In the Footsteps of Giants

by galiifreywolf [Reviews - 7]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, Fluff, General, Het, Romance

Author's Notes:
UPDATE: Chapter 6 has been split into 6 and 7. What was chapter 7 is now chapter 8. New story content picks back up at Chapter 9!

John and Rose to the lab to see the Harmony spaceship like she's never seen it before. In the days after, the two grow closer - close enough to start uncovering some secrets about John's thoughts about Cape Canaveral and the mission at hand...

Hi everyone, I'm back! I'm stupidly excited to share this chapter with you. I really hope you enjoy! Any mistakes are my own, I've looked at this for far too long to be healthy.

~Listen Along~
1. Glorious - Birgir
2. Can You Feel It - Birgir
3. Escape (Remix) - Vincent Lima, ZEVY
4. The Great Pretender - Vian Izak
5. Warm Under the Light - Justin Nozuka

If you'd like to learn more about the science behind the story, check out my posts at https://galiifreywolf.tumblr.com/tagged/the%20science%20behind%20the%20story

May 2061
T-14 weeks to Harmony Launch
Final Vehicle Integration


Rose barely avoided hitting the side of the doorway as Dr. Smith sprinted out of the conference room and veered down a narrow hallway. The little familiarity Rose had with the office melted away; it was her first time in the Harmony production facility, and the morning rush had left her little time to get her bearings. The way Dr. Smith darted around corners and ducked into previously-closed doorways felt almost too spontaneous - as though he was deliberately creating an air of mystery and intrigue around their destination.

Maybe it was working.

With a deep breath, she willed her racing thoughts to slow, for the excitement of it all to crystalize in her memory. No detail felt too small to try and remember - the way his battered Converse sounded against the thin carpet, the way he squeezed her hand tighter before racing down the staircase, the way their smiles looked too big for their faces in each pane of glass they bounded past.

The past and present became a blur. Her old assignment - her old life - lay behind her. Ahead, adrenaline-soaked adventure called her name.

At the bottom of the last staircase, Dr. Smith stopped in his tracks, throwing his hand out defensively to prevent Rose from careening into the main hall. With a finger to his lips, he nodded once towards an unassuming door behind the quality control cage.

“Why the dramatics?” Rose mouthed at him, stifling a giggle.

John rolled his eyes in return, but couldn’t wipe the playful smirk off his face.

They waited for a handful of lab technicians to meander past, then darted across the wide corridor and slipped into the lab unnoticed. The electric energy from the meeting upstairs had permeated the entire building by now, the imminence and tangibility of launch fueling everyone’s fervor. The high ceilings echoed with laughter and animated discussion, even above the din of machinery whirring at full tilt. It was perfect cover for their little escapade into what Rose could only assume was some off-limits area of the lab.

Squinting through the harsh bright lights of Highbay, the indistinct monolithic structures around her sharpened as her eyes adjusted and - her hands flew to her mouth to stifle a squeak.

Rose had been to several Bowie Flight One simulators. She had done interviews in front of the most historic spacecraft in the world. On a daily basis, she watched footage of an actual proper space base on another planet. Yet no simulator, museum display, or video reel could hold a candle to the spacecraft literally ten meters away from where she currently stood.

“Lovely, innit?” Dr. Smith whispered, nudging her in the ribs with his elbow. Rose snapped her jaw shut, wide eyes still taking in the incomprehensible spectacle.

“‘S this why you wanted to go in the back door?” she breathed out, as though if she spoke too loud, she would wake up from a dream.

“Oh yes! Much more fun to jump right into the thick of it. Mind you,” cautiously, he glanced around, mouthing a count-off of each technician he could see, “I think they’ll be starting the high potential voltage test here in a minute. Glad we snuck in when we did, but best to clear out of the way.”

There were those energetic eyebrows again, his inviting hand outstretched, and an unmistakable glint of mischief in his eyes.

Show off, she chuckled to herself. She took his hand once more and followed him through the maze of test benches.

In honesty, if this was his way of showing off, she hardly cared. His enthusiasm was far more endearing than condescending. Where most men in his shoes would have done nothing but talk about their own work, he had asked about her role on the team. When the opportunity to visit the lab arose, he jumped at the chance to show her around - quite the opposite of the typical elitist red tape barring her from ever getting close to the hardware. He had every chance during the Harmony meeting to simply pretend they had never met and wipe the slate clean - yet here they were, hand in hand.

If Dr. John Smith was good at one thing, it was defying her expectations.

After what felt like a mile of walking, the pair arrived at a U-shaped arrangement of tables with two large computer monitors and a miniature hologram apparatus. It was obvious the set-up had been pulled together in a hurry; one of the tables wasn’t quite the same size or color as the other two, and the computer cables sat in a tangled knot behind one of the monitors. Rose knew immediately it had to be his, and not just a space he was borrowing - a plush Space Shuttle Atlantis sat atop a bed of planet-shaped stress balls, and every half-finished mug of tea had a different mission patch on it.

“How much time ‘ave you spent at the gift shop, mate?”

