Chapter Eight

Nearly an Earth hour and a half had passed since the Doctor had left the TARDIS behind in the purple bedroom. The time he had left before he must return to the TARDIS was dwindling, but the Doctor did not even consider this as he bent down over the doorknob and used the sonic screwdriver to unlock the door and verify the distance to the coordinates yet again.

A grin spread over his face momentarily as he realised that the location that he was looking for was very close indeed. He changed the spread of the sonic screwdriver’s analysis to confirm the direction. The location was definitely beyond this door. His grin broadened and his eyes regained their characteristic twinkle.

The Doctor’s grin faded as he turned towards the security officer. Grins were not really appropriate for security inspectors, he thought.

“I want to test this room next,” he said to Officer Tell. “Although, the door lock on this one needs a bit of attention,” he added as he pushed the sliding door slightly aside. “Its locking mechanism doesn’t seem to be functioning properly.”

Officer Tell didn’t reply, but made a mental note for someone to check this lock as soon as possible. He was [u]sure[/u] it had been locked the last time he came through it. Of course, he didn’t realise that the Doctor had actually unlocked the door while supposedly testing it for security access. No door is secure when it has been unlocked!

The Doctor was strongly tempted to enter the room first, but for appearance’s sake he let Officer Tell enter first and he quickly followed. As Officer Tell entered the narrow doorway, he carefully ensured that his tail did not become caught in the door mechanism or under the toe of the Doctor’s solid-looking boots. It had been bruised enough recently.

“Be careful, Doctor,” Officer Tell warned. “The doorway is narrow and opens through dense foliage.”

The Doctor didn’t reply, but his eyebrows went up in surprise. “Interesting,” he thought. “The variety of themed rooms here is fantastic!”

After Officer Tell carefully pulled his long fox-like tail through the narrow opening that was the doorway into the room, he stood aside to let the Doctor pass through into the room. Not only was this being courteous to someone who the security officer thought was his superior, but it ensured that his tail was kept well out of the Doctor’s way!

Apart from some of the moisture from the surrounding foliage dripping down the right sleeve of his leather jacket, the Doctor had no problem at all with the narrow opening. He passed through into the room and casually looked at his surroundings.

The Doctor immediately noticed the camellia-like plants around the edge of the room and the damp lichen covering the walls. He [u]was[/u] interested in such an imaginative décor, but initially it was the hologram disguising the entry to the room that interested him more.

Such technical expertise would be commonly used in this time period, but the Doctor was intrigued as to why it was used to hide a door. There were many other ways that the door could have been hidden – in the bedroom where the TARDIS had landed, a similar door was hidden behind a curtain. What made this room so special that it required a complex mechanism such as this?

Although the Doctor knew that this room was the source of the coordinates received by the TARDIS, he knew that he had enough time to use the sonic screwdriver to take readings of this hologram and save them for future reference. In his apparent role of security inspector, he could even take the readings openly. He took full advantage of the opportunity to do so without any query from Officer Tell.

Querying the Doctor’s actions never occurred to Officer Tell. He was far more concerned about the Doctor’s reaction to his arrest of Catherine – particularly as he was fully aware that he had arrested her on circumstantial evidence. His previous experience of security inspectors made him realise that they often tended to step beyond straightforward security matters and involve themselves in other aspects of security work. If he had realised that Catherine was a travelling companion of the Doctor’s, he would have been more than just concerned. He would have been seriously worried, especially since he had used the common and preferred practice of drugging her during the arrest.

The Doctor finished his examination of the hologram and then walked briskly across the thick brown and tan artificial leaf litter floor to the centre of the room. Despite the room’s illumination emanating from its walls, the Doctor had no difficulty in locating Catherine, who by now was sleeping on the soft floor. He half-knelt on the floor beside her and quickly checked that she [u]was[/u] only asleep. Having satisfied himself that she was not injured at all, the Doctor sighed in relief and stood up. However, he wasn’t pleased to see that she was in such a deep sleep. Suspecting that it was drug-induced – either directly or indirectly – he called Officer Tell over to him.

Officer Tell quickly followed the Doctor to the centre of the room, his tail quietly brushing the floor as he went. He was wondering what the Doctor’s reaction was likely to be. It wouldn’t be long before he found out.

He reached the Doctor’s side to see him frowning down at Catherine. Before the Doctor could say anything, Officer Tell said, by way of explanation for the Doctor’s supposed security inspection records, “I arrested her for trespassing in the corridors of the secure accommodation zone. Her name is…..”

Before Officer Tell could complete his sentence, Catherine stirred from her sleep and sat up. She looked at the Doctor and said, “Hello, Doctor.”

The Doctor’s frown disappeared in favour of a grin, as he replied, “Hello, Catherine - you alright?”

Catherine nodded and then looked from the Doctor to Officer Tell.

