A/N: For the Doctor, this is set after The Waters of Mars. For the seaQuest and her crew, it's between Such Great Patience and The Good Death. I have never actually seen any of the seaQuest episodes after the first season, and therefore I would like to gratefully acknowledge and thank Questfan for helping me out, answering my questions and giving me ideas, although anything contradictory to canon is of course a result of my ignorance or oversight and I apologize for it in advance. Nevertheless, I do hope that you'll forgive me and enjoy the story.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, and I make no money from this work of fiction!
Nathan Bridger, captain of the world renowned deep submergence vehicle, seaQuest, looked at the printouts in front of him and then at the chief scientist on his vessel, Dr. Kristin Westphalen. He shook his head and handed the clipboard back to her. "I don't know what I'm looking at," he admitted.
"It's the chemical analysis of the stone fragment I brought back from the site," Dr. Westphalen answered, hugging the clipboard to her chest. "It appears to contain traces of material that don't match anything we've yet discovered on Earth. The fossil record indicates that it's been embedded in the rock face for roughly 250 million years. It looks like we've found a piece of a meteorite that fell to Earth at that time, but its chemical makeup isn't like anything we've seen before. It's new. It's different."
"It's out of our jurisdiction," Bridger reminded her.
He was right, and she knew it. SeaQuest was primarily a scientific research vessel, but her realm was the water and the mysteries it held within its depths. What had caught Dr. Westphalen's interest was a discovery made by archaeologists situated in Greenland, seeking the remains of a Viking settlement. Their discovery of a veritable fossil treasure trove had led to an influx of palaeontologists and geologists and the like. Within the week, the meteorite had been discovered. The news that it contained elements unlike even those found in other meteorites had spread, and it was shortly thereafter that Bridger had learned that Dr. Westphalen hadn't always wanted to pursue a career in biochemistry and did, in fact, nurse a childhood interest in astronomy, albeit not very actively.
Despite that, she'd managed to coerce him into letting her go there and look for herself. That she'd managed to find a fragment to study didn't really surprise him. That she was trying to find a reason to return did. She wasn't one to blatantly disobey orders, even if she wasn't part of the military as he was. She had a strict sense of order and regulation, and she had enough sense to know when to ignore orders that went against what was, at least to her, completely and utterly right.
But this wasn't a case of right or wrong, of life or death. It was just a case of interest. There was nothing he knew of that was stopping her from taking a shore leave and pursuing this on her own time. It wasn't just that she was saving that time to spend with her family; it was something else, and Bridger, for one, had no idea what that was. He doubted that he was imagining it, but he couldn't rule out the possibility that she herself was imagining some unknown reason, or a strange sense of duty to seaQuest herself, that was keeping her from going.
Whatever it was, it kept Dr. Westphalen fighting. "The things we could learn—"
"Can be learned by others," Bridger interrupted gently. He caught her expression and added, "Why is this so important to you, Kristin?"
She sighed and looked away for a moment. When she faced him again, she admitted, "Since we uncovered that alien ship, I had proof that there were others out there. I just couldn't share it, with any except those who shared my experience, and then it all dissipated in front of my eyes. And that's hard. I want to learn and discover and share what I find out so that we can keep searching for more answers, but even if it wasn't all top secret and classified and all that, I wouldn't have anything to offer the naysayers and the doubters. This meteorite won't give me that, but it is tangible. If we can figure out the structure of some of the compounds it contains, and replicate them, we'll be continuing our search. It's…." She trailed off and didn't continue until he prompted her. "I've encountered more things than I can explain since I've been on board this ship. I just…I just want to try to explain them."
She knew her options, but Bridger reminded her of them anyway. "It's your choice," he finished, "but that's not UEO territory, and I can't help you."
"I know," she said, sounding resigned, "but sometimes, I just wish…." She shook her head. "No matter. There are plenty of other things to study and, as you said, there are others to learn about this particular matter. I'll find out in time."
"You don't have any studies that you need to conduct that would be relevant?"
Dr. Westphalen laughed. "At the moment, no. It is more scientifically pressing for me to re-enact that experiment I was conducting a few months ago, prior to Krieg eating my lobsters after I put them in the refrigerator to slow their metabolism."
"A few months?" Bridger repeated. "You've left it that long?"
"Longer, I daresay," Dr. Westphalen allowed, "but I haven't managed to procure any more lobsters for the purpose."
Dr. Westphalen gave a small shake of her head. "No. After hearing how delicious they tasted, I haven't been able to trust myself not to cook one myself."
Bridger smiled. "If you ever give in to temptation, be sure to invite me down. But in the meantime, I think I heard Dr. Levin mention something about bacteria that live around black smokers?"
"Thermophilic archaea around hydrothermal vents," Dr. Westphalen corrected, though she could have been much more precise and more correct than that herself.
Bridger's smile became a wry grin. "We'll plot a course for Loki's Castle," he told her, citing the nearest location of a vent field that he could recall.
Dr. Westphalen returned his smile. "Thank you," she said.