“The real question is not how much I’ve spent, but how I’m going to fit all this into my luggage after launch,” he replied without looking away from the keyboard he was punching codes into. “Did you know they have flight suit pajamas? And I mean all proper, the zip-up-the-front full body suit with the little footies and everything!”

“You would buy that, wouldn’t you,” she laughed, crossing her arms, “how much?”

“Mmm, about fifty pounds, give or take? Exchange rates and all, it’s exhausting to keep track of.”

“Tell you what. If you buy it, I’ll wager five quid you don’t have the guts to wear it at Ianto’s movie night.”

He stopped typing and turned to her with a bemused look. “Ianto the tech bloke?”

“Yeah, really big movie buff, that one. What do you say, make it ten quid?” Her tongue snuck out from between her teeth, hoping it would get his guard down.

His eyes flicked down to her lips for a split-second, then cleared his throat and recomposed his expression into an overly-serious consideration of her offer before acquiescing.

Rose hissed a triumphant yes! as Dr. Smith shook his head and rubbed at the corner of his eye in amusement, turning back to his computer. He typed a few more inputs, clicked rapidly through a set of pop-up windows, then moved to sit on the edge of the table next to the hologram machine.

“Right then! I have been--” he waved his hand above the device, summoning it to life-- “putting together the perfect crash-course in everything you could ever want to know about the good ship Harmony.”

The hologram sprang to life with a glowing blue, green, and silver 3D model of the crew capsule atop a rocket. With a flourish of his nimble fingers, the rocket’s boosters separated away, and the image zoomed in towards the spaceship.

“Ready?”

“For what?”

He flashed her a dazzling smile and snapped his fingers. At once, the crew ship seemed to explode apart, but not in a fiery image of death - something more like taking apart a toy model. The outer panels lifted away from the sides of the capsule, encircling it like a halo. The thruster nozzles, pipelines, and electrical wires came away next, twirling into midair, then the inner structure, revealing the cargo and crew seats inside.

Rose stepped forward into the glittering air and through the projected images of the outer capsule layer. The ethereal, glowing spacecraft pieces felt magical, and she could not help but trail her fingers through the ephemeral replica, admiring the way the hologram wavered and sparkled in their wake. The collage of colorful subsystems brought the cold pieces of hardware into a life of their own like Rose had never seen before. Looking at the hardware like this, it was no longer a nebulous mass of spacecraft, but an ecosystem of interacting puzzle pieces, perfectly fitted together.

“What do you think?” he asked coyly, looking not at the spectacle around them, but directly at her with an eager hunger that only an eccentric scientist could have.

“S’ beautiful, I…” Rose trailed off, unable to hold her train of thought as he gracefully leapt from his perch on the desk and strode over to stand beside her, close enough to feel the rough wool of his suit jacket through her thin blouse sleeve. He waved his hand through the floating image with nonchalance, flicking components off to the sides to uncover new pieces of the Harmony ship. Shards of metal twinkled in and out of focus as they flew by, and Rose instinctively jumped out of the way as one zipped by particularly close to her head.

Rose shook her head, trying to regain her bearings amongst the sea of spaceship parts. She squinted through the layers of composite and metal, turning about slowly to avoid motion sickness. She had only leapt a meter or so away - but in this little universe he had created, it was enough to see everything with entirely new eyes. Now she understood why he had looked at her with such amazement when she had first stepped inside the hologram’s light.

Standing there in the middle of the incandescent constellation formed by the spaceship itself, the doctor looked simply otherworldly. The turquoise gleam caught each stray tendril of hair falling down his forehead, each embroidered flower on his tie, each bright star shining in his eyes. Yet it was more than that - as he stood amongst the stuff of science fiction, she fancied he looked like he was meant to be there, meant to soar with the ship to the cosmos itself. Rose watched, enraptured, as he held his hand back out to her, and she felt her heart clench with something more than just excitement. The world had faded away, and it was simply them two standing amongst the stars.

“Come on, no use standing over there, sort of defeats the purpose of my personal spacecraft planetarium.”

The gentle tug of his hand wrenched her back down to solid earth, back into the glimmering crew cabin, back close to him. From this vantage point, they could both see every aspect of the model perfectly.

“Basic subsystems, first,” he whispered, as though the moment might shatter, “Propulsion, structures, landing and recovery, electrical, crew interfaces, environmental controls and life support, and thermal, to name the big ones. In fact, your Bowie Base One capsule served as the blueprint for so much of Harmony, should look a tad familiar.”

“Yeah, basics and all that. Didn’t work much with the flight ship, just the space base. That alright?” She cursed herself for how shaky her voice was, and how affected she was letting herself be by a simple technical demonstration.

John nodded excitedly. “Just makes my tour all the more novel, to be honest. No fun if you’ve seen it all before!”

He leaned forward to murmur next to her ear.

“Now, Rose Tyler, where do you want to start?”

Her last shred of coherence evaporated, and Rose was suddenly not sure she had ever had a sensible thought in her life - least of all about a spacecraft. Fumbling for something to say, she pointed toward one of the four large silver spheres orbiting the outer edge of the hologram.

“Alright then, how about those?”

