Chapter Twelve

The Doctor leapt up from the two-seater chair and nearly knocked Catherine over in his eagerness to reach the console. Catherine moved out of his way in time, as he raced around to the other side of the console to reach the scanner. But he did pause long enough to say, “Sorry!” She didn’t reply, but watched as the Doctor pressed the keys on the scanner keyboard corresponding to the recall function. The schematic showing the Capitol’s rooms and corridors was once more displayed on the scanner.

The Doctor easily located the Castellan’s office on the display. Unlike the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms, it was situated on the more accessible, but no less secure, ground floor. Its location – halfway between the reception room where the Doctor and Catherine had dined with the Castellan, the Premier Cardinal and their other guests the previous evening and the coordination room for the Chancellery Guard – was, for the Castellan, extremely convenient. The Doctor was sure it would be easy to find.

Catherine had reservations when she saw how close it was to the Chancellery Guard and said so.

The Doctor replied, “But its location is perfect, Catherine – close to the Castellan. What’s the problem?”

Catherine replied, “Mightn’t we run the risk of meeting Andred, again?”

The Doctor was touched by her concern. But a possible future meeting with Andred was not something he had considered, so he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Dunno.” He grinned and then added with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’m sure you can sort that if it happens!”

Catherine didn’t reply, just gave him a look as if to say, “Of course!”

The Doctor turned, walked down the ramp to the TARDIS doors and asked, rhetorically, “Coming?”

Catherine followed him and they both left the TARDIS to head towards the Castellan’s office…..

Castellan Spandrell’s office furnishings were much more Spartan than those in the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms, but were of the same high quality. Just because the Castellan was not a member of the High Council did not mean that he wasn’t entitled to the same comforts as the High Councillors. As the officer responsible for the security of Gallifrey, the Castellan did not think it was important for him to have the dedicated reception area that each High Councillor deemed essential for themselves. A reception area in his office would never have been used. His visitors would come to him for highly confidential meetings about security, so would understandably be concerned that they could be overheard if there was a queue of people waiting to see him in some reception area or outer office. But the Castellan’s office did have two entrances, so one person could enter as another person was leaving without meeting each other. And strangely for a building where force fields were generated for rooms instead of securely locked doors, the Castellan’s office used doors that were similar to the secure doors on a time capsule.

The Castellan, despite the early hour, had long finished his breakfast and was already hard at work. But at least this duty was a pleasant one. He was conducting a performance review on the young recruit, Andred. Andred, who was standing before him at attention, still had a lot to learn. This, the Castellan expected from a newly-graduated recruit. But he showed more promise than most and Castellan Spandrell was impressed with the dignity and propriety Andred had shown when he was given the role of escorting the Doctor and his companion to the reception. As far as roles went, it wasn’t particularly exciting, but the way he had conducted himself from the moment the Castellan had given him the role was exemplary. Not only had the Castellan added this to Andred’s record, but he had just informed him that he had done so. He nodded, as he noted Andred’s reaction. Andred thanked him – naturally – but remained outwardly impassive and at attention. The Castellan smiled to himself, as he noted the young man’s eyes shining, but it was an excellent response, nevertheless.

As the Castellan completed the interview and watched Andred leave the office via the secondary door, securing the door behind him, an indicator on the display panel on the desk started to urgently blink a bright orange. Someone was waiting outside the primary door and had triggered off the entry indicator, rather like pressing the Gallifreyan equivalent of a doorbell.

Castellan Spandrell reached for the door control and pressed it. The door opened and he called out, “Enter,” just as the Doctor and Catherine pushed past the door and entered the room…..

After much discussion, the Doctor eventually realised that asking questions of the Castellan wasn’t going to gain him all the answers he was looking for. The Castellan was as helpful as his position allowed him to be, but unfortunately he didn’t know all the answers. He could only comment on the strictly security-related ones that had no real political implications. Catherine, too, realised that the Castellan must have been shut out from all the high level political discussions about Lambe*Rt~ia, unless, of course they related to security matters.

Nearly half a time unit had passed before the Doctor decided that he and Catherine should look for the most crucial answer – the exact nature of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia – elsewhere. With the Doctor managing to keep relatively calm about what was starting to look very much like a wasted effort, he and Catherine farewelled the Castellan and left his office. Once they were outside in the corridor, but out of range of any of the Castellan’s detection devices, Catherine remarked, softly, “I can appreciate why the High Council might only discuss security matters with the Castellan. But I would have thought that any dealings with a major trading partner would automatically have security implications. Particularly when that partner was under a major threat, such as Lambe*Rt~ia is.”

