Chapter Twenty Seven

The Rani looked across the room as the TARDIS arrived, announced only by its customary whining sound, into the airiness of the circular mall. This mall formed the large reception space for her valued clientele. As befitted the hub of her business operations, it was bright and open and tailor-made to boldly seduce the prospective client into contracting her business’ services. She watched as a tall man with close-cropped dark hair, wearing a battered, black leather jacket, dark blue jumper, black jeans and boots stepped out of the newly-arrived TARDIS. He was closely followed by a blonde-haired woman in a royal blue slacksuit with black high-heeled ankle boots. The man locked the TARDIS doors behind them. Neither of them was known to her by sight, but there was no mistaking that TARDIS’ owner. There was only one Time Lord who was eccentric enough to not only still travel the time and space continuum in an old type forty time capsule, but to retain its appearance as a blue box with a flashing light on top. The man could only be the Doctor. She still remembered her old Academy days when she and the Doctor had been students together.

At the Academy, the Rani was one of a small group of female Time Lords enrolled in her year, ultimately the only female of that intake to complete the gruelling studies that the Academy required for the students to graduate. Even in her first incarnation, she had been beautiful, with a budding taste for glamorous clothes. She had been earnest in her studies and had scored high results, but still had time to date a good-looking, bright fellow student. And there was one Time Lord in her year that she had been very much attracted to – and he to her. He had been known then as Theta Sigma, but now was known as the Doctor.

The Doctor and the Rani had dated for quite a while at the Academy and they did make an attractive couple. Some onlookers even had thought that one day they might actually marry, but the relationship never became that serious. The Rani had developed some bizarre ideas with respect to dealings with other life forms. To her, they were all merely for experiment, even other sentient life forms.

Unfortunately for her, the Doctor did not share her ideas; her ideas disgusted him. She still remembered the evening when he told her that he could not see her any more. He terminated their relationship before it ever became serious. She vaguely remembered that he had spoken something about her mistreatment and contempt of other life forms. But this was hundreds of years ago. At the time she never really understood what he meant and had never really forgiven him for it. Still one moves on.

She remembered that he had been so good looking in their Academy days. Yet the last couple of times they met, she had noticed that his regenerations had not exactly been kind to him and she had treated him accordingly. However, this latest one….. He quite took her breath away; his appearance was so very striking and sexually attractive. And he was accompanied by an attractive woman. This she would expect of him, but undoubtedly his companion would be alien. The Rani never was able to work out what it was about alien women that seemed to so fascinate the Doctor. Not very surprisingly, the Rani wasn’t interested in her at all.

At that moment, the Doctor looked across at her with his intense blue eyes. He noticed she had regenerated since they last met, but that was the way it was for Time Lords. The Doctor, himself, had regenerated twice since their last meeting. She had always been attractive in a sexy, glamorous way, but even so, he thought she had improved with this regeneration. “What a pity,” he thought, “that her character does not match her appearance.” He needed to gain the Rani’s confidence to progress his and Catherine’s investigations and he thought he knew the best way to do it. But he doubted if Catherine would approve at all of his unorthodox methods!

The Rani smiled slightly as she moved over to greet them more formally. She exchanged introductions with Catherine and shook her hand briefly. Catherine, who knew nothing about Time Lord regeneration or age, thought this very glamorous ex-girlfriend of the Doctor’s was about thirty-five Earth years of age, but she was in fact the same age as him. In this latest regeneration, the Rani was tall with long, curly, black hair and surprisingly, innocent-seeming, blue eyes. The apparent innocence in her eyes was at odds with the air of sexuality she seemed to exude as she turned to the Doctor and shook his hand, holding it a little longer than was absolutely necessary for a handshake.

As she looked directly into his eyes, she said, rhetorically, to Catherine, “The Doctor and I have known each other for more years than either of us probably care to remember, Catherine. Please forgive us, if it takes a while for us to catch up with each other, as we haven’t seen each other for so long.” Catherine felt a bit uncomfortable with this discussion, but she needn’t have worried – neither the Rani nor the Doctor seemed to be paying any attention to her.

The Doctor held the Rani’s gaze – he had no fear that she would attempt to hypnotise him. For one thing, she had never been as good at hypnosis as he was, being too impatient to become adept at an art which didn’t result in tangible outcomes. Her interests had always been restricted to the more chemical and physical science aspects of Time Lord teaching. She was not able to expand her horizons enough to embrace the more creative philosophical, mathematical or artistic arts as well. The Doctor smiled at her with a very attractive half smile and asked, with an almost caressing note to his voice, “Is that the best greeting you can do, Rani? I seem to remember…..”

