Chapter Ten

Catherine would have normally expected the Doctor to open the TARDIS Eye of Harmony with his sonic screwdriver. She wondered why he hadn’t considered it, but she shrewdly realised that there must be a reason why it couldn’t be used. The Doctor was not one who asked questions just for the sake of hearing his own decisions echoed. If he asked her for an answer, he really wanted her point of view. But to be accurate, she had to ask about the sonic screwdriver and the purple dust first, so she knew what parameters she was working within.

“I assume that the sonic screwdriver is not a viable option to open the Eye?” Catherine asked.

“Oh, it would open the Eye alright, but it just wouldn’t do it safely in this situation,” the Doctor replied, as he folded his arms in front of him. He gestured towards the Eye with his right hand, palm upward as he added, “The sonic waves would help to hasten the reanimation of the purple dust. It would probably escape from the Eye and rapidly spread throughout the room. Once free, it couldn’t be controlled.”

After a bit of thought, Catherine looked at the Doctor and said, “There really are two problems here. Firstly, how to open the Eye and secondly, once it’s open, how to clear the purple dust out safely.”

The Doctor didn’t say anything, not wanting to interrupt her train of thought. But he did nod his head to encourage her to continue.

Catherine looked across at the Eye and frowned in concentration at the purple ‘eyeliner’ edge around its ‘lids’. Logically and instinctively, she knew there had to be a solution to this. There just had to be!

“If the purple dust can’t be controlled, Doctor, then couldn’t it be contained?” Catherine asked. “Couldn’t a localised force field be generated around the Eye while it’s being opened to hold the purple dust?”

The Doctor grinned briefly at the idea and walked towards the Eye. Looking back at Catherine, he shook his head and then replied, “A force field could be generated around the opening, but not without reconnecting the power link to the time rotor and the console. This is the main power source, but its controls come from the console, Catherine.” He looked regretful that her idea couldn’t be adopted.

Catherine wondered if there was more she should know about the purple dust. The Doctor had briefly told her a bit about it, but there had to be more. For instance, how it entered the TARDIS in the first place.

“I suppose that the exact nature of the purple dust really dictates how and if it can be contained, doesn’t it? Apart from it being a mixture of living and non-living matter, what else do we know about it, Doctor?” Catherine said. She knew that to say ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ could be construed as a bit cheeky. Particularly when she considered that he was the one who had carried out the tests on it while she had been ‘missing in action’ so to speak. But for some reason, ‘we’ felt somehow right to her. Even apart from that strong emotional bond that drew them together, she really felt that they were a team, a true partnership.

Whether it was cheeky or not, the Doctor made no comment on her use of the word. Maybe it felt right to him as well, Catherine thought. Regardless, he didn’t even give any indication that he had noticed her use of it – if, indeed he had.

Although the exact analysis of the constituent parts of the dust was difficult, the Doctor saw no reason not to tell Catherine all he knew of it. But typically for him, he had to lighten what really was a very serious subject. “OK. This is where I do my impression of a science professor, Catherine. You ready?” he asked flippantly.

But Catherine knew that the flippancy was only on the surface, so she just smiled and nodded, as he started the ‘lecture’.

“The purple dust is a compound that is lighter than air, but potentially could combine with the surrounding air. It’s not inert; it’s not organic. But the dust is inanimate, with the potential to become “alive” in the true sense of the word, if provided with enough power over an appropriate period of time. While inside the time rotor, with the power disconnected, this is not a problem because it is reasonably stable. But the purple dust in the Eye is inherently unstable as it has access to all of the Eye’s power. At the moment it has temporary stability reflected back from the stabilisation of the purple dust in the time rotor. But this means that it could potentially reanimate and consolidate itself at any time. Opening the Eye would bring the process forward.” The Doctor paused in his ‘lecture’. He still hadn’t told Catherine about its origins.

“Is there some way we can prevent the purple dust from reanimating itself?” Catherine asked.

“Only by separating it from the power,” the Doctor replied. “That works for the console, but not for the Eye.” There wasn’t an easy way to separate the purple dust from the power of the TARDIS Eye of Harmony because the Eye’s power could not be disconnected the way he disconnected the console. The Doctor knew that theoretically he could re-route the power source through the TARDIS auxiliary power station. But without the benefit of the console being available to him, he didn’t even know if it was possible. He pursed his lips as he thought about alternatives.

