Chapter Twenty Two

The two constables headed back to the transmat point after a long day watching the shrinking mound of rubble that had once been the beautiful archway of the Eye of Orion. Constable George Black had been watching and documenting the increasing rate of shrinkage of the mound since late in the second day after the sergeant and the Doctor had literally disappeared in that quaint blue box that was the Doctor’s ship. Before the sergeant and the Doctor left, Constable Black had overheard the Doctor say something to the sergeant about preventing the spread of the bacteria for five or six hours at least while they tried to find out more about the infection. Because of this, he had put off informing their local area commander about the sergeant’s absence. It was now approaching the fifth day since she had left them on guard at the Eye. Constable Black thought that if Sergeant Mere hadn’t returned within the next two days, they really had no alternative but to inform their local area commander. Not that he was looking forward to that conversation at all. Their local area commander would not be particularly impressed with two constables who managed to let their sergeant ‘run-off’ with an unknown alien, whatever the reason and situation, and had also delayed in informing the authorities of her disappearance, regardless of the cause.

Constable Jeffrey Crane would not have let on to his colleague about his concern for their sergeant’s well-being. He, in particular, was finding the lack of information about her absence very frustrating. How long should they wait for her? He knew his colleague had set a time limit of another two days before officially reporting her absence, but he could not see the point in delaying any longer. The longer they delayed now, the greater the difficulties they were going to have. But when it is reported, what happens then? Does the local area commander take charge or does he close down their operation or is another team leader appointed? The constable didn’t know. He wished he did. Because of this doubt, he didn’t argue with his colleague over the reporting delay.

What neither of the constables had realised was that about twenty-four hours after the sergeant and the Doctor had left in the TARDIS, their local area commander had sent an urgent and confidential communiqué to their sergeant asking for a personal report on the status at the Eye and her team’s progress. He had been dissatisfied with some points in the previous report, in the light of other events, and needed clarification from Catherine on a couple of specific issues. Normally, all communiqués that were sent to the sergeant were accessible by Constable Black in her absence, with the exception of those marked as confidential and priority. So all Constable Black’s reporting – his careful omission of all mention of the Doctor and their aborted arrest of him; the even more careful omission of any reference to the sergeant’s departure from the Eye with the Doctor and her unexpectedly prolonged absence – had been in vain. While he did not know the exact particulars, the local area commander was already aware that something, or everything, was not as it should be at the Eye. It was only a matter of time before he investigated further. But when he did investigate, he would metaphorically be looking for someone’s head on a platter and the responsibility was usually the team leader’s responsibility. This was not of immediate concern, however…..

The last of the long twilight was about to disappear as Constable Black and Constable Crane reached the transmat point. Constable Crane was the first to reach the transmat operation mechanism, so he switched it on. Within seconds they were in their ‘on location’ regional operations site. As usual, Constable Black then closed off the mechanism, so it could not inadvertently be operated from the terminal near the Eye. The regional operations site was secured from outside intrusion. Or so he thought.

As Constable Crane switched off the site’s internal invisibility barrier, a strange whining sound echoed around the complex. Both the constables were flabbergasted as the familiar outline of a blue police public call box materialised just behind where the invisibility barrier had been active a few moments earlier. The TARDIS had arrived exactly as the Doctor had planned…..

As the return of the TARDIS to the vicinity of the Eye had involved no temporal shift, just a spatial one, the Doctor knew that their arrival would be after dark. What was more natural then, than the TARDIS materialising inside the ‘on location’ regional operations site? That would save Catherine a trip via the transmat beam to the site and was the least he could do after their journey taking longer than expected. The Doctor grinned to himself as he thought of the reactions that Catherine’s constables would probably have to its arrival. He knew that they would assume that their security measures and their invisibility barriers would prevent anyone from unauthorised entry to the complex, but then the TARDIS was not bound by normal physical rules and the Doctor was not just anyone! As the time rotor ceased to move up and down, the Doctor checked the scanner just to verify if the landing had been exactly as he had intended. It had. His grin broadened as he looked at the scanner and saw the expressions on the faces of the constables outside the TARDIS. “Fantastic!” he said, as he looked across at Catherine, his eyes twinkling with laughter.

Catherine looked across at the Doctor from the other side of the console and asked, “Where have we landed, Doctor?”