The Doctor looked thoughtful for a moment, and then pursed his lips while he considered Catherine’s words. He then replied, “Maybe, maybe not. Politics and security on Gallifrey have been raised almost to become rival art forms, Catherine.” His tone of voice did not sound to Catherine as if he approved of this state of affairs, but that he accepted it as an unpalatable fact of life on Gallifrey.

Catherine replied, using an old Earth saying which still was current and appropriate in her time, “So the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, Doctor?” She waited for a reaction.

The Doctor replied, “Not so much that the left hand doesn’t know, but more that the left hand knows, but doesn’t admit to knowing.” Catherine raised her eyebrows at that, but the Doctor wasn’t paying attention.

The Doctor’s thoughts were concentrated again on the nature of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia. No-one had mentioned what that threat actually was. He had tried to discover it at dinner the previous evening, but none of the Premier Cardinal’s guests was communicative, if they even knew what the threat was. But he knew of one person, apart from the Premier Cardinal, who must know – Lambe*Rt~ia’s Ambassador to Gallifrey.

Fortunately, the Doctor had had the presence of mind to memorise the locations of the Ambassadors’ suites when he had read the Capitol’s schematic earlier. It was only three corridors, one staircase and a lift away from where they were. The Doctor knew he would be committing a serious breach of protocol by demanding to see the Ambassador without authorisation or invitation and without being accompanied by a High Councillor or at least the Castellan, but there wasn’t time for him to be worried about protocol, even if he had wanted to. There were questions that he wanted answered before the meeting.

After he told Catherine of his planned visit to the Ambassador, he allowed her the opportunity to return to the TARDIS, if she preferred it. He was concerned that her assumed role of security expert with a specialist interest in Lambe*Rt~ia might be compromised by an unauthorised visit to the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador and said so.

Catherine, who had no intention of returning to the TARDIS and leaving him to sort this out alone, pretended to consider the matter. She smiled to see the serious look on his face, before replying, “Who else has a better reason to visit the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador in a situation such as this than a security expert with an interest in Lambe*Rt~ia?”

The Doctor grinned at Catherine before saying, “Don’t say you weren’t warned! Coming?” Catherine nodded and followed him as he turned into the first corridor leading towards the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador’s suite of rooms. He looked over his shoulder and added, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, “Who knows, he might even give us breakfast.”

Catherine caught up with him and laughed…..

It didn’t take long for the two travellers to dash along the corridors and reach the bottom of the most unusual staircase Catherine had ever seen. She looked at it in surprise. Not only was it the widest staircase she had seen, it was a curved staircase too. No architect or builder of her time period would have even considered such a staircase. All staircases in her time were made with straight angular edges, not curves – practical, but without any artistry. She remarked, “What do the Time Lords need with such a wide, curving staircase? It doesn’t seem to fit in with everything else around here.”

As they started to climb the stairs, the Doctor grinned as he replied, “It doesn’t, does it? The staircase is designed for effect, to draw us ever upward.”

Catherine thought back to that mural in the TARDIS Cloister room, depicting Gallifrey from orbit. And to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’, a mural she had once seen a copy of in a museum and would have seen in reality, if the Doctor hadn’t been summoned to Gallifrey. “Yet another practical use of the artist’s perspective, Doctor?” Catherine asked, with a smile.

The Doctor smiled and nodded as they reached the topmost landing of the staircase. Instead of the ornate doorway that Catherine expected to see at the top of such a staircase, a smooth grey door stood in front of them. It was the private lift to the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador’s suite.

The Doctor pressed the lift call button. Its doors opened immediately, but they may as well have remained closed for all the use the Doctor could make of the lift. As he half-expected, his old Academy code was not sufficient to gain him and Catherine access to the Ambassador. An authorisation code was also needed. There was a voice override, but again, authorisation was required before the lift would proceed anywhere.

“That’s what we really should expect when we are trying to see an official without an invitation,” Catherine said when the Doctor told her that his code wouldn’t gain them an audience with the Ambassador. It didn’t help him much when he noticed that her expression was very much that of a sceptical security officer.

