Chapter 1: Prologue
There were a lot of words that Abby Sciuto used to describe herself but "heartbreaker" had never been one of them. The Doctor, however, seemed determined to prove her wrong on that point by acting as broken-hearted as she'd ever seen him.
"But you can't want to leave already," he protested in a voice almost as crestfallen as his face. "We've hardly started! I haven't had the chance to take you to Florana yet. Or Barcelona--the planet, not the city, although if you'd like we could see both--or Metabilis Three--"
His disappointment tugged at her but Abby shook her head, remaining resolute. "Don't get me wrong, I've had a great time, but it's been almost two years--"
"In relative time, perhaps, but we already agreed I could return you the very night we departed," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but if I come back the next day looking like an eighty year old woman, I think people will notice something is up."
"We've plenty of time before that becomes an issue."
Abby shrugged. "Maybe so. But I also really should go home before I forget what I was studying. It won't help me to get back in time for my eight o'clock class if I can't remember what the class was."
"What about the people of Vorja?" the Doctor demanded next. "Would you abandon them to govern themselves?"
"Why not?" Abby asked. "It works for Earth, doesn't it?"
"I'm not so certain of that," he murmured.
Abby hugged him impulsively, closing her eyes and trying to memorize the feel of his velvet frock coat under her fingers. "It's been fun. Hell, it's been incredible. I've learned so much that I never would've if I hadn't gone with you...but I never meant to stay forever. I've got things to do with my life. They may not involve saving the world as often, but saving a piece of it can be just as important in its own way."
The Doctor's grip tightened for a moment before he reluctantly let go. "You're sure this is what you want?" he asked, meeting her eyes.
Abby nodded. "I'm sure."
"All right, then." Stepping back, he moved to the control console and began fiddling with it. "Next stop, the University of New Orleans, Anno Domini 1989." One hand paused over the switch that would send them hurtling towards their destination. "Unless..." He looked up at her. "One last hurrah? I'm told 15th Century Transylvania is lovely this time of year..."
Abby eyed him. "Are you trying to bribe me with Dracula?"
He smiled sheepishly. "Is it working?"
Before she could answer, a cacophonous, jangling sound invaded the TARDIS, like the chiming of a particularly discordant chorus of bells. At first Abby thought it was the cloister bell, but after it chimed again she realized it was something much more mundane.
Frowning, she glanced in bewilderment at the Doctor. "I thought you said the phone on the TARDIS doesn't work."
The Doctor glanced curiously at her. "Which phone do you mean? The one outside? It doesn't."
"Then which phone's ringing?"
"Ringing?" He frowned. "I don't hear any ringing."
Abby opened her mouth to answer then closed it again in confusion. Wait...this wasn't how it had happened. He'd offered her one last trip to Transylvania and she said yes...
Abby sat bolt upright in bed, yanked out of the dream like a fish on a line just in time to pounce on the phone as it rang for the fourth and final time before going to voicemail. "Hello?" she rasped, her voice still roughened with sleep.
"Tony?" She spared her alarm clock a bleary glance, blinking twice to make sure she was seeing it right. "This better be important. And before you say another word, keep in mind that I can kill you and leave no forensic evidence."
"Would I call at five in the morning if it wasn't important?" Tony asked wryly. "We have a case. Gibbs wants everyone on the job ASAP. You too, Abs: you've got a car to go over with a fine tooth comb."
"Murder or drugs?" she guessed.
"Missing Admiral," Tony corrected.
"Missing Admiral?" Abby echoed. "How do you misplace an Admiral? They're like, important and stuff."
"That's what Director Shepard and the Joint Chiefs want to know. Especially since he's not one of ours."
Abby's stomach did a nervous little flip. "What do you mean, not one of ours?"
Tony laughed uneasily. "Rear Admiral Harry Sullivan of the British Royal Navy was in the country for some top secret reason I can't seem to find out. Somehow he managed to disappear right out from under the noses of two Navy officers and four Marines. Our orders are to find the admiral STAT, before this whole mess has a chance to cause an international incident."
"That's about the size of it, yep."
Abby nodded, even though she knew he couldn't see it. "I'll be there as fast as I can."
"I'll tell Gibbs."
After years of practice, Abby had managed to get even the most challenging part of her morning routine down to its most efficient. It had become something of a contest with herself over the years, to beat her own record. Five AM wasn't even the earliest she'd ever gotten an emergency call, which was why she always set her clothes out the night before.
The dream lingered in her mind, though, even as the details of it faded. It had been almost twenty years since she'd said goodbye to the Doctor and it was odd that she'd be dreaming about him now. Especially since the phone's interruption hadn't been the only thing that felt off about the scene when held up against her memories; she just couldn't pin down what else was different.
Showering, dressing and styling her hair into her favorite pigtails granted no new insight. The question had to be shelved while she carefully applied her makeup, lest she get distracted and stab herself in the eye with a mascara brush, so it wasn't until she was halfway out the door that it occurred to Abby what had been different. For some reason she couldn't explain, in her dream the Doctor had been wearing a pair of red Converse sneakers.
"Dream logic," Abby said out loud to herself, chuckling under her breath as she dug her keys out of her purse. It had to be: tennis shoes of any kind just didn't fit with the 19th Century Romantic look that she remembered. Mystery solved, she put it out of her mind.
Still, as she locked the door behind her, Abby couldn't help but notice that the air tasted faintly of stardust.
Nine hours earlier
Stephanie Sawyer couldn't remember a time when she hadn't idolized her grandfather. According to her mother, she'd first announced her intention to follow Dwayne Sawyer's footsteps into the Navy when she was three years old, and nothing in her life had swayed her from that single-minded purpose. The proudest moment of her life had been graduating from Annapolis with him in the audience, wearing his dress whites for the last time, clapping as hard as he could, with the biggest smile on his face and tears in his eyes.
At least he'd lived to see it; two weeks later they'd lost him to an unexpected heart attack and Stephanie's life had never been the same.
Oh, she still loved the Navy, the smell of the ocean, the traveling...but she felt the aching hole of Grandpa's absence every time she couldn't call him to tell him everything he was cleared to know about a new assignment. Especially an assignment like this, that not only upgraded her security clearance but put her at the forefront of what very well might be a whole new era in human history.
Brushing her hands nervously over her skirt, Stephanie watched the passengers coming out of customs at Washington Dulles international airport, searching not so much for a face as for a uniform. She spotted it a heartbeat later: the Royal Navy's equivalent of her own dress blues, only with the insignia of a Rear Admiral instead of a Lieutenant, on a tall, slender white man with graying curls. He had a garment bag in one hand and searched the crowd with a pleasant expression on his face.
Taking a deep breath, Stephanie stepped forward to meet him, acutely aware of the two Marines behind her waiting to provide escort back to Norfolk and two more waiting at the car with Petty Officer Jacobs. "Admiral Sullivan?"
His eyes stopped roaming and fixed on her, accompanied by a warm smile. "Yes?"
Stephanie snapped to attention and saluted. "Lieutenant JG Stephanie Sawyer, Sir. I'll be your liason."
"Yes, of course." He returned the salute politely. "You'll have to forgive an old man his old fashioned notions, dear girl...sorry, Lieutenant. I was looking for--well, suffice it to say someone else."
A man, probably, Stephanie thought. And white too, no doubt. "It's all right, Sir. I'm used to it."
"That doesn't make it right," he admonished gently. "I have a friend--Sarah's her name--who would be quite wroth with me if she knew. So since she's not here to prod me to it, I shall simply have to apologise of my own free will."
His eyes twinkled merrily and Stephanie found herself warming to him almost instinctively.
She smiled. "Can I get your bag?"
"I wouldn't hear of it," he refused with a great amount of dignity but still that twinkle in his eyes. "I may not be quite the chauvinist I once was, but there are a few old fashioned notions I have no desire to part with, and that is one of them."
He paused a moment before adding. "However, if you do know where we might find one of those little trolleys..."
Once she figured out that the trolley he meant had nothing to do with San Francisco, it took no time at all for Stephanie to find and acquire a luggage cart for the price of a few quarters. "There we are," the Admiral declared cheerfully, setting his small suitcase and garment bag down on the cart. "That's much better. I declare, I don't recall travel taking such a lot out of one. But then, I did most of my traveling when I was a good deal younger."
Feeling emboldened by the Admiral's friendly manner, Stephanie worked up the courage to ask, "Where did you go?"
"Places you likely wouldn't believe," he answered with a nostalgic smile. "Not yet."
She felt a shiver of anticipation at the oblique reference to the incredible secret that had brought them here. She'd been briefed just enough to know what they didn't know about it, but the implications of that were staggering enough. "Yes Sir."
By this time, they had reached the two black government cars that waited for them at the curb. Petty Officer Jacobs popped out like a jack-in-the-box, the trunk opening almost at the exact same moment.
Stephanie made the introductions and Jacobs saluted. "Sir. Ma'am. Can I help you with those, Sir?"
"You would know your capabilities better than I, Petty Officer," Admiral Sullivan answered with a hint of reproach. "However as to whether you may...yes, quite."
Jacobs shot Stephanie a curious look, not realizing that he'd just gotten a grammar lesson. Fighting a smile, she indicated with a nod that he should load the luggage into the trunk.
"It's about a three hour drive to Norfolk," Stephanie explained. "We can stop for something to eat on the way if you want, as long as we let security know." She nodded towards the Marines, one of whom would be riding with them while three more would follow in another car.
"Three hours!" the Admiral sounded mildly dismayed as he allowed Jacobs to open the door for him to slide into the car. "Do forgive me, I don't mean to be rude, but weren't there any airports nearer our destination?"
"There are, but a dense fog rolled in on base about a week ago and won't go away," Stephanie explained as she climbed into the front seat next to Jacobs. "Flights in and out have been restricted. Dulles was chosen of the civilian airports because it has the best security."
"Ah, I see," the Admiral answered from behind her. "Tell me: is heavy fog common in this part of the world?"
"Not like this," Stephanie admitted. A shiver of premonition ran spidery fingers up her spine as she thought back to what Naval Station Norfolk had looked like when they left it, shrouded in mist so dense it looked like something out of a horror film. "I've never seen a fog like this before." Shaking it off, she made her voice deliberately light. "It can't be helped, I guess. Can't change the weather..."
Ten hours later
"Do you have any idea," Tony announced as they pulled away from the gatehouse and onto the base at Naval Station Norfolk, "how much I love not having to explain that yes, NCIS is a real agency and not just some dyslexic attempt to spell 'CSI'?"
Sitting next to him in the back seat since Ziva had called shotgun, McGee let out a sigh. "Yes, Tony. You tell us about it every time we have a case that takes us on base."
Gibbs snorted. Tony couldn't see Ziva's face, but he'd be willing to bet she was rolling her eyes.
"Some things bear repeating, Probie."
"There's repeating and then there's beating a dead mule," Ziva countered from the front seat.
"First off," he argued. "It's dead horse, not dead mule." Ziva made a face at him, but he ignored her and continued sagely, "Secondly, when you both have been in NCIS as long as I have, you'll appreciate the time saved."
"Put that time to good use solving the case and even I might," Gibbs chipped in dryly from the driver's seat.
Inasmuch as it was possible to snap to attention while sitting, Tony did. "Yes, Boss."
It took only a few minutes for Gibbs to navigate the base, finally pulling up outside the security office where the six witnesses to Admiral Sullivan's disappearance were being held awaiting their arrival. Climbing out of the car and entering the building, they were met by a man in his early forties, wearing the uniform and insignia of the Chief Master-at-Arms.
"Agent Gibbs?" he greeted the group, extending his hand. "Thanks for coming. As you can imagine, the place is in a bit of an uproar. Your director said you'd understand the need for urgency in this case."
Gibbs' expression didn't change, but his eyes darted covertly around the room. "I understand the need for urgency in every case, Chief..."
"Poindexter. Richard Poindexter."
Gibbs gave him a curt nod before brushing past him. "I trust you kept our witnesses separated."
Poindexter didn't miss a beat, matching his stride to Gibbs' almost effortlessly. Tony was impressed. "Of course. Although, considering the six hour lag between when Admiral Sullivan was supposed to arrive on base and when the cars arrived without him, they've had plenty of time to get their stories straight."
"The same thing for all six of them: one minute they're leaving Dulles with the Admiral safely in the back seat and one escort vehicle, the next they're pulling up to Gate 1 eight hours later and he's gone. All of them swear they don't remember a thing."
"Maybe they don't," Tony offered.
"Maybe," Poindexter agreed dubiously. "I'd like to believe so, because Lieutenant Sawyer is a fine officer; I served under her grandfather shortly after enlisting and until now she's been a credit to his legacy. But unfortunately, their stories are all just a bit too glib, too convenient."
Gibbs nodded. "DiNozzo."
Tony stepped forward, only years of practice stopping him from clicking his heels. "Yes, Boss?"
"Sawyer. McGee, take Jacobs. Ziva and I'll tag team the Marines."
DiNozzo's grin nearly split his face in half. With a jaunty salute he headed off in the direction Poindexter indicated.
When he'd disappeared from sight, Ziva snorted. "Catching flies with sugar, Gibbs?"
Poindexter looked at her.
McGee cleared his throat. "Ah, Ziva? It's catch flies with honey, actually."
Gibbs pinned the younger agent with a look that had made hardened marines quail in their combat boots. "Is there a reason you're still here, McGee?"
He flushed a deep red to the roots of his short hair. "Right. Petty Officer Jacobs. On it, Boss."
"Ancient Egypt?" Martha asked dryly as she stepped out of the TARDIS to find herself standing inside what looked very much like an empty warehouse. "You sure?"
"Of course I'm sure! I'm...oh." The Doctor popped out right behind her, his indignant protest dying as he too took in their surroundings. "Of course, Akhnaten was quite an ingenious fellow, but even I don't remember him mastering the art of building with corrugated steel."
"Try again?" she suggested hopefully.
The Doctor scoffed. "Nonsense. Don't you even want to know where we are?"
Martha let out a brief snort of laughter but there was no censure in her tone, only amusement. "Knowing our luck? Probably somewhere just outside London: dull as dishwater."
"Martha Jones, you have no faith in me," the Doctor admonished. "Have I taken you anywhere dull yet? Dangerous, perhaps a bit dingy, even downright terrifying, yes. But dull?"
She gave him a sceptical look. "You didn't spend most of our time in 1913 scrubbing floors, serving afternoon tea and biting your tongue."
To his credit, the Doctor had the decency to look a bit sheepish. "Ah...there is that..."
"And then you got us stuck in 1969 without the TARDIS and I had to get a job in a shop because no hospitals would hire me and you hadn't any 'marketable' skills."
"Yes, well..." He scrubbed one hand nervously across the back of his neck, sheepishness blossoming into full-blown embarrassment. "Be that as it may..."
Martha smiled: having made her point, she had no desire to belabour it and ruin the fun. "To answer your question, Doctor: yes, I'd love to see where we are."
Discomfiture vanished in the space of a heartbeat. "That's the spirit," he crowed, grinning back at her. "Come on, then!"
Once they'd determined that there was nothing of interest inside the warehouse, the Doctor turned his attention to the door. He used the sonic screwdriver to unlock it and let them both out, locking it again behind them with the explanation that no one would be likely to go searching a warehouse that was known to be both locked and empty.
They emerged under a clear, early morning sky, onto an asphalt street lined in an orderly manner with a variety of low buildings. The Doctor rocked back and forth on his heels, pivoting one direction then the other to take in all of their surroundings.
"Military," he guessed. "American, if the spelling is anything to go by." He pointed to a sign on the door they'd just come out, barely readable in the weak dawn light.
Right on cue, someone shouted: "Halt!"
Both the Doctor and Martha froze as a young man in uniform came into view, a gun carefully trained on them both. "This is a restricted area, off-limits to civilians. I'll need to see your authorization."
"Can do," the Doctor answered carefully. "If you'll just allow me to reach into my pocket and retrieve it?"
The young man nodded and the Doctor stuck one hand slowly into the pocket of his long brown coat, pulling out the psychic paper and flipping it open. "That answer your question..." He glanced at the man's uniform. "...Corporal Nelson?"
