Chapter Three

Catherine followed the corridor for another twenty metres and stopped to consider her next step. Her thought had been originally flippant, but she was now coming to the realisation that her thought may not have been so inaccurate after all. The corridor did not change; not colour scheme, not texture, not surface. All walls remained unbroken. Not even a print or a painting hung on those walls. There were no windows in the walls, no skylights in the ceilings, no obvious sources of the illumination that glowed around the corridor. Catherine could see nothing to indicate a purpose for the corridor, either. But she was sure there must be a way out somewhere. It didn’t really make sense to her that the corridor should not lead somewhere or that there should not be some exit, even if it were no more than a fire exit.

It was at that moment that she came across a non-descript door in the corridor. It was flush with the surface of the wall and exhibited the usual beige and purple colour scheme. Catherine thought it was well worth investigating.

She walked over to the door and turned the purple door knob. The door opened quietly and smoothly to show a dark room beyond. Without hesitation, Catherine stepped through the doorway into the room.

But Catherine didn’t even have time to close the door behind her before she knew it had been a dreadful mistake. The floor of the room had been a complete illusion. She had stepped through the door into a smooth-walled shaft of some kind and was free-falling. How far she was destined to fall she did not know. And she didn’t know what might be waiting for her.

Catherine had never been particularly fond of free-falling at the best of times, but this was even worse than usual. She had no idea where she was or how far she had to reach the bottom of whatever she had fallen into. Or even what was waiting for her when she did reach the bottom. Strangely enough, she only recognised an initial moment of panic, before she started to look around her for some handhold or railing that she could grab onto to halt her fall It was difficult to see properly as the lighting was not particularly good and her eyes were still adjusting to the poor lighting after the artificial illumination of the corridor. Catherine could make out a curvature of the walls, but there were no obvious railings. As her eyes began to adjust to the gloom, it seemed that she was falling through some sort of tunnel or chute. Not that that helped her at all. For a moment, she inadvertently pressed a hand against the TARDIS key on the pendant around her neck. She spoke her thoughts at that instant out loud, although there was no-one to hear. “My curiosity led me into this and I [u]will[/u] rescue myself from this mess – somehow. But I wish you were here, Doctor. I could do with your advice…..”

The Doctor felt a sharp tingling at the base of his skull, like some form of primitive telepathic communication. He hadn’t felt that type of feeling for such a long time. In fact he thought he was immune to that sort of communication and for a few moments he couldn’t work out where it was coming from. Then he realised – it had to be connected to Catherine’s TARDIS key. It was part of the TARDIS and the TARDIS was the only thing that had that type of connection with him. The Doctor guessed Catherine must be in some form of difficulty, but there was nothing he could do, before he stabilised the purple dust. His eyes had lost their characteristic sparkle and enthusiasm and he was visibly distressed at his inability to help. But he knew that would not help either of them. He shook himself inwardly and regained his composure. Racing out of the Cloister room back to the console room, his mind was rapidly calculating the procedure to prevent the purple dust from developing further.

But the TARDIS, as the Doctor well knew, sometimes appeared to have a mind of its own. It [u]was[/u] badly affected by the purple dust, but its basic telepathic communication was working sufficiently to provide the assistance to Catherine that the Doctor could not. More accurately, it recognised that part of itself was in trouble – in this case, Catherine’s TARDIS key – and automatically pulled it back. The combination of the pressure of her hand against the key, her own body heat and her thoughts directed towards the Doctor had acted as a catalyst to trigger the automatic defence mechanism. However, the TARDIS, in its affected state, could not pull Catherine and the key back to itself. But it [u]could[/u] transmat her away from almost certain doom.

Catherine was relieved not to be falling down through the tunnel or chute she had stepped into. Naturally, with her strongly logical mind, she assumed that she must have fallen through another transmat beam in the chute. She assumed that for some reason, not immediately obvious to her, that it must be part of the chute. With her lack of knowledge of the TARDIS, it never occurred to her that the TARDIS had generated the transmat beam as a result of her inadvertent communication with it through the key. But to suddenly find she had been shifted into a darkened space with neither sound nor means of illumination to indicate where she was did not leave her particularly impressed either.

