Chapter Twenty Eight
As the Doctor watched Catherine disappear into the TARDIS, and he noted, close the door firmly behind her, he had no doubt that she would keep watch from the scanner, as he had intended. He thought again how perceptive she was and how well her talents would match with his travels. But none of this was obvious from the expression on his face.
He turned back towards his hostess and resumed drinking his cup of tea. The Doctor’s eyes were on the Rani’s face, shrewdly guessing that she was of two minds about how she thought of him. He knew that Catherine, as a sergeant in Central Orion Protection and Security, would not have approved of him provoking the Rani into kissing him and would have been surprised at his response to her kiss. But he knew that was the best way to gain the Rani’s attention and to hold it. He didn’t expect his kiss to make her trust him implicitly, but to at least allow him close enough to her to lower her guard a little. That would then provide him with the opportunity to find out more about the bacteria and who her clients were and how she managed to transport the bacteria forwards in time and space. But it was Catherine’s comments that provided him with the natural opening to ask his questions.
Before the Doctor had time to finish his cup of tea, the Rani commented, “Your travelling companion is not quite all she seems, is she?” She waited for his response, looking at him speculatively.
The Doctor replied, “No, Rani, she’s not.” He didn’t elaborate immediately, just quietly finished his cup of tea, poured himself another one and waited for the Rani’s reaction.
The Rani’s eyebrows shot up at that. She had not expected the Doctor to agree with her so readily. Her question had just really been ‘fishing’ for a reaction and he had taken her quite by surprise. As he had, of course, intended that she should be.
The Doctor was stirring two teaspoons of sugar into his cup of tea. He continued, without looking up from what he was doing, “Catherine has brains as well as beauty, Rani. She has a mind of her own - so refreshing!” Just as well many of his spirited female companions couldn’t hear that comment, he thought. A couple of them, in particular, would be very ready to take issue with him making a comment like that, even if they knew he hadn’t meant it! They had all had minds of their own – it was something he always appreciated, although he hadn’t always let them know that he did! But his main concern at the moment was to take the focus away from Catherine and back to the investigation, so he added, “Rani, when did you move into this business and why? It just doesn’t seem like you, to restrict yourself to one location and time, unless you had to, of course.”
She paused, and then said deliberately, “No it doesn’t, does it? Still, if it is comfortable and I have the freedom to do as I like while I’m here, why not?”
Finishing his cup of tea, the Doctor looked across at her and grinned. His eyes twinkled mischievously as he said, “TARDIS not working properly? And you criticised my old type forty!” He tried to prevent himself from laughing, but without much success. Of course, he guessed what the issue must be – it was typical of the High Council of Gallifrey to cripple her TARDIS. After all, they had done that to him for a time and his crimes were nowhere near the magnitude of hers. They had only forgiven him when he saved the universe from Omega’s misplaced ambition and wish for revenge! But the Rani was never likely to save the universe. It wasn’t in her nature; quite the reverse, in fact.
The Rani let him have his little joke. Her TARDIS was none of his concern. In actual fact, she had been left there after the new President of Gallifrey had decided that her exile needed to be more restricted than it had been in the past. The High Council had been thorough. They hadn’t just arranged for the removal of the dematerialisation circuit from her TARDIS, but the whole dematerialisation mechanism behind it as well. So she literally could go nowhere, under any circumstances, without requiring major work to be done on her TARDIS. She doubted if they even cared if danger came her way! Still, she always had her scientific expertise to fall back on to help her to escape and her complete and utter faith in herself. She had graduated with first class honours in chemistry and the physical sciences, after all.
The Rani moved over to seat herself on the sofa in the place vacated by Catherine. She turned to the Doctor, as he replaced his teacup on the tray on the coffee table. His laughter had now ceased, but his intense, blue eyes were still twinkling mischievously as they met the interested look from her equally blue eyes. They were sitting close enough to each other on the sofa for him to take her in his arms again so easily, if he had wished, but he chose not to this time. His main aim was still to find out information about the bacteria delivery and who her client was that was so interested in the Eye of Orion and its positive ion generation that they would want to destroy it completely. The Rani’s main aim was to find out why he was there…..