Leaning in to examine it more closely, the young Marine grimaced. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, I just...I was told UNIT hadn't been informed yet."
"Well, you were told wrong," the Doctor answered, easily slipping into the role even though he had no idea who the man thought he was. "I'm, ah, John Smith. This is my associate, Martha Jones."
"Right," Nelson sighed. "I'm guessing you're here about Admiral Sullivan?"
The Doctor's expression changed so quickly that even Martha was shocked. Faster than you could say "Oh, snap," it went from mock serious to deadly serious. "What did you say?"
"The missing Admiral, Sir," the young man answered, looking bewildered. "The one NCIS is looking into?"
"Yes, but did you say Sullivan? Not Harry Sullivan?" the Doctor sounded incredulous.
"Yes, Sir. That's him."
"What do you mean missing? How's he gone missing? For that matter, what was he doing this side of the Atlantic to begin with?"
Corporal Nelson looked startled and just a touch suspicious. "Sir? Shouldn't your own people have briefed you on that?"
"They did, of course," Martha interrupted, extemporizing on the fly just as the Doctor had taught her. "We just need to know what you've been told. Make sure no one knows anything they're not authorized to know."
"You don't have anything to worry about with me," the Corporal admitted. "All I know is that the Admiral's escort arrived six hours late without him. Although the rumor is none of them remember what happened, which is kinda weird."
"In that case," the Doctor stated solemnly, tucking the psychic paper back away into his pocket. "We are most certainly here about the missing Admiral Sullivan."
Jenny looked up from her computer, peering over her reading glasses at her secretary, who was standing in the doorway. "Yes, Cynthia?"
"Assistant Director Vance is on the line. He says he wants to speak with you."
Jenny sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose as she removed her glasses. "Of course he does," she answered dryly. Assistant Director Leon Vance sometimes seemed to think that he was better suited to her job than she was, and as a result had made something of a habit of second-guessing her decisions. Considering he had also butted heads with Jethro on more than one occasion, she didn't need to speculate what this particular call was about: she already knew.
What she didn't know was why Vance was awake--it was barely four in the morning in San Diego. "Put him through: I'll take it in here."
Cynthia closed the door with a parting, sympathetic smile and Jenny turned to the phone, picking up the blinking line and forcing a calmness she didn't feel into her tone: "Good morning, Leon."
Aside from Gibbs when he was irritated with her, no one else she knew could put quite that much disregard into her title. Jenny smiled bitterly but didn't let it show in her voice. "What can I do for you, Assistant Director Vance?"
"Well, for starters you can explain to me what the hell you were thinking when you assigned Leroy Jethro Gibbs and company to find this missing admiral. I always thought you had, well, I guess the best way to put it is a better sense of self preservation."
"Agent Gibbs is probably the best field agent NCIS has," Jenny answered.
"He's also a blunt instrument," Vance pointed out. "He doesn't care who he offends as long as he gets the job done. And while that may be an admirable quality in a field agent under normal circumstances, in a situation like this, it's nothing less than a liability. We're already close enough to having an international incident on our hands."
Jenny silently blessed years of practice putting senators, admirals and four star generals at ease, because her voice didn't show a hint of her growing irritation. "I assure you, Agent Gibbs is well aware of both the sensitivity and the urgency of this particular case."
Leon snorted. "Oh, I'm sure you informed him. I just doubt it will make any difference."
Jenny briefly considered letting him keep going, if only out of a morbid curiosity as to how long it would take him to run out of steam. Ultimately, though, she decided she didn't have the patience. "While I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, Assistant Director Vance, I'm afraid the decision has already been made. And I have no desire to raise questions both at home and abroad about the efficiency of this agency by reassigning the case less than six hours after assigning it. Now, was there anything else?"
Vance was silent for a little while before admitting, "I have no other concerns at the moment."
"In that case, I have an agency to run, so you'll forgive me if I don't take time to chat. I'm sure you'll let me know if anything else comes up that concerns you."
Hanging up, Jenny let out a deep sigh. So help me, Jethro, she directed one fierce, silent thought in Gibbs' direction before going back to her paperwork. If you do one thing to screw this up and give Vance reason to lord it over me? I will have your ass in a sling so fast you'll think you were born in it.
She'd gone over it so many times in her head but the memory stubbornly refused to gain any clarity. One minute the sun had been shining through the windows of the car and Admiral Sullivan had somehow gotten her talking about her childhood. Then she'd blinked...
...and the sky had turned dark overhead, stars coming out like an explosion in the sky as they pulled up to the gatehouse at the base, six hours late and Admiral Sullivan had vanished without a trace.
Stephanie was afraid. Not just for her career--although even if NCIS and her superiors ultimately did believe her story, that could still be over just for being careless enough to misplace someone so valuable--but even more for the kindly admiral who had begun to remind her of her grandfather before he'd disappeared. He might have been old fashioned, but there was a sincerity and a kindness about him that covered a multitude of sins.
What could have happened that was so horrible she'd blocked it so completely from her mind?
The door opened and Stephanie glanced up listlessly at the man who entered. He was tall, handsome, and impeccably well dressed. Probably NCIS, which meant another round of questions she wouldn't be able to answer.
"Hey," the man greeted her with a smile that was almost blinding it was so gorgeous. He stepped into the room and set a paper cup on the table. "Thought you might need a cup of coffee."
She reached for it. "Thank you. You're NCIS, aren't you?"
The agent grinned and took a seat opposite her, holding out a hand in greeting. "Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Call me Tony."
Stephanie smiled and shook his hand before taking a sip of coffee. "You know I won't be able to tell you any more than I told Chief Poindexter, right? I honestly don't remember what happened."
"So tell me what you do remember," Agent DiNozzo suggested with surprising gentleness.
She swallowed hard and nodded. "All right."
Taking a deep breath, she started her story over again from the moment she'd met Admiral Sullivan emerging from customs. She felt the holes in her story as keenly as Agent DiNozzo must, if not more, but despite hours of struggle still couldn't fill them.
When she'd finished what had almost become a recitation, he asked, "What can you tell me about the purpose of Admiral Sullivan's visit?"
"Without consulting my superiors? Nothing. It's classified. Beyond classified."
"If it's on a need to know basis, I think this would qualify as me needing to know," DiNozzo pointed out.
"I understand that, Sir, but I'm still not at liberty to speak about it." She hesitated for a moment before admitting, "I'll probably lose my clearance anyway, if not my commission, over this. But if not..."
He nodded. "I understand. Can you tell me who I should contact to see about getting that information released?"
"The only names I knew aside from Admiral Sullivan were my direct superiors," She explained. "I suppose they might know more. But with the Admiral missing, I'm not sure how willing they'll be to give out any information."
DiNozzo sighed. "Yeah, that's what I figured. And also what I was afraid of."
"I don't understand," Martha asked quietly as they followed the Corporal across the compound. "Who's Harry Sullivan and why's he so important?"
"Someone I knew a very long time ago," the Doctor answered distractedly. "A lifetime ago. Well, several lifetimes ago, really."
"An admiral? Really? How'd that come about?"
"Well, he wasn't an admiral then, just a lowly lieutenant. And he travelled with me for a while." The Doctor grinned, eyes twinkling. "You'd like him, I think. He's a doctor too. Only authorized to work on sailors, though. Bit old-fashioned when I knew him, but then so was I, rather."
Martha's world tilted minutely on its axis, but not really in a bad way. She'd been expecting Admiral Sullivan to be some person of great future importance, like the man who cured cancer or something: certainly not an old friend of the Doctor's. Why, the way he'd talked when they first met, she'd rather got the impression that Rose, whoever she was, was the only friend he'd ever had.
"So if he's a doctor...what would he be doing here?" she asked, confused. "The Americans haven't spread their military quite so thin they need to borrow high-ranking medical officers, have they?"
"I shouldn't think so," the Doctor answered, shaking his head. "Although, given he's disappeared under mysterious circumstances, I suspect Harry's presence here had less to do with his medical expertise and more to do with his UNIT affiliation. Or alternatively, with me." His face sobered on that last. "Though if that were the case, surely they'd be more inclined to nab Sarah Jane or Jo or the Brigadier than Harry."
Three more names she'd never heard before: Martha almost inquired who Sarah Jane, Jo and 'the Brigadier' were too, but thought better of it since they were approaching a very official-looking building.
Corporal Nelson led them into the building and into the midst of a group of quite important looking people: some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. Her eyes were drawn to a couple conversing in a corner; a tall, handsome man about the same age as the Doctor looked and a woman about her height, with long black hair and the bearing of a soldier. Both looked up as Nelson led Martha and the Doctor inside, their conversation coming to an abrupt halt.
Stepping away from his partner towards them, the man smiled: a smile that skipped over charming and went right to seductive, one hundred percent of it directed at Martha. "Hey. I didn't know we were expecting anyone else at the party. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS." He held out a hand. "Call me Tony."
The Doctor jumped in front of Martha, intercepting the offered hand and pumping it vigorously as if he hadn't even realized it was intended for her. "John Smith. This is my associate, Martha Jones."
"Smith and Jones. Seriously?" DiNozzo grinned, again never taking his eyes off Martha. When they both just stared at him, he elaborated: "You know, like the old TV series, Alias Smith and Jones?"
Martha snorted. "Bit more like Will and Tommy Lee, thanks."
She wouldn't have thought it possible, but DiNozzo's grin got even bigger, his eyes shining with what looked like approval. Beside her, the Doctor snorted and muttered something under his breath that sounded vaguely like, "Not another one."
"I don't suppose anyone would care to enlighten me who these people are and what they are doing here?" the woman demanded in a clipped tone. "Corporal?"
Agent DiNozzo shot her a dirty look. "Ziva, relax. Who died and made you Gibbs anyway?"
Ziva bristled. "This is a closed crime scene under NCIS jurisdiction. I think we have a right to know."
"They're with UNIT, Ma'am," Corporal Nelson explained.
"There, you see?" DiNozzo winked at Martha before turning his attention back to Nelson. "Which unit would that be?"
"Not a unit: UNIT. U-N-I-T. Short for United Nations Intelligence Task Force," the Doctor interrupted. "Then again, I think last time we met they'd shortened it: Unified Intelligence Task Force or something like."
"The intelligence arm of the United Nations," Ziva explained when DiNozzo still didn't look enlightened. "Which still doesn't explain what they're doing here?"
"I think if you examine Admiral Sullivan's file, you'll find he's been attached to UNIT for quite some time," the Doctor answered. "Nearly since its inception."
"How did you even find out?" DiNozzo asked. "For that matter, how did you get here so fast? Didn't they retire the Concorde five years ago?"
"You think we wouldn't have known something was wrong the minute the Admiral missed his check-in?" Martha improvised.
The Doctor gave her a sidelong, approving glance. "Quite right. Of course, if it's inconvenient, we could always arrange for transport home...inform the Prime Minister and Her Majesty that our involvement was not welcome..."
Tony and Ziva exchanged an uneasy glance. "Right," DiNozzo finally acceded. "Where would you like to start?"
Now this was a beautiful car, Abby thought. The gleaming jet black Buick LeSabre, brand new, had a gray leather interior, tinted windows and bullet resistant glass. It was standard enough government issue--for important government people, anyway. No one had ever offered her a ride to court in one of these babies.
It was also just about pristine. Oh, she'd lifted several fingerprints from both the inside and outside of the vehicle, but instinct told her that none of them would belong to anyone who wasn't supposed to be there. There was no sign of a struggle, no sign of anything...
Except, of course, for that weird blue gunk on the ceiling. Reaching up carefully so as to scrape some into an evidence container without knocking the rest down all over herself and her favorite red jumpsuit, she studied the stuff speculatively. It had a consistency somewhere between Jell-O and shampoo, with a color so electric blue it almost glowed. In spite of that, it was surprisingly difficult to disengage from the gray felt which lined the interior ceiling of the vehicle.
"Come on, come to Momma, you big blue baby," Abby murmured in a low voice. She blinked as a clump of the goo suddenly loosened with a faint squeak that sounded almost like the sigh of a teeny tiny person. Like microscopic tiny.
"Interesting..." She peered at the lump now resting at the bottom of her evidence jar. It was almost as if the stuff had responded to her command, but Abby quickly shoved the thought aside. While it was possible--she'd certainly seen stranger things--it was more likely that her weird dream about the Doctor had sent her imagination into overdrive.
Abby jumped a good six and nine-tenths inches, almost hitting her head. "Geez, Gibbs! Stop sneaking up on me like that!" Schooling her face into her best scowl, she wriggled out of the back seat, screwed the lid onto the evidence container and held it up to show him.
Gibbs took the container from her hands and peered at its contents. "What the hell is that?"
"Well, it could just be upholstery shampoo that someone forgot to wash off the ceiling," Abby said cheerfully. "Or, it could have something to do with the Admiral's disappearance. I won't know until I run a few tests on it."
He nodded, handing the jar back to her. "Anything else?"
"Only the expected fingerprints," was the answer. "Which might narrow down our list of suspects."
"Or it might not," Gibbs countered. "Keep digging. Let me know anything else you find."
"Aye aye, Gibbs." Abby saluted and immediately pulled out a dolly and lay down on it to inspect the undercarriage. She'd no sooner wheeled herself under the car than she heard the elevator open and DiNozzo's voice.
"Hey Boss. Abby find anything yet?"
Gibbs' voice was flat as he answered: "At the moment I'm more interested in what you've found, DiNozzo--or rather who. And why the hell you brought them back here without my authorization."
Intrigued, Abby rolled back out again just in time to see Tony's face turn scarlet. "Ah..."
"Director Shepard instructed us to bring them back here," Ziva answered in her usual brisk manner.
"You went over my head?" Gibbs did not sound happy. Abby flinched in anticipation of the head smack DiNozzo was almost certainly in for.
"We didn't have a choice, Boss. The Director said to notify her immediately if and when anyone from the UK wanted in."
Abby sat up then and studied the two newcomers, intrigued. Both of them were watching Gibbs and didn't seem to notice her at all.
"So?" Gibbs demanded.
Ziva stepped up. "They are with UNIT. The Unif--"
"Unified Intelligence Task Force," Gibbs interrupted her. "Yeah, I know who they are. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Apparently Admiral Sullivan has a long-standing affiliation with the agency. When he failed to check in, they sent people to investigate."
"Which would be where we come in," interjected the taller of the two strangers, a brown-haired brown-eyed scarecrow of a man wearing a long tan coat with a blue suit that really didn't match it. He stuck out a hand, grinning like a maniac. "Hello! John Smith. This is Martha Jones."
Gibbs met his gaze evenly. He ignored the offered hand, instead raising his coffee cup to his lips before turning on one heel and marching back into the elevator. He didn't say where he was going, but Abby would put money on it being the Director's office.
DiNozzo laughed uneasily as the elevator doors slid shut. "That would be Agent Gibbs, the boss. And this is--"
He didn't get any further, because the minute Smith's eyes landed on Abby, his face lit up like a Christmas tree and he blurted out, "Abby Sciuto! Look at you! You haven't changed. Well, not much anyway. Far less than one would expect, considering. And fighting crime, well, of course! Should've known. Brilliant, just brilliant!"
Abby took a step back. Oh no. Please tell me this is not some drunken one-night stand from London that I forgot about, back to haunt me. "Do I...know you?" she asked dubiously.
All the glee drained out of Smith's face, replaced by a look of disappointment that was weirdly familiar. "No. No, of course not. I suppose you wouldn't."
Then he looked beyond her. "Oh, is this the car, then? Mind if I have a look?"
Before anyone could say so if they did, the skinny guy had already slid his butt into the back seat and began touching things, instantly contaminating the scene.
Tony and Ziva just stared, aghast, and Abby surprised herself by not bodily hauling the man out of the car before he could do any more damage. "It's okay. I already went over the car, every inch of it. Still...don't tell Gibbs, okay?"
"Are you kidding?" Tony said. "I think I'd like to keep my small intestines."