After gingerly testing her immediate vicinity by tapping the floor carefully with her right foot, she realised that there was one plus to her relocation. At least the floor around her was stable. The next thing to test was its dimensions and the height of the surrounding walls. Logically, she knew there had to be walls of some sort or else she would see some sign of light. She set out to methodically investigate her immediate surroundings, her concerns forgotten in the excitement that the exploration of somewhere new always brought to her.....

The Doctor had finished entering the details into the TARDIS database. Apparently speaking to the TARDIS, he said aloud, “That’s the last of the procedure details to halt the progression of the purple dust entered. What happens next is up to you.” This last sentence could as easily apply to the Doctor himself as to the TARDIS. In many ways they were incontrovertibly linked. The Doctor would be bereft if something happened to his TARDIS. He still did not know the source or the cause of the purple dust entering his ship, but he was fairly confident that he [u]did[/u] have the optimum solution to the problem. However, he wouldn’t know for sure if his solution had been successful until the purple dust started to fade out of the time rotor.

If he [u]was[/u] correct, it would mean that he wouldn’t have to implement a temporal coordinate shift after all. This had been one of his major concerns, as it could have meant abandoning Catherine to her fate and he just [u]couldn’t[/u] do that. As she was his travelling companion, he had a certain responsibility for her safety and security. He smiled to himself as he thought of the probably highly indignant and spirited, but equally logical, reply he would receive if he even suggested such a thing to this former sergeant in Central Orion Protection and Security. But nevertheless that was what he believed and how he felt. It was how he had always felt towards his companions. They [u]were[/u] ultimately, whether he liked it or not, his responsibility. Besides, he [u]did[/u] enjoy his discussions with Catherine. That was one of the reasons he had asked her to travel with him in the first place. She was intelligent, logical, independent and full of the spirit he admired so much. And, although he didn’t dwell on this point, she was very attractive as well.

In the interim, while his solution was being implemented through the TARDIS, he would try to determine Catherine’s current location and what, if anything, he could do to bring her back. Although the issues related to the purple dust had been the Doctor’s immediate priority, Catherine’s disappearance had never been far from his mind.

He started to review her disappearance again in his mind, as he raced down the ramp to the TARDIS doors and outside into the strange purple bedroom. As he turned to secure the TARDIS doors behind him, he reviewed everything of relevance he could think of since she had activated the hidden transmat beam accidentally and disappeared. He quickly moved across the room, crushing at least five artificial dandelions in the purple carpet in his haste to reach the transmat point that he had had the foresight to stabilise earlier.

As the Doctor approached the transmat point, two tall alien beings materialised in front of him. He knew that stabilising the transmat point could allow people – a term that he used to refer to any sentient beings, not just humanoids – to enter the room that way, but he had hoped that it wouldn’t actually eventuate. Still, he knew exactly how to deal with the situation.

Grinning broadly at the couple who were obviously extremely wrapped in each other, the Doctor cleared his throat to attract their attention and waved. He said, in a chirpy tone, “Hello!” His grin broadened even further as the alien couple looked towards him, both bemused at the interruption. What they made of this leather-jacketed alien with the twinkling blue eyes and the silly grin on his face that was approaching them, the Doctor didn’t know. They appeared to be speechless at the moment anyway. The Doctor walked over to them and said, with a wicked glint in his eyes, “Sorry, about this, but I’ll have to ask you to leave. This bedroom is already taken! Try the next one along the corridor!” They didn’t respond immediately, but the Doctor didn’t wait for a reply. He activated the transmat to return the couple to wherever they had accessed it from.

The glint in the eyes and the grin disappeared from the Doctor’s face as quickly as they had appeared. An intense look of concentration appeared as he switched the sonic screwdriver on to run a trace back on the transmat beam that had caused Catherine’s disappearance.

