|Doctor Who and most of the characters named here are owned by the BBC. This is amateur fiction for entertainment purposes only, and I make no money from this story.|
In order to study an ecosystem it is necessary to consider the way in which organisms interact with each other within the ecosystem. These relationships are known as the biotic factors of the ecosystem.
It is also essential that the effects of the physical or non-living factors are considered. These are known as the abiotic factors.
Some terms used in the study of ecosystems include the following:
"I have to say, that looks completely disgusting," said Sarah as she set down the tray.
Rose looked up from her notes, squinting into the bright sunshine.
"Nothing wrong with a white chocolate double caramel frappuccino," she said, taking the cardboard cup and shifting the ringbinder out of the way.
"Darling, there's everything wrong with a white chocolate double caramel frappuccino. But I won't hold it against you."
"Thanks." Rose grinned. "Give me some credit though, at least it's not Starbucks."
"It's not Starbucks," Sarah agreed. She sipped her espresso. "What have you been working on?"
"We're doing ecology," Rose said. Her face took on a distant quality. "'The niche of an organism is its position in a particular ecosystem, dependent upon the resources it uses. The more resources that are taken into account, then the more carefully defined the organisms niche will be.'"
"Ah," said Sarah.
"The organism will become more specialised," Rose added.
"Well, yes, I rather assumed it would."
"I can go on, if you want?"
"No, no, it's all right. Thanks anyway."
Rose grinned and chewed her straw.
"But, it's going well, though?"
"Yep." Rose nodded. "I reckon it is."
"It feels sort of... real, you know? I was worried it wouldn't. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yes." Sarah smiled. "Yes, I do, and I'm glad." She looked out over the square, shading her eyes against the sunshine, and sighed. "This is nice, isn't it?"
"Yeah," said Rose. "It's really nice."
They'd run into each other a couple of months before in Rose's local library. She'd been having a bad day, full of things breaking and going wrong. Jackie in a foul temper, a nagging headache, the sudden welling up of bleak misery at inconvenient moments. One of those days. She'd been up to the college in the morning to get her summer reading list and her heart had sunk. The list had been at least a mile long.
Rose had spotted her almost at once, sitting at one of the heavy oak tables. An older woman with long brown hair, hiding behind an enormous encyclopaedia. Sarah Jane Smith. Rose had almost laughed.
Oh my god, she thought. It's Sarah Jane Smith.
Definitely hiding, though. She kept peeking surreptitiously over the top and around the edges of the book. At who or what, though, Rose couldn't tell. She bit her lip. What the hell, she thought. Rose picked up her things and went over to the table.
"'Um, 'scuse me, is it all right if I sit here?"
The woman looked up, startled. "Oh, yes! Yes, feel free. Would you mind just moving slightly to your left, though? I'm just, er, observing something..."
"Sure." Rose sat down and looked at her books. Advanced Biology through Diagrams. Energy and Ecosystem. A Level Biology: An Introduction. She decided she wouldn't panic just yet. Maybe later, if there was time. When she looked up, Sarah Jane was still peering over the top of the encyclopaedia.
"Sorry," said Rose. "D'you mind if I ask what you're looking at?"
"Hmm?" Sarah glanced at her briefly. "Oh. Well, it's just -- that person over there..."
Rose turned round. "Where?"
"Just there, shelving those books. Careful, don't let him see you're looking."
"You mean the librarian?"
"Yes, yes. Does he look to you -- well, is it me, or is he green?"
Rose looked again, and turned back to the table. "Yep," she said. "Definitely green."
"Oh." Sarah looked relieved. "Good. Just wanted it confirmed, really." She stuck out a hand. "Hello, I'm Sarah Jane Smith."
"Rose Tyler," said Rose. "Nice to meet you. Listen..." She stopped. This was probably a terrible idea. Sod it. She plunged on. "Do you want to hear a really mad story you probably won't believe?"
Sarah blinked. "Of course I do," she said. "I'm a journalist."
Rose closed her eyes for a second, listening. She could hear people laughing inside the shop, birds, a teaspoon clinking against the side of a cup.
"So... when are you off?" she asked.
"My flight leaves on Friday. In the middle of the night, naturally," said Sarah.
"Wow, not long then."
Rose folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. "Look, you're not allowed to get shot, all right?"
Sarah smiled. "All right."
"Or bombed. I'll be really annoyed if you get bombed."
