All their fighting and searching for information across the recursions as come to this point. Burnie is ready and now just waits for the group to board and start their trip to the centre of the Earth and the Aleph component.
Algernon was already waist-deep in the innards of Burnie when Bruce turned up at Peggy’s lab after breakfast.
“Last minute adjustment?”
“No, someone’s put a lock on the emergency button Hertzfeld installed,” Algernon reversed out of the mire of electrical cabling and pointed at the button, which now featured a shiny new lock holding down the perspex cover, “I’m following the lines to see what it’s connected to.”
“I put the lock on the button,” Bruce said a little smugly, seemingly having outwitted the two criminals in the group.
“I saw how you and Rain ogled that thing. I don’t want it going off before it has to, so after dinner last night, I went out and bought a lock for which I have the only key.” He displayed a shiny new key swinging from a chain.
“I guess I could just lockpick it,” Mused Algernon and Bruce’s self-satisfaction deflated a little.
“Nice jewellery, fellow Geonaut,” Tobias walked in to see Bruce putting away the key.
“To keep you out of the emergency button until we need it,”
“Oh?” He looked into the cabin of Burnie and saw the lock,” Yes, should keep Algernon and me out for all of six seconds, what do you think?” Tobias turned to Algernon, who scoffed.
“Anything need done before we leave?”
Bruce shook his head thoughtfully, but Algernon scrambled out of the van wiping the dust from his hands and knees. He checked his phone, showing a view of Keating’s office.
“He’s in. I’d like to speak to Keating. I have a few last-minute requisitions.”
With a nod, the two men left the lab and started their walk across the campus towards the Administration block.
Summer in Seattle was warm and humid. The water that surrounded Seattle providing the humidity also provided a cool breeze making the walk enjoyable.
“You know, the idea of destroying everything and starting again had an appeal for me,” Tobias mentioned in a moment of silence.
“Oh?” Algernon replied unaware Tobias had been mulling over the idea.
“Oh yes, I can understand Uentaru’s desire to take back what was lost. But, last night, I decided that I’d never go ahead with it if it meant losing you as my brother.”
Algernon didn’t know what to say. His original belief of the two brothers had come from a misunderstanding of the sitcoms that educated him about Earth society in his first days with the group. He’d assumed the younger brother role to Tobias’ more experienced older brother. Though those roles had been stretched and modified over time, during their first trip back to Ruk, the brotherhood had become more important to both of them, finding foundations in more than just a misunderstanding. Tobias’ words now touched Algernon deeply, and he could only nod and brush away a speck of dust from his eye. They walked on in silence, the cool breeze from the bay pushing them towards their destiny.
Knock! Knock! For once in their careers with The Estate, Algernon and Tobias waited patiently outside Keating door.
“Mr Keating, could we have a word?” Algernon asked, and Keating ushered him in, Tobias in tow.
“We are set for a dangerous mission, and there was just a few items I’d like to requisition if I may?” Algernon stated simply. There was no need to discuss what the mission was. The whole Estate had been focused on the activities in Peggy’s lab since their return to days before.
“Yes,” Keating pulled out his requisition pad. Tobias said nothing and just watched.
“I’d like to request four kilos of C4, rocket-propelled grenades and launcher, a set of limpet mines and frag grenades, if I may?”
Keating stared at Algernon a moment, his expression unreadable, as the clock on the wall ticked out the seconds.
“If you were on any other mission…” He finally said and turned his attention to filling out the requests, “ You know, if you don’t succeed, no one is going to worry about the paperwork.” He handed Algernon the requisition slip fully made out with every one of his requests, signed and dated.
“Congratulations on finally getting your heavy armament,” Tobias acknowledge the achievement.
They spent very little time walking across to stores. One, because they weren’t sure when Peggy wanted to leave, but two, because they were worried Keating would have a change of mind and rescind the request. As it was, the Quartermaster looked at the form twice, checked the signature was real and then against a copy on file. He then rang Keating to confirm the request. In the end, he handed over the items in a black sports bag with some trepidation.
