Check out Alex’s update of the cover art! Enjoy!
A great opportunity has come my way for some amazing artwork to be used for my book, and I’d like YOU to be a partner in it!
Hi, I’m J. Dean (I know–you already know that, but bear with me, it’s part of the sales pitch ;) ), and I need your help!
I’m working together with artist Alex Rommel to put together a new cover for my novelThe Summoning of Clade Josso in hopes of presenting readers with a newer, more attractive cover. My goal is to raise $300 by July 31st in order to cover the remaining cost of the artwork commission.
Those who contribute $5 will receive .pdf copies of my first two novels, suitable for reading on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and also a public thank-you on my upcoming third novel.
Those who contribute $10 will receive all of the $5 gifts, PLUS my two short story collections Alternate Endings and Surrealities, Part I, as well as receive an advanced copy of The Summoning of Kran, due out later this year.
For a brief look at my available works, click HERE.
Please take a moment to check out the link below which explains the details for the commission. Thank you in advance for your support!
Sorry this took so long, but here’s the next installment in the Doctor Who short story. Enjoy!
Upon seeing it, the word was planted into the back of the Monitor’s mind, spreading cold, tingling tendrils throughout his body. He wanted to look away from it, to run and hide like a child from an imaginary monster in the closet, but a paralyzing dread coupled with the motionlessness of his two companions prevented him from exhibiting his true reaction in an open manner.
And he feared that, were he to turn his back upon it, it would swoop upon him and drag him into a haunted abyss a thousand times colder and blacker than the Void which surrounded the Keeper’s building.
It stood twice as tall as he did, perhaps even taller, and possessed a width across its chest and shoulders that may well have been impossible for him to encircle with outstretched arms. Limber, long limbs that appeared to be bone, sinew, and muscle covered by a tight and unyielding skin were attached to a trunk formed from the darkest of black, fashioned with the ripples and curves that denoted an absence of any excess fat. From the elongated, spindly fingers fell wisps of black smoke, as if it were bleeding some kind of noxious fume. Atop the shoulders sat a large, bulbous head, smooth and featureless, save for the twin protrusions which jutted from either side and formed a pair of horns that arced out beyond the shoulders and came together at a point central to the thing’s “face”—if it indeed could be called a face, as no external organs of any sort could be discerned upon the head, not even eyes. The head tapered to a sharp, angular chin which rested against its chest, suggesting a state of dormancy.
Discomfort prevailing, the Monitor took a step away from it. He looked at the Librarian and the Paladin, and saw that, like him, they too had retreated.
“What is that?” the Paladin hissed. Her rifle was now tight in her grip, ready to be used.
“Something I found,” the Keeper remarked, standing in front of it. She gave the trio half a smile. “I assure the three of you that it’s quite harmless in this state.”
The Monitor nodded, but did not approach. “Where did you find it?” the Librarian asked.
“In a desolate area, not far from the place which you have come to know as the Death Zone. But it was here long before all of that, before the time of Rassilon.”
The Monitor turned his attention upon her, thankful to tear his eyes away from the mammoth monstrosity behind her. “It’s a Gallifreyan creature?” he asked.
“I found it on our world, but it is not Gallifreyan in origin.” She turned back, looking up at the sleeping giant. “It arrived here sometime in the infancy of the planet, from somewhere else beyond our knowledge, perhaps even from another dimension. Precisely why, I cannot say.”
The Librarian moved to her side, reaching out and touching the transparent encasement. “Is it sentient?” he inquired.
“No… and yes. As absurd as it may sound, it is simultaneously both living and machine.”
“Like a Cyberman,” the Paladin put in.
“No, not like a Cyberman. The Cybermen impose their physical alterations upon unwilling subjects through violent and relatively primitive means. This—” she paused, stroking the glass, “—this is a perfect weaving together of the cybernetic and the organic. There is a seamless continuity to its structure. I can point out specific constructs within it which are artificial, in contrast to the aspects which are part of its natural biology, but to attempt to discern where the natural ends and the artificial begins is an impossible task to undertake. One simply blends into the other.”
Merriana nodded her head, a satisfied smile filling her face as she faced her guests. “It is as perfect a balance of natural and artificial life as I have ever found in this universe. To compare the work of beings such as Cybermen to it is like comparing a stone-age wheel to the TARDIS in terms of transportation capability.”
“So it’s dormant at the moment,” the Monitor said, unwilling to close the distance between himself and it. “When will it wake?”
“When I desire it to wake. Though my knowledge of the creature is limited, I can tell you that it seems to require a large amount of rest, as its energy expenditure is incredibly high, much like that of a shrew.”
“A what?” the Paladin asked.
“Earth creature,” the Librarian replied. “Requires almost ninety percent of its own body weight in food each day due to its high metabolism, or else it will die.”
The Keeper nodded in the elder man’s direction. “Precisely,” she concurred, “except that in the case of the Absolute Rectifier, it needs vast amounts of rest rather than food as we understand it. It does need to consume, yes, and it subsists on a diet of something other than conventional food, but sleep is far more valuable to it in one sense, as it can regenerate itself in a limited sense through unconsciousness, as if sleep serves as a sort of medical treatment for it.”
“I’m sorry, what did you call it?” the Monitor asked.
“The Absolute Rectifier.”
“And where did you contrive that name?”
“From it, because that is its name.”
The Monitor glanced at his two companions for a moment, then back at the Keeper as she continued. “An odd name, isn’t it? But that is its designation nevertheless, given to it by beings who may have ceased to exist long before it arrived on Gallifrey. When I came across it, I also found with it fragments of writing, inscribed with a language which I don’t dare pretend to understand. But when I woke it, it communicated with me, told me what it was called, and presented bits and pieces of its history to me, as fragmented and incomplete as the inscriptions that had accompanied it.”
She walked to the other side of the tall cylinder, gazing at the almost featureless face. “It must have lost a great deal of its memory, because it gave me so little detail. But it told me it was weak, told me it was dying. It had preserved as much of itself as it could through dormancy, but having been asleep for so many millennia, it needed to rise and eat. I told it that I’d do what I could to help it.”
She paused, looking at the other three with a soft expression. “Then the first attack came.”
The Monitor frowned “First attack?” he asked.
“Then and there, at the site. Two Time Lords from the future—from my future, that is—came to intercept me. Deverost and Qotile, they were called. Members of the Council.”
“How do you know this?” The Paladin challenged.
“Because they told me as much,” Merriana replied with a sour look. “Braggarts, they were. Talked on and on about how they had been ordered to come back and stop me from following through with my ‘diabolical plan,’ as they put it. Sadistic ones, too. Acted like they were getting their jollies from trying to intimidate me. If they’d had any sort of torture device on hand, I’m sure they would have loved to apply it.”
The Librarian mumbled something under his breath. “And what did you do, Keeper?” The Paladin asked.
