Chapter Twenty Four

The Doctor grinned at the sergeant as they reached the TARDIS and he unlocked the door. He was just about to reply to her question when Constable Black apparently materialised out of thin air a short distance away. Of course, it wasn’t actually out of thin air – he had transmatted there from the regional operations site, but the actual transmat terminal was still shielded so as to appear invisible. Constable Black was a bit disconcerted to see his sergeant apparently about to step into the TARDIS, once again. After all, the last time she had stepped through those doors, her constables hadn’t seen her again for nearly a week and they still didn’t know where she and the Doctor had been during that time.

Constable Black was not about to question his sergeant, as that was past history now. But he did know that she should see these three urgent communiqués sent to her in her absence, before she commenced investigation of anything else. He quickly moved in her direction, not quite at a run, but fast, nevertheless. His sprint was just fast enough to follow her and the Doctor through the open door into the TARDIS and part way up the entry ramp. Then he stopped abruptly as he saw the inside of the Doctor’s ship. His jaw dropped in shock.

The Doctor grinned, before he asked his uninvited guest, “You’re going to say it’s bigger on the inside than the outside, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I was, Doctor,” Constable Black replied when he found his voice again. “How, do you do it?” he asked.

The Doctor, who was not about to attempt to explain anything about the TARDIS to the constable, replied, crisply, “Constable, close the door after you when you leave, thank you!” He gestured towards the door, indicating to the constable that he was not an invited guest.

The constable, whose intention was to leave as soon as he had spoken with his sergeant, turned towards Catherine and said, “Ma’am, you’d better read these. They are urgent and confidential communiqués from the local area commander, sent while you were,” he paused, as he chose his words carefully, “absent on your investigations with the Doctor.” He walked over to where his sergeant was standing, just in front of the nearest coral-covered tree-like roof support structure, and handed the communiqués to her.

Catherine took the hardcopies from the constable, looked at them briefly and swore under her breath, before saying to him, “Thanks, Constable. You may return to normal duties now.” The Doctor, who had watched this interchange, raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise at Catherine’s reaction to the communiqués, but said nothing.

With that, the constable nodded and walked back through the open TARDIS door, closing it behind him. He was relieved to be out in the fresh air again. “Jeff is not going to believe this when I tell him about that ship,” he thought, as he headed back to join him, on duty protecting the rubble mound that was once the archway of the Eye.

Now that Constable Black had left the TARDIS, the Doctor pretended to be busy checking over the console. There was no need for checking of course, but his experience of human women made him certain that the sergeant would need to take another look at the communiqués. Her reaction had been such that he knew she would appreciate the courtesy of him at least pretending to be busy elsewhere while she re-read the messages. After she had read them through twice more, she shook her head and seemed disturbed by their contents. “That’s all I need,” Catherine thought, feeling somewhere between exasperation and extreme irritation at the contents of the communiqués. “The local area commander wants to double-check my status report. If he’s going to query the content, why doesn’t he do the reports himself?” she thought.

The sergeant wondered what the reaction was going to be to her having gone to Node Two with the Doctor, without approval. It wasn’t something that could be hidden, as she hadn’t replied to the communiqués by the morning following the day each was sent. Unfortunately, Constable Black’s care in trying to hide her absence when he submitted the latest report, although meant with the best of intentions she was sure, hadn’t helped her cause at all. She would have to explain the Doctor’s presence and why she went to Node Two with him.

Catherine couldn’t win whichever way she put it. Her local area commander would accept her involvement in scientific analysis on board the TARDIS, but travelling to Node Two? If she told the truth and said it had been partially an accident that she travelled there, the Doctor would probably be arrested for the abduction of an officer of Central Orion Protection and Security – a serious offence. However, if she said she had been invited to travel there, and had accepted without obtaining clearance first from local area command, she would probably be disciplined severely and it was still likely that the Doctor would be arrested for abduction. Constable Black would be reprimanded for leaving important details out of his report, but as she was his managing officer, she should have been present to review it before it was submitted. This would add yet another ‘black mark’ against her name. She breathed a large sigh.

