Catherine found herself standing against the side of a very long corridor. Its walls were perpendicular to the floor, although its ceiling was curved in an arch which appeared to merge seamlessly with the walls. The feel to the corridor was anonymous which wasn’t improved by the blankness and the beige colour of both walls and ceiling. Even the purple tiles on the floor didn’t help relieve it at all.
Being naturally curious, Catherine reached out to touch the texture of the nearest wall to her. It was smooth like the perfectly tooled inside walls of the minimal friction anti-gravity chambers that she remembered from her teenage years. She smiled fondly at the memory.
It had been quite the latest trend during that time for young men in the space cadet corps to take their girlfriends there on dates from time to time. Space cadets had unlimited access to the chambers so they could familiarise themselves with the lack of gravity and practise their training. But it didn’t take these trainees long to realise there were other advantages to this free access. That is, until the owners restricted its access to [u]supervised[/u] space trainees only. Not surprisingly, the trend ended abruptly after that!
Catherine shook herself free from her reminiscences and returned to the present and the task at hand.
The last thing Catherine remembered before arriving in the corridor was sounding the wall on the other side of the room from the TARDIS. She had had no luck in finding anything even remotely approaching a door at that stage. But she realised now that her last attempt must have found a hidden transmat point. It didn’t matter to her whether it had been truly hidden or just disguised in some form or whether she had tripped some unseen control for it. At the moment that wasn’t really important to her.
What [u]was[/u] important was where she was and whether she was still aboard the ship or not. [u]And[/u] whether or not there were penalties for trespass or illegal entry. Catherine had no formal identification with her. All her personal identification documents were back in her bag in the TARDIS. And the Doctor’s psychic paper was still with him. Even the dress uniform she wore may not count for anything as she didn’t know where the TARDIS had landed or when.
Her dress uniform had no rank insignia or even a real motif on it indicating any obvious security affiliation. There was only a small emblem on the corner of the reveres of her jacket. Unless someone happened to be familiar with the emblem, it just looked like a discreet piece of embroidered decoration. For all she knew, Central Orion Protection and Security may be unknown in this sector in space and time.
At least she still had her TARDIS key around her neck. It was her one tangible connection to the Doctor. But she wasn’t looking to him to rescue her from this predicament. It was her own fault, albeit by accident, and she was determined to return to the TARDIS herself! But not before she knew more about this place.
If the Doctor could have known what she was thinking, he would have grinned and applauded her actions. But Catherine, of course, did not know that…..
The Doctor stood still for a few minutes as he considered his best option in the current situation. Although he knew that Catherine could take care of herself and deal with most normal things that could be thrown her way – and he admired her for that independence – he still wanted to be there for her, just in case she [u]did[/u] need him. She was his friend and that’s what friends did for each other if they were truly friends.
But he knew that he must not leave the TARDIS at this critical time. The analysis programs would finish their runs soon and his role would then be at the TARDIS console working on the purple dust in the time rotor. For the time being, he would just have to place his trust in Catherine’s perception, intuition and logic to keep her safe. However, there was one thing he could do to make her job easier. Hidden transmat points were often unstable, but he [u]could[/u] locate and stabilise the transmat point using his sonic screwdriver.
He took the sonic screwdriver from an inner pocket in his leather jacket and set it to the preferred mode for the location of any transmat spatial disturbance.
Aiming it in the direction where he had last seen Catherine, he switched it on. Almost immediately, it started to whirr as it honed in on the location of the hidden transmat point control. A faint click indicated that it had narrowed the location down. While the Doctor [u]could[/u] use the sonic screwdriver to stabilise the transmat, he preferred to use the TARDIS, as it had a higher degree of accuracy. But did it, under the current circumstances? The Doctor still did not know if the purple dust had affected any of the TARDIS mechanisms or not. So he really had no choice, but to use the sonic screwdriver.
“Sorry, Catherine,” he thought, with great regret. “This is the most I can do for you at the moment.” A frown creased his brow and the flash in his eyes seemed to focus inwards on his annoyance with himself because he could do no more to help her at this time. Even so, he raced across to the opposite side of the room and fed the stabilising beam from the sonic screwdriver directly into the coordinates for the hidden control panel for the transmat. It seemed to have worked because the control panel appeared on the wall in front of him – exactly where Catherine would have been sounding the wall before she disappeared.
Unfortunately, he could do no more than stabilise it as it needed to be kept open in case Catherine had the opportunity to return. It did mean, of course, that others could enter the room more easily that way too – providing they knew about the transmat’s existence. The Doctor gambled on the certainty that the transmat was hidden at the other end too.
Before he returned to the TARDIS and the results of his analyses of the purple dust, he knew there was one more thing he could do to secure that unusual room from unwelcome interruptions. He walked over to the curtain that hid the only physical entry and pulled the curtain aside, forcefully. Strangely enough, it hid a very normal door, albeit with an ornate purple and beige-coloured metallic door knob. He turned the sonic screwdriver to the appropriate setting and its glowing blue light did the rest. The door was permanently locked from the inside. That is unless someone else had a sonic screwdriver to open it from the outside!
The Doctor turned away from the door and walked slowly back to the TARDIS. If his estimate was correct, the programs should have completed the analysis runs by now. He unlocked the TARDIS door and slipped inside, not forgetting to secure the door behind him. As usual, his estimation was perfect.
Although it was poor consolation to him when he could not locate Catherine, he had to put her fate to the back of his mind. The most important thing now was to determine what the purple dust was and its origin. He looked up at the time rotor and frowned again. It was now completely filled with the purple dust. The TARDIS was effectively immobilised from normal flight for the time being.
