Chapter Twenty Five

The Doctor reached the doors quickly, but he wasn’t concerned. Well, not too much anyway. He was curious as to who or what would be trying to break down, or at least break into, his TARDIS. Many had tried to break the doors down, but no-one had ever succeeded. At least no-one had succeeded so far.

But as the Doctor knew, there was a first time for everything – even a TARDIS break-in. However, as he listened to the voices the other side of the TARDIS doors, he knew it was not going to happen this time. “If the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t get through the TARDIS door, two constables from Central Orion Protection and Security certainly won’t!” the Doctor thought.

His cheeky grin started to break across his face as the Doctor looked over his shoulder towards Catherine. “Sounds like your constables are missing you, Sergeant. What do you think?” he asked, mischievously.

Catherine, who was by now starting to become used to the Doctor’s cheeky, mischievous and sometimes even wicked sense of humour, did not reply. She moved slowly down the entry ramp towards the doors, a worried frown on her face. When she reached the Doctor, she asked him, in her very best Sergeant’s unemotional voice, “Well, aren’t you going to let them in, then?”

The Doctor, knowing perfectly well that Catherine’s manner was a façade, just grinned wider as he shook his head and replied, “Nope!” Before Catherine had time to become irritated, he added, his blue eyes twinkling, “But, I’ll let you go out to them, if you want to.”

Catherine knew he was teasing her, so she didn’t even rise to the bait. She just smiled sweetly at him as he chivalrously held the door open for her to pass through, if she chose. However, being reluctant to leave the TARDIS until she knew what they wanted from her, she compromised by standing in the open doorway. The Doctor didn’t say anything further, just grinned even wider than before.

As they saw their sergeant appear in the doorway, the two constables automatically moved aside for her. Her expression could not be described as annoyed, but it did not seem to them to be very encouraging. Just for a moment, the two constables looked at each other as if to say, “We really are damned if we do and damned if we don’t with this, aren’t we?” Their sergeant didn’t catch their exchange of looks, fortunately for them. Catherine would have been irritated, to say the least, if she had seen it.

Constable Crane was the first to speak. He said, “Ma’am, an urgent communiqué has come through from local area command. The commander will be arriving to interview you in an hour.” Local area command always used Earth timeframes in its directives, regardless of whether it was dealing with staff from Earth or not.

Constable Black continued, “The interview will take place in the common room.” He paused before continuing, hesitantly, “You are also instructed not to re-enter the Doctor’s ship until further notice.” As the constable held out the communiqué so that she could read it for herself, Catherine thought that it was just as well she hadn’t stepped through the TARDIS doorway to talk with them. Otherwise, any re-entry to the TARDIS would have entailed one of the constables arresting her for insubordination. This would not have helped her interview with the local area commander, a man who didn’t approve of her use of instinct and perception in her investigations. It didn’t matter whether she was successful or not, it was the principle that mattered to him.

As Catherine took the document from Constable Black’s slightly trembling hand, she smiled at him and said, “Thanks, Constable. If you’ll make preparations for the commander’s arrival, I’ll meet you both in the common room at the appointed time.” She turned to go back up the TARDIS entry ramp and closed the doors behind her.

Constable Black glanced at his colleague as they moved back towards the transmat terminal and the regional operations site. They must quickly make ready for the commander’s arrival, in case he arrived earlier than expected. He wondered, yet again, how local area command even knew of the Doctor or his ship. When he made the team’s report in his sergeant’s absence, he had carefully refrained from mentioning the Doctor’s presence at all. So there could only have been one source of the information – his colleague Jeffrey Crane. Constable Black frowned, as he said quietly, “Jeff, you let on about the Doctor’s presence didn’t you? I suppose you replied to that general request for information that we both received after I submitted my report. You idiot! I carefully worded that report so that we didn’t have to provide explanations! Not only will the Sergeant be reprimanded for this, but probably the pair of us as well!” He shook his head in disbelief. Constable Crane, knowing full well he was in the wrong, simply shrugged his shoulders in reply, as they reached the ‘invisible’ transmat terminal and returned to await their sergeant’s arrival…..