The Doctor realised Catherine was thinking through her options after reading the communiqués from her local area commander. Although he was apparently busy with the console, he was actually watching her and her reactions closely out of the corner of his right eye. Unlike his automatic reaction to Catherine’s sigh when they were watching the waves break over the ‘rocky plateau’, the Doctor was not tempted to place his arm around her this time. He knew instinctively that she would work this through herself, without his assistance. It was part of her independence and spirited nature and he admired her for it, but he knew it wouldn’t be an easy task for her.

Catherine thought about the internal politics in her local area command that made some of them so difficult to deal with. She disliked the inconsistency in their human resource management, although she had become inured to being praised in one quarter and then criticised in another for the same work. That was just the way the agency worked. Although she enjoyed her day-to-day work, she found herself thinking back to a conversation she had had with the Doctor on the way back to the TARDIS from Node Two. He had asked her why she had joined the agency and she had replied, “Problem solving; an instinct for the irrational; a memory for faces and trivia; the challenge of new things; travel.” The Doctor had said that he knew of another option that would cover all those and more, but he hadn’t specified what the option was or where he heard of it. Catherine hadn’t taken much notice of his response at the time, but she suddenly wished she had asked him to be more specific! She shook her head regretfully, before walking over to stand next to the Doctor and asking him, “Doctor, what can I do to help you?”

He didn’t answer her immediately, but a slight frown appeared to add to the creases already on his brow as he concentrated on the problems at hand. After a short pause, the Doctor asked, seemingly at random, but Catherine knew by now that he never did anything without a specific reason, “Catherine, why do you think the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria were introduced to the Eye?”

Catherine was slightly taken aback, as she would have expected that his concerns would be for the weaponry, now that the bacteria were destroyed courtesy of the thunderstorm. But she answered him anyway, being careful in her response. “Might they have been introduced by accident, Doctor?”

He looked at her and shook his head. “A coincidence, Catherine? Nope, I don’t believe in coincidence. Someone chooses to fire high-powered weaponry at a major site like the Eye of Orion and they just happen to bring the very bacteria with them that will aid the setting up of such weaponry? It’s too perfect.” Catherine must have looked a little bemused, because he went on to explain, “If someone wanted to set up weaponry such as the sort that would leave the residue that we found earlier on the rubble, they would need some vantage point surrounded by open space to fire it off safely.” He paused to see if Catherine was listening, and seeing that she was, continued with the explanation. “Say they needed to use the surrounds of the archway at the Eye for their firing site, for some reason. How do you think the archway itself would affect their choice of location?”

The Doctor looked at Catherine, expecting her to use her professional knowledge of weapons and her problem-solving skills to answer his question. He already had the idea, but if she wanted to help, she had to make a real contribution. The Doctor was also interested to see if her solution matched his – after all, with her professional background, he presumed that she would have more detailed technical knowledge of the finer points of weaponry in general than he did. He was very much against high-powered weaponry as a matter of principle and he had seen far more of the firepower and the dreadful effects of some of the universe’s more horrific weapons than she would ever see – even if she spent her entire career with Central Orion Protection and Security.

Catherine realised he was waiting for her to respond. She didn’t have a lot of experience with weaponry of this sort, but from her training, she had a general knowledge of the basics that were applicable to most weaponry. So after thinking about it for a few moments, she replied, “Not knowing which weaponry in particular was used, I’ll have to make an educated guess, Doctor. Generally, if you were firing high-powered weaponry, you would need to remove any large obstructions from the firing path to ensure you could organise your weapon trajectory appropriately. Oh, Doctor, don’t tell me, the beautiful archway from the Eye was in the firing path, so needed to be destroyed?” The Doctor folded his arms across his chest, smiled grimly and nodded.

“I’m afraid so, Catherine,” the Doctor replied, quietly. “And of course, the quickest way to destroy the archway is to use some agent to dissolve the mortar between the bricks…..”

Catherine finished the sentence for him, “…..and the agent best used to dissolve this mortar would be the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria?” The Doctor grinned momentarily at that and nodded his agreement.