"I'll do my best. Brownie's honour." She gave a little mock salute.
"Are you --" Rose hesitated. "Are you scared?"
"Yes, of course." Sarah looked at her. "You know, don't you? What it's like?"
"Yeah. I know." Rose did not meet her eye. Across the square, a woman with a pushchair was shouting at a small child who was doing his level best to stick his head through some railings. "It's a bit weird, to be honest," she said, and laughed self-consciously. "Being the one who isn't going. Anywhere."
Sarah nodded. "Well... I've been that person, too."
Rose sucked up the last of her drink and put it down. "No, it's all right, though. For the moment. I mean, I like it here. It's just that sometimes, I want to be..."
"Where things are happening."
"It's a funny thing, you know," said Sarah. "I don't think I've ever felt entirely happy being comfortable. I prefer to have to work at it. I like having unfamiliar things around me. I suppose it's a little buzz. New places, different people. You feel sort of raw and exposed."
"Mm..." Rose frowned at her empty cup. "But, it's not exactly a package holiday though, is it? Being a foreign correspondent, or... you know, whatever. Doesn't explain why we both keep ending up in war zones."
Sarah tilted her head, conceding the point.
"Human activities," said Rose, "and their effects on the environment." She looked at Sarah and pointed at the ringbinder. "It's a module."
"Ah," said Sarah.
"My mum thinks," said Rose, "that I go looking for trouble."
"Well," said Sarah. "Perhaps you do. Perhaps we both do. Perhaps we're just made that way."
Sarah stood up. "Time for another coffee? Or whatever hideous concoction you fancy this time?"
The sun painted a fuzzy halo around her head, little strands of hair picked out and glinting like sparks. Rose thought of her in the TARDIS, in another life.
"All right," she said. "But I'm paying this time."
"Well, what's she want to go there for?"
"Because it's her job," said Rose, absentmindedly. She had her notes spread out in front of her on the carpet.
"But she could get killed!" said Jackie. On the television, buildings were being reduced to rubble. The reporter's voicover cut across the rattle of gunfire. Jackie changed the channel.
"Ooh, Cash in the Attic! I like the one who does this. I think he's cute. Isn't he cute, Rose?"
"Yeah, whatever." Rose suddenly realised she'd stopped revising some time ago and had become very involved in doodling a sort of cat-like thing in the margin. Or maybe it was meant to be a dog.
"I don't know how you can do that in here, anyway," said Jackie. "God knows how many rooms there are in this place, it's not like you have to do your homework in front of the telly."
"Helps me think," said Rose, placing a textbook firmly on top of the doodle of undetermined species. "Anyway, it's just a test, it's not like its exams or anything."
She frowned at the book and tapped her pen against her teeth.
"You don't like her, do you?"
"When did I say that?"
Rose looked at her mother. "You didn't have to."
Jackie pointed at the television. "Oh, look at that! Your Granddad used to have a set of Toby jugs just like those! Wonder if they're worth anything?"
"Well, I just don't know why you can't have any normal friends, that's all!"
"My friends are normal!"
Jackie gave her a look. "What, like the Doctor was normal?"
"Yes," said Rose.
"Well," said Jackie. "At least you're home now with your family, where you belong. Oh, speak of the Devil..."
Rose looked up. "How long have you been there?"
Pete was standing quietly in the doorway, arms folded, smiling at them. "Not long." He sat down on the sofa next to Jackie, and she put her feet in his lap. "He's sound asleep," he said.
"Oh, well. Shouldn't think that'll last," said Jackie. "And you want to stop creeping about the place, it's weird."
"I don't creep, Jacks," said Pete comfortably. "I walk normally."
"Mum reckons my friends are weird," said Rose.
Pete considered. "Mickey's not weird."
"Mickey kills Cybermen for a living!" said Jackie.
Pete and Rose shared a pitying look. "Mum," said Rose. "That was ages ago."
"There's more to Torchwood than Cybermen, Jax," said Pete.
"Yeah, and it's not just killing things, either," added Rose. "We do all sorts."
"Well, how am I supposed to know? You two never tell me anything!"
"To be fair, Jackie, it is a top secret organisation," said Pete.
"Oh, don't give me that," said Jackie. "I've had big green things exploding all over my kitchen, I'll have you know."
"Oh, Mum..." Rose carefully avoided Pete's eye. "Christmas dinner wasn't that bad."
Pete was overcome by a sudden coughing fit.
