My head swam, and the Doctor pulled me along a dark corridor. I could not pay attention to where we were going as he yanked me further into the underground labyrinth. The hall finally opened up into another room.
The stone walls had little holes drilled into them. Each hole had a bottle of elixir stuck in it. In the center of the room was a platform with a bright beam of light shooting upwards. A man hung mid-air in the middle of that shaft. Another hooded man stood at a console at the base of the platform. He turned to us. “Ah, Doctor. I have been expecting you.”
“And you are creating the telepathic barrier preventing the Sisterhood from sensing us,” said the Doctor. He let go of my arm and approached the Hermit.
The Hermit chuckled. “The Sisters have many secrets. Some of them do not matter anymore, yet they cling to them like misers to silver coins.”
“Secrets like you for example,” replied the Doctor. “I have been to Karn many times spent time here. Yet, your presence went undisclosed.”
“And you want to know why,” nodded the Hermit. He pointed to the Hanging Man. “That is the reason, Doctor. He possesses dangerous knowledge. Knowledge that needed to be protected from our enemies of the Time War.”
“A scientist,” the shadow man nodded.
“Not any scientist, Doctor. One of three, if the history is to be believed. One of four, if you believe in conspiracies. One of five, depending on your perspective.” The Hermit smiled. “But what does it matter now, Doctor? Gallifrey is gone. The Time-lords fallen. TARDIS’ swallowed by the Nightmare Child, lost to the Vortex, broken beyond the Rifts. What is left but fairy tales for children?” He looked at me and raised his brow.
My head cleared up due to the rushing adrenaline. The Doctor interrupted before I could say anything. “Yes, what is left? And what is it for?” He gestured to the walls. “This amount of Elixir is not necessary. What are the Sisters doing here?”
“The same thing they have always done. Nothing changes on Karn. They are waiting,” said the Hermit. “There’s nothing an amount of Patience can achieve.” He chuckled again. “Doctor, you look for evil intent, suspicious motive. You will not find that here.”
“We have the book,” I blurted. “Will we find the encryption code?”
“That’s not important anymore,” said the shadow man. “I already have it. No, the real question here is, ‘Who were you’?”
“I was once called The No Other, one of two, forced twins. An experiment gone wrong, long ago,” replied the Hermit. “I have not been that for a long time. But that is not what you need. The knowledge you seek is in the room you came from. All your questions can be answered there. Go look for yourself, Doctor. Observe. Pay attention. You will understand.” The Doctor pivoted on the spot and ran back down the tunnel. “You are human, are you not?” The Hermit asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m not important.”
“Lies do not become you, child. You know what you have been asked. Are you willing now?”
“I was. But it’s so much to ask,” I said. “I don’t know if I have the strength to follow through.”
The Hermit approached me and took my arm. “You are too far along to back out, child. If the Sisters are any example, you know the cost. But you also know the reward. For humans, it is different. You are not like us. I can see why the Doctor loves your kind; so much potential, yet so flawed.” He released my arm and pulled out a vial. “Do not drink it. That is important. You will know what to do when the time is right.” He reached up and unstrapped my helmet. “Take it off. You don’t need it anymore.”
I took off my helmet, and long silver hair spilled out around my shoulders. “How? When?”
He held up my arm so I could see it. The green-yellow glow of the computer bus infection had turned to silver flowing lines. “Does it matter now?”
“Yes. I need something to tell myself when I look back at this moment. I need something to tell myself that makes it ok. So that I can reassure myself that this is the correct course of action. Humans need that, and I am human.”
The Hermit nodded. “Are you familiar with Quantum Anchorage?”
“That has to do with fixed points of time?”
He shook his head. “So much more than that but let’s go with that for the moment. What happens when a prophecy is made about a fixed point in time, and someone tries to subvert that point?”
“It’s a fixed point. It happens anyway. It doesn’t matter which way you go; it doesn’t matter what you do. That point will happen. Depending on which actions a person takes could mean it happens slower or faster, but it will happen. Also, details may change here and there. But the Doctor has said, and I believe him, that the universe of cause and effect heals itself. It’s like stainless steel on Earth.”
“Paradoxes do heal over time. But before they do, they create cracks, rifts if you will. Time shatters like glass. All those cracks don’t heal all the way; they make scars. Those scars and cracks heal all the around until they join once more to another fixed point; where they all converge back into harmony with the Prime Reality.”
“This isn’t reality,” I said.
“Depends on your point of view, my dear. No one knows for sure,” he replied. “Sometimes we must create wounds to heal them.”
“Jessica!” The Doctor yelled from the corridor and ran back into the room. The stopped in his tracks and stared at me. “It’s too late,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.” He came to me and hugged me. “I can’t stop it. It’s too late.”
“Read the book, Doctor. Finish it,” said the Hermit.
“I can’t,” he stuttered. “I can’t.”
“You must. She will find a way if you don’t,” said the Hermit. “No one else wins against the Lady at the Chessboard.”
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