Tegan met Nyssa on a vastly unusual flight, during which there was unexpected turbulence and no small amount of hassle when it came to seating arrangement. Nyssa was the one sitting in the aisle seat, apparently undisturbed by the turbulence, with her hands placed on her lap, staring into space when Tegan came by with the drink cart.
“What can I get for you?” Tegan said, hoping to get the strange girl’s attention.
She looked up. “What do you mean?”
“Beverages,” Tegan said. “We have coffee, juice, soda, tea, whatever you want.”
“Oh, no thank you. I’m not thirsty.”
Tegan put on her best hostess smile. “Well, if you change your mind later, you can just press that button, the one with the little man on it, and call me back.”
“Thank you,” the girl said. “I will.”
As Tegan made to walk by her, the girl turned in her seat. “Actually,” she said, “there might be something you can help me with. Have you seen a blue police box anywhere recently? Only I’m looking for one, and it’s rather important.”
Tegan’s surprise at the question proved impossible to conceal, but the girl didn’t seem to notice, or care. “No,” Tegan said. “I don’t think I have. Why?”
“I’m looking for one,” the girl repeated. “But I suppose it can’t be helped if you haven’t seen it. By the way, where are we going?”
Of all the odd questions. “This flight’s to Heathrow. Didn’t it say on your ticket?”
“I didn’t get a ticket.”
Tegan stared at her. How exactly was she supposed to react upon being told that a passenger neither had a ticket, nor knew where they were going? She couldn’t very well throw her off the plane, and it didn’t seem quite right to report her, either, given her apparent ignorance at how things were supposed to work.
“Well, listen,” Tegan said. “Once we land, I can help you out. I won’t be needed on another flight today. Don’t tell anyone about the ticket, all right? It’ll only cause trouble.”
The girl nodded. “Thank you. What’s your name?”
“Tegan,” Tegan said. “And yours?”
“Nyssa.” Nyssa smiled benignly at Tegan, and Tegan gave a quick, professional smile back before moving on with her drink cart.
The rest of the flight, aside from more mild turbulence, was uneventful, so there was nothing to distract Tegan from thinking of the odd girl. Nyssa, she had said. An unusual name, too—was there anything about her that was usual? Well, perhaps a four-minute conversation wasn’t enough to determine that, but still, she occupied Tegan’s thoughts until the plane landed and she could get back to steady, solid ground.
She hadn’t forgotten the offer she made, so once she was off the plane, she immediately began searching for Nyssa. She wasn’t that hard to find; she had stayed in the boarding area, and was patiently waiting for Tegan’s arrival. Tegan tapped her on the shoulder, and she looked around and smiled at her.
“Hello,” Tegan said. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“Well,” Nyssa said, “finding the TARDIS would be a good start.”
“Finding the what?”
“The police box I mentioned,” Nyssa said. “It’s called a TARDIS.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“It stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It’s a time machine.”
Tegan stared at her, briefly contemplating sinking into the chair behind her. Instead, she put her hand on Nyssa’s shoulder and said, “Let’s look for it, then.”
“It’s got to be somewhere nearby,” Nyssa said. “It’s still translating.”
Tegan didn’t ask what that meant. Perhaps it was best if she stopped asking questions in general. Apparently Nyssa had arrived here in a time machine, which meant she was either mad or the world was more complicated than Tegan particularly wanted to think about when she was escorting a possibly mad woman around the airport.
“Let’s try baggage claim,” she said. “Maybe someone found it and thought it was luggage.”
“Perhaps,” Nyssa agreed.
But it wasn’t there. No one had seen it, and Tegan was beginning to think it didn’t exist. But Nyssa seemed absolutely certain of herself.
“It’s here,” she said firmly. “It must be here, somewhere.”
“Well, it’s late,” Tegan said. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you look anymore. I’ve got to be getting home. Do you have anywhere to stay?”
“Can I stay with you?”
Tegan opened her mouth, fully intent on saying no. No, are you insane? No, why would I let you into my house, talking about time travel? No, of course you can’t.
“Sure, I’ve got a couch you can sleep on if you want,” she said instead.
Nyssa smiled. “Thank you. I hope I won’t be too much trouble.”
I hope so, too, Tegan thought, but said nothing as she put on a smile and herded Nyssa toward the door, where her car was waiting. As she showed Nyssa how to buckle a seat belt, she had one other thought that stayed with her the entire drive home: what on earth am I getting myself into?
The more time Tegan spent with Nyssa, the more she was beginning to believe her time travel story. Nyssa not only didn’t know how to work a seatbelt, but also had to be taught to use the microwave, didn’t know what a frozen pizza was, and seemed downright enamored with the cheap art Tegan had hanging on her walls for personality.
“It’s Earth art,” she explained, when Tegan pointed out that it was really nothing special. “I’m very interested in other cultures.”