“Come and see, Catherine,” the Doctor replied, his arms folded across his chest as she moved around to look at the scanner. He stood back a bit so that she could look, uninterrupted, at the sight of her two constables and their amazement. She was surprised, but said nothing. However, the look she directed at the Doctor was full of all her disbelief that anything could enter through the site’s intricate security measures and the invisibility barriers. He did not respond to her unspoken query, just grinned cheekily at her. Now was definitely not the best time to attempt to explain time dimensional transcendentalism to her. He asked, rhetorically, “Shall we go and satisfy their curiosity? I’m sure they’ll want to know where we’ve been.”

Catherine didn’t answer him, but turned to walk towards the main TARDIS external door. By the time she had walked through the door, the Doctor was standing behind her ready to lock the door after them. One thing she had noticed particularly about him was that wherever they were, he never failed to lock the door behind them, even if they were just standing next to the TARDIS, watching waves crash on the nearby rocks. As a security officer, she automatically appreciated his attention to small matters of security like that. However, now was not the time for her to think over her recent journey with the Doctor, but to concentrate on what had happened at the Eye in her absence and to rejoin her team.

The Doctor turned back after locking the TARDIS door to see Catherine, briefly greeting her constables, before asking abruptly for their individual verbal reports on the progress of their duty at the Eye. He was interested to see how quickly Catherine reverted to her Sergeant’s manner. The Doctor thought it must have been almost an automatic response to an on-duty situation.

Over the last few days, the Doctor had seen such a different side to Catherine’s nature. Not so much a softer side of her nature, as a side showing both her sensitivity and compassion, but unusually, with no diminishing of her strength or her spirit. During this time, he had gained a better understanding of her inner strengths and the complicated nature of her character. She had gained more of his respect and their synchronous emotional bond had not just strengthened on her side, but on his as well.

The Doctor thought, “I wonder if the two sides to her nature are complementary or are they linked? The ‘Sergeant persona’ – I wonder, is it a practised façade for work reasons?” Knowing what he now knew of her, the Doctor was very confident that it was just a good façade. Academically, he thought it would be undoubtedly an interesting exercise to explore, but he didn’t think he would ever have the opportunity to find out. However, he shook himself inwardly to bring his thoughts back to more important matters. The current state of the Eye was his immediate and far more pressing concern.

With his hands in his jacket pockets, the Doctor walked up to the sergeant’s side and grinned at her constables. Both of them were still looking slightly stunned, as they each presented to her their brief overviews of their watch at the Eye. But not even Constable Crane was brave enough to ask his sergeant for a report of her activities during the same time period. She was wearing her severest Sergeant’s expression, daring either of her constables to query her. However, it didn’t stop Constable Crane from speculating privately, of course. Even Constable Black had a few thoughts on the matter, but neither shared them with the other and certainly not with their sergeant. Even after their reports, the atmosphere was still icy. The Doctor had a shrewd suspicion that both the constables were eager to know what his and Catherine’s journey had encompassed, but that neither was likely to ask. However, he could see that this would cause friction within Catherine’s team which would ultimately destroy it as a working entity. As the only spectator, it was up to him to ‘break the ice’.

“Constables,” the Doctor said, cheerfully, “may the sergeant and I join you for tea? We’ve travelled a long way today and I don’t know about your Sergeant, but I’m starving!” This was despite the meal that he had shared with Catherine earlier in the TARDIS.

Constable Black was the first one to recover his wits and his manners, saying, “Of course, Doctor. Sergeant?”

Catherine didn’t say anything, just nodded, as the constables set the table and divided out field rations for the four of them. The Doctor grinned as they all sat down to eat, quickly and quietly. After they had all eaten and the dishes and cutlery had been cleared away – it was Constable Crane’s turn for this duty – the constables, their sergeant and the Doctor all moved into what in a normal dwelling would approximate to a lounge room, but in this type of building was more accurately referred to as a common room, so that they could continue discussions more comfortably. There, they helped themselves to beverages from a vending machine which supplied them also with the disposable synthetic mugs as receptacles for their tea or coffee. The machine had not been stocked with sugar, so the Doctor, who preferred his tea with sugar, opted for white coffee instead. Both the constables opted for strong black coffee, but the Doctor noted that Catherine opted for strong white tea.