Jackie regarded them both with disgust. "If you lot are supposed to be the defenders of the Earth," she said. "I think I'll move somewhere else."
She thought about other places, other times. Things. People.
It felt like -- like there was a ticking clock somewhere, just out of sight. And time was moving on, always, just going on in a straight line. And things happened, and she should be there. She should.
But there were things happening here, too. Important things. And, she thought, you can't be everywhere at once.
"Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?"
Rose looked up from her baked potato, which she had been examining for weird bits. The college canteen was staffed by the catering students on alternate Thursdays, and you had to be careful. "No," she said. "Course not."
"It is a little busy in here today," the person continued. He had a slight, indefinable accent, and a sort of nervous, precise air about him. He was also green.
"Yeah," said Rose. "Dunno why. No one usually comes in here on a Thursday. Sorry... I'm sure I know you from somewhere. Don't you work in the library on Crown Street?"
"Yes, that's right." He smiled hesitantly.
"I thought so. I've seen you in there." They smiled and nodded at each other. The green person ate some of his pasta salad.
"So," said Rose. "You're here, what, part time?"
"Oh, yes," said the green person. "This is just my day off. I am doing one of these, what are they called -- leisure learning courses. Cake decorating. I am very interested in cookery. Last term I did 'A Taste of the Orient'. It was quite excellent, yes. They have some very good teachers here."
"Yeah, yeah, they do. I'm just here part time, too. I'm doing an A Level. Biology. Just to start with, you know, see how it goes. My job's sort of flexible, so..."
"Ah." He nodded. "And so, er, what is it that you do? When you are not here."
"Oh..." she fiddled with her hair. "Nothing interesting, really. Admin. That sort of thing. Boring."
"So, have you, um... been here long?"
He looked at his watch. "Well..."
"No, I meant -- sorry, I just gathered you're not from round here. Your accent, and... and so on. I just thought. Sorry."
He laughed. "No, no, it is fine. You are right, of course. I have been in London now, oh... forty years or so."
"Oh, right. Just, you look... younger."
"Ah, well." He seemed flustered. "Perhaps it is less. One loses track, you know."
"Yeah. So, um, where are you from?"
"A small country in Eastern Europe. Very small. Very obscure. I doubt you would know it."
"Oh, I dunno ... I've traveled quite a bit. You'd be surprised. Maybe." She took a bite of potato and chewed cautiously. It wasn't too bad. She'd had weirder. The green person nodded, but did not elaborate.
"Sorry," said Rose, once she'd swallowed. "I'm being nosy."
"No, no." The green person waved away her apology. "But, like you say. It was very boring there. Nothing interesting to talk about, not at all. Very dull place, actually."
"Right. But, you like it here, though?"
"Oh, yes," he said. "I do. Very much, in fact. Very much indeed. There is always something to do here, you know? Always something going on." He smiled shyly at her.
He seemed like such an ordinary person, thought Rose, apart from the green thing. He wore grey slip-on shoes, beige slacks and a navy blue jumper. He had heavy-rimmed glasses, which he kept pushing up the bridge of his nose as he talked. The overall effect was of someone trying just that little bit too hard.
"Yes," he went on. "I have felt very... what is the word? Very accepted here. Yes. Most of the time, nobody even notices if you are not quite the same as them. Because people, well. They are thinking of themselves, mostly. Have you noticed that? Most people are not very curious. It is rather surprising."
"Yeah... I, um, a friend pointed that out to me once, and now I go around noticing stuff all the time. Gets a bit annoying sometimes, to be honest." Rose glanced up at the clock, did a double take, and looked at her watch. She swore under her breath. "God, sorry, I'd better go. I think my watch has stopped." She looked at the half-eaten potato, semi-regretfully.
"I'll, um... probably see you in the library, then," she said. "Hope the cakes are, you know, good."
"Thank you, yes. It has been nice talking to you."
"Yeah." She smiled. "Oh, I'm Rose Tyler, by the way."
"John. John Smith."
"Yes, it's..." He looked a little embarrassed. "I changed my name. It is just easier, you know."
"Right. Well, bye then, John."
"Goodbye." He waved cheerily at her, and went back to his salad.
Aliens, she thought as she hurried down the corridor on the way to her lecture. Unimaginative lot.
"Well, I still think it's some kind of blasting weapon."
"I told you," said Mickey. "It's not a weapon at all. Div."
