Chapter Eleven

A deep frown creased the Doctor’s brow and his lips were pursed tightly as he entered a strangely gloomy and seemingly oppressive console room.

Nothing had changed since he left it. He knew that its usual familiar lights were dimmer and that fewer were working since he had disconnected the power supply link between the time rotor and the parts of the console tied to it and the TARDIS Eye of Harmony. But even allowing for the darkened time rotor, the room seemed gloomier after the strong glow of the open power source and the vibrant atmosphere in the Cloister room. The mass that was the currently inactive purple dust in the time rotor also added to the oppressive atmosphere in the console room. It did not help lift the Doctor’s mood one bit.

The Doctor walked over to the console scanner and leaned his hands on the edge of the console either side of it. He looked at the scanner almost expecting something to suddenly appear on it. But he knew the only scanner directly available to him was the small display screen on the device that resembled an oversize mobile telephone which was part of the manual override to the console.

“Unless, I connect the two together…..” the Doctor thought.

He picked up a loose piece of computer cabling that was lying on the console and plugged one connection into the manual override device and one connection into the socket just below the console scanner. This effectively allowed input to the manual override device via the scanner keyboard and allowed dual display from that device on both its own small display screen and the console scanner. The only minor hiccup was that he had to tighten the cable connections together by hand. After all, he had left his sonic screwdriver with Catherine in the Cloister room.

“Just as well this incarnation has long, tapering fingers,” he thought as he twisted into place one of the screws to lock the connection.

As he gradually tightened the connections, he worked through his plan for expulsion of the purple dust…..

The glow from the partially open TARDIS Eye of Harmony wasn’t increasing, but seemed to Catherine to be pulsing rather than glowing consistently. She didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about in this. After all, the Doctor had warned her that it was normal for it to flicker from time to time. It certainly wasn’t time to close the ‘eyelids’.

In her opinion, this was more a case of observing the changes very carefully and waiting for the Doctor to return to the Cloister room. From her time at Central Orion Protection and Security, Catherine remembered that the waiting was always the worst part of observation tasks. These tasks were often slow and monotonous and usually highly frustrating. But she also remembered that observation tasks quite often provided the most important information…..

Now that the last connection between the manual override device and the console scanner was complete, the Doctor started to develop the details of a process to expel all the purple dust from the TARDIS.

Firstly, to ensure that all the purple dust could be expelled from the TARDIS completely, it was absolutely essential that all the purple dust be merged in one location. As the purple dust probably entered the TARDIS through the time rotor, it was easier to expel it that way too.

The Doctor knew that the quickest and most efficient way to merge the purple dust was to link the purple dust in the time rotor into the same localised time field that Catherine and he had created for the purple dust in the TARDIS Eye of Harmony.

Merging time fields was a simple operation to a Time Lord of his vast experience. Once implemented, the purple dust from the Eye – and anywhere else it may have secreted itself between the time rotor and the Eye – would be literally sucked back into the time rotor and linked into the process.

The Doctor quickly entered the program details into the TARDIS database while his mind was racing forward, reviewing his options for expulsion of the purple dust. It had to be sent somewhere after it was expelled from the TARDIS.

The Doctor’s plan was to send the purple dust back into the energy reserve of the ‘Isle of Capri’. This would be an efficient use of the energy and would provide direct input into the ship’s energy hungry distributed and secure transmat systems. It would actually give the Vulpesi a true energy recycling system. All he needed was the exact coordinate location of the energy reserve.

But he knew he couldn’t even begin to search for the coordinates using the TARDIS until the console was restored to its full functional capacity. Even then, he couldn’t be sure of its reliability until the purple dust had been eliminated. The Doctor’s only option was to locate the energy reserve himself and use his sonic screwdriver to record the location.

Although there was a component of living matter in the purple dust, the Doctor had no qualms this time about directing it straight back into the energy reserve. Normally, he would agonise over the use of living matter in this sort of way. But he wasn’t agonising about it this time.

He had been angry when Officer Tell had described the Vulpesi’s shortcut of using living matter to process the last of their energy generation waste products and that anger had not diminished. His eyes momentarily flashed at the memory.

However, unless he wanted to expel the purple dust into the time vortex – something which he had no intention of doing – he was left without a choice. His face took on a rather stone like expression as he thought through the processes needed to implement this highly unpalatable solution.

As he busily entered those process details into the TARDIS database, he mentally reviewed all the nuances of the programs and processes needed to deal with the purple dust once and for all. He wanted to assure himself that he had missed nothing.

Not even the slightest detail had been omitted.

All the details of the programs had been entered into the database, ready for implementation almost immediately after the Doctor reconnected the time rotor and the currently disconnected portions of the console to the power source of the Eye. He knew that the sudden recombination of the portions of purple dust and the increase in power through the TARDIS main drive mechanism would probably cause the purple dust to reanimate itself if he hadn’t linked the time fields correctly.

