Chapter Twelve

The sergeant and the Doctor would have appeared to onlookers, if there had been any, as a strange pair as they carefully, hand-in-hand, followed the line of the rocks around and away from the beach. His leather jacket, despite its well-worn look, was certainly not the expected wear for a casual visit to a beach and his jumper and jeans were not really suitable for the climate. But Catherine’s non-descript, tan slacks, made of some synthetic material, and her matching battle jacket – an informal, plain-clothes version of the Central Orion Protection and Security uniform – were not much better suited than the Doctor’s jumper and jeans to their surroundings. However, neither of them would have been concerned about that even if there had been onlookers in the vicinity. Both of them were concentrating on the investigations at the moment. It was too important to determine the spread of the bacteria and the level of positive ion generation in the vicinity of Node Two. They also were looking for any further evidence of the weaponry residue as seen at the Eye.

The Doctor, of course, knew his way to Node Two. Well, that is how it appeared, anyway. He knew the general direction and what he was looking for and he had programmed the coordinates into the TARDIS to land close to it. But the problem was that he did not know how close or not the TARDIS had actually brought them to it. He hadn’t been there before – he only knew of it by repute. Like his knowledge of the fauna in the pink beach nearby, he relied on his regenerated memory and the field readings from the sonic screwdriver to assist him to recognise what he was seeing. Hopefully, before any harm came to him or to Catherine. She was always so sure of herself, so independent – she almost dared trouble to come her way, it seemed to him. He admired her for that.

Yet when he took her hand initially, something he did almost automatically, she didn’t try to pull away from him. He was grateful for that because it made his job so much easier. The Doctor knew how dangerous those rocks could be, but the deeper, murkier rock pools were just as dangerous. He would never tell Catherine, but the highly dangerous fauna from the beach did not only migrate to the beach. Some of them became trapped in these deeper rock pools after high tide and were just as deadly there as on the beach. It was very important for her safety that he ensured that she followed where he led and did not trip and fall into any of those rock pools. Holding her hand was the best way of ensuring this.

He didn’t want her death on his conscience. As far as he was concerned, he had too many deaths already on his conscience. The twinkle in his eye disappeared as the melancholy descended upon him again. He seemed to suffer from that quite frequently these days. Although he knew that this was an indication of the emotional shock he was still suffering from, he frowned as he climbed the final slope up the rocks away from the beach to a grassy knoll. He hoped to be able to obtain further readings with respect to Node Two from this vantage point and to gain his bearings visually as well. As he reached the grassy verge, he pulled Catherine up the last few steps after him.

Catherine looked at the Doctor’s frown and, misunderstanding its cause, said cheerfully to him, “Doctor, I’m not that heavy, am I?” The Doctor shook himself inwardly and summoned up a grin. He shook his head. As he still was holding her hand, he used his other hand to flick the switch on the sonic screwdriver and take further readings of their more distant surroundings. He did not expect to find any evidence of positive ion generation at this distance, so he didn’t even attempt to check for it, but he did think he would find the location of Node Two from here, by evidence of its infrastructure.

Catherine asked him, “What does Node Two look like, Doctor? Is it another archway, like the Eye, or is it another type of building?” Looking around, she thought of buildings appropriate to a beachside setting. “Is it a lighthouse, perhaps?” she asked.

The Doctor, having completed his readings, put the sonic screwdriver away again inside his jacket. He had certainly been able to detect the presence of Node Two and it was in the direction he expected it to be. His intention had always been to reach the beach as quickly as they could, take some readings to determine the likelihood or otherwise of bacterial presence, verify the location of Node Two, then to quickly return the way they had come and travel on to Node Two from there. That was the shortest distance to it after all. However, the Doctor had taken some nearer readings also and was not pleased with their indications…..

As he hadn’t answered her, Catherine repeated her question. The Doctor responded with a brief, “Nope. But it is an artefact. Just wait and see. You’ll love it.”

At least he hoped she would. Going by its reputation and some old pictures he had used to help locate the TARDIS within reasonable distance of it, Node Two was just as beautiful as the Eye to look at, but completely different. Where the mechanism extrusion at the Eye had been designed as a beautiful ruined archway, reminiscent of the ruins of medieval priories on Earth, at Node Two it had been designed to be no less beautiful, but to utilise a natural hot spring in the vicinity and, at the same time, to be a tourist attraction. So the designers had decided to build the extrusion as an elaborate raised pool around the spring, with plans for it, eventually, to be the centrepiece of large open-air Ancient Rome-style baths, possibly with high quality accommodation within easy reach of the complex.

