Chapter Seven

Reluctantly turning away from the TARDIS Eye of Harmony, the Doctor left the Cloister room to return to the console room where his time calculations could be finalised. He had commenced the calculations in his head already as he opened the Cloister room doors and entered the corridor. Although he had left the Cloister room, until he closed the Cloister room doors, the pull towards the ‘eyelid’ that covered the well holding the Eye was strong. He knew it was affected by the purple dust and that it must be resolved – one way or another. But he couldn’t solve this problem easily on his own and that meant locating Catherine as soon as possible. With that thought in mind, he secured the Cloister room doors and headed back to the console room.

When the Doctor reached the console room, he raced across to the console scanner. His mental calculations were completed, but he needed to verify the current parameters for the purple dust before he could attempt to extend the period of stabilisation of the dust. He knew he would probably need to allow himself a few hours to locate her. Manual coordinate location was never easy or straightforward, but that wasn’t the real issue. The question that was burning in the back of his mind was could he extend the stabilisation period enough to cover the time he needed?

As he almost automatically initiated the program to verify the parameters for the purple dust, the Doctor looked up at the time rotor and its uninvited purple invader. He frowned in concentration as he looked at it. There appeared to be no visible change to the purple dust that he could see. But, as he knew well, appearances could be deceptive. Although he was absolutely sure that his observations were correct, he impatiently waited for the program to run through to completion.

The Doctor didn’t have long to wait. As he had hoped, the results of the program’s execution bore out his visual observations. The stability of the purple dust had not changed.

His next task was to marry up his time calculations to those purple dust stability parameters. The idea was to stretch the parameters out enough to safely give him the maximum time available for his search for Catherine. He sighed audibly as he admitted to himself that this was a task that was easier planned than done. But he wasn’t giving up yet.

Standing back to consider the best way to carry out his plan, the Doctor looked once again at the purple dust in the time rotor. His frown deepened almost to a glare as he looked at it, almost daring it to challenge him. There was no movement from the dust. He turned away from the time rotor and returned to the console scanner. Punching up the stabilising parameters for the purple dust again, the Doctor modified them according to his time calculations and then initialised the program again to stretch the stabilisation period.

Once this completed its run, he estimated that he should have about three Earth hours to find Catherine. Not an excessive time perhaps, but it should be sufficient given that he had the coordinates of her last location recorded in the sonic screwdriver.

At least that was the theory.

While he was impatiently waiting for the program to complete, the Doctor extracted the sonic screwdriver from the inner pocket of his leather jacket. He initiated a software sub-window on the console scanner and compared the downloaded coordinates in the screwdriver and the TARDIS’ location coordinates. These downloaded coordinates were much closer to the TARDIS than the original downloaded ones were. The Doctor’s glare disappeared and his eyes started to glow in anticipation as his face took on a much more positive expression.

There were some who, in the same situation, wouldn’t have waited for the program to complete its adjusted run. But the Doctor didn’t take its successful completion for granted. The risks were too great if his faith proved to be unfounded. But the Doctor was not someone who took uncalculated risks.

It didn’t take long for the program to complete its run. As he looked at the program’s results, he grinned. All his changed parameters had locked in correctly. Although he had slightly over-estimated the time available to him for his search for Catherine – the stabilisation parameters only guaranteed him just over two and a half Earth hours – he was sure that would be sufficient time. It had to be. The risk of destabilisation of the purple dust after that would increase exponentially.

He turned from the console and raced across the room to the TARDIS doors, quickly unlocking them and stepping through them onto the artificial purple grass of the surrounding room. But as he turned to secure the doors behind him, he unconsciously patted the side of the TARDIS, as if he was wishing it well. Which maybe in a way he was.

Instead of racing across the room to the transmat point where Catherine had disappeared from, the Doctor dashed across the room to the only physical door to this strange bedroom. He had already determined that this entry would bring him closer to what he presumed to be Catherine’s last location than the transmat point. Pulling aside the curtain that hid the door, he unlocked the ornate purple and beige-coloured metallic door knob that he had previously locked with the sonic screwdriver. The knob automatically turned and the door opened onto a dimly-lit passageway outside.

As the Doctor stepped through the doorway and locked the door behind him, the passageway lighting came on automatically. “Fantastic!” the Doctor thought, as he headed roughly in the direction of the downloaded coordinates…..

Catherine watched the hologram that disguised the narrow sliding door to the room for a few more moments. She sighed resignedly as she realised that Officer Tell wasn’t likely to return to set her free in a hurry. Although she was appreciative of the fact that she was allowed a limited type of freedom – that is, she had the freedom of that tree-lined bedroom. The only drawback was that she didn’t have the key to the concealed locked door to the room. But she was determined to find a way out of her situation despite that.