“What do you plan on blowing up? The world?” He asked.
“The opposite, in fact,” Tobias replied, snatching up a flashlight he’d also acquired and followed Algernon out of stores with a cheerful wave goodbye.
Bruce and Peggy were doing some last-minute work to the van and getting into their silver heat suits as the boys arrived with their bag.
“What’s that?” Peggy asked suspiciously, pointing at the bag.
“Supplies. Essential supplies,” Algernon stowed the bag in the van under a seat, from which Peggy quickly extracted it and examined its contents.
“We don’t need these. We’re trying to stop everything from blowing up,” She removed the bag from the van.
“Peggy, could I have a short word?” Tobias asked, gently ushering her aside.
“This is a highly experimental vehicle. Do you want us to blow up before we get to our destination?” Peggy asked as Tobias gestured her aside, away from the van.
“That’s not what I want to talk. We may be going on a one-way mission, and we never seem to get around to talk about personal stuff much, This was not the conversation to have a few moments before launching a highly dangerous and experimental vehicle. “”I just wanted you to know that you are deserving of love and that maybe you should reach out now while you have a chance,” He said, completely stunning Peggy.
“You mentioned you were able to crack that communication cypher and know how to do it. I know you. You’ve been told your whole life that you are somehow unworthy of love. Well, I want you to know you are and that there is someone you may want to reach out to before we go.”
“Who? You?” She asked, completely clueless about where this conversation was going.
Sensing that Peggy was thoroughly distracted, Algernon quietly returned his bag of explosives to their hiding place under the seat.
“No. Though I’m sure that would lead to a very short and intense relationship, that’s not who I’m referring to. Noel is no longer with the Geographic society because you confronted him. Wouldn’t it be good to get in touch?”
“Him?” Peggy replied with disdain, “Oh no, he can chase me for a change.”
Tobias glanced over to the van where Algernon gave the all-clear sign.
“Well, okay,” He said, defeated, “I just wanted to make sure it was said before…well, I wanted you to know.”
“All right then,” Peggy physically shook the last few minutes of conversation from her mind, “Can we go now?”
“I wouldn’t want to hold up anything,” Tobias stepped out of the way and let Peggy through, a wistful look on his face.
They silently donned their silvery heat suits and piled into the van. There was a moment’s debate over who would drive. Algernon had more flying experience, which driving Burnie was most like, but Peggy knew the systems better.
“If something goes wrong, we’ll need you free to fix it, Peggy,” Tobias suggested, “You can ride shotgun and keep us on track while Algernon takes the pilot’s seat.”
Peggy grudgingly agreed and took the right-hand seat as Algernon eagerly climbed in behind the wheel.
Bruce made a show of the key on a chain for the group, making them all aware of the precautions he’d taken.
“Now you’re just challenging me,” Tobias laughed, “You know that only makes pickpocketing it off you that much more interesting.”
“What? Are you going to rummage around in my pants for it?” Bruce looked suspiciously as his backseat companion.
“Well, we are facing the end of everything. If not now, when do I let you know how I feel?” Tobias smirked and slouched back on Burnie’s bench seat.
Algernon pushed the start button, and the fusion engine hummed into electrical life behind the back seat. The console in front of Peggy and Algernon lit up in LED greens and yellows. The air filled with the tension of static electricity as the world around the van seemed to shimmer as if a heat illusion. Algernon rested his hands on the wheel. Everyone watched for the moment when he would engage the engine and let Burnie slip beneath the ground. Instead, he turned to Tobias, a thoughtful expression on his face.
“If I were to recreate the world, you’d been the first thing I make.” He said with genuine feeling. Tobias leaned in, an expression of pure delight on his face.
“What a creative mind you have. I’m sure you’d do it too.”
Algernon returned to watching the readouts as something akin to a brake was released, and Burnie dipped down and disappeared into the ground.
