Chapter Four

Catherine had located the wall nearest to her place of landing and verified that the wall, like the floor around her, was stable. She couldn’t gauge the height of the wall, but she estimated that its height must be at least four metres for all light to be completely blocked out. Now that she was satisfied that the environment around her was static and unlikely to dissolve around her feet any time soon, she could turn her attention to examining her surroundings more closely.

Although she couldn’t see either the floor or the wall, she knew she could still learn a great deal about them by using her sense of touch. She had already guessed that the floor was relatively smooth because in her movement across it, there were no obvious rough patches to carefully move across or avoid. Nor were there any imitation grassy fields to move through as in the bedroom where the TARDIS had materialised. The floor was most like the floor in the corridor that she had recently left. Catherine suspected that she may have actually arrived in a corridor in another part of the ship. But she couldn’t be sure. There was only one way to find out and that was to follow the wall until she located a door jamb or opening.

Catherine reached out towards the wall and started to run her fingers over its surface more closely. She was immediately taken aback by its unusual texture. It wasn’t rough, but it wasn’t smooth either; a strange texture that was somewhere in between. Catherine wondered whether it might have been coated in some type of thin fabric. She was sure that it wasn’t paint – as in the murals in the bedroom – or plaster, so her concern about stumbling across some work of art and maybe damaging it by accident in the dark was unfounded. All she could do was to continue literally feeling her way along the wall, but very gently with the tips of her fingers so as not to disturb anything.

That was until she heard the official-sounding cough from somewhere over to her right-hand side and saw a small beam of light coming, she assumed, from a low-level laser torch. Catherine stopped her investigation of the wall’s surface. Although she was no longer a sergeant in Central Orion Protection and Security, her instincts honed during both her training and her career were still fully functional. Catherine could easily recognise another security officer when she came across one. She stood where she was, quietly waiting for the torch to sweep towards her. It didn’t take long for her to be discovered, as the torch beam moved across the floor to the wall she had been so recently exploring.

The torch beam widened as it touched Catherine and then a light came on. Catherine’s guess had been correct. Her location [u]was[/u] another corridor. In her best sergeant’s manner, she looked at the security officer in front of her.

He was a tall humanoid, dressed in some form of uniform that she didn’t recognise, but he was definitely a security officer of some sort. There was the purposeful air of an officer on duty about him that Catherine easily recognised. Whether he was civil or military, she couldn’t tell. She suspected the latter, but it hardly mattered. He could so easily have fitted into any one of the Earth colonies’ militia that she had dealt with on many occasions in the past. The only thing that distinguished him from a human officer was the magnificent long, furry, lilac fox-like tail that he carried looped up over his left arm. It was obviously a part of him and not some affectation.

Catherine, who had encountered many different species in her career, was not surprised at his appearance. But she did wonder whether she must have landed somewhere on the ship that was not generally accessible. She decided very quickly [u]not[/u] to point out that she was a former security officer herself. It would only probably exacerbate matters. Her only course of action was to try to bluff it out, hopefully finding out some information herself as she did so. She stood her ground, held her head up and looked her opponent straight in the eyes, saying, “Hello, I’m Catherine Mere. Who are you?”

The security officer didn’t answer Catherine immediately, but looked at her, speculatively. He seemed to be trying to make up his mind about her. Was she friend or foe; trespasser or passenger?

Eventually, he spoke. He said, in a crisp, military-sounding voice, “How and why did you enter here?” To Catherine, who was very observant, his crisp voice sounded somehow false. It was as if it was a posed accent, rather like an actor selecting or practising an accent for a new role. But that wasn’t really important. What [u]was[/u] important was her response to his query. It could mean the difference between being arrested and being allowed to continue her explorations undisturbed.

Catherine took a deep breath and looked her inquisitor in the eyes. She replied in what she hoped was a disarming, or at least ingenuous, tone to her voice, “I arrived here by accidental transmat, I think. I’m not sure how it happened or why. Transmat stuff is not exactly my forte. One moment I was at a party, talking to my friends about the latest fashions in boots; the next moment, I arrived here!” The security officer didn’t appear to be wholly convinced by her reply.

If the Doctor could have heard her reply, he would have first raised his eyebrows at her ‘confession’ and then probably have broken out into a very broad and cheeky grin or laughter. Considering her recollections of their discussion at their initial meeting and their travels together since then, Catherine wouldn’t have really blamed him for such a reaction. However, it did mean that she was glad he wasn’t present to hear [u]this[/u] conversation.

A few moments later, she could have wished that the Doctor was present, cheeky grin or not. The security officer didn’t smile as Catherine fell, unconscious, towards the floor. But he did retain enough consideration to catch her as she fell…..

The Doctor watched the last of the coordinates download into the sonic screwdriver with growing frustration. He was impatient to test his theory about the telepathic link between the TARDIS and Catherine’s TARDIS key as soon as possible. Of course, if his theory was right, he would be able to locate Catherine. That is, he thought, he would be able to locate her position at the time the telepathic link with the TARDIS was made.

In his experience, his travelling companions rarely stayed in the one place, even when he asked them to. Their curiosity usually proved too much for them. Somehow, he didn’t think Catherine would be any different. In fact, he thought she might be the worst of them all. A broad grin appeared on his face and his eyes began to twinkle at the thought. The expression of frustration temporarily disappeared. Catherine’s curiosity and independence were such that he knew it would require nothing short of some type of physical restraint or confinement to actually hold her back. Still, having the telepathic link source coordinates would be a great help. It would give him an approximate starting point for his search.