The girl Smith had called Martha stepped forward now with an apologetic glance at them both. "He does that. I'm sorry." She held out a hand in greeting. "I'm Martha. Did he say your name was Abby?"
Abby shook it then nodded. "It is. How'd he know that, though?"
"He knows all sorts of weird things." Martha shrugged. "Though it's possible Agent DiNozzo or Officer David told us, and I just forgot."
Now that made sense.
He was now going over the car with a little silver wand that for some reason seemed vaguely familiar to Abby. "Traces of transmat energy. Very faint, though. Whatever sort of device was used, it was either very small or operated at a distance. Powerful enough to transport the entire car, though." He paused then, looking up at the ceiling and poking a finger into the blue goo she'd found earlier. "Hullo, then, what's this?"
"No idea," Abby answered. "I have to run a few tests on it before I'll know anything for sure."
Smith promptly popped the fingerful of goo into his mouth, prompting Tony to make a loud gagging noise: "Oh, God, that is disgusting!"
The other man ignored him, frowning. "It's inorganic. A conductor, too--got a bit of a jolt on my tongue there. Maybe some sort of enabling agent, designed to facilitate matter transport at some distance from the actual transporter?"
"So you're saying he was teleported out of the car?" Martha guessed a second before Abby had a chance to put together all the technobabble and come up with the same conclusion.
"Wait, teleported?" Tony asked, surprised. "What is this, Star Trek?"
John Smith glared at him in a way that suggested more annoyance than the question merited and Abby wondered what on Earth Tony had done to him. Then she glanced over at Martha: young, hot, wearing clothes that were both stylish and showed off her figure...Abby grinned. Then again, all Tony probably had to do was just be Tony.
"Hardly," Smith answered in a sober voice. "What I'm talking about is very, very real."
To the untrained ear, Ziva's next remark would've been totally flat, but Abby could hear the incredulity lurking beneath the surface. "So you believe that Admiral Sullivan was, what? Abducted by aliens?"
Smith shrugged, pointing his little silver wand at the goop as if he had a portable lab in there. "Wouldn't be the first time."
Tony blinked. "Wouldn't be the first time for what?"
Smith just ignored him, and Abby chuckled under her breath. On second thought, maybe she did know the guy from somewhere. Something about him did seem familiar: she just couldn't pin down what. Not that it really mattered: the minute Gibbs found out he'd been rambling on about aliens, he'd be off the investigation so fast he and Martha Jones would be back in England before they realized they'd left. He might indulge her belief in them, but these people weren't even NCIS, let alone his team, which meant an automatic lowering of Gibbs' BS threshold.
UNIT sounded vaguely familiar too, for some reason. Oh well. She'd probably heard Gibbs or Ziva or someone mention it before and just forgotten.
"Look, I'm going to get this back to the lab." She waved the evidence jar of goo at them. "On the unlikely chance you find something I missed? Let me know right away."
Smith poked his head out of the car and smiled at her, a smile that inexplicably warmed her down to her toes. "Oh, you bet I will."
Once Abby had left, Martha crossed to where the Doctor was still inspecting the Admiral's car and crouched down beside it. "Well," she remarked in a voice deliberately pitched too low for the others in the room to hear. "Hasn't this trip just been one big bundle of revelations."
The Doctor looked at her quizzically. "How do you mean?"
"Abby," she said simply. "You did know her, didn't you? Just for some reason she doesn't remember you."
"Oh, she remembers me all right," he answered absently, still waving the sonic screwdriver around the interior of the car with a little frown on his face. "Just not this me."
Martha frowned. As explanations went, that was a bit cryptic even for the Doctor. "I don't understand."
"It's all a bit complicated, really," the Doctor dodged the question. "Easier to show than tell, but considering the circumstances involved in that, well, rather not for the moment if it's all the same."
Behind them, the lift dinged its arrival and the doors slid open to reveal the young man Tony had called "Probie" but Ziva had addressed as McGee. He stepped out hesitantly, clearing his throat. "Um, Tony? Ziva? Gibbs sent me down to tell you...the Director wants to see us. All of us, and the, ah, guests."
Martha poked the Doctor. "That'd be us."
"What? Oh, yes!" Coming back down from whatever intellectual height he'd been exploring, the Doctor crawled out of the car and stood behind Martha. "Love to meet your Director."
McGee blinked. "All right...um...well, she's...in her office."
The Doctor made a melodramatic gesture. "Lead on, MacDuff!--always wanted to say that."
Martha couldn't help but smile. "Well, leastways you didn't say it to Shakespeare."
Tony pointed a finger in the exact opposite direction. "I'll just check in with Abby."
Ziva's hand clamped down so tightly on his arm that his mouth opened in an exclamation of pain. "Ow!"
"Oh no you don't," Ziva informed him crisply. "If you expect me to walk into a confrontation between Gibbs and the Director with only McGee for back-up, you are sadly mistaken, Tony."
"All right, all right," he conceded, following the rest of them into the lift. "Take it easy, Ziva. I wasn't really going to skip out."
"Coming from a man who has, in fact, done so on more than one occasion?" Ziva snorted. "I find that difficult to believe."
The two glared at each other until Martha discretely cleared her throat. Once she had their attention, she asked. "So why does your Director want to meet us anyway?"
"Probably to apologize on behalf of the US Navy for misplacing your Admiral," Tony answered with a grin. "And assure you that NCIS will do everything in its power--meaning our power, since it's our case--to recover him safely."
"Therein lies the problem," the Doctor said grimly, pocketing the sonic screwdriver. "If I'm right...it may not be in your power."
McGee gave his two colleagues a confused look. "What's he talking about?"
"Mr. Smith appears to be under the impression that the Admiral was abducted by aliens," Ziva answered in a voice so subtly mocking Martha almost didn't catch it.
"Now, I didn't actually say aliens," the Doctor protested. "It's entirely possible whoever it was could be human. But if so, then they've got their hands on some very advanced technology. Too advanced." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then asked, "Don't suppose Torchwood operates this side of the Atlantic, do they?"
Upon receiving three blank looks in return, he nodded. "Right. Well, there's a mercy anyhow."
Being the director of NCIS definitely had its perks. Wrangling Jethro Gibbs was not one of them.
Of course, she'd known that when she accepted the job so she had no real excuse to complain--she'd worked with Gibbs enough to be well aware of his tendency to buck authority when it suited him. Nevertheless, she suspected Gibbs had been a definite factor in the timing of Tom's decision to move on to Homeland Security and there were times when she thought he had the right idea.
Times like now.
"Look," Jenny stated clearly and calmly, putting ninety percent of what was left of her patience into her voice. "I know how you feel about other agencies butting in on your investigations, but this is not the time to get territorial."
Gibbs shook his head. "Territory's got nothing to do with it, Jen. Don't you just find their stories a little too damned convenient? I mean, Smith and Jones? They're barely even trying and yet you're bending over backwards to give them access to a crime they very well may have committed."
She sighed. "Do you really think that little of me, Jethro? The first thing I did when I got the call from Agent DiNozzo was to contact UNIT in New York. They put me through to London, where no less than the organization's first commander, former Brigadier General Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart confirmed that yes, they do indeed have a John Smith on permanent retainer."
Gibbs scoffed. "If you dig deep enough, probably every agency in the world has at least one John Smith on retainer. All that means is this guy had a 90% chance of hitting it right when he picked the name."
Jenny pinched the bridge of her nose. She briefly entertained the idea of shooting him right then and there with the service revolver she kept in her desk drawer, but discarded it. Like it or not, he was still her best chance to find the Admiral before his disappearance could cause an international incident. Though God help him if Vance should happen to get wind of this; even saving her ass in the eyes of the entire United Kingdom wouldn't be worth Gibbs' life then. Not that Vance could do anything besides rub it in, but that was more than enough.
"Would you like to see the file they sent me?" she asked in a voice that was almost a challenge.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I would," Gibbs said. "And while you're at it, anything they sent you on a Martha Jones."
Suppressing a bitter sigh, she brought up the file on her desktop and let him circle around to stand behind her, so he could see it over her shoulder. After clicking through a few pages, Gibbs snorted. "Is there any relevant information that isn't redacted?"
"So most of his records are classified," she answered, exasperation nearly reaching the boiling point. "So were Admiral Sullivan's reasons for being in the United States--if you ask me, the latter is far more relevant to the case."
Gibbs made a sound that clearly indicated he didn't buy it; no doubt his infamous gut instinct was giving him different information. "Fine," he announced. "When they get up here, when you meet them, you tell me they're not hiding anything and I might just consider letting it go."
For someone with diplomatic skills as appalling as Gibbs', he sure had mastered the diplomatic art of making promises that ultimately promised absolutely nothing.
Cynthia poked her head in at that moment. "Ma'am? The rest of Agent Gibbs' team is here, along with the two agents from UNIT."
Sending one last warning glance in Gibbs' direction, Jenny nodded. "Send them in."
The first person into the room was a man she'd never met, but more or less recognized from the admittedly poor quality photograph in the file she'd been sent. He bounced in like a rubber ball in a blue suit and red sneakers and immediately began wandering around her office, inspecting everything in it.
He was followed by DiNozzo, McGee and David and a young woman in jeans and a leather jacket.
"Mr. Smith, Miss Jones," she introduced herself. "I'm Director Shepard. I can't tell you how grateful we are to have UNIT's cooperation in this. The United States Navy has been understandably concerned about how your government will react to Admiral Sullivan being...misplaced."
"If I were you, I'd be more worried about how Sarah Jane will react." Smith grinned cheekily at her. "And it's Doctor, by the way. Doctor Smith: nearly Doctor Jones too, but who's counting, right, Martha? Pleasure to meet you, Madame Director--Shepard, did you say it was?"
"Jenny Shepard, yes." Sarah Jane must refer to the reporter, Sarah Jane Smith, who was listed as the Admiral's emergency contact, the one she had so far refrained from contacting because she didn't want to put their little problem on the front page of every English newspaper. The fact that Doctor Smith called Miss Smith by her given name implied an interesting degree of intimacy between him and their missing Admiral (maybe the two Smiths were related?) but didn't otherwise yield much in the way of useful information.
"Jenny! Always liked the name Jenny." Again the manic grin, then, "You know what? I could really murder a cup of tea right now. Don't suppose you keep that sort of thing about by any chance?"
"Doctor, don't you think that's a bit rude?" Miss Jones chided with a knowing look and a frown.
"Is it?" He stopped, the sudden lack of movement a little startling; it was hard to believe that much energy could just stop. "Yes, I suppose it is a bit. Dreadfully sorry."
Jenny's smile was only half forced. "It's no trouble. I'm sure we can find a tea bag somewhere in the building. What about you, Miss--or would you prefer Doctor--Jones?"
Miss Jones looked embarrassed. "That'd be nice, yeah. And just Martha's fine."
Cynthia smiled. "I'll bring it right up."
She closed the door behind her and Jenny turned her attention back to the small group of agents and strangers gathered in front of her desk. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't quite dodge Gibbs' knowing look. The hard stare she gave him in return would have revealed nothing to the Joint Chiefs; this being Jethro, it probably told him everything.
Resisting the urge to sigh, she folded her hands on her desk. "So. What do we have so far? Agent DiNozzo?"
Looking very much like a kid in school who wasn't expecting the teacher to call on him, Tony stood up just a little bit straighter. "Ah, not very much. I've been working my way up Sawyer's chain of command, but so far everyone is telling me the same thing: nothing. All we know is that the Admiral was in the country to attend some top secret meeting. As for the Admiral himself, he's been attached to UNIT for most of his career and has a record so clean it squeaks."
"Does he have any enemies?" Jenny asked.
"What, Harry?" Smith interjected from where he was inspecting the pictures on her wall. "Nonsense! He could be an imbecile at times, but he was always a very nice one."
Jenny turned to regard him calmly. "You seem to be rather well acquainted with our missing Admiral, Doctor Smith."
He didn't miss a beat. "Of course. Why do you suppose they sent me?"
Cynthia came in with the tea then, as well as a cup of coffee for Agent Gibbs. Jenny couldn't help but smile at the inclusion: a caffeinated Gibbs did tend to be a more agreeable Gibbs, even if in this case it would probably take more than a cup of coffee to allay his concerns.
"Thank you, Cynthia," she said. Miss Jones echoed the thanks, elbowing Doctor Smith until he did the same. Jen saw Gibbs' eyes drift to the NCIS mug in the other man's hands and suppressed a sigh. Oh well. If humoring him a little would get him off her back, it might be worth it. Just as long as their visitors didn't find out.
She gave him a slight nod when he glanced at her: giving tacit permission while still maintaining plausible deniability should anything come to light.
"So, if there's no one who could have personal reasons for wanting Admiral Sullivan to disappear," she picked up the thread of the conversation. "Then that brings us back to the reason for his visit. Which, under the circumstances, I'm fairly certain I can persuade someone in the chain of command to reveal."
Abby jumped away from the microscope, letting out a little sound that was almost a shriek. "Jeez, Gibbs! You gotta learn not to sneak up on people. One of these days you're going to give someone a heart attack."
Standing in the entryway of her lab, Gibbs chuckled. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and an empty mug held gingerly in the other, as if he were trying to touch it as little as possible.
Wow, Abby thought to herself. I knew Gibbs' coffee habit was pretty serious, but I've never seen him do two-for-one before.
As if reading her mind--which, knowing Gibbs, wasn't entirely improbable--he waved the empty mug in her direction, crossing to her desk to set it down. "I want you to check that for prints and let me know what you find."
Intrigued, Abby studied the mug. Since it bore an NCIS logo, it seemed unlikely to belong to Admiral Sullivan. "What am I looking for?"
"Anything Smith and his partner aren't telling us," he answered.
Abby smirked, one eyebrow climbing up to her bangs. "Does the Director know you're investigating the investigators?"
A wry smile crossed Gibbs' face as well. "That depends on who's asking."
Grinning, she picked up the mug in one gloved hand and carried it over to the table that held her fingerprinting kit. "So where exactly are Mr. Smith and Miss Jones?"
"Getting a ride back to Norfolk," was the clipped answer. "Think you can have that done by the time they get back?"
Abby just looked at him. "Gibbs! You know better than that. Unless they just happen to be the first hit on the first database I try, this could take hours, even days."
"Start with UNIT," Gibbs suggested.
That made her grin all over again. "Ooh, you're good: if they're not in the UNIT database, then we know right away that they're lying about something."
He smiled back. "That's my girl."
"Just one thing, Gibbs--if I'm going to hack into the UNIT employee database? I'm going to need McGee. I may be good, but we're probably talking CIA level security here. I may not be able to hack it at all, if they have the same kind of set up as Langley."
Gibbs nodded. "I'll send him down. Anything else you need?"
Abby pouted. "I'm wounded that you have to ask."
Gibbs chuckled low under his breath before leaning in to plant a kiss on top of her hair. "One Caf-Pow coming up." He then nodded towards the microscope. "Find anything?"
"So far only that I need a more powerful microscope," she answered mournfully. "Whatever this goop is, it sure is stubborn. I'm running it through the mass spectrometer next: we'll see what comes up."
He nodded. "Keep me posted."
Abby just smirked. "Don't I always?"
There were times when the Doctor rather regretted his proclivity for leaving K-9s with assorted companions, whether by his choice or the dog's. Of course, he had to give the latest model to Sarah Jane--she'd been so heartbroken at the loss of the previous one--but there'd been no reason not to build a Mark V model after that. The robotic dog's vast array of sensor equipment would have come in quite handy, saved running back to the TARDIS to more closely examine the electric blue goop that had been found inside the car.
Besides which, considering K-9 and Harry had a mutual friend in Sarah Jane, he rather thought he would've liked to help out, for her sake.
There was nothing for it now, though: even though it wouldn't have taken much time to construct another model, with Harry apparently at the mercy of some alien species or technologically advanced human organization with unknown motives, there wasn't time to spare. So, since the substance, whatever it was, was apparently beyond the discernment of the sonic screwdriver, back to the TARDIS they went with the sample he still had on his fingertip.
He marched straight through the console room to the corridor beyond, hoping the particular laboratory he needed hadn't moved too far in the two or three decades since he'd used it.