Technically, Burnie did not move forward, only down towards the core of the Earth. They were the still point in the universe as the world slipped past the windows at four hundred and sixty metres per second. Beyond the glass and the shimmering field of Hertzfeld’s, very little could be seen. As soon as an interesting feature came into view through the front windows, it zipped past and was gone from view. The ride was smooth and, besides the hum of a tiny sun at their back, soundless. The small movements made by Algernon to adjust their trajectory were the only feeling of movement. The lack of horizon and the constant fine adjustment soon had Bruce looking green.
With nothing to look at, Tobias was bored. He flipped and shuffled a set of cards, only glancing up as Bruce turned in his seat and went to slide the window open.
“Don’t break the field!” Peggy shouted, and Bruce was doing a little shouting of his own. Partially digested breakfast splattered the rock that had not seen the sun in billions of years and would make for interesting scientific discussion if it ever did again.
Red lights flashed on the dashboard as the field keeping them out of phase was disrupted. The fusion engine’s whine pitched higher as it strained to provide energy to keep them from becoming part of the rock around them. Algernon could feel Burnie grow sluggish, even bump into solid rock as parts of the field disappeared. Bruce quickly closed the window and leaned back against it.
“Here,” Tobias dealt out cards on space between them on the bench seat, “Play cards with me.”
“I don’t think I can just now,” Bruce replied, a ghost of his robust self.
“It will take your mind off it. Go on.”
Shakily, Bruce picked up the cards, and they played as Peggy stilled the alarms, and Algernon returned them to course.
With the view out the front window a confusing blur, Algernon soon got a feel for flying by sensors. Several thousand kilometres after leaving Seattle, the sensor picked up a less dense patch of the Earth’s crust ahead. Curious, Algernon steered Burnie towards it. Suddenly, the ever-changing striation of rock turned to black, and the phase generator made odd gurgling noises.
“You idiot!” Peggy exclaimed once she realised what was happening, “You steered us into an oil deposit!”
“I didn’t know! How was I to know?!” Algernon wailed as he tried adjusting course once more for the nearest solid rock. Black smoke started leaking in from the driver’s side door.
Bruce grabbed a fire extinguisher behind the front seat, but no source for the fire could be found. Instead of coiling up and spreading across the roof, the smoke hung beside Algernon, gathering itself and creating a humanoid form. Watching it, Bruce recognised it as being akin to the shadow beings they fought in Dreamland.
“Shadow thing! Light it up!”
Still trying to steer Burnie out of the oil pool, Algernon reached out and found a mind to touch. Driven by a hunger for energy and life spark, there was not thoughts beyond feeding on this surprise meal.
“It wants to eat me, Bruce! Get it off!”
Bruce didn’t need any more encouragement. With the base of the fire extinguisher, he smashed the shadow being. A part of its being broke free and splashed onto Bruce, burning him with cold. The creature pulled itself together, becoming a dark smudge between Algernon and Peggy in the front seat. The atmosphere in the cab quickly chilled to below freezing, and everyone felt the cold drain their ability to move, even their will to live. Once more, alarms sounded as the fusion engine strained. The creature was drawing all energy to itself. If they didn’t stop it soon, they would become a frozen block of matter floating in a sea of oil.
While Algernon focused on driving them out, Peggy zapped the creature with her plasma bolt, sending blue-white light ripping through the creature’s body. As a reaction, the creature exploded around her, plunging her into darkness. Tobias injected a mind-meld cypher into his arm and pulled out his flashlight.
You should leave now! He thought at the creature and flicked on the light. The creature recoiled from the high beams, making it easier for Bruce to swing through with his Crowbar. It almost cut the creature in half, part of it dissipating in the air, the rest reaching out to touch its enemy, Bruce. He batted away its advances before turning aside as Peggy launched another plasma bolt. Weakened, the cloud of darkness convulsed then finally exploded, sending a jolt of cold through everyone.