Catherine was very surprised to see this sexually provocative side to the Doctor’s nature. Particularly, after his scathing descriptions to her, before they arrived, of some of the exploits of the Rani and their effects. Catherine’s instinct for the out of place tended to make her think this was unlike him, yet she was aware she did not know enough about him to know how much of this was contrived or real. She could see that this instinct was going to be useless on this venture. However, her Sergeant’s façade stood her in good stead here, as it enabled her to mask her reactions effectively.

However, the Rani was not paying attention to Catherine’s reactions. If she had thought of them at all, she would have dismissed them as insignificant. But Catherine’s presence as a bystander did add a certain spice to the situation, at least as far as the Rani was concerned.

The Rani smiled even more provocatively at her former boyfriend and said, with a distinctly seductive undertone in her voice, “Well, Doctor, if you want my best effort…..” She reached out towards him, placing her arms around his neck and deliberately kissed him passionately on his parted lips. Like Catherine, the Rani also thought the Doctor’s mouth was kissable.

Knowing what the Doctor thought of the Rani and her exploits, Catherine was quite shocked to see his reaction to the Rani’s kiss. Without any hesitation, the Doctor placed his arms around the Rani, in response. He pulled her tightly to him as he returned her kiss just as passionately, his tongue probing her mouth slowly in the way he knew was almost guaranteed to drive her wild. It had always worked in their Academy days and he hoped it would still have the same effect. It did. This was a promising start to his plans.

Catherine noticed that neither of them blushed, but she was sure she blushed enough for both of them. She couldn’t honestly say she approved of the kiss, under the circumstances. It seemed too calculating for the Doctor, somehow, just for an investigation. But regardless of that, she knew that part of her disapproval was personal. After various slightly close moments with the Doctor on the trip to and from Node Two, the ever-strengthening emotional bond she felt with him and his offer to her to travel with him in the TARDIS, she had to admit to herself that watching the Doctor kissing the Rani was disconcerting. She wasn’t envious of the Rani at all – after all, according to the Doctor, the Rani was ruthless and had no conscience – but she did acknowledge, at least inwardly, that if she ever had the opportunity, she would definitely enjoy being on the receiving end of one of those passionate kisses from the Doctor. But somehow, she doubted that she was ever likely to be that fortunate…..

Eventually, the Doctor and the Rani broke apart, but still stood close to each other. Catherine reluctantly admired the Doctor’s composure after the interlude. He said to the Rani, quietly, “Yes, it has been a long time, hasn’t it?” Glancing in Catherine’s direction, before turning back towards the Rani, he added, “Perhaps we can discuss things over dinner – just the three of us?”

The Rani paused for a moment before answering. It would be inhospitable of her not to include Catherine in the discussions and she preferred to keep the Doctor’s companion under her eye as it were. Whatever her feelings were for her old boyfriend, she certainly did not trust any female travelling companion of his. She wasn’t sure that she even trusted him completely either – at least, not at the moment. But it was so much easier to keep him within view. There was something that he wanted from her that much was sure. She thought she might quite enjoy finding out what it was! The Rani replied, breezily, “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of omitting Catherine from a dinner invitation.” She smiled sweetly in Catherine’s direction before adding, “Travel in an old type forty TARDIS must be absolutely exhausting.”

“But in its own way, highly satisfying, Rani,” the Doctor replied. He could never bear to have his TARDIS criticised.

The Rani just smiled and said, “Shall we meet back here in an hour for dinner?” The Doctor returned the smile with a grin and quickly took Catherine back to the TARDIS to dress for dinner…..

The TARDIS doors had closed securely behind the Doctor and Catherine. Catherine decided she was not going to query the Doctor’s actions – she felt she didn’t really have the right to, although she didn’t approve of them. As she reached the console, she asked him, “What happens, now?”

The Doctor replied, abruptly, “You’ll need to change your clothes for dinner. I don’t want the Rani realising that is the dress uniform of a security officer.” He gave her the directions to the TARDIS wardrobe room, knowing that she would find there just the right outfit for this occasion. The TARDIS rarely made an error of that kind.

Catherine was strongly tempted to argue with him about this. But she could see how dangerous the Rani could be if she discovered Catherine was a security officer. So Catherine followed the Doctor’s instructions. Not knowing what format the Rani’s dinner was likely to take, she selected a full-length outfit in silk which was cinnamon-coloured shot with gold. On first impression, it seemed to include a full skirt, but actually included culottes which seemed to float around Catherine as she walked. There was also a pair of gold high-heeled fashion sandals. Her hair was brushed back on one side and secured with an elaborate gold hair slide. When Catherine looked at herself in the wardrobe room’s full-length mirror, she doubted that she would match the Rani for glamour, but she was happy with the result, anyway. She just hoped that the Doctor was satisfied with it too.

