Chapter Thirteen

“But is it so fantastic?” Catherine wondered, as she raced to keep up with this strange man who was almost running across and down the other side of this large, grassy, and very slippery, knoll. For him, it seemed to be effortless; for her…... She had been right about her regulation boots not being able to take the frantic pace and a slippery surface. They may have survived the rocks because, despite being wet, the rough, rocky surface did still allow some purchase. This grass was a very different situation all together. It was so smooth. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the Doctor was holding her hand so tightly – and that she had her fingers strongly grasped around his hand, also – she could never have kept pace with him. However, there comes a point where even a strong handhold cannot prevent a fall.

Catherine’s boots just seemed to slide on a particularly slippery stretch of grass and, as she had been leaning slightly forward in her effort to keep pace with the Doctor, she found herself suddenly on her knees on the ground. Naturally, it brought him to a dead stop in his run also. He turned back to her to see what had happened. Catherine was feeling very sore and more than a little embarrassed, but she would never admit it! The only concession she made was that for once she was willing to accept assistance. Under normal circumstances, she would never accept help from anyone, but she was sensible enough to realise that this was probably one of those times when she needed to.

Inwardly, the Doctor was swearing at himself for not being a bit more careful and for pushing her too hard. He knew that Catherine must be in pain – from her position, it looked like an awkward fall. From a general glance at her injury, it did not appear to be serious, but he realised that she probably had a certain degree of numbness in that knee which would result in it becoming more painful as the feeling returned. Before they went any further, the Doctor dropped her hand and insisted on making a more detailed examination of her injury, as a precaution against the possibility of uneven terrain in the journey ahead of them. Although he was not strictly speaking a medical doctor, in his hundreds of years of time travel he had gained experience in many things – diagnosis of limb injuries being one of them. After a careful check of her knee, the Doctor informed Catherine that her fall had resulted in not only a twisted knee, but a strained ligament as well. Without a moment’s hesitation, he grasped her shoulder and reached his other arm around her back to carefully help her up.

Although Catherine guessed that she would not be able to keep up with the Doctor’s previous pace for a while yet, she was sure she could walk, even if she was unable to run. She took a tentative step forward, but would have fallen again, if the Doctor had not still had his arm around her to steady her. It did not occur to her to object to that – it was just what she needed to support her at the moment. She was grateful for that support and there appeared to be nothing amorous in his intent; just one colleague helping another. With that in mind, she turned her head to look at her rescuer and smiled at him, saying, “Thankyou, Doctor.” The Doctor nodded in acknowledgement.

While Catherine would be able to walk with assistance, the Doctor realised that there would be no question of fast progress being made for the rest of that day. He was perfectly ready to provide that assistance, even if it was accepted reluctantly, but he knew it would now be impossible to reach Node Two before nightfall. The nearest shelter of any sort was a forest that he could just see in the distance – if they could reach there in time. He saw no reason to tell Catherine that though.

The Doctor knew they needed to move on, so after checking she was alright to travel, they started to slowly walk forward – she carefully trying not to put too much weight on her left leg, he supporting her on the left with his right arm firmly around her upper back, just below her shoulder blades. She found it was easier to manage if she put her arm lightly around him as well. Like when she was retrieving the rubble from his pocket for him to analyse, she started to feel self-conscious again. However, as before, she realised that this was necessary for them to continue and did not want to question why she felt self-conscious. She was glad that her constables could not see her this way – apart from not liking to admit any weakness in front of them, she had a shrewd idea how this would appear to those two men. Even the normally reticent Constable Black would have at least raised his eyebrows at the apparent sight of his sergeant with the Doctor’s arm around her back and her arm in turn around his. While as for Constable Crane – he would be convinced that there was something ‘going on’ between the Doctor and herself, and would have had no hesitation in saying so! Even the thought of their reactions made Catherine indignant, but very relieved that they were a long way away from her at this moment.

Catherine wondered yet again about this strange man she was travelling with. Using her logical mind and her officer training, she started to list mentally those things she knew and did not know about him to try to solve the puzzle that he had unknowingly set her. She knew he was alien, a scientist, and that he had the trust of the galactic scientific community and was well-versed in environmental law. He was prone to complete changes of mood at a moment’s notice, yet was extremely caring about her injury. She had decided while he was under arrest that he was absolutely gorgeous and since then had discovered his extremely engaging manner. Part of this engaging manner was a certain charm and those infectious smiles, neither of which Catherine was immune to. She thought again about that definite emotional bond that drew her so strongly to him. But she still did not know why there was such a bond between them. That was what puzzled her so much.

She had met charming men in her time before, some sincere, some not. None of them were quite like the Doctor. Even so, she could not make up her mind how she really thought of him. He was quite unlike anyone she had ever met before. Here she was travelling with him, albeit partially by accident, to solve the problems discovered at the Eye. She found herself trusting him implicitly, but she really didn’t know anything about him. Catherine had been noted for her determination in solving problems in the past and she was determined to take the opportunity to find out more about the Doctor while she could…..