“Me? I did nothing. The Absolute Rectifier, on the other hand…”
She took a step forward, a haunting stare filling her eyes. “It came to life,” she began, speaking in a tone that barely exceeded a whisper, “and sprang from its place. Advanced on the two Time Lords with a speed I’ve never before seen from any creature, blurring through the air like a fleeting shadow, as if it were unhindered by any natural force in its movements. Before I could react, it was upon them, and placed one hand on each face. Then they disappeared—all three of them, along with the TARDIS the Time Lords had arrived in! Half a moment later, the Absolute Rectifier returned. It thanked me for providing it with nourishment.”
“Nourishment?” the Monitor asked, “You mean it devoured the Time Lords?”
“Forgive me, Keeper—” the Librarian began.
“It did, in the blink of an eye.”
“So it lives on flesh and blood?” the Monitor continued. “It consumes creatures?”
“Not the way you’re thinking, Monitor.”
“My dear Keeper, I beg your pardon, but who did you say the Time Lords were who confronted you?”
The young woman turned toward the old man. “Deverost and Qotile,” she replied. “And I know what you’re going to tell me.”
“And what is that?” the Monitor asked.
“That no Time Lords called by those names ever existed.”
The Paladin looked at the Librarian. “Is she telling the truth?” she asked.
“She is,” the hairless Gallifreyan replied, nodding.
“Because the Absolute Rectifier did not simply kill them. It erased them from history. They never existed.”
The Monitor looked up at the ominous giant, unresponsive to the conversation about it. He took a step forward—a small step. “It did what?”
“That’s how it survives, Monitor. The Absolute Rectifier targets creatures and consumes them by essentially devouring their past, up to the point of their conception. It feeds upon their past existence through this method, essentially absorbing a lifetime in a fraction of a second.”
“Amazing!” the Librarian hissed.
The Paladin moved to the Keeper’s side. “Yet it doesn’t endanger you,” she said.
The other female shook her head. “It has something to do with the bond we’ve forged when it first awoke,” she replied. “It looks upon me as its liaison, for lack of a better way of putting it.”
“You mean as its master,” the Monitor quipped.
“I don’t think so,” the Keeper answered, her tone soft and pensive. “I don’t command it, per se, Monitor. I feel no sense of superiority over it. Nor do I detect a tension of power between the two of us. It’s… well, I suppose you could say that the relationship is not completely unlike that of an ideal marriage in which the husband and wife are on the same level of thought and purpose in every conceivable way. It’s a bond so perfect, so symbiotic, that it could almost be considered spiritual.”
The Paladin wrinkled her nose. “Who’d want to marry that?” she scowled, gesturing at the giant with the tip of her rifle.
“I don’t mean it in the physical sense, child,” the Keeper replied, winking.
The Monitor put his hands to his forehead. “But I’m lost here,” he said. “This thing, this—’Absolute Rectifier,’ as you put it—it simply caused two Time Lords to cease to exist?”
“Yes,” the Keeper murmured.
“Meaning that, in so doing, no other person would realize what had happened.”
“Precisely, Monitor. Deverost and Qotile are not simply dead; they never came into being at all. They were never born. They never grew up. If there were any significant historical acts caused by one or both of their actions, those acts never came to pass, or at least didn’t come to pass by their hand, meaning that history somehow changed. And the only reason I know this is because of my bond with the Absolute Rectifier. If I were not bonded to it, I would be as ignorant of their identities and existence as you.
“As a matter of fact, that’s one of the amazing things about this creature: it’s ability to defy what we consider to be fixed points in time through its ability to erase people from history. It is not bound to our rules, whether naturally occurring or artificially put into place. When the Absolute Rectifier decides to eliminate a being, that being will be eliminated, and not a single person will remember it after it has happened, nobody but me and the Rectifier itself.”
“How!?” the Monitor cried, shaking his head. “How is this possible!?”
Merriana held up a hand. “I have a theory about this,” she said, pointing to a waist-high object beside the unconscious Rectifier. “Observe.”
Finally, after years of wandering in the wilderness (read: being nitpicky about how my stories look to the point of being neurotic), I am pleased to say that Surrealities, Part I, is now available on Smashwords for only 99 cents!
(Pause for the audience to say “It’s about time!” :D )
So come on over and check out my first installment of a series of short stories that range from science fiction to outright horror. Each part of Surrealities will have a bit of a different theme, although all of them will include something unusual and off-kilter (just like me!). And my intention is that the next installment won’t take nearly as long for publication, so you should be seeing Part II coming out much sooner… so long as I am not abducted by aliens. Again.
Okay, back to insanity for me. Enjoy the stories, and let me know what you think of them! And as always, if you like them, tell other people about them!
See you in the Vein!
Greetings, Bearers (and recent Whovian visitors)!
My apologies to all of you, as I had intended to have something new for you, but have been a bit tied up due to a few personal circumstances (nothing life or death, mind you; but enough to keep me from what I love, which I don’t like). I’m still working, still writing, still putting things together.
Hope to have something soon for you all!
See you in the Vein!
Here’s part nine. And look for another short story to be showing up on Smashwords in the next two weeks!
See you in the Vein!
A pungent, musty odor struck their noses as they crossed the threshold of the door. “Ugh!” cried the Monitor, attempting to wave away the stench from his face. “Smells like a million years of death in here!”
“Not far from the truth, my dear Monitor,” the Keeper replied. “I advise you to watch your step as we go through. Forgive the clutter, please.”
Strewn across the floor in haphazard array were thick, tangled coils that pulsed with a faded, yellow light. A dim aura of deep purple outlined forms covered under massive tarps or blankets on either side of an elongated room. At the end of the hall-like chamber stood a massive, oblong form that stood more than twice as tall as the Librarian—who was not short in stature—and perhaps half as wide, its border also traced with a more brilliant shade of indigo.
“What are these?” the Paladin asked, gesturing toward the rows of concealed objects.
“See for yourself. Go on, uncover one.”
It was the Monitor who complied. Taking hold of the sheet nearest him, he gave it a firm tug, revealing a dark, familiar silhouette encased within a transparent, cylindrical tank of bubbling liquid that gave off the violet illumination. “Is that… is that a Dalek?” he gasped.
“Was a Dalek,” the Keeper corrected him. “The creature occupying that shell has been deceased for quite some time now. Same with that one you’re removing, Librarian.”
“A Cyberman!” the old Gallifreyan exclaimed, pointing to the metallic humanoid shape staring back at him. “You have a Cyberman encased in here! But how?”
“Straying into the Void somehow,” the Keeper answered. “Most of these containers contain one or the other of these two races, though there are a few rare exceptions. Sadly, they saw my Time-Locked building as a threat and attempted to enter in order to conquer or eradicate me. They used various means to break the Lock and enter—though none were fool enough to leave it open so that I could escape, unfortunately—and searched the structure for me, as I could not avoid detection from their scanners. Look here—”
She took several strides further down and tossed aside the covering. In the midst of the liquid was a scowling, fang-filled mouth, part of a grey, feminine creature that appeared to be frozen in a snarling gesture. A pair of large, triangular shapes that resembled avian wings appeared to rise from behind its shoulders.
