Wondering what had occurred to change their normal routine, apart from her unexpected absence, she returned to the common room. A frown creased her forehead, as she looked towards the ‘hidden’ doorway to the multipurpose area that served as the entry lobby, kitchen and general reception area combined. The Doctor was near the door frame, checking the invisibility barrier mechanism with his sonic screwdriver. He looked over his left shoulder and nodded as Catherine approached. Without saying a word, he then turned back to the completion of his readings. While she was waiting for the Doctor to finish, she headed back into the corridor towards her own quarters – just in case there were any communiqués waiting for her. She thought they might shed light on the absence of the two constables.
What Catherine didn’t expect to see was her computer display showing the contents of the latest document she had written, but not sent, on the day of her interview with her commander. She knew it had been securely locked away from other people’s viewing – that was one thing she had made sure of before she went in search of the Doctor on that afternoon. It was a document due to be sent when she returned, only awaiting her manual confirmation before sending it. Luckily, she had double-encrypted the password on it, so that while it could be read with the correct authorisation, it couldn’t actually be forwarded on without her input. She would have preferred if she could have sent it, once she had reviewed it again, at a time of her own choosing without anyone’s pre-knowledge of it. Catherine could only assume that Constable Black must have been reviewing her electronic documents on authorisation from their commander. She guessed that it had been her three day absence which had triggered this review.
Before Catherine shut down the document display, she decided now was as good a time as any to review the document on display. “After all,” she thought, “if others here have read it, I may as well finalise it and send it on.” It was only a short document, but it was precise, as resignations usually were. Catherine had thought of resigning her job because she had not really been satisfied with the way the outcomes from various investigations by her team were handled by local area command. She was frustrated in her efforts to improve the investigation process and time frames involved. Local area command was more interested in seeing reports on what had been and what was going to be done than the actual results.
Catherine probably would have eventually resigned any way. But now that she had accepted the Doctor’s invitation to travel in the TARDIS on a more long term basis, all constraints were gone. It was essential that her resignation be reviewed and then sent on to local area command for processing. There was no possibility of her returning to this role in the future. Catherine doubted if she would even want to. She quickly ran her eye over her words and nodded to herself. After she had satisfied herself that it was complete and carried the right tone she wanted, she pressed the communication button and it was on its way. She then quickly scanned for other communiqués. There was nothing – at least nothing electronic.
As she closed down her computer display, her eyes were drawn to a bright pink piece of paper taped to the wall near the display. She always liked bright message pads – she couldn’t miss them then! There was a message written on this one in Constable Black’s precise handwriting. It was dated today and read:
[i]Sergeant Mere, Team Leader, Eye of Orion Investigation Team[/i]
[i]I have reviewed documents in your absence at Local Command’s request. There have been no updates, changes, or deletions and nothing has been forwarded or sent except as duty dictated and access allowed.[/i]
[i]A meeting to discuss progress in the investigation will be convened near the remains of the archway at the Eye of Orion late this afternoon. The whole team’s presence has been requested.[/i]
[i]Constable George Black, Acting Team Leader, Eye of Orion Investigation Team[/i]
Once again, Catherine was appreciative of Constable Black’s precision, courtesy and attention to detail. His note not only confirmed her instincts about the document review, but also solved the puzzle as to where the constables were. She knew she needed to be at that meeting. And, in her opinion, the Doctor needed to be there too.
Catherine removed the note from the wall, folded it in half and placed it in her jacket’s right hand pocket. Although she was strongly tempted to change out of her dress uniform into her everyday uniform, she didn’t think she had the time available. The meeting had probably already started by now and she needed to allow sufficient time to transmat there and then walk to the mound of rubble that used to be the archway. She closed the door to her quarters and headed back towards the common room.
As she re-entered the common room, Catherine noticed that the Doctor had completed his readings of the invisibility barrier. He was standing near the vending machine ordering a mug of white coffee. As he took his mug of coffee from the machine, he looked in Catherine’s direction and said, “Ah. You’re back. Discovered anything?”