As she settled back onto the comfortable bed of artificial leaf litter that formed the floor to this room, she attempted to consider her situation from her captor’s perspective. She was sure if only she could determine his process of thought that she could find a logical way to convince him to set her free. After all, she reasoned, his evidence [u]was[/u] only circumstantial, so any charges must collapse eventually.

There were only two difficulties that Catherine could see with this. Firstly, how long would it take for all this to happen? The other, more obvious, difficulty was that she didn’t know her exact location. When she managed to leave this room, how would she know in which direction she should head to locate the room containing the TARDIS?

Being so independent and used to working through problems for herself, it never even remotely occurred to her that the Doctor might search her out before she had been released or at least had managed to escape from her detention. But then she didn’t know that she had already communicated her coordinate location to the TARDIS via her TARDIS key and that those same coordinates had been loaded into the sonic screwdriver’s memory…..

The corridor that the Doctor had entered was not as ornate or interesting as either of the corridors that Catherine had examined earlier. But it [u]was[/u] just as long and seemingly interminable. This corridor still had the seemingly mandatory purple tiles covering the floor, but had very ordinary-looking beige walls. There were no paintings or murals on these walls; no special textures or special lighting effects. In fact, they would not have looked out of place in an executive’s office on Earth. If the Doctor had been paying sufficient attention to the décor, he would have recognised this as the service corridor for the ambassadorial bedrooms.

Service corridors were the corridors used by the diplomatic staff and the ship’s catering staff on ordinary business. They were very dull compared to the corridors that Catherine had discovered. Those were the ones used for official, extraordinary or ‘special’ business.

The Doctor had quickly walked about fifty Earth metres down the service corridor when he was stopped by an official-looking man in uniform who purposefully stood in his way. This man was tall and humanoid, with a magnificent long, lilac, furry fox-like tail that he carried looped up over his left arm.

Officer Tell looked at the Doctor, sceptical of his likelihood of being in the corridor legitimately. He asked in the same crisp tone of voice that Catherine knew well, “Who are you? Why are you here?”

The Doctor was well-used to officialdom of all sorts and while it still frustrated him, he was more philosophical about it these days. Grinning at the security officer, he reached into his right trouser pocket and pulled out a black leather wallet. He opened it to show him a piece of paper. The paper identified him as ‘Doctor John Smith, Space Security Inspection Service’.

Officer Tell carefully looked at the Doctor’s psychic paper and couldn’t see anything out of order with what to him appeared to be a perfectly legitimate Space Security Inspection Service identification card. He looked at this man before him. Although a battered black leather jacket, jumper and jeans was not the usual outfit for a security inspector, it was not unheard of for inspectors to dress casually. As he knew Space Security were quite likely to send an inspector or an inspection team to evaluate the security arrangements for the Biennial Galactic Trade Conference which was taking place aboard this ship, he accepted the Doctor’s identification as described. He introduced himself and asked, “Doctor, how can I help you?”

The Doctor’s grin broadened as he deliberately took time to replace the wallet and the psychic paper in his trouser pocket. His main aim at the moment was, of course, to find Catherine. But it never hurt to find out a bit of local information at the same time and keep the informant guessing.

Officer Tell patiently awaited the Doctor’s reply. He knew from past experience that members of the Space Security Inspection Service never showed their ultimate intent immediately and should always be cooperated with completely. It was never a good career move to upset a member of that Service intentionally as nearly always they were people of influence or knew people of influence. However, that didn’t prevent him from instinctively regarding the Doctor with suspicion – mixed with a little trepidation – even if he didn’t show it.

“How many rooms are accessed from this corridor, Officer?” the Doctor asked, in a deceptively off-hand manner. He knew Officer Tell would expect him to ask a series of security-type questions. Some of these would be of a physical security nature and others would be of an information security nature. Somewhere in the answers to these questions the Doctor knew he would find the quickest route to Catherine’s current location.

Officer Tell replied, “There are forty diplomatic bedrooms serviced by this particular corridor, Doctor.” He considered whether he would expand on this information or not. Looking at the Doctor’s apparently cheerful and positive expression, the security officer decided that he would show the Doctor around the ship, if he wished for a guide. He knew that sometimes inspectors preferred to wander around on their own, but he had the feeling that this inspector was different. Regardless of this, offers of assistance to inspectors were always looked upon favourably and it could do him no harm professionally.