The common room, like the rest of this operations site, was sparsely furnished, but the large casual bean bags which were distributed around the room provided comfortable seating for the group as they drank their tea or coffee. After setting down their coffee mugs on the floor, both constables sprawled on their chosen bags. To those not used to the absence of protocol after hours at these sites, it may have seemed strange for them to sprawl in the presence of their sergeant, but a relaxed atmosphere was very important for team building and essential unwinding from the duties of the day. Their sergeant, however, felt that she was always on duty and so could never truly feel relaxed. She sat carefully and precisely on the bean bag, her back straight, her legs stretched out in front of her with her ankles crossed, as she sipped her tea. The Doctor, on the other hand, had somehow managed to commandeer two bean bags and put them together side-by-side, like a mini-sofa. He also placed his coffee mug on the floor nearby and semi-reclined on his side on the ‘sofa’, facing the rest of the group so he could gauge their reactions to what he was about to say to them.

The Doctor gave the two constables a quick overview of his and Catherine’s journey and findings. Being observant, he noted the almost imperceptible relaxation in the constables’ demeanours as he described their journey. It was interesting, he thought, how easily he had convinced them, without having to try as hard as he might have done, that their unexpressed fears for their sergeant had been totally unnecessary. He looked at Catherine to see her reaction. The expression on her face gave nothing away, but he knew she must be pleased that they had such faith in her and her judgement. Her efforts at building the team had been worthwhile. He just wished she could unbend enough to show something in her face – a face which he knew was extremely expressive. It was as if once the ‘Sergeant persona’ took over, the real Catherine disappeared into hiding. This confirmed his earlier opinion that it was only a façade.

Catherine was quietly sipping her tea while the Doctor was telling the constables about their journey. She was relieved that her knee had recovered, so that that episode of their journey did not need to be passed on. It was interesting to see how quickly the Doctor could distil the main points of their journey, their discoveries and the solutions implemented so far into a brief, but pertinent, summary. Catherine knew she could not have done it that well. She was also all admiration for the way he had the two constables metaphorically ‘eating out of his hand’, as he asked them about the status of the Eye, in particular the rate of shrinkage of the mound. “I wish I knew how he does it,” Catherine thought. “If I could learn some pointers from him, it would make my job a lot easier!”

Her team did function well as a unit, but sometimes it took a lot of work on her part for the team’s performance not to slide. Constable Crane, in particular, had always been a problem. Yet, he seemed to communicate effortlessly with the Doctor. None of these thoughts, of course, were in evidence from her expression. The Doctor had been correct in its opinion of her ‘façade’. In fact, the ‘Sergeant façade’ was something she had cultivated over the years to prevent others from guessing her reactions to events and occurrences. This, together with her memory for fine detail and her instinct for the out of place, stood her in good stead when investigating crime.

As she looked across at the Doctor, so relaxed in his discussion, he looked at her and smiled one of his illuminating smiles, before turning back to answer a question put to him by Constable Black. Maintaining her façade, she did not return his smile, but she did unexpectedly blush briefly. Unfortunately for her, not briefly enough to escape the eagle eye of Constable Crane who had become bored with the discussion. However, he did not say anything – she was his sergeant after all – but excused himself to go to bed.

The Doctor, who had now finished answering Constable Black’s questions, stood up from his ‘sofa’ and sauntered over to the vending machine, ostensibly to make himself another cup of coffee. While he was there, he politely asked, “Another cup, Constable?”

Constable Black shook his head and replied, “No thanks, Doctor. I need to have some sleep. We have an early start in the morning.” As he walked past Catherine, he nodded, saying sincerely, “Glad to have you back, ma’am!”

Catherine replied with a smile, “Thanks. Glad to be back!” She drained the last of her cup of tea, just as the Doctor headed back towards his ‘sofa’, without the cup of coffee.

After the constable had left the room, Catherine stood up from the bean bag, or at least that was the theory. She managed to stand up without any trouble, but found that her left knee had cramped with the sitting and she over-balanced. Luckily for her, the Doctor was quickly there to catch her as she fell. “Damn this knee!” Catherine exclaimed. She regained her balance with his help, thanked him for his quick assistance and headed towards her quarters in the complex.

The Doctor stood for a few minutes alone in the common room, his forehead creased into a frown of concentration. He thought about the reactions and attitudes of the two constables and their sergeant, the information he had received this evening about the further shrinkage of the mound, his immediate plans to solve the Eye’s problems and how he could utilise those instincts of Catherine’s that had been of such great use to him so far. Heading back to spend the night mulling it over in the TARDIS, the Doctor grinned, as he thought of Catherine’s reactions in spite of herself…..

(* To be continued….. *)