Catherine broke in upon his thoughts to say, not quite seriously, “What we really need is to somehow freeze the purple dust while we ‘wash’ it out of the Eye.” She didn’t know why she said ‘wash’, except that it seemed appropriate when thinking about removing dust from an Eye – even one like the TARDIS power source.

The Doctor grinned and his eyes lit up at that. “Fantastic idea!” he said. “Where do you suggest we start?”

One of the problems with great ideas is how to implement them successfully. It’s a bit like what she remembered reading about Da Vinci’s mural ‘The Last Supper’ after seeing a copy of it in a museum. A technically clever mural, but Leonardo made the mistake of choosing a different substance to paint it in than was used for other murals. It might have been a more spectacular texture, but it continually fractured so the original didn’t last as long as his other works.

“The Doctor may think my idea fantastic,” Catherine thought, “but I haven’t the faintest idea how to suggest we implement it.”

When she told the Doctor that, his eyes twinkled and his grin became wider. One of Catherine’s talents was problem solving. This was obviously yet another problem to be solved and he thought she just might have solved it, even if she couldn’t implement it. Luckily, he was sure he could. He replied, “We use the TARDIS to do it!”

Catherine looked sceptical at that and said so. “How can we use the TARDIS, Doctor? We can’t even open the ‘eyelid’ of its power source safely let alone freezing the purple dust!”

“The TARDIS should be able to freeze the purple dust from inside the Eye. Not by temperature of course, but by freezing time around the dust so that it doesn’t move or change for the period that it is frozen. Once it is frozen, opening the Eye with the sonic screwdriver shouldn’t be a problem,” the Doctor replied.

“But how do we send the commands to the TARDIS without the console?” Catherine asked.

“Are you wearing your TARDIS key, Catherine?” the Doctor asked, seemingly irrationally.

She nodded and simply asked, “Why?” Walking over towards the Eye and the Doctor, she repeated her question.

The Doctor turned away from Catherine and the TARDIS Eye of Harmony to look back towards the mural of Gallifrey on the distant wall. For the moment it helped him to focus his thoughts so that he could explain quickly to her a concept that might appear unbelievable to someone so logical. It was certainly difficult for him to put into words that didn’t sound like something out of some fantasy novel and the length of time available to expel the purple dust was becoming shorter.

Without turning to face her, the Doctor started to explain, “There is a system of telepathic circuits in the TARDIS, Catherine. They’re a sort of underlying communications link and backup for the TARDIS and for those who travel in the TARDIS, whether they are Time Lords or not.”

He turned back to face Catherine and her surprised expression. Realising she wasn’t going to comment at this stage, he quickly continued, “You’ve already seen part of this system in action with the translation of Gallifreyan language on the scanner into a form you can read. Every part of the TARDIS feeds into these circuits, including the TARDIS keys.”

Catherine interrupted before he could enlarge on his theme further. She said, “And the circuits can communicate telepathically with you?”

The Doctor grinned and his eyes twinkled mischievously as he said, “Not just me, you too!”

Now, Catherine was really surprised, but she wasn’t tempted to interrupt his narrative again.

He continued, “A TARDIS key can provide a type of remote link with the TARDIS. The right touch, the right thought, at the right time, on the right wavelength and the connection is made.” The Doctor paused, put his hands in his jacket pockets, waiting for her response.

Catherine knew what the Doctor was implying. That she should use her TARDIS key to communicate with the TARDIS to freeze the purple dust. Her immediate thought was how the hell did he expect her to do that? Then she looked at the Doctor – standing with his hands in his pockets, smiling at her, encouraging her – and realised that she must have made contact this way before without even knowing that she had.

What was it the Doctor said? The right touch, the right thought?

Once again, she pulled out the TARDIS key from where it hung on its long pendant chain underneath her blouse. Keeping the chain around her neck, she held the key firmly in the palm of her hand, not knowing logically if this was the right thing to do or not, but intuitively assuming that it was.

Catherine looked across at the Doctor who nodded encouragingly.

She took a deep breath, thought of the key and the freezing of the purple dust in the TARDIS Eye of Harmony and said aloud, “Now, Doctor?”

“Now!” he said, with a very broad grin, as he walked over to stand next to the Eye, sonic screwdriver in hand. “Fantastic!” he exclaimed, as he took readings of the Eye. Without explaining anything further, he changed the setting on the sonic screwdriver so that he could use it to partially open the Eye.