"Div?" Jake's eyebrows shot up towards his hair. "What kind of an insult is that? I haven't called anyone a div since I was about ten!" He laughed delightedly.
"All right," said Mickey. "I can call you a wanker, if you want."
"Do your worst, Mickey Smith. Do your worst."
"Oi!" said Rose, loudly. "Laurel and Hardy. Shut up, will you? I'm trying to read this."
The object in question sat on a lab bench in a battered cardboard box covered in a mysterious, indecipherable script. Pete's assistant, Jenny, had found it at a car-boot sale the weekend before last, labelled as a 'trendy futuristic toaster'. When questioned, the seller had claimed it was a wedding present from a distant aunt, now deceased. It was quite obviously alien to anyone who had any experience of these things, although an alien what they weren't quite sure. Well, to be perfectly accurate, they had no idea.
"Maybe it shoots acid at people," mused Jake.
Mickey gave him a look. "Why the hell would it do that?"
Jake shrugged. "I don't know."
Rose groaned, and threw down the booklet she'd been reading. "This is hopeless!"
"No luck?" asked Jake, rather unnecessarily, she thought.
"No. It's worse than Ikea instructions, even without the English translation. And all the diagrams are for people with tentacles."
She went over and had another look at the object. It was sort of bulbous, a bit like a very large metallic onion with spiky bits.
"Maybe," she said, gingerly poking a series of narrow slots in the side, "you plug something in here..."
"Careful!" said Mickey. "It might shoot acid at you!"
"I thought you said it wasn't a weapon," said Jake, accusingly.
"Well, I dunno, do I?"
Rose sighed. There was something she was missing here. Something annoyingly obvious. Something just out of reach at the back of her brain.
"I wish we could just Google it," she said.
Jake shrugged. "I suppose we could always try that."
"Mm... You know what we should have?" she said. "We should have our own library, where we can go and look stuff up."
Jake and Mickey exchanged glances. "And where would the books come from?" asked Jake.
"Waterstone's Intergalactic Division," said Mickey, grinning. "I think they've got a branch on the Charing Cross Road..."
"Well, I dunno, it's just an idea." Rose waved her hands around in frustration. "Haven't we got any contacts or anything? You know, any unusually wise and knowledgeable people? Didn't anyone ever keep any records here?"
"Somebody took it upon themselves to destroy most of the archives before we took over," said Jake. "What's left is in a bit of a mess, to be honest."
"Did you know," said Rose, "there's an alien working in the Crown Street library? We should get him to come and work here, I bet he'd be really useful."
"What? How d'you know?" asked Mickey.
"Because he's an alien," explained Rose, patiently. "And we do alien investigation and stuff."
"No, I meant -- how did you know he was an alien?"
"Oh. Well, he's green, for one thing," said Rose. "He's called John. He likes cooking..." She trailed off. "Hang on a minute."
She went back to the instructions and examined them closely. Then she brought the booklet over to the object to compare the two. She laughed.
"What?" said Mickey.
"God, we're so stupid," she said. "The man at the boot sale. What did he tell her it was?"
Mickey shook his head. "No way!"
She nodded. "Yeah. I think it actually is a trendy alien toaster."
"Not a weapon, then?" asked Jake. He sounded a bit disappointed.
"Well," she said, "I suppose if the enemy was very small and shaped like a slice of bread..."
Mickey shook his head. "Man, I don't believe it. "
"Why not?" Rose shrugged. "Everyone likes toast. It's good, toast." She pointed at him. "You like toast."
"Yeah," said Mickey. "But..." He tailed off.
She went over and poked at the now not particularly mysterious piece of hardware. "It's so obvious," she said, "when you know what you're looking at. It's even got a little attachment for croissants, or... whatever."
The three of them stood around the bench and stared at the toaster for a little while.
"Right then," said Jake, eventually. "I'll stick the kettle on, shall I?"
Mickey went on ahead of her up the narrow staircase. "You're gonna love this," he called over his shoulder. "Seriously cool, I'm telling you..."
There was a sort of trap door thing at the top of the stairs, and she had to haul herself the last bit of the way. And then they were on the roof. The sudden rush of cold air on her face was good. She breathed it in.
"I only took the flat 'cos of this," said Mickey. "Well. And it was cheap."
Rose wandered over to join him, leaning on the low wall that ran all the way around the top of the building.
"There you go." She handed him one of the bottles of lager she'd brought up with her. "Look, I've even opened it for you."
