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?”