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.”