Notes: Thanks to all of you who reviewed! I'm sorry for the delay, but I gave NaNoWriMo a shot. I've since given up at about 30,000 words, so here we are again.
Cut, Copy and Paste
Parenting had been left behind by the 2400s. Natural parenting was a dead art – mostly because of how seriously it damaged the children when it went wrong. There were countless, countless examples of children born into families with poor parenting skills, who had subsequently been damaged and grown up (if they had at all) to be murderers, rapists, amoral idiots, cheats, crooks, thieves and politicians.
The new system was very functional, and resulted in well-fed, well-balanced, well-educated children who were tolerant of differences and kinder as a whole to their fellow man.
Instead of parents, the new system used carers. Every baby, upon birth, was put into the nearest care home to be looked after by nurses and 'temporary carers' until they were taken in by a carer, or a couple of carers. They would remain with this new family, and their new brothers and sisters, permanently.
At the same time, because all babies were removed into the system, whether their biological parents were fit or not, all people who wanted to have children had to turn to the caring system. It was a criminal offence to hide your baby from them – it would be removed, and your parenting ability permanently marked as 'highly negative' in government files.
For the first six months of a new child's life in a family, there would be weekly inspections and visits, and any seriously unhappy children were taken back into the system.
But that had its own problems. Removing unhappy babies meant that there was a problem, and it upset the other children often. Children formed attachments quickly, and siblings were usually very, very close.
Laura, although thirty-one, still saw her favourite brother every single Saturday, without exception, and they weren't blood related in the slightest. And Laura, though she had no contact with any blood relatives at all, was a keen advocate of the system and had done her best to keep it running from her powerful position. And she had a lot of political clout these days.
Laura was not unusual in her estrangement from her biological family. There was no tilt whatsoever on siblings being biologically related. It was neither encouraged nor discouraged – except in the cases of twins, who were to be kept together if possible. Like most carers, Laura's had taken many children from different biological backgrounds and merely kept a casual note on who was related to whom in genetic terms.
Which reminded her.
She paused, saved the report she had been in the middle of reading, and activated her videoscreen to its voice only setting. Dialling, she waited for the answering machine – knowing they would be out – and said: "Jonathon, it's Laura. Remember to call Mum tomorrow, won't you? She's getting twitchy about what you're up to, and you know how she gets these days. See you Saturday."
She hung up and scribbled herself the same note. Their mother was old now, and beginning to get fretful about her children as if they hadn't been grown up and looking after themselves for the last ten to fifteen years.
Laura's family had never been large. Their carer (who insisted on the old fashioned 'Mum' as opposed to a first name like most carers used) had only taken five babies in her entire life, and Jonathon and Laura had been the last of them. Jonathon was three years younger than Laura, and had come to them as a newborn, still tiny and completely helpless.
"It'll do you good to have a baby brother," Mum had said, showing Laura the new baby. "His carrier didn't name him, so I've called him Jonathon. He'll look up to you, you know, and you'll have to help guide him. Carers can only do so much."
"Really?" Laura – then only four – had found that a funny concept, and Mum had nodded seriously.
"Siblings are very important," she'd said. "Don't ever forget how important they are."
Laura hadn't. She and Jonathon had been very close, to the point of almost excluding their older siblings. Irene and Jade had both never shown much interest in them – being twins, they had no need for other siblings – and Robert had eventually given up trying to prise the two of them apart. Laura and Jonathon had been thick as thieves for their entire childhoods – and their adult lives had even brought them in vaguely the same direction.
Laura remembered her history lessons and scoffed. How could their ancestors have abandoned their offspring so callously?
She turned back to the report on her screen and sighed. This, however, was not a perfect system. Sometimes, this job was all politics.
Ms. Maton eyed the young scientist in front of her, wondering exactly what ticked behind those cool eyes. She could read people well, and this young woman with the curly dark hair was definitely slightly menacing.
"What's this about?" Ms. Maton asked, and the scientist jerked her arm free of the security guard, handing over an archaic photograph of the kind that Ms. Maton hadn't seen since museum trips with the school as a child. In pull-up socks. That's how long she hadn't seen one of these.
She flipped it over and eyed the faces with disinterest. Two familiar, the others not.
"What about it?" she asked flatly.
"I took it from the Immortal," the woman – Amy Jackson, something like that – said. "He avoided your security people, but he'll be back. He seems the curious type."
"We know he's the curious type, Miss Jackson, get to the point," Ms. Maton said. "I do have other things to do, you know."
"I'm saying you have a serious security leak on your hands," Miss Jackson – if that even was her surname – replied. "He seemed startled by the implications of myself. I'm in there. That suggests that the future – his future – doesn't contain Project Echo."
"Project Echo," Ms. Maton replied, "is functioning perfectly and has been doing so for fifty years. What makes you think that...?"
"He's from the future. You know the files."
"I do," Ms. Maton replied. "Are you suggesting that Project Echo will fail."
"Or it should never have existed."
"Miss Jackson," Ms. Maton said. "Torchwood is committed to protecting the here and now. Project Echo itself is not of our concern, and certainly none of yours. Our job is simply to handle extra-terrestrials, not to guide the government in their moral and religious duties."
"Those duties affect the future."
"That isn't our concern," Ms. Maton said. "The future can look after itself. If the Immortal has a problem with Project Echo, then we shall persuade him to keep quiet about it. And the Immortal is only our concern because he is, for all intents and purposes, an alien. You are dismissed."
She spoke again, though, before Miss Jackson reached the door.
"I suggest that you cease your reincarnation project in terms of genetics. Otherwise we have a lot of very angry biologists – and then moralists – on our hands, asking how a species with such a small gene pool ever peaked at seven billion people."
Jack hauled himself out of the dumpster in the dark and brushed himself off as best he could. God, no matter how much the human race advanced, their trash smelled the same and always would.
He fumbled in his pocket and cursed when he realised that the photograph was gone. The prickle of pain that bloomed in his chest was unexpected, and he realised that staying here, he would not even begin to process the loss of his team and his friends.
He turned towards the mouth of the alley, the tears threatening, and pushed them back when he saw the approaching light, blinking lazily and drifting along like a tiny, tiny ghost.
And Jack Harkness was never one to pass up a conversation.