With a shaking, pale hand, Algernon reached out and turned on Burnie’s heater. He’d been closest to the creature and been unable to dodge its draining attacks. Shivering, he focused on driving them out of the oil and back to rock as Bruce provided first aid. The first attempt at healing seemed to do little to relieve Algernon of the cold.
“It’s okay if you can’t heal me,” Algernon said miserably.
“No, this will not stand,” Bruce responded and double his efforts. Slowly the colour came back to Algernon’s skin, and he seemed to relax back into his seat.
Sooner than most expected, sensors picked up a spike of energy emanating from somewhere ahead. A particularly large wave of energy from the Aleph Component rolled towards Burnie, and Algernon scanned the rock ahead for a dense patch of granite to hide behind. The wave rolled over, sending sparks flying from the console and throwing the van around like a ship in a storm. With sharp reflexes and a sense of balance trained from hours of flying, Algernon regained control of Burnie and drifted around another dense lump in their path.
“You, sir, are Kanada! Definitely Kanada!” Tobias laughed, slapping his friend on the back as Bruce hunted stray sparks and potential fire with the extinguisher.
“You’ve been doing doughnuts in the carpark, haven’t you?” Bruce said, stowing the extinguisher once more unused.
Waves of energy were now hard to ignore. They sent pins and needles up and down limbs and made thinking difficult. They knew they were close when suddenly the rock gave way to a mammoth cavern lit by magma. In the centre of the cavern, leaning to one side, was a block of worked metal. It certainly had not to place down in the depth of the Earth and had to be the Aleph Component.
“Can anyone see a place to park?” Peggy asked, looking out at the scene of awe with a hunting gaze.
A small opening in a wall drew the attention of everyone but the driver. Too used to driving by instruments, Algernon barely had a thought for what was outside the window. As Peggy turned off the phasing field, Algernon skidded low over the Aleph component itself, clipping Burnie as wheels impacted. Suddenly aware they were back in phase, Algernon rolled Burnie to a halt in front of the crack in the wall.
Peggy slapped him across the head, “That’s for stupid driving!” She said, flipping her heat suit helmet over her head and opening the passenger door. The heat rolled through the cabin, making everyone scramble for their helmets as the radiation off the magma flow outside evaporated the moisture from eyes and lips, making even breathing difficult. Peggy had already circled Burnie checking for damage before the others had got out.
“It may have taken us a day to build, but I don’t think anyone wants to stay a day here to have it fixed,” Peggy grumbled through the suit’s inbuilt audio system.
While Peggy did what she could to make sure Burnie ready for the trip back, the others took in the view of the Aleph Component. It was an irregular oblong shape of some composite materials. Metal walls gave way to flowing fluid gold veins, and the opening led into hallways of ivory and amber. Though built, the angles and geometry of the component was alien and bewildering. Knowing it had been part of a transport system did not help understand how the Aleph Component did or worked. It could take a lifetime of study to understand, but who could spend that long in the oven that was the Aleph component’s resting place?
Once Peggy was satisfied that Burnie was in good enough condition to take them back, the group headed out on foot through the opening carved through the wall. Bruce made sure he was last out of the van, leaving the key in the lock of the emergency button just in case they needed to go in a hurry.
Once walking the hallways, it was clear the confusing architecture extended to the interior as well. Floors, walls and roof were all of the same ivory and amber panelling chased with the liquid gold veining. Hallways branched off from the first, and even more concerning, wall and floors seemed to move and shift, making for an ever-changing maze. Tobias tried marking walls they passed with playing cards jammed into cracks. They quickly burnt up in the heat or fell out as walls moved to be ceilings of floors. Still, some did leave dark scorch marks on the pale coloured walls.
The group travelled for miles through the winding and changing passages. The Aleph component was far larger than the small chunk of it that rested in the cavern.
“How much further do we go?” Bruce asked once they’d been travelling for a few hours without a pause.