"Ah, you're too good to me. Cheers."
"God, I'm starving," said Rose. "I said we should have got chips on the way back. Or a kebab, I haven't had a kebab for ages..."
"I could make you some toast," suggested Mickey. She looked at him. "Yeah, okay. Maybe not."
The night was very clear. London was a vast network of twinkling lights, spread out before them. The cigar-like silhouettes of airships lurked darkly over their heads.
"In the daytime," said Mickey, "you can see all the way to the London Eye."
Rose smiled. "Did I tell you?" she said. "I went to the estate."
Mickey turned to look at her. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. It was just the same, you know? I even saw Mrs Docherty, remember her? With the bull terrier? Off down the parade for her twenty B&H, just like normal. Only... it wasn't normal, 'cos... It was like it didn't have anything to do with me. Like I'd never been there, never grew up there or nothing. It wasn't the same at all, really."
Mickey said nothing. He folded his arms on the wall, leaning over into the darkness.
Rose said, "She'll be in the air now. Sarah."
"She'll be all right," said Mickey.
"You wish it was you, don't you?" He didn't look at her.
"No," she said. "No, not really."
They drank their beer. Rose was starting to wish she'd brought a jacket, after all. It was cold once you'd been out for a while.
"Look at the stars," she said. "Don't they look all small and far away?"
She looked over at Mickey and saw that he was smiling at her, sort of sideways and out of the corner of his mouth.
"What happened to Jake, anyway?" she said. "I thought he was coming back with us?"
"Met some bloke in the pub," said Mickey. "I dunno. Think it's that, whatsisname, that Matt."
"Oh..." Rose nodded knowingly. "That Matt."
"Yeah. I think he's a bit of a twat, but whatever." He shrugged. "Matt the twat, see? Rhymes, so it must be true."
Rose grinned at him. "Aw... did someone take away your little friend?"
"Shut up!" Mickey looked offended. She smiled to herself, waiting for his feathers to unruffle.
"Anyway," he went on. "I say good luck to him. Not like the rest of us is getting any."
"Mickey!" Rose hit him on the arm.
"Well. It's true, innit? Innit?" He looked at her, suddenly unsure.
"Oh, I've not got the time," said Rose airily. "Far too busy, me."
Mickey was quiet for a while. When he spoke, his voice was low. "We done all right, though, eh? I mean, it was all right."
"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, it was." She stretched her bare arms out over the wall and into space, examining them in the city's strange nighttime glow.
"Anyway," she said. "Look at all the things we've seen, all the stuff we've done. In two universes! And we're only young. I'm not even 21."
"Not yet," said Mickey. "What are you gonna do for your birthday, anyway? I think you should run for president."
"You could be the next Harriet Jones."
"Nah. Not really my style."
"Well, anyway." He drained the last of his beer and placed the bottle carefully on the wall. "I reckon you're definitely going places."
"Well... you are an' all."
Mickey shook his head, smiling. "Nah. See, I already am places."
"And I've already been places ... I suppose." She looked at him. "So, what if -- I mean --"
She felt a sudden flutter of panic just under her ribs, and she pressed her hands down on the wall, the rough concrete cool and reassuring under her fingers. It was like being seasick, or time-and-space-sick, or something. Dizzying and strange.
"I mean -- where is there left to go now?"
She felt ridiculous as soon as the words left her mouth, and the panic ebbed away, leaving nothing but a faint sort of shadow of itself like the lacy foam left on the sand when the tide draws out.
Mickey stood still for a moment. Then he looked at his watch and grinned. "Well," he said. "There's always the kebab shop." He picked up his empty bottle and sprinted to the stairwell. "Come on then! I thought you were hungry." He disappeared from view without waiting for her reply.
"Yeah. I'll be down in a minute."
Rose stood where she was, absently tearing bits of label off her beer bottle and leaving them in little piles on the wall. Looking up at the stars in their familiar constellations, it was as though she knew them, all their names and shapes and stories. She knew what it felt like to be up there with them, just... travelling. In time and space.
Like you do.
But then, after all, she hadn't really been to any of them. Not here. Not yet. That was human activities for you. Human activities and their effects on the universes.
She shivered. Time to go... Bit silly really, to come out without a jacket at this time of year.
"See ya, then," she said, half under her breath. The stars stared down at her, age-old and silent. She held their steady gaze for a moment. Then she turned and followed Mickey, back down into the flat.