“Ever see one of these?” the Keeper asked.
“Read about them,” the Librarian responded, leaning toward the canister. “Silent Assassins, they’re called. Not much is known about them, except that they’re one of the oldest living beings in the universe.”
“The story was that they devoured the unused time of their victims,” the Monitor added. “Moved so quickly that they could be upon you in the blink of an eye.”
“An apt observation,” the Keeper agreed, laying a bare, ivory arm upon the transparent exterior. “They cannot do anything when being observed, and reflexively resort to a quantum lock as a natural defense mechanism. But avert your eyes from them, even for the tiniest fraction of a second, and they’ll attack without warning or mercy.”
Merriana tapped the glass. “This one here made its way through the Lock somehow and tried to do that very thing to me. Caught me off guard, it did; I had no idea precisely when it arrived, but it attacked quickly. It tried to manipulate the illumination in the main chamber, and almost succeeded, creating dark spots by extinguishing the pillars somehow. It chased me back here, and I almost died.”
She stepped away from the immobile monster, giving the creature a curious stare as she tilted her head, as if seeing it for the first time ever. “Had I been alone, I might have died,” she murmured.
“That reference again,” the Monitor remarked. “Who is here with you?”
“A moment please, Monitor, and I will clarify that for you. But first I need to clarify my reasons for the placement of these figures in my suspension canisters.”
“I was going to inquire about that,” the Paladin said, giving the horrific stare of the angelic figure an uneasy look. “Are you using these creatures for some sort of experiment, dear Keeper?”
The dark-haired woman gave the soldier a glance. “For nutrition,” she answered.
“Nutrition?” the Monitor asked, puzzled. “You mean you consume them?” He threw his hands up in the hair before a response left her lips. “What sort of barbaric behavior is this!?” he thundered.
“I did not murder these creatures in cold blood, Monitor,” the Keeper replied, a hard edge accompanying her words. “They came aboard. They attacked me. And since I wasn’t expecting to be Time-Locked and propelled into the Void at the time of my intended departure, I didn’t exactly fill my building with ration stores for the journey.”
She pointed to the coiled, golden hoses at her feet. “And I do not eat them, Monitor. At least, not in the sense that you’re imagining. I consume them through a siphoning of energy.”
The Librarian stepped between the Montior and the Keeper. It did not escape his attention that the modified screwdriver in the Time Lord’s hand was shaking in the grip of a tightly clenched fist. “Energy?” he asked, “What sort of energy?”
Merriana averted her eyes from the Monitor. “Any energy I can obtain,” she explained. “Whether from biological or technological sources, I’ve modified some of the equipment in my laboratory to convert it all into a source of energy that I can use for physical sustenance. You see, when I was expelled here, something else happened to me; something physical.”
She replaced the blanket, covering the scream of the Silent Assassin, and continued to walk down the hall. “You Gallifreyans experience regenerations at the end of your lives as a result of exposure to the Time Vortex for so many generations, correct?”
“That’s right,” the Paladin answered quickly. “Twelve of them.”
“In the process of my exile, I was affected with a sort of inverse regeneration, a phenomenon that triggered the exact opposite biological change in me, which also altered me permanently. For example, where you expel a great deal of energy while undergoing your change from one incarnation to another, I require a massive consumption of energy for effecting my change.”
“Impossible!” the Monitor snorted.
“So you say, and so I would have agreed in my younger years, Monitor, but as it is, I have somehow been altered, and I assure you that this alteration to my physiology is reality. What’s more, you will undergo a complete and drastic makeover in who you are, correct? Eye color, hair color, height, weight—all of it is subject to change when you regenerate. My regenerations only serve to reset my age in my current body. Had you seen me before my first regeneration, I was the same person you see now, only much older. I do not have the luxury—or perhaps you do not see it as such—of becoming an entirely different person with different features when it is time for me to undergo my change.”
She stopped at the oblong object at the end of the hall. “Furthermore,” she continued, “I now must consume energy for myself on a regular basis in order to live. Shortly after my banishment to the Void, I scavenged my building for food but found only a few paltry leftovers. When I tried to eat, I couldn’t keep the food down. My body had rejected regular food, yet I was still hungry. Ravenous, in fact. And I panicked as well, as I could not consume any Gallifreyan morsels yet simultaneously could do nothing about the hunger building up within me.”
“How did you learn about your condition?” the Librarian inquired.
“Accidentally, to be honest. I came into the control room, quite irritable and impatient from failing to satisfy my hunger. The engine was giving me grief, and in a fit of rage I removed a panel below one of the consoles and pulled out one of the conduits—a foolish thing to do, I know, but in the process I received a surge of energy which, in all frankness, should have killed me then and there. But it didn’t; it satisfied me. Made the gnawing hunger go away. I felt strong, revived, as healthy as I had ever felt.”
“And now you ingest the energy of other living things?” the Monitor asked. “Horrific!”
The Keeper glared at the Time Lord. “If it makes you feel any better,” she replied, “the majority of the energy siphoned from the Daleks and Cybermen comes from the energy stored within their armor, not their biomass.”
“And what of the Silent Assassin?” the Monitor countered, pointing toward the now-covered canister. “How much ‘mechanical’ energy are you extracting from it?”
“Would you rather I be dead and you having to deal with it instead of me right now?”
“That’s not the point!”
“It is from my perspective, Monitor. Survival is my priority now. And if that’s too ‘barbaric’ for you, then perhaps we should trade places and see whether or not you would make the same decisions I was forced to make. Considering your status as a politician, I don’t think your conscience would serve as too much of a deterrent for you…”
The Monitor let out a disgusted grunt, folding his arms. “How could the two of you bring me here to deal with somebody like her?” he asked.
“My lord,” the Paladin answered, “with all due respect, you’re being unfair to her. She was merely trying to survive.”
“I’m not a monster, Monitor,” the Keeper protested. “I simply need to sustain myself, and used the remains of these creatures—who initiated contact by attacking me, mind you—for my sustainment.”
The black-robed Gallifreyan male glared at the Keeper for a moment, then returned his attention to the other two. “I’m only trying to survive, Monitor!” the Keeper called. “I didn’t ask for this change to be bestowed upon me!”
“We can help you,” the Librarian replied, laying a hand on the Monitor’s shoulder. “We can bring her back, restore her to her former state.”
The younger Monitor turned back toward his companion. “Are you certain of that?” he asked.
“Positive! We have the greatest scientific minds of the universe at our disposal! If anybody can effect such a change, it’s the brilliant minds of our very own people!”
“Who have been whisked away, mind you!”
“Yes,” the Keeper added, her voice sullen. “I know of this as well.”
The Monitor scowled at her. “Do you?” he replied. “Do you know how it happened?”
“I do,” she answered. “My own eyes bore witness to it during one of my excursions back to Gallifrey. I watched as the Dalek fleet closed in upon our world, pulverizing it with an endless barrage of firepower and ground invasion forces. Then I saw him… saw them… as they came and took it away.”