“Yeah. Clean and highly efficient,” the Doctor commented, with an edge to his voice. “But difficult to trace. The actual rubble mound itself was probably even used as the location to site the weaponry for firing too.” Catherine looked slightly shocked at that. The Doctor nodded.

“But how did the bacteria arrive here, Doctor?” Catherine asked.

“There are many ways that it could have arrived, Catherine,” the Doctor replied. “But the main question at this point is who was behind this?”

“And where, or who, did they source the bacteria from?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor frowned and pursed his lips, but didn’t comment, as he turned back towards the console again. He may not know where, but he had a fair idea who the source was most likely to be. “Or,” he thought, “I would have a fair idea, if I were not the last Time Lord.” Tears started to glisten on his eyelashes at that thought – as they were always prone to do when he thought of the demise of Gallifrey. But before Catherine had noticed his reaction, he inwardly shook himself and brought himself back to the job at hand, by extracting the rubble analysis data from the TARDIS records and redisplaying them on the scanner.

Catherine didn’t notice the Doctor’s distress this time because he recovered himself so quickly. But she did have a distinct feeling that the Doctor was hiding something from her, she just couldn’t put her finger on it. “He knows more about this than he is letting on,” Catherine thought, her instinct for the out of place coming to the fore again, “I wish he’d confide in me a bit more.” She shook her head and said, “Doctor…..”

The Doctor looked across at Catherine and smiled one of his illuminating smiles, except that his eyes weren’t twinkling quite as much as usual. Catherine decided that she wasn’t going to wait for him to tell her scraps of information as it suited him – they had shared a lot during the trip to and from Node Two and she was not going to be sidelined now they were back at the Eye. She took a deep breath and asked him, directly, “Doctor, you know who’s supplied the bacteria don’t you? Tell me, Doctor. Then I can really help.”

The Doctor, a very serious expression on his face, said to her abruptly, “I know of one of my people who had, shall we say, an affinity for other life forms, but absolutely no conscience as to what was done to them or with them. But this person is dead now or if they’re not they should be.….”

Catherine didn’t reply, but she watched his face intently. At least she knew what the problem was, now. Or she thought she did. She reached her left hand out to him and gently placed it on his shoulder to show her empathy. As something about this person he mentioned obviously disturbed him greatly, she decided she would be better off concentrating on the weaponry perspective, at least for the moment…..

Constable Black had just finished a quite lengthy and accurate description of the interior of the TARDIS. His colleague, Constable Crane, had listened to it without comment, but found it all a bit hard to swallow. “But, George, how can it be larger on the inside than the outside? It just doesn’t make sense. Are you sure you’re not just exaggerating?” he said, when Constable Black had finished.

“Of course, I’m not exaggerating, Jeff! If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Constable Black replied, indignantly. “Next time, I’ll take videopics of it for you.”

“I suppose I’ll have to take your word for it then, at least for the present!” Constable Crane replied. In a slight change of subject, he went on to say, “George, you remember how you dismissed my suggestions that there was something going on between the Sergeant and the Doctor?”

“Yes,” George replied, warily. “So what?”

“Well,” Jeff replied, smugly, “There may not have been anything going on then, but I don’t know about now!” His colleague looked at him, a query in his eyes, but chose not to say a word. Constable Crane thought this was promising, so continued, “Our Sergeant didn’t race after the Doctor this time, George. No she didn’t. She walked to the Doctor’s ship from here, hand-in-hand with the Doctor, without a murmur. I think they’re sweet on each other, even if they won’t admit it!”

Jeffrey Crane’s smug expression irritated George Black. But all he said was to expand on his earlier comment to his colleague, “Mind your own bloody business, Jeff! It’s not our concern. I’m sure the Sergeant knows what she is doing.” While this may have silenced Constable Crane’s comments for the moment, it couldn’t silence his thoughts…..