Catherine replied, “There’s an urgent meeting this afternoon near the ruins to discuss the progress of the investigation – all the team must be there, including me.” She paused, before adding tentatively, “I think you should be there too, Doctor.”
The Doctor grinned in reply. As he watched Catherine heading for the controls for the invisibility barrier, his grin broadened even further. “That’s not going to help you,” he commented.
Catherine stopped and turned back to look questioningly at the Doctor. She asked, “Why not, Doctor? It’s the direct way there after all.”
The Doctor replied, in a matter-of-fact voice, “The barrier is locked from the outside. Without a sonic screwdriver you’re not going to be able to unlock it quickly, Catherine. And the barrier was locked nearly two hours ago. The only way you are going to make the meeting before it ends is in the TARDIS.” He drained his mug of coffee, disposed of the mug carefully and then headed towards the TARDIS. Seeing that Catherine hadn’t moved immediately, the Doctor asked, crisply, but with a touch of exasperation, “Aren’t you coming, then?”
Catherine stirred herself and met him at the TARDIS door. The look on her face spoke volumes. He grinned broadly, opened the door and they stepped inside the TARDIS once again. Setting the coordinates for the area next to the ruined archway, the Doctor dematerialised the TARDIS. Travel to the Eye was almost instantaneous.
The Doctor couldn’t have timed the TARDIS’ arrival better. It materialised as close to the mound of rubble that was the ruined archway as it could; its characteristic whining sound punctuating the meeting’s discussions just before the final item of the agenda. The meeting’s four participants – the local area commander, his assistant, Constable Black and Constable Crane – all turned to see the source of the unusual interruption. “I see you managed to make the meeting at last,” the local area commander said, in an unemotional voice.
Catherine, in her dress uniform, walked calmly and with dignity towards the other meeting participants. The Doctor, who had paused to lock the TARDIS door behind them, admired the aura she created as she headed towards her recent inquisitor. It was as if the meeting before her arrival had been just social chitchat, but that now she had arrived the real business could begin. Yet, he shrewdly guessed that inside she was as nervous as the proverbial ‘cat on the hot tin roof’.
He grinned as he followed her to the mound. Although he knew that Catherine thought there may be a role for him in the outcomes from the meeting, he had always been impatient of meetings unless they actually achieved something. In his experience, they rarely did. He extracted the sonic screwdriver from an inner pocket of his leather jacket and set it to check for even the faintest trace of the presence of positive ions – either generated or natural. The Doctor was absolutely convinced that some trace of the ions must be there.
There was no trace the last time he had checked, but it was possible that the heavy rainfall then may have obscured some of the natural readings. At the very least, the feedback from Node Two’s loop back mechanism, while not traceable the last time he searched for it, may have produced some echo at the Eye by now. Those were the Doctor’s hopes. If he had been human, he would have crossed his fingers at this point, but being a Time Lord, he just trusted in time to have healed this particular wound – at least enough for the sonic screwdriver to pick up the faintest traces of positive ions that he looked for.
The commander’s assistant, who was chairing the meeting, didn’t appear to react to the addition of two more attendees. He continued with the next agenda item. “Item 9: Proposal to abandon the site known as the Eye of Orion, due to the destruction of its artefacts and the natural source of ion generation by person or persons unknown.” Looking up from his notes, he said, “This item is open to the floor for discussion, before it is tabled for formal consideration at the next meeting.” There were no volunteers to speak either for or against the proposal. The local area commander, by Central Orion Protection and Security convention, could not speak to the proposal until the rest of the meeting had had their opportunity first. In fact, as the one who had drafted the proposal, he was prohibited from speech about it until it was tabled for formal consideration. This meant that unless someone asked for clarification on some element of it, he would have nothing to contribute to the discussion until their next meeting.