“Other cultures? Where are you from?”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. Oh—I suppose I shouldn’t be telling you all this.” For the first time since she had met her, Nyssa’s face betrayed an emotion other than self-assured: sheepishness.
“No, no,” Tegan said. “Go on. Tell me more. What’s Traken?”
Nyssa stared at her, as if sizing her up, and Tegan ignored the vague fluttery feeling in her stomach. Nyssa was interesting, that was all. Strange, remarkable, and interesting.
“It’s a planet,” Nyssa said at last. “My home planet. That is, I’m traveling at the moment, but one day I’ll go back.”
“So you’re an alien,” Tegan said.
“Well, so are you, to me,” Nyssa pointed out.
“You’re not going to probe my brain when I go to sleep, are you? Take me away in your flying saucer?”
Nyssa laughed. “I don’t have a flying saucer, and I don’t have a probe. Is that how your culture thinks of aliens?”
“Sometimes,” Tegan said. “I don’t think most of us expect to actually meet one.”
“Lucky you, then,” Nyssa said.
“Yeah, I suppose.” Tegan shifted in her seat, thinking back on all the odd things Nyssa had done and said so far. Knowing that she was a time-traveling alien put them in a very different perspective and they did not, Tegan told herself, make her cute. “So how did you lose this TARDIS of yours?”
“Oh, it’s not mine. It belongs to the Doctor. I imagine he’ll come and pick me up soon enough.”
“The Doctor? Who’s that?”
“He’s the friend I’m traveling with,” Nyssa said. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to leave me, but the TARDIS isn’t always terrible precise.”
“Oh,” Tegan said. “Does he have a name?”
“The Doctor,” Nyssa said. “Just the Doctor.”
Tegan nodded. “I see.”
“I’m sorry,” Nyssa said. “I think I’ve left you with a lot to process. Shall we go to bed?”
“Good idea,” Tegan said. “I’ll get you some sheets. Do you know how to make a bed?”
“Yes, I think so. Just show me where to put the sheets.”
After setting Nyssa up on the couch, making sure she did actually know what to do with the sheets and Tegan wouldn’t wake up to Nyssa trying to construct an actual bed, and bidding her goodnight, Tegan retired to bed herself. Once there, alone at last, she let out a long breath.
She had dealt before with fancying someone she shouldn’t. She had long since gotten over the idea that liking women was at all bad. She had, in the past, fallen for someone hard and fast, and regretted it later. None of this was new to her.
Nevertheless, she was awake for a long while after she went to bed, tossing and turning and thinking far too hard about the alien girl asleep in her living room.
The TARDIS did not show up the next day. Thankfully, Tegan didn’t have work that day, either, so she took the time to go out with Nyssa and help her look anywhere she could think of for the blue police box. They ended up wandering around the park more than doing any actual looking, but Nyssa insisted that it was all right, and the TARDIS had to be nearby somewhere.
“I’m sure we’ll find it,” Nyssa said. “Or it will find us.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Tegan said. “Can I ask how you came to be here in the first place? On Earth, I mean?”
“Oh, it’s a long story,” Nyssa said. “That is, I didn’t come straight to Earth from Traken. I’ve been on a lot of adventures along the way. But this time, well, the Doctor said he’d detected some sort of anomaly, and we landed in the airport and got separated. By the time I found where the TARDIS had landed, he was gone.”
“So you got on a plane?”
“I didn’t know I was getting on a plane. I was just looking for the Doctor.”
“Which airport was it?”
“I don’t know.”
Silly question, Tegan thought. Of course she wouldn’t know. She probably didn’t even know what airport they’d landed in. For that matter, she may not even know what country they were in.
Nyssa paused to lean over and smell a flower on a bush. “It’s lovely here, Tegan.”
Tegan ignored the small shock of delight at Nyssa saying her name. “It’s a nice park.”
“No, I mean here on Earth. It’s fascinating. I like the park, and the airport, and your home.”
“Oh,” Tegan said. “Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need.” She wasn’t one to blush, but if she had been, she would almost certainly be turning bright red. Why did she say that?
“Thank you,” Nyssa said with a smile. “I’m sure the Doctor will come for me soon.”
It’s not love, Tegan reminded herself. It’s… fascination. Fancy. Love doesn’t happen that quickly. At least, never in her experience. Nyssa was going to leave soon, go away with this Doctor of hers, and Tegan would move on. Besides, Nyssa was an alien. This might not even be her real form. Maybe she was actually a little green man in a Nyssa suit.
She laughed to herself, and Nyssa turned to her again. “What is it, Tegan?”
“Nothing,” Tegan said quickly. “Tell me more about your life. I don’t know anything about you and you’re sleeping in my living room.”
“I could ask you the same,” Nyssa said, smiling again. “I barely know you at all.”
