Chapter Eleven

Catherine woke in the morning after a refreshing, long sleep. Unusually for her, she knew she had been dreaming. At least she had the impression that her dreams, whatever they were, had been pleasant ones. She remembered falling asleep not long after sitting down on the two-seater chair next to the Doctor, but the chair had been comfortable. It still was. She was lying along its length with the cape from the Doctor’s formal robes spread over her like a soft blanket. But the Doctor was nowhere to be seen.

As she sat up, wondering where he was, he entered the console room from the inner door. Seeing she was awake, he walked over to her and held out his hand to help her to her feet. He had obviously shaved, showered and changed his clothes while Catherine had slept. Gone were the red silk tunic, the black close-fitting garments and the black, knee-length, highly-polished boots of his Gallifreyan formal wear. Catherine was a little disappointed as they became him so well, but his black jeans, blue jumper, regular black boots and the familiar battered black leather jacket were so much more the Doctor she knew. This was the Doctor who was tough and meant business.

Catherine greeted him and politely took his hand as she stood up. Both of them knew she didn’t need any assistance, but the Doctor was a gentleman – despite his appearance – and Catherine appreciated the gesture of friendship.

He grinned at her cheekily, but made no comment. Catherine said nothing either. After all, she reasoned, it wasn’t the first time she had dropped off to sleep with her head upon his shoulder and his arm around her. The previous times had been when they were away from the TARDIS and sleeping in the open. It had been his way of keeping her warm and protected from harm. However, this was the first time it had happened in the TARDIS. But she considered being very tired and emotionally drained by the events of the day as sufficient excuse. So she didn’t feel as embarrassed this time. Or at least she didn’t feel herself blush several shades of red, as on previous occasions. As she looked at the expression on his face, she realised he must have guessed her thoughts because his blue eyes were twinkling mischievously and the cheeky grin had changed into one of his illuminating smiles.

“How would you like a real Gallifreyan breakfast, Catherine?” the Doctor asked, as he walked over to lean on the console. Catherine nodded and then left the console room to freshen herself up and change her culottes for something a bit more serviceable. It didn’t even occur to her to ask what a real Gallifreyan breakfast actually consisted of.

The Doctor watched her leave the room and then his expression became more serious as he turned to switch the scanner to look at the area around the TARDIS. He didn’t see anything particularly unusual and much to his relief there was no sign of any Chancellery Guards in the vicinity. Being on good terms with the Castellan obviously had its advantages.

The Doctor pressed a few keys on the scanner keyboard and a schematic of the corridors and rooms in the Capitol displayed on the scanner. He found the room he was seeking and memorised the quickest route to reach it from the TARDIS. That completed, he cancelled the schematic display and started checking over the console for any switches or knobs that needed fine tuning while he waited for Catherine to return. They were all in reasonably good condition, but the Doctor couldn’t stand not being busy so had to do something to fill in the time.

When Catherine returned to the console room, the Doctor noticed that she had changed her silk culottes for tan slacks and an open-necked crisp white short-sleeved blouse. The blouse was plain, except for an embroidered tan edge to the loose sleeves and matching tan buttons down the front – business-like, but attractive. He noticed that she still wore her hair in the same ponytail as before and that she had opted to wear the cinnamon-coloured, high-heeled ankle length fashion boots that she had worn at dinner.

He raised his eyebrows, momentarily, and then asked, “Ready?”

“Yes,” she replied, as they headed down the ramp towards the TARDIS doors.

The Doctor was just about to open them when Catherine asked, “Where are we having this breakfast, Doctor?”

He looked at her and said, “With our host.”

As he opened the doors and they stepped out into the corridor, securing the doors behind them, Catherine said, in surprise, “The Premier Cardinal?” The Doctor nodded and his eyes twinkled mischievously. Seeing the almost conspiratorial look on his face, she added, “Does he know we’re coming?”

The Doctor grinned broadly and then replied, “What do you think, Catherine?” Catherine didn’t reply. She was starting to know the Doctor’s personality quite well by now, so thought she could probably guess the answer…..

