Chapter Fourteen

There was a stunned silence in the Colonnade. The Doctor suspected that many of the attendees at what was becoming an informal meeting – he hated formal meeting procedure – were surprised that another attendee had not only displayed her anger openly, but that she had directed that anger in strong criticism of two very important diplomats. He thought that the Chancellor, the Castellan and the Premier Cardinal might be the exceptions. All were good judges of character and besides, in his experience, nothing ever surprised them! This silence, he knew, would only be temporary. He was not the only Time Lord present who liked to talk.

The Doctor understood Catherine’s anger and he shared it. His former lecturer would have probably counselled her that it was not the wisest for her to show it at such a meeting. But, even so, the Doctor would never have prevented her from expressing it. Someone needed to step out of the arena of professional courtesy and tact that prevailed in this place to ask the hard questions of the Ambassadors and point out their failings. Although he knew that neither Ambassador would admit they were at fault.

However, even the Doctor did not expect the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s reaction to Catherine’s comments.

The Gallifreyan Ambassador asked the Premier Cardinal, in a tone of voice that indicated his contempt for Catherine’s opinions to all present, “Cardinal, may I request, respectfully, that Ms Mere’s comments be struck from the record of this meeting? She is not familiar with the finer points of Gallifreyan or Lambe*Rt~ian diplomacy.” Although he knew she had been granted exemption from the provisions of the law against aliens on Gallifrey, by virtue of the Premier Cardinal’s successful petition on her behalf to the High Council, he was politically astute enough to believe he was on safe ground with the majority of those present to make such a request. And if he had said no more than that, his request may have been reluctantly approved on diplomatic grounds.

But before Catherine or the Doctor even had time to object to his request, he added a further qualifying phrase which galvanised the Premier Cardinal’s decision. The Ambassador looked around at the other attendees and said, “Alien opinions have no benefit for posterity. They aren’t important enough to be recorded.”

The Premier Cardinal responded with a very prompt, “No, Ambassador, Ms Mere’s comments must remain on the record. They are a unique and important perspective on the events surrounding this meeting.” He paused, before adding, “As are yours, and anyone else in attendance here.”

The Gallifreyan Ambassador could do nothing but appear to accept the rejection of his request. Because he could not take issue with a member of the High Council once a ruling had been made, he said nothing. But the deep scowl on his face could have told the Premier Cardinal volumes, if he had been able to see it. The Ambassador instead directed his expression towards the Doctor and Catherine.

Several other attendees spoke in support of the Gallifreyan Ambassador. They knew nothing could be changed, but they wanted their comments to be recorded. And providing they kept their comments free of personal abuse, they would be.

Catherine was starting to feel decidedly annoyed with this turn of events. It was not so much because of what was being said about aliens and their opinions – although she naturally felt very strongly about that – but because their comments were distracting from the main purpose of the meeting. She was starting to wonder just how much more of this she could take and whether her own reactions might overshadow other more immediate matters.

The Doctor guessed how Catherine was feeling and sympathised with her. His immediate chivalrous impulse had been to defend her, but he knew that that would not serve any real purpose and could draw even more ire upon her. The best reaction would be no reaction. That is, to let these ignorant individuals have their say, which they were perfectly entitled to do. The Doctor remembered someone he came across on one of his travels to Earth who wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” In many ways not a palatable idea, but one he had to agree with in principle. But he did wonder how many more speakers there were going to be to this matter.

Two more officials indicated they wished to speak to the idea, but before they could start, Catherine came to her decision. She said, in her best Sergeant’s manner, “Excuse me, Cardinal, it would appear as if my presence here is causing some people a certain degree of distraction from the purpose of this meeting.” As Catherine paused, the Doctor thought they could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Everyone was listening to her. He smiled and looked at the other attendees. She had them, to use an Earth phrase, sitting in the palm of her hand, at least for the moment.

Catherine continued, a note of passion creeping into her voice, “There is nothing more important at this moment than the futures of Gallifrey and Lambe*Rt~ia. The purpose of this meeting must be to address the threats to both planets and their peoples and the role of diplomacy in aiding the solution. And if my presence, for whatever reason, is a distraction, then I must be excused from the meeting. Chancellor, Cardinal, Castellan, I ask your indulgence.” All three nodded their approval.

The Castellan didn’t smile, but did say, in an encouraging tone of voice, “Ms Mere. May I suggest that instead of leaving the area completely that you move only as far as the end of the Colonnade? There is an observation deck there which you may find interesting.” Both the Chancellor and the Premier Cardinal agreed. Not only did this mean she was available for any queries, but remaining in the vicinity meant that she did not need to be accompanied by a Chancellery Guard.