Martha followed. So far she'd been unusually quiet and serious on this adventure, but then he supposed it was rather a lot of information to take in: Harry, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier and Abby all at once...come to think, maybe he'd best not bring K-9 into it as well. True, he probably ought to have given her some warning, but then at least he'd mentioned Rose, so she could have hardly thought she was the first: not like when he and Rose had run into Sarah Jane.
He pushed the thought from his mind, sliding a small sample of the blue gel into a device he'd picked up somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy. "Here we are, then! Now to take a closer look at this, see what it's made of. If I'm right..."
"Why don't you ever talk about them?" Martha asked as he pushed buttons and peered through lenses.
"Hmm? What?" The Doctor looked up from his specimen, blinking bewildered eyes. "Talk about whom?"
"Harry. Sarah Jane. Abby. The Brigadier. That couple we stayed with back when we first landed in 1969--the Chestertons." She waved a hand as if to encompass every companion he'd ever had whose name she still didn't know. "Was Rose really so much more important than all of them?"
"Of course not: don't be ridiculous," was the somewhat sharp answer. His intentions had been good, hadn't they? No more surprises, no more allowing people to think he'd never cared for another; that was why he'd brought up Rose in the first place. Well, that and the blow of their unintended parting had still been very fresh when Martha had walked into his life. He'd not spoken of Rose in, oh, weeks...had he? "Where would you come by that notion?"
Martha gave him a sceptical look. "So then why is this the first I've heard of Harry Sullivan, or Abby Sciuto, or Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart or Sarah Jane whatever her last name is?"
"Smith," he answered absently, a nostalgic smile creeping onto his face. "Sarah Jane Smith. She's a reporter. Brilliant one. Could save the world without leaving the house, should ever she put her mind to it."
Martha smiled. "Now, see? That's nice. But it still doesn't answer my question."
In a moment she was going to plant herself in a chair and refuse to budge again until he talked; he could see it in her eyes. "Well, as to that...I suppose it just...never really came up."
"Only because you never brought it up," she pointed out shrewdly.
The Doctor shifted, looking away from those astute brown eyes and turning his attention back towards his sample. Surely this wasn't the time to be having this conversation, with Harry's life potentially on the line. And wasn't that the point of mentioning Rose in the first place and taking her to meet the Chestertons, to avoid having it again entirely?
His thoughts turned back to Abby. Brilliant, beautiful, enthusiastic Abby, always wanting the know the answer to everything, from the best hand to win at Naq'Le'cheza'q to who murdered the king of Septima VII and tried to frame them for it. Abby, who'd resisted every attempt he'd made to persuade her to stay just that little while longer because she'd had a plan for her life long before he'd ever become part of it.
He'd never expected to see her again. Truth be told, he never expected to see any of them again, avoided it whenever possible. It was usually too painful. Bless Abby for looking nearly the same as when he'd parted with her all those years ago.
"Doctor?" Martha's voice prodded gently.
He looked up, helpless not to, and he could see the moment when she read the truth in his eyes.
"Oh," Martha said quietly. "They left you, didn't they? All of them."
"They left or they died," he admitted. For one awful moment he saw Ace go down on the front lines at Arcadia. His fault. He'd brought her to Gallifrey, persuaded the Time Lords to train her as one of their own, only to see her get caught up in a war the rest of her race never even knew was happening.
He saw Adric, trapped in the web of history, dying so the human race could be born. He saw Peri, who might be dead or might be alive, and him too terrified of the truth to ever try to discover it. His fault.
"Or I left them before they could."
Sarah Jane. Jack. Susan.
Rose wasn't the first who would have stayed. She was just the first in a long time that he might have allowed to.
He met Martha's eyes again, and this time he was the one searching. And just as his own face had betrayed him to her, so now hers did to him. There was no promise of forever there, or even as near to forever as such a short-lived species could offer. No, Martha Jones was too conscientious to ever leave the world behind for long. Maybe she hadn't realized it yet, but he'd known from the first time she set foot inside the TARDIS, which was why he'd tried so hard not to extend that invitation past the first few trips. One hadn't been enough--it never was--but sooner or later she'd grow discontent with this life too. Sooner rather than later, he suspected. All it would take was the right impetus and she'd turn back to the life she'd chosen for herself just as Abby had.
Martha looked away, abashed.
An awkward silence descended between them, one which might have lasted a good long time if the machine--one of these centuries he really ought to flip it over and remind himself what the blasted thing was called--let out a demanding beep.
Relieved, the Doctor grabbed his glasses out of his pocket and leaned in to peer at the screen. "Just as I thought," he crowed. "Brilliant, simply brilliant! It's nanotechnology, but on such a scale! Look at that!" He pointed to the read-outs even though he knew a twenty-first century human wouldn't be able to decipher them. "Billions of computers, each the size of an atom, every one more powerful by itself than the most advanced computer on Earth, but with the molecular cohesion of organic matter! Spread a bit of that on the right surface, and you could transport anything in the world from one end of the universe to the other with a single command."
"So not humans, then?" Martha guessed.
"Oh no," the Doctor shook his head. "Any human agency belonging to this century wouldn't even recognize this technology for what it is, let alone be able to manipulate it. At least I'd hope." His face darkened. "The question is...what could a race so advanced possibly want with Harry Sullivan?"
The explosion rocked the entire building, setting off alarms everywhere. Abby herself was thrown halfway across the lab, into a pile of equipment that did not make for a comfortable landing.
Once she'd picked herself up, she stared in dismay at where the mass spectrometer had been; it now lay in pieces on the floor. Counters, tables and even the wall had been ripped apart by the force of the blast. Remarkably though, there was no charring, no scorch marks, nothing to indicate the explosion had been anything but concussive. Which was impossible: even a concussion grenade had to be set off somehow.
McGee reached her first, having been already on his way down to help with the fingerprint search when he heard--and felt--the blast. "Abby!" he exclaimed, hurrying to her side to help her up. "You okay?"
"I think so," she answered uncertainly, her voice shaking a little.
Abby shook her head. "I put the sample from the car in the mass spectrometer, and I was lifting the prints from Smith's cup when it just...blew."
"Water gel?" he guessed.
"No, it didn't show any of the properties of..." Her voice trailed off, her eyes widening in disbelief. "Holy cow!"
McGee pivoted to look where she was staring, and his own jaw nearly hit the floor. On the other side of the room, the damaged area was slowly but surely...repairing itself. Pieces of shrapnel wiggled out of the walls, creeping back together as though delivered by thousands of invisible ants. The counter knit back together, hoisting everything that had slid off it back up with what was almost care. By the time Gibbs arrived, to look at the lab the only way you would know that anything had happened was the heap of equipment that Abby had knocked over when she landed.
"Abby!" Gibbs hollered as he burst through the door, followed less than a heartbeat later by Tony, Ziva, and Ducky. He looked around the room, frowning when nothing seemed out of place enough to explain what had happened. "What the hell happened down here?"
"The mass spectrometer blew up," Abby answered dumbly.
He glanced in that direction then looked back skeptically.
"Gibbs, I swear, five minutes ago it was shrapnel!" she insisted. "It just…fixed itself!"
"She's not lying, Boss," McGee chimed in, still sounding a little shell-shocked himself. "When I got here, that whole side of the room was ripped up. It was like...watching time go backwards or something."
"You sure there wasn't anything hallucinogenic in that stuff, Abs?" DiNozzo asked. Abby glared at him.
"Tony, I know what I saw," McGee insisted.
"Me too," Abby chimed in. "And I don't think it was human."
"Not human?" Tony echoed. "You're not buying into that crazy theory of Smith's, are you?"
Gibbs looked at him. "And what crazy theory might that be?"
DiNozzo quailed. "Ah...never mind."
"He suggested that the Admiral might have been abducted by aliens," Ziva supplied. She would, Tony thought sourly. She'd distrusted the two visitors from the start: for that matter, so had Gibbs.
Gibbs looked around the room, his voice tight with fury as he addressed all of them. "And none of you thought to tell me about this?"
"It may not be as crazy as it sounds, Gibbs," Abby argued, drawing everyone's attention back to her. "Believe it or not, I've seen stranger."
His eyes focused on her like a searchlight, ignoring the comment. "You okay?"
Abby nodded, rubbing the back of her head gingerly. "I might have a few bruises in the morning," she admitted.
Gibbs gave a curt nod and looked at Ducky. "Duck?"
"Of course," he answered, moving briskly to Abby's side. "Let me have a look at you."
While Abby submitted herself to his ministrations, Gibbs glared at the rest of the team. "What are you all doing standing around? We have an Admiral to find."
Muttering apologies, they all scattered back to work, McGee settling down at Abby's computer while Gibbs chased Ziva and DiNozzo back upstairs. When they got there, they found John Smith and Martha Jones waiting for them, visitor's passes clipped to their respective lapels and worried expressions on their faces.
"What's all the activity? What's happened?" Martha asked anxiously. "Did you find something?"
DiNozzo shook his head. "Nothing bad. There was a small accident in Abby's lab."
Smith's face blanched. "What? Is she all right?"
"She's fine," Gibbs answered curtly with a look that plainly said, 'Why the hell should you care?'
"Good...that's good," Smith said, looking distracted. "What sort of accident?"
"She said the...substance which we found in Admiral Sullivan's car blew up the mass spectrometer," Ziva answered. "Although we saw no evidence of any explosion."
"No, we just heard and felt it," Tony pointed out.
"Mass spectrometer..." Smith frowned. "Oh, of course! I should have known it would be designed to resist any such primitive attempts at analysis. Stupid, stupid! Why didn't I warn her?"
"Are you certain she's all right?" Martha asked. "Because there are some sorts of internal injuries that don't show symptoms right away. I could have a look--"
"Ducky's taking care of her," was the firm answer. It was clear from his tone of voice that further interference on their part would not be welcome. Gibbs turned to Smith, then. "I take it you have an idea what this stuff is?"
Smith nodded. "Nanotechnology. On a scale you likely can't even imagine."
Gibbs growled, "Try me."
"Agent Gibbs!" the Director's voice called from above before Smith could take him up on that. She was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down on the chaos below her like some vengeful goddess. "Security is going nuts and you're just standing around chatting? What the hell happened?"
Gibbs looked at John Smith, something very akin to satisfaction in his eyes. "Since you seem to know so much more about what's going on than we do, how about you answer that?"
"You know," Ducky mused as he patched a small cut on Abby's forehead under her bangs, where she'd hit it on the edge of the table. "This whole business rather puts me in mind of when I was stationed at UNIT headquarters."
"You worked for UNIT, Ducky?" Abby asked, intrigued.
He nodded. "Briefly, yes. The medical officer on record had gone missing, and..." He paused thoughtfully. "You know, come to think of it, I do believe the missing man's name was Lieutenant Sullivan. What a remarkable coincidence: I do wonder if it could be the same man?"
Abby smiled. "You were saying, Ducky?"
"What?" He looked distracted for a moment before quickly catching onto his train of thought again. "Ah, yes. As I was saying, the general consensus seemed to be that the agency's scientific advisor, one Doctor John Smith, had run off with him somewhere, along with a reporter whose function at UNIT I never did quite grasp. Apparently this Smith was a bit of a freelancer, and more than a little eccentric. However, being quite remarkably brilliant, he was generally allowed free rein and said eccentricities were...tolerated. I never met the man myself."
"He must've been pretty young," McGee chipped in from the other side of the room, obviously thinking of the UNIT agent he'd been introduced to. "Either that or it was a different Doctor John Smith."
"The latter is more likely: it is a common enough name, after all," was the cheerful reply. "The Smith I knew of was some years older than myself. Not to mention a good deal taller."
"How long ago did you work for UNIT?" Abby asked.
Ducky paused, his hands hovering in mid-air. "Oh, a good twenty to thirty years ago, at least."
"Considering this guy looks about Tony's age, yeah, I guess it'd have to be someone else," McGee conceded.
His bandaging done, Ducky dropped his hands back to his sides and Abby looked at him. "All set?"
"As you said, you may very well have a few bruises come morning," he admitted. "Otherwise, though, you are in perfect health, my dear."
Beaming at him, she hopped down from the table she'd been lying on and joined McGee over at the computers.
"If I may ask," Ducky chimed in again. "What precisely is it that you two are engaged in?"
Abby grinned. "Let's just call it...a little side project for Gibbs."
He peered closer. "Oh my. I wasn't aware you had found any suspicious fingerprints."
"We didn't--at the crime scene," she explained, her hands flying over the keyboard. "These belong to the latest John Smith to claim UNIT as his employer."
"Gibbs doesn't trust him," McGee elaborated unnecessarily.
"Yes, I can quite see that," Ducky stuffed both hands in his pockets, showing no inclination to leave. "Dear me. Is the Director aware of this...side project?"
"Officially? No. Unofficially? Maybe."
McGee's computer beeped at him. "I've got a hit," he exclaimed.
A second later, Abby's made the same noise. "So do I."
But the beeping didn't stop. Nine more files popped up on each computer, leaving the three staring at each other in bewilderment. "I thought you said you had enough of a print for a definite match," McGee demanded.
"I did!" Abby insisted, looking more than a little distressed. "Besides, McGee, if it were that bad, we wouldn't have gotten a hit at all. Not--"
"Ten," he supplied unhelpfully.
"Are there photographs to go with any of these files?" Ducky asked, intrigued.
"Yeah, of course." Abby ran her fingers over the keys again and a black and white photograph popped up, of a long-haired old man with a frown on his face.
"Okay, that's not...John Smith." McGee stated the obvious. "Or at least, it's definitely not the John Smith I met."
She hit a few more and a second photograph popped up, this one of a shorter, black-haired man in plaid pants and carrying a recorder. Another keystroke summoned up a third image, of a tall, silver-haired gentleman dressed in a frilly seventies-style tuxedo. When the fourth popped up--a tall, curly-haired eccentric of a man with enormous teeth, even bigger hair, and an even bigger scarf--Ducky exclaimed, "That is, however, the John Smith I am acquainted with."
"I thought you said you never met him," McGee objected.
"Oh, I didn't," Ducky confirmed. "I did, however, see the man on one occasion and that is most certainly him. He was rather memorable."
"But how is that possible?" McGee argued while Abby kept on bringing up photographs, one after the other. "How could the John Smith upstairs, who looks nothing like this, have the same fingerprints?"
"I haven't the faintest idea." Ducky looked equally bewildered. "Unless the John Smith you met this afternoon somehow falsified his own records."
"He did a really bad job of it if he left another man's picture on the file. Abby?"
The two men both glanced in Abby's direction, only to find her staring at the latest two pictures to come up on her screen. One was the John Smith that she and McGee had met earlier, but the other was a man who looked like he'd walked out of a period movie. He had curls to rival Ducky's John Smith but was wearing an outfit straight out of the Romantic period.
Even stranger, though, was look of absolute shock and recognition on Abby's face as she stared at him. "John Smith..." she said in a voice so faint that the two men standing on either side of her could barely hear it. "Doctor John Smith!" She leaped up from her seat so suddenly that she nearly clipped both Ducky and McGee with her elbows. "Oh my God, I am such an idiot!"
Ducky looked bewildered. "Beg pardon?"
Abby grabbed him by both shoulders. "Red tennis shoes, Ducky. Red tennis shoes!"
Then, with that cryptic explanation that was no explanation at all, she bolted from the lab.
To Gibbs' surprise, Jenny ushered them all not into her office, as he'd expected, but into MTAC. No sooner were they through the door than a man rose to greet them. He wasn't a physically intimidating figure, being shorter than pretty much all of them except Ziva and Martha, but both his uniform and his bearing indicated that this was not someone to trifle with.
"Agent Gibbs," Jenny said. "I'd like you to meet Admiral Daniel Stockton. Admiral Stockton has been briefing me on Admiral Sullivan's mission here in the US."
"Sir," Gibbs greeted him respectfully. As a civilian, he didn't have to salute, but that didn't mean the impulse ever completely went away.
Admiral Stockton accepted the offered hand. "That was quite a jolt we felt a few minutes ago. I hope no one was hurt?"