Catherine was reading the communiqué for a third time, trying to determine where this interview was likely to be heading. As a well-trained officer, her first reaction was to follow her superior’s instructions. Officer training was so very well-ingrained into a sergeant’s psyche. However, the habits and thoughts of her whole career were quickly followed by the realisation that without the Doctor and the TARDIS, much of the information she had gleaned about the situation at the Eye would have been impossible to obtain. So on this occasion, she was going to ignore the commander’s instructions, although she would present herself for the interview. The Doctor’s face was impassive as Catherine asked, rhetorically, “You heard all that didn’t you, Doctor? I’ll need to prepare for this interview.”

“But that won’t be a problem, will it Catherine? Piece of cake for you,” the Doctor replied, cheerfully.

Catherine shook her head, regretfully. “Interviews with the commander are mere formalities. The decision has usually been made already. An interview just provides the content for the paperwork, Doctor,” she replied, by way of explanation. “However, it doesn’t prevent me from stating my case anyway. I just need to make sure that all my facts are correct.” Catherine thought, “I am determined to tell the commander the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not. And if he wants to arrest the Doctor for his role in this, I am determined to ensure that he knows the value of the Doctor’s contribution to this investigation. Without him, we would be so…..” At that moment, she looked across at him and he smiled with an expression of so much understanding that she was encouraged to pursue her chosen course of action. Whatever the cost to her personally or professionally – her strong sense of justice wouldn’t allow her to do anything else.

But it was so much more than only her sense of justice or even her knowledge of the Doctor’s contribution to the investigation. She had learned to hold him in the highest respect – for his knowledge, his experience, and his willingness to become involved in issues that were not of his making and, ironically considering he was an alien, his humanity. It was not because of the ever increasing strong emotional bond she had with him, but having such a bond meant that she threw more energy into her determination. She moved over to the two-seater chair and sat there to mentally prepare her case and her arguments.

The Doctor watched her as she started her preparations. He could see the determined look on her face and he thought once again how appropriate it would be for her to travel with him in the TARDIS, both for the use of her talents and for her personal strength. These characteristics would be very useful to him in his travels. Also, he finally admitted to himself, the growing emotional bond he felt with her had reached the point where he would miss having her on board. Whether that was due to his state of emotional shock or not, he no longer cared. The Doctor felt that he had found a new friend.

But the Doctor didn’t say any of this to Catherine, just smiled one of his illuminating smiles, as he set the coordinates for the TARDIS’ destination and pulled the dematerialisation lever. The Doctor’s striking face glowed green with the reflection from the time rotor as it moved up and down, indicating the TARDIS was once again in flight. Their destination was the common room in Catherine’s regional operations site. Unbeknownst to Catherine, the Doctor was taking her to her interview. “After all,” he thought, “it’s the least I can do. She is partially in this awkward situation because of me and I can’t leave her in the lurch.”

Catherine was concentrating so hard on her case that she was unaware when the TARDIS landed in the common room. The Doctor shut the controls off and then walked over to her. “Catherine,” he said, quietly, “We’ve arrived in good time for your interview.”

She looked up as she heard his words and saw him looking down at her, smiling a sort of half-smile which just begged for her to smile in return – which she did. “Thank you, Doctor,” Catherine replied and stood up, ready to go. There was just sufficient time for her to freshen up and change into her dress uniform, a royal blue slacksuit with black high-heeled ankle boots, before the commander arrived.

“Good luck, Catherine. Don’t worry, you’ll be just – fantastic!” the Doctor replied, in his attractive, Northern voice, before turning back to the console and his analyses. As he unlocked the TARDIS door for her, he looked back over his right shoulder, grinned broadly and winked at her. She nodded and smiled at him in return, then walked briskly towards the TARDIS doors. When she reached the door, she paused, turned back to wave, before opening the door and stepping out of the TARDIS. As she closed the door behind her, she was sure this was the last time she was ever likely to enter the TARDIS…..

After an hour (in Earth terms) into the interview, all Catherine’s worst fears about it came to fruition, unfortunately. The commander, who was not disposed to support her anyway, was not very sympathetic to her need to utilise the Doctor’s knowledge and skill for the benefit of the investigation. Still, Catherine was determined to put her case for his involvement, despite his being an alien. She spoke very clearly, eloquently and unemotionally about her travels with him and the knowledge they had gained from him and from his TARDIS computers. Also, the benefits of his future involvement were described in detail.

