Chapter One

The Doctor stood at the scanner watching the controls. Catherine sat on the seat near the console, her legs stretched out in front of her, with her ankles crossed. She was watching him, trying to work out what he was doing. Whatever it was, he must have finished it because he turned around quickly. He looked in her direction and the serious expression on his face changed to an illuminating smile. His eyes were shining with enthusiasm.

“Aren’t you glad you came, Catherine?” the Doctor asked her, as he walked over to stand in front of her. His hands were in his jacket pockets, giving him an even more casual appearance than usual.

Catherine smiled back before replying, “Yes, but I’d like to know where we are heading, Doctor. Anywhere interesting?”

The Doctor instantly replied, “There’s a large universe out there to explore, Catherine, and the whole of time and space to choose. It’s fantastic! Just wait and see!”

She was about to ask him to be a bit more specific, when she glanced across towards the console. Her smile disappeared at what she saw. With a touch of urgency in her voice, she said, “I think you need to have a look at the time rotor, Doctor.”

The Doctor turned around sharply at her words and the tone of her voice. As he looked at the time rotor, the smile was wiped off his face. A strange purple dust-like substance was filling the time rotor rapidly and appeared as if it was about to consume it from the inside. The Doctor was completely surprised and even a bit shocked to see anything foreign inside his TARDIS, but he didn’t say so to Catherine. He raced over to the far side of the console, checked a few readings and made a couple of adjustments to the settings to his left. He changed the spatial and temporal coordinate settings to emergency mode and then initiated an emergency materialisation.

“I have to initiate an emergency materialisation, Catherine. It might be a bumpy landing, so I’d hang on to something quickly, if I were you,” the Doctor advised. She automatically grabbed hold of the nearest tree-like support structure and hooked her arms around one of its ‘branches’.

During an emergency materialisation, the TARDIS was designed to fix itself on the nearest locality within short range that had safe conditions for its occupants. That meant breathable atmosphere, suitable gravity and suitable air pressure for both Time Lords and humans. If there wasn’t such a locality close by, it would take itself and its passengers outside time and space itself. This time, the locality it chose was a nearby space ship.

Before the Doctor even had time to tell Catherine where they were landing, the characteristic whining sound of the TARDIS told her that materialisation was imminent.

As they arrived, with a rather hard thud, the Doctor asked Catherine if she was alright. She nodded and he went over to look at the scanner. “We’ve landed onboard a spaceship,” he said. “At least this should be a stable environment to fix the TARDIS in,” he added.

Although the TARDIS readings indicated that the substance was purple dust, until he was able to actually take a sample of it, the Doctor couldn’t tell whether it was truly harmless or not. While his respiratory bypass and binary vascular systems would protect [u]him[/u] long enough for him to know if it was dangerous if inhaled or not, it [u]could[/u] be a threat to Catherine’s well-being. She really would be better outside, at least initially, so he said, “Conditions are pretty much Earth-normal there, Catherine, so why don’t you go out and take a look while I start on this?”

“We’ll probably be arrested for trespassing, you know,” Catherine observed, dryly. Although she was excited at the prospect of exploring the unknown, her law enforcement training was very ingrained and old habits die hard sometimes.

“Not a problem,” the Doctor replied, as he pulled out what looked like an identification wallet – black leather, of course – from his right trouser pocket. He opened it to show her a blank piece of paper. As she looked at it, writing appeared on it, identifying them as ‘Doctor John Smith and Ms Catherine Mere, Space Security Inspection Service’.

Catherine looked slightly puzzled until the Doctor explained, “The paper is slightly psychic – it shows whatever I want it to show. It’s very useful for entering places where you shouldn’t be entering.” His eyes twinkled mischievously and he grinned, before adding, “And security gives you an excuse for looking into anywhere without telling anyone else anything!”

Catherine was only partly convinced that it would work, but she decided it was better not to query it. After all she assumed he knew what he was doing.

