Chapter Thirty One

He smiled as he entered the data into his electronic diary, “The spread of this abhorrence has been curtailed once again. This so-called Eye of Orion has been shut down. There will be no more tourists travelling to this sector in the foreseeable future.” The entry was automatically time and date stamped, relative to Earth time, as he closed the diary page.

Athol Manx was largely satisfied with the result of his recent work. Years of working as the principle environmental researcher for Earth’s most prominent environmental scientist had paid off now in ways his former employer would have been horrified to see. In that role, he had collated a list of the major environmental icons in the galaxy, noting the location, jurisdiction and ownership, best time and method of approach, reason for listing, detailed physical description, preservation needs and vulnerability to attack and destruction for each icon. At the time, the list had been designed with the specific idea of assisting the icon’s preservation.

But as Athol’s perspective gradually changed over the years to one that was obsessed with the collateral damage – perceived or otherwise – caused by tourism, he found another use for a copy of that list. The list could easily be adapted to include the details of the number of tourists who visited a location, the frequency and length of visits, the time of the year that most visitations took place and the origin of the tourists.

It could also be adapted to include notes on the best ways to exploit each icon’s particular vulnerabilities to attack. As always, Athol was meticulous in every detail. He had to be. In most cases, he would only have one opportunity to destroy such an icon.

The destruction of the Eye had been a particular challenge that he had long looked forward to completing.

It posed several problems at the outset, even apart from the planet being located ‘centre stage’ as it were in the Orion sector. Firstly, it was a centre of strong natural positive ions, so a general feeling of well-being was always felt by its visitors. Even those intending on doing it harm felt this reaction, so it became practically attack repellent.

Secondly, the bulk of the concentration/generation mechanism was below the planet’s surface, so was largely untouchable. Except, that is, for the extrusion of the mechanism above the surface.

Thirdly, the extrusion at the Eye was an architecturally beautiful archway – deceptively fragile in appearance, but actually extremely strong and resilient. The archway itself had been listed in a sub-icon section of the list devoted to architectural sites worthy of preservation.

Athol knew that weaponry would have little effect on it without some form of agent to weaken the structure of the archway. His plan was to use such an agent to weaken it, then site high-powered weaponry in the vicinity and direct it towards the main mechanism via the archway. A form of rapid exponential rate transfer of the charges through the mechanism would then take place and the mechanism should be destroyed enough to render it incapable of being repaired. The natural ions would be untouched.

His only problem with implementing that scenario was locating the appropriate weakening agent. It seemed impossible.

That was until he received a stray advertising transmission, purely by chance, when travelling between one task and the next. The product delivered after he had paid his money and endorsed the contract turned out to be something known as ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria and it was being sold anonymously via a transmat terminal. All he knew about the ‘service provider’ was that she was female. It amused him that it was a straightforward business transaction and perfectly legal as the bacteria were never actually mentioned by name.

Once he deployed the bacteria directly onto the archway, nature did the work for him. The way was then clear for him to deploy the high-powered weaponry at the site once the archway was destroyed – something he did successfully.

Having completed his task, he was leaving the immediate vicinity of the planetary system where the Eye of Orion was located. The officers of Central Orion Protection and Security would have arrived soon after the destruction, he knew, but it would be too late for them to do anything, if they even realised what it was they were dealing with!

It would take an extremely widely-experienced scientist with an exceptional mind to work out what was happening in time to avert the damage before it passed the point where repair was possible. The scientist would have to actually be on site as well. Athol estimated that it would be a million-to-one chance that such a scientist would be there at the right time.

In fact, of all the scientists that Athol had met at galactic conferences over the years, he doubted that there would be anyone who would be up to the task in the timeframe. No, there was one exception…..

Once the TARDIS door was locked, the Doctor, as was usual for him, raced up the ramp to the TARDIS console. It never ceased to amaze Catherine how energetic he always seemed. By the time Catherine had followed him to the console, the Doctor had already set the spatial coordinates for Node Two. As she reached his side, he pulled the dematerialisation lever and once again, the time rotor moved into action.

“I hope the TARDIS takes us a little closer than it did last time,” Catherine commented, dryly. “I don’t particularly look forward to that long walk again!”