It was impossible to determine the ultimate outcome from the interview. Tradition and procedure dictated that the commander reserved his decision for between one and two weeks on an interview of this nature. Fortunately, her liberty and status were guaranteed during this period. At the conclusion of the interview, Constable Black, as the next ranking officer after Catherine, arranged for the commander to be transmatted back to his ship without further ado.

After he had left the site, the constables retreated to their quarters to allow their sergeant some time to herself to consider the interview. As she programmed a mug of strong white tea for herself from the vending machine in the common room, the TARDIS door opened and the Doctor came out. “I said you would be fantastic and you were,” he said, appreciatively. Catherine turned around to see him leaning against the TARDIS doorframe, ankles crossed, arms folded and a cheeky grin on his face. He walked towards her and, answering an unspoken question, added, “I watched part of your case delivery on the TARDIS scanner. It was very well done.”

Catherine took her mug of tea from the machine and turned towards him. She smiled back at him in surprise, but said nothing. The grin disappeared from the Doctor’s face as he looked at Catherine with a thoughtful expression in his blue eyes. He paused for a few moments then put his hands in his jacket pockets. One of his illuminating smiles spread across his striking face as he said, evenly, “There’s more to life than Central Orion Protection and Security, Catherine. The whole universe is out there, with countless places to travel to; countless problems to be solved; countless challenges just waiting to be taken up. Opportunities to travel further than you have ever gone before. Can’t you imagine it, Catherine?” His eyes were twinkling with enthusiasm.

Catherine didn’t say anything. But she was imagining it. She supposed she must be becoming infected by his enthusiasm. The question was how could it be achieved, if it were even feasible? She looked at the Doctor, a question in her hazel eyes.

“Come with me, Catherine,” the Doctor said, in his deep voice. “I can take you – anywhere. The TARDIS travels in time as well as in space.” The smile had gone from his face to be replaced by a serious expression and an intense look in his eyes. He was not even remotely tempted to replace an intense look with a literally hypnotic look, although he could have done so quite easily. His offer to Catherine was a genuine one and he was chivalrous enough, and practical enough, not to force her hand. If she wished to accept his offer, and he hoped she did, he wanted it to be her choice.

The Doctor was well aware, even in the state of emotional shock that he was in, that his lifestyle and his travels tended to be fraught with danger – not just for him, but quite often for his companions as well. That was the price he, and unfortunately those who he befriended and travelled with, paid for his active involvement in the affairs of the universe. But they all seemed to think it was worth it, whichever incarnation he was in at the time. Even Tegan, who used to complain of anything and everything quite frequently to his fifth persona, when given the opportunity to travel with him a second time, had done so. He was still surprised that Grace had not taken up the challenge to travel with him, but then she wasn’t really one to take on the unknown from choice and her profession always came first with her. Personally, he had become inured to the danger and the challenges ever since he and Susan had left Gallifrey so long ago. His thoughts of Susan, as usual since her death, became melancholy and the tears were not far away. But this time he managed to contain them, so Catherine was not aware of the imminent nature of this mood. Containing the mood allowed him to shake himself free of it – at least for the moment.

While he took the danger in his stride, it was also true that he had learned to enjoy the challenge that the danger represented. Catherine, more than most he thought, would also enjoy the challenge. As well as her talents which would be immensely useful to him, the travel in the TARDIS would be of benefit to her also. To some degree, he recognised the signs of a kindred spirit in her and the emotional bond he had with her was growing on his side as well as hers. Thinking of this, the Doctor’s face became illuminated by one of his special smiles – the ones that spread across his face and literally light up his blue eyes with an even stronger intensity than his most serious expression. “What do you think, Catherine?” the Doctor asked.

Catherine found the intensity of his look and the excitement in his voice both attractive and compelling, yet strangely moving. She knew the strong emotional bond she felt with the Doctor was continually increasing. But she couldn’t simply drop her responsibilities to travel through time and space with him. However, she was very strongly tempted to do so. The emotional bond pulled vigorously at times, but not enough to make her ignore the duties of her position.

The Doctor was aware of this or maybe it showed on her face. Realising that she needed time to consider it from all perspectives, he added, quietly, “Think about it.” Catherine nodded and he smiled so warmly at her that she was nearly at the point of saying, “To hell with responsibility, I’m coming with you!” But she didn’t. She sensed his travels would be both exciting and dangerous, but an opportunity that she wouldn’t want to miss. However, her responsibilities prevented her from agreeing to travel with him…..

(* To be continued….. *)