Her face must have been showing a slightly bemused expression, because he smiled an attractive half-smile at her, as if he could guess her thoughts. His intense blue eyes took on a serious expression as he said to her, quietly, “Trust me, Catherine. It’ll be fine.”

She took one look at him and nodded. It was partly his words convincing her, but largely her own desire to take a look at their landing place that made her agree.

As he watched her walk down the ramp and open the TARDIS door, he grinned to himself. He [u]knew[/u] she wouldn’t be able to resist the chance to explore. It was one of the things that drew him to her.

She turned and smiled at him as she stepped through the door and closed it behind her.

He turned back to the TARDIS console and reached under it for the connection cable that he knew to be just beneath the scanner connection point. Slowly and deliberately, he connected the cable between an indentation against the time rotor and a raised port on the console to the left of the scanner, thereby automatically initiating an analysis program. He entered a connection code into the scanner keyboard and the program started to execute. The Doctor expected a result very soon, but for once he was unsure of the outcome. So much depended upon the actual constituent elements in the purple dust, its origin and how it actually entered the TARDIS.

One of his biggest concerns was how it could enter the time rotor – an enclosed space – in the first place. There were a couple of possibilities, but neither was very palatable. One possibility was that the dust had passed through the actual sides of the time rotor itself from the console room. He rejected that possibility immediately. It had certainly not been in the console room. The other possibility was that it had entered the time rotor through the console from the interior mechanism of the TARDIS – possibly even the TARDIS Eye of Harmony itself. If that was the case, the movement could have caused some of the dust to escape into the console room. He would know more once the analysis program was complete…..

Catherine looked around her. The TARDIS had materialised in what seemed at first glance to be a large hexagonal shaped reception room. There was a feeling of opulence about this room, as if it was designed to be the domain of ambassadors and other people of distinction. The walls were painted with murals, depicting what Catherine took to be either historical or perhaps mythological events. Beige-coloured silk curtains hung at various intervals around the walls, separating the murals and perhaps presenting the illusion of windows. But she couldn’t see a door anywhere. Perhaps it was behind one of the curtains. This was very strange for a reception room.

The floor was carpeted in some very thick synthetic pile which, on closer inspection, appeared to mimic grass in a meadow, complete with golden flowering dandelions. There was even that unmistakeable smell of freshly cut grass and the cool air in the room seemed to waft with a gentle breeze. Except that the grass wasn’t damp and was a deep purple colour and the only breeze was the room’s air conditioning. Catherine bent down to feel the pile and it was beautifully soft to touch. She thought it would be very tempting to sit, or even lie, down on this floor. It was so very soft and inviting; the sort of place where one could spend a restful afternoon or evening.

Catherine sat down cross-legged on the floor to better take in the room’s magnificence. There was nothing that she could see to indicate to her the spaceship’s ownership or place of origin. Although she was sure that somewhere in the TARDIS records there would be mention of a place with purple grass. She wondered if it was coincidence or if there was some connection between this place and the purple dust in the TARDIS time rotor. Catherine didn’t believe in coincidence.

As she cast a critical eye around the room again, she looked up at its ceiling for any further clues. There was no help there, beyond the realisation that this was [u]not[/u] a reception room after all. In all her experience as a sergeant on tasks at home or off-world, she had seen many different types of official and semi-official rooms, but [u]never[/u] had she seen a reception room with a ceiling like this one.

The ceiling was not so much ornate as dazzling. It was a dome shape, a bit like the console room’s ceiling, she thought. But that’s where any similarity ended. This room’s ceiling was almost completely made of small tiles of mirrored glass, set at different angles so that they not only reflected the walls and the floor, but each other. The full effect would not be really seen unless viewed from lying down. Catherine had no intention of lying down to verify this. She now realised that this room was a rather unusual bedroom, particularly because it had no sign of a bed in it. Then again, maybe it was designed for a race that didn’t use beds or who thought a meadow of thick purple grass dotted with golden dandelions [u]was[/u] the ultimate in luxurious beds.

