Chapter Six

To say the Doctor was extremely worried about the situation was a severe understatement. He had barely heard Catherine’s comments, but then he had already noted the same evidence. Looking around him, the Doctor saw that the group of two with him had grown to three. Constable Crane’s ‘partner in crime’, Constable George Black, had shed his lack of visibility and joined the party while Catherine had been examining the mound. The sergeant now briefly introduced the Doctor to him formally and the Doctor was interested to see that Constable Black looked slightly shame-faced at him, now that he knew his reason for extracting the piece of rubble from the mound.

The Doctor’s tests with the sonic screwdriver indicated that there was no immediate radiation in the area, neither electromagnetic nor nuclear, but the smell of weaponry residue was still very strong in the air – at least to him. As far as the Doctor could tell, the sergeant and her constables had no sense of that strange aroma that seemed to ‘hit him in the face’ so forcibly as soon as he reached the location. The Doctor knew that Central Orion Protection and Security always recruited its officers from within the human populations of Earth and the Earth colonies, now – its human recruits had always seemed more resilient and more tenacious than the others. Human officers could put up with a lot, they didn’t give up easily and they tended to be single-minded, some of their arrestees would even say bloody-minded, in their pursuit of offenders – all assets in members of a law enforcement agency. One problem they did have, though, was a lack of olfactory sensitivity.

He wondered for a moment if it was just his curse, or his good fortune, to have such finely-honed olfactory nerves. Were the rest of his party, with their human senses of smell, insensitive to it or was it that they had become inured to the smell and no longer noticed it? In the grand scheme of the universe, he supposed that it probably did not matter really, but being blessed, or cursed, with a sense of curiosity beyond the normal, mundane type of inquisitiveness, he noted that thought away for later. The Doctor was stirred out of his introspection by a quiet, but understandably irritated, feminine voice calling his name, for the third time in so many minutes.

“Doctor,” the sergeant said, “Do you know the cause of this?” She walked over to stand next to him, reaching down tentatively to shake his shoulder, just as he turned his head and looked up at her, briefly. Luckily she hadn’t reached out a fraction of a second earlier or she would have caught her finger across his eyebrow, which could have been classed as an assault on his person! Although she briefly blushed in several attractive shades of red, she quickly recovered her composure. The Doctor had turned away and appeared to be too preoccupied with the job in hand to notice her near miss or to register her discomfiture. She was very relieved about that. The two constables, however, clearly noticed, but were not game to say anything beyond a couple of stifled sniggers behind their hands. She was their superior officer after all, but she knew that at the first opportunity that offered, she was going to be the butt of all their private jokes with their colleagues back at base. However, that was something over which she had no control and she would just have to ‘grin and bear it’ – yet again.

Having finished his examination of the mound, the Doctor quickly stood up again and turned to the rest of his party. His expression was serious, a deep frown drawing his eyebrows together so much that the expression ‘Thundercloud’ could well have been used to describe his look at that moment. He looked at them all, even the sergeant, standing there expectantly waiting for their ‘guru’ to impart his wisdom to them all. This irritated him, as he knew that at least Catherine was capable of reasoning things out for herself.

There was a time, long ago, in his first incarnation, when he would have been quite happy to expound his theories on anything and everything, not expecting, or wanting, any other contributions to the theory. “How arrogant and self-opinionated I was back then,” he thought to himself. “No wonder Susan used to.....” He paused as he thought of his dead granddaughter. Brave, rebellious, a little bit wilful in her ‘teenage’ years, but very attached to the old man he was then. He remembered having to literally shut her out of the TARDIS, so that she would stay on Earth. She must have felt rejected by him, at the time, even though she would have forgiven him later. He hadn’t wanted to part from her, but he knew it was in her best interests, as it enabled her to stay with the love of her life, David Campbell – a human, but brave and strong enough to face up to a Dalek invasion.

At the thought of Daleks, he thought of the Emperor and his order to destroy the ship transporting Susan back to the doomed Gallifrey. Tears pricked behind his eyes – partly for Susan’s death, partly for Gallifrey’s. His tears were blinked away before they could be seen by the group surrounding him; his tears were part of his own private hell and not for public spectacle and conjecture. But he did still feel unresolved anger at the Emperor of the Daleks who was well and truly destroyed in the conflagration that marked Gallifrey’s demise. If in some strange twist of the time vortex, their paths ever were to cross again….. “No,” he thought, “that is impossible and I have never been one for vengeance. It is pointless and eats you up from the inside like acid.”

The Doctor shook himself mentally, looking again at the three expectant faces before him. At least the sergeant’s face was now showing an expression that was tempered with concern. Catherine’s instinct for the out of place had come into play – she knew that the Doctor’s expression and seeming hesitation were not right for him. He stood there, wondering which one of them, if any, was prepared to risk appearing foolish before the rest, by asking him what he had found. Not that he was going to ridicule or criticise anyone, but he did hope that the more obvious questions were not going to be asked. He was not surprised when it was Catherine who asked the first question, but he was surprised by the questions she asked and her perceptiveness.

“Doctor,” she asked calmly, “from your expression, you have discovered signs of something that concerns you greatly? I assume then that it is not something that is either part of the Eye or of this planet?” Her hazel eyes looked straight at his blue ones – her gaze clear and focussed with no obvious emotion on display. She had always had the knack of being able to hide her emotions when necessary and she assumed the Doctor could as well. This was why his deep frown and serious expression made her apprehensive.

The Doctor had no intention of confirming or denying his concern about the situation. He was not sure enough of those in his party and their intentions towards him. While he was definitely not afraid of the risks involved and he had had no choice in being the sole survivor from Gallifrey, he had no death wish. Both the constables were armed and between him and the TARDIS. Humans were often unpredictable, despite their vulnerability and tendency to ‘run their own heads into the noose’. It was one of the things about them that fascinated him. But they could be positively irrational if handed a gun or similar weapon and he wasn’t in the mood to find out how irrational those two constables could be. However, he did choose to answer the sergeant’s second question, “No, it is not part of the Eye of Orion, nor is it from anywhere else on this planet.” He paused to consider whether Catherine would appreciate praise in front of her constables.

Deciding that she would, especially after her earlier embarrassment, he looked at her directly and his frown lifted. His matter-of-fact Northern English accent removed any hint of anything which could embarrass her further, as he continued, “You spotted two critical factors, Sergeant – the coldness of the stones and the disappearance of the mortar used to bind the stones to one another. Well done! The silkiness of the stones, their clear exposure to intense heat and the smell of weaponry residue indicate the use of high-powered, but not high-energy, weaponry very close to the Eye itself.”

As the Doctor watched her reaction to this, Constable George Black asked, in an unexpectedly quiet voice from behind the Doctor, “What about the shrinkage, Doctor?” The Doctor turned to him, eyebrows rising slightly, saying, “Good point, Constable. Fantastic! In many ways, the shrinkage is the most interesting item of the whole lot.”

Catherine looked at the constable and then back to the Doctor. “Why, Doctor?” she asked.

The Doctor turned back to look at her. For a moment, she thought he was about to say something, but he did not reply. He just smiled a gentle half smile and shook his head…..

(* To be continued….. *)