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.”