Meanwhile, the Doctor had moved on from his temporary feeling of melancholy to tell Catherine a joke about his old friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. “And he always believed in five rounds of rapid fire as the solution to everything! I used to become very exasperated with him from time-to-time.” Catherine laughed. The Doctor smiled as he thought of some of the Brigadier’s antics and then frowned when he thought of others. That destruction of the reptilian aliens known incorrectly as Silurians would always be something the Doctor could never forget. He shivered as he thought of it. The Doctor would always prefer a diplomatic solution over a military one like that one. He always hated the use of weaponry of any sort, although he realised sometimes that it was necessary. But not in that case and it should not have been necessary at the Eye either…..

Catherine asked the Doctor if he had discovered anything new in his review of the data from the rubble analysis. The Doctor replied, carefully, “There is definitely only one form of weaponry residue present at the mound and the sonic screwdriver readings indicated that the weaponry was definitely sited there. It doesn’t indicate whether it was sited there deliberately or not, but I think we can safely assume that it was.”

“Because of the presence of the bacteria?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor nodded. From his observations and the additional review of the data, there did not appear to be any sign of an actual battle at the Eye – there seemed to be one aggressor and no defender. “I wonder if there is any other evidence of weaponry use?” the Doctor thought. He thought Catherine might be able to help there, so asked, “Did you or your constables see any sign of other weaponry use in the vicinity of the Eye, but not on the mound itself?”

Catherine shook her head and replied, “No, Doctor. If there had been, Constable Crane would have spotted it – weapons are his main area of expertise and his recreation. He would certainly have told us about it if he had noticed anything – he can never resist the opportunity to talk about his favourite subject!”

This confirmed the Doctor’s observations. But Catherine asked him for his opinion of the situation, just to be thorough. The Doctor replied, choosing once again to utilise Catherine’s problem-solving expertise, “What do you think, Catherine? We have evidence of one aggressor, but no defender; high-powered weaponry sited and used atop the mound of rubble where the archway was; deliberate destruction of the archway through the use of ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria; no other evidence of weaponry used in the vicinity.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Plus the lack of the natural positive ions or their concentration near the Eye.” The Doctor waited and watched for Catherine’s reaction as she put all the evidence together to come up with a result.

She thought about the evidence before replying. When it was all summarised like that, it added up to one or two rather nasty conclusions, at least in her mind. Catherine replied, quietly, “Doctor, I think someone has imported the bacteria to do more than just destroy the archway because it was in the firing path. Yes, it was certainly in the line of fire, but it was also part of the target that they were aiming for. So the bacteria did ‘two jobs for the price of one’. Using the mound of rubble as the site for the weaponry was just for pure convenience – it gave the perpetrator of this crime an appropriate location and elevation for the trajectory needed to destroy the whole positive ion mechanism at the Eye. I suppose whoever it was didn’t know of the existence of Node Two?”

The Doctor grinned in acknowledgement of her shrewd analysis then, as the grin disappeared, he replied, “Good points, well done! The fact that Node Two is still standing shows that they either didn’t know of its existence or thought it wasn’t worth the energy needed to destroy it. Remember, Catherine, that Node Two cannot be destroyed by ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria because if its construction materials. Also, it’s never visited any more, so probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble, whereas the Eye is a major drawcard for the peoples of the universe. The destruction of the mechanism here had a partial chain reaction down the line to Node Two anyway.”

Catherine nodded, remembering the five hours it took for the Doctor’s virtual loop back mechanism to work to rejuvenate the positive ion generation at Node Two. She thought she would always remember that because of the waves crashing on the rocks that evening and the feel of the Doctor’s arm around her while they stood together in the late evening sea breeze, the rocks illuminated by the external lights from the TARDIS. “Concentrate on the job at hand, Sergeant,” Catherine inwardly reprimanded herself. As she shook herself free from that memory, Catherine asked the Doctor, “Who do you think is responsible for this destruction, Doctor?”

He was just about to answer her, when a very loud thud was heard as something, or someone, was trying to break down the door of the TARDIS. Naturally, the Doctor turned and raced down the ramp to investigate…..

(* To be continued….. *)