“I think you’ll find the security for these rooms is appropriate for the conference, Doctor,” Officer Tell said in a slightly less crisp voice, before adding, somewhat tentatively, “I can arrange for you to view a selection of them now, if you wish. Many of them are unoccupied at the moment.”

The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up at that and the expression on his face became instantly serious again. Although he did concede inwardly that he couldn’t have asked for a better reaction from the security officer if he had used the power of suggestion on him – something on this occasion he had [u]not[/u] used. But, not being one to lose an opportunity, the Doctor accepted Officer Tell’s offer, subject to his own conditions.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re occupied or not, but I must be able to choose the rooms we view,” the Doctor added.

Officer Tell was a little disconcerted by that, but allowed the Doctor to have his choice of the rooms to check security on. He felt that he really didn’t have any choice in the matter. Security officers did not interfere in the way security inspectors carried out their tasks. They just assisted in whatever way, providing it was legal, they could. So he nodded his head in agreement and led the way along the corridor.

Officer Tell and the Doctor walked a further thirty-four Earth metres along the corridor until they reached the door of the nearest room. This door was exactly like the physical door to the room where the TARDIS had landed – same colour, same structure and same locking mechanism. While Officer Tell described the mechanism, the Doctor carefully extracted the sonic screwdriver from an inner pocket in his leather jacket. He switched it on and held it angled towards the door knob as if he were confirming the mechanism for himself. Officer Tell nodded approvingly as if he had expected no less.

But the Doctor was actually checking the distance they were away from Catherine’s last apparent location as per the downloaded coordinates in the sonic screwdriver. There was still a fair distance to reach the location, but they were definitely moving closer. He suspected that one of the rooms accessed from this seemingly never-ending corridor was the location he was looking for.

Half an hour had passed since the Doctor had left the room where the TARDIS was located. The Doctor was aware of the time available to him and didn’t really want to waste it.

Officer Tell was about to open the door when the Doctor said, “Let’s try the next room along. I never look at the first room I come to!” He switched the sonic screwdriver into general location mode and used it to locate the next doorway. It was about another forty metres along the corridor.

He thought it was a bit strange, but Officer Tell didn’t argue with the Doctor. But he did ask him which room he wanted to try first.

The Doctor estimated that the closest location in this corridor to the downloaded coordinates was about ninety-eight metres from where they currently were. So if they tried the next room along, he might be able to obtain more accurate readings from the sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor didn’t wait for a response, just headed into a brisk walk up the corridor – a run wouldn’t be in keeping with a security inspector. Officer Tell had to break into a run to catch up to him.

When they reached the door, a metre closer than expected, the officer opened it and stood back for the Doctor to enter first. The Doctor grinned and rhetorically asked, “Coming, Officer Tell?” as he passed him.

Officer Tell didn’t reply, but quietly followed him in and closed the door behind them.

This bedroom, strangely enough, was furnished and decorated in a more conventional manner than the purple bedroom where the TARDIS was located. Like the corridor, the walls were coloured beige, but there the similarity in colour scheme ended. There was no hint of purple at all in the room. Along the walls at intervals were imitation windows showing landscapes of varying types. The windows were framed by heavy-looking full length curtains which were coloured in a pattern of vine fruit and flowers on a dark gold background.

But the Doctor showed little interest in these. To Officer Tell, he seemed to be more interested in the furniture. Near the wall to his left was a tall mahogany wardrobe which he walked over to, pretending to investigate for security breaches. In fact, he opened it to find out a bit more about the ship and its passengers. There was nothing of real interest to the Doctor, except for the nature of the timber and the design of the wardrobe. The timber was from late twentieth century Earth, even though the design was more like twenty-fifth century. “Interesting,” the Doctor thought, before he turned back towards the centre of the room.

The bed in the centre of the room was also typically twenty-fifth century. It was large and low to the ground on a mahogany base with matching carved bed head. The carving was of vine fruit and flowers similar to those on the curtains. All the bedclothes were of a dark gold colour, but they weren’t neatly arranged on the bed as expected. The bed was clearly in use.

The Doctor grinned broadly at the security officer, before they both quietly left the room through the door. As Officer Tell closed the door behind them, he saw a momentary, mischievous twinkle in the Doctor’s eyes. The Doctor had recognised the room’s occupants as the two tall aliens he had evicted from the purple bedroom earlier!

Officer Tell and the Doctor both briskly walked towards the next door and the next. At each one, the Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to verify the distance to the location associated with the downloaded coordinates. At each door, the Doctor went through the charade of security checks until he and the security officer reached the desired location.

The Doctor noticed that although Officer Tell was slightly reluctant to open this door, the security officer did not refuse the Doctor’s request to check the room…..

(* To be continued….. *)