Chapter Six

The security officer who had arrested Catherine quietly opened the concealed door in the bedroom that was being used for her detention. She hadn’t realised it, but the doorway she had been looking for was not behind any of the camellia-like trees that formed a hedge around the walls of the room. The narrow door was [u]inside[/u] the apparent centre of one of the trees. Catherine, if she knew, would have inwardly cursed herself for missing it.

It was actually inside the tree where she had detected the moisture on the leaves. The moisture, together with the carefully chosen illumination of the walls behind the hedge, was part of the art of the door’s concealment. No-one ever looked closely at the centre of a moist tree, particularly when they were looking through a dark hedge towards an illuminated wall. The door was actually a narrow sliding door covered by a very sophisticated hologram of the centre of one of the trees.

It was possible, if Catherine had known where to look and had not been suffering the after-effects of having been drugged, that she [u]may[/u] just have noticed the faintest shimmer where the hologram met the surrounding foliage. But it was unlikely given that the illumination of the room drew the eye towards the lichen-covered wall behind. If she had had access to the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, she would have found it immediately. Such a hologram would not stand up to that type of mechanical scrutiny.

As the security officer carefully pulled his long fox-like tail through the narrow opening, he looked across towards where Catherine was still fast asleep. He naturally didn’t know that she had already regained consciousness and returned to sleep. The officer was concerned at her apparently not having woken as yet from the cocktail of drugs that he had quickly injected her with. Drugging arrestees, even when they were apparently trespassing, was not something he approved of. It didn’t matter how efficient and painless it was supposed to be. But it was standard security procedure and it [u]had[/u] to be followed, regardless of his personal feelings on the matter. That was, of course, unless he wanted to be arrested himself.

He quietly walked over towards her, his tail gently brushing the leaf-litter covering on the floor as he moved. On reaching her side, he stood looking down at her for several moments. She seemed calm enough and her breathing seemed to be regular, much to his relief. At least that meant she was starting to recover. He turned away from her, planning to revisit her soon to wake her, if she wasn’t already awake by then. As it turned out, she woke sooner than he had expected.

Her waking was his fault, of course. As he turned, his tail had brushed the right-hand side of her face and she sat up suddenly, sneezing loudly. This did nothing for her still very painful headache. It certainly made it feel worse. The shocked security officer jumped backwards abruptly, catching the tip of his beautiful tail under the heel of his right boot. He had never seen someone sneeze before. Catherine turned towards him, after she finished sneezing, and asked abruptly, “Who are you and why am I here?” The security officer, who had been checking his tail for any sign of damage, frowned at her. He didn’t reply immediately, but to Catherine, he definitely looked annoyed. But then again, so was she…..

The darkened time rotor looked strange, nearly like a dead thing in the centre of the console. It normally glowed even when at rest with the power from the TARDIS Eye of Harmony charging through it. The Doctor couldn’t remember a time when he had had to disconnect it and the parts of the console tied to it so completely from the TARDIS power source. He looked at it almost with an expression of apology in his eyes. His TARDIS was so connected with him telepathically that he felt nearly as if he had hurt it in some way. But it [u]was[/u] necessary to completely deactivate the purple dust that currently was resident inside it. The only problem was that the Doctor had absolutely no idea how long it would take for this to occur.

“No point standing around here,” the Doctor thought, as he started to walk towards the inner door of the console room. He knew he needed to sort out the issues – and he was sure there must be issues as it had its own share of purple dust – related to the TARDIS Eye of Harmony itself. So he put all thoughts of the time rotor and the console to the back of his mind as he headed back towards the Cloister room.

The only stray thought that occurred to him as he reached the room was that he must show it to Catherine some time. He grinned momentarily as he thought how much she might appreciate it with her interest in antiquities. But he knew that all thoughts of Catherine must also be resolutely put to the back of his mind at the moment. The TARDIS Eye of Harmony [u]must[/u] be cleared of the purple dust before he could even [u]think[/u] of searching for her. He suspected that it was not going to be as easy to deal with as the time rotor and the console had been.