The Doctor looked at her and grinned. “But long walks are such good exercise, Catherine! And just think of the sea breeze and all that fresh air. Fantastic!” the Doctor said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Catherine only replied, “But not in these boots, Doctor,” as she sat down on the seat near the console.
The high-heeled black ankle boots of her dress uniform were hardly appropriate for field work, however comfortable they were to wear under other circumstances.

The Doctor’s grin broadened into one of his illuminating smiles, as he replied, “You should be able to find a pair of walking shoes in the wardrobe room. Help yourself.” He waved in the general direction of the internal console door.

Catherine needed no further invitation. She stood up and headed for the TARDIS wardrobe room. In no time at all, she found a very comfortable pair of white running shoes, in her exact shoe size. She slipped out of her elegant dress boots, leaving them just inside the doorway as she slid into the running shoes. Her dress boots were forgotten as she quickly tied the shoe laces of the running shoes. The shoes were a perfect fit. Catherine quickly headed back to the console room.

As she walked down the corridor of the TARDIS towards the console room, she was thinking about the evidence that she and the Doctor had amassed so far in the investigation. She was still curious about one crucial part of the evidence necessary for the solution to the investigation. Who was responsible for the use of the weaponry and why? She knew the Rani had told the Doctor who her client was, but he hadn’t passed the name on to her as yet. Although she was doubtful as to the reliability of any evidence given by the Rani, she bowed – metaphorically speaking – to the Doctor’s greater knowledge there. He seemed sure that the name supplied to him was correct.

Catherine had trusted his judgement until now, so why should this be any different? After all, she hadn’t even asked him for the name, as yet. As she entered the console room, she determined that she was going to find out – sooner, rather than later. She walked over to the console, took a deep breath, looked the Doctor straight in the eyes and asked, “Doctor, the Rani named her client. Who is it?”

The Doctor knew she would ask him some time, but he wondered, briefly, why she chose now. Regardless of why, it was time he told her. After all, she was officially more than a casual TARDIS traveller now. “Fair enough, it’s time you knew anyway,” he replied. “The man’s name is Athol Manx.”

The Doctor looked down at the console and adjusted the angle of some of the myriad collection of odd-shaped knobs that somehow or other assisted the TARDIS to successfully navigate its way through the time vortex. He didn’t look at Catherine as he continued, “Athol Manx is not from Earth or one of its official colonies, but from one of its remote outposts – a planet officially designated RXX43. Not being an official colony, the planet was never given an official name. Once it became settled, however, it gained the nickname ‘Norfolk Island’, after one of Earth’s eighteenth century convict settlements. Like its namesake, this planet was regarded on Earth as a piece of rock in the middle of nowhere where the worst offenders of the community were exiled. To its population, though, it was environmentally, a very attractive planet.”

“I’ve seen references to the ‘Norfolk Island’ planet in the agency files, but there was never much of a description of it or its inhabitants or its history either!” Catherine observed.

“Never mind that, now,” the Doctor replied, briskly. “One of the gestures towards the original settlers’ descendants was that they were allowed free access to Earth universities, if they wished. Especially if they were gifted and dedicated students, such as Athol Manx was. In fact, he was a brilliant environmental researcher, just the sort of environmental researcher that Earth needed.”

“Have you ever met him, Doctor?” Catherine asked. “What makes you so sure that the Rani’s naming of him wasn’t some macabre joke on her part?”

The Doctor, who was looking closely at something on the scanner, ignored the latter part of Catherine’s query and replied, “I met him briefly at that Earth Galactic Environmental Conference in Melbourne. He was the researcher for the foremost environmental scientist from Earth, but I did talk to him at dinner one day. Somewhere, somehow, his perspective became warped. Even then, he had disturbing ideas like ‘the end justifies the means’ and a complete disregard and hatred for artistic beauty and historic sites and their artefacts.”

“Why didn’t you do something about him, Doctor?” Catherine asked.

The Doctor replied, “Catherine, you’re a security officer. Would you do anything under those circumstances?”

Catherine thought hard about it. Thinking about it from the law enforcement perspective, she knew there would have been nothing that could have been done about Athol Manx at that stage. After all, it wasn’t a crime to have bizarre ideas and bad aesthetic taste. She looked at the Doctor and had to admit to him that she wouldn’t do anything under those circumstances either.