Catherine had entered the TARDIS and ensured that the door was securely shut behind her. The last thing she wanted was to be ambushed by one of the Rani’s staff while her back was turned. As Catherine walked up the ramp towards the console, her high heeled sandals caught on the edge of the floor grill, so she thought it was a good time to take them off. Her culottes didn’t hamper her movement, even in bare feet, so this would cause her no problems. She was glad that she hadn’t chosen to wear stockings with her outfit, though. Stockinged feet – even if they had been silk stockings – in contact with the TARDIS floor grill would not have worked terribly well. She walked around the console to the scanner and noticed that the Doctor had left the scanner switched on before they ventured outside. “He thinks of every eventuality,” she thought. Either that or he just forgot to turn it off!
She was very grateful, though, that she hadn’t had to ask him for the TARDIS key. As she realised that he was trying to make it appear that she was travelling with him just for pleasure, she could appreciate that he might want to make it appear that he had given her his key for safe-keeping or that she had her own key. But considering neither was true, she would have been in a bit of a quandary as to how she could ask him for the key surreptitiously. Apart from cuddling up to him intimately, she couldn’t think of a reason where she would have been able to be close enough to ask for it. And her annoying – at least to her – habit of blushing would have given them both away. His method of handing it to her was far better.
Catherine watched the scanner, but was disappointed that it wasn’t picking up any sound. She watched the Doctor and the Rani have some conversation while he drank his cup of tea, no, two cups of tea. It all seemed quite amiable so far. He even was laughing at one point, but as she wasn’t, Catherine shrewdly assumed that the laughter was at the Rani’s expense somehow. The Doctor certainly liked taking risks to gain his information. But, from what she knew of him, she imagined that they were usually carefully calculated risks.
Catherine watched as the Rani moved over to sit next to the Doctor on the sofa. They were sitting within arms length of each other, but the Doctor did not take her in his arms as might be expected. There was some conversation between the two of them, but Catherine could not surmise what. It could have been about the information that they were seeking or it could have been about the weather for all she knew. But she expected, she hoped, that it would be the former…..
The Doctor smiled and asked the Rani, “So what is your business, really? It is certainly profitable.”
She smiled and replied, “You could call it a form of import/export. I need something, I import it; at minimum cost to me. My clients need something, I export it; at a premium to them, of course.”
The Doctor could guess the items of import. Anything required for her experiments or anything that would assist in enabling her to escape from this prison. He could never condone her experiments on other life forms, but he was able to sympathise with her wish to escape. To confine a Time Lord to one planet in one time period was as if a magnificent bird, used to soaring high on the winds, was being forced to have its wings clipped permanently. He, better than most, knew how she must feel in this respect. If it was even half what he felt when he was first exiled to Earth, he could understand. Yet his crimes had been nothing compared to hers, so he was not going to let emotion cloud his judgement. Even his old type forty TARDIS would be coveted by her as a means to aid her escape and there was absolutely no way that he would allow her to take hold of it, or even step aboard it. She would not be a comfortable passenger to travel with. He said to her, interestedly, but with a trace of sarcasm, “Imports and exports across time and space, Rani? Without a fully-functional TARDIS? How do you manage it?”
She thought about whether or not she should tell the Doctor about her transportation method. After all, this import/export business was merely a means to an end. The whole process was ultimately an experiment in itself in time/space transportation without the need for a functioning TARDIS. It was a challenge in itself; it had never been done before. Apart from the need to escape, she never could resist a challenge. And she knew that the Doctor could not resist a challenge either. She was certain he hadn’t changed that much over the centuries. They were the same age, after all. But she wasn’t going to make it easy for him. She was fully aware that that method was probably what he had come there for. Still, there was no reason why she shouldn’t enjoy herself at the same time – in more ways than one!
