Chapter Seventeen

It was early morning and there was a definite chill in the air – the remnants from a cold night. Although the sky was still dark, the first glimpses of a pink pre-dawn glow were just starting to appear. The Doctor was wide awake, of course, and was looking forward to watching the dawn light breaking over Node Two. Despite his general air of melancholy and his changeable moods, he still continued to find scenes of natural beauty fascinating and uplifting. Spectacular sunsets and sunrises were particular favourites of his in past incarnations and he was relieved to see that the appreciation for such things had not left him since this current regeneration. The previous evening’s sunset here had been absolutely fantastic! The Doctor thought Catherine might like to see the dawn breaking over the constructions at Node Two – this was reputed to be even more spectacular than the sunset.

His arm remained around the shoulders of the still sleeping Catherine, from his attempt to keep her warm during the cold night. As the pre-dawn was still cold, it was just as important now for him to keep her warm as it had been at any time during the night. He turned to look at her and called her name gently. Catherine stirred, and then woke practically immediately. Her feet were slightly numb from a long cold night sitting in the same position, so she wiggled her toes inside her boots and moved her feet up and down until the numbness had receded. Shivering, Catherine wished she had her leather gloves and long leather coat with her to keep her warm. Not expecting a journey like this, they were, of course neatly folded away in her quarters at her team’s regional operations site, near the Eye of Orion. Her hands were like two blocks of ice. She rubbed them together until the friction generated enough heat to warm them up. Only then did she look at the Doctor. There was just enough light for her to dimly make out his face, but she could not read his expression in the pre-dawn light. She shivered again, involuntarily, and was too annoyed with herself for displaying what she saw as weakness in front of him to greet him politely.

“You’re still cold, aren’t you?” the Doctor asked her. Not waiting for, or expecting, a reply, the Doctor moved close enough to her to spread part of his leather jacket out behind her back. He moved his arm around her back to hold her slightly tighter, as he added, “This should help warm you up.” He turned away from her to look at the morning sky as it gradually became more than just a pink glow.

Catherine was almost left without a word to say. She was starting to feel self-conscious again, but she was starting to warm up slightly. Anything she said now would seem rude, ungrateful or churlish or some combination of all three. Still, she needed to say something to him. She reached into her remaining intact pocket in her battle jacket and extracted the bag of jelly beans and jelly babies that they snacked from on the previous day. Opening the bag slightly, she spoke to the Doctor saying, “Jelly baby, Doctor?”

He turned towards her and grinned as he helped himself to five of them, all different colours. “Good idea, Catherine. I always need something to munch on when I watch a show!”

There was enough early light now for Catherine to see his grin and she was sure that he was having a joke at her expense. But she asked the obvious question, anyway, “What show, Doctor?”

The Doctor replied, more seriously this time, “Sunrise over Node Two. The sunset was spectacular, but the sunrise is supposed to be absolutely fantastic! If the sunrise is the show, this area, overlooking Node Two, is the equivalent of the dress circle at the Albert Hall.” Catherine didn’t know where the Albert Hall was, much less its dress circle, if indeed it had one, but she accepted that it was somewhere special for performances. As they both turned to watch the sunrise together, Catherine could see the Doctor’s eyes positively glowing with anticipation. Although his enthusiasm was infectious, she had never had much time for viewing sunrises or sunsets for purely pleasure, so was yet to be convinced.

Once the pink glow of the pre-dawn sky had disappeared, the whole area became bathed in a misty type of half-light. Node Two was stretched out below the picnic area where the Doctor and Catherine were seated and they could just start to distinguish the pillars of its building. As the sunrise progressed, golden light streamed from the horizon reaching gradually closer and closer to the construction which housed the planet’s second strongest source of positive ion generation. The approaching sunlight wasn’t so much like golden fingers, as suggested in the tourist brochures, but more like rivulets of gold rippling rapidly towards Node Two. But this was nothing compared to the effect when it actually reached the building.

The golden rivulets of light reached the base of the pillars first, causing the effect as of a blast of golden fireworks shooting upwards as the light met the vertical grooves in the circular pillars and illuminated them to their full height. Catherine said nothing, but she heard the Doctor murmur, “Fantastic!” But the best was yet to come.

Once the light had penetrated the colonnade, it streamed over old tiling to reach the baths themselves and the centrepiece of Node Two. Light gleamed like a thousand golden diamonds on the surface of the water and danced from the artificially created raised pool down the artificial cascade that transported flowing spring water to the baths beneath. It was a magnificent sight, but it was now over for another day.

Neither the Doctor nor Catherine said anything for a few moments, still taking in what they had witnessed. Then the Doctor turned to her and asked, enthusiastically, “What did you think of it? Wasn’t it fantastic?”

Catherine didn’t reply immediately. She didn’t quite know what to say. It was certainly beautiful and unique – she had never seen anything like it. But she was not a judge of sunrises. To her they had always just meant the start of the next day and another day’s work to be done. Her logic could not appreciate them; her instincts didn’t acknowledge them; her training discouraged thought of anything that may distract from the job at hand. She was really at a loss. But the Doctor clearly looked for her opinion and an honest one at that. “Doctor, I don’t really know what to think,” she replied, crisply, “I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’m not a good judge of such things.”

The Doctor added, quietly, “Forget your logic and training for once, Catherine. What do you think of the spectacle?”

Catherine thought for a moment and then replied, partially emotional and partially embarrassed, “Unique and beautiful.”

The Doctor smiled one of his illuminating smiles in return, and then paused, before saying, “Can’t sit around here all day. It’s time we moved on.” With no further ado, he helped her to her feet.