The Premier Cardinal remembered conducting Academy tutorials on the observation deck, when he was an Academy tutor and the Doctor had been one of the students. He added, rhetorically, “Perhaps the Doctor remembers where it is and would show you the way? We will discuss some lesser matters until you return, Doctor.”

The Doctor nodded. It was a place he remembered from his Academy days, as the Premier Cardinal knew well.

The Doctor and Catherine made a dignified retreat from the meeting area and walked quickly along the Colonnade itself. She smiled at him, but they didn’t speak at all while walking along the Colonnade. Although she had walked along part of the Colonnade before, she hadn’t realised that it actually curved around beyond the immediate vicinity of the meeting area for quite a distance. When they reached its end, the columns disappeared. The Colonnade fanned out into a huge, circular area which was sunken below the surrounding floor level. As the Doctor and Catherine stepped down the three granite-like stairs to reach its base level, he explained that this was the observation deck.

With the exception of the curved walls which opened out from the Colonnade, the deck’s walls were a series of full glass-like windows. They were unbroken by window frames or supports and were tinted against the harmful rays of the electromagnetic spectrum. And the windows reached from the deck floor, uninterrupted, up to the domed ceiling above. The deck could have been designed purely for watching over Outer Gallifrey. But from what Catherine had seen of Time Lord society so far, she strongly doubted that that was the case.

The Doctor showed her to the place with the best view, folded his arms and said, “It was designed primarily as an observatory, but it was also used for surveying the surrounding environment.” He grinned before adding, “When I was a student at the Academy, I came here many times.”

Catherine looked surprised. It wasn’t often that the Doctor spoke about his past. And from the expression on his face, for once it was a positive memory. She smiled back at him.

“We had tutorials here from time to time – sometimes involving astronomical observations, sometimes for observations of Gallifrey. Sometimes we came here to discuss philosophy or simply for its peace and quiet. And it was always the best place in the Capitol to view the fantastic Gallifreyan sunsets from.”

As Catherine sat down on the viewing bench nearby, she looked at the Doctor and asked, “What’s so fantastic about them?”

The Doctor smiled one of his illuminating smiles, but he didn’t elaborate. He hoped that there would be time to show Catherine a sunset – one last time – before they left Gallifrey. But that was for later. Now he needed to return to the meeting.

“I’d better go,” he said, more seriously.

“Yes, of course,” Catherine replied.

“Don’t run away,” he added, with a cheeky grin, as he left the deck for the Colonnade and the meeting.

Catherine didn’t reply. She just watched as the Doctor walked quickly, but with a strange sort of dignity, back along the Colonnade. It occurred to her that she might have missed a great opportunity to be involved in a major Gallifreyan political event, but leaving the meeting was really her only option under the circumstances. Not that she couldn’t handle personal insults or her anger at the injustice of the verbal attacks, but she realised that the Ambassadors – particularly the Gallifreyan Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia – were likely to use her alien presence as a distraction. “They’ll do anything to distract the meeting’s attendees from discussing the Ambassadors’ inabilities to work together,” she thought. Despite her absence from the meeting, it seemed as if she had an able lieutenant in the Doctor. The emotional bond she had with him was as strong as ever and he appeared to understand and empathise with her thoughts and feelings on this matter. “I’ll have to trust in him, yet again,” she thought. But she did wonder if the Time Lords would listen to him. Not just on this matter, but in relation to the threat itself too…..

Once the Doctor was out of sight of the observation deck, he stopped. If the Premier Cardinal and the Chancellor knew that he was not returning immediately, they would probably send a couple of Chancellery Guards after him. But he needed a few moments to himself to think through the next stage of the meeting. Like Catherine, he realised that her criticism of the Ambassadors’ work practices would be manipulated as a distraction from more immediate discussion. The main objective was always the nature of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia and hence to Gallifrey. But the Doctor needed to know a bit more background before he asked that question. He didn’t blame Catherine for becoming angry at the Ambassadors; he agreed with her. However, politically, it probably would have been preferable if she had managed to restrain her emotion until later. But he would be the last one to criticise her for displaying those emotions.