“You saw him?” the Paladin asked. “You saw the Doctor?”
Merriana nodded. “Watched as he came in all of his incarnations, arriving in that peculiar-looking TARDIS of his. I watched him rip Gallifrey from its orbit and hide it from the known universe.”
The Monitor turned toward the Keeper. “Then you’re aware of the Doctor?”
The young woman gave him a quizzical expression. “Aware of him?” she replied, chuckling. “I’ve followed him ever since happening upon him during a trek to the planet Mondas. Of all the Time Lords who have existed, who have gained notoriety through their various flights to diverse locations in time and space, I have found the Doctor to be the most interesting subject that I have ever studied. More so than even Calibus Kang.”
“Who?” the Paladin asked.
“A Gallifreyan thief who once stole an early model of a TARDIS. Vanished without a trace. Nobody knew what became of him,” the Monitor said.
“Oh?” the Keeper asked, a smirk filling her face. “I know what became of him.”
The Librarian looked upon her with interest. “You do?”
“That’s not important!” the Monitor growled. “Back to the matter at hand, Keeper! What all do you know of the Doctor?”
“Probably as much as he knows about himself. I’ve borne witness to his companions, his friends, his lovers, his travels, his enemies—I’ve seen him stand before many, and I’ve seen him in complete solitude. I’ve heard words uttered by him when he thinks nobody is around, and I’ve heard him deliver grand orations for encouragement and instruction. I’ve seen how clever he is, how remarkably resourceful. I’ve observed him in his many regenerations, studied him while engaged in his many adventures. I’ve learned so much about him, having spent the span of multiple lifetimes fascinated simply by him.”
“So you know what sort of fellow he is,” the Librarian commented.
“My dear Librarian,” the Keeper replied, walking over to him and placing a hand upon his elbow, “I have seen and heard more of the Doctor than any other living being in this or any other universe. I know him through an intimacy that even his own wife has not experienced.”
“He had a wife?” the Paladin asked.
“Of course!” the Keeper replied. “Child and grandchild too! Didn’t you and the other Time Lords know of this?”
The Monitor and the Librarian exchanged uncertain glances. “Well…” the Monitor began.
“Do you even know his name?”
“Of course!” the Monitor barked. “Do you?“
“I’m willing to wager that I heard it before you were ever born, Monitor.”
“Enough!” snapped the Librarian, stepping away from the Keeper. “This bickering is fruitless!”
The Keeper retreated half a step back. The Monitor and the Paladin stared with wide eyes at the old fellow, not expecting the otherwise timid Librarian to raise his voice with such authority and ferocity.
The Librarian looked at the Keeper. “My dear Keeper,” he began, “our purpose for seeking you out centers directly upon the person of the Doctor. We need to undo what he has done to Gallifrey, and we need your assistance.”
“As I recall, it was the Doctor’s little ‘trick’ that saved our home world,” the Keeper responded. “Why would you wish to undo that?”
“Because it’s his fault Gallifrey was invaded to begin with!” the Monitor thundered. “If it weren’t for his meddling in the affairs of so many worlds, the war would never have taken place!”
“Are you so sure of that?”
“Positive! You yourself said that you saw the cataclysmic effects of changes to come as a result of staring into the Vortex, yes? You think that the Doctor had no impact on any of those?”
“On the contrary,” the Keeper answered, “I do believe it. But even if I could help you, what benefit would I receive from it.”
The Librarian waved at the ceiling. “How about liberation?” he asked. “I’m sure that the Monitor would not object to a full pardon from exile in the Void. Am I right, Monitor?”
The younger male glanced at the Librarian. “Well… properly speaking, we’d need to arraign her, bring her back to the Citadel,” he murmured. “But if—if—she can follow through with removing the Doctor’s influence, I believe such a bargain can be struck.”
The Keeper studied the two males for a moment, then at the Paladin. “What they say is true, Keeper,” the soldier replied.
The face of the ancient Gallifreyan collapsed into an expression of fatigued relief. “Home,” she whispered. “To see home again, not as a phantom, but as a real person. To walk among the people, interact with them, experience the warmth of human touch. My dear Gallifreyan friends, I would love nothing more than to go home again. That alone would make this endeavor worthwhile.”
The Librarian and the Paladin grinned, the latter coming to the former and giving her a strong hug. “The Keeper will be brought home and vindicated!” he announced.
“Not so fast,” the Monitor responded. “This is all contingent upon her concoction of a plan to undo the work of the Doctor. First we must see results.”
“She will do it, Monitor,” the Librarian assured him. “She is the Keeper, possessing a mind with a brilliance and wisdom well beyond her years.”
“And I can do it,” Merriana added. “In fact, it is with my own ‘companion’ that I will be able to accomplish this task.”
She returned to the oblong form at the end of the hall. “And how exactly will you accomplish this?” the Monitor challenged. “Go back in time yourself and thwart each and every attempt of the doctor to interfere with history?”
“No,” the Keeper replied, pressing a button on the wall. “I will accomplish this by preventing the Doctor from ever seeing history.”
Here’s the next part. Enjoy!
It was familiar, yet foreign.
After passing what seemed to be an infinite stretch of the monotonous layout of shimmering pillars, they entered a chamber that was circular in design, bathed in shifting colors that emanated from between the seams of a metallic cylinder at the center of the room. Surrounding the cylinder—which had been pieced together by connecting various metals of diverse shapes, colors, and sizes—was a console; not circular like the control station of the TARDIS, but quadrilateral in design, and hardly as elegant, as the multitude of controls had a cobbled, disorganized appearance. The look of the walls was hardly any better, cluttered with pipes and conduits both insulated and exposed that ran haphazard courses, smothering everything save for the areas near three doors set apart from each other at equidistant intervals.
“What is this?” the Monitor asked. “Is this a TARDIS?”
“Of sorts,” the Keeper replied as she walked to the far wall, adjusting what appeared to be a horizontal row of valve wheels. “Far more primitive and limited in its design, of course. Ideally, it would have required ten people in here to operate it with maximum efficiency, far less than what you use for yours, I’m sure.”
“But if you lived at the time of the Vortex’s construction—”
“I wouldn’t have known what a TARDIS was?” Merriana replied, finishing the Monitor’s thought. “Quite right, Time Lord.”
“The Vortex did it,” the Librarian remarked, studying the table. “She foresaw the TARDIS, learned its design, and built it from memory.”
“I cannot claim all of the credit, of course,” The Keeper added. “And I must apologize for the slipshod appearance of the control room, as it was put together with spare parts and rudimentary knowledge. Compared to yours, mine may as well have been fashioned with sticks and stones. But Pelegus and the few others who believed me heard me out when I described it to them, drew up a basic plan for the device, and set up the top floor of this research building in which we are now housed to build it.”
“Hardly your fault,” the Librarian answered. “You were working with little more than an image burned into your head concerning technology that had not yet existed.”
