Chapter Nine

Constable Black and Constable Crane looked back, surprised to see their sergeant sprinting after the Doctor. The sergeant had no idea how unusual a sight she presented, running to catch up with the Doctor. If she had thought about it at all, she would have dismissed it as unimportant. It was more important to her to be involved in his investigation than to worry about what her constables thought of her unusual behaviour. The two constables noticed that she reached the door of the peculiar blue box where they had arrested the Doctor earlier, just after he had unlocked its door and pushed the right-hand door inward. A glimpse of light, reminiscent of a fluorescent glow showed through the open doorway. As the constables expected, the Doctor entered the box first and the sergeant followed, the door closing behind her. The constables looked at each other, both with their eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Well I suppose it does have ‘Police’ written above the lintel,” Constable Crane said, trying probably for the first time in his career to be objective. The memory of his last interchange with his sergeant still echoed uncomfortably in the back of his mind. However, being objective was so out of character for him that he reverted almost immediately to his normal, disrespectful manner, saying, “Still, the two of them in a confined space like that…..I wonder what that Doctor’s up to?” He gave a broad wink to his colleague and wiggled his eyebrows up and down quickly, in a rather silly schoolboy fashion. Although he would love his sergeant’s composure to be shaken up a bit, deep down he did not really wish her harm. However, he would never let anyone know it.

Constable Black did not reply. He held his sergeant in a certain amount of awe and admiration, so did not think his colleague’s comment worth replying to. However, he was concerned for her safety, although he knew she could take care of herself quite adequately. After a few moments, he said to his colleague, “Jeff, we need to keep our eyes and ears on the job we have been assigned, I think. Protecting the mound is very important and the Sergeant is more than capable of looking after herself…..” The two constables returned to their assigned task and all thoughts of the sergeant and the Doctor and what may, or may not, have been happening inside a claustrophobic, blue Police Public Call Box were put out of their minds…..

Unaware of having created so much unintentional entertainment and speculation for her constables, Catherine had entered the TARDIS. She had expected – she didn’t know what she had expected really. Certainly nothing like she saw before her. For once, the forthright sergeant who was usually confident, on the surface anyway, in the face of all sorts of situations was completely speechless! She was utterly convinced it was some elaborate type of illusion, but beyond that…..

The Doctor, who had been checking some measurements on the TARDIS console, had his back turned to her. Even so, he expected her dismay. Just about everyone who had ever entered the TARDIS at some time or another had, upon first entry, commented on its bigger interior dimensions relative to its exterior dimensions. He sighed, inwardly, waiting for the inevitable comment once her speech had returned – but his expectation was not realised. When she spoke, she actually said, “Fantastic! Amazing! How do you manage to do it, Doctor?”

The Doctor turned to look at his visitor. He stood, with his hands in his jacket pockets, with his eyebrows raised in genuine surprise. For someone to not only overlook the obvious, but to want to know how it was managed….. This was extraordinary, especially from a human. With only a couple of exceptions, humans, in his experience, had rarely been really interested in the workings of the TARDIS. Before he launched into an abbreviated overview of transdimensional mechanics, however, the ‘penny dropped’. “Of course!” he thought, somewhat disappointed. “She thinks it is an illusion!”

“It isn’t some magician’s illusion, you know. What you see is real, Catherine,” the Doctor said, conversationally. By the tone of his voice, he could have been saying the simplest of every day things to her – as for him it was. For her, however, he was telling her that he was making the unbelievable, believable; the fantastic, ordinary; the illusion, fact. She must have looked a little confused and uncertain, as he said to her, his soft Northern English accent resonating in a deep voice, “Welcome to the TARDIS, Catherine!” He watched her, a cheeky grin on his face, as he patiently waited for her response.

By this time, Catherine had recovered enough composure to ask, in a manner approaching her very best unemotional Sergeant’s manner, “Doctor, this is alien technology isn’t it?” Catherine looked around her, trying to describe it in her mind, while she awaited the Doctor’s reply. It really was an unusual place, this TARDIS. She had never seen anything even remotely like it before. From where she was standing, near the end of a sort of gangway, she looked across a vast curved space, punctuated by tree-like roof supports, but there was no mistaking the centrepiece of the stage – a large hexagonal shaped console…..

The Doctor considered his response carefully, knowing that she was probably not as calm as she seemed, then replied, “If you mean, did the TARDIS come from somewhere apart from Earth – yes, it is alien technology.” To say she was surprised would be an understatement; to say she was frightened would be an overstatement. She did not really know how she felt – probably somewhere between the two extremes. Strangely, for one so rational and logical, yet emotional, it never occurred to her to ask if he might be alien too. The Doctor’s grin broadened into one of those marvellous smiles that illuminated his whole face, right through to the impish twinkle in his normally, intense, blue eyes – a twinkle that was half understanding, half mischief. If she didn’t ask, he was not going to tell her that he was alien too! “What do you think of it?” he asked, before turning back to the console to set up the instruments for analysis of the rubble. He didn’t really expect an answer, so was surprised when she replied, “Amazing!”