But Catherine needn’t have worried. When she returned to the console room, the Doctor was waiting for her. His dark blue jumper had been changed for a black one, but apart from that, he appeared the same. But he did take the time to quickly glance at her outfit. He didn’t say anything, but his eyebrows went up and his blue eyes twinkled with a wicked glint in them as he held out his arm for her to rest her hand on formally. Catherine, in his opinion, looked beautiful and relaxed – certainly nothing like a Sergeant on assignment! Just before he opened the TARDIS door for them to go through, he smiled and winked at her cheekily. She responded with one of her most attractive smiles. As they stepped through the TARDIS doorway in full view of his ex-girlfriend, they presented an appearance of shared intimacy which was important for his dealings with the Rani. Regardless, he wanted the Rani to believe that Catherine was there purely for pleasure, not for any other reason. He didn’t tell Catherine that, but it was probably the only way he could ensure her continuing safety while he pursued his enquiries with the Rani. It would have seemed suspicious to her if there had not been some tangible sign of attraction between the two travellers…..

The circular mall had been transformed into a sophisticated dining room, separated from a more intimate discussion area by a large carved screen. Dinner was about to be served. The wine chosen for the occasion was one of the Rani’s favourite champagnes.

Contrary to Catherine’s expectations, she found the Rani to be quite a pleasant hostess during dinner. She was polite to her through the meal, but the Rani’s main interest was clearly, as always, the Doctor. Still, Catherine did not want to appear to be just the Doctor’s ‘bit of fluff’ brought along for his amusement. She shrewdly guessed that the Doctor was setting her up to appear to be that for, she imagined, chivalrous and practical reasons. Catherine was prepared to follow the plan. However, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t show the Rani that she had a mind of her own as well!

After dinner finished, the three of them moved into the discussion area. The Doctor had been surprised at the Rani’s affable manners. This incarnation of the Rani was, at least on the surface, the perfect hostess. He gallantly escorted both the Rani and Catherine into the discussion area – one holding on to each arm. Catherine thought this was highly diplomatic. “But what happens next?” she wondered. It seemed to her that her best option was to ‘play it by ear’ and fit in as best as she could, although she had the distinct feeling that she may be called upon to ‘play gooseberry’ between the two Time Lords at some point during the evening.

The furniture in the discussion area was arranged for both practicality and comfort. There were three comfortable armchairs arranged in an arc facing a matching two-seater sofa. In the centre of the arrangement was a large circular glass coffee table. As Catherine and the Doctor sat down together on the sofa, as expected, the Rani arranged for her staff to bring in a tray holding a large steaming pot of tea, three large teacups, milk, sugar and teaspoons to stir the tea if needed. The staff member set the tray down on the coffee table and then poured the cups of tea; quietly ascertaining how each person preferred it, before he left the room. The Rani looked at the Doctor and said, “See, Doctor, I even remembered your penchant for tea.” He smiled at her with one of his illuminating smiles and what Catherine could only describe as a wicked twinkle in his eye as he took his cup of tea from her.

The Doctor was particularly interested in how the Rani had set up her business and what line of business it actually was. He was convinced that she was ultimately behind the import of the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria to the Eye of Orion and the time anomaly he had found affecting the rubble of the destroyed archway terminated here. What was puzzling him was how she achieved it.

It certainly appeared as if she remained here, but somehow distributed the bacteria throughout time and space from this room, on behalf of her clients. He would need to ask the Rani some pertinent questions, but he thought they were best asked without Catherine’s presence. His mode of asking these questions might not be within appropriately legal guidelines – his methods could be classified as a form of entrapment. But where should he proceed from here?

Catherine intuitively took the weighty decision from his shoulders by asking the Rani, “Rani, while we were having dinner, I was admiring the efficiency of your operational set up here. The way you pamper your clients while they are waiting and your staff arrange for the pleasant atmosphere surrounding them. Also the sense of service that made your staff continue with the clients until they were ready to leave or the business had been completed. It is fantastic and a credit to you. You must be so proud of your achievement.”

The Rani was surprised. She had thought that Catherine was just an attractive companion for the Doctor; she hadn’t thought of her as having opinions of her own. However, she acknowledged Catherine’s lavish business compliments with a brief nod of the head.

The Doctor, on the other hand, could have hugged Catherine on the spot – well metaphorically anyway – for having provided the entrée for his questions. He was all admiration for her direct and charming way of complimenting the Rani, although she had drawn attention to herself a bit more through that action.

But before he had the chance to say anything to her, she turned to him and said, “Doctor, I know you two will want to discuss old times, so I’ll leave you to your discussions and see you later in the TARDIS.” He smiled at her with an illuminating smile and, surprisingly clasped her hand in both of his. To a bystander, it would appear to be a sign of his passion for her, but in reality, he was surreptitiously passing her the TARDIS key. She nodded and returned the smile, indicating an understanding. Catherine knew what she needed to do. While the Doctor was obtaining information from the Rani – although she didn’t approve of his methods – she would be ‘watching his back’ from the TARDIS scanner…..

(* To be continued….. *)