He nodded, and with a quick gesture, one of the spheres zoomed towards them.

“A perfect introduction to the propulsion system! Those are the COPVs - the composite-overwrapped pressure vessels - really just a fancy name for a fuel tank. Each come in a pair, one filled with an oxidizer, the other with hydrazine fuel, and when the two mix farther down the line,” he traced his finger through the air, following a set of thin tubes winding their way down to the bottom of the spacecraft, “they ignite spontaneously on mixing and bam! Off go the thrusters.”

Rose considered the tank intently, focusing all her attention on how the silk-textured layers of fiber wrapped around the sphere in an intricate, repeating pattern. Focusing on the details helped her clear her head, and with that clarity came all of the questions she was so good at asking.

“S’ this thing interactive?”

“Can be, why?”

He snapped his fingers again and the tank flickered momentarily, then re-solidified in the air.

“Curious what would happen if I touched it.”

“Eeehhh, now you’ve just killed all of us.”

Before she could react, he drove a knee directly into the fuel tank and the entire image glared white with licks of orange before resetting.

“Right, so, don’t kick the fuel tanks. Noted,” she laughed.

Spurred on by his exuberance and the humility of his technical explanation, Rose searched the vehicle for a less-obvious piece of hardware. Her eyes settled on a foil-coated box with two cylinders sticking off in a T-shape that looked just strange enough to warrant an explanation.

“And… this one?” she gestured up to where the instrument was fastened to one of the large structural longerons.

“Oh, Rose, you’re after my own heart - that there is one of my absolute favorite instruments. Behold, the TARDIS - Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It’s a bit of a pet project, really. The theory is similar to LIGO’s work, you know that project from the 2010’s when they detected the first black holes? Using two bi-secting laser beams, they were able to measure infinitesimally small distortions in spacetime, typically indicative of black holes or other major events warping the very fabric of space.”

Rose snorted, barely containing incredulous laughter.

“And you managed to condense it all down into that tiny box? I thought the main laser… thing was four miles long!”

“Right you are, but if you modify the photo-optic stabilizer to a foldback harmonic of twenty three point six, you can condense the size by, oh, roughly three thousand times?” he replied innocently, as though describing a new way to cook eggs for breakfast.

“You think you’re so clever. That’s not even biology!” She poked an accusatory finger against his chest.

“I am so clever! And I had a weekend off,” he scoffed, pushing her away playfully.

Laughing in earnest now, Rose continued to point out component after component to learn about, and John happily obliged her every curiosity. Hours flew by, and before long they made themselves comfortable sitting cross-legged in the center of the image, leaning on each other and pointing animatedly up at the spectacle floating around their heads.

Dr. Smith was moments from launching into a micrometeoroid shield lesson when a blaring siren tone shrieked through Highbay. Rose clapped her hands over her ears, panic dropping like a rock into her stomach.

“It’s okay!” he mouthed emphatically, grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair and gesturing for Rose to follow him to the nearest exit.

The pair tumbled through the doors, desperate to get away from the headache-inducing sound. Even after the alarm shut off a minute later, a dull roar echoed in Rose’s ears, and everything around her sounded like it was underwater.

“It’s all right, someone just tripped the shock breaker on the test,” John said gently, rubbing his thumb across her hand where she was still squeezing his tightly. “I promise, there’s no actual danger. Only a handful of people are even allowed in Highbay during hazardous operations for just that reason.”

He tugged at his ear and looked back at the door. “Besides, I’d never let anything happen to you,” he murmured.

Warmth flooded Rose’s face at that admission, and despite the residual pain in her ears, she felt the last bit of tension melt from her shoulders.

“Thanks, erm. For everything. This ‘as been absolutely lovely.”

“Not quite the ending to the evening I had in mind.”


Rose’s mouth fell open, her mind reeling from the apparent one-eighty the conversation had just taken. Was he suggesting--?

“I mean - I mean I’ve got a hologram of the rocket too, like that one we were looking at. Launch operations are just as important as the crew capsule, without safe propulsion up past the Karman line there’s no point to even bothering with astronaut safety features, in fact--”

Rose nodded a bit too enthusiastically and kicked at her shoelace.

“Right, no, of course! Rockets. Big deal. Yeah.”

“Yeah?” His eyes searched hers, concern and uncertainty written clearly across his face.

Embarrassment flooded through her. He was definitely a flirt, a man with no concept of personal space, and a bit of a hopeless romantic for all things space travel - but not the kind of prat who would actually go so far as to say something so suggestive to a coworker.

Right. Coworkers. That’s what they were.

“Yeah. I mean - unless you’ve got a big slingshot hidden somewhere, not sure how else you’d get out of the atmosphere,” she offered.

“Now there’s a concept that I’ve lost a few bets about,” he grinned in return, his relief palpable.

“Tell you what I do know, ‘s that I’m starved. You want to tell me more about your barmy launch concepts over dinner later?”

Before Dr. Smith could respond, the claxon started up again, this time followed by a loudspeaker announcement to leave the building until the exact source of the second alarm trip could be isolated.

“Or now?” he yelled in response.

“Now’s brilliant!”