Gibbs' tone remained neutral. "Not seriously, no."
"Good." The Admiral nodded. "Since we haven't been evacuated, it also seems safe to assume there's no terrorist activity or structural damage to worry about?"
"Depends on who you ask and when," DiNozzo muttered under his breath to Ziva, who allowed herself a small smile.
Gibbs shot them a look before answering. "Doesn't seem to be any permanent damage, Sir."
"So what exactly happened down there, Agent Gibbs?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Jenny added, pinning him to the wall with her glare, or at least trying to. He ignored it.
"Funny you should ask," Smith interjected, stepping forward and assuming center stage. "Considering it seems to me, Admiral Stockton, that if you know what Harry was up to, then it's likely you already know the answer to what happened. Or at least have an idea."
Stockton's eyes swung to him, but Gibbs kept his firmly on the Director. Her expression remained grave even as she avoided his gaze.
"Electric blue? Looks a bit like a jelly, but for the part where you could likely run the entire planet with a sample small enough to fill a thimble?" Smith prodded a little further.
Much to Gibbs' shock, Admiral Stockton just nodded. "I should have known. It did much the same thing to our own equipment after we finally managed to get a sample from the object."
"And what object might that be?" Smith asked.
"This." With absolutely no dramatic flair, the Admiral pivoted to the giant MTAC screen and hit a button. Immediately, the screen was filled with a high-resolution photograph of something that looked like...well, to be blunt, like a special effect out of a movie.
It was a blob. More than that, though, it was a roughly six foot by three foot by three foot blob of the same electric blue gelatinous material that had been found in Admiral Sullivan's car, the surface as smooth as if it had just come out of a Jell-O mold. That wasn't the strangest thing, though: the strangest part was what appeared to be inside it.
"Is that...is that a person?" DiNozzo exclaimed in shock.
"It certainly appears to be," was Admiral Stockton's dry answer. "A very specific and rather surprising person, all things considered."
Gibbs was beginning to feel like he'd fallen into some sort of surreal dream, but nevertheless managed to keep his voice even as he asked, "And who might that be?"
"Well, taking into account this is based solely on a visual identification, since we haven't been able to crack open the object to take finger prints...it appears to be Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor."
Before Gibbs or anyone else could ask who the hell Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor was, a familiar voice answered that question from the doorway:
"Leader of Flight 19, who went missing over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945."
They barely had time to register Abby's presence before she was flying across the room, throwing herself into Smith's arms as if he had been Tony or Gibbs. But the most startling thing of all was the smile that lit up his face the minute she touched him.
When she finally released him, she poked one finger repeatedly into his chest. "You! You are in big trouble, Mister! Where do you get off showing up here with a new face and a new name and not telling me? What if I hadn't figured it out? Would you have just left again without even saying hello, let alone goodbye?"
Smith opened his mouth to say something, but she just ran right over him, still scolding like a mother to a disobedient child. "No, y'know what? Don't answer that. I don't want to know. What I want to know is what are you doing here? And what happened; why the new look? And what does any of this have to do with Admiral Sullivan?"
Martha was still reeling at the concept of the Doctor not being able to get a word in edgewise when Gibbs managed to interrupt. "Abs!" he said sharply. "You know this man?"
Abby rolled her eyes and gave him her most 'duh!' expression. "Gibbs! This is the Doctor."
The Doctor grinned. "That'd be me all right." He looked at Abby with an expression that could only be described as pride. "I knew you'd put it together. You were always brilliant at that."
Abby glared at him. "I'm not talking to you right now."
The Doctor looked floored. "What?"
She turned to Martha. "You, on the other hand, I want to talk to. We can compare notes, and for what it's worth? I know some of the best tattoo places out there, if you ever want to get a nice, permanent souvenir."
Martha grinned, instantly liking the other woman. "I'd like that."
"Will someone please explain to me what the hell is going on?" Gibbs interrupted again.
"Come on, Gibbs," Abby wheedled, turning her attention back to him. "You have to have heard of Flight 19--it's one of the most famous Bermuda Triangle-related disappearances in history. Five Navy planes take off from Fort Lauderdale on a routine training mission, and disappear without a trace after a series of panicked final transmissions suggesting that their instruments had gone haywire and even the ocean 'didn't look right.'"
"That's correct," Admiral Stockton nodded. "For over sixty years, official Navy policy has been to deny that anything untoward happened to Flight 19. Even I didn't know any differently until one of my men shot down a UFO a week ago and, when we went to look for debris, this is what we found." He nodded towards the photograph on the screen. "Admiral Sullivan was brought over to see what could be done to extract and revive Lieutenant Taylor safely so that he could be interrogated."
"Didn't they find the missing planes, though?" McGee asked. He'd arrived a heartbeat after Abby. "I could've sworn I saw a special about it on the Discovery Channel or something."
"The planes, maybe," Abby answered with a shrewd look in Admiral Stockton's direction. "That doesn't mean something unearthly couldn't have happened to the pilots."
"Meaning...?" Gibbs prodded.
"Meaning," Smith--the Doctor, as Abby had addressed him--answered as if the question had been directed to him, "that I need to have a word with your witnesses."
Gibbs shook his head. Okay, enough of this insanity: he was putting his foot down here and now. "You're not talking to anyone until I see some sort of proof that you are who you say you are."
"Oh, he's not," was Abby's breezy reply.
The Doctor looked at her, eyes wide and wounded. "Abby!"
She smirked at him then turned her attention back to Gibbs. "He's better. He's the Doctor, Gibbs. If there's anyone in the universe who could find Admiral Sullivan, de-gunk Lieutenant Taylor and solve the mystery of who took them both, it's him. Trust me."
The worst part of it was the waiting. Stephanie had been released on her own recognizance because, whether NCIS trusted her story or not, they couldn't disprove it: but that didn't mean they had to keep her up to date on the progress of the investigation. She had no idea if they were any closer to finding Admiral Sullivan than they had been when Jacobs had first pulled the car up to the gate at Norfolk, but the fact that she'd been summoned back to NCIS headquarters for another round of interviews did not give her a whole lot of hope.
Stephanie fidgeted in her chair in the interrogation room. She didn't know what she was going to tell them; she hadn't remembered anything new. When the door opened, she looked up, half expecting to see Agent DiNozzo again.
She didn't expect a tall, skinny man in a blue suit, plum tie and a long tan coat. The man offered her a toothy but kind smile. "Lieutenant Sawyer?"
Stephanie's heart plummeted; he pronounced "lieutenant" the same way Admiral Sullivan had. Oh God, they knew. "You're with UNIT, aren't you?"
"Well..." the man hedged, throwing a wry glance in the direction of the one-way mirror. "Yes and no. I'm the Doctor and I'm hoping I'll be able to help you remember what happened."
He must be some sort of psychiatrist, Stephanie reasoned to herself. "Are you going to hypnotize me?"
"Not...exactly," the Doctor hedged. "I'd like your permission to find the memory myself. In your mind." When she stared at him blankly, he added, "Telepathically."
She felt a disbelieving laugh bubble up to the surface. "You're kidding, right?"
"Is it any stranger than what you were bringing Harry to see?" he asked shrewdly, sharp eyes boring into her as if they really could read her mind. Stephanie also couldn't help but notice the use of the Admiral's first name, as if the two of them were old friends despite a visible age difference of at least thirty years.
Telepathy...it was insane. But he was right: no more so than earth-shattering discovery that had brought Admiral Sullivan across the Atlantic in the first place. Another moment of hesitation, then she asked, "Will you see...everything?"
"No." It was a promise, she could tell by his voice. "I won't go anywhere you don't want me to go. Nothing but the memories of the night Harry disappeared, not unless it's absolutely necessary and you give me your blessing."
Stephanie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If it'll help find him...all right. I don't know how you know Admiral Sullivan, Doctor...but he was really nice to me. I liked him; I wouldn't have done anything to hurt him."
"I believe you wouldn't." The Doctor smiled. "Now. Ready?"
She nodded, and he brought both his hands up to lightly touch her right and left temples. It was the strangest sensation she'd ever felt: not the light touch of his long fingers on either side of her face, but the gentle, probing pressure of another mind against hers. Her instinct was to shove it away, but he kept talking quietly, reassuring her and asking her to let him in, and finally, she did.
In a way, it was like taking the Doctor's hand and walking back in time. As the memories began to scroll past, beginning with their arrival at the airport, she noticed that even though they were her own memories, she was standing outside of them, watching her own life play out like Ebenezer Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past. It was an eerie feeling that guaranteed she'd never read A Christmas Carol quite the same way again.
Stephanie saw the Admiral arrive, and was surprised to feel a sudden jolt of emotion from her viewing partner: first, delight and joy at the sight of an old, dear friend, then a delayed sort of shock and grief at how visibly that friend had aged. She felt for an instant the weight of years--no...centuries?--before the Doctor withdrew into himself again and they were both spectators once more.
She followed herself and the Admiral to the car, and then into the car on the long drive home, the drive which had wound up being even longer than it was supposed to be. The difference was, when they reached the point in the evening where her memory usually stopped...this time the scene kept going...
Thirty-six hours earlier...
The car shuddered violently, coming to a sudden stop and throwing them all against their seatbelts. Stephanie let out a cry of surprise before turning to look at Jacobs beside her in the front seat. "What did we just hit?"
"Nothing, I don't think," he argued, reaching for his seatbelt.
Stephanie turned to look in the back. "You all right back there?" she asked.
The admiral looked rattled, but unhurt. "I do believe so, yes. My, that was rather sudden."
"Something's wrong," Jacobs interrupted, sounding worried. "My seatbelt won't unbuckle."
Frowning, Stephanie reached down to try to unfasten her own, only to find the button equally as jammed. "Neither will mine. Could it have been the impact?"
"Impact with what?" he reiterated. "I swear, Lieutenant, we didn't hit anything. Nothing visible, anyway."
"That does not entirely rule out the invisible," Admiral Sullivan pointed out.
"But that's impossible--"
"Any more impossible than what brought us all here?" he asked, and Stephanie was forced to concede the point. What she'd seen...what she'd been taking him to see...it redefined possible in ways she'd never dreamed.
The car vibrated again, more gently this time but in more of an...upward direction? That didn't make any sense. Unless--
"Ma'am!" the Marine in the back seat with the Admiral exclaimed.
Stephanie felt her entire body go cold. "Yes, Sergeant, I see it too."
Something crystalline and blue was seeping through the body of the car as easily as if it were made of sponges, not steel and bullet-resistant glass, slowly encasing them in a shell scarily reminiscent of the one they'd found Lieutenant Taylor in.
Jacobs began to hyperventilate. "Oh God, oh God, oh God..."
The Marine pulled out his service revolver and aimed it at the side of the vehicle.
"Steady on!" the Admiral chided briskly, bringing a hand up to knock the weapon down away from them. "I speak from personal experience when I say it's unwise to fire upon something you don't know the nature of. For all you know, your bullets might very well ricochet and kill us all."
"Ma'am?" the Marine asked.
"An admiral gives you an order, Marine, you obey it!" Stephanie snapped, her own heart pounding as if it was about to break out of her rib cage and make a run for it.
The car was almost completely encased now. A heartbeat later, the substance stopped spreading and began to glow instead: a glow that started out muted but grew gradually brighter and brighter, until it flared so bright it was almost white.
When the light faded, all of them--including the three marines who had followed in a separate car--found themselves sitting not in their respective cars, but on the floor of an enormous room made of the same transparent crystalline blue substance. Through the walls, Stephanie could see millions of tiny blue pinpricks of light. Her heart almost stopped when she realized that they were stars.
"I'd advise putting the gun away now, young man," Admiral Sullivan advised in a low voice.
"Where are we?" the MP demanded.
"I've no idea, but it seems far more likely that we'll survive to find out if we don't show signs of being hostile."
"But what if they're hostile?"
The admiral sighed in a tone of calm resignation. "Then if you'll forgive me for being blunt, I shouldn't think our primitive weapons will offer much protection."
At that moment, a being appeared in front of them as if it had just melted through the wall of the...was it a ship? Stephanie wasn't sure. She wasn't sure what to make of the being, either. It was like nothing she'd ever seen before, nothing she'd ever imagined. If someone had asked her to describe it, she would have tried...but she would have failed to articulate anything beyond that it radiated a sort of silvery glow and it was beautiful. Strange, yes, but unspeakably beautiful.
When it spoke, the creature's voice, too, had a resonant quality to it that was almost like some sort of ethereal music. The words were spoken in a language so complex it was impossible not to recognize as language, but incomprehensible to her untrained ear.
To the shock of everyone, though, Admiral Sullivan answered it. "Yes, quite. Dreadfully sorry about that. You say we've got your pilot as well?"
"Admiral," Stephanie whispered urgently. "You...you can understand them?"
"Can't you?" He asked in surprise. "They appear to speak quite good English."
"That's not what I hear," she insisted.
"Isn't it?" He sounded surprised. "Though, come to think on it, it does rather make a certain amount of sense that a being from another world would hardly be fluent in an Earth tongue. I just seem to recall they always were when I traveled with...oh. Oh, how very clever. I suppose there must have been some sort of translation mechanism in the TARDIS. One that isn't limited by distance and time once one has been exposed to it--logical, I suppose, all things considered."
The Admiral looked at Stephanie. "These are quite serious charges. They allege that in addition to the gentleman in the...shall we say stasis chamber...that you showed me, your government has also apprehended the pilot of the craft that was carrying him and are presently holding said pilot hostage. I'm uncertain of the gender pronoun that should be involved. That doesn't seem to quite translate."
Stephanie frowned, poring over everything she'd read, everything she'd been given in preparation for this assignment. "I...I don't know. I wasn't told anything about an alien."
"Which, unfortunately, does not necessarily mean there is not one." Turning back to the being who had addressed them, Admiral Sullivan's tone turned very serious. "I think you'd best tell me everything..."
Stephanie came back to herself as the Doctor gently took his hands away. She blinked at him for a moment without really seeing--too caught up in the beauty and terror of the moment that had been taken away from her. She swallowed hard, surprised to find tears pooling behind her eyes.
"Good old Harry," the Doctor said with just the faintest hint of nostalgia in his voice. "Nice to know he did learn something from me after all."
"From you?" Stephanie asked, still a bit disoriented.
"Yup," the Doctor answered cheerfully. "Thank you very much, Lieutenant. You've been a great help."
He stood and was halfway to the door before Stephanie came to herself enough to stop him: "Doctor..."
The Doctor turned back to her, the obvious question in his eyes.
"Why..." She struggled to articulate what she was feeling. "Why did they take that away from me? From us? Why did we have to forget?"
He shrugged. "Once they knew Harry could communicate with them, I imagine they didn't need you anymore."
"Yes, but they could have left me the memory at least...couldn't they?"
A sad smile crossed the Doctor's face. "Not if they had every reason to fear your world's reaction. They made you forget because it was the only way they could protect themselves."
"So, what exactly are we doing here with the technology that blew up your mass spectrometer?" Martha asked, watching as Abby carefully spread a bit of the blue gel (nanotechnology, she reminded herself) onto a glass slide. Martha had been drafted as lab assistant pretty much as soon as Abby'd realized the truth about who she and the Doctor were, and she was hoping it was for more than just gossip. Considering the Doctor'd gone pale and muttered something about not coming back to find them laughing at him, she knew she wasn't the only one.
"We're testing a theory," Abby explained, sounding nearly as eager as the Doctor when he got going. "When I first scraped this stuff off the inside of the car, I could swear it responded to my voice. Now, at the time I thought I was imagining things, but you know how it is: once the Doctor gets involved, the spectrum of what's 'possible' gets a whole lot broader."
Martha grinned back at her. "Right. So what's the plan?"
"Well, I figure most of the higher-level functions this stuff is designed to handle are either autonomous or probably restricted to certain individuals. Y'know, like with voice recognition software or something." She set the slide on the microscope and peered through it, even though they knew by now it wasn't nearly powerful enough to reveal the sub-atomic dimensions of these nanites. "So what I want to find out is: if the stuff can be voice-controlled by just any stranger off the street, how far does that control go? They pretty much put half my lab back together; can they fix other things too, like injuries? If this really is what was used to teleport Admiral Sullivan, how much of it do you need to be capable of teleportation? Stuff like that."