Because the Doctor had memorised the route from the TARDIS to the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms, he negotiated the twists and turns of the Capitol corridors effortlessly. Within a relatively short time, they reached the lift intended for exclusive use by the Premier Cardinal, his guests and staff. The Doctor pressed the lift call button and almost immediately the lift arrived and the doors opened. He stood back for Catherine to enter first and then he followed, the doors closing automatically behind him.

As this was an exclusive lift, there were no floor number buttons as the Doctor had been used to seeing in lifts during his various visits to Earth. He had expected some sort of voice activation access to the lifts, but each member of the High Council had their own idiosyncrasies and he remembered his tutor’s love of push buttons from the past. In this case, a personal identification code was required to be entered before the lift would operate.

If it had been anywhere but Gallifrey, Catherine would have commented on the code required. She appreciated the security requirement, but she did wonder how the Doctor would know the correct code to enter. However, she didn’t quite like to ask the Doctor too many questions about Gallifrey. It would have seemed to her almost as if she were intruding on something personal.

She watched as the Doctor calmly entered the keys for the Gallifreyan translation of Theta Sigma, his old identification code from his Academy days. While he waited for the electronics behind the keypad to search, register and receive entry permission for his code, he said, cheerfully, “It only needed a personal identification code, Catherine. And mine should still be buried in their archives somewhere!”

As the lift finally recognised the Doctor’s code and it started to move, she realised that the Premier Cardinal must have invited the Doctor to breakfast this morning. She knew his code wouldn’t have been permitted otherwise. This was clearly a high security area.

Catherine had been convinced that the Doctor was taking them to the Premier Cardinal uninvited. Although she knew that psychic paper didn’t work on Gallifrey – and she guessed that the Doctor wouldn’t use it there even if it did – she was fully expecting that he would have to persuade his old friend to allow them to share his meal with them. She was relieved that they didn’t have to insinuate themselves into the Premier Cardinal’s presence. It wouldn’t feel quite right to her under the circumstances.

But having an invitation didn’t mean that she could relax her guard at all. She knew she was only free on Gallifrey through the auspices of the Premier Cardinal. Even having the support of the Castellan wouldn’t help her if the Premier Cardinal changed his mind about her.

The lift started to slow as it reached the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms. Catherine looked at the Doctor and said, “Doctor, I think we’ve arrived.”

The Doctor nodded and smiled one of his illuminating smiles, the twinkle in his eyes softening in understanding at her situation. Catherine couldn’t help smiling back.

As the lift stopped and the doors opened into the main reception area, the Doctor said, “You’ll love this, Ms Mere. You haven’t tasted anything until you’ve had a real Gallifreyan breakfast!”

They stepped through the lift doors together to be greeted by one of the Premier Cardinal’s aides. “Doctor, Ms Mere. Good morning. The Cardinal is in conference, so he has asked that you wait here,” the aide said, pointing to a small sofa and a couple of matching easychairs in the corner of the reception area.

Catherine sat down at one end of the sofa and the Doctor chose to sit on the easychair next to it. Close enough to make conversation easily, but in separate chairs for appearance sake.

The Doctor relaxed back into the easychair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Or at least he appeared to be relaxed. Catherine couldn’t be sure, but her logic told her that it was unlikely under the circumstances that the Doctor would be completely relaxed – more probably the exact opposite. This was confirmed by the expression on his face. Catherine couldn’t really describe his expression except for the impression that his thoughts were a long way away from there. She didn’t know how right she was…..

The Doctor was remembering the last time he had been forced to wait in a reception area on Gallifrey for a member of the High Council to be available…..

Then, as now, the Doctor had resented the waiting – Chancellor Borusa, if he had known, would have said his former student’s resentment was due to his lack of patience. If the Doctor was honest with himself, he would have recognised that maybe his former lecturer had a point about his impatience.

On that previous occasion – sometime well into Gallifrey’s future – the Doctor had been awaiting the then Chancellor’s appearance to conduct him into the presence of the full High Council. He had been conducted directly to the Lord President who presented him with his unpalatable, but unavoidable, instructions.

At that meeting, the Doctor had been instructed to implement Gallifrey’s horrific contingency battle plan. To save the universe once and for all from the Daleks, he had to use a device connected to the TARDIS that would cause the destruction of Gallifrey. All the population of Gallifrey had agreed to the contingency plan, but the Doctor still felt that nothing would remove that stain on his soul. Although the device was installed without his consent and in such a way as to make it impossible for him to dematerialise the TARDIS without triggering it, he could not help but feel an eternal shock and guilt for implementing that act. The use of that trigger device had caused his regeneration, but even regeneration had not removed the pain…..