By the time Catherine had replaced her TARDIS key pendant inside her blouse, the Doctor had opened the two ‘eyelids’ that covered the Eye and fine-tuned the time freeze with the sonic screwdriver. The opening was only relatively small in width, but large enough for him to examine the purple dust without opening the power stream too far.

Catherine didn’t wait to be invited to view the purple dust, but quickly walked the short distance to reach the Doctor’s side.

As the Doctor had intended, the purple dust in the Eye was frozen in a local time field. He turned to Catherine and grinned.

“Did it work, Doctor?” Catherine asked. The twinkle in his eyes told her that it had without him saying a word, but he nodded anyway. Although she was relieved that the purple dust couldn’t escape, Catherine wondered how it could be safely removed from the Eye.

When she asked how it would be removed, the Doctor’s grin disappeared. He replied, “Working on it.”

“How can I help?” Catherine asked. It never even occurred to her as to whether the purple dust was safe for her or not.

The Doctor considered Catherine’s safety in the proximity of the purple dust. If the dust had been free, he would have been very reluctant to allow her near it. However, while it was frozen in time, so to speak, she should be safe. He knew how to remove it, but could only initiate the process from the console room. Meanwhile the open Eye needed to be watched in case of any change in the purple dust. That would be Catherine’s task.

After the Doctor had explained this to Catherine, he handed her the sonic screwdriver saying, “The power stream may flicker from time to time – that’s normal. But if there are any major changes, particularly in the purple dust itself, press this switch and direct the beam at the Eye’s opening. That will close it.” Catherine nodded and he rushed out into the corridor outside and headed in the direction of the console room, his leather jacket squeaking as he ran.

Catherine wondered how he would remove the purple dust. She guessed that if he had to initiate its removal from the console room that he would at least need to partially reconnect the console to the power supply. Her first thought was some form of recycling with the living matter neutralised in some way. But she rejected that idea simply because there was living matter in the purple dust. It would be putting another life form at risk and that wouldn’t be the Doctor’s modus operandi. She did wonder if there was some form of exhaust or waste disposal that might extract the purple dust from the Eye.

“Waste disposal?” Catherine suddenly thought, as she watched the glow of the power stream from the Eye. “Of course! That must be where the purple dust comes from. The transmat waste from the ‘Isle of Capri’ that Officer Tell was talking about. I knew that the purple colour of the dust and our so imminent arrival on board just after discovering it could not be coincidence. But how did it enter the TARDIS?” Catherine didn’t have time to speculate any further as the glow from the Eye began to change…..

The plan the Doctor had for the expulsion of the purple dust was not as simple as waste disposal or even recycling. It had been a difficult problem from the start because there was no direct way that the purple dust could have entered the TARDIS in the first place. He considered that problem again as he ran along the corridors that linked the console room to the Cloister room. The purple dust’s means of entry was definitely a factor in deciding how to expel it.

If the purple dust hadn’t somehow entered through the TARDIS Eye of Harmony – and he was pretty sure it hadn’t – it had to have entered through either the console or the time rotor itself. Since neither the console nor the time rotor had a link to a direct opening to space while the TARDIS was in flight, the Doctor reasoned that the sudden intrusion of the purple dust into the time rotor must relate to the time vortex itself.

“But how did the purple dust enter the vortex in the first place?” he wondered.

Like Catherine, the Doctor had realised that the purple dust must be the waste from the ‘Isle of Capri’. All the characteristics of the dust matched with Officer Tell’s explanations. But if he had been angry before about the waste’s disposal from that ship, he was positively furious now.

The Vulpesi, as the humanoid race with the magnificent, lilac, furry fox-like tails was known, were secretive about their planet of origin, but very open about everything else. They regarded themselves as a truly galactic species and were licensed to exclusively run and staff the ships of the Diplomatic Transport Service, under the standard proviso that they confined their activities to the one galaxy and time period.

The Vulpesi didn’t have time travel technology or even the least interest in it. Or at least they hadn’t the last time the Doctor had come across them.

The Doctor had once joked about Time Lords being ‘galactic ticket inspectors’ and their role being to ‘stamp out unlicensed time travel’. It would seem as if he needed to prevent the Vulpesi from accessing the time vortex – at least for disposal of the ‘Isle of Capri’ waste. But he would attend to that only after the purple dust had been expelled from the TARDIS.

(* To be continued….. *)