As a last resort, the Doctor thought he might be able to circumvent the lift’s coding. He extracted his sonic screwdriver from the inside pocket of his leather jacket and fine-tuned its setting. Aiming its beam carefully at the control pad inside the lift, he was disappointed to see it didn’t work. “It must be encoded with a deadlock seal mechanism,” he thought. But all he said was, “But it’s always worth a try, Catherine. Even if it doesn’t work, the main thing is to try.”

“Even on Gallifrey?” Catherine asked, relaxing her expression slightly.

“Especially on Gallifrey,” the Doctor replied, firmly. His face suddenly went blank and for a few Earth minutes Catherine saw the distant, haunted look in his eyes that seemed to appear whenever he thought of Gallifrey’s ultimate end. But the look didn’t last for long.

They both stepped back onto the landing, the lift closing its doors behind them. Catherine, relieved that the haunted look in the Doctor’s eyes had disappeared, said, quietly, “Back to the TARDIS now, Doctor?”

The Doctor shook his head. “No. Back to the Premier Cardinal’s office,” he replied. He headed down the stairs and quickly back the way they had come.

Catherine followed closely behind the Doctor. She wasn’t tempted to point out to him that when he had had the opportunity to talk to the Premier Cardinal earlier, he hadn’t taken it. Besides, she was still convinced that his reticence then had been related to his concern that the Premier Cardinal might guess something of the Doctor’s knowledge of Gallifrey’s future. Logically, she could see that this foreknowledge could cause a problem, particularly if the Premier Cardinal realised that the Doctor was the last of the Time Lords.

Catherine knew that he had been a witness to Gallifrey’s destruction. She had seen the effect that remembering that had had upon him. And the effect that just being on Gallifrey had upon him. Catherine guessed that the close proximity of a one-on-one meeting with the Premier Cardinal might just overtax his talent for hiding his thoughts from his old friend. The Doctor was sure that the Premier Cardinal had read her emotional response when they first arrived on Gallifrey, so how much more likely was it that the Premier Cardinal could read the Doctor’s own emotions? Catherine knew that it was in Gallifrey’s best interests as well as the Doctor’s for his emotions not to be guessed. As far as she was concerned there was only one solution.

The Doctor would not have been surprised if he had known of Catherine’s concerns. He knew she was observant, but more than that, she was perceptive and had an instinct for the irrational which he knew would clearly flag his problems with meeting one-on-one with his old friend at the moment. But there were only two realistic options open to him. Either he met with the Premier Cardinal now and risked his emotions about Gallifrey being guessed or he left the resolution of his queries until the official meeting with the Ambassadors and officials in what was now only a little under two time units away. The former was not ideal, but the latter was not feasible either. If nothing else, he needed to know the exact nature of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia before that official meeting.

The Doctor and Catherine were nearing the lift to the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms when Catherine stopped and said, quietly, in case she could be overheard, “Doctor, you can’t meet with the Premier Cardinal now.”

The Doctor stopped and turned towards Catherine with an irritated expression on his face. He looked as if he’d have liked to say, “What the hell are we stopping for?” But instead, he just said, abruptly, “What?”

Catherine did not repeat herself as she was quite aware that he had heard her the first time. She continued, “Leave me to question the Premier Cardinal.”

“No,” the Doctor replied, cryptically, as he pressed the lift call button.

The Doctor’s expression of irritation had changed to a not very encouraging frown, as he realised that she must have known that the meeting would be difficult for him. At any other time, he might have appreciated her concern, but at this moment it annoyed him. Knowing her as well as he did, he shrewdly guessed that what she really was suggesting was that he should go back to the TARDIS and let her handle it without him. Not that he thought she couldn’t handle it and handle it well; after all, questioning people had been part of her profession until she left Central Orion Protection and Security to travel with him. It was just that he didn’t trust the Premier Cardinal completely under the current situation. He had learned from bitter experience not to trust any of the High Councillors’ motives when they were metaphorically backed into a corner and the Directors of Lambe*Rt~ia had certainly done that to them. And the Premier Cardinal had been the one who proposed this whole message business. The Doctor sincerely hoped that he was wrong, but in case he wasn’t, he didn’t want to risk Catherine coming to any harm when he wasn’t there to prevent it.

It was now Catherine’s turn to be annoyed. But she knew better than to ask him again, although she wanted to know why he was so negative and said so. He must have some reason for it, even if he didn’t choose to share it with her.