The Doctor suddenly knew he needed to leave this reception area as soon as possible. He needed to put this knowledge about Gallifrey’s future as far to the back of his mind as he could and out of others’ reach. The Premier Cardinal and the Chancellor must never know what is to come. Although he knew Chancellor Borusa would no longer be in existence by the onset of the Time War, the paradox that would eventuate from the two High Councillors’ knowledge of their future would have consequences that would rebound across the universe. It was important that his feelings of guilt were hidden from them. “Damn. Why must these thoughts keep resurfacing?” the Doctor thought. When they arrived on Gallifrey, the Doctor had recognised that Catherine’s concerned thoughts for him would be read, or at least guessed, by the Premier Cardinal. How much more then would his own current emotional thoughts be on display for his old mentor and friend?

Catherine sat quietly, concerned about the Doctor, for more than half an Earth hour before she decided that he needed to be brought back to the present. She reached over to touch him lightly on the hand, asking, “Doctor, how can I help?”

The Doctor didn’t reply immediately, although his expression changed from that far away look to a deep frown.

Before Catherine had a chance to ask what had caused the frown on the Doctor’s face, Chancellor Borusa swept into the reception area. It was obvious to Catherine that he had been attending the meeting with the Premier Cardinal, as he was formally attired. The Chancellor paused when he saw the Doctor and Catherine, briefly greeting them and graciously nodding in their direction.

But Chancellor Borusa was nothing if not observant. Noticing the Doctor’s frown and his apparent and uncharacteristic lack of attention, the Chancellor addressed himself to Catherine. He said, in his most urbane voice, “Ms Mere. It would appear as if the Doctor is in deep concentration on some weighty problem. When he returns to the current time continuum”, a polite way of saying ‘when he snaps out of his trancelike state’, “inform him that I have cancelled the working breakfast with the Premier Cardinal and that the meeting with Lambe*Rt~ia’s Ambassador to Gallifrey that he requested will be convened in three time units hence. There must be no further delays in this matter. Gallifrey’s future depends upon it.”

Taking the Doctor’s agreement with this timetable for granted, Chancellor Borusa swept out of the room and into the waiting lift that would take him back to his office.

No sooner had he gone, than the Doctor ‘awoke’ and said to Catherine, urgently, “I heard. We don’t have much time before this meeting with the Ambassador and we have important things to discuss.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, in a lighter tone of voice, “Pity about our breakfast. You’d have loved it!”

“Shouldn’t we at least speak to the Premier Cardinal before we leave? After all, we have been waiting for him for quite a while,” Catherine asked.

“Not necessary,” the Doctor replied flippantly. “He wanted to speak to us, not the other way around. It’s up to him to contact us again.” Standing up from the easychair, he added, “After Borusa’s visit, he wouldn’t expect anything else.” He turned and raced for the lift as fast as he could. When he reached the lift, he pressed its call button and leaned against its surrounding wall while he waited for Catherine to catch him up.

Catherine was confused at the Doctor’s apparent sudden lack of manners, but she followed him to the lift anyway. Despite the flippancy, there was a note in the Doctor’s voice that seemed to her – with her instinct for the out of place – to be in conflict with the apparent light tone of his words. It matched the way he had just completely ignored the Chancellor’s presence, even though he must have known that he was there. However, she knew better than to attempt to discuss it with him in this place. Perhaps when they reached the TARDIS again he might tell her what was concerning him.

As she reached the lift, it arrived and its doors opened before her. The Doctor grinned as he courteously stepped back to allow her to enter the lift ahead of him. There was no need to enter a code for the lift to move this time. Once the doors closed, the lift automatically started its rapid, but smooth, descent to the ground level.

When the lift doors opened, the Doctor and Catherine stepped out into the empty corridor.

“Where to, now?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor replied, “The TARDIS. Where else?” and started to race back along the corridor in the direction from which they had come. There was nothing Catherine could do but follow. At least, she thought, her soft leather boots made no sound as she ran along the corridor in the Doctor’s wake.