Catherine’s knee had improved further over night and the path they chose was smooth and mainly downhill. Besides, she still had the ‘cane’ to lean on, if she needed it, and the Doctor’s arm was around her back, supporting her. He had been concerned that she might fall again with the steeper parts of the slope and supporting her directly was the only way to prevent this. Also, he didn’t want any more delays in their journey – they had been delayed long enough and he was impatient to complete his analyses. His plan was to reach Node Two as quickly as possible and carry out analyses to determine if there was any presence of ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria or evidence of weaponry residue as at the Eye. In addition, he wanted to measure the level of positive ion generation in this area to see if it had been affected as much as the generation at the Eye had been.

Just as they started on their short walk to Node Two, the Doctor asked her, quite conversationally, why she and her team had been stationed at the Eye.

Catherine was surprised at the question. It was a question she had not expected him to ask, as she had written him off, when she first met him, as being just the stereotypical scientist who ultimately could not see beyond his own research goals. Of course, since spending more time with him, she realised he was much more complex than that, but still she hadn’t expected the question to actually be asked! She considered how much she would tell him; how much she could tell him…..

The Doctor looked at her seriously, as they slowly walked on, the intensity of his blue eyes seeming to look right into her soul. He could have so easily hypnotised her into answering, if he wished to – it was one of his many unusual talents. But he preferred her to answer him openly and honestly and of her own free will. There had been too many tricks used on him of late for him to wish to use tricks on anyone else – especially someone he was travelling with, albeit temporarily…..

Catherine, naturally, knew nothing of the thoughts passing through the Doctor’s mind. All she saw was a serious, intense look on the gorgeous face of a man she was travelling with; a man she respected and who showed her respect. She decided then to tell the Doctor all she knew about the reason for her team being on duty at the Eye and all she had guessed from what she hadn’t been told. By the time they reached the entry to Node Two, Catherine had told the Doctor everything he wanted to know about her team’s task and he had told her something of Node Two’s background.

It had only taken them just over an hour (in Earth terms) to walk the short distance to the entry to Node Two, an imposing gateway just outside the complex’ colonnade. Node Two was deserted, but it was still a spectacular sight. They paused for a short time to admire the unusual architecture. The Doctor had never been there before, but it was as he had expected it to be. However, unfortunately, he couldn’t feel any positive ions in the vicinity. It looked very much as if the positive ion generator here was also dead. He would need to take readings to be sure. But that could wait until they had investigated the unusual architecture of Node Two a bit further.

The architecture of Node Two could, pedantically, be described as Romanesque, rather than Roman. Central to the construction were four huge rectangular sunken baths, each lined with mosaic ceramic tiles displaying Ancient Roman motifs. Surrounding the baths was a large colonnade of Roman-style pillars made of some marble-like stone which glistened white during the day. These were the same pillars that had displayed the golden ‘fireworks’ show during sunrise earlier in the day.

Each of the baths touched two of the others at its inner corners, leaving a square courtyard in the centre. The most unusual part of the construction was the large centrepiece which covered the central courtyard completely. It was an artificial cascade created as a series of rising stairs up to the central raised pool where the waters from the original hot spring were still piped up from the bubbling spring beneath as had been done for centuries; its water flowing over the sides of the square-shaped pool down each side of the cascade stairs to finish in the baths beneath, where it was recycled. The cascade was also the extrusion of the positive ion generator for Node Two.

The hot spring itself was still emitting a reasonably strong radiant heat and a strong smell that was highly unpleasant to a Time Lord with a very keen sense of smell! In fact, the smell was so strong and overpowering that the Doctor’s normally infallible ability to locate weaponry residue purely by sense of smell was next to useless. Catherine, being human, could not smell the hot spring at all.

The Doctor looked at Node Two’s architecture with a critical eye, thinking that Roman colonnades and Roman baths mixed with cascades more suited to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon than to Ancient Rome would not be his usual choice of architecture. He naturally didn’t tell Catherine any of this, but he had visited Ancient Rome on more than one occasion and the Hanging Gardens – or, to be strictly correct, an exact replica of them – once, by accident. Here, of course, no plants grew in the cascade because of the hot spring. Still, architecturally, he conceded that this time the combination worked unusually well.

Catherine, having no expectations of Node Two at all, was completely astounded to see it close up. “Fantastic!” she said, borrowing from the Doctor’s vocabulary again.

The Doctor grinned and his eyes twinkled as he said, “Couldn’t have put it better myself!” His grin faded as quickly as it had appeared. He dropped his arm from around Catherine as he reached into his inner jacket pocket for his sonic screwdriver. Turning it on, as he had done previously at the Eye, with a wide field positive ion detection setting, he hoped, yet again, for that faint whirring sound that would indicate the presence of positive ion generation. He almost screamed with delight. There was a very faint sound. The positive ion generator was still functional, although weak! “Fantastic!” he thought. He continued to take readings for about the next half hour (in Earth terms), to triangulate the exact coordinates where the positive ions were in strongest concentration.

While the Doctor was analysing the ion generation, Catherine decided to investigate the baths a little closer for any signs of ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria. She was looking for any mortar degradation or stone disintegration as she had seen with the remains of the archway at the Eye. There was none to be found in the colonnade or in the surrounds to the baths. All the tiles within the baths themselves seemed to be intact. The only place yet to be checked was the cascade itself. Catherine couldn’t see through the water of the cascade from a distance, so she moved closer to gain a better look. She reported back to the Doctor, “Doctor, there appears to be none of the usual signs of the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria here. However, there are some strange pinkish marks on the tiles of the cascade.” She stretched her hand out to point to one large mark on the cascade stairs just in front of her…..

(* To be continued….. *)