The Keeper turned toward him. “Not to mention working on it in secret,” she said. “By this time, I was eyed suspiciously on a regular basis. Far too many of my colleagues and the authorities of my time no longer regarded me as simply a bit off-center. By then, there were several who were pushing for me to be relocated, to be kept as far away from the Time Vortex as possible. I had to lay low, to go about my business as inconspicuously as possible. It required me to pilfer items from our labs in order to use them for construction. Many longs months passed, with me and my faithful handful of friends obtaining the necessary pieces, sacrificing many hours of sleep and recreation in order to fashion what you see here now.”
“A pity you never learned whether or not it worked,” The Paladin commented, her eyes trying to follow the crisscrossing jumble of conduits. “You built it in order to go back in time and prevent the construction of the Vortex, yes?”
“I did do that. But I did learn that it worked, and my first expedition with it took me somewhere else with it.”
The Keeper ran her hand across the side of the control console as she continued, “In my time staring at the Vortex, I saw a great many things, far more than even you Time Lords and Ladies have ever seen in your many incarnations. The schematics and building of this… ‘pre-TARDIS,’ if you will… was one of the most significant visions I had. But I had a vision of something else too, something that I needed to investigate, and that was to be my test run of this vehicle. After that, if it worked, I would then set course for the recent past of my own life and dissuade myself from the Vortex.”
“What about risking a time paradox?” The Paladin asked.
“Wasn’t thinking about that at the time. All of the nuances and intricacies you associate with time travel in your day weren’t at the forefront of my mind. All I really wanted to do at the time was undo what I had done. But first, I had to test the vessel, in order to ensure that it worked. And one of my… visions, for lack of a better word… revealed to me the place I was to first go.”
Merriana approached a large lever and gave it a strained push. From somewhere above came a deep-throated mechanical rumble, as if a monstrous, ill-tempered beast composed of metal had been awakened from its slumber. “A good thing I tested it when I did,” she added. “Otherwise, I would never have acquired it.”
“It? What is this ‘it’ that you acquired?” The Librarian asked.
The Keeper’s eyes lifted to the upright metal cylinder confined in the console station. Beams of ghostly light seeping through the seams settled upon her, giving her an almost angelic appearance as she smiled. “Something beautiful,” she whispered, then added as she looked at the others, “perhaps I shall introduce you to it shortly, yes?”
The Monitor looked at the Librarian and the Paladin with a quizzical expression. The other two could only respond with uncertain shrugs.
“First, however,” the Keeper continued, “allow me to demonstrate what strange phenomenon occurred to me when I attempted to dismantle the Vortex.”
She hurried to the opposite side of the station, her hands dancing and skipping over a multitude of asymmetrical arrays of buttons, dials, and switches. The rumbling began to increase in volume and intensity. “I assume the two of you know the story as to my exact circumstances which led me here?” she asked the Librarian and the Paladin.
They both nodded vigorously in response, while the Paladin leaned close to the Monitor’s ear, as the rumble of the Keeper’s machine made it difficult to hear room’s-length discussion at a normal volume level. “She was preparing to go back to the date of the Vortex’s inception,” she began to explain, “to prevent its construction. A TARDIS from a later date landed near the Vortex, just as the Keeper arrived. Merriana attempted to flee, but the Time Lords from that TARDIS—and to this day, we don’t know who they were, only that they came from a later era in history—those Time Lords placed a Time Lock on this building as she initiated an escape. Somehow, it sent her here, to the Void.”
“I believe it had something to do with me operating my ‘pre-TARDIS’ so close to the Vortex opening,” the Keeper announced in an almost shouting voicel. “I escaped the Time Lords, but not before they locked me inside my own building. You could say that I fled the prison and took my cellblock with me.”
She returned to the side nearest the other three. “You may want to hold on to something,” she cried. “This is going to be a bit rough!”
The Monitor thought he was going to die.
As soon as the Keeper had slapped a palm-sized red button, the entire building lurched. A scream that blended cutting metal and raucous alarms boomed through the chamber, piercing his head with sound waves as sharp as blades that aggravated his almost-tolerable headache. Steam hissed from various conduits on the walls, filling the room with a thick wall of fog, obscuring his view of the Keeper and her control station.
Then… spinning! Spinning wildly, like a top in its final rotations ready to topple over. He fell to the floor, hands pressed into the smooth surface in a vain attempt to keep from moving. Glancing over, he saw that his companions were suffering the same fate; the Paladin had crashed into one of the far walls and was gripping her forearm, the rifle little more than two meters away from her. The Librarian was flat on his back, eyes shut, as if he were in a state of either extreme pain or extreme terror… or perhaps a bit of both.
And then it stopped. The floor became upright. The artificial scream died down to its previous state of rhythmic thrumming. The dense cloud of smoke, as suddenly as it had appeared, dissipated into nothingness.
“I must apologize for that,” the Keeper confessed, coming over to assist the Librarian and the Paladin to their feet. The Monitor did not wait for her help; he climbed to a wobbling, unsteady standing position. His hand reached for the nearest wall.
“I wouldn’t do that, Monitor,” the Keeper advised. “The conduits are rather hot to the touch for several moments after use.”
The Gallifreyan man glanced at the brazen crisscross of pipes, then retracted his hand. “What did you do?”
“Why, I used my device!” the Keeper answered.
“But how?” The Paladin asked, retrieving her rifle. “We’re in a Time Lock!”
“Yes, we are. And… no, we are not. At least, not in one sense. Follow me.”
She started for one of the other doors, the one to the left of the door they had used to enter the control room. The panel slid away, revealing a vast expanse of stars and galaxies in an infinite display before them.
“We’re no longer in the Void!” The Librarian cried.
“Oh no, Librarian; we are. Were you to retrace your steps to your TARDIS and leave through the Time Lock, you’d find yourself back in the black sea you swam through in order to find me. But at the same time, we are back in the universe—that is, in our universe proper, as we know it.”
She backed away from the door, closing it. “You see, something else happened when those Time Lords placed me in the time lock,” she explained. “Somehow, in a way I do not understand no matter how many times I have undertaken studies to try, I can still operate my vessel. I can go to other places, just like you in your TARDIS. I can slip through different epochs in history, different dimensions, different universes—all of those things that you can do, I can do as well. But, at the same time, I can go everywhere, and yet can go nowhere.”
She returned to the console, examining a monitor that displayed something not unlike a galactic map. “You see,” she continued, “I can go where and when I please, be it a city, a planet, a solar system, a galaxy—wherever I desire. I can even walk through that door and leave my vessel, just like you. But beyond that, I can do nothing.”
“Nothing?” the Monitor asked. “How is that?”
“Because I do not exist out there,” the Keeper replied. “I am invisible in every sense of the word, no matter where I go. I cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be interacted with. I cannot manipulate anything in the environment around me; if I saw something that I wanted to eat, for instance, I would be unable to pick it up and bite it. Nor could I pick up and throw a rock in order to get the attention of somebody else.”