“I could call it a trade secret, Doctor; a new development of old technology,” the Rani’s eyebrows rose in mock innocence and her innocent-seeming eyes twinkled provocatively. “You used to be so good at scientific puzzles, Doctor. Can’t you guess? Or has the edge worn off some of those gifts of yours?”
The Doctor, of course, knew she was just trying to provoke him. But he wasn’t going to rise to the bait of her sarcasm. Instead he took out his sonic screwdriver from his inner jacket pocket and set it to scan for non-specific temporal trace recognition. “There are three separate local spatial/temporal generators in this room, apart from the trace field generation from your TARDIS. But they are weak signals,” the Doctor said, as he saved their locations for later reference and uploading into the TARDIS database. He was starting to realise how she was managing the transfers.
The Rani was annoyed at the Doctor’s usage of the sonic screwdriver, but she was wise enough not to try to take it from him. She neither underestimated his physical strength nor his tenacity and her own self-preservation was paramount with her. But her annoyance appeared on her beautiful face. She never did like being outwitted by another Time Lord – especially the Doctor.
As he switched the sonic screwdriver off and replaced it in his inner pocket, he looked at the Rani’s annoyance in amusement. “Are you going to tell me how you managed to control the time transference in the transmat, Rani?” A smile like the one on the face of the proverbial ‘cat that swallowed the cream’ replaced the expression of annoyance on her face.
She shook her head and said, “You were always so clever, Doctor. Why don’t you tell me how it was done? I could do with something to brighten my day!”
The Doctor pursed his lips, thought for a moment, and then said, “Ok. Here’s how I think you did it. Please interrupt me if I am wrong…..”
Catherine was still watching the discussion between the Doctor and the Rani. The scanner showed her clearly that the Doctor was no longer making any pretence at this being a friendly visit. She recognised the appearance of the sonic screwdriver in location mode. It reminded her of the way he searched for the location of the source of the strongest ion generation at Node Two. She assumed that here, too, he was saving the coordinates for manipulation later in the TARDIS. One thing that did please her though – the Rani looked decidedly irritated about something! “Good for you, Doctor!” Catherine thought, then was promptly ashamed of herself for being unprofessional…..
“So that’s the mechanics of it, as I see it. Am I right?” the Doctor said, as he finished his theory of the ways and means to add a temporal component to a transmat terminal and its means of control. But he didn’t tell her that he knew how the actual move forwards and backwards in time using that component would work. Transmat beams were primitive in comparison to a TARDIS; they depended upon transmat terminals in fixed locations. Even where the terminals were portable, as in those in use by Catherine and her colleagues, the link needed to be recalibrated whenever the terminal was moved to reaffirm the beam transmission and reception.
With an appropriate temporal component added to the transmat, with very careful adjustments, a spatial transfer from one terminal to another could be turned into a temporal shift as well, if – and it was a big if – the exact terminal point in space was still in existence and stable in the time period that the temporal shift would terminate to. The Doctor recognised that the Rani had been very clever developing a temporal component that was completely stable when combined with the transmat terminal circuitry. She was a very clever scientist, although he had a shrewd idea that the only reason this was being implemented was to provide her an eventual escape route if all the results were successful.
“But where does the delivery of the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria to the Eye of Orion fit into your plans, Rani? And why forward in time? Amusement? Filling in your day? Playing havoc with one of the calmest and most beautiful places in the galaxy just for fun?” the Doctor was starting to feel and show real anger now. “Why?” he yelled at her.
The Rani looked surprised. Her only response was, “Why not? I can’t leave this place, so I don’t really care if some tourist attraction in Orion is destroyed or not.” She shrugged her shoulders before adding, “A contract is a contract, Doctor.”
The Doctor stood up and looked down at her in disgust. He paused, then said in an even voice, “So who’s the contract with then?”
The Rani stood up and walked over to him, placing her hand delicately on his shoulder. She made as if to kiss him on the cheek, but actually whispered the name into his ear. The name was quite unexpected, but he had no reason to doubt her. She had nothing to lose by telling him the truth. Anyway, the name was familiar and seemed to fit all the known variables of the investigation – means, motive and opportunity.
