Title: Learning to Walk
Spoilers and Warnings: through COE
Summary: Mica has to teach herself everything, and the lessons are hard.
AN: Written for tw_femficfest.
Mam says playing video games all day will rot her brain right out of her head. Mica doesn't think so, though, and thinks her Mam got that off the television. When she's over at Cadi's house, Cadi's mam tells her and her brother that watching telly all day will rot their brains. Mica decides it's a mother thing to say when they want to sound like they're grownups and don't know how. Mica smiles and nods when Mam says things like that, and she waits, and she does what she intends to do.
It's a life.
They move off the council estate when Mica is eight. Dad has a job now, but it doesn't pay enough for a better house even if he's not pissing it away at the pub like Cadi's dad does, and Toby's dad. Mam never ever talks about where the money came from. David says it's hush money, but David's angry all the time these days, getting into trouble at their new school. Not everyone wants to remember the troubles, or the chanting, or the Daleks, or anything. David doesn't ever want to forget, nor anyone else to forget either. Mica smiles and nods when he goes off again, or punches him if he's being a bastard, and she goes back to her room.
She takes apart the old video game console for the first time when she's ten. There's wires and electronic boards inside, and she looks it up on the Internet what all the bits mean.
"You're smart," Mam says, when she has time to notice, when she's not busy yelling at David or hurrying to her new job, or fussing at Dad to watch what he's eating, doesn't he want to see his grandchildren and not be dead of a heart attack at forty? But sometimes Mam sits her down and plaits her hair, and notices her schoolwork. "You ought to study more. You could make something of yourself." Upstairs, David is furiously pacing in his bedroom, sent there for another note home. David will make something of himself, too, something that will involve the inside of a police station and a jail term if he's not careful.
"I study," says Mica, and she tugs her hair free. The comb hurts. "It's just dead boring." She'd rather take apart Mam's old laptop, or figure out how to write her own video games.
She sees an alien when she's ten. It looks like a person, but there's something weird about its eyes, like cat eyes, and its neck doesn't move like a person's neck at all. It's by her school, and instead of walking home, she follows it down the road for almost a mile until it disappears in a rush of autumn leaves. She searches all around the place and never sees where it went.
"I saw an alien today," she says when Mam gets home, but Mam is distracted by David getting detention again, so Mica writes it down.
When she looks up things online, she starts researching what she can about aliens. She sees them now and then, because she knows what to look for. Sometimes they lurk in the shadows, sometimes right out there pretending to be people. She makes notes, and she learns how to make the computers tell her what she wants to know, the real truths, and the rumours, and the in-betweens that could be either one. She posts what she knows, and what she's seen, as she hears Dad shouting at David through the thin walls.
When she's fourteen, she gets a message. The email says, "I need your help."
Mica doesn't reply, not at first. You don't go meeting strangers on the Internet, you don't go talking to people on the boards where they swear their brains are radio-controlled from Mars, not ever, not when you're a girl whose mam wants to know what you do all the time in your bedroom by yourself.
The second email is from the same address: "I know what really happened at Torchwood."
Cardiff's worst-kept secret organisation used to be the talk of the UFO crowd back in the old days. Mica read all the old speculations. But she's also broken into her parents' back account, and she's seen the automatic transfers, and she's read the terms of the inheritance. It's not a large sum, but it's dipped in promises and memories that have yellowed like old photographs.
She suggests a coffee shop. It's public. Mam thinks she's at Sion's house.
Mica has been watching every person who's walked in, but expected to be called by her online name. (Lady_Cotton is her current nick. She read The Lord of the Ringslast year, and every possible variation on Eowyn and Arwen are already in use.) The woman who says her name isn't asking a question, she's stating her intent.
She ought to say something grownup, like, "You have me at a disadvantage, madame," but all that comes out is, "What?"
"It's all right." She sits down at the table with Mica, setting her satchel on the floor beside her chair primly. "I'm a friend." She extends her hand. "Call me Lois."
She's pretty, though a bit old to Mica's eyes. Some of the UFO board people are older than thirty or forty, even! Her eyes are weird, though, like something Mica's seen before: not grownup secrets, or not just grownup secrets. Lois looks old in the eyes like that man, the one who came to the door once and Mam told him in her iron voice to leave and not come back.
Around them in the coffee shop, there's the constant noise of conversation, the background strains of music the cool uni students like, and the thick smell of roasted coffee beans. Their table is a quiet island: polished wood tabletop, Mica's cup of tea, and a woman whose eyes have witnessed more than anyone else in the room could comprehend. It's magic.
"Why did you email me?"
"Because you see things other people ignore. Most people meet an alien, and their first thought is to pretend it's a human, or an escaped gorilla. You know what you're looking at."
The boards are full of semi-anonymous figures who do the same thing. Mica holds her cup, wrapping her hands around the warmth. She channels the spirit of her brother. "So?"
"I'm a private investigator. I work with aliens. Sometimes I chase them down. Sometimes, I help them find justice. It's hard having a client base that most humans say can't possibly exist." She smiles grimly and passes Mica a printout. "This is Jungan Mets. He stowed away on a freighter that passed by Earth six months ago. I think he's in Cardiff now. I'd like to find him."
Mica examines the face. "I haven't seen him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. But I know where the aliens gather sometimes. I could take you there." She's not sure why she trusts the woman, but she does. "What do you know about Torchwood?"
Lois tilts her head. "A little. I worked with them for a short while. I was working for them when your uncle was killed."
Her stomach twists. She knows the official story. She also remembers what happened to her, to David, to everyone, and what almost happened. Her Mam lies about him, about what went on. Adults lie. David gets angry when he sees through the lies, and he's going to shout the truths until someone listens to him. Mica's not a shouter. But she's learned to recognise the gaps.
"What's really up with Jungan Mets?"
Lois watches her face. "He has an artefact in his possession which might endanger the planet. And he's been killing other aliens. One of them was my friend. Will you help me find him?"
Mica's not a superhero. She's not someone who fights aliens or saves the world. But the woman sitting next to her was probably fourteen once too, and thought the same thing. Saving the world has to start somewhere.