None of the attendees seemed likely to ask for clarification. But then again, it didn’t look as if anyone was about to comment on it either. As someone had to speak to it before tabling it, the commander’s assistant decided that the sergeant should be the one to start the discussion. On the one hand, she was the senior officer on site, but she was also late to the meeting, so naturally deserved to be called to speak! “Sergeant Mere, any comment?” he asked.
The Doctor, who had only been taking a cursory interest in the conduct of the meeting, was interested to hear his new travelling companion’s thoughts on this proposal. He guessed that she would be against it.
As she moved forward, as he had correctly guessed, to speak against it, the Doctor stood in a deceptively relaxed manner, his arms folded across his chest; his face displaying a serious expression. No-one noticed the active sonic screwdriver he held in his right hand. Neither did they notice the sonic screwdriver’s glowing blue light nor did they hear its light humming noise as it carried out the very specific readings that the Doctor had programmed it to perform.
Catherine spoke at length about the importance of the protection of artefacts and the preservation of historical sites; about their cultural value and their usefulness as a source of education. She spoke against the abandonment of such sites, regardless of whether the remains were still in perfect condition or not. Unfortunately, to some degree, her words fell on ‘deaf ears’. But she was not sorry that she had been asked to speak on the proposal, even if the natural source of ion generation at the Eye had been completely destroyed.
The Doctor, while listening to Catherine’s speech, also noted that the sonic screwdriver’s readings were now complete. It didn’t take long for him to see that the readings were positive. “Fantastic!” he thought, excitedly. There was a positive ion presence there, albeit much, much fainter than before the high-powered weapons had been fired at the generation infrastructure and the archway. He hadn’t checked for individual ion effects in the surrounding earth when he took his readings at the Eye earlier, as the thunderstorm would have masked them anyway. All he could go on at the time were the broader readings from the TARDIS, including any flow on effects from the Node Two loop back mechanism.
The Doctor moved over towards the rest of the group saying, before any further business could be discussed, “But the positive ion generation hasn’t been destroyed. It is very faint, but it does still exist.” He paused to let his words sink in with his audience, as he gauged their reactions. Catherine raised her eyebrows in surprise, but she was the only one to react.
He continued, “The central infrastructure that concentrates the ions is damaged, but can be repaired, given time. Your normal maintenance staff will be able to fix it – no problem. Until then, the infrastructure can be bypassed and the generation boosted through one of the other generation sites on the planet.”
Although the bulk of the infrastructure for concentrating the ion generation could be repaired, the extrusion of the mechanism at the surface – the archway – would need to be completely redesigned and rebuilt from scratch, possibly even slightly relocated from the present site to ensure stability. To design this would take someone with great attention to construction detail, an eye for architectural beauty and an appreciation of science. The Doctor knew the very man who fitted those requirements. He resolved to visit him to discuss the matter, once the positive ion generation had been made more stable.
The local area commander’s assistant, in his role of chairing the meeting, interrupted the Doctor and said, “Sergeant Mere, thank you for your contribution.” As the Doctor had not introduced himself before speaking, he pointedly chose not to recognise the Doctor’s comments. However, they were not ignored. They would be recorded in the minutes as follow up to the sergeant’s speech, which from one perspective they were. He continued, asking, a shade optimistically perhaps, “Does anyone else wish to comment on the proposal before it is tabled?” There was a deafening silence. He continued, saying, “As there are no further comments, the proposal is now tabled for review by this group before being formally considered at the next meeting. Is there any other business before this meeting closes?”
The Doctor promptly replied, “Yes.” He paused and the other meeting attendees turned around to look at him. This was no time for grinning, but the look on at least two of the faces of the attendees made him sorely tempted to. But because this was important, he resisted such a frivolous impulse. He walked forward into the group and looked the commander directly in the eyes.