The Doctor was thinking about Catherine too as they slowly moved together down the long, grassy slope. Not about the synchronous emotional bond he knew he had with her – it was there, it was tangible – but why the sergeant and her constables were present at the Eye in the first place. Central Orion Protection and Security always had a presence in the vicinity of the Eye these days, as part of the assistance they offered with Customs checks. However, it did not seem likely to the Doctor that Catherine and her team were attached to the Customs unit. If they had been, they would have been a long way from the Eye itself, as Customs habitually carried out their checks near the normal landing zones which were deliberately a long distance from the vicinity of the Eye. None of them were wearing the uniform usual under such circumstances, although Catherine’s outfit was a uniform of sorts.

What interested the Doctor the most was the use of the invisibility tactics. This seemed to indicate that something very much out of the ordinary was happening here. The Doctor, of course, knew how it was achieved. If the refractive index of an item was matched with its surrounds, the light would appear to pass straight through. However, it was not simple to achieve. He wondered why it was necessary.

There could be an ulterior motive at work here, but the Doctor did not think it was on Catherine’s part. Her constables he dismissed as they were obviously there because they were her team, no other reason. He turned to look at her, briefly, before looking ahead again. This journey was going to be longer than he had planned upon, so maybe it was an opportunity for him to find out about his travelling companion and her team…..

Catherine and the Doctor continued their relatively slow progress. The time taken to reach this point had been an extra hour (in Earth terms) than the Doctor would have expected, or wanted. Even allowing for their difficulty in movement under the circumstances, the slope was longer than it had appeared. However, soon the slope flattened out again as they came to the base of the knoll. The slippery, grassy surface was superseded by a type of paved gravel – a slightly rough surface, but even. They had reached an old footpath roadway. The Doctor thought that this should be easier to walk on compared to the downward slope of the knoll; for one thing it was flat. It should be a relatively flat, even surface now, all the way to that distant forest. The Doctor stopped and said to the sergeant, “Just a moment, I need to check the terrain and our bearings again. We have a fair bit of ground to cover before nightfall.” He looked at her, briefly, before reaching into his pocket for the sonic screwdriver and then using it to take further readings for the way ahead.

Catherine let her left arm drop from her light hold on him and took the opportunity to try applying a bit more weight to her left leg. It was still painful, but she wanted to try to stand, literally, on her own two feet. “So far, so good,” she thought as she attempted to balance herself. The weight-bearing was fine so far, but she knew she needed to actually try walking forward to be sure. She gingerly took two or three steps forward, realising that the Doctor had loosened his grip around her back. Walking seemed to be painful, but fine, on this stronger, more solid surface. “What a relief!” she thought. She did not want to walk the rest of the way to Node Two being supported by the Doctor, not if she could help it. It would be too much an admission of weakness and defeat. Although, as she was one who was always brutally honest with herself, she had to admit that the feel of his strong arm around her and the resilience of his leather jacket was a rather enjoyable experience!

She turned to look back at the Doctor, expecting to see him still engrossed in his readings. He had actually finished them a few moments earlier and met her look with a big grin, but with a concerned look in his eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked as he moved forward to her side in one long step.

“I think so, if I am careful,” Catherine replied. “This surface is much more even, so providing I don’t move too rapidly, I should be fine.” She smiled at him and said, “Thankyou Doctor, for your help. I do appreciate it!” He didn’t reply, just reached out and took her hand firmly in his, as before. Only this time, walking down the footpath, he did not race out ahead of her, pulling her behind him. This time, being mindful of Catherine’s knee, the Doctor matched his pace to hers and they slowly walked together, side by side, hand-in-hand. Like any pair of good friends would do. And just like any pair of good friends, they discussed the scenery as they passed it and the thoughts uppermost in their minds.

The only difference in the thoughts in their case was that it all pertained to the investigations surrounding the Eye and now Node Two. Even the scenery faded into insignificance by comparison.

The Doctor estimated, from the readings he took when they first reached the footpath and their slow speed due to Catherine’s injury – now about two hours ago (in Earth terms) – that it would take them about three hours (in Earth terms) to reach the forest. He had no reason to doubt that, which was just as well as it was now quite late in the afternoon and sunset would soon be upon them. Not a problem, except that there was no twilight in this part of the planet and travelling after dark was not really advisable.

He looked at Catherine, who was quite visibly tired with the effort of walking with her injured knee. But he knew there was no way she would admit it. He rather admired that; he had been right in his earlier reading of her character; she was definitely a woman with spirit. When he had asked her earlier, if she would like a short rest to regain her strength, she had not replied, just looked at him with her most withering Sergeant’s expression as if to say, “Don’t be ridiculous!”

But half an hour later (in Earth terms), Catherine stumbled slightly. She didn’t say anything apart from swearing under her breath at herself. The Doctor, realising immediately what was wrong, stopped for a moment. He dropped her hand and put his arm around her again to support her, as they walked the short distance to the forest. It didn’t really occur to her what he had done; she was just glad of the support.

After finding a suitable tree trunk on the edge of the forest – that is, a tree large enough to protect them from behind in case of assault by some unknown enemy, but comfortable enough to rest their backs against – Catherine and the Doctor settled themselves down for the night. The Doctor retained his arm around Catherine to support her as he spread part of his leather jacket around her to keep her warm as she slept. He looked across the plain at the long orange rays of light that were part of one of the marvellous sunsets that this planet was renowned for. As they reached their rosy fingers to the tall leafy trees nearby, the trees appeared to glow with an orange fire. “Fantastic!” the Doctor thought, as the orange glow disappeared as quickly as it had come. Nightfall had arrived.

(* To be continued….. *)