Before he had time to reply, 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 she watched the Doctor entering the keys for his old identification code again, Catherine waited in silence for his reply. After the lift recognised the Doctor’s code and it started to move upwards, the Doctor looked at her, his frown having been replaced by an apologetic grin. Although he didn’t reply to her question, he had obviously considered it and had changed his thoughts on the matter. He said, “I suppose there is no reason why you can’t ask the Premier Cardinal about what he knows of this threat. It does affect the security of Gallifrey as well as Lambe*Rt~ia. And for once, I can stand by and watch.”

Both the Doctor and Catherine knew that he wouldn’t be just standing by and watching. He would be mentally taking note of everything that was said and the reactions from his old friend to the questions. But not being the focus of the Premier Cardinal’s attention, any stray emotion he felt with respect to Gallifrey’s future would not be noticed. At least he hoped it wouldn’t.

Catherine smiled back in response, but wouldn’t be drawn into comment. She was pleased that the Doctor was prepared to show his undeniable trust in her and her expertise, even on Gallifrey. At that thought, she mentally pulled herself up short. “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t trust me or my expertise,” she thought. “Being on Gallifrey should make no difference, except that Gallifrey is such a personal place to the Doctor that it feels different to anywhere else I’ve ever visited.”

The lift started to slow as it reached the Premier Cardinal’s suite of rooms. As the lift stopped and the doors opened into the main reception area, the Doctor grinned at Catherine and said, “We’ve arrived.” The Doctor knew that their time for information gathering before the meeting with the Ambassadors and officials was growing short.

They stepped through the lift doors together to be greeted once again by one of the Premier Cardinal’s aides. For a brief moment he looked surprised to see them again, but quickly recovered his poise enough to say, “Doctor, Ms Mere. Good morning. I’ll let the Cardinal know you have returned.” He left the room through an elaborately decorated archway, presumably to let the Premier Cardinal know they were there.

The Doctor sat down on the sofa and, not thinking about appearances this time, invited Catherine to sit next to him. She quietly moved over to sit near him on the sofa, but didn’t look in his direction. Her gaze was fixed on the archway where the aide had left the room. Neither of them spoke while they were waiting. Catherine was concentrating on the approach she would use to encourage the Premier Cardinal to let them know the extent of his knowledge of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia; the Doctor was mentally reviewing the wording of the contract that an earlier High Council of Gallifrey had made with the then Directors of Lambe*Rt~ia to see if there was a way that Gallifrey could be extricated from this legal mess.

By the time the aide returned to show the Doctor and Catherine into the Premier Cardinal’s office, nearly a quarter of a time unit had elapsed. The Doctor, by this time, was looking decidedly bored and frustrated. It was only a pose, but the aide didn’t know that. He directed his main attention, as the Doctor had intended he should, towards Catherine as he said, “Ms Mere, Doctor, please follow me.” The Doctor and Catherine stood up from the sofa and followed the aide, keeping a discreet distance behind, as he led them through the archway and down a long corridor.

Catherine had expected it to be relatively nondescript like all the other corridors she had seen so far on Gallifrey, and in many ways it was. That is, until she looked upwards and saw the coloured blinking lights along the architraves near the ceiling. Individually, they were just blinking lights, but collectively they seemed to be drawing the eye towards the elaborately decorated door at the end of the corridor. Catherine said, quietly drawing the Doctor’s attention towards the lights, “Another trick of perspective to draw us towards the door at the end of the corridor?”

The Doctor’s eyes twinkled as he replied, “Either that or they’re ‘runway’ lights!”

Catherine wasn’t familiar with the airport runway lights used on Earth that the Doctor referred to, but she smiled when he added, “The Premier Cardinal always liked to show off to his students at the Academy. It doesn’t look as if he’s changed that much.”

Her smile disappeared as a thought crossed her mind. “Or he wants you to think that, Doctor,” she said.

“Good point,” the Doctor replied, just as the aide reached the door, which was decorated with a beautifully-carved seal of Rassilon, and opened it for them to step through.