Peggy reached out to Sense the Strange, and hopefully the heart of the mechanism. Instead she could feel the Strange from all corners, it was a machine of the Strange after all. A resonance or pulse could be felt coming from ahead.
“Interesting, the liquid gold is not part of the original component. I wonder if it’s Chaos Templar technology?” Peggy mused, “I’d suggest that this was her way into the component. Possibly to keep the hallways stable enough to come and go.”
“So, just follow the gold out, got it,” Bruce noted as Peggy started again, following the pulse.
As with mazes, there was no warning when the passageway suddenly opened up into a large chamber with a hole in the wall where liquid gold oozed out. White energy rods held everything in place across the hole. But that was not what had everyone’s attention.
At least two metres tall, It looked like it had been made of all the parts leftover from creating the world’s creepiest beasts. Four whip-like tentacles swung back and forth in front of four eyes on stalks. The torso was a grey muscular stump leading to four thick tentacles that dragged it around. It was hard to imagine where such a beast would feel at home, but it was certainly doing well in the baking heat inside the Aleph component.
Instantly, Bruce was ready to attack, guns drawn.
“Wait! Will you wait just a second before murdering everyone we meet?!” Tobias yelled, “Can I just talk to it?”
“You want to talk to that!?” Bruce asked, dumbfounded at the horror.
“I have up mind meld from the shadow creature attack. Please just let me try.”
With a grumble, Bruce lowered his guns, and Tobias stepped forward. Not sure how intelligent the creature was, he started simply projecting peace and goodwill.
The lower tentacles pushed the trunk of a body around so three eyes could get a good look at Tobias advancing.
Who are you? Are you with the Chaos Templars? I was expecting Uentaru. A voice replied, calm and thoughtful.
Even in the bulk of the heat suit, Tobias visibly relaxed at having reached an intelligent mind.
“We have come from Uentaru,” Tobias said and projected so that everyone knew what was said. He thought for a moment. If he was ever going to be convincing, this was the moment. Choosing his words carefully, Tobias laced them with The Strange ensuring the creature would believe whatever he said.
“We have come with Uentaru’s knowledge.”
So you are here for the remaking?
“Yes, the time has arrived.” Tobias stepped up again. This time the group followed.
But Uentaru, where is she?
“There was resistance, and she was injured. She has sent us ahead.”
“Ah, “ The whip-like tentacles shivered with what Tobias could only assume was excitement, “Long, I have waited this moment. Are you ready to perform the remaking?”
He gestured behind him to Peggy and Algernon, “My associates know the way and are ready.”
Peggy walked past and started examining the weeping wound in the wall. Algernon stopped to look at the creature.
“Can you ask it about what this is and how it work?” He asked Tobias, who smiled nervously under his helmet.
“I can’t ask too many questions. It thinks we’re with Uentaru and know what to do.”
Your friend seems unsure. Is he not ready for the remaking? The creature asked, two of its eyes turning just to watch Algernon, and he joined Peggy at the wall.
“He’s being cautious,” Tobias replied smoothly before deciding on a little distraction, “Tell me, we have never met anyone like you. How do you come to work for the Chaos Templars?”
“My world was destroyed when our sun exploded. The Chaos Templars saved those of us they could and settled us on other worlds,” The creature slithered closer to Tobias, its thin tentacles examining his heat suit.
“What’s going to happen when this thing works out the end of the world hasn’t occurred?” Bruce growled in frustration from behind, still holding his guns at the ready.
“Well, I guess then it’s your turn?”
Across the room, Peggy and Algernon were getting their heads around the task ahead. Peggy realised that the wound gave access to the energy collected by the Alephcomponent. The energy needed to be siphoned off if they were to stop the component from discharging itself. Theoretically, not that hard. Practically, the two theorists were at odds.
“Instead of dissipating the energy and wasting it, why don’t we use it to create a new recursion,” Algernon asked.
