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.”