All he had to do before implementation was to close the TARDIS Eye of Harmony and return the time rotor and the console to their normal functioning capacity.

He quickly disconnected the link between the manual override device and the console scanner. Then he started to reconnect the components that he had previously disconnected when isolating the time rotor from its power source.

As many of the connections, cross-connections and cabling substitutions were in the under floor, the Doctor opened its access point and jumped down into the space that held the cabling and other mechanisms that linked to and controlled the console. The sooner the connection changes were reverted the better, the Doctor thought. He didn’t want to postpone the removal of the purple dust any longer than he had to.

Fortunately, it didn’t take him as long to reverse the changes as it had taken him to make the changes in the first place. He seemed to instinctively know where everything should be without a second thought. This would be expected of a Time Lord who was not only in tune with his TARDIS, but had personally made so many alterations to it over the centuries that it was practically burned into his psyche.

He checked that all connections were secure, before climbing up the steps to the console room floor level and replacing the floor access panel behind him.

Everything had now been reversed with the exception of the manual override device and one last connection between the console and the time rotor. This was the time rotor bypass connection which needed to be disconnected from the console for the link to be completed. Full power was already starting to return to the console, but while he still had the manual override device and the time rotor bypass in place, nothing further would happen. Once the bypass connection was removed, the manual override device would no longer have control over the time rotor and could be shelved again.

Before he could disconnect the time rotor bypass connection, the Doctor needed to close the Eye. That was easily done – he could do that from the console. But he chose to close it manually from the Cloister room. Catherine’s safety, once the execution of the programs and expulsion processes began, could only be assured if she were in the console room while the processes were running. Besides, he was sure that he would need her assistance in eliminating the purple dust.

He was already starting to regard her input as indispensable.

The Doctor took one last look at the darkened time rotor and the trapped mass of purple dust. His face was expressionless as he raced across to the internal console room door and roughly pulled the door open. He then raced down the corridor, heading for the Cloister room…..

The TARDIS Eye of Harmony had settled down from the pulsing that Catherine had observed earlier to a series of more evenly – and she assumed more normally – spaced flickers. She decided that it should be safe enough to move closer to the edge of the well that held the Eye. The progression or otherwise of the purple dust itself needed to be observed. At least that’s what Catherine believed.

As she moved closer, she noticed that the purple ‘eyeliner’ that she had observed around the edge of the ‘eyelids’ had disappeared. But she was relieved to note that there was still a definite purple dust mass visible through the opening in the Eye. However, she wasn’t tempted to investigate too closely as she didn’t know a lot about the mechanisms of the Eye. Close investigation of the Eye was something that she knew she should leave to the Doctor.

Although she did notice that the purple dust mass was starting to move.

“How long do I leave it before I close the Eye?” Catherine wondered.

It was at that moment that she looked across towards the Cloister room doorway to see the Doctor entering the room once again. The expression on his face was serious, but not frowning, as he quietly walked past the tree-like roof supports to Catherine’s side.

He put his hands in his jacket pockets and asked, “Any changes?”

Catherine told him of the pulsing of the Eye and the start of movement of the purple dust.

“Thanks. Some movement was to be expected as the power reconnected to the console,” the Doctor replied, with a smile. He took his hands out of his pockets again and gestured towards the Eye as he added, “We need to close the Eye before we can continue, Catherine.”

Catherine looked at the Doctor with an unasked question in her eyes. His smile widened and his eyes twinkled as he nodded. She returned his smile and her eyes sparkled as she aimed the sonic screwdriver at the Eye and flicked the switch. The ‘eyelids’ closed smoothly and soundlessly.

He took Catherine’s hand in his and quickly led her out of the Cloister room and back towards the console room.

Once they entered the console room, the Doctor dropped Catherine’s hand and returned to the problem of the expulsion of the purple dust. Catherine sat down on the two-seater near the console to watch him…..and wait. As he started to disconnect the time rotor bypass connection from the console, Catherine went to his side to hand him the sonic screwdriver.

“You might need this, Doctor,” Catherine said, as she passed it to him.

The Doctor smiled at her as he accepted it. “Thank you,” he said, as he returned it to the inner jacket pocket where he preferred to keep it. He finished disconnecting the time rotor bypass, but nothing happened.

Catherine had expected that the normal green glow of the time rotor would return as soon as the bypass was disconnected. But it hadn’t.

“Damn!” the Doctor muttered to himself. He too had thought that the normal glow would return immediately. However, unlike Catherine, he knew what he needed to do. He picked up a mallet that was hooked onto a loop under the console and hit the console with it – and he hit it hard! Seconds later, the normal glow returned to the time rotor. The Doctor looked at the time rotor as if he was seeing it for the first time, while he replaced the mallet on its loop. He grinned.

Catherine looked at him in surprise.