"So you're going to have them, what? Heal that cut on your forehead?" Martha asked.
Abby shrugged. "Not sure it's a good idea to let the nanogoo that close to my brain, so I was thinking something a little more remote." She held up one blue-gloved hand and a scalpel.
"And if they can't heal it?" Martha demanded dubiously.
Abby just smirked. "That's the other reason you're here. At least...you are 'almost' that kind of doctor, right? If not, I guess I can call Ducky too. He can always use more practice on the living." Her eyes twinkled as she suggested this.
Martha laughed. "Don't worry, I promise I passed basic first aid. Just be careful; you don't want to accidentally cut anything off. These nanites might be able to fix that, but I can't."
"I'm always careful," Abby said in a tone of mock injury.
The two women looked at each other with matching smirks of pure mischief. "So. Where do we start?"
Half an hour later, they had ascertained that the nanites could indeed heal minor injuries. They'd even--uninvited--tackled the cut on Abby's forehead: coming into contact with her skin they just seemed to sense it. They'd also managed to dismantle and re-construct the microscope and the glass slide, and to teleport the glass slide from one side of the room to the other.
"So what's yours like?" Abby finally asked as they were setting up another test: using a larger sample of the nanites to try to teleport Bert.
"My what?" Martha asked, confused.
Martha frowned. "I don't understand--isn't he your Doctor too?"
"Oh, hell no," Abby answered cheerfully, spreading the nanites carefully over Bert's belly. "Mine looked different, dressed different, even acted different."
"But...how is that possible?"
Abby shrugged, her pigtails bouncing with the movement. "Not a clue. Oh, he's the same man--at least he seems to be underneath in spite of the surface differences--but it's like he...I don't know, got transplanted into a new host. Y'know, like the Trill on Star Trek or the Goa'uld on Stargate."
Martha had a sudden, unsettling flash of the Doctor as some sort of large parasite, living inside the body of the man she knew as the Doctor. As quickly as she entertained the thought, though, she dismissed it as the memory of administering bi-cardial CPR flooded her mind. "No...no, there's nothing living inside him. He's not human, that's certain, but there's only one of him."
"That's a relief," Abby teased. "Not sure the universe could handle more than one of him."
Martha smiled broadly at her. It was nice, having someone to talk about the Doctor with, someone who knew where she was coming from and wouldn't ask a whole lot of bothersome questions (Tish) or distrust the man just because (Mum). "Honestly? I'm not sure the universe can handle even the one of him. He's a bit..."
Abby grinned. "Weird?"
Martha's own grin trebled in size. "Mad."
Abby laughed, but before she could answer, Martha's mobile chirped at her. She frowned, digging in her pocket to pull it out. "I've got a text. But there's...there's no number to ring back." Pressing the necessary buttons, she held up the phone in front of her and read in a puzzled voice, "'What is the purpose of these tasks?'"
She glanced up at Abby. Abby shrugged.
Well, it couldn't hurt. Within seconds Martha had tapped out a simple question of her own: 'What tasks?'
Almost instantaneously came back the reply: 'The tasks that you and the other one have been commanding us to perform.'
Martha looked at Abby again, and as one the two girls turned back towards the goo-encrusted Bert.
"You don't think...them?" Martha started, astonished. "Is that even possible?"
Abby shook her head, but more in wonder than in disagreement. "Word of advice, just in case you haven't figured it out already: when the Doctor's involved? Never ask that question."
Hurrying upstairs to announce their discovery, Abby and Martha collided with the Doctor and Tony, who were on their way to the lab.
"We've figured out how to communicate with the nanites!" Abby blurted out as soon as they'd all picked themselves up off the floor, unable to keep the canary-eating grin off her face.
His face lit up like Christmas morning. "Brilliant! I ought to let the two of you work together more often. How'd you manage it?"
Martha held up her cell phone. "They've been texting me. Wanted to know why we were putting them through their paces."
"Brilliant!" the Doctor repeated, grinning from ear to ear. "Just brilliant! And wouldn't you know, thanks to Lieutenant Sawyer, I've got why they decided to hang on to Harry."
Abby looked curious. "How'd you manage that if she can't remember?"
"He did this freaky...mind meld thing," Tony interjected with a shrug. "Which, I don't know, didn't look all that impressive if you ask me. But Sawyer seemed to buy it."
The Doctor shot him a sour look.
Abby, on the other hand, looked intrigued. "I didn't know you could do that. Why didn't you ever use it when I was traveling with you?"
The Doctor looked a bit taken aback. "Well, I suppose I never needed to."
"Um, yeah!" Abby disagreed. "It could've come in major handy with that whole thing on Septima VII. A little telepathic interrogation and boom!" She clapped her hands together. "Everybody knows the viscount lied, and we're off the hook."
"Pshaw, you didn't need me poking around in other people's brains to work that one out!" the Doctor scoffed mildly in return. "Besides which, Septimans have roughly the psi rating of a rock. And not just any rock, but an extraordinarily dense one. Even if I'd been able to get anything from the viscount, which is hardly certain, it's not likely it would have stood up in a court of law, now, would it?"
Tony frowned, looking from one to the other. "What am I missing here?"
"Quite a number of things, I imagine," the Doctor retorted. "Starting with the flora and fauna of Perelandra and ending with just about anything past the end of your nose."
Abby slapped him upside the head.
"Ow!" the Doctor exclaimed more in shock than in pain, pivoting to pin an injured look on his former companion. "What was that for?"
She waved a finger at him. "Be nice!"
Martha laughed. "Now why hadn't I ever thought of doing that?"
"It's a long story, which I promise I'll tell you someday," Abby told DiNozzo. "For now, let's just say it involved a murder and a lot of very weird forensic evidence, including a ten-foot chicken."
"It wasn't a chicken, it was an--ow!" the Doctor got cut off mid protest by Abby stomping on his foot.
"It won't help us find Admiral Sullivan, anyway," she concluded.
"That's the easy part," the Doctor boasted, waving Martha's phone at them. "All we've got to do is ask. Now if we can just find out where your lot--" This was directed to Abby and DiNozzo. "--are keeping their guests, then we beam ourselves and our pilot on up, make the exchange and everything will be right as rain."
"Oh no, not so fast," Abby held up a staying hand. "If we're going to go after the Admiral, wouldn't it be better to take the TARDIS?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I don't see why. If this is the race I think it is, they're harmless enough. We ask nicely, they ought to put us right back where they found us."
Abby shook her head. "That's not what I mean. It's just, if I know Gibbs? He's going to insist on coming along. And if you start negotiating with these guys and he can't understand a word of what's being said..."
"Oh!" The Doctor looked suddenly perturbed. "Yes, I suppose that would be rather a problem, wouldn't it? Just as well: we've got a question for Director Shepard and Admiral Stockton anyway, so probably best to trade information. Tally-ho, then!"
Turning around, he sprinted up the stairs.
"Tally-ho?" Abby echoed in disbelief.
Martha rolled her eyes expressively. "Don't ask."
DiNozzo just followed them with a pained look on his face.
Okay, that had to be a coincidence. One of the craziest coincidences he'd ever seen, but every other possible explanation only got crazier.
Crazier than the Navy shooting down a UFO? Besides, Gibbs doesn't believe in coincidences, remember?
Sighing, McGee went back to the beginning, calling up the information all over again and starting to wish he'd never checked it in the first place. Nothing changed. Weather satellites, local news stations, all still reported the same thing: the dense fog that had covered Norfolk for over a week? Had rolled in almost to the minute that Stockton said the UFO carrying Taylor was shot down and dissipated about the time Lieutenant Sawyer and the others reported coming back to themselves.
Aliens. He'd known Abby believed in them--and now he knew why--but he'd never really considered the idea himself. It was a little too out there, plus, he'd never seen any evidence of their existence that couldn't be explained by other means.
But what was on his screen now looked like pretty solid evidence that someone--or something--had been manipulating the weather around Norfolk Naval Station.
He had to show this to Gibbs. Not a pleasant thought considering the way Gibbs had been stalking around like an angry tiger ever since they'd come out of MTAC. Right now he was leaning over something case-related with Ziva, but McGee knew one glance at this information would turn all that furious energy squarely on him.
Only the knowledge that keeping it from him would piss Gibbs off even more kept him from just deleting the entire screen and forgetting he ever saw it.
"Ah, Boss...?" Gibbs' piercing stare pivoted to him and McGee swallowed nervously. "I, ah, think you should see this..."
Gibbs crossed the small space to McGee's desk with Ziva at his heels. "What've you got?" he asked curtly.
"Umm..." Oh boy, how to answer that without sounding like he'd watched one too many episodes of The X-Files? As it turned out, he didn't have to.
"Weather reports?" Ziva asked. "McGee, you're not buying into this whole alien business, are you?"
"In my admittedly limited experience, if an Admiral is going to lie about something like this, he's going to say it's not real, not that it is. Besides, you have to admit the timing is a little...weird," he defended himself. "By itself, it wouldn't mean anything. But put it together with everything else..."
He glanced at Gibbs. The boss's eyes never left the screen, his expression unreadable.
McGee swallowed again, mentally bracing himself for the inevitable backlash from what he was about to say. "Boss...I think we're in way over our heads."
Gibbs snorted. "Took you this long to figure that out, McGee?"
That wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. McGee opened his mouth then shut it again while he tried to think of something, anything to say. He finally came up with, "So what do we do?"
Gibbs looked at him as if the answer should be obvious, which, to be fair, to him it probably was. "Our jobs. None of this changes the fact that we've got an Admiral to find."
"And if he's on some space ship somewhere halfway to another galaxy?" Ziva asked pointedly, her own disbelief still apparent in her voice.
Gibbs straightened up, pinning them both with a hard look. "Then I guess you two will be getting a few more frequent flier miles than you bargained on."
A few minutes later, the entire team, Admiral Stockton, the Doctor and Martha were gathered once again in Jenny's office for what had to be the strangest debriefing Tony had ever experienced. Text messages from sub-atomic computers? Entire spaceships made of extraterrestrial blue Jell-O? It was like listening in on the writer's room for some over the top sci-fi TV show. Not quite as strange as watching the Doctor interrogate Lieutenant Sawyer by telepathy, but definitely up there on the list of "weirdest things that ever happened to me on an investigation."
By the time this case was over, it would probably occupy at least nine of the top ten spots on that list.
Gibbs didn't appear to care. "Give me one reason why I should believe a word of this crap." There was something odd in the way he said it, though, almost as if it were some sort of test rather than a sincere question.
Still, it got Abby's attention. "Geez, Gibbs, doesn't the fact that I vouched for him mean anything?"
Gibbs had a look on his face that said he would very much like to snap something--or someone--in two. Considering that someone would never be Abby, Tony was the next most likely candidate: never a comforting thought. Then again...right now that look was directed at Smith...the Doctor...whatever he was calling himself at the moment. Tony might be spared after all, a thought which cheered him up almost as much as Abby head-smacking the Doctor had.
"I trust your judgment, Abs," Gibbs stated. "But--"
"But," Director Shepard interrupted. "The entire story is, nevertheless, a bit incredible. Especially since we have only your word to go by. Evidence allegedly obtained by telepathy isn't exactly admissible in court."
"All right, then," the Doctor bounced to his feet. "What say you and I and Admiral Stockton take a little trip to visit our friend the pilot, and I can prove it to you?"
Stockton, standing behind Jenny, crossed his arms and assumed a defensive posture. "Even if we did have such a creature in our custody, Doctor, that information would be classified. An agent of a hostile alien species--"
"Oh, don't give me any of that!" the Doctor interrupted. "You've no idea if the species is hostile."
"They abducted an Admiral of your country's Navy," Stockton answered stubbornly. "That seems like a hostile action to me."
"Only because you were holding one of their own and they were looking for someone to negotiate his release," was the reply. "What about on your end? Have you made any attempt to communicate with the pilot at all? For that matter, did you even stop to discover if the craft had any sort of weaponry before you shot it down?"
"As a matter of fact, an attempt at communication was made. It was ignored," the Admiral answered calmly, secure in his convictions. "The craft was on a direct course to Norfolk and was ordered to break off. They ignored the command, so a decision was made to act preemptively."
"They didn't ignore it; they didn't understand it," the Doctor fired back.
"They understood enough to abduct Lieutenant Taylor and his squadron over forty years ago."
"And for all you know, they were probably bringing the Lieutenant back, and Norfolk was just on their way to Pensacola." The Doctor was fuming now.
Stockton squared his shoulders. "It was a risk we weren't willing to take."
"You...you...human!" the Doctor spat out. "How can a race with so much potential be so bloody thick? It's a miracle you ever survived to see the end of the planet. And you Americans, well! You're the worst of the lot!" He waved a finger at Stockton. "But you listen to me: you really don't want to get in my way. You lot dragged Harry into this, and I am going to do whatever necessary to bring him home safely."
Leaning over towards McGee, Tony whispered, "Damn, I should've brought popcorn."
Ziva, who was sitting on McGee's other side, stifled a snort of laughter, but said nothing. Abby shot them a defensive glare, but Tony just shrugged and smiled innocently in return.
"I'd listen to him if I were you," came a new voice from behind them. Tony sat up a little straighter, exchanging surprised looks with McGee and Ziva before turning to see Ducky standing in the doorway.
He strode calmly into the room, both hands shoved into his pockets. He studied the Doctor for a moment before addressing Stockton and Director Shepard. "If this man really is the Doctor, then he has the ear of not only the highest levels of command at UNIT and their parent, the United Nations, but also Torchwood, NATO, the European Union and NORAD, to name but a few. If you doubt me, I'm sure Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart would be more than happy to confirm what I've just told you. And more than that, he would also confirm that is it damned near impossible to prevent the Doctor from doing anything he wishes to do, so one might as well just let him get on with it."
The Doctor eyed him. "Have we met, then?"
Ducky smiled. "Not as such, no. I was, briefly, Harry Sullivan's replacement at UNIT for the year you'd run off with him in the TARDIS."
Martha's mouth dropped open and Tony heard her mutter under her breath, "Oh, now that's just bloody weird!"
Stockton--rather stupidly, Tony thought--didn't budge. "As I said, even if we had such a being in custody, no one in this room would be authorized for contact with it."
"So, let me get this straight," Gibbs stated, looking Stockton right in the eye. "Your precious little secret is pretty much out, and yet it's more important to you to keep denying that than it is to bring Admiral Sullivan home safely?" He looked at the Doctor. "One of those connections of yours wouldn't happen to be to the White House, would it?"
"The White House, no," the Doctor answered ruefully. "Buckingham Palace, yes. Also Downing Street." He frowned before amending, "Possibly. UNIT has, anyway."
Stockton glared at Gibbs. "I thought you didn't believe in this 'crap'."
Gibbs didn't flinch. "I believe in doing my job, Sir, whatever it takes. And right now, the way I see it, that's not something you're letting me do. Which is kinda surprising: considering how much of an earful I got when the case started about avoiding an international incident." Then he waited a beat before adding, "You gonna make that call, or is he?"
The only light that filtered into these underground cells was the harsh neon of the overhead lamps. Reflected off the hospital-sea-foam-green walls, they gave everything a sickly blue tint, even the Doctor's already sickly blue suit. Not that Martha'd ever tell him so.
Stockton marched dourly at the head of the little group through the maze of hallways, stopping at a door deep inside the building where he had to swipe an electronic key card and show his ID to a guard on the other side to get them in. The guard also inspected the visitor's passes hanging from various articles of clothing before stepping aside to let them through.
Even with the Doctor's stubbornness, Ducky's warnings and Gibbs' threats, the Admiral hadn't given in easily. He'd finally agreed to allow five of the group to see the captured alien, but no more. Of course, choosing four of the five had been easy: the Doctor, Gibbs, Martha and Abby were going because not one of them would hear of anything else. Gibbs wanted at least one of his field agents on the makeshift team, but Stockton put his foot down on Ziva and McGee was a little too eager, so DiNozzo got the spot by default.