As he pushed open the Cloister room doors and looked into the magnificence of the room, his eyes were immediately drawn to that gigantic mural of Gallifrey which he had passed over on his previous visit to the room. It was seemingly drawing him towards it, as if the TARDIS was trying to tell him something through what was still just a fantastic and evocative painting.

Although his main objective was the well containing the TARDIS Eye of Harmony, the Doctor decided he should follow his instinct and take the time to look at the mural more closely.

He quickly negotiated the huge tree-like support structures that were so similar to those in the console room and bypassed the well containing the TARDIS Eye of Harmony to reach the mural on the far side of the room.

While the vision of Gallifrey as seen from a geostationary orbit was undoubtedly a masterpiece of artwork and was a sad reminder to him of all he had lost, the depictions of his differing incarnations were even more disturbing. It wasn’t so much that the impression of his previous incarnations taking Gallifrey’s existence for granted bothered him. Not even the visual reminder that his current incarnation was the first one who had been forced by circumstance to face up to the reality of Gallifrey’s demise disturbed him. That was a deep sorrow in his soul that was ever present with him. He knew it always would be to some degree. Tears were never far away when this came to mind. But his regeneration as a result of his role in his planet’s fate was a fact that he couldn’t escape from. Eventually, some day, he might even come to terms with it. At least that is what he hoped.

What [u]did[/u] disturb him most was the depiction that he was all alone; one man against the universe. A strong man – maybe. Perhaps the passage of time would return that strength of character he saw depicted in his other selves. But as he looked more carefully at the mural, to his surprise, he realised the mural depicted perhaps an even stronger man in a very familiar, battered black leather jacket. This was a man who had seen the worst that could be done and lived; a man who was a survivor; a man who wasn’t afraid to face up to the universe and all its good and evil; a man who knew what must be done and wasn’t afraid to do it. Nevertheless he was a man who was so very, very much alone.

But he suddenly realised that he didn’t have to be.

It was then that he knew what the TARDIS was trying to communicate to him. This wasn’t a task he could manage entirely on his own – at least not within a suitable timeframe. He [u]needed[/u] Catherine and her strength of character, her spirit and her talents to help him evict the purple dust from the TARDIS quickly and completely. In particular, Catherine’s indisputable logic would have been of great assistance to him, although he probably wouldn’t admit it to himself, let alone to her! After all, he had invited Catherine to accompany him on his journeys, not as a passenger, but as an equal partner in his ventures.

The Doctor turned his back on the mural and raced back to the centre of the room and the well containing the TARDIS Eye of Harmony. This was still his major concern. A properly functioning Eye of Harmony was crucial to the survival of the TARDIS. Even a modicum of this purple dust – active or not – could disrupt that function disastrously.

It seemed not to have changed much since the last time he had looked at it. The tinges of purple edging the ‘eyelid’ had not increased. But neither had they decreased. It would seem as if his disconnection of the time rotor from its power source had stabilised the purple dust here as well for some reason. A frown of concentration creased his brow as he considered this. Perhaps the purple dust hadn’t entered through the Eye after all. Maybe the primary entry point [u]had[/u] been via the time rotor and the console. It [u]was[/u] possible that the purple dust had then fed back into the TARDIS primary power source as it looked for sufficient power to activate itself.

The Doctor’s frown eased a little at that thought. “Yes!” he thought. “That [u]must[/u] be it.” Still, the entry of an alien substance into the TARDIS Eye of Harmony, even via the console connection, was an issue of importance.

“There is a bit of a silver lining to this,” the Doctor thought, cheerfully borrowing from the well-worn Earth saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. “If the purple dust is stabilised here, it’s unlikely to have spread to the auxiliary power supply in the powerhouse.” He was right of course, but it never occurred to him to double check just in case.