“Like a ghost?” The Paladin asked.
“For lack of a better way to put it, yes. I am, in one sense, the ultimate spectator to reality. I can see and hear anything I want, but I do it all in eternal anonymity, without anybody or anything ever being aware of my existence. My prototype TARDIS can take me anywhere, allow me to experience the past, the present, and the future, in this and any other reality. And I’ve visited many a realm in many a civilization. But I cannot participate in any of it. I can only watch and learn.”
“What a horrid and lonely existence!” the Librarian exclaimed. “I would think that such a state would make you go mad!”
“Oh believe me, Librarian, I’ve kissed insanity more than once during this exile,” the Keeper said. “In fact, were it not for my first discovery prior to being encased in the Time Lock, I very well might have gone mad. But the truth is, I’m not alone in this place.”
“I suppose not,” the Monitor reasoned. “You may not be heard or seen by the places you’ve been, but in a sense you really aren’t truly alone, are you?”
“A valid point, Monitor, but not what I was referring to. Even before your arrival, and even after your departure, I will not be alone.”
“You mean to say that somebody else is here with you?” the Paladin inquired.
The Keeper looked at the young woman, gave her a sly smile. “That is certainly one way to think of it,” she answered. “I believe it’s time for you to look behind my third door and see what I’m referring to.”
The dark-haired female drifted to the panel, then turned to the trio of travelers. “Shall we continue our tour?” she asked.
Here’s the next part. And hopefully I’ll have another release coming up in the next month for you to enjoy!
See you in the Vein!
The trio of newcomers walked among the pillars, following the form of the young woman who led them on. The Librarian watched with puzzled curiosity at the place where the Keeper’s dark robe met the shimmering blue texture of the floor, gliding across without interruption, as if the young woman were indeed a specter, floating across the vast chamber. The Paladin continued to look left and right, her soldierly instincts refusing to permit her more than a moment of relaxation or diversion in an alien environment. She did not relax the grip on her rifle.
“So you are saying,” the Monitor began, “that it was your science that gave birth to the Vortex?”
“I am saying precisely that, Monitor,” the Keeper replied. “Oh, to be sure I was not the first to theoretically conceive it, but it was I who put forth the specifics regarding its development. It was with my formulae and designs that it came into being, that we constructed the portal that gives access to the Vortex, the very same one used by later generations of your Time Lords and Ladies when they cause the children of Gallifrey to stare into its heart.”
The Monitor split off from the others for a moment, evading a pillar in his path “But… but why erase your record if you hold such a significant place in our history?” he asked.
“Because she demanded it be destroyed,” the Librarian answered.
“It’s true,” Merriana agreed. “I wanted to undo what I had done. And I demanded as such to the leaders of our day in a public hearing.” She looked back at the Monitor. “That thing you and nearly all other Gallifreyans worship as the pinnacle of progress for our people had become a monster which had to be eliminated for the good of our beloved planet, as well as for a great many other species that span this and other universes.”
The Paladin leaned in toward the monitor. “She had looked into the Vortex herself just after its completion,” she explained. “And she saw everything.”
“Everything? You mean you went mad, yes?”
“No,” the Keeper replied, raising a hand. “The Paladin is right; I saw everything in an instant. I saw the past, the future, the present. I saw societies rise and fall, individuals as they were born, lived, and died. I saw wars fought. Battles won. Battles lost. Enslavement. Liberation. I saw the creation and the desolation of planets, solar systems, entire galaxies. I saw it all from the panoramic view of a god, and also from the limited, personal views of a billion different aliens on a billion different worlds. To put it bluntly, I saw time and space as they were, before any being ever set foot in the Vortex.
“And then I saw it all collapse into chaos. I saw the lives of many who would never exist because of temporal interference. I saw civilizations that should have come to a close prolonged instead through the changing of events, changed with the best of intentions but resulting in good societies becoming corrupted and evil permitted to fester in a manner that would not have happened had those civilizations been left as they were to change or end. I saw individuals look upon death as an opponent to be cheated, and as such went to great lengths to avoid it, even at the expense of mistreating others through cavalier means and altering their futures in a damning, irreparable way. I saw unintended paradoxes take place. I saw time travelers flaunt their abilities as if they were deities to be worshiped—or devils to be feared.”
Her head dropped as she continued to talk in a sullen tone. “I don’t know how long I had gazed into it,” she continued. “Couldn’t have been more than a few moments, as I had managed to be alone with the Vortex for a brief time. An hour at most. But when I came to, a number of my colleagues were standing over me. They said I had been standing there, oblivious to anything around me as if I had been in a trance, speaking to the Vortex. They said I spoke about things unfamiliar, things alien. Phrases mentioning technologies and sciences unfamiliar to them, along with references that made little sense. A few contested that I even talked in what sounded like different languages at certain times. Then, I collapsed.”
The Monitor looked at his two traveling companions. “Forgive my perceived skepticism, Keeper, but what you described very well could be considered madness,” he answered. “The Vortex has induced madness upon many a Gallifreyan, and the symptoms have been quite diverse in their manifestations.”
“Your skepticism if forgiven, Monitor,” the Keeper replied. “Were I in your position, I would look upon myself with the same sort of supposition. But madness occludes the mind, makes it foggy, unclear, difficult to think clearly. I, on the other hand, was then, and now, as lucid in my thoughts as ever I had been in my entire life.”
“And she said as much,” the Librarian added. “Not long after that, she told her colleagues—including Pelegas Transel—of what she had seen, and she begged them, pled with them to cease from their work and dismantle the Vortex. But Pelegas was the only one who would give ear to her warnings.”
“And only half-heartedly, at first,” Merriana added. “He retained some apprehension about it. I sympathized with him; I really did. His passion was science realized, and this was beyond anything that he or others had ever fathomed as a reality. What you take for granted in your time was nothing more than fantasy and speculation in ours.”
“And nothing you said would dissuade them? Not even after what they had seen happen to you?”
The young face looked back at the Monitor with a sly smile. “Quite the lot we scientific types are, yes?” she answered. “Almost as bad as politicians in our stubbornness. But at least scientists are a bit better about abstaining from hypocrisy.”
The Monitor scowled at her as she resumed her forward direction. “I went to the leaders of our day, explained what had happened to me and what I had seen. Unfortunately, most of my colleagues caught wind of my plan and got to them first, undermining my attempts. And for them, I am sad to say, it worked.”
“They wouldn’t let her near the Vortex after that,” the Librarian said. “Feared she might attempt sabotage. Tried having you placed under arrest as well, didn’t they?”
“They did try that, but as it was I had committed no crime, and was showing no signs of actual insanity, so they couldn’t have me imprisoned or hospitalized,” she replied, then added with a chuckle, “but oh how they watched me for several days in hopes that I might act rashly and end up in custody!”
“So what did you do after that?” the Monitor inquired.
“Quit, didn’t you?” the Paladin asked. “That’s what our record of your life says.”
