Chapter Eleven

As the pair of them rapidly headed towards the beach, Catherine noticed that the beach looked like any other sandy beach, except that it was pink. The closer they came to it, the more the pinkness apparently increased. She assumed that it must be some trick of the light or some mineral in the sand that gave it such an unusual colour. Beach sand to her was always a creamy colour, although sometimes veins of other colours ran through where specific minerals were present. The sergeant was naturally not a mineral or sand expert, but she was sure that she had never heard or read about pink sand before. Of course, she did consider asking the Doctor what it meant, but she didn’t want to admit her ignorance to him, just in case pink sand was an everyday occurrence in this part of the galaxy. She thought she had embarrassed herself enough in his presence already without adding further to it. However, it didn’t occur to her to wonder why his good opinion was so important to her anyway…..

The distance to the beach was further even than the Doctor had expected. He knew it was going to be a difficult path as the terrain of the ‘plateau’ was very uneven and they had a large number of rock pools to avoid. Although the tide was not coming in at this time, the waves that tended to crash against the edge of the rocks were large and some of them would have had enough force to sweep Catherine and him into the water. Still, while their path would necessarily be towards the sea edge, he knew he could prevent her from either falling into one of the rock pools or from being swept over the edge, if he held her hand in a strong enough grip. He smiled to himself as he thought of her undoubted reaction to that idea – she would not like her lack of control, but he expected that she would realise the necessity of it.

Catherine wondered how the Doctor managed to keep his footing so well on the edges of this rocky terrain. She had stumbled more than once and would have fallen into any one of several deep, murky, uninviting rock pools if the Doctor hadn’t had such a firm grip on her hand, helping to drag her onward. Initially, Catherine had wondered why they were always hovering near the edge of the rocky ‘plateau’ – and near the sea edge at that – but after nearly falling into a particularly large and smelly rock pool, she could understand why. She just wished she could have had her running shoes on instead of her regulation agency boots which, while being extremely tough and relatively comfortable when she had to spend long hours standing in them, were completely unsuited to racing along rocky foreshores at speed. How the Doctor managed in his boots, she did not know. It was sufficient at the moment to know that he did and that he was always there to prevent her from falling, by whisking her away just in time. Although she did appreciate this, part of her wanted to rebel against it and take the control back herself. She knew that all she had to do to reassert her control was to remove her hand from within his grip. However, she was sensible enough to know that while she was running at speed along the seaward edge of a rocky ‘plateau’ was not a good time to try it!

The Doctor must have sensed what she was feeling, or thinking, because he slowed down to a strolling pace, slowing gradually so the momentum of her movement wouldn’t cause her to collide with him at top speed, thereby knocking them both to the ground perilously near the sharp edges of the rocks. He turned to look over his shoulder at her, grinned broadly, and then winked, cheekily. As she thought of several choice things she could say to him, but wouldn’t, he stopped to check his bearings, letting go of her hand as he took out his sonic screwdriver and directed its sensory beam towards the pink beach. She moved forward to stand next to him and asked, “Doctor, why isn’t the beach inundated with tourists?”

The Doctor replied, “It is – just not human ones.” He thought for a moment, considering whether he would give her the explanation that she would surely ask for, then continued, slightly exasperatedly, “Didn’t you wonder why the beach was so definitely pink?”

“Yes, of course, I did! I just assumed that it was some trick of the light or the chemical components in the sand,” Catherine replied, crisply. She thought for a moment, and then commented, “I gather that the pinkness relates to these tourists, whoever they are?”

The Doctor nodded and said with a slight grin, “Well done! ‘Tourists’ is probably not the best term to use to apply to them. They’re actually part of the native fauna of this planet and migrate from way out to sea to this beach once or twice every Earth decade, when the temperature is right in the sand for them to complete their lifecycle. The pinkness is caused from their droppings. People did attempt to mine these at one time, to their cost, but now are not permitted near the beach at this time.” The Doctor frowned slightly as he looked at the readings from the sonic screwdriver.