Although he was familiar with general meeting procedure under many jurisdictions, the Doctor was not about to waste his time addressing the individual chairing the meeting when he knew the actual decision-maker was the commander. He said, seriously, “Unless the ion generation is boosted soon, the positive ions will never regain their full potential.” The Doctor paused, before adding, more urgently, “They are leaking out through the damaged infrastructure into the surrounding earth and rock. Everything you have built up here over centuries will have been for nothing, unless I bypass the damaged infrastructure and boost the generation from one of the other sites soon. Node Two cannot be used as a substitute for the Eye. It has problems of its own, as undoubtedly you already know from Sergeant Mere’s evidence presented at her interview, which make it impossible to use for tourists.”
The commander raised his eyebrows in surprise at that. The Doctor noticed, but didn’t comment. “Typical,” he thought. “He hasn’t even read Catherine’s document!” Showing no indication of his thoughts, the Doctor continued, “I can use Node Two’s positive ion generation mechanism as the bypass for the Eye. But I will need an experienced member of your staff to assist me…..” He carefully didn’t look in Catherine’s direction, as he was fairly sure that any indication that she was his preferred choice would probably ensure that the commander offered him someone else.
The commander pretended to consider the matter in detail. While it went very much against the grain for him to admit it, Catherine was the only suitable choice. She was, after all, the only one who had travelled to Node Two recently. In addition, until he made his decision from her interview, she was free to perform her role as usual. And that entailed following up on her team’s investigation, even if that meant assisting the Doctor to provide agency input. Alternatively, neither of the constables could be spared, as two individuals were required for protection of the site. If one of them went with the Doctor, the commander would have to find a temporary replacement. As it was at short notice, the replacement would probably have to be his assistant – an eventuality which was inconvenient to say the least.
“Of the staff available at short notice, Doctor, Sergeant Mere would be the appropriate candidate. You may have her assistance for two Earth days, no more. At least she is familiar with the so-called ‘problems’ at Node Two,” the commander said, coldly. He determined that the first thing he was going to do when he returned to local area command was to read the sergeant’s document thoroughly. It’s what he should have done before this meeting. The meeting was then formally closed by his assistant and the attendees turned to resume their usual tasks.
Constable Black and Constable Crane returned to their duty at the edge of the site.
The Doctor commenced the first stage of the bypass process from the Eye, by closing off the damaged portion of the infrastructure and recording its coordinates using the sonic screwdriver.
Before the local area commander and his assistant returned to their ship via a mobile transmat terminal, the commander walked over to Catherine and gave the sergeant an unnecessary last minute directive. “Sergeant, I expect detailed notes on the process that the Doctor follows in bypassing this damage. It will be useful for future reference.” Then, without waiting for a reply, the commander and his assistant departed for local area command.
Catherine walked over to stand next to the Doctor and commented, “I doubt he has even looked at my documentation about Node Two, as yet.” She sighed in exasperation and then added, “It doesn’t look as if he’s going to bring his decision on my interview down in a hurry.”
Without looking at her, the Doctor replied, calmly, “Your commander? Definitely not, I’d say. The quantity of reports and documents that are generated in bureaucracies that require so much work and effort, but are only glanced at, if that…..” He finished closing off the damaged infrastructure and switched the sonic screwdriver off. As he placed it back in his inner jacket pocket, he turned towards Catherine and asked, “Does it bother you?”
Catherine thought about it and replied, “Not really, I suppose, but it is a matter of principle!”
The Doctor grinned. When Catherine queried the reason for the grin, he wouldn’t reply. He thought once again how much they were kindred spirits.
Catherine asked, “Out of curiosity, did you know that the commander was going to nominate me to travel with you?”
The Doctor replied, “Yep.” His grin broadened into one of his illuminating smiles, as he added, “Logic and a bit of psychology. You’re the only one of the group who has recent experience of the conditions at Node Two.”
Catherine returned the smile and said, “And you did specify experienced. Well, at least we have two Earth days to work on this!”
“Coming?” the Doctor asked, as he held out his hand and nodded in the direction of the TARDIS.
Catherine took his hand and nodded. They walked the short distance to the TARDIS. The Doctor unlocked the door and they entered, locking it behind them…..
(* To be continued….. *)