concerned. “The programme I used is the most advanced in the whole University, yet it couldn’t identify the biochemical properties.”

“Is this the only sample you have? You didn’t find any more?” inquired Jack.

“It’s the only sample I collected. But that’s the weird thing. It reproduced. I left it out of the water by accident one day...”

“That’s a clever idea,” interrupted Ianto, sarcastically.

“Actually, it was a clever idea,” smiled Hannah, “because after about an hour these weird structures, almost like tentacles, started protruding out of the ventral end...”

“The what end?” asked Gwen, the biological term lost on her.

“The base of the organism,” answered Martha, smiling at Jack, “I had to study invertebrate zoology in my first semester at medical school. God, I hated it.”

“Anyway,” interrupted Hannah, slightly irritated at the negative attitude towards her beloved subject. “These strange tentacles protruded out of the ventral end. Normally in molluscs, the tentacles are used to catch suspended food or create a water current for respiration, but these helped it to move along the floor, like a foot! But the strangest thing was that it used the tentacles to deposit more strange structures, this time small spherical things. I don’t know what they actually are but they began growing into... well, more of these limpet-like creatures.”

“How many are there now?” Jack asked, gently.

Hannah looked into Jacks eyes. “Fifty-seven,” she replied sadly.

“How many?!” Martha exclaimed, “but if these are what we think they are...”

“We can’t be sure of that yet! Martha, you’ll need to do some dissections and look at the anatomy before we, well you know...”

“No need Jack,” Hannah smiled. “Now that I had all these samples I did some more tests and found-“

“What?” Mickey interrupted. “Found what?”

“Some strange organs. Again, like nothing I’ve seen before.” She passed round annotated photos of her dissections to the others. “I didn’t recognise the structures, and the creatures don’t seem to fit into any phylum already discovered. Which has led me to believe that it’s...”

“Alien,” Gwen finished.

Hannah looked at her, unable to understand how she would know this, or even accept it. “Yes. It sounds stupid, but I think it’s extraterrestrial. It's either that or I've discovered a new phylum of invertebrate! Being in Cardiff, I'm more inclined to believe the former." Noticing the fake confused looks on the team's faces, she continued. "Oh come on! Everyone in Cardiff knows there's alien life out there, somewhere. So much has happened recently, it's hard to ignore. And that’s why I contacted you. I found your website —“

“I was wondering how you managed to find us. Being a secret organisation and all. Thing is, since when have we had a website?!” Jack looked at Mickey.

“Erm, yeah sorry, that’s me,” Mickey admitted, guiltily. “You said it yourself! Not much has been going on recently — we could do with the work!”

“I knew I couldn’t trust you!” Jack said. Hannah couldn’t tell if he was angry, or joking. Everyone else in the group grinned. Since Mickey had joined Torchwood six months ago, Jack had constantly been teasing him.

After a pause, Jack jumped up and “Hannah, have you told anyone else?” he asked, insistently.

“Who else knows about this?”

“No-one! I wanted to tell a couple of the professors, but I thought it’s best not to. It just didn’t feel right. No-one apart from me knows about this.”

“So, what are we going to do?” Ianto steered the conversation back to the point. “If it’s alien, we’ve got to stop it.”

“Why?” Jack challenged him. “Why do we need to stop it? This creature could be harmless — just falling through the rift accidentally. If that’s the case, then we’ll need to get it back to where it came from.”

“You’ve changed your tune!” Gwen said, almost to herself, “It wasn’t that long ago that you wanted all aliens dead!”

“Well, we’ve lost people since then. Tosh, Owen. Donna.” He looked sadly at Martha at the mention of the last person. Hannah could tell that this Donna meant a lot to both of them. “I won’t allow for any more deaths.”

“You know what, you’re starting to sound a lot like him!” Martha smiled.

“Too much?” Jack said, half joking, half worried.

“Never too much!” laughed Mickey.

“Sorry, I thought we were talking about this thing?” Hannah snapped at them, trying hard not to loose her temper, which happened too often for her liking. “What can we do?”

Jack shook himself out of the memories of six months ago. “Martha!” he called out. “Phone!”

Catching the phone from Martha, he punched in some numbers, then pressed dial. “I think we’re in need of a Doctor!” he exclaimed, grinning.

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