Catherine reached the TARDIS as the Doctor was unlocking its door. She followed him into the TARDIS and, as she had done so many times before, secured the door behind them. Turning to face the console, Catherine expected the Doctor to be looking at the scanner or to be working at something on the console. But to her surprise, he was sitting on the two-seater chair. She walked towards him. He was leaning slightly forward, his hands gripping the edge of the chair on either side of him, so tightly that his knuckles appeared white. His eyes were staring at the stationary time rotor with a similar look on his face to the one Catherine had seen on his face while they had been waiting in the Premier Cardinal’s reception area. She realised that whatever had been concerning him then was still concerning him.

“Doctor?” Catherine said. He didn’t respond.

She walked over to stand in front of him and spoke again. “Doctor, I want to help you. Just tell me what’s wrong.” For a moment she didn’t think he’d heard her. Then he looked at her and she saw the look of pain in his eyes. He didn’t speak, but he sat up and took her hand in his, squeezing it hard before releasing it.

Catherine asked, “Why did you ignore Chancellor Borusa, Doctor?”

The Doctor didn’t reply immediately. He knew that Catherine was concerned about him and wanted to help him in whatever way she could. But he couldn’t tell her about his involvement in the destruction of Gallifrey. Not because he thought she wouldn’t understand that he had no choice, but he didn’t think she would understand his ongoing feelings of guilt and responsibility for the end of a culture and its people. How being on Gallifrey itself was a horrendous mixture of pleasure to be there, knowing Gallifrey existed in some reality at least and pain when he remembered what he had been forced to do in a time long beyond this period. And sitting in the Premier Cardinal’s reception area had had so many reminders of his wait for the Lord President and the horror of the task a future High Council had forced him to implement.

Catherine was still waiting for his reply. She deserved an answer to her question. The Doctor forced his thoughts about the horror of the past to the back of his mind for the moment.

He looked at her and said, the look of pain receding from his eyes, “I did ignore him, didn’t I?” Catherine nodded. He continued, “I know too much about Borusa’s future. He knows me well and…..” The Doctor paused.

Catherine finished his sentence for him, saying, “You’re concerned you might cause a paradox if the Chancellor guessed your knowledge of his future or you said something inadvertently that passed some of that knowledge on to him?”

The Doctor smiled one of his illuminating smiles. “She really is a fantastic companion,” he thought yet again. Aloud he said, his expression serious again, “Yep. Borusa plays such a major role in Gallifrey’s politics that any knowledge of future events might bring them to fruition too soon, which could be catastrophic to the time continuum.”

Catherine didn’t comment. It all was perfectly logical. She wondered if the Doctor had similar concerns about the Premier Cardinal and if that explained his impatience to return to the TARDIS. What she didn’t understand was why should this morning be so different to last night? After all, the Doctor dined at the same table as both the Premier Cardinal and Chancellor Borusa and met with them afterwards without any obvious problems. So why was this morning so different?

Catherine instinctively knew that if she was to continue her travels with him for any length of time, it was something she needed to know for her own peace of mind. But looking at him, she realised that now was not the time to ask. There was still that trace of deep hurt about him for some reason and they both had important work to do.

“What needs to be planned before our meeting with Lambe*Rt~ia’s Ambassador to Gallifrey, Doctor?” she asked him, with their work in mind.

“It’s not just a meeting with the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador, Catherine. The Chancellor, the Premier Cardinal, the Castellan and Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia will be present as well. Plus as many officials as they deem necessary,” the Doctor replied.

“I suppose that includes that annoying Sir Zedga and others like him,” Catherine replied.

The Doctor grimaced and said, “Yeah. There are a lot like him on Gallifrey.”

Catherine replied, with a smile, “If that’s the case, I can understand why you left!” She had hoped for a lightening of the Doctor’s mood with her comment, but it hadn’t worked.

“We don’t have much time,” the Doctor replied, after a short pause. “There are a lot of questions to be answered before that meeting, Catherine.” The Doctor seemed to be concentrating on some of them as he spoke.

Catherine asked, “Doctor, if we can’t see the Premier Cardinal, what about talking to the Castellan again? Mightn’t he be able to help?”

“Fantastic!” the Doctor replied, more cheerfully.

(* To be continued….. *)