He went to give the command to head for seventy-three degrees north along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and Dr. Westphalen returned to her science lab, and in the weeks that followed, neither mentioned the stone fragment that was secreted away in a corner cabinet in Dr. Westphalen's quarters.
After everything that had happened, the Doctor had decided that he needed to be reminded of something that he should never have forgotten. Humility was among those old lessons, of course—that was one he had never quite learned, if he was honest. But he'd thought that if he, perhaps, dropped in on the celebrations at the end of Earth's First World War, he would be reminded of what relief and joy and everything else felt like as it rose out of the wake of destruction and despair.
Which was how he ended up just over a century off the mark, sometime in the spring of 2019.
But all thoughts of post-wartime celebrations went out of his head when the TARDIS caught the tail end of a curious transmission. It was a microwave signal, but that wasn't unusual. It was also pinpointed, specifically, towards what the humans had named the M-100 galaxy, a messier object in the constellation they'd named Coma Berenices. But that wasn't terribly unusual, either, even if it wasn't particularly expected. What was strange was that, judging from what he understood in the feed, the entire message was translated into relay frequencies which, the TARDIS confirmed, were suspiciously similar to the frequencies dolphins used for communication.
As the signal died away, scattering, he tried to pinpoint the source. "C'mon, c'mon," he muttered, dancing around the console, flicking switches and twisting dials and hitting buttons and fiddling with different knobs. But however quick he was, he wasn't quick enough, and he lost the trace as he tried to triangulate the position.
Frowning, he did the best he could—he replayed, on a loop, the few seconds of the microwave transmission he'd heard, analyzing it, decoding it, translating it, trying to figure out who was sending it or who it was intended for.
It wasn't enough.
Stopping his furious calculating, the Doctor rocked back on his heels. "How good," he asked his ship, "are you at guessing? At the moment, I mean. How close can you get me to that signal you picked up?" He listened for a moment to his ship's answer, noting her indignation, and added, offended himself, "What do you mean, a lot better than me? I'll have you know I'm a brilliant guesser!"
The reply, gently but sternly delivered, stole the wind from his sails. "No," the Doctor agreed softly. "Not always. And I'll remember that. I won't judge so quickly, and I won't act against my own principles again, trying to do something I know I shouldn't, no matter how much it hurts to let it happen. But that's different than guessing, and you know it." He made a face at the TARDIS's reply. "Of course this is still guessing for you," he retorted. "You don't know where you're going any more than I do!"
The change in the ship's hum had reached a point that meant it would have been noticeable to his companions, if he'd had any with him. "Fine," the Doctor muttered. "I know there are things you keep from me, and I know that some of that is because you think you can't explain it to me, and I'll trust that this is one of the times you just can't relay the information easily and have to act on your own. But I do appreciate it when you tell me things."
The Doctor listened to the TARDIS's knowing response, and then he released her into the Vortex once again, clinging to the sides of the console as she tumbled along, stabilizing here or adjusting for a current there but trusting her completely. He didn't know where or even when he'd come out, but wherever it was, he believed it would help him figure out what, exactly, he'd heard. And he hoped that that would tell him why he felt, instinctively, that it was so very important that he sort it out, whatever it was.
The Doctor poked his head cautiously out of the TARDIS and looked around. Wherever he was, it was in cramped quarters. Or perhaps crammed would be the more appropriate word, since the only reason the room looked cramped, from this perspective, was because it was crammed full of storage boxes.
For a moment, the Doctor considered moving the TARDIS, but decided she'd be safer here anyhow. She hadn't been able to follow the signal back, exactly. The transmission point was from somewhere in the open ocean. Landing him there wouldn't have done any good. Where she'd taken him was, apparently, her best guess as to where he could find answers.
Unfortunately for him, she seemed to think he deserved to figure out where that was on his own.
No matter; it never did take him very long to figure that out. Figuring out what was wrong and fixing it—that was what took time.
By the time he'd found his way through the maze to the door, he'd realized that he was on a ship—a very large one—and that he was underwater, making the ship a submarine. He could tell from the sounds it made. Ships and submarines didn't make the same sounds, not if you knew how to listen, and he knew how to listen.
Nothing seemed wrong, though. Everything appeared to be in order. Shipshape, actually. But he wasn't in the best position to judge, having only seen a dimly lit storage room—part of the hold, perhaps—and listened to the ship. She ran quite smoothly, this ship. He was impressed, and he wondered where he was. He knew he was still in 2019, so there were plenty of underwater vessels into which he could have stumbled. Humans had started exploring the oceans by then; they'd created the United Earth Oceans—the UEO—organization to boot. That didn't mean that they had things under control, of course. Just that they were trying.
The Doctor grinned. For all their faults, he loved humans. They always tried, for better or for worse. Very few of them gave up. Their efforts showed, and in time, they usually paid off. Humans may not be the most advanced species out there, not by a long shot, even if he only thought about their little spot in the universe, but he liked them. He'd met more than a handful of brilliant humans—quick ones, who caught on, who followed their instincts instead of ignoring them, who—
The Doctor swallowed, the grin wiped clean off his face.
He'd met humans who had shown far better judgement than he in a situation he knew more about.
Recently, one stood out in particular.