“Not before scavenging several items from our laboratory and going out on a little excavation of my own,” she answered. “My exposure to the Vortex opened my eyes to many things, including secrets on our own home planet, things that much of our populace remained highly ignorant about.”
The Keeper flashed another smile at the inquisitive man. “Perhaps it’s far better that I show you firsthand,” she answered.
A face no longer shrouded in blackness stared back at them.
Two eyes dotted with inky pools for pupils peered at them, housed within the rounded face of a Gallifreyan female that barely passed as that of an adult. A weave of thick, black hair that glinted in the surrounding light spilled over her shoulders as the hood fell away. The Monitor held his breath for a moment, peering at the stranger with a stunned expression, as the revelation of her visage surpassed his expectation in appearance. He couldn’t help but feel somewhat captivated by her unexpected beauty, and found it difficult at first to take his eyes away from her.
“We’ve kept your memory alive for so long, Merriana,” the Librarian began, taking a step toward her. The Paladin lowered her rifle as a relieved smile spread across her face. “Preserved it from generation to generation on Gallifrey. We, the Coven of the Keeper, remember you for who you really are.”
The Monitor blinked, regaining his senses. She had been staring back at him with a demure, almost bashful smile, causing him to forget for a moment the entire predicament. “You mean this woman—this child—is the Keeper?” he asked in disbelief.
“I must admit, it’s not the name I chose for myself, but I am the one known by that designation, yes,” she replied, nodding.
“Impossible!” the Monitor snorted. “Even granting the possibility that the Keeper does exist—which I do not yet grant, mind you!—you, my child, look nothing like her depictions! The Keeper is a monster! A hag found in stories and fables told to our children in order to preserve integrity in their daily lives! For someone like you to—”
“Heart of gold, in goodness be bold,”
“—be compared with such a myth—”
“Hold fast to the right and the true,”
“—is… I’m sorry?”
“Lest your soul be sold, and a tattle be told, and the Keeper one night comes for you,” Merriana finished. “That’s the way the rhyme goes, yes?”
The Monitor furrowed his brow. “Of course!” he exclaimed. “Nearly every Gallifreyan child hears it in their earliest years! Why wouldn’t you know it?”
“My lord,” the Paladin offered, “may I remind you that she is Time-Locked?”
“And in the Void as well?” the Librarian added. “Merriana is the Keeper, my lord Monitor. And as you can plainly see, she is not a myth, but lives and breathes as we do.”
“I don’t know if I would say that,” Merriana interrupted. “After all, I have had to make lifestyle changes, as there are limitations to my existence in this place.”
“And speaking of that, exactly how and why are you in the Void like this, my child?” the Monitor inquired.
“I was banished here, sir.”
“Banished? For what reason?”
“Because I tried to undo what I had done,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “I had done something horrible, something terrible upon Gallifrey. And when I tried to undo what I had done, others prevented me from my attempt to make penance for my transgression.”
“Child,” the Monitor said, moving beside her, “you can’t be more than a year into adulthood. Surely there is nothing you’ve done that cannot be fixed. I can’t imagine any Gallifreyan authority taking such a drastic action as exile into the Void for a single individual such as yourself! What evil could you have done that earned you this terrible sentence?”
“She changed the course of the planet’s development, my lord,” the Paladin remarked. “So villainous and repulsive did they find her that she was removed from the pages of Gallifrey’s history. Search for her records high and low on our planet, and you’ll find no trace of her existence, save for the Coven.”
“Indeed,” the Librarian agreed. “Our founder, Pelegas Transel, was there the day sweet Merriana was banished. He recorded everything that happened that day, hid it away even after the authorities gathered together after the exile and ordered that none should ever talk or write of this matter ever again under penalty of sharing the same fate. He passed it on to his disciples, who in turn copied the things recorded and spread them among our people, thus giving birth to the Coven of the Keeper. He preserved the truth even when those who did away with it invented the distorted fables and rhymes told even today that make our beloved Keeper into some kind of monster, which she plainly is not.”
The Monitor circled his traveling companions, exchanging looks with them and Merriana as he answered. “Forgive my skepticism, madam,” he began, “but while I’ve seen great good and great evil manifested at the level of the individual, I find it hard to believe that you pose any sort of threat level worth the sentence of exile. And as for the two of you, for you to follow the words of Pelegas Transel is even more incredulous! Pelegas Transel was one of the first to go mad upon gazing into the Time Vortex!”
“Not true, my lord,” the Paladin answered in a timid voice.
“What do you mean?”
“Pelegas Transel did not go mad when he looked into the Time Vortex, my lord.”
“Ah, Pelegas,” Merriana sighed. “A good friend, he was. Always lent an ear when I needed to talk and the rest of the planet thought I’d lost my mind.”
“Are you both daft!?” the Monitor scowled, ignoring the stranger’s comment. “It’s as plain a truth as can be found in the annals of the Citadel! Pelegas Transel was among those responsible for the initial construction of the Vortex, and went mad after gazing into it unsupervised! This is taught to every child in the introduction to Gallifreyan history!”
“Pelegas was as sane and level-headed a fellow as ever there was,” Merriana announced. “If the three of you will accompany me, I can explain everything to you along the way.”
“Nonsense!” the Monitor bellowed. “I want an explanation now! No more talk of fantastic conspiracies about our history; this is not why I came! Now tell me, my child: how is it that you claim to know so much about one of our earliest historical figures and speak of him as if he were your peer when you obviously have no means to travel about where you wish?”
“I claim to know, sir, because I was there,” Merriana replied, her voice carrying a hardened edge. “And I speak in such a way because I take responsibility for the filching of his good name, as he came to my defense when I renounced what I had done with regard to the Time Vortex.”
“What do you mean by what you had done!? You telling me that you had a hand in the construction of the Vortex, child?”
The raven-haired woman glared at the Time Lord. “First of all,” she began, her voice now raised and without fatigue, “I am not a child, Monitor. Or should I call you by your proper name, Vallas Risidor, son of Telos?”
The Monitor’s face changed from anger to shock. “How could you—?”
“Oh yes, Vallas. I’ve watched you from the time of your youth. I know you are on your third regeneration, and have been secretly hoping that you will be given political favors from those in power once Gallifrey is restored. I know you were married twice, have a son and a daughter from your second marriage, and that you’re considering a third marriage with Time Lady Bethine.”
Merriana glanced at her two disciples, who looked on with a mix of admiration and surprise. “Shall I continue with other, more sordid details of your life? Perhaps say something about the failed negotiations with the Sontarans during the Andromeda dispute? Would you like to share with your colleagues here exactly whose fault it was that those negotiations failed?”
“No!” the Monitor exclaimed, “No! That’s—that’s enough! Please! I’m sorry… Forgive me my insolence!” he looked at the Librarian and the Paladin, looked away again upon seeing their inquisitive expressions. “You’ve said enough, Merriana. I will challenge you no more on this.”