Turning towards the security officer, the Doctor said, coldly, “Officer, I don’t think you have been properly introduced, have you? Catherine Mere is my partner in the Space Security Inspection Service.” Two pairs of eyes – one pair steely blue and one pair inquisitive hazel – looked at Officer Tell, waiting for some sort of reaction from him.

As he looked at the Doctor and Catherine, Officer Tell remembered some advice he had received a long time ago from his mentor when he first started working in a security capacity for the Diplomatic Transport Service. “If you ever meet one Space Security inspector on your travels, look for another. They nearly [u]always[/u] operate in pairs,” his mentor had advised him.

His first reaction was to apologise to Catherine and the Doctor for her arrest, but on balance he decided against it. As she wasn’t carrying any authorisation with her and hadn’t volunteered her true purpose in being there, he had had no other choice than to arrest her. His conscience was clear. The only thing he wished he could apologise for was for drugging her during the arrest. But as it was prescribed procedure there was nothing he could do. Nothing, that is, if he wanted to retain his position.

Officer Tell decided to try to bluff his way out of this difficult situation, by ignoring it. He walked over to Catherine and offered her his hand to help her to stand up. His courteous offer of assistance to her was as close to an apology as she was ever likely to receive from him. But his offer was unnecessary. Catherine clambered up from her sitting position on the floor to stand next to the Doctor without any assistance.

The Doctor was tempted to demand an apology from Officer Tell for Catherine’s arrest, but it was her prerogative as she was the injured party not him. He dug his hands into the outer pockets of his leather jacket when he recognised the expression on Officer Tell’s face. It was a mixed expression of bravado and embarrassment which strongly reminded the Doctor of the expression on Catherine’s own face when she discovered she had arrested [u]him[/u] incorrectly at the Eye of Orion. He couldn’t help but grin as he thought that it must be a common expression and attitude among security officers when they knew they were in the wrong!

Catherine neither expected nor wanted an apology for her arrest from the security officer. She could appreciate what her presence in a high security area must have looked like to him and she had no identification on her. But the manner of her arrest was another matter altogether. However, at this moment she was more pleased to see the Doctor than anything else.

There were a lot of questions that Catherine wanted to ask of the Doctor and a lot of information she wanted to impart to him. But those discussions could wait until later. She was cautious enough not to wish to mention their situation within earshot of Officer Tell, particularly when she was unaware of the events which had brought the Doctor here in his company. From her observations of the officer’s reaction to the Doctor, Catherine realised that he must believe that the Doctor was a man of influence in the Space Security Inspection Service. Obviously he thought the Doctor was a man to be cooperated with. Under those circumstances, Catherine decided that her best option at this time was to wait and follow the Doctor’s lead.

Now that the Doctor had found Catherine, his immediate thought was to return to the TARDIS and for the pair of them to work together on the problem of the purple dust. The remaining time left before the stabilising factors he had set on the purple dust in the TARDIS started to unravel was now less than three quarters of an Earth hour.

He indicated to Officer Tell that they should all leave this room and return to their ongoing business. In the Doctor’s supposed role of a Space Security inspector, this meant returning to his “suite” to record his security findings so far and to compare notes with Catherine’s findings.

“Doctor,” Officer Tell said, “I can show you a quicker way back to your room, if you’ll let me. The central transmat terminal is housed not too far from here.”

The Doctor thought for a moment. While it probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to their remaining time, it did allow him to question Officer Tell about the ship’s environment. Ship security personnel always had a shrewd perception of what was really happening around them, so he agreed.

After they left the room and closed the door securely behind them, Officer Tell paused to loop his tail up over his elbow again. He looked at the Doctor and asked, “Shall I show you the way?” Without waiting for a reply, he quickly led the way along the corridor.

The Doctor’s eyes twinkled mischievously and he grinned, before whispering to Catherine, “I said security is an excuse for looking into anything! Come on.” Without waiting for any reply, he walked briskly up the corridor to catch up with Officer Tell. Catherine quickly followed.

Officer Tell was aware that he had left both the Doctor and his partner in Space Security inspection following behind, but it allowed him a few moments to gather his thoughts as they caught up to him. When security wasn’t being inspected, he was uncertain as to what topics he should discuss with them. He could wait for the Doctor to ask him questions, but he preferred to be more proactive than that. Maybe the Doctor would be interested in some background on the ship itself?

He paused, turned and waited for the Doctor and Catherine to catch him up. When the Doctor reached him, he asked him, “Would you like some background on the ship for your report, Doctor?”

The Doctor raised his eyebrows in surprise, before replying, “Thanks, I always like to know the context that I’m operating within.” He looked at Catherine for a moment and then added, “My colleague probably has some questions for you. Catherine?”