He'd meant to help. He really had. He just…. He shouldn't have tried, not when he knew he shouldn't—couldn't—and certainly not when he knew what was at stake if he did. But he had gone ahead and done it anyway, and he'd made it even harder for Captain Adelaide Brooke to do what she had to in order to preserve what needed to become the histories he'd studied so earnestly, if rather reluctantly, all those years ago and had explored in the time since.
Thinking about what he'd tried to do—what he'd nearly done—left a sour taste in his mouth.
The door was locked, but he made short work of it with his sonic screwdriver. In a moment, he was out in the corridor, looking around for direction but promptly ignoring the signs and following, instead, his gut instinct—the same one he'd deliberately ignored all too recently, with unpleasant consequences. He had a better idea of the size of the vessel he was on out here. He coupled that observation with the sounds of her engines and—
The Doctor grinned. Oh, he had to be right this time. And this would be great—positively brilliant. He'd heard about it, but never actually dropped in to see it. The greatest vessel on Earth at this time, and here he was, exploring it at last. SeaQuest. No doubt about it. And since this was the original ship, she was captained by the wise yet formidable Nathan Bridger. Judging by his reputation, the Doctor would like him, quite well. He may have advanced through the ranks of the UEO navy relatively quickly and been known and respected well enough to be tricked back into service, but the Doctor knew the line between being a soldier and being a leader—it was a line he had tread himself many a time, whether he liked it or not. Sometimes there wasn't a difference. Sometimes they seemed to fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. It all depended on the type of leader, or soldier, someone was and, more often than not, circumstances factored into the equation.
But, providing his sources were right, the Doctor wouldn't be taking an instant dislike to Captain Bridger by any stretch of the imagination. He didn't seem to be the sort of person who would act without thinking, shooting first and asking questions later. In combat, he'd likely bluff when he could and make good on his word—or threat, rather, as the case all too often was—when he couldn't, doing everything he could to do what was right, even if that wasn't what his superiors particularly approved of. Though, that might be because they didn't always know until later.
His recollections of the history of seaQuest were, he had to admit, vague at best. But most of that was because he didn't know as much as he'd like. He hadn't taken any of his companions here in the past. He'd say that that was because the vessel was partially military, and he liked avoiding those types, particularly as there wasn't a quick place to run to if things got ugly and they were cut off from the TARDIS for whatever reason, but if he could end up in one of Earth's underwater sea bases in the relative future with a couple companions in tow, that wasn't the best excuse. But…it wasn't really an excuse he was looking for, was it? He didn't need excusing from anything; he hadn't done anything wrong.
Well, not here, anyway.
The Doctor shook his head, but couldn't quite clear it. Something was…strange, here. It was…. Well, he wasn't exactly sure what it was, or he wouldn't be spending so much time trying to figure that out. No, wait, hold on, that wasn't right; he hadn't spent much time here at all, had he? That was the point. He hadn't come here before. He found it interesting—intriguing, even. They housed some cutting edge technology for the time, and he was always interested in the processes that brought that technology out.
He felt edgy. Like he knew he'd forgotten something but couldn't remember what. That was the best way to describe it, even though it wasn't what it was. He'd been through that enough times to recognize that when it happened. And this, well—it wasn't like having an itch he couldn't scratch—quite different than simply having an itch that shouldn't be scratched—or like trying to will away a forbidden sneeze in a dusty room. The agitation was more emotional than physical, but even that didn't seem quite right.
The Doctor frowned. He hated not being able to put his finger on things. It was such a bother. Things always went much more smoothly when he could figure it all out from the start and just needed to work on a way to sort everything out once he knew what the trouble was.
And not finding the proper words—that was far less common in this regeneration than it had been in others. Well, in others, perhaps, he had taken a bit more care in choosing his words. But not much, really, when it came down to it. He had more experience now, and he was still a quick thinker, perhaps quicker than ever—excepting those times when he was trying to process everything from his years upon years of experience, trying to pinpoint one detail that would focus the picture so that everything became clear and made sense. Sometimes he wasted words, but usually that was on purpose. Sometimes it wasn't.
It felt like the proper analogy was on the tip of his tongue, but the moment he came close to it, it danced away, and he was left wondering if he had even had a proper analogy at all. He was reminded, just slightly, of the slippery feeling of trying to force the like poles of two magnets together. That resistance that was often tested yet never seemed to be broken—at least if the magnets were strong enough—was something he could feel here. Sort of.
Like someone was trying to keep him away from here.
The Doctor snorted. That entire notion was absolutely ridiculous. Well, maybe not the entire notion; he had no doubt some being or another out there would want to keep him away from something. But not this; there was no reason for it. Besides, it wasn't very easy to keep him away from anything. He tended to go precisely where he wasn't wanted.
The strange feeling receded slightly. Or perhaps he was just getting used to it. Either way, the Doctor pushed forward, not knowing what he was getting into and grinning for that very reason.
A/N: I'm aware that Dr. Westphalen is a bit out of character, given her invented interest (along with, undoubtedly, my own unintentional mistakes), but I'll just ask that you bear with me until that's sorted, all right?