Looking at the analyses results, the Doctor’s frown deepened. He was not exactly relieved by the implications of what he saw. The purple dust was lighter than air, but had the potential to combine with the surrounding air to form some as yet undetermined compound. He knew it was no inert compound, neither was it organic. It was inanimate, but it had the potential to become “alive” in the true sense of the word, if provided with enough power over an appropriate period of time. While inside the time rotor, this was not a problem because it was compressed under reasonably stable conditions.
The Doctor looked at the time rotor, its inner space now filled with the purple dust. He said, apparently to the dust, “But how did you enter [u]my[/u] TARDIS? You shouldn’t have been able to. Unless…..” A very unpleasant thought crossed the Doctor’s mind. If the dust hadn’t entered through the console room, it must have entered via the TARDIS main drive mechanism. That meant the TARDIS Eye of Harmony must be affected to some degree too.
He didn’t even need to go down to the Cloister room to physically check the Eye. An orange light was flashing intermittently on the console, indicating a power drain. But the Doctor, being the man he was, [u]had[/u] to see for himself, just to be sure.
The Cloister room was located in the geographic centre of the TARDIS, a long way from the console room. Although it wasn’t the powerhouse of the TARDIS, it did hold access to the TARDIS Eye of Harmony. This was the main power source for the TARDIS and although self-generating, its power was augmented from time-to-time by auxiliary power stored in the powerhouse. The auxiliary power was absorbed into the TARDIS whenever the TARDIS was within reach of a suitable time rift. Of course, the trick was always to locate such a time rift! They were few and far between. Even the Doctor didn’t know where or when the next one was going to eventuate.
As the Doctor stood outside the closed doors to the Cloister room, he wondered what its appearance was going to be this time. It had changed in the hundreds of years that the Doctor had been travelling in the TARDIS. For a large part of its time, it looked like an academic colonnade, complete with marble pillars and tiled walkway. At one stage, the pillars were trailed with vines which, while attractive in a way, were the symptom of the entropy that the TARDIS – and this universe – was suffering from at the time.
The Doctor shivered at the memories that conjured up. The dreadful loss of a whole planet of peaceful people, Logopolis, was shocking. It hadn’t been his fault, more their own short-sightedness mixed with the malevolent and ignorant interference of his former Academy friend known as the Master. And, in defeating this former friend, the Doctor was forced into his fourth regeneration.
He shook himself free of this unpleasant memory as he opened the doors and purposefully strode into the room.
The last time he had looked at the Cloister room, it had been an enormous expanse of space with a magnificent divided staircase with three landings and a beautiful stained glass window behind it at one end of the room. It was nearly cathedral-like in its feel, with the access point to the TARDIS Eye of Harmony a huge well, with a cover strongly reminiscent of a huge eyelid, in the centre of the room. But, just as the console room had changed with the Doctor’s latest regeneration, so too had the Cloister room changed.
The room was still an enormous expanse of space, but the stained glass window and the magnificent staircase were gone. Huge tree-like support structures covered in coral – similar, yet different, to those in the console room – seemed to grow from the floor up to reach the dome-shaped ceiling of the room. The well hiding the Eye looked very much the same as it always did, except its surface too was covered in a coral-like texture. While the well was definitely the centre of the room, the focal point was still the huge wall where the window had been. But now that wall was covered in a gigantic mural. In the centre of the mural was a beautiful depiction of Gallifrey as seen from a geostationary orbit.
At the base of the mural were depictions of all nine incarnations of the Doctor. Strangely, his previous eight selves were all depicted as having their backs turned to Gallifrey, as if they had turned away from it or perhaps taken its continued existence for granted. The depiction of his current incarnation, the first to have to deal with the consequences from the destruction of Gallifrey was even stranger. His ninth incarnation was shown as facing Gallifrey directly, as if to burn its memory on his mind.
The Doctor noticed this, but didn’t have the time to look into it in more depth or to wonder what it might signify. He was more concerned to investigate any damage to the well caused by the purple dust.
Walking over to the well, he saw the tinges of purple edging the ‘eyelid’. It reminded him of rather heavy eyeliner. From one perspective, he was relieved not to have to open the well. But from another perspective, he was sorry to see his worst fears confirmed. The purple dust had somehow been sucked into the Eye itself.
The Doctor’s frown deepened even further and he pursed his lips as he considered his next course of action. He swore under his breath as he realised that this was going to be a major problem to resolve. But it must be resolved as soon as possible or the Eye of Harmony and its tremendous power source would become the catalyst for the inanimate purple dust to come to life – literally.
The biggest problem for the Doctor in resolving this was that to do so could mean he had to dematerialise the TARDIS, implementing a temporal coordinate shift. This would, of course, mean leaving Catherine trapped wherever she had been transmatted to, without her having any idea of what had happened and why and no guarantee of him being able to return. The frown disappeared from his face to be replaced with a look of deep anguish and deep hurt in his expressive eyes. There were no tears, but he could feel the mixed emotions welling up inside him again – a feeling of pain, a sense of guilt, a sense of impending loss, a feeling of betrayal. How could he do that to her? But resolve it he must or else they would be stranded at the very least. He berated himself inwardly, both for allowing his emotions to resurface and for unwittingly placing Catherine in such a position. There [u]must[/u] be a way to avoid this. He was [u]determined[/u] to avoid this…..
Catherine wondered, as she kept walking down the seemingly endless corridor, what the Doctor was doing at this moment. Busy working away at the console, she expected. She sighed, inwardly. Her hopes of gaining some useful information from her observation of this corridor seemed unlikely, somehow. It didn’t appear to be leading anywhere in a hurry. Surely, she thought, the purpose of a corridor [u]was[/u] to actually reach somewhere?
(* To be continued….. *)