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Greetings, Bearers!

Here’s the next part.  Enjoy!

J. Dean

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.

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