“I suppose I can’t expect you to transport me away from all this, Doctor?” the Rani commented, as the Doctor moved away from her and back to the TARDIS.
“Sorry, Rani, only room for two on this flight! Bye!” the Doctor cheerfully replied with a grin, as he passed through the door that Catherine was holding open for him from the inside. He closed it securely behind them and, quickly heading for the console, took the sonic screwdriver out of his inner pocket. Twisting its black base about forty-five degrees clockwise, the Doctor once again inserted the sonic screwdriver into a console connection point and switched it on. Once the data connection was made, the Doctor initiated a very quick computer program to upload the coordinates of the Rani’s transmat/time transference terminals into the TARDIS database and process the data.
After the program had completed its run, the Doctor removed the sonic screwdriver from the console and replaced it in his jacket pocket. Looking across at Catherine, with a serious expression on his face, he asked, “Catherine, have you ever wanted to really change the universe? In a good way, of course?”
Catherine, who was watching the scanner out of curiosity, didn’t reply immediately. She was watching three window recesses that were glowing slightly. Without turning around, Catherine replied, “Of course I have, Doctor. It’s part of the reason I joined the agency. Why?”
“Here’s your chance,” the Doctor replied.
Catherine turned around to see the Doctor pointing at a purple button on the console that she hadn’t remembered seeing before. He nodded in encouragement, as he said, “Press it, Catherine.” So she did. A small bang was heard as three window recesses that were actually transmat/time transference terminals quietly exploded.
The Doctor was busy at the console resetting the temporal and spatial coordinates to enable them to return to the common room of her team’s regional operations site, just in time for tea on the same day they left. He pulled the dematerialisation lever and set the TARDIS in motion.
“Why did you leave her behind, Doctor?” Catherine asked. After a pause, she added, her agency training showing, “The Rani really should be arrested for the supply of the bacteria, you know.”
“The Rani is in exile for her crimes against other life forms of the universe, Catherine,” he said. “It is not up to me to change her sentence and cause another time anomaly. I’ve – we’ve – prevented her from transporting any more bacteria, or anything else, through time. That is all I can do without transgressing the Laws of Time.”
He had no more sympathy for the Rani now than he had had at the Academy all those years ago when he discovered her bizarre ideas with respect to other life forms and experimentation. Those ideas disgusted him then and still disgusted him now and she hadn’t changed her ideas in all that time. But he would always be regretful for her misuse of her great talents. He knew that the Rani did not exist in his own time continuum any more. Or, to be more accurate, he knew that the planet she was exiled to was destroyed towards the end of the Time War. The population from that sector of the galaxy was presumed wiped out by the Daleks long before he even had been summoned to Gallifrey to assist in the closing stage of that terrible war. The High Council and the President of Gallifrey at that time were the ones who had sentenced her to that planet, knowing there was little chance of her escape. But the Doctor was not surprised at their ruthlessness. After all, they were the same ones who had offered him no choice, but to destroy Gallifrey itself.
The Doctor could feel the familiar melancholy mood descending upon him again, as it always did whenever he thought of the destruction of Gallifrey. Knowing he needed to shake himself out of this mood quickly, before Catherine noticed and misinterpreted the reason for it, he looked across the console to where she had positioned herself against one of the tree-like support structures. He smiled one of his illuminating smiles at her, but didn’t say anything. But he did notice that she hadn’t changed back into her uniform, as yet. He was quite pleased about that as he thought that the cinnamon and gold-coloured silk culottes she had chosen from the TARDIS wardrobe were much more attractive than any uniform could ever be. And as they were returning to the common room for tea, they weren’t entirely inappropriate either. But, of course, he didn’t tell her any of this.
Catherine returned his smile. They had gained a partial solution to their investigation – it really was as much his investigation as hers now – so it was time to return and complete it. She sighed and wondered whether or not now was an appropriate time to return the TARDIS key to him…..
(* To be continued….. *)