The Doctor grinned even wider and his eyes twinkled as he said, “I used to do that with my fist, but this way is much easier!”

Catherine smiled, but didn’t comment.

The Doctor’s grin faded as he became serious again. He moved around to the scanner and initiated the time field merger. It was a short process to run and its results were obvious as soon as the program had finished execution.

The green glow from the time rotor had disappeared. There was no longer anything visible but the thick and viscous purple mass that was the purple dust. The Doctor’s time field merge had worked.

He ran a quick verification check on the process which confirmed that it had been successful. Catherine didn’t have to ask him the result – she knew it was positive just by the happy expression on his face. But she still walked around to stand next to the Doctor so that she could read the scanner results for herself.

The Doctor initiated a monitoring program to help maintain the time field merge. He didn’t turn to look at her, but asked, “Can you verify this run while I locate the ‘Isle of Capri’ energy reserve? I need to have its exact coordinates before I can run the program to expel the dust into it.”

Catherine agreed. She assumed that he would either find the coordinates using the sonic screwdriver or more likely use the TARDIS console.

“Fantastic,” the Doctor replied. To Catherine’s surprise, the Doctor raced down towards the TARDIS doors.

“Where are you going?” Catherine asked.

“To locate the energy reserve,” he replied, cheerfully. “I can’t use the TARDIS to find the coordinates as the purple dust makes finding location coordinates a bit difficult and the sonic screwdriver can’t locate external energy readings from within the TARDIS. But if I return to the room where the central transmat terminals are, I should be able to find it, no problem.” And with that, the Doctor left the TARDIS.

Catherine was able to watch him via an insert software window on the scanner. The Doctor raced across the purple grass to the place where Officer Tell’s transmat had deposited Catherine and him earlier. He switched on the sonic screwdriver and seemed to be taking readings of some sort. She realised that he must be reverse-engineering the coordinates of the central transmat terminals room so that he could return to that room, probably via the transmat that she had inadvertently used not long after they first arrived. When he disappeared from view, she returned to verifying the results on the scanner…..

Catherine was close in her guess, but not quite correct. The Doctor was actually reverse-engineering the transmat itself, so that he returned from that spot to the central transmat terminals room. A short time later, the Doctor was in that room.

The first task was for him to mark the spot where he arrived. This was necessary so he could reverse this transmat and return to the purple bedroom where the TARDIS was. He checked his pockets and found an iridescent lime green crayon and marked the spot on the purple floor with an ‘X’.

“X marks the spot,” he thought, recalling a phrase he had heard somewhere in his travels.

Next, he set the sonic screwdriver to hone in on the high energy input and output of the energy reserve.

This wasn’t a difficult task as this type of energy had unique input and output signatures. The Doctor located them practically immediately and then cross-checked them to verify that they pointed to the same spatial coordinates. When he was satisfied, he saved the coordinates to the sonic screwdriver’s local memory for input back in the TARDIS.

All he had to do now was to return to the TARDIS. He stood on the lime green ‘X’ and switched the sonic screwdriver on to reverse the transmat…..

Catherine noticed that the monitoring program had uneventfully completed its run just as the Doctor reappeared into view on the scanner. He picked himself up from the purple grass, raced back to the TARDIS and rushed inside, closing the door behind him. Next thing Catherine knew was that the Doctor was standing next to her asking if there had been any problems with the purple dust while he was absent. She shook her head and he grinned back. He hadn’t expected there to be any.

The Doctor twisted the black base of the sonic screwdriver about forty-five degrees clockwise and inserted the sonic screwdriver into its console connection point. An efficient data connection was made as soon as the Doctor had secured it in place. He switched it on and watched it glow as he initiated a program to enable it to upload the energy reserve coordinates directly into the process entered in the TARDIS database. When this was completed, he immediately initiated the program to expel the purple dust waste from the time rotor into the energy reserve of the ‘Isle of Capri’.

The Doctor asked Catherine to watch the scanner to monitor the progression of the whole process while it was being implemented. He needed to keep watch on the console and the time rotor as the purple dust was manipulated within it.

This was what Catherine had expected, but she hadn’t realised that the time rotor itself had to be set in motion at the same time, although the TARDIS didn’t actually dematerialise. As she thought it through, logically she guessed that when the contents of a localised time field were to be linked to a spatial coordinate there must be some movement of that field. But she stopped thinking about it when the purple dust started to disappear from the time rotor…..

It was a welcome sight. The Doctor looked around him to see a fully functioning console room with a time rotor clear of purple dust. All the results of the tests that he had just finished running showed that all traces of the purple dust were gone. At Catherine’s suggestion, he had run some connection tests as well to prove that all the reconnections he had made to the console were functioning as normal. There was no reason why they couldn’t just leave.

Except that the Doctor wanted to permanently stop the Vulpesi from abusing their access to the time vortex. If indeed they had been.