“But I suppose it does provide him with the motive, warped as it is. If we assume he was the Rani’s client, then by providing him with the ‘sand mining syndrome’ bacteria, she has provided him with the means to destroy the Eye,” Catherine said, reasoning out the probability of Athol Manx’ involvement. “But did he have the opportunity?”

The Doctor nodded and pointed towards the scanner, before continuing, calmly, “According to the recent newscasts, he’s also recently become involved in an anti-tourism movement – something I wouldn’t have really expected. But if he’s anti-tourism, as well as anti-art and anti-historic sites, then it was only a matter of time before the Eye of Orion drew his attention; more specifically, the archway and the mechanism of the Eye.” He paused, before adding, quietly, “His group had to destroy it; something so beautiful, so fantastic….. They were so calculating, for so little gain.”

Catherine couldn’t believe how calm the Doctor was about it all. Then she looked at him more closely and saw there were tears in his eyes. He really did care. But before she could say anything to him, the TARDIS materialised.

He shook his head to shake free the tears, so that he could concentrate on the completion of the bypass process to pass the ions from the Eye through the concentration process at Node Two and back to the surface near the Eye.

Catherine was expected by her commander to provide notes on the bypass process for him as part of her report. As a consequence, she started to make note of the stages in the process for later write-up. Although she doubted that the details would be appropriate unless a TARDIS was being used!

Like initiating the loop back process at Node Two, the first stage in the process was uploading the readings from the sonic screwdriver into the TARDIS database. The Doctor took the sonic screwdriver out of his inner pocket and twisted its black base about forty-five degrees clockwise. He then inserted the sonic screwdriver into a console connection point on the console and switched it on. The screwdriver glowed once the Doctor had secured it in place. However, this was where the similarities between the bypass process and the loop back process ended.

Although the information was being uploaded similarly, the Doctor needed to turn one of the dials on the console ever so slightly to his right with split second timing just before the screwdriver completed its run. He frowned in concentration as he waited for the right moment to turn the dial, commenting on its importance to Catherine. If the dial was not turned precisely, the bypass process would not connect with the loop back mechanism and it would be locked out. He waited, counting down quietly to himself. His frown deepened the closer to the critical time it became – until finally, the moment came and he turned the dial perfectly.

Catherine saw his shoulders quite obviously relax after that. She thought he must have been nearly as tense as she was.

The Doctor suddenly asked Catherine to watch the figures running up the scanner. “Let me know when 99009 shows,” he said. “It’s the sonic screwdriver completion message, Catherine. About two seconds after that a code will display. Would you note it for me? I need to enter that code manually into the main routine of the bypass program which I am initiating now. Unfortunately, it has to be entered from here on the opposite side of the console to the scanner.”

Catherine wondered, in such a sophisticated process, why a code needed to be entered manually. And she said so, too.

The Doctor thought about whether he would reply with some flippant response or reply with the real answer. He was saved from having to decide by Catherine saying, “99009 showing. The code is 33567.”

“Thanks, Catherine,” the Doctor replied, as he manually entered the code. Finally he could allow the program to implement the bypass and link to the loop back for the Eye, independent of his or Catherine’s involvement.

While the Doctor was taking the opportunity to fine tune one of the mechanisms attached to the scanner, Catherine was feeling a bit restless. She needed to go outside and explore.

The Doctor knew that the TARDIS had landed them exactly where he had planned – near the large spreading shade tree in the picnic area overlooking Node Two, very near to a timber seat made for two adults to sit comfortably on. It was the same seat that he had shared with Catherine on their previous visit to Node Two.

He hadn’t told Catherine where they had landed. Although the location was convenient for completing the bypass, he also intended it as a surprise for her. After all, this was her first trip in the TARDIS after her acceptance of his invitation, so he thought she deserved something special to mark the occasion.

So when Catherine told him that she was going outside to explore nearby, he grinned broadly and his eyes twinkled with understanding. He knew what it was like to feel the need to explore the surrounds, the unknown, to meet the neighbours. While he was no longer testing Catherine out to see what she could do, he was still delighted that she felt the same need to satisfy her curiosity that he had always felt himself.