A beep sounded as the last download into the sonic screwdriver was completed. The Doctor pressed the button corresponding to the menu icon on the screen of the pseudo-mobile telephone device that he was using. He selected the option for correlation of the coordinates and waited for the location triangulation to complete. This would confirm the distance of the coordinates from his current location. It was important that he knew roughly how far the transmat point had sent Catherine. He could then determine if she were still on the ship or not.

As the triangulation completed, the Doctor looked at the coordinates and was relieved to see that the resultant location was an area not too far, generally speaking, from his current location. “That means she’s still on board this ship,” the Doctor thought. “Or at least she was at the time the link was made.” His expression of frustration receded slightly. Under normal circumstances, he would feed the coordinates directly into the TARDIS and follow her immediately.

But the purple dust in the time rotor and the TARDIS Eye of Harmony made tracking a set of coordinates in the TARDIS a risky exercise. Not only was there the possibility of missing the location entirely, but the high probability of the dust interfering with the temporal component as well. From the other perspective, there was always the distinct possibility that the movement of the TARDIS itself could exacerbate the purple dust by causing the dust to reanimate itself from its dormancy. That was [u]not[/u] a risk that the Doctor was prepared to take.

The Doctor walked back around the console to look at the scanner. His expression of frustration deepened again as he looked at the content the scanner displayed. The program he had initiated to implement the procedure to stop the progression of the purple dust was correct, but it was taking longer to execute than he had expected. Something was seriously interfering with the execution of the program. He looked up at the time rotor and was horrified at what he saw there. The purple dust was moving and seemed to be coalescing into purple clouds instead of dispersing as planned. It would appear that his entered procedure had had next to no effect, so far.

The Doctor had assumed that the compression of the purple dust within the stable conditions of the stationary time rotor would be enough to stabilise the invasive substance while his procedure had time to execute. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he was quite wrong. He swore under his breath as he realised he hadn’t allowed for the purple dust that had invaded the TARDIS Eye of Harmony.

Although the purple dust had done no damage to it, the Eye had provided the power it needed to reanimate itself. All of the Doctor’s work to eliminate the purple dust required a program to run through the TARDIS console and the console drew its power from the Eye. Even with the TARDIS at rest, the small amount of power used was just enough to reanimate the purple dust.

There was no longer any option for the Doctor. He couldn’t leave the TARDIS now. The purple dust was starting to become active and was therefore highly dangerous and unpredictable. It could mean the end of the TARDIS.

Catherine would have to wait a little longer for his assistance. He wished he could communicate with her somehow to let her know why he couldn’t help her. Her TARDIS key might have telepathic connection with the TARDIS, but the communication was one-way only. The TARDIS could not communicate with the TARDIS key. He certainly couldn’t initiate communication that way. His hands were metaphorically tied behind his back. “When I see her again, I must organise some sort of mobile communicator for her. Even something as straightforward as an old Earth-type digital mobile phone would do. I’m sure I have a few of them lying around somewhere in the TARDIS,” he thought. It didn’t occur to him that he literally might [u]never[/u] see Catherine again. To give up was not in his nature, as so many of his adversaries and even his teachers at the Academy had found in the past.

The Doctor stood at the console and a sudden burst of violent anger overtook him. He thumped the console with his right fist and again swore under his breath. It wasn’t often that he became really angry and it was even less often that he took it out on the TARDIS. But for once he wasn’t apologetic for it. It was illogical, but he needed some physical outlet for his frustration at this moment.

Although the Doctor had immense faith in Catherine’s resourcefulness, he couldn’t help but feel as if he were abandoning her. He [u]never[/u] left his travelling companions in the lurch and he [u]never[/u] abandoned them. An unwelcome Earth expression occurred to him – there’s always a first time for everything. His face had an expression of intensity that masked his inner distress. He shook himself inwardly to bring his thoughts back to the immediate task of the removal of the purple dust. Turning towards the scanner, the Doctor started to rapidly modify the parameters surrounding the computer program to curtail the activity of the purple dust. Maybe by the time he had finished the task he might have worked out a way to circumvent, or at least bypass, its power drain from the TARDIS console and the TARDIS Eye of Harmony.

That Earth expression haunted him. There was a first time for everything. This was the first time that the time rotor and the TARDIS Eye of Harmony had ever been invaded by a foreign substance. Under normal circumstances both should have been shielded from just such an invasion. And the Doctor was as sure as he could be that neither was damaged in any way.

Not even the temporary rude intrusion of that Gallifreyan mechanism into the console at the end of the Time War….. The Doctor was not going to dwell on that thought, although the tears that came unbidden whenever he thought of the demise of Gallifrey were not far away. He shook his head as if to physically push the thought and the emotion away to the recesses of his mind again. That console mechanism was long gone and anyway the only damage experienced inside the TARDIS by its enforced use had been to him…..

He not only felt that there was no damage to the TARDIS; he knew that there was no damage.

As he finished entering the changed parameters to his procedure program, the Doctor glanced up at the time rotor. The purple dust clouds seemed to have slowed their rate of coalescence slightly. Although that represented a positive result, the Doctor was not going to relax until the clouds had dissipated. He knew now that part of the solution must be to isolate the purple dust from the power supply to the console and most particularly to isolate it from the TARDIS Eye of Harmony.

The Doctor thought he knew a way that might work for the former, but the latter was a puzzle. He couldn’t bypass the TARDIS Eye of Harmony entirely. What he needed to do was to somehow remove the purple dust from inside it. But without knowing the source of the dust, he couldn’t determine how it had entered the TARDIS and its Eye of Harmony in the first place. However, the Doctor was starting to have a few ideas as to likely possibilities…..

(* To be continued….. *)