“All right,” Tegan said. “I’ll tell you about my life if you tell me about yours.”
It ended up being something of a game of twenty questions, except they took turns asking each other questions, and there was no limit to them. After a while, Tegan stopped reminding herself that love at first sight was not something that happened and began instead to wonder whether Nyssa felt the same. It was ridiculous, of course, and she knew it was; but, she reasoned, relationships don’t start out of nowhere. Someone has to start feeling something. It was just that it was impossible to know how Nyssa felt in return, or even if she could tell how Tegan was feeling. Did she know the sort of social cues to look for? Would she understand if Tegan held her hand, or kissed her?
It turned out, though, that Nyssa was too distracted by all the different plants and animals to give an opportunity to hold her hand, and kissing her in public probably wasn’t the brightest idea. Instead, Tegan took her out to lunch, and later dinner, and insisted on paying (Nyssa didn’t have any money, anyway), and paid as much attention as she could muster to her words rather than her face or how her hands moved.
The day ended too soon. Tegan went to bed still thinking about her, and knowing now that she was in far too deep to get out.
Nyssa stayed with her for two more days, during which time Tegan took her out clothes shopping, showed her how to use the oven, and called in sick to work. Nyssa seemed perfectly happy with all of this, although, frustratingly, she didn’t give any indication—at least not one Tegan could read—of how she actually felt about Tegan. She was happy to have a place to stay and things to eat, certainly, but that didn’t mean she liked Tegan herself; and even if she did, that certainly didn’t mean she returned Tegan’s feelings; and even if she did, that didn’t mean she would want to act on them.
On the fourth night, Tegan was woken from a slightly fretful sleep by a very unusual sound coming from her living room. Thinking of Nyssa, she flung the covers off and hurried out, but when she got there, there was something blocking her way. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and blinked, but it, the thing that had no reason or cause to be in her living room, was still there. Tall, blue, appeared out of nowhere…
It was the TARDIS, Tegan realized. The time machine Nyssa kept mentioning. It had finally come for her.
Irrational panic swelled in her, and she called, louder than she needed to even with the TARDIS in the way, “Nyssa?”
“I’m here, Tegan,” Nyssa said, and she appeared on the other side of it. Her eyes were shining in a way Tegan had never seen before. She walked slowly around the box, staring up at it, and stood next to Tegan. Unconsciously, Tegan reached for her hand, and Nyssa intertwined their fingers.
To the side, a door opened, and a man peered out. Tegan tensed slightly, but Nyssa gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. He looked away from them first, but as soon as he saw them, he straightened his hat and stepped out.
“Ah, Nyssa,” he said. “So sorry about that. The TARDIS—er, who’s this?”
“I’m Tegan,” Tegan said, her tone containing more than a hint of aggression. “I’m the one who’s been taking care of her since you left her here.”
“Ah,” the man—the Doctor, she supposed—said. “Well, thank you very much. Have I been gone very long?”
“Only a few days,” Nyssa said. “I suppose the TARDIS kept translating because it was close in time as well as space.”
“Oh, good,” the Doctor said, slightly distracted by Tegan’s unceasing glare to his face. “Well, I think it’s time we’re going, don’t you?”
“Yes, I think so,” Nyssa said, and Tegan’s heart plummeted. But it didn’t last long, for even as Nyssa let go of her hand, she turned back to Tegan.
“It’s been lovely staying with you,” she said, reaching for Tegan’s shoulder. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back, but I’ll write you.” She turned to the Doctor. “Can I do that? Will the TARDIS be able to send letters?”
“Oh, I’m sure we could work something out,” the Doctor said.
Nyssa turned back to Tegan. “I’ll write you as often as I can,” she promised. She gave Tegan’s shoulder a squeeze, and leaned up to kiss her. She had started to move away before Tegan came out of her surprise enough to react, but when Tegan put her hand on the back of her head, she came back easily, and laughed a little into the kiss.
“I’ll miss you,” Tegan said, as she moved away. Their hands fell from each other’s bodies, and Nyssa took a step backward.
“I’ll miss you too,” she said. “But I promise to write.”
“Thank you,” Tegan said.
It was a short goodbye, unfairly unceremonious, in Tegan’s eyes. Far too soon, Nyssa was out of sight, having been shepherded into the TARDIS by the Doctor, and the TARDIS itself vanished before her eyes.
She glanced at the clock. It was two in the morning. She really ought to go back to sleep. But all she wanted to do was lie down and feel sorry for herself, and wait for Nyssa’s first letter. It was a time machine, after all. It could come any time.
She went back into her bedroom, but when she was there, she leaned against the closed door rather than going straight to bed. No matter how quickly Nyssa wrote, this was going to be a long wait.
She touched her fingers to her lips were Nyssa had kissed and closed her eyes. A long wait, perhaps. But the memory of that moment would be enough to keep her happy for a while yet.