The Doctor said, “OK. I’ll catch you up when I finish here.” His adjustments to the scanner were actually finished, except for the final check on the outside view. He needed something, or someone, to be moving outside for him to complete the check. Catherine walking around outside was just perfect for this. She was more than capable of looking after herself, if there was anything unusual around.

Catherine walked down the ramp and out through the TARDIS door, closing it behind her. She was certainly surprised! Somehow, she expected them to have landed near the coast, perhaps just a bit inland from where they had landed last time. She had definitely not expected the picnic area above Node Two! But it was a pleasant surprise.

The Doctor didn’t know it, but she did want to have another look at either Node Two’s sunset or sunrise to see if her opinion of it had changed at all since they were last there. As for Node Two, she had been relieved when the Doctor told her they didn’t need to visit the site again. She shivered just thinking about her near miss with the beach fauna when they were last there.

“Surprised?” the Doctor asked, as he quietly came up behind her, his final checks of the scanner completed successfully.

Catherine turned to look at him and nodded, before saying, “Yes, Doctor. I never expected us to land this close to Node Two.” She thought, but didn’t say aloud, “Landing near the shade tree and the chair we shared when we were last here is also totally unexpected.”

The Doctor grinned and his eyes sparkled mischievously. He guessed that landing in the picnic area was also a complete surprise, but shrewdly realised she wouldn’t make reference to it. However, as they had an hour or so (in Earth terms) to fill in while the bypass program completed its run and connected to the loop back process for Node Two, he fully intended for Catherine to see an encore showing of Node Two’s sunset performance. He had a feeling that she might view it a bit differently from the last time they had seen it.

What he really would like to see was her reaction now to that spectacular sunrise that she had been almost dismissive about on their last visit. But it would mean spending the night here and he supposed that would be out of the question. It would be appropriate for them to return to the Eye as soon as their task was complete. Still, the sunset was due soon. That would be enough for now.

“The bypass program will run through to completion now, Catherine,” the Doctor said, cheerfully. He took her hand in his and asked, rhetorically, “Come with me?”

Catherine nodded and smiled as the Doctor led her the short distance to the comfortable timber two-seater seat that they sat on the last time they were here. It was nearly time for the sunset to start, the Doctor estimated.

Catherine remarked, as they sat down comfortably on the seat, still holding hands, “Front row seats for the show, again, Doctor?”

He smiled one of his illuminating smiles and nodded as he replied, “Dress circle at the Albert Hall!”

Catherine laughed, as he intended she should. He thought once again how attractive she was when she laughed. This emotional bond between them was as strong as ever. He squeezed her hand a little tighter, before letting her hand go and putting his right arm lightly around her shoulders instead. Automatically, Catherine placed her left arm lightly around his waist. It really was more comfortable that way, she thought. But this time, to save herself embarrassment, she was careful to place it outside his jacket. His leather jacket squeaked as she touched it. The Doctor made no comment, but pulled her slightly closer to him. He looked at her and smiled, as the first of the orange glow that was the Node Two sunset started.

Like the last time they watched the sunset, they saw the sky suddenly, or so it seemed to Catherine, become flushed with a beautiful orange glow. She watched again as the long orange fingers of the last rays from the sun stretched out towards the Romanesque columns that surrounded Node Two. To Catherine, these orange fingers seemed to grasp at the daylight, attempting to wrench it away from the building against the building’s will. As if in recognition of this fact, the fluorescent pen words of the warning message left by the Doctor on the colonnade after their last visit stood out like some vague threat to the sunset. But the sunset ignored the threat and continued to pull and strain at the remnant daylight glowing ever fainter as night began to descend.

As nightfall arrived, Catherine shivered with the sudden drop in temperature. She automatically turned slightly into the warmth of the Doctor’s arm. As she realised that she had nearly been guilty of cuddling into him, she straightened herself up again and blushed – the latter much to her annoyance. Being a gentleman, though, the Doctor pretended not to notice, although his eyes twinkled with amusement.

He said to her, enthusiastically, “Wasn’t the sunset fantastic?” Looking at her face, he could see she had been really moved by it this time, so added, quietly, “Was it better than the last time you saw it, Catherine?”

