Chapter Twenty

The Doctor, as usual, raced up the gangway ramp and over to the console. Catherine followed him, slowly. Without turning around, he asked her to pull the TARDIS doors firmly shut. She did so immediately, and then walked around the console to the comfortable two-seater chair where she gratefully sat down to rest her aching knee and to watch the Doctor at work. Catherine frowned as she thought about his approach to the problems of the Eye of Orion and wondered how she could assist him.

Catherine needn’t have concerned herself about that at this stage. Now they had returned to the TARDIS, the Doctor appeared to be completely oblivious to her presence. He took the sonic screwdriver out of his inner pocket. Twisting its black base about forty-five degrees clockwise, the Doctor inserted the sonic screwdriver into a console connection point to his left and switched it on. To Catherine, the glowing instrument looked a bit strange sticking upright from the console, but an efficient data connection was made as soon as the Doctor had secured it in place. He frowned slightly in concentration as he initiated a computer program from the console scanner. To Catherine’s delight, he turned to her and explained, “It’s uploading the ion concentration coordinates and other details that were recorded in the sonic screwdriver into the TARDIS database. When this process completes, it will automatically initiate the analyses of the coordinate locations and their signal strengths. The whole process will take about an hour and a half (in Earth terms), so how about a quick meal? You must be absolutely starving by now! Steak and chips alright?” The Doctor didn’t wait for a reply, but bounded out through an inner door of the TARDIS.

One of the things that never ceased to amaze Catherine about the Doctor was his drive and his energy. Even allowing for the fact that he was alien, she was sure that he must be exceptional in his fitness. Catherine thought, “How does he do it? After the last few days exertions, I’m exhausted and he is still full of energy! He really is extraordinary. Yet, it doesn’t seem to prevent him from thinking of others’ comfort. He has been so very caring about the injury to my knee.” She shook her head in amazement, sighed and started to massage her aching knee while she awaited his return.

After what seemed only a short time, the Doctor returned balancing a tray containing two plates each with a piping hot thickly-cut sirloin steak and wedge-shaped potato chips, two sets of cutlery and two hand-cut crystal wine glasses. Two thick hand towels were slung over his right shoulder and an unopened bottle of red wine was under his right arm. He placed the tray down on the chair next to Catherine, handed her one of the towels to place on her lap to prevent the heat from the plate coming through and passed her one of the plates and a set of cutlery. As he sat down next to her, the tray between them, he took the remaining plate of steak and chips and placed it on the other hand towel on his own lap. He said apologetically, “No serviettes or placemats, I’m afraid, so hand towels will have to do. But I can offer you a glass of red wine with your steak?” She nodded, as he removed the top of the wine bottle and poured the finest French Beaujolais into the crystal wine glasses on the tray.

Catherine did not know it, but the Doctor had considered himself to be an expert on red wine in his third incarnation and in his fourth too! Another thing which didn’t change with regeneration – or at least it hadn’t changed in any regeneration to date – was the sensitivity of the palate to good wine. Even if it might at first glance appear that there were few wine connoisseurs who had close cropped hair and wore jeans and a battered leather jacket! If she had thought about it, Catherine would probably have thought there was something incongruous in this meal, but she really was too tired to think beyond the mouth-watering steak, the beautiful wine and the lovely wine glasses. Neither the Doctor nor Catherine spoke during the meal, beyond Catherine thanking the Doctor for refilling her wine glass at one point.

After the Doctor had cleared away the plates and cutlery, but before he had time to sip his second glass of wine, the console scanner started blinking. He rose from the two-seater to go to the console, but carefully so as not to knock the tray with the wine over. While he was busy at the scanner, Catherine thought she would see if there was anything she could do to help. She knew she couldn’t read the spirals, patterns and swirls of the Doctor’s own language, but she thought there might be something else she could assist with. As she looked over the Doctor’s shoulder to watch what he was doing, she was surprised to see the scanner was displaying its information in English. In fact, she was so surprised that she didn’t even ask the Doctor if there was anything she could do to help. But she did have one question for him.

“Doctor, the last time I looked at the scanner, it displayed a language of spirals, patterns and swirls. This time I looked the scanner was displaying in English. How did you change that and why did you change it?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor finished his data entry into the scanner and entered ‘confirmed’, so the job would run until completion. Only then did he turn back to Catherine. With a boyish grin on his face, he explained, “I didn’t change it, Catherine. It’s a gift of the TARDIS.” Catherine looked a bit puzzled, so the Doctor explained it a bit further. “The TARDIS’ telepathic field affects your mind and translates alien languages, even written languages. So you look at the scanner and see the words displayed in English.”