“You want to make a mockery of what Uentaru intended?” Peggy replied with some disgust, “How would you know where to start? What do any of us know about her world?”
“Yes! You could think of it more as an en marge,” Tobias replied, overhearing the argument, “I talked to her about her world while you were busy building Burnie. We have some broad strokes to start with.”
Tobias turned to Algernon, “Do you think you could do it? I can tell you want I know, but I think it would be good to put a little of each of us into the creation of a world.”
“Like what?” Bruce now joined in the conversation. The idea of creating something new from disaster was appealing, especially if it could bring back even a little of what was lost.
“Well…how about Peggy’s reckless curiosity and your bravery and stoicism?”
“Creative thinking and goodnatured charm,” Algernon added, pulling the entropic seed from his backpack.
“I like it,” Bruce nodded, and though they could feel Peggy scowl from behind the orange lens of her helmet, she too finally agreed.
Using this Spin ideal, Tobias implanted the idea of Uentaru’s world in Algernon’s mind, filling it with as much detail as he could from her recollections and their combined ideals.
Carefully, Algernon introduced the entropic seed to the raw source of energy, diverting the power away. The seed started to grow large, sending out roots that embedded themselves into the broken wall. From the top burst a stem and then, as it grew, a large round leaf unfurled. The leaf grew to almost two metres across before forming into an anaposite gate through which a new world could be seen. In the foreground, a field of plants and animals unknown on Earth. In the distance, a glistening silver city of lights and life.
A pressure they hadn’t realised they had been feeling was released. A great whirring within the Aleph component subsided as the energy was quietly siphoned off into the new recursion. The group looked at each other, unsure what to do.
“Is that it? Did we do it?” Bruce finally vocalised. In response, Peggy stepped forward and walked through the portal and into the field beyond. The others followed, the first adventurers into this new world.
I did not expect this, Said the creature from inside the Aleph compnent. Was this what was to occur? I expected something….bigger.
“I assure you this is exactly how I envisioned it,” Tobias replied, and the creature ungainly dragged itself through the portal and into the new world.
It is a good place. I could live here, It replied and wandered off to explore its new home.
They spent some time in the new world loosely based on Uentaru’s lost home. Everywhere they looked, new life was sprouting. Peggy kept taking samples as Algernon examined the gate and determined it would last for a year or so on the energy from the Aleph Component.
“I could set up a base here and research the Aleph component in relative comfort,” Algernon mused as he turned his back on the new creation around him and went back into to explore hell on the other side of the portal.
There was a discussion about translating back to Earth from the new recursion. But, as they’d left from the Aleph Component, that path back to the Estate needed reestablishing before any other travel could happen. One by one, they walked back through the portal from the cool spring freshness of the recursion to the oven-like temperatures of the cavern.
As they silently walked through, Tobias looked up at the walls and ceiling of the alien marvel around them. Reaching out, he touched a wall, “It was very nice to finally meet you,” He said, making Bruce stop in his tracks. There was no reply, and Tobias lowered his hand slowly.
“A quiet god. Good, probably for the best,” Bruce said, and Tobias could only nod and agree.
The trip back was quiet and uneventful. No waves of energy now flowed from the Aleph component, and Algernon was careful to steer clear of oil deposits. Through Peggy’s careful calculations and Algernon’s driving, they made it back to the Surface, Seattle and the Estate.
They had been gone less than a day, saved their world and created a new one.
Hertzfeld welcomed the explorers back with news that as soon as he’d seen the quakes subsided, he knew they had succeeded, “Only thing I don’t understand is why Mount Rushmore now has a forty-two chiselled into it.”
As the days past news also came back from Ruk. Dram-Shara had returned with Giquabee and joined the Quiet Cabal. She reported back that the top four floors of Whole Body Grafts had imploded, taking Bel-Tamar and his experiments with it.
Back at the Estate, Bruce campaigned hard to allow Uentaru access to the new recursion if she showed redemption for her actions, “But, not for a year at least. Wait until the portal to the Aleph Component is gone first.”