His frown deepened again and he pursed his lips as he contemplated the likely longevity of this stability. He wasn’t convinced that it would continue for much longer. So much depended on how the purple dust had entered the TARDIS in the first place, regardless of its point of entry.

It could cause serious difficulties if the purple dust activated itself in the main power source. Time shifts, unexpected materialisation and dematerialisation, even difficulties with travel in the vortex itself could result. While the TARDIS was static, these issues were only hypothetical, but once it dematerialised – even with no temporal displacement – all these issues became definite possibilities over which the Doctor would have no control.

Now that he recognised that he needed Catherine’s assistance, the Doctor wondered how he could extend the stability of the purple dust both in the TARDIS Eye of Harmony and the time rotor. He knew that he would need sufficient time to locate her manually by use of the sonic screwdriver coordinates and his normally infallible sense of direction. But estimation of that time depended on so many variable factors. Luckily, his powers of estimation and calculation were usually reliable.….

Catherine frowned at the security officer. She made no move from where she had sat up after she had been so rudely awakened, but calmly waited for her two questions to be answered. While her sneezing had ceased, it had only made her head ache more and she was in no mood for even rudimentary social niceties.

The expectation of being arrested in what seemed, to her, to be an improper manner had never entered her calculations. There was always the possibility of arrest as she was, technically, located somewhere without permission. She understood and half-expected that. But being drugged in that callous way as part of that arrest, that was a different matter. It would never be permitted under Central Orion Protection and Security’s charter of operations!

The security officer whose frown had now become more of a scowl did not reply to either of her questions. Catherine knew that he had understood her perfectly well as the Doctor had already explained to her about the way the TARDIS translated both verbal and written alien languages for its travellers. She was not in the mood to participate in any waiting games played by alien security officers, regardless of whether she was in the wrong or not. But she knew that if she just repeated her questions that she was still unlikely to receive an answer. So she rephrased the first question, making it a little more diplomatic than previously.

“My name is Catherine Mere. You are?” she asked, a little less abruptly than before.

The security officer’s scowl reverted to a frown, but he did not answer her immediately. He bent down and deftly twitched his tail around so that once again it was looped over his left arm. To his relief, his magnificent, lilac fox-like tail – of which he was very proud – didn’t seem to have suffered any lasting damage. Although he supposed that its tip would probably be bruised and tender for a few days. Almost absently he responded to Catherine’s question.

“I’m Security Officer Tell and you have been arrested for trespassing in the corridors of the secure accommodation zone,” he said, crisply. All access to the corridors in the secure accommodation zone was for authorised personnel only. While the Biennial Galactic Trade Conference was taking place aboard this ship, all areas where the diplomatic discussions were taking place, the reserved dining rooms and the conference attendees’ special accommodation suites were prohibited areas. To him, Catherine didn’t look as if she had the appropriate authorisation to be there.

Catherine had a shrewd idea that she probably was trespassing, albeit unintentionally. But how did Officer Tell know that? He had never asked for any identification from her. She decided to tackle this head on.

“But how do you know if I am trespassing or not?” Catherine asked, in a seemingly innocent-sounding voice. “You didn’t even ask for identification. I’ve already told you I was transmatted into the corridor by accident.” Catherine had no identification, but she thought she just [u]might[/u] be able to brazen her way through this by attempting to trick him with a mix of logic and her intimate knowledge of the way a security service works.

Unfortunately for Catherine, the trick wasn’t going to work this time.

Officer Tell looked down at her and considered her reply for a few moments. He then replied with his own inescapable logic, “Unidentified and unauthorised females do not normally [u]accidentally[/u] become transmatted into these corridors.” His voice became even crisper as he added, “These corridors lead to the special accommodation suites of the most senior male diplomats and ambassadors on board this ship.”

The security officer did not wait for her to respond to the outrageous implication of his words, but quickly left the room, causing the artificial leaves in the leaf-litter floor to rustle as he passed by. Much to Catherine’s disappointment the hologram disguised entry to the room was securely locked behind him…..

(* To be continued….. *)