Catherine walked across to the console to stand to the right of the Doctor, where she had a clear view of what he was doing. The Doctor said to her, “Now to analyse my piece of rubble. Catherine, while I’m fine tuning the calibration of these instruments for the analysis, I could use your help. It would be fantastic if you could take the piece of rubble out of my jacket pocket and place it just above that curved indentation in the panel to your right.” She hesitated, as to do so would mean that she virtually had to put her arm around the Doctor to reach his left jacket pocket, where the rubble had been placed. But, this was no time to be self-conscious about such things. Wondering why she was feeling so self-conscious anyway, she reached across his back, located the pocket and attempted to extract the piece of rubble.

It was more difficult than she had expected, as it had worked its way down into the bottom corner of the deep pocket. Blushing bright red with embarrassment, Catherine reached her hand well down into the pocket to find the piece of rubble. Using her long fingers, she finally located the rubble and quickly extracted it. She was worried he might have thought she was violating his personal space a bit more than was absolutely necessary. This was an action worthy of an official caution for someone in her position in the agency, but it couldn’t be avoided and he had requested that she extract the rubble from his pocket. It wasn’t her fault that it had embedded itself in the base of his pocket and that the pocket was unreachable any other way! That made her feel a bit more comfortable about it, but it didn’t prevent her from still being a bit wary of his reaction.

Actually, he hadn’t even noticed her difficulties, as he was concentrating on his calibrations. Having removed the rubble, she placed it above the indentation, as requested.

“Doctor,” Catherine asked, crisply, her embarrassment and concerns shelved to the back of her mind. “I’ve put the rubble in place, as asked. What happens next?”

The Doctor didn’t answer her immediately. He didn’t even look up at her query – he was too engrossed in the calibrations. When he had completed them, he stood back from the console, and finally looked in Catherine’s direction. His crisp manner matched hers, as he said, “Thanks. But you should step back a bit from the console, Catherine, just in case.” She did as he asked – after all, he should know what he was doing. He turned back to the console and pressed his fingers into the indentation near where the rubble had been placed and flicked a switch, somewhere to his left, simultaneously. There was no sound, but the piece of rubble began to glow with a weird, pulsating inner light.

Catherine was unsure whether it was the right time to ask questions or not, but she needed to understand what she was seeing. “Doctor, what is happening?” she asked, tentatively, as the Doctor removed his fingers from the indentation.

“I’m analysing the components of the rubble using one of the TARDIS’ databases,” he replied, surprised that she was interested enough to ask. “Chemistry and biochemistry are obviously not her strengths,” he thought, “but then again, she is sensitive to the feel of things and has that strong sense of the out of place and the logical and is perceptive on occasion…. Maybe I do owe her an explanation after all.” None of these thoughts showed on his face, however. One of the early tricks a Time Lord learns is how to mask his or her inner thoughts and that includes facial expressions. It was a trick that had served the Doctor well in many threatening situations in the past and saved his life and that of his companions from time to time.

He turned to Catherine, grinned, and said, cheerfully, “The analysis is isolating the elements and compounds that belong to the rubble and eliminating them from the results. When the initial analysis is finished, we should be left with a list of the alien components which will show on the console scanner.” He paused, looking at her expectantly, testing her reaction. The Doctor was not disappointed in the result.

Catherine frowned, as if she was trying to work the implications of his words through to a logical conclusion. “I’m guessing here, Doctor, but I assume that the components listed will either relate to the bacteria or to the weaponry residue?” she asked, tentatively.

The Doctor’s grin widened and his eyes started to twinkle again as he replied, “Good guess, Catherine. Well done!” Her frown cleared and she smiled back at him. A faint sound, not unlike a quieter version of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver was then heard. Before Catherine could ask what the sound was, the Doctor raced round to the scanner to view the results of the analysis. The Doctor scrutinised the details on the screen, his face impassive again. He entered some more data into the console and turned a few knobs – at least that was the way it appeared to Catherine – then stood back from the scanner with his arms folded in front of him. Instinctively, Catherine did not ask him what was happening. She was shrewd enough to realise that he would let her know in his own way, in his own good time, and not before. Still, that didn’t mean that she couldn’t quietly move around and look to see what he was doing.

When she did so, she received an unexpected shock. She had expected to see a normal ordered list of items scrolling up the scanner – a list that was clearly legible, even if she didn’t understand the names used. What she didn’t expect to see was the spirals, patterns and swirls of the Gallifreyan language that the TARDIS, naturally, always displayed on the scanner. It was like no language or characters she had ever seen before and the Doctor clearly understood it. As she stood there, bemused, the Doctor became aware of her presence and turned to look at her, his eyebrows raised, but his expression unfathomable. “Are you just going to stand there or is there something you want to ask me?” the Doctor said, rather abruptly.

Catherine gathered her wits together and commented on the symbols. “The TARDIS does use alien technology, so it should come as no surprise that some form of alien language is used for communication purposes. However, what does surprise me is how easily you use and understand that language.” He waited for her to continue. She thought over his earlier words about the TARDIS’ alien technology – ‘if you mean, did the TARDIS come from somewhere apart from Earth’. Finally, she realised the truth. The TARDIS was not alien to him. Still, she needed to have this confirmed, so she asked, “Doctor, are you alien, too?”

Still with the same unfathomable expression on his face, he replied, crisply, “Yes!” He paused, realising he may have been a bit abrupt, and then added in a much kinder voice and with a friendlier expression, “Is that alright?”

Catherine nodded and replied, “Yes, it is.” The Doctor smiled one of his illuminating smiles and he excitedly started to explain various things to her about the TARDIS, as he waited for the final analyses of the rubble to be completed.

(* To be continued….. *)