The Doctor was finding it more difficult to trace the terminus of the transmat beam than he expected. His frustration was becoming obvious. He looked very much as if he would have liked to rip the transmat controls apart. But he knew if he did that he would never be able to bring Catherine back. Besides, violence was [u]never[/u] a solution to a problem – even one of frustration. At best, it was only ever a temporary gratification of the spirit as he had found on the previous rare occasions where he had employed violence that wasn’t for reasons of self-defence. He had always been better than that. The Time Lords had always been better than that. Leave the violence to the Daleks. As he thought of the demise of the Time Lords and their war with the Daleks, tears filled his eyes once again. He made no effort to stop their flow, but let them run down his cheeks for a few moments before he blinked his eyes and determinedly set them aside. The Doctor knew that he would [u]always[/u] feel pain where the fate of the Time Lords was concerned and that it would probably not diminish over time. He accepted that he would be emotional from time-to-time whenever he thought of that particular subject. But he would never allow it to interfere in his pursuit of what he knew needed to be done. His primary concern at the moment was for Catherine and her well-being.

It didn’t matter how much he fine-tuned the setting on the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor couldn’t find a coordinate for the other terminus of the transmat beam. His only assumption was that the coordinate must be blocked or shielded at the other end, rather like the setting on his telephone to prevent him receiving unsolicited calls in the TARDIS. A frown creased his brow as he concentrated on solving this problem. He couldn’t use the TARDIS until the time rotor was free of the purple dust which made its databases unreliable. But if he could connect into that telepathic link that the TARDIS had made earlier, location [u]might[/u] just be possible. The Doctor was sure that that link was connected with Catherine – after all, it was her habit to wear her TARDIS key around her neck and it [u]was[/u] theoretically possible that in the right set of circumstances a telepathic connection between the TARDIS and the TARDIS key could be established. It was a gamble, but he did relish the challenge it posed and sometimes successful challenges gained positive results.

The Doctor turned away from the transmat point and headed quickly back towards the TARDIS. His face was impassive as if he was focussed on his inner thoughts, but his eyes were bright, although without their characteristic twinkle. He reached the TARDIS doors, unlocked them without a backward glance and entered the console room, automatically securing the doors behind him.

The Doctor knew that the purple dust would not have dissipated yet from the time rotor, so didn’t waste any time on even glancing in its direction. His entire focus at the moment was on recalling the telepathic link that had fed in through the TARDIS. It could have been sourced from anywhere, but he was convinced that the link had emanated from Catherine’s TARDIS key. Each key that was cut [u]was[/u] a TARDIS creation and therefore part of the TARDIS itself.

While he could not replicate the link, he knew that the coordinates of its source, duration and any shift – whether temporal or physical – would be recorded in the TARDIS console. Fortunately, the part of the console that related to telepathic links had no connection to the time rotor, so was unlikely to be affected by the purple dust. The Doctor knew, therefore, that the readings were likely to be reliable. But they could not be retrieved and read without manual connection via cabling beneath the TARDIS floor.

Wasting no time, the Doctor dashed over to the appropriate access point to the under floor. He unlocked the access panel with the sonic screwdriver and climbed down beneath the console, his leather jacket brushing on the edge of the panel as he went. It was one thing climbing down there, but trying to locate the correct linking cable he needed was another. But the Doctor, who knew his TARDIS inside and out from having tweaked, repaired or added to most parts of it – particularly around the console – at some time or another during his travels, was not perturbed about this at all.

He grabbed a handful of loose cabling that was to his right and quickly sorted through it until he found the particular cable he needed. All he had to do now was to connect it appropriately. Somewhat anachronistically, this cable required not only physical connection between two ports in the cable frame, but actual manual securing of each connection by screwing a pair of tiny gold screws evenly and tightly into place. If the Doctor had thought about it at all, he would have smiled at the basic technology matching the basic internal telepathic link as if they were synchronised with each other. But the Doctor was too busy to think about this as he secured the cable into place. This was one of those rare occasions when he actually used the sonic screwdriver [u]as[/u] an ordinary screwdriver. However, it fulfilled this role very efficiently.

It took only a short time to connect the cables and for the Doctor to assure himself that the connection was secure. He then climbed back up into the console room, replaced the floor access panel, and walked around to the opposite side of the console. Reaching under the edge of the console, the Doctor pulled out a device which resembled an oversized mobile telephone except for the conducting bracket that held it joined to the console. He secured the sonic screwdriver into a special communications port in the bracket and then started to punch a set of alphanumeric control characters into the keypad of the device. As its data retrieval began, the information began to show on its small display screen and vector coordinates began to be automatically downloaded into the memory of the sonic screwdriver.

(* To be continued….. *)