As the aide closed the door behind them, Catherine was at liberty to cast her eye around the room. The Premier Cardinal’s room was large and Catherine had the impression of opulence tempered by practicality. There was a large mahogany desk at its far end with a tall matching chair behind it. To one side was a set of tall matching shelves which, apart from the telecommunications equipment on three of the shelves, contained books which were beautifully-bound in what looked very much like leather. Catherine was surprised to see the books; she was more used to electronic books, but could see that physical books matched the opulence of the room. If she and the Doctor had been visiting for purely social reasons, she might have been tempted to look closer at those books. Physical books interested her; the weight, the feel and the smell of physical books were something that had fascinated her since she had seen some in a library display on one of the planets she had been stationed on at one time. To have the opportunity to look at books as beautiful as these ones would be fascinating. She wondered where the Premier Cardinal had obtained them. The Doctor saw the direction of her gaze and whispered, “My old friend was always a bit of a collector of rare and beautiful books.”

The Premier Cardinal was not sitting at his desk, but in what appeared to be one of a group of extremely comfortable mahogany-coloured leather armchairs. He stood as he heard the Doctor and his companion enter. Like most Time Lords, the Premier Cardinal had excellent hearing and smiled as he heard the Doctor’s words. “Doctor, Ms Mere. Welcome. I’m sorry our working breakfast was cancelled, but unavoidable events intervened,” he said, as he gestured to them to take a couple of the armchairs near him.

As the Doctor and Catherine sat in two armchairs – one on either side of their host – the Premier Cardinal said, in a friendly tone of voice, “I’m glad to see you appreciate my books, Ms Mere. The Doctor was the only one of my students who ever truly showed a love for the physicality of those volumes.” He sighed, rather theatrically the Doctor thought, as Catherine raised her eyebrows in surprise. “What a pity we didn’t agree on some other matters as easily.”

Catherine didn’t comment as she realised that the Premier Cardinal was baiting the Doctor. Only he could respond to that and he did, but in an unexpectedly affable way.

The Doctor grinned and replied, “But we did agree to differ, if I remember correctly. I could never convince you, particularly on one or two issues.”

“You are mistaken, Doctor. Events have changed much since that time and I have revisited your final Academy speech once again. In the light of recent events, your arguments in that speech are most persuasive. They’re part of my proposal to cause real change here in that respect,” the Premier Cardinal replied.

“What sort of change?” Catherine asked.

The Premier Cardinal’s attention returned to her as he replied, “My proposal to repeal the law against aliens being permitted on Gallifrey, Ms Mere.”

Catherine commented, bluntly, “So that is why I have been allowed my freedom on Gallifrey?”

“Only partly,” he replied. “Your presence here helps my case, but your security expertise is also invaluable under the current situation. And we couldn’t make use of your services if you were elsewhere.”

The Doctor could see that Catherine had the situation under control, so he didn’t make any comment. He just sat back in his armchair and stretched out his long legs in a seemingly relaxed pose. But he was alert and mentally noting everything that was said and much that was unsaid.

Catherine saw her opening, so like an expert fencer, she calmly and deftly moved in for the attack. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you the benefit of my security expertise until I know what the exact nature of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia is. I’ve seen the provisions of the supply contract that Lambe*Rt~ia has with Gallifrey and understand Gallifrey’s contractual obligations and limitations. But I don’t see how I can advise as to your course of action from a security perspective without knowing the exact nature of the threat involved. And you must know, as I believe you tabled Lambe*Rt~ia’s petition for assistance with the High Council. So, with the greatest respect, may I ask what the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia entails?”

The Doctor’s eyes twinkled in appreciation at Catherine’s referencing her security knowledge to twist the Premier Cardinal’s case to their advantage. But his eyes lost their twinkle when his former tutor admitted, quietly, “Ms Mere, the exact nature of the threat has not been revealed to me, not even informally. It is not required to be revealed for the petition for assistance to be tabled with the High Council.”

Catherine couldn’t believe that the Premier Cardinal tabled such a document without knowing what the threat was. She was momentarily speechless with shock. The Doctor realised that no more value was going to be gained from this conversation. If the Premier Cardinal was being truthful, and the Doctor thought he probably was, any further questioning would be pointless. And if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t tell them anyway.

There was now only just over one time unit remaining until the formal meeting, so the Doctor quickly stepped into the breach. He thanked the Premier Cardinal for his time and courtesy in seeing them and Catherine, ever tactful, followed suit. The Premier Cardinal showed them to the door and his aide, who had been waiting in the corridor for just this purpose, escorted the Doctor and Catherine to the lift which was waiting for them, doors opened.

After the Premier Cardinal’s two visitors entered the lift and the doors closed behind them, the lift once again 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 and quickly headed back to the TARDIS to prepare for the meeting with the Ambassadors and officials…..

(* To be continued….. *)