The combination of the natural hot spring and the positive ions ensured that tourists would leave re-invigorated. Furthermore, if they were able to obtain the funding to build high quality accommodation for the tourists, a steady return on the investment would be received by the complex’ owners and lessees. Beach excursions were also planned as part of the tourist package and started to be included almost as soon as Node Two was added to the tourist round.

The developers of this site had just completed Stage One of construction – the pool and baths – when they received a major setback from which the complex’ owners never recovered. Fifty prominent members of the galaxy’s premier tourism organisation took one of the two-day beach excursion options and were found dead three days later. No further construction occurred in the vicinity and Node Two was wiped from the tourist itineraries permanently, under a galactic agreement. It wasn’t until much later when mining was attempted on the beach that the danger of the beach fauna was realised and excursions to the beach were prohibited when the fauna was visiting.

The Doctor considered whether he should tell Catherine anything of this background or not. On balance, he decided not to as she appeared to have recovered from her shock at the beach earlier and he did not want to stir that up again. Maybe he would just tell her about the design of the node itself, though – he thought she might be interested in that and, in the pictures that the Doctor had seen of Node Two, the pool and baths were quite spectacular. But he would not tell her anything about its appearance until they reached there. He wanted to see Catherine’s first reaction to it.

Unusually for a Time Lord, the Doctor had always received a curious, but real, pleasure from the first reactions of his human companions to the sight of new things or the experience of new situations, regardless of the nature of the items or situations involved. His own reactions, being newly regenerated, were also of immense interest to him. But, as far as the Doctor was concerned, human reactions were the most refreshing, as they were almost always completely unexpected. Coming from a civilisation where most things were planned to the smallest detail, even after hundreds of years the Doctor still found human reactions absolutely irresistible.

While the Doctor was considering the history of Node Two, Catherine turned to look back towards the rocks and the path they had travelled. When the only safe path along the rocks is on the seaward side, she thought it was worth an extra check to be assured that no sudden swells had developed that might sweep them into the sea on the return trip. It was definitely not from a lack of trust in the Doctor, but her instinct for the out of place and irrational was telling her that something was very wrong indeed. She did not know what it was, but she was sure that they could not return the way they had come. “Doctor,” she said, not being able to keep the concern out of her voice.

The Doctor turned to look at her and knew her instinct for the out of place was troubling her again. One thing he had learned in his many lives was to listen to his instincts, as Catherine was listening to hers now. He followed her gaze back along the path they had travelled and instantly knew what was wrong, without asking. A large portion of the rock path that they had so recently travelled had disappeared into the sea; just dropped out of sight.

This meant that to run, or even walk, carefully back along the rocks was impossible without wading through at least two of the rock pools, where they would be exposed to the risk of attack by beach fauna. The alternative way to return via the rock path was to swim around the fallen rocks before climbing back up on to the path to continue back the way they had come. While the swim wouldn’t worry him – he always loved a good brisk swim – and he assumed that it wouldn’t worry Catherine either, the strong tidal current and the sharp rocks would most likely cut them both to ribbons. So returning that way was not a viable option.

Their only alternative was to continue on in their present direction. From his nearer readings of the terrain ahead, the Doctor doubted that there was a straightforward alternative route back to the TARDIS from this side. He was not concerned about the TARDIS itself, as it would not have landed on an unstable site and it was pretty indestructible. The other side of this knoll lead away from the sea and headed inland, away from the TARDIS, but in the general direction of Node Two. Allowing for the idiosyncrasies of the terrain, the Doctor decided they may as well continue on towards Node Two, although he doubted that Catherine and he would reach there before nightfall, as it was a circuitous route compared to the one he had planned to take. The Doctor was used to finding the unexpected in his travels, so for him this was not a problem.

He turned back to Catherine and rapidly explained all of this to her. She looked at him and nodded her head in agreement, unconsciously grasping his hand a little tighter. The Doctor smiled one of his illuminating smiles at her, his eyes shining brightly as if lit from within. As they headed off towards Node Two, by what the Doctor had described in his explanation as the ‘scenic route’, Catherine, after a bit of thought, said to him, “You really are enjoying all this, aren’t you – the change of plan, the challenge, the danger, everything?”

The Doctor’s smile broadened even further as he flashed back the prompt reply, “Yep! Isn’t it fantastic?”

(* To be continued….. *)