Catherine, not noticing the Doctor’s frown, was following her own train of thought to its logical conclusion. She asked, “For environmental protection reasons, Doctor?” The Doctor, a frown still creasing his brow, looked up at her and shook his head before looking at the readings once more. “Why, not, Doctor? Is it unsafe?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor, his readings finished, deliberately placed the sonic screwdriver back into his inner jacket pocket before he replied. “Yes, Catherine, you could say it was unsafe,” he said, with a sharp edge in his voice somewhat at odds with his Northern accent and his usual attractive tone. “This particular group of fauna is always on the search for a warm place to rest. Human feet are at a particular risk. The surface temperature is right for entry, the skin holds no real barrier to a tenacious animal such as this, but the main attraction is the blood – gloriously warm, expansive and just enough coagulation to allow the animals to rest up until they are ready to leave the body to reproduce in the sand.”

Seeing the look of sheer horror on Catherine’s face, the Doctor continued, answering her unspoken question. “They are not parasites, precisely, just rather destructive free-loaders. Any port in a storm, you might say!” The Doctor knew that, once an individual is attacked by these fauna, the fauna just keep congregating in the bloodstream until the arteries become blocked and the shelter host dies, usually of heart failure. Even Time Lords could be affected by these fauna. To distract Catherine slightly from the rather macabre prospect that these fauna presented, the Doctor decided he was not going to elaborate on the effect they had on the body – whether human or Time Lord – but was going to ask her to put her logic to the problem that they came here to solve. Using a much more cheerful tone of voice, the Doctor asked her, almost like a tutor showing off the expertise of his best pupil, “Catherine, do you think it is likely that the bacterial infection from the Eye has reached here? Why?”

Catherine, her opinion being sought, reverted to her usual logical manner. She concentrated for a few moments before running through the steps in her reason as to why the bacteria were not here. “Firstly, there is plenty of sand here, so any infection by SMS, sorry, ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria would have to be very new or else there would be very little sand remaining.” The Doctor, his arms folded in front of him in encouragement, nodded and grinned. Catherine continued, “Secondly, the presence of that local fauna .” She couldn’t repress the shudder that went through her at the thought, but went on, “Yes, the local fauna that likes warm sand. Any substantial bacterial infestation would leave its own cold slimy extrusions behind which would either make the local conditions inappropriate for the fauna in the first place or would exterminate it.”

As Catherine said the word ‘exterminate’, a shadow seemed to pass across the Doctor’s face. For a long moment in his mind, he was back in the TARDIS watching Gallifrey and the Dalek ships burn again. All the shock and horror overcame him once more and he felt physically sick. He actually had shed a couple of tears before recollecting where he was and returning his thoughts to the present. Catherine looked at him in astonishment. “What have I said to make him react like that?” she thought to herself, her logical manner leaving her.

The Doctor shook himself inwardly and managed a creditable smile at Catherine, as he said, “Your logic as usual is right, Catherine. The bacteria have not reached here – the sonic readings confirm that.” He knew he had allowed more emotion to show than he would have wished and that she had no idea what had triggered his reaction, but he wanted it to stay that way! The wound to his soul caused by his role in Gallifrey’s destruction was too recent, too personal, to be shared – yet.

Catherine, still concerned, but unsure of what she should say – or do – simply asked in a quiet, sympathetic voice, “Doctor, are you alright?”

The Doctor, appreciating her quiet and, he sensed, genuine, sympathy for him about something of which she knew nothing, smiled one of his illuminating smiles at her. However, this time, the expression in his eyes was not one of mischief, but one of true appreciation for her contribution and her compassion. He held out his hand to her, asking, “Are you coming?”

Catherine answered his smile with a smile – his smiles were so infectious, she couldn’t prevent herself, even if she had wanted to. The way his smiles lit up his face and ended with a shine in those intense, but totally gorgeous, blue eyes of his was irresistible. She was drawn to those eyes – no the look in those eyes – as she had been from the first. Gladly, she placed her hand in his, saying, “Where to Doctor?”

He replied, his eyes twinkling, “Node Two, of course, where else?”

(* To be continued….. *)