The young Gallifreyan woman’s face relaxed. “Thank you,” she answered in a low tone. “I take no pleasure in arguments, Monitor. I did that many a millennium before you were born. Now, as I said, please follow me, and I will be happy to explain more.”
The Keeper turned toward the direction from which she had initially come. “And as for your other question about my having a hand in the construction of the Time Vortex, Monitor, that too is not quite correct.”
“How so?” the Monitor murmured.
“Because I am the reason for the existence of the Time Vortex.”
Before I begin, I just wanted to give a shout out to those of you who took advantage of the free offer of Alternate Endings. I hope you enjoy what you read, and hope to hear from you soon about it! Let me know what you think!
And now, for the next part of my fanfic. Enjoy!
See you in the Vein!
From the pillars, from the ceiling, from the floor, from the darkness beyond, from everywhere and yet from nowhere they came: screams. Screams of mourning, of fright, of joy and delight. Of lust and hate. Of desperation and madness. Screams of infants and of elderly. Of men and women. Of voices both familiar and alien. They rolled through the vast expanse of the chamber and crashed upon the Gallifreyan trio, drowning them in a cacophonous roar, awakened from the slumber of a monstrous nightmare.
The three dropped to their knees, clapping their hands against their ears in a futile effort to prevent the horrifying cries from piercing their minds. Searing pain burned within their heads, filling their vision with dizzying stars. The Paladin’s rifle clattered against the currents of blue flowing through the solid floor; she went to reach for it, but the disembodied wailing chorus prevented her from retracting her hand from her ear for more than a sliver of a moment.
Then, as suddenly it had started, it ceased.
The Librarian was the first to release his ears. He rose, blinking away the scattering pinpoints of imaginary light that occluded areas of his vision. “What was that?” he gasped.
“You tell me, old man,” the Monitor grunted, shaking his head as if waking from a deep sleep. He buried his face behind his fingers, groaning. “Aren’t you the one who arranged this excursion to meet your imaginary Keeper?”
“Like hearing the echoes of the damned,” the Paladin murmured, retrieving her weapon. She began to look about. “I’ve no desire to hear that ever again, Librarian.”
“Nor I, child.”
“Count that for all three of us,” the Monitor added. “My headache has increased a hundredfold.”
“My lord!” The Paladin hissed, raising her weapon.
The Librarian gave the female Gallifreyan an unsure look, then followed her gaze, his face shifting from perplexed to amazed. The Monitor lowered his hands from his aching forehead, turning to look upon whatever had gained the attention of the soldier and the elder Time Lord.
A form in the darkness.
Distant, shrouded in some sort of robe, it walked toward them—no, not walking; it’s movement suggested floating, as if it had no feet. Beyond the general shape of a hooded head and robed shoulders, no other features could be made out, and even as it slowed, reducing its distance to little more than half a dozen steps away from the Gallifreyans and their TARDIS, they could discern no other details.
The Paladin glanced back at the other two, making sure they remained behind her. “Identify yourself!” she ordered, keeping the rifle trained upon the newcomer.
The mysterious figure did not move. It’s face—if indeed it had one—remained obscured in a thick mask of unnatural blackness.
“I repeat, identify yourself!” The Paladin snapped.
“Please,” the Librarian began, taking a step forward. The Paladin sidestepped in his direction, careful to prevent him from advancing beyond her. “Please, we seek the Keeper!” he pleaded. “Are you the Keeper?”
“We demand your identity, alien!” the Monitor announced, his quantum screwdriver in hand. “We do not wish to employ hostile methods, but we will defend ourselves if the situation requires it.”
The hooded being held its ground without words.
“We beg you for assistance, friend,” the Librarian pleaded. “We have come a great distance to seek the Keeper. We’re Gallifreyans, like she. Please… if you are she, or if you know her whereabouts, we beg you for assistance in locating her.”
At the Librarian’s mention of their planet of origin, the figure’s head moved—slightly. After another moment of silence, a voice came from within the concealing blackness of the hood: warm, low, feminine, somewhat fatigued.
“Gallifreyans?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes, that’s right!” the Librarian answered with excitement.
“From Gallifrey? In the constellation of Kasterborous?”
“Yes! From home!”
“Home,” the voice moaned. The hooded head turned downward, the shoulders relaxing. “I’ve not heard that word spoken to me in the span of a million lifetimes.”
The Monitor stepped beside the Paladin, holding his screwdriver parallel to the aimed rifle. “Who are you?” he demanded. “Our sentry ordered your identification, yet you have not yet provided it!”
The head raised again. “Who am I?” it—she—asked, then added with a laugh. “It’s been so long since I’ve uttered my own name, I don’t even know that I know it anymore.”
The form began to move to the right of the guarded trio, passing behind a shimmering column for a brief moment. “I did know it at one time,” she continued, “along with knowing everything else. I could tell you everything about myself: about where I lived as a child, where I received my education, what my parents and siblings were like, what meals I enjoyed on warm nights when the moons of Gallifrey paraded across the black theater of stars like actors in a play taking center stage. And now…”
The figure paused, facing the travelers. “Now I know everything. I know the past. I know the future. I know reality and surreality in this and a million other dimensions conceived of by few and seen by fewer still. I’ve seen the rise and fall of civilizations great and small on worlds in this universe and in others, about which nothing will ever be known by the vast populace of the worlds with which you’re acquainted. I’ve followed the lives of the famous, the infamous, the mundane and the unknown, from an innumerable multitude of aliens, some of whom I doubt you’ll ever know about. I’ve seen secrets made, secrets kept, secrets broken. I know things about this universe hidden to the most intelligent and inquisitive minds. And all this I learned in the fraction of a moment.
“But my name… my name has been lost to me. In this place—in the Void—time is a meaningless word. A hundred millennia may have come and gone on Gallifrey; perhaps it already has—”
“Far more than that,” the Librarian interrupted, “if you’ll pardon my interruption.”
The hooded figure turned in the direction of the hairless, aged man. “Indeed!” she replied, a sudden hint of age-tinged fatigue filling her words. “And yet, though I grasp your clarification with my intellect and believe it, I still feel as if I have just arrived in this place, that I am a newcomer to this massive, lifeless infinity.”
The robed newcomer raised an arm and exposed an upward-pointed finger. “Perhaps this calls for a rethinking of the concept of eternity, yes?” she asked. “For so long, sentient societies of every sort have had a concept of eternity as a stretch of boundless, unmeasurable time. But I posit that eternity in fact is a complete absence of time; a reality without it, much like a vacuum is devoid of air.”
The hand dropped. “What do you think?” she asked.
The trio of visible faces exchanged glances with each other. The Librarian took a second look at the Monitor, waving off the furious visage of the younger Gallifreyan. “I think,” he began, “that you need to become reacquainted with yourself, Merriana.”
The robed figure jerked, flinching as if dodging something thrown at her head, then resumed her upright stance. The hands reached for the hood and pulled it away.
“Merriana…” she whispered. “I am Merriana.”