“But why didn’t that happen when I was in the TARDIS before?” Catherine asked. The Doctor didn’t reply. He had an idea why that might be the case, but decided not to tell Catherine at this time. Instead, he just shrugged his shoulders. Catherine wasn’t satisfied with that, but she knew from long experience when not to press a point too much. She thought it was probably best to change the subject.

The TARDIS provided her with just the opening she needed. “Doctor, I think your analysis is finished,” Catherine said, pointing to the message indicating ‘Program Normal Completion’ on the scanner. There was no completion beep as there had been the last time analyses had been run by the Doctor, but as this was a different type of program, Catherine was not about to query it.

The Doctor turned back to the scanner and looked at the output data. All the readings recorded by the sonic screwdriver had been validated as correct against the TARDIS database records of known paths of positive ion concentrations in the area around Node Two. The accuracy of the coordinate readings was also within the recognised tolerance limits of the sonic screwdriver, so the Doctor was satisfied with the results of his ion analysis. He locked the coordinates into the working area of the database for instant access later. Having these coordinates locked in would enable him to setup a temporary booster to the ion generation through a virtual loop back on the ion coordinates. The idea behind the virtual loop back mechanism was a rough and ready recursion principle which should enable the booster to feed off the boosted positive ions and continually “jump start” the positive ion concentrator below Node Two until there was sufficient ion generation to not only bring Node Two back to capacity, but to provide excess which could be fed back into the Eye of Orion to hopefully “jump start” it as well. At least that was the theory.

The Doctor was confident of it working for Node Two where some ion generation remained, but the Eye of Orion’s ion generation had ceased, so he was unsure whether he could extrapolate the same results there or not. But first, he had to lock the TARDIS’ own coordinates in place as well. A loop back mechanism had no chance of working if the primary link and power for it – in this case the TARDIS – did not remain stationary through the early stages of the process. So the Doctor locked the TARDIS into the virtual circuit and commenced running the mechanism. Although this meant that the TARDIS had to physically remain in situ for the next five hours (in Earth terms), it didn’t occur to the Doctor that he should voluntarily explain any of this process to Catherine.

However, when he told her they had to remain where they were for such a long period of time, Catherine didn’t lose her temper at him. Her instinct told her that that would be a complete waste of energy. Logically, there had to be a good reason for his decision, she just naturally wanted to know what it was. So she asked him and, to her surprise, he told her. He, in his turn, was surprised that her only reaction was to nod in agreement, hand him his untouched second glass of wine and to take a sip of her own wine, before returning to the two-seater to rest. As there was nothing further for him to do in the early stages of the recursion process, he returned to the seat as well after removing the tray and the now empty wine bottle from its precarious position on the seat.

As the Doctor settled himself on the seat, sipping his wine, he wondered how many of his previous TARDIS travelling companions would have taken a long delay like this was likely to be without some disagreement, argument or complaint, and of those, how many would have not just blindly accepted it, but would have wanted to know why, just like Catherine did. “I could count them on one hand, I think,” the Doctor thought. He counted them in his head. “Sarah, Nyssa, both Romanas…..” Tears pricked behind his eyes again when he thought of his travels with Romana – the only time he had shared the TARDIS with another adult Time Lord. He had only known her in her first two incarnations, but like so many Time Lords fighting the Daleks on other planets, she had been a casualty of the Time War, long before his summons to Gallifrey.

Just thinking about the Time War again made the tears run silently down his cheeks. He had completely forgotten Catherine’s presence at that particular point in time. Catherine reached over and gently touched the Doctor on his shoulder, saying, as she had done on an earlier occasion, “Doctor, are you alright?” She thought that the source of his grief must be horrendous to cause a man such as him to involuntarily weep so openly like that. However, the sound of her voice and the feel of her touch on his shoulder brought him back to the present.

Once again the Doctor appreciated Catherine’s genuine compassion for him, but this type of emotional display was not something he wanted to make a habit of, particularly in front of a travelling companion. The Doctor brushed away his tears and shook himself inwardly. “What am I thinking of?” he thought, “Catherine’s not a real travelling companion. She has all the talent and expertise to provide some real assistance to me and the spirit to make travelling with her interesting, but…..”

(* To be continued….. *)