Now that he had a fully functioning TARDIS again, he didn’t even have to leave the console room to do it.

The Doctor scanned the ‘Isle of Capri’ to find where the link to the time vortex access point was. “Damn,” he exclaimed. “I can’t find their link to the vortex.”

Catherine said, quite logically, “Maybe they don’t have a link to the vortex, Doctor?”

“But they must have, Catherine. The purple dust entered the TARDIS through the time rotor’s access to the time vortex, so the purple dust must have been in the vortex somehow. So the ship must have access to the vortex.” An unpleasant idea occurred to him. “Unless…..”

“Unless?” Catherine prompted him. “Is there no other alternative?”

“There is one possibility,” the Doctor murmured, as he ran a quick scan of the actual content of the area of space around the ‘Isle of Capri’. Unfortunately, it only confirmed the unpleasant idea.

Catherine could tell from the look on his face that he was not at all happy with the result. She moved closer to him and asked, “Doctor?”

He turned to look at her with an expression in his eyes that was part sorrow, part anger. But she knew instinctively that his anger wasn’t directed at her.

“Many spaceships eject their energy waste directly into space, Catherine. It is considered cheaper and quicker than a true energy recycling process. The ‘Isle of Capri’ has been one of them,” the Doctor replied.

“But it isn’t against galactic law to do so, is it? Anyway, I thought their exemption from the environmental regulations allowed them to safely dispose of their waste periodically,” Catherine added.

“It depends on how you define safely,” the Doctor said, a deepening frown creasing his brow. “The Vulpesi – our hosts with the lilac fox-like tails – seem to be very relaxed with their definitions.” He paused for a moment, and then added somewhat facetiously and rhetorically, “Maybe we should send our security friend a dictionary?”

Catherine thought black humour was not going to achieve anything, so she asked more directly this time, albeit a little impatiently, “What did you find in the scan?”

The Doctor jammed his hands into his jacket pockets, as he turned to face her fully. He knew he was going to sound like a science professor again, but that couldn’t be helped. “This area of space has a higher than normal incidence of what is known as the Time Ripple Effect. It results when the fabric of the space/time continuum is a little more sensitive than usual.” He paused to catch his breath and to check that Catherine was still listening to his abbreviated ‘lecture’ before he continued.

“Time ripples are usually small and don’t really cause any trouble. But when a large disturbance occurs in the area, like the ‘Isle of Capri’ being located here, the effect is rather like dropping a stone into a calm pool of water. The ripples continue outward until the energy has dissipated. But with time ripples, excess energy is driven back into the time vortex. So if the ‘Isle of Capri’ transmat waste is ejected into a series of close time ripples, like we have here, it skips across them rather like a pebble being skimmed across the surface of a stream. However, where a pebble will eventually drop into the water, the transmat waste would drop into the time vortex.”

The Doctor looked at Catherine to see her reaction. She was shocked as she realised their problems with the TARDIS and the purple dust had been simply caused by some irresponsible and badly timed release of the purple dust waste by the Vulpesi on board the ‘Isle of Capri’.

“And the TARDIS just naturally scooped up all the purple dust from the vortex while we were travelling through it,” Catherine said, once she had recovered from her initial shock.

“That sums it up,” the Doctor replied. “But it won’t happen again. Now they have a true energy recycling process – thanks to me – their transmat systems won’t produce the waste!”

Catherine didn’t quite know what to say to that. She just raised her eyebrows and looked volumes at him.

The Doctor raced around to the other side of the console and seemed, to Catherine, to be quite pleased with the overall result of the expulsion of the purple dust. He had, in fact, just shelved his displeasure and anger with the Vulpesi carelessness to the back of his mind. It was his means of coping with the issues of the universe. Although there was always some trauma that was not as easy to shelve permanently as were some issues.

“Coming, Catherine?” he asked rhetorically. He knew she always would. Looking across the console at her, he saw her hazel eyes sparkle in excitement, echoing the mischievous twinkle in his blue ones. “I’ve a surprise for you.” Catherine didn’t reply. She just opened her eyes wider and raised her eyebrows in an enquiring manner.

Although he hadn’t really planned on returning to Earth so soon after his regeneration, he thought that maybe there was a point in it after all. After seeing the great depiction of perspective in the Cloister room mural, he really couldn’t resist showing Catherine the original great depiction of mural perspective – Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’. And what better time than while Leonardo was still painting it?

The Doctor smiled as he set the spatial and temporal coordinates for the TARDIS flight to Milan in 1497. He looked at Catherine and his whole face was illuminated as his smile broadened into a wide grin. Catherine thought his eyes twinkled so much they almost shone. “You’ll love it!” he said.

But as so often in the Doctor’s travels in the TARDIS, the TARDIS didn’t always arrive where and when he intended it to…..

(* The End*)