Catherine nodded and said, “Thanks, Doctor. I do have some questions to ask.” Officer Tell looked a little apprehensive at that for a moment, but he needn’t have worried. Catherine had no intention of bringing up comments on her arrest – at least not before she had discovered more about the ship. Even after being arrested she was still very curious about it. But she did bear in mind that her questions must be consistent with her ‘role’ of gathering information for a security inspection report. Although some of them would have to be statistical – for appearances sake – she would ensure that they were all open questions so that she and the Doctor would gain some useful knowledge from them.

As the trio started to walk briskly on through the corridor again, Catherine said, “I’ll need some statistical details first for the records, Officer. Name of the ship, its owner and operator, and its current function would be a useful start, I think.”

Officer Tell responded that the ship – named somewhat exotically, if inappropriately, the ‘Isle of Capri’ – was licensed to the Diplomatic Transport Service for operation primarily as a diplomatic transport ship, but also as a neutral location for intra-galactic trade, legal and peace conferences. It could not be used for commercial gain or for functions outside of this galaxy, but was well-known for its excellent business facilities and luxurious and unusual accommodation.

Catherine murmured, “Unusual accommodation…..indeed.”

Officer Tell must have heard Catherine’s comment, but wisely continued as if he hadn’t. “Security on board this ship is state-of-the-art technically, but the Doctor probably already knows that.”

He was a bit uncomfortable with the Doctor not contributing to the conversation. Not that he had any real problem with that as such. It was just that while he was concentrating on Catherine’s questions, he could not attend to what the Doctor might or might not be doing. Security officers for diplomatic personnel tended to be suspicious of everyone by nature and while he was fully supportive of the Doctor’s work as an inspector, there was still a small hint of suspicion which couldn’t be denied.

The Doctor was fully aware of this, of course, and was mildly amused by it.

Pursuing his own train of thought which revolved around the purple dust and the TARDIS, he tuned out of the conversation. Catherine was more than capable of handling Officer Tell, particularly when he was ‘on the back foot’ a bit with her because of his mistaken arrest.

The trio had turned a corner and were entering a short corridor which ended with the door to the room that housed the central transmat terminal. A scrap of Officer Tell’s conversation impinged on his thoughts.

The officer and Catherine had been discussing the environmental regulations that put constraints on the security monitoring on the ship when Catherine asked, “But how do you manage to provide the high level of security then that is needed for all these high-ranking diplomats? For instance, how do you provide the dedicated hidden secure transmat terminals for so many rooms? Even using matching refractive indices for all those rooms must require a large amount of power. Surely, that doesn’t fit within the environmental regulations.”

Catherine knew something of the power required to maintain hidden terminals from her old security team’s involvement in Central Orion Protection and Security’s small-scale trials with refractive indices to provide apparent invisibility. It was viable on a small scale for specific requirements, but not on this scale.

Officer Tell looked surprised, as he said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, “But this ship doesn’t use refractive indices. Because of the variety of situations that the diplomats may require, the room atmospherics have to be flexible, in case of some special need. This means that matching refractive indices, although more efficient, are not practical here. The ship is gradually being upgraded so that the current process will be completely replaced by use of sophisticated holograms by the end of this Earth year. They are more power-efficient and more practical for static terminals.”

The Doctor chose to re-enter the conversation at this point. “But they are not the truly big user of power are they? That background destabilisation of the transmat beam itself is the real problem, isn’t it?”

Officer Tell didn’t even query how the Doctor knew about that added level of hidden security. He just took it for granted that he did.

He replied, “Yes, Doctor.”

Catherine continued, as the trio reached the door at the end of the corridor, “But how does that fit in with the environmental regulations?”

Officer Tell replied, “It doesn’t. We gain a special exemption for its use, providing the output from the process is broken down without the use of any additional power and the waste is safely disposed of periodically.”

The Doctor frowned at the officer and then said, in an effort to be unemotional, “This break down process uses living matter doesn’t it? And this forms part of the final waste?”

“I believe it does, Doctor. Why?”

The Doctor didn’t reply. He was trying to prevent himself from losing his temper with Officer Tell. This wasn’t his fault, after all. But he would dearly love to give those that designed the waste process and the regulations a ‘piece of his mind’. The whole setup in his view was environmentally preposterous.

Officer Tell unlocked the door and led the way into the room housing the central transmat terminals. He indicated where the Doctor and Catherine should stand for the transmat beam to reach them and then asked the Doctor which room they were heading for. Catherine answered before the Doctor could. Officer Tell set the coordinates and operated the beam.

Almost instantly, the Doctor and Catherine found themselves sitting on the floor in the middle of a field of artificial purple grass and golden dandelions.

The Doctor stood up and helped Catherine to her feet. They were both relieved to see the TARDIS across the room and raced across to open its door.

Catherine secured the door behind them while the Doctor, as usual for him, raced over to the console.

They had reached the TARDIS with ten minutes to spare.

(* To be continued….. *)