Catherine, who was grateful that he hadn’t noticed her blushes or her movement, replied, “Much better, Doctor. I am so glad to have seen that again.” Then, looking the Doctor straight in the eyes, she added, “Thanks for the opportunity.”

“Pleasure,” he said. “The bypass program will have finished by now. It’s time we went back to the TARDIS and the Eye.” The Doctor and Catherine both stood up at his words and walked the short distance to the TARDIS, with their arms still around each other’s backs. Catherine was very grateful for the warmth from the proximity of his body, as her dress uniform was impractical as protection from chilly evenings. And maybe later that night, when she was on her own, she just might admit to herself how much she enjoyed that proximity for its own sake too!

They separated from each other at the door, as the Doctor encouraged Catherine to use her own TARDIS key to unlock the door for them to enter. It worked for her first time and they entered the TARDIS, securing the door behind them. The Doctor raced, as usual, to the console. His bypass program had completed successfully. By the time they reached the Eye, the positive ions would be able to be felt once again.

Catherine leaned against one of the tree-like supports in the console room to watch the Doctor as he set the coordinates and pulled the dematerialisation lever to set the TARDIS in motion. The time rotor started to move up and down as the TARDIS was returning them to the common room in Catherine’s regional operations site.

When they reached there, Catherine knew her first task would be to make notes about this trip and incorporate them into her report to close off the investigation. She would provide recommendations for follow up, such as the pursuit of Athol Manx and any accomplices, apart from the Rani, that he might have and the increase in security precautions for sites like the Eye. A handover procedure must be put together as well – she intended on recommending that Constable Black should remain acting team leader until a formal successor to her was appointed and that he should be given the role of supervising construction manager when the archway of the Eye was to be rebuilt. She knew he could handle the project, as he was so thorough in his work and a stickler for detail.

After the report was submitted, she would formally break the news to Constable Black and Constable Crane that she had resigned. She was aware that they probably both knew of it, as Constable Black had certainly read her resignation document and it would have filtered through the administration by now. Still, it was traditional that when a team leader was leaving, that the team had farewell drinks together to close off the team.

Before she had time to consider any further, they had arrived…..

The Doctor had disappeared in the TARDIS, while Catherine was writing her report to close off the investigation and the constables were still on duty at the Eye, to visit an old scientist friend of his and ask a favour from him.

His friend was a promising architect as well as a scientist and was thrilled to be asked to design the new archway. This new design, the Doctor was assured, would be unique and beautiful, yet sturdy, providing the construction manager ensured that the construction designs were followed correctly. However, he knew the Doctor well, so completely trusted him to ensure the appropriate construction manager would be chosen. But this time, the construction material was not going to be made of anything with a sand-based content. Just to be on the safe side.

When the Doctor finally took delivery of the plans, over a few glasses of a fine French Beaujolais in a quiet little restaurant, he was extremely pleased with the result that his friend had achieved. The new construction would have all the spirit of the original archway, but would be unique as promised. He thanked his friend and, before he returned to the TARDIS, reminded him that he would not be able to include this building in his portfolio of credits. His friend appreciated this and just said, “This is a favour for an old friend, not a commission,” as if that said it all – which it probably did.

The Doctor then returned in the TARDIS to the common room in the regional operations site – just in time for Catherine’s farewell drinks…..

Catherine had just submitted her final report on the investigation, including her recommendations for follow up tasks. She then quickly packed all her personal belongings – there weren’t that many of them as officers tended to travel light when on assignment – and her clothing into the light travelling bag that was supplied for transfer of personal items whenever an operations site was closed down or relocated. Once she was satisfied that she had left nothing behind, she hoisted the bag by its strap onto her right shoulder and headed for the common room.

The constables were already in the common room, on the bean bags, enjoying after dinner drinks when she entered the room. She tossed her bag to the floor near her favourite bean bag and broke the news of her resignation and departure to them. As she suspected, they both were aware of the resignation, so she went on to outline her recommendations from her report to them.

Constable Black opened some bottles of wine and poured glasses of it, so that his sergeant could be farewelled in style and according to custom. Constable Crane was onto his third glass of wine and into the middle of what Catherine was sure was going to be a risqué toast, when the familiar whining sound of the TARDIS interrupted him. “Thank goodness for that,” Catherine thought, as she and the constables were treated to the sight of the ‘police box’ materialising only a metre (in Earth terms) away from where they were sitting.