Comfortable as she was sitting on that unusual floor, she knew she wasn’t going to find where the door to the room was while she was sitting down. She supposed that she would have to sound out all the walls and look behind each set of curtains to find it, assuming that there [u]was[/u] a door to actually find. It was entirely possible that entry might be by teleport or transmat or that the door might be invisible. Just for a brief moment, she wished the Doctor was with her so he could locate it with his sonic screwdriver. Catherine was ashamed of herself for the thought. It was so unlike her to want to ask for help without trying first herself. Besides, he had more urgent work to do back in the TARDIS analysing the purple dust and deciding the best way to expel it safely from the time rotor…..

The analysis of the purple dust was more difficult that the Doctor expected it would be. Determining the exact constituents of it was complicated by the internal interaction between the purple dust and the energy output – even at rest in the time rotor – of the TARDIS Eye of Harmony. He started a supplementary analysis program, including a higher than normal energy calibration rate figure, to shadow the results from the initial program, taking them as automatic input.

This was one of those occasions where he could have really used assistance himself, just to allow him to concentrate on the origin calculations for the dust. But it was far safer for Catherine if he allowed her to indulge her passion for exploring outside the TARDIS rather than risking her coming into contact with the purple dust and its unknown effects on the human body. He wondered what she had found out there.

As there was no active input he could make to either of the analysis programs at the moment, the Doctor switched the scanner over to external view. This enabled him to have a clear view of the room where they had landed. The ceiling was obscured from view, but he greatly admired the style of the murals around the walls of the hexagonal room. Their style reminded him strongly of many Renaissance works he had seen on Earth. Unlike Catherine, the Doctor was not greatly concerned by the apparent lack of doors to the room. He did a quick scan for entries and exits and located one behind the furthest set of wall curtains from the TARDIS.

The Doctor watched Catherine as she moved around the room, methodically tapping each wall gently and listening. He smiled as he guessed that she was looking for an exit or entry to the room by sounding the walls. It was [u]exactly[/u] what he would have done himself if he had not had the advantage of a sonic screwdriver or the TARDIS sensors. His eyes twinkled with appreciation. He knew she would make a fantastic companion and he was glad to be proved right.

The Doctor recognised the room as a high official’s or executive’s bedroom – the plush appearance and the historical, or possibly mythological, subjects for the murals would point to a room designed for someone of great importance. It was reminiscent of something he remembered from long ago, but he couldn’t quite place it at the moment. The purple floor might be of significance as well. He made a similar connection to the one that Catherine made, noting the coincidence between purple dust in the TARDIS and purple flooring in the spaceship. Like Catherine, he usually didn’t believe in coincidence, but he [u]was[/u] prepared to keep an open mind.

The analysis program could be left running on its own for a short time, he thought. This would enable him to take a quick look outside himself. The Doctor had the same urge to explore that Catherine did and an apparently enclosed room, albeit with an entry/exit hidden behind curtains, was fascinating to him. Also, he wanted to know what sort of spaceship the TARDIS had landed them on.

He switched the scanner back to displaying the program’s progress and estimated its completion time. There was [u]definitely[/u] time for him to join Catherine for a quick look at their surrounds. He turned and dashed down the ramp to the TARDIS door, opened it and stepped through to the purple carpet in the room beyond. Grinning across at Catherine, he turned to secure the door behind him. But when he turned back, he didn’t see the artificial dandelions in the purple floor. He didn’t see the mirrored tiles on the ceiling reflecting the light in a dazzling display. Because by the time he had locked the TARDIS door behind him and looked across to where he last saw Catherine, she was gone.

The Doctor was not a man who panicked. He knew there would be a rational explanation for her disappearance. His guess was that she had inadvertently located some form of transmat point, hidden from view, rather like the hidden terminal near the Eye of Orion. Whether this transmat was localised to the ship or transferred to a more distant location, he couldn’t tell without following it up physically.

His first instinct [u]was[/u] to search for her. But until the programs in the TARDIS had run to completion and he had stabilised the purple dust in the time rotor, he knew he couldn’t do a damn thing about it…..

(* To be continued….. *)