“There is nothing more important at this moment than the futures of Gallifrey and Lambe*Rt~ia,” Catherine had said. His feelings were at best mixed on this point, but nevertheless the Doctor smiled to himself. A spectator might have thought she had been brought up on Gallifrey she displayed so much strength of feeling about it. And of course she was right. The key was the phrase ‘at this moment’. At this time, it was not important that in the future Gallifrey and its people had died in a horrific conflagration at the end of a protracted Time War. At this moment, it wasn’t important that the High Council of that time had given him no choice but to do the unthinkable. Those images belonged far into the future. He shook himself, as if that would take away the bad memories. The Doctor knew it would not remove them; how could it? But at least that physical movement prevented the tears coming to his eyes again…..

After the Doctor left for the observation deck, the meeting attendees were supposed to be discussing ‘lesser matters’. At least that had been the Premier Cardinal’s intention, but he was unable to prevent the choice of topics of discussion taking place. The Chancellor had discussed this remote possibility with him at their breakfast meeting earlier in the day. He had assured the Chancellor that the direction of this meeting was to be at the Doctor’s whim, regardless of the comments from other attendees.

But the Premier Cardinal had not anticipated the amount of animosity that would be generated. He had assumed that his support of the Doctor and Ms Mere would have been enough to guarantee that the meeting would be reasonably quiet. It seemed as if the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s comments had been the trigger for the outbursts. The Premier Cardinal noticed that the bulk of the discussion revolved around Ms Mere’s presence, her attitude and her reactions. Some even ridiculed her knowledge. Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia was still dismissive of her contribution. Lambe*Rt~ia’s Ambassador to Gallifrey made no definitive comment. Although it surprised the Premier Cardinal, the Doctor would not have even raised an eyebrow had he been present. The Doctor was long used to the pettiness of some of the Time Lords on Gallifrey. However, the Premier Cardinal was not. Or, to be more precise, he was not used to the pettiness intruding on what he saw as his business. And Ms Mere was his business as the High Council had permitted her the freedom of the Capitol and made her his responsibility.

Without the Doctor present, there was only one man who could speak for Ms Mere and the Doctor; the only one who had had long conversations with them both.

The Premier Cardinal called upon him to speak. “Castellan? Your opinions would be appreciated.”

Castellan Spandrell acknowledged the Premier Cardinal and replied, “Of course.”

The Premier Cardinal knew that the Castellan was an ideal person to speak for both the Doctor and his companion. Not only had he spoken to both of them at length, but he held the Doctor’s judgement in high respect and had been impressed by Ms Mere’s knowledge of security matters and her dignity under verbal assault – not just now, but also at the dinner the previous evening. For a man not used to speaking in public as it were, he was quite eloquent in his speech. But he was fair in his assessment of the situation and gave credit where it was due without any exaggeration. He also managed to speak without breaching the confidential nature of the discussions he had had with the Doctor and Ms Mere or to pass judgement on either of them.

The Premier Cardinal was impressed with the Castellan’s performance in this matter, but noticed that the Chancellor did not appear surprised. Perhaps it was because he knew the Castellan better than the Premier Cardinal did. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t relevant. The Chancellor wasn’t taking an obvious part in the proceedings. This, in itself, was a little puzzling to the Premier Cardinal, especially considering the Chancellor’s intervention earlier in the day. The Premier Cardinal assumed it was connected with the Chancellor’s audience with the Lord President. With the Lord President not actually present at the meeting with the Doctor at the Colonnade, the Chancellor would represent him and act as his representative at the discussions. This, the Premier Cardinal thought, would be why the Chancellor was apparently staying in the background.

As the Castellan finished his speech, the Lambe*Rt~ian Ambassador asked, “Cardinal, when may we expect the Doctor to return? Surely, there are more questions to be discussed?”

Before the Premier Cardinal could reply, the Doctor re-entered the meeting area.

He replied, “Yes, there are.” Looking at the two Ambassadors, he added, “But I doubt the Ambassadors will like the questions I want to ask.” All eyes were immediately directed towards the Doctor as he re-entered the discussions…..

Although the temptation was to look at the view, force of habit made Catherine take stock of her immediate surroundings first.

The viewing bench she was sitting on appeared to her to have been sculpted from a single piece of a marble-like stone. It was amazingly smooth with curves where sharp straight edges would normally be expected and the seat itself curved neatly into a comfortable back just the right height to be supportive of the shoulders of a tall woman like herself. Catherine hadn’t seen much sculpture outside of museums, but this was unusual in that it was designed to be practical. Whatever stone it was composed of was an unusual colour too, being a mix of red and yellow, but not garishly so. The heavy bench was obviously made to stay where it was. Catherine estimated that it would take three or four strong men to move it even a short distance.