Stockton and the security guard finally came to a stop outside a cell about ten doors down on the left side of this last corridor. "Lieutenant Taylor is being held in an infirmary facility in another wing, but for this, without knowing what we were dealing with we weren't going to take any risks." Surprisingly, he didn't sound defensive, just very matter-of-fact. Whatever anyone else may have thought about the situation, Admiral Stockton's sleep sure didn't seem disturbed by it.
He nodded to the guard, who unbolted the heavy door and then swung it slowly open. The sight that met their eyes on the other side made everyone except the Doctor and Gibbs gasp. Gibbs just raised his eyebrows.
"That's...that's an alien," DiNozzo stated unnecessarily, looking more than a little shell-shocked.
"Just as I thought," the Doctor said darkly. "It's a hipocra."
The hipocra was lying on the floor, its silvery skin glowing weakly. At the sound of a voice it could understand, it lifted its head--or at least Martha thought it was its head--and made a soft, miserable noise.
"Oh my God, it's sick!" she exclaimed, stepping into the cell.
The Doctor turned furious eyes to Stockton. "Sick? It's starving! Is this how you treat all your prisoners?"
"I'd like to know how we were supposed to feed it," Stockton answered. "For all we know, it's photosynthetic, like some sort of plant."
"In which case shutting it away from the sun would be doubly cruel. Regardless, you might try starting with a little water," the Doctor answered hotly.
"We did," was the bland answer. "It didn't touch it."
"Well, yes, supposing you were trapped on an alien planet, surrounded by creatures who'd shot you down, unprovoked, and then locked you up?" the Doctor pointed out. "You might not trust the water at first either."
By now, Martha was kneeling beside the hipocra, her hand pressed against what might have passed for a forehead. It was difficult to tell for sure. "I can't...Doctor, do you know what's normal body temperature for a hipocra? I think it's got a fever, but I can't be sure..."
The Doctor moved to her side, still fuming under his breath: "'First do no harm.' This entire species built their culture around those words, and yet what's the first thing you humans do upon contact? Harm."
He laid his own cooler hand where hers had been a moment before and gave a curt nod. "You're right, definitely feverish." Then he looked at her with a small, proud smile. "You, Martha Jones, might just get the chance to heal the universe yet."
Martha returned the smile, basking in the praise if only for a moment. "We've got to cool it down," she decided. "It won't do what really needs done, but it ought to help..."
"Right," the Doctor agreed. He stood up again. "I'm taking this hipocra with me. And I'm going to give you something in exchange: a warning. If this being really had been hostile, as you supposed? Right now you'd be dealing with a great deal worse than one misplaced admiral. This violates every code of interspecies conduct, not just the Shadow Proclamation, and there are species out there who won't give two figs that Earth hasn't signed any of them. For some, this would be considered an act of war."
Stockton stepped forward. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I can't let you do that. This creature is in the custody of the United States Navy--"
"Which really can't afford another Guantanamo Bay on its hands right now," Abby interrupted. "Especially not one that will piss off the rest of the universe, not just the rest of the world."
"She's got a point, Admiral," Gibbs drawled in a tone of voice that said he knew he had Stockton cornered. His eyes were blue fire. "What are you going to do to stop us, lock us up too? I don't think Director Shepard would take too kindly to that. Or UNIT."
"Not to mention how on Earth would Officer David explain to her superiors at Mossad why the NCIS team she was liason to has suddenly ceased to exist," DiNozzo added, wincing dramatically. "They might start asking uncomfortable questions, like why they weren't told, or why their agent was specifically excluded from this little hunting party."
By now, the four of them had moved to create a living wall between Stockton and the cell. Martha stayed beside the hipocra but kept an eye on the proceedings in the doorway.
"We're going," the Doctor stated in a tone that brooked no objections. "I suggest you get out of our way."
"Doctor, I don't think it can move," Martha interjected ruefully. "At the least I doubt it can walk."
Gibbs looked at Tony. "DiNozzo? Gurney."
He nodded. "On it, Boss."
The guard stepped in front of him. "Sir, I can't let you do that."
"Actually, you don't need to. I have a better idea." Abby pulled from her pocket a specimen jar containing the nanite sample she'd taken from the inside of the LeSabre. "Thought this might come in handy. Can I borrow your cell phone?"
Blinking puzzled eyes, DiNozzo pulled his phone out of his pocket and passed it over. "What do you need it for?"
Abby grinned, glancing back at Martha. "I need to send a very important text message."
The next time Abby asked to borrow his phone, Tony decided, he was saying no. Better than that, he was turning tail and running away.
As the blue faded from his vision to reveal completely new surroundings, he doubled over, retching. When his stomach finally decided it didn't want to give up its contents quite yet after all, he demanded, "What...the hell...was that?"
"Matter transport," the Doctor answered briskly. With no further explanation, he strode over to the locked door of the warehouse they'd been dumped outside and pulled something out of his pocket that looked like a penlight on overdrive. He pointed it at the door, and much to Tony's shock the lock unfastened itself like something out of a movie. It was a testament to the depth of his astonishment, though, that he couldn't think of a single specific movie to use as an example.
He settled for a bewildered, "How did you...?"
"No time. We've got to get this one--" he nodded at the alien (hell, Tony was still getting used to that idea) that Gibbs was carrying. "--back to its people before it's too late to save it."
"So you've got, what, some sort of space ship parked in here?" Tony asked incredulously.
The Doctor gave him a cold look. "Something like that, yeah." He then disappeared inside, Martha and Gibbs following with the creature while Tony just gaped at their retreating backs.
"What exactly did I do to piss him off?"
Abby gave him a sympathetic smile. "It's not you," she reassured him. "The Doctor just tends to get...protective of his traveling companions." When he just stared blankly at her, she offered a grin and a clarification. "You hit on Martha."
His mouth formed a silent 'Oh' of realization as the two of them finally followed the others into the warehouse.
Of course, the situation took on a whole new level of absurdity when he noticed that the Doctor was standing at the door of what looked like a big blue phone booth with the words "police box" over the door, turning a key in the lock. "So what's with the phone booth and where's the space ship?"
Abby chuckled. "That's it. That's our transportation."
"What? No..." DiNozzo looked at her skeptically. "Come on, Abby. What is this, Bill and Ted's Alien Adventure?"
She snorted. "I'll have you know the Doctor has had the TARDIS since way before Keanu Reeves was even born. Although..." she added as the Doctor got the door open and disappeared inside, "I do wonder sometimes about the guy who wrote those movies. I mean, he had to get the idea from somewhere."
She stepped inside the phone booth, but Tony stopped dead on the threshold. "Whoah. It's...that's..."
"Go on, say it: 'It's bigger on the inside,'" the Doctor said impatiently. "But do be quick about it; time's a'wasting."
Tony ignored him. "Gibbs, are you seeing this?"
Gibbs looked around him, appearing remarkably unimpressed. "DiNozzo, we were transported here by blue Jell-O and I'm carrying something I didn't believe existed yesterday. Did you miss the part where we left reality behind a long time ago?"
Abby reached out, grabbed Tony's hand and pulled him all the way inside, shutting the door behind him. "Besides, stand there staring like that and you're liable to get left behind."
"Where should I put this one?" Gibbs asked.
"Take it to the infirmary," the Doctor directed, gesturing vaguely at a door on the other side of the cavernous room. "Straight through that door, third corridor on the right, turn left, go about ten metres, turn right, another left at the second turn you come to and it should be the eighth door on the left. Provided it hasn't moved again."
Good God--there was more to this place?
"I feel so awful calling something so beautiful an it," Martha fretted, looking at the alien.
The thing spoke again: this time, much to Tony's shock, in perfect English. "It's all right. None of your gender pronouns seem to translate so I can only assume they don't apply. Under such a circumstance, a gender neutral pronoun would seem to be the most...honest choice."
"How...?" Tony whispered.
"It's the TARDIS. It gets inside your head, acts kind of like a universal translator," Abby explained, also in a whisper.
Martha was still speaking to the hipocra. "Still, you must have a name."
The alien let loose with a string of syllables as unintelligible and unpronounceable as Darryl Hannah's mermaid name in Splash. Martha's face fell. "Oh...I'm sorry, but I don't think I can say that. Would you mind terribly if we called you something else?"
The hipocra tilted its...was that its head? "What else?"
"Madison," Tony blurted out before anyone else could come up with a suggestion.
Martha looked at him with amusement in her eyes, clearly getting the joke. "Madison. I think I like that." She turned back to the alien with a question in her eyes.
It nodded--or some approximation of it--weakly. "It is acceptable."
All things considered, the hipocrae were remarkably gracious hosts. With help from the nanotechnology that formed the basis of all their more, er, visible technology, they had quickly adapted to Harry's nourishment and toilet needs, along with sleep cycles, and provided quite comfortably for them.
Nor need he fear boredom, as his days were occupied with learning about his remarkable new friends and tending to the health of the other members of Flight 19 who still remained aboard the vessel: both their physical health and, well, to a degree mental as well. It could hardly come as anything less than a shock to discover one had been missing for over sixty years.
The one thing he had not yet managed to do, however, was the one thing they had really asked of him: find a way to peaceably resolve the imprisonment of their comrade. Perhaps if he'd some idea where the captured hipocra was being held, he might be able to orchestrate some variety of jail break and advise his new friends to simply erase the entire incident from memory as they'd done with his escort. However, considering he had been brought to the country under false pretenses--he suspected he would have been asked to examine the alien only once the Americans had deemed him trustworthy--and even Lieutenant Sawyer had not known, he felt disappointingly helpless to provide any true assistance.
So it was with no little relief--and some small amusement as well--that he greeted the familiar wheezing sound that suddenly echoed through the cobalt crystalline corridors of the hipocra vessel. That relief faded somewhat when the TARDIS materialized and not one but three strangers stepped out, with the Doctor nowhere to be seen.
Then he remembered what Sarah had told him once: that when she'd first met the Doctor, he'd had an entirely different aspect, which was why the one he was familiar with had been placed in his care in the first place. The only question that remained was...which of the two men (or the woman, though that seemed less likely) was the Doctor?
The silver-haired one had a distinct air of authority about him, which made him the most likely candidate. But no, Harry reminded himself from past experience with the Doctor, that very likely was what disqualified him. The other...
Harry smiled. The second man was wearing a blue suit with a wine coloured tie and a brown coat that didn't match in the least. And when he glanced down at the newcomer's feet...surely only the Doctor would wear trainers with business attire.
He stepped forward, the nanites parting to let him through, and said pleasantly, "Hello, Doctor. I must say, old chap, I'm dashed pleased to see you."
"Harry!" the man he'd correctly identified as the Doctor exclaimed, his face splitting into an ear-to-ear smile. He bounded across the chamber, pulling the startled Harry into a bear hug before pulling back and grinning at him yet again. "Can't take you anywhere without getting into trouble--really, abducted by aliens? Making rather a habit of this, aren't you?"
Harry frowned at him with as much wounded dignity as he could muster. "I'll have you know, Doctor, that the last alien who abducted me was you."
"Alien?" the authoritative one echoed, giving the Doctor a wary look.
"Abducted?" This from the young woman in black pigtails and a style of dress that he believed the youngsters called "punk". She folded her arms across her chest and pinned the Doctor with a look that demanded explanation.
"It was a joke!" he defended himself. "As for everything that followed, well, you might say the Time Lords abducted all of us. Hardly something you can lay at my door." The Doctor turned back to Harry. "Besides which, this is hardly the time or the place: we've an abducted alien of our own to see safely home. Don't suppose you could call one of our hosts, could you?"
Harry more sensed than saw one of the hipocra come up behind them as soon as its presence was requested. It merged through the sometimes-permeable wall as easily as he himself had done a moment before. Glancing back, he had no trouble determining which of them had joined them: while the hipocra were so alien to the human experience as to defy description, each one was in their own way as unique and distinctive as any human being. This was the one he'd dubbed in his mind "the Captain".
"You are the Doctor?" the Captain asked.
The Doctor's mood changed at once as he turned his attention to the alien. "Yes, I am. And I want you to know, your pilot is safe. It's resting comfortably in the TARDIS infirmary."
"Infirmary?" Harry asked, suddenly worried. "Oh dear. May I examine it?"
"Not to worry, Harry," the Doctor promised him. "My companion, Martha, has got him well in hand. She's not a doctor just yet, but she's in training."
Harry felt momentarily disoriented. "Then this young lady...?"
That young lady smiled pertly. "Oh, I'm with him," she stated, hooking a thumb in the direction of the other man. "I used to hang out with the Doctor, but at least a face or two ago."
"Ah." Harry couldn't help but smile even though he was only slightly less confused. "You have my sympathies, my dear. However, I'm afraid I still don't quite understand..."
The grey-haired man stepped forward, extending a hand. "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. My team and I were assigned to find you. This is Abby."
"To find me? Oh dear," Harry stated gravely, accepting the offered hand. "That can't have been an easy task, given the circumstances."
Miss Sciuto grinned. "Lucky we got mixed up with the Doctor, then, isn't it?"
Harry chuckled under his breath. "Young lady, I am never quite sure which direction to assume my fortune has taken when my path crosses with the Doctor."
Eyes sparkling, the young woman nodded. "Well, duh! That's half the fun."
He couldn't help but laugh at that, for in spite of everything, she was quite right. It was almost a pity he'd grown far too old to be doing this sort of thing regularly any longer. Thank heaven for small favours.
The Doctor himself looked pained by their merriment. "Well, now that we're all acquainted..." He turned to the captain. "Martha and Agent Gibbs' man, DiNozzo, are waiting just inside the TARDIS with your pilot. I just felt it wise to offer up a word of warning first--it's...not well."
The Captain nodded its extraordinary head, seeming subdued and almost resigned. "May I see?"
The Doctor nodded and stepped back, opening the door and calling out, "Martha?"
A moment later, two more people emerged from the TARDIS--Harry'd never seen it so crowded, for all its infinite space. The first was a petite young woman who reminded him instantly of Lieutenant Sawyer not only in looks, but also in the proud, practical way she carried herself. Behind her was a young man about the age the Doctor currently appeared, carrying the hipocra pilot in his arms.
Harry got his first good look at the creature, and promptly felt all the colour drain from his face. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear" was probably a vast understatement. Compared with the other hipocrae he'd seen on the ship, this creature had lost near a quarter of its total body mass, and the cool silver bioluminescence that typified its comrades had, in this individual, faded almost entirely.
"I did what I could for it," Martha confessed. "But I'm afraid I don't know very much about hipocra physiology."
The Captain approached. As unfamiliar as Harry himself was with this race, he couldn't help but think the being looked very tired. "I have already sent for one of our own physicians," it answered. "Thank you for...trying."
"I'm a doctor...or, well, nearly," she protested with a weak smile. "That's what we do."
Harry found himself suddenly, irrationally very proud of this unknown girl. Perhaps she reminded him of another young woman the Doctor had taken under his wing...or even a certain young Navy Lieutenant who, for all his own medical training, had still been very naïve about the ways of the universe.
"I know," the Captain said. "We know little about your culture, but we do know of the oath your...doctors take. That is how we knew Admiral Sullivan could be trusted."
"Yes, about that..." the Doctor interrupted with a slight frown. "Something's been puzzling me nearly since this whole business began, or at the least since we used your nanotechnology to remove your pilot from the facility where he was being held. Why didn't you simply transport him out and go about your business? Why get Admiral Sullivan involved at all?"
"For the sake of the humans," the hipocra answered as if it were a matter of course. "Because we did not contact your people to let them know we were returning them, they fired upon our ship. We feared that if we were to act once more arbitrarily, the same might happen to any ships bearing the others, even if they were unmanned by our own people. Is the one human, at the least, safely home?"
The five humans, Harry included, exchanged discomfited glances.
"He's home..." the one called DiNozzo finally answered. "I don't know about safe."
"I don't understand."