As the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS, Constable Black, who had made himself unofficial host for the drinks party, walked over to him and invited him to find himself a comfortable place to sit and to partake of “a glass or five of wine” to close off the team and farewell their sergeant. Although for the Doctor, it was not a farewell.

The Doctor thanked him for his invitation and found himself a large bean bag which he arranged like a chair with a half-size back. He then took the glass of red wine that the constable offered to him and sat down comfortably to tell them about the designs for the replacement archway.

Catherine didn’t know how the Doctor had persuaded his friend to provide the sketches, but he provided them for the Doctor at a moment’s notice. Or so it seemed. She realised, of course, that his meeting with his friend may have taken weeks for all she knew, but that he had set the temporal coordinates on the TARDIS console to return him to her team’s regional operations site just before supper on the same day he had left.

Catherine looked across at him to see a large grin on his face, as if he knew her thoughts or had at least guessed what she was thinking. Instinctively, she knew he wouldn’t tell her how long his trip took.

After about an hour (in Earth terms), when they had all said their farewells, but before Constable Crane could propose an even more risqué toast than the one that had been interrupted earlier, the Doctor stood up. He asked, rhetorically, “Coming, Catherine?” She didn’t answer him, but nodded to him as she stood up. Surprisingly, Constable Crane collected her travel bag and handed it to her. She appreciated the gesture and smiled at him as she slung it over her right shoulder. He just nodded in acknowledgement and Catherine turned back to the Doctor.

The Doctor didn’t take her hand this time, but smiled at Catherine with one of his illuminating smiles as they walked over to the TARDIS. He could never stand the follow-ups to his adventures. As always, he was impatient to move on to something new, somewhere else. The officers of Central Orion Protection and Security were more than capable of securing all the loose ends from this investigation. After all, that was their role.

Reaching the TARDIS, the Doctor unlocked the door and moved aside to let Catherine enter ahead of him. She didn’t even look back once, as he followed her in and secured the TARDIS door tightly behind them. It never occurred to Catherine that they should really wait behind until the verdict on her first trip with the Doctor was brought down by her commander. If it had occurred to her, she would have shrugged it off – to her it mattered little. She had resigned from Central Orion Protection and Security and, like the Doctor, was impatient to move on to something new, somewhere else. For her this was the start of a new chapter in her life – it really was the trip of a lifetime.

The issues of the high-powered weaponry had been solved satisfactorily and the positive ion generation was restored. But the Doctor regretted the waste of Athol Manx’ extensive knowledge and vision in a flawed project such as this and for such crazy reasons. Officers of Central Orion Protection and Security would follow up on his whereabouts and arrest him.

The Doctor and Catherine were leaving the planned reconstruction of the magnificent archway at the Eye of Orion in Constable Black’s very safe hands. She had handed the designs obtained by the Doctor to Constable Black before their final farewells that evening.

“By the way, Doctor, you didn’t say who your scientist friend with the architectural interest was,” Catherine asked him, her curiosity becoming too much for her.

He just grinned, set the time and space coordinates and pulled the dematerialisation lever to set the TARDIS time rotor in motion. His eyes twinkled mischievously as he looked at her and replied, “A very promising architect, in my opinion, Catherine.” He paused, before adding, “I caught up with him when he was visiting Paris, mixing his business with his pleasure, and gathering new ideas. Perfect time to ask him to draw up the construction plans. The replacement for the archway should be fantastic!”

Catherine raised her eyebrows and then sighed, in disgust, “To think I was writing a report when I could have visited Paris!” She thought, “My last report for Central Orion Protection and Security.”

The Doctor’s grin broadened as he paused to fine tune a setting on the TARDIS console. Although she was very intrigued as to whom this friend of his was, Catherine restrained herself from asking any further, just waited, patiently. When he finished, he turned back towards her, his eyes twinkling. “You may even have read of him through your interest in antiquities, Catherine.”

The Doctor’s grin changed to one of his illuminating smiles as he added, “His name was Christopher Wren.”

(* THE END *)

(* Next Story: ‘Purple Dust’ *)