The flooring in the deck area was unexpected as well. She would have expected stone or tiles, but instead it was thickly piled carpet. It reminded Catherine of the deep piled carpet in the reception room where she and the Doctor had dined with the Castellan, the Premier Cardinal and the other invitees the previous evening. Thinking of the conversation she had earlier with the Doctor about the deck, she could just imagine a group of Academy students meeting here to discuss philosophy. They would be able to sit quite comfortably on this carpet with their robes and the paraphernalia of their studies about them. Their tutor probably sat on the viewing bench, directing the discussions. Catherine smiled to herself as she tried to imagine the Doctor as one of a group of students. She doubted that he would ever have been conventional in his ideas. He would have created something of a stir even then. “A bit like he is probably doing now,” she thought.

Catherine stood up and walked over towards the window to look at the view. “Fantastic,” she thought, as she became slightly mesmerised by its beauty.

The view from the observation deck was spectacular. It was widely held to be one of the most beautiful vistas of Outer Gallifrey. Perhaps it was because it was her first view of Outer Gallifrey that Catherine was struck by the dramatic contrast between the untouched appearance of the view outside and the artificial nature of the inside. “No,” she thought. “The Capitol is not so much artificial as deliberately contrived to be the way it is. It’s as if the Time Lords were shutting themselves away from everything that was natural.” Yet they provided themselves with a beautiful space like this where they could look out over the surrounding environment. And from what the Doctor had said about his Academy days, it seemed as if they encouraged their students to observe it.

This paradoxical side to the Time Lords didn’t seem to be consistent and was a puzzle to Catherine. Like the many puzzling things she had come across in her career for Central Orion Protection and Security, this was just another problem to be solved. And she had a strong instinct for solving problems. But she did have a suspicion that this solution was one that would not be arrived at easily. She would need input from the Doctor. And she guessed that the necessary information might not be forthcoming.

Catherine had visited many different planets in her career at Central Orion Protection and Security, but in all her travels she had seen nothing quite like the vision she saw through the observation deck windows.

The windows looked out over a red desert landscape, but not one that seemed arid. There were large tracts of what looked like – at least at this distance – finely-graded reddish sand. They reached almost to the horizon, but were punctuated at intervals by tall, red grasses which wafted gently in the Gallifreyan breeze. Catherine could also see tall trees, perhaps a bit unusual under the circumstances, with leaves of some light colour which seemed to shine where the sunlight touched them. The trees weren’t in forests, but were in groups which had perhaps evolved to provide mass shade for the under story around them. Catherine wished she could be out there under those trees. Perhaps then she might see some of the animal and bird life that she was sure must live there. She sighed and turned her attention to the view of the sky.

The Gallifreyan sky was an attractive and very unusual burnt orange colour with streaks of pale gold towards the horizon. The streaks reminded Catherine of the onset of the sunset at Node Two near the Eye of Orion. She assumed that this must be the start of the Gallifreyan sunset. Yet this sunset – if sunset it was – was different to anything else she had ever seen.

It wasn’t just the colour of the sky that was so different; it was the appearance of the sun itself. Or to be more precise, it was the appearance of the suns. Although Catherine had visited planets with many moons – some which glowed brightly even when the sun was at its zenith, she had never visited a planet with two suns before. One seemed to shine a brighter gold than the other, although they appeared to be close together. The apparently closer one seemed to have a pinkish glow around it too. Catherine assumed that this was purely a trick of perspective, but that didn’t prevent her from admiring the beauty of it.

The Doctor could have told Catherine that the solar system of which Gallifrey was a part was unusual in orbiting a twin star system. Its primary star revolved on its own axis and the secondary and slightly smaller star slowly orbited it at a safe distance. The secondary star was a relic of the ancient process of the Time Lords’ taming of Black Hole Omega, named after the Time Lord solar engineer who implemented the process. Its presence helped to keep the gravitational balance of the black hole in harmony with the surrounding stellar environment so its power could be harnessed by the Time Lords. This harmonious relationship between the secondary star and the black hole was part of the reason that Black Hole Omega was known more colloquially as the Gallifreyan Eye of Harmony.

But the Doctor wasn’t there to enlighten Catherine. He was summing up his argument at the meeting for the advantages of the repeal of the law against alien presences on Gallifrey. Once this was resolved, and hopefully the two Ambassadors’ objections were silenced, the Doctor fully intended to solve this mystery of the threat to Lambe*Rt~ia that was causing Gallifrey so much angst and so much potential danger…..

(* To be continued….. *)