"Flight 19 has been missing for sixty years," Abby explained. "If you hadn't taken them...they'd all be in their eighties or nineties by now, if not dead. Humans don't tend to live all that long. So when some guy who went missing in 1945 reappears in an alien spaceship, not looking a day older...well, even if he did have a family to go home to, he might not get the chance. He'll probably spend the rest of his life being poked and prodded by the same people who starved your pilot."
For the first time since he'd met them, the hipocra Captain seemed to grow angry. "Your people would do such things to one of their own?"
"Wait a second," Martha interrupted. "How is it possible that makes you angrier than what was done to Madison?" When nearly everyone looked puzzled, she clarified: "Your pilot. Why aren't you up in arms over that as well?"
The Doctor answered for them, his own voice subdued. "The hipocrae have been around the universe long enough to know that most species tend to fear the unknown, the alien."
"We have grown...resigned to it," the Captain agreed. "And besides...unless we were to go against our very nature to make war on other races, there is little we could do about it. But this human..."
"How did you get tangled up with 'this human' anyway?" This time the question came from Gibbs.
"We had just discovered your world. Our ship was flying over one of your oceans, collecting data, when it encountered Lieutenant Taylor and its people in their smaller ships. We did not mean to, but our technology interfered with their instruments and they became lost...finally running out of fuel and crashing. When we realized what we had done, we retrieved the humans and hurried them to our physicians. But..." Here its face twisted into something that might be the hipocra' equivalent of a smile. "...like you, Martha, with our physiology, we were unfamiliar with yours. It took us this long to understand and repair the damage. We did not realize time was against us."
"So what do we do?" Abby asked. "If they can't go home and they can't stay here..."
Harry stepped forward, absurdly grateful to finally have something to do. "I suspect UNIT might be able to lend a hand with that. I'm sure a word or two in the right ear might see the gentlemen safely relocated somewhere they can start new lives, without the pall of the past hanging over them."
"Great," Agent DiNozzo added in a voice that was not quite enthusiastic. "Somebody wanna tell me how we get in and out with Taylor without Stockton having us arrested the second we walk through the door?"
"Oh, God, I didn't even think of that," Martha exclaimed. "You three, you're likely to lose your jobs over this, aren't you? Or worse?"
"And we'd do it again in a heartbeat," Abby declared.
Agent DiNozzo didn't look so certain of that and Agent Gibbs' expression was indiscernable.
"Well, we can't have that," the Doctor decided. "Hardly seems fair to lose one's job for doing the right thing, helping out a fellow denizen of the universe. As it happens...I've an idea how we might be able to avoid it." He turned to the captain of the hipocra ship. "Just how selectively can you lot edit human memories?"
It was the noise that woke her: a strange whistling, whining, grinding sound like nothing she'd ever heard before. Stephanie sat bolt upright in her bed, staring into the darkness for a moment with her heart pounding before she finally thought to look at the digital alarm clock on the bedside table. It was just after four AM.
Clambering out of bed, she fumbled carefully in the dark for the gun she kept in the bedside drawer, not wanting to alert her intruder that she was awake by turning on the light. She crept into the other room on quiet feet, adrenaline and blood still pumping in her ears. Luckily she hadn't taken the safety off yet, though, because when she stepped into the room to find an enormous blue phone booth sitting in the middle of it, she almost dropped the gun.
She did drop it when the door opened, and out stepped the last person on Earth she'd ever expected to see in her apartment in the middle of the night. "Doctor?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to answer but whatever he'd been about to say was interrupted by the emergence of another man from the skinny blue box, one she also recognized: tall, with curly white hair, pleasant features, primly proper in an Admiral's dress blues. "You found him!" Stephanie blurted out.
The Doctor grinned cheekily at her. "Said I would, didn't I?"
Only her training prevented her from sprinting across the room and pulling the Admiral into an enthusiastic, grateful hug. Instead, she forcefully gathered her wits together and snapped to attention, giving him probably the best and most proper salute she'd ever given anyone who wasn't her grandfather. "I thought...how...?"
"That, Lieutenant," the Admiral said gravely, but with a twinkle in his eye, "is rather a long story. However, there's a role for you in it, if you like."
As if the words had been some sort of cue, several more people than should have fit into the tiny space piled out of it--Agent Gibbs, Agent DiNozzo, Miss Sciuto--who'd fingerprinted her, Jacobs and the Marines--and a young woman she'd seen talking with the Doctor as she left NCIS headquarters after her last interview. Then, through the open door, she caught a glimpse of something unbelievable: a room within the box that was probably larger than her living room. It was as if she were staring through the wardrobe door into Narnia.
Heart pounding in her chest, Stephanie looked in amazement at the force that had invaded her apartment from the impossible space. "I think I need a cup of coffee. Do any of you want one?"
There were several murmurs of agreement: Stephanie counted heads silently and made a mental note to check and see if she had more than one coffee pot.
She fled to the kitchen and started throwing open cupboards, already having an idea what she would find--or what she wouldn't, really--but it gave her something to do to occupy her spinning thoughts. It was almost unbelievable how recently Lieutenant Taylor's condition had been the most remarkable thing she'd ever seen.
"Can I give you a hand with that?" an unfamiliar voice asked.
Stephanie turned to meet the smiling brown eyes of the one person from the group in her living room that she didn't know. The young woman smiled. "We never did get a chance to meet properly--I'm Martha."
"Stephanie," she answered, returning the smile as well. "And yeah, help would be great. This might take a while--all I have is this little Mr. Coffee."
Martha chuckled. "Well, it's a bit early for a morning cuppa, but if you've a teapot, I'm sure the Doctor and Harry wouldn't mind."
"I thought that was just a stereotype," Stephanie answered.
"It is." Martha's eyes twinkled. "I've a mate back home who can't bear the taste of tea. But most of us don't mind that particular stereotype too terribly."
"In that case, cupboard above the sink, bottom shelf, right hand side."
Martha immediately zeroed in on the cupboard in question, withdrawing the teapot and then following Stephanie's guidance to locate the tea bags, milk, sugar and mugs. They worked silently side by side for a moment before Martha spoke again.
"I notice no one's really given much thought to how all this must be for you," she stated quietly with another sympathetic smile. "I mean...it's a bit much to take in all at once, isn't it?"
"It is." Stephanie was a bit surprised by how relieved she was to have someone to admit that to. "I think my world has been turned upside down more times in the past five days than ever before in my life. But..." She smiled again as something settled in her heart. "I don't really mind. The world's turned upside down, yeah, but it's also gotten bigger and more beautiful. I can't regret that."
There was a knowing look in Martha's eyes as she met Stephanie's. "Yeah. I know what you mean."
"Boss, you got a minute?" DiNozzo asked quietly.
Gibbs looked up at him, carefully keeping his expression neutral. "Problem, Tony?" He watched the gears start to turn in DiNozzo's head as the younger man processed the all-too-rare use of his first name.
His hesitation only lasted a moment, though. "Actually, yeah. Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean...covering things up like this?"
Gibbs almost smiled, but managed to hold back at least until there would be no witnesses. That was DiNozzo all right: for a womanizer, he had a surprisingly broad streak of integrity in his make-up. That, plus the brilliance at his job that Tony hid behind the playful exterior, was why Gibbs had hired him in the first place.
Still...a man didn't survive three divorces without learning all the shades of gray in the world inside and out.
Truth and justice didn't always go hand in hand. Sometimes the truth didn't set you free; sometimes it just clouded the issue. That was why he'd bent the rules almost to the breaking point more than once. Why he'd covered for Franks, and why he'd never felt the need to tell anyone how the drug lord responsible for Shannon and Kelly's deaths had really died.
"You got a better idea, DiNozzo?" he asked frankly.
DiNozzo grimaced. "Not really, no. We were kinda hoping...you would."
We? Gibbs looked over in Abby's direction, who was watching the conversation with interest. Figured. Not because DiNozzo couldn't come up with the concern on his own just fine, but it was more Abby's style to expect him to fix it.
"Sorry to disappoint," he drawled.
"I'm not disappointed," Tony assured him hastily. "I just...hate having to lie to Ziva and McGee."
"We could erase your memory too, if you want," Gibbs suggested, giving DiNozzo a hard look.
DiNozzo shook his head, as always living up to Gibbs' pretty damned high expectations when it really counted. "Tempting as that idea is, I think I'll pass." He smiled crookedly. "You and Abby and Ducky have more than enough private jokes already. No way am I going to get voluntarily left out of another one."
Gibbs did smile that time, but Lieutenant Sawyer and Martha chose that moment to emerge from the kitchen, distracting DiNozzo. By unspoken agreement, the entire party moved into the living room.
"Tomorrow morning," Admiral Sullivan began the promised explanation once they'd all settled, "when he awakes, your commanding officer will remember the events of the past few days in the following manner: a week ago, an unidentified craft was spotted and intercepted apparently on course to Norfolk. Presuming hostile intent when all attempts at communication were rebuffed, the craft was shot down."
Lieutenant Sawyer nodded.
Admiral Sullivan continued, and suddenly his story began to diverge from the facts. "The craft was unmanned, and upon crashing, the wreckage seemed to dissolve, leaving no evidence as to its origin. However, in light of this incident, the United States government has demanded greater participation in the Unified Intelligence Task Force. I was sent both to brief the highest levels of power in the US Armed Forces, etcetera, but also to select certain individuals from all branches of your military to act as UNIT liasons out of the New York office." He set down his coffee and looked at Sawyer. "So, Lieutenant. How would you like to come to New York?"
For a second the Lieutenant looked like she was going to drop her cup. "Me, Sir?"
"Why not?" he asked. "You've already proven yourself to keep a clear head in extraordinary circumstances. That's precisely the sort of individual we need at UNIT."
"So, what, the fact that an admiral of a foreign government went missing for a day on my watch is just going to be conveniently forgotten?" she asked in disbelief, glancing over at Agent Gibbs, who was nursing his own cup of coffee like it was his best friend.
"Yep," he drawled with no little irony in his voice, keeping his face as stony as ever.
"It will be believed that I spent the past few days attempting to sway one or more of Agent Gibbs' subordinates away from his side," Admiral Sullivan provided the elaboration that would not be forthcoming from Gibbs.
"Y'know, even all things considered? I still don't know how keen I am on that idea," Abby chipped in, frowning.
"Me too," Martha confessed. "I mean...I understand the whys and wherefores, but still it seems a bit..."
"Dicey?" Abby finished for her.
Martha nodded, as did both Sawyer and DiNozzo. The sentiment seemed echoed on every other face in the room, except the Doctor's.
"It certainly seems preferable to the alternative," the Doctor answered blithely, not seeming to pick up on the general mood of discomfort.
Glances were exchanged all around, Gibbs being careful to reveal nothing in his even though he knew his people already knew his answer. "Yes," Admiral Sullivan broke the uncomfortable silence. "I suppose it is."
"Will I have to forget again too?" Sawyer blurted out, as if the idea had just occurred to her.
"Not at all," the Doctor said, flashing her a broad grin. "I think you've more than proved your good will, not only to us but also to the hipocra."
"Hence the job offer," Admiral Sullivan chimed in with a smile of his own. "So, what say you, Lieutenant?"
"I don't think I could go back if I wanted to," Stephanie said. "So I guess I might as well go forward."
"That's the spirit!" The Doctor exclaimed.
"So that's it, then? Crisis over?" DiNozzo asked.
Gibbs answered before the Doctor could, his words clipped and his tone firm: "That's it."
DiNozzo nodded, his mouth twisted into a rueful frown, then summed things up with his own unique brand of honesty: "Well...that was anticlimactic."
Chapter 14: Epilogue
"Here we are, then!" the Doctor announced as the TARDIS landed, with a cheerfulness that could have been slightly false. Of course, that could just be wishful thinking on Abby's part. "NCIS Headquarters."
Tony looked so relieved that Abby wouldn't be a bit surprised if he dropped to kiss the ground as soon as the door opened. Gibbs said nothing, just moved to the door, opened it and stepped out, looking back at the other two expectantly.
They both followed: Tony eagerly, Abby a lot less so. Once she stepped outside that door, the Doctor would be out of her life again, maybe for good. While she didn't regret the decision she'd made twenty years ago, she did regret a bit that they'd been so busy finding Harry and rescuing the hipocra that they hadn't had any time to talk. She still didn't know why he was wearing a new face--hell, a whole new body--or why the TARDIS had been redecorated so much, or even just what he'd been up to since the last time they met. She hadn't learned why he seemed so much sadder, so much angrier than the man she'd known.
They were standing outside, in the middle of the parking lot, when Abby stopped and turned to the Doctor. He smiled weakly at her and she found herself fighting tears. Funny, it hadn't been this hard to leave the first time, even though at the time he'd been her best friend in the entire universe.
"So," he said fondly. "Abby Sciuto."
As if triggered by him saying her name in that way that was so reminiscent of who he used to be, Abby found herself blurting out, "Couldn't you stay for a couple of days? I mean, it's been twenty years. We've got a lot of catching up to do and we didn't get a chance to do it."
She knew the answer even before the awkward expression appeared on his face. "Well..."
Abby grinned: she couldn't help it. It was nice to know some things didn't change. He still couldn't bear to stay in one place if there wasn't something going on to capture his attention. "Yeah, that's kinda what I thought."
"You could come along, you know," he suggested instead.
Abby rolled her eyes at him. "Didn't we already have this argument?"
"I don't mean long term," he defended himself. "But perhaps just one trip for old times' sake? We could go to Vorja...it's been a while, and you never did get the chance to see if civilisation had collapsed in your absence."
Oh, damn it, he still knew just how to tempt her. Abby hesitated.
"Where's Vorja?" Tony asked. Abby almost jumped--for a moment she'd forgotten he and Gibbs were still there.
"Somewhere in the Orion sector," the Doctor answered absently, not giving the crucial information as usual.
"It's a planet. I won it in a card game," she explained. "Long story, but the Doctor tried to use it to get me to stay when I'd decided I was ready to go home." She glared at him. "Like just because they'd been owned by aliens for centuries meant they couldn't govern themselves or something."
DiNozzo's jaw made a dive for the asphalt. "You own a planet?"
"Like I said, long story."
"Well?" the Doctor asked.
Abby looked at Martha. "Can he even do 'just one trip'?"
Martha grinned and the Doctor looked suddenly sheepish. "No, he can't. Still, I think between us we ought to be able to keep him mostly in line."
"Abby," Gibbs objected. All the excellent reasons why she shouldn't go were summed up just in the way he said her name.
"It's okay, Gibbs," she reassured him. "It's a time machine, remember? You guys go on ahead." Abby glanced back at the Doctor and Martha, grinning. "I'll be right behind you."
"Are you sure, Abs?" he asked, giving her that intense, protective look that he reserved just for her.
"Trouble does seem to follow him," Tony pointed out. "If the number of people and species he knew involved with this mess is anything to go by."
"Oh, it's definitely dangerous. But so is working here, even when I stay in the lab. Remember Chip?" She looked at both of them pointedly before giving Tony a hug and Gibbs a kiss on the cheek. "I told you. It's the Doctor. Before you guys came along, there was no one in the universe I trusted more than him. I'll be fine."
She could tell neither one of them wanted to leave her alone with the Doctor--which she wasn't, Martha was there too, after all--but eventually they turned away with murmured admonitions to be careful. She'd just have to surprise them when she got back by catching up before they even made it into the building.
With that pleasant thought in mind, Abby turned back to the Doctor and Martha.
"So," the Doctor said, grinning so broadly it nearly split his face. Boy, it was still a bit weird to look into those eyes and see brown staring back at her instead of blue. "Shall we be off, then?"
"You know," Martha remarked as the three of them turned back to the TARDIS. "There's just one thing, Doctor, that I still don't quite understand."
He stuck the key in the lock (a real key now--that was weird too!) and asked,"Oh? What's that?"
"Well...the hipocra captain said they didn't discover Earth until the Forties, but you'd rather implied that the Hippocratic Oath was based on their culture. How is that possible?"
The Doctor looked sheepish. "Well...I suppose I might have mentioned something to Hippocrates...what with the similarity in name..."
Martha and Abby looked at each other and laughed.