As soon as they got back, Peggy’s first job was to lock down Burnie so Uentaru could not get access to it. Her hatred of the woman who almost destroyed everything was absolute. The same could not be said for Tobias.
The day after the trip, Tobias went down into the holding cells to see Uentaru one last time before they ‘moved her on’.
“It’s nice to be able to ask how are you today?” He said as a guard opened the door for him to enter.
“Why did you come here? To gloat?” Uentaru no longer looked so stoically accepting of fate and was slumped dejectedly back on the cot in the cell, “Everything I had worked for, for hundreds of years, gone.”
“Maybe not everything is lost. Don’t give up hope. Remember, we live.” Tobias said simply, stepping closer without touching her.
“I wanted you to know that I understood your desire to rebuild your planet. There are many of us refugees in the universe, just looking for a home.”
“But you didn’t condone it enough to allow me to at least try.” She said flatly, all energy gone from her voice.
“You can’t go back, and certainly not at such a cost.” He swallowed and ploughed on with his plans,” Look, I’ve heard they’re moving you on and…” Tobias eyed the guards who stood silently watching from the other side of the glass and mesh, “I don’t know what the Estate does to its enemies. I wish you luck wherever fate takes you, and I hope that our paths will one day cross again.” He bowed, and in bowing, he quickly sleight of handed the Ruk portal cypher to Uentaru’s overall pocket.
Her eyes flickered down for a moment as she registered something had changed. She looked up at Tobias, him still watching, his violet gaze on hers.
“Thank you, so do I.”
That evening security were in a frenzy as word got out that Uentaru had somehow escaped. Investigations were made, but no one could work out how she could have been in her cell in one moment and gone the next. Her hatred for Uentaru led Peggy to scour all the security footage of Uentaru’s last day at the Estate. Besides the guards providing food, a representative of the Estate had visited but kept well back from the notorious criminal. Tobias, too had not touched or handed her anything during his visit, though he did get close as was his nature. Frame by frame, Peggy scanned the footage of Tobias’ visit, yet she did not see him pass anything.
And then, she noticed in one frame, his right hand was in his pocket; the next, it was by his side. In one twenty-fifth of a second, Tobias moved something from his pocket and returned his hand to his side. It was hard to see, he’d angled his body so the cameras could not get a good shot, and anyone who didn’t know him would have thought nothing of it. Certainly, there wasn’t enough evidence to make a case on.
But Peggy knew.
Tobias had conveniently taken himself off back to Ni’Challan with the remains of the helicopter and the suits. Peggy locked down her lab, banning Tobias access to her or any of her work. She told Hertzfeld she was done with fieldwork and requested that all her tasks be lab-based from now on. When Tobias returned, it was to cold stares and curt answers. She never told him what she’d discovered, and he never asked, but both knew that for them, nothing would be the same.
When Bruce gave his debrief, Katherine congratulated him on a job well done.
“You and your team may have had a dubious start, but you’ve shown yourself to be a first-class agent. I’m hoping I can convince you to share some of your knowledge, become a supervising officer for junior agents?”
Bruce was flattered. For much of his life, he’d felt like he’d been waiting, marking time for something to happen. Never could he imagined it would have started on a dark empty highway in the middle of a storm.
“I thank you, working with the younger recruits sounds just fine, but…I love going out exploring, investigating with my…group. I wouldn’t want to lose that.”
“Shame. I appreciate what you’re saying, but the offer still stands,” Katherine stood and reached across her table to Bruce, “Thank you for all you’ve done.”
Bruce stood and shook her hand, glad he’d finally found his place.
Other news filtered through as the days moved into weeks. It seemed that supplies of Spiral Dust had ceased. Don Whitclif was furious with whoever had destroyed his latest lucrative business and was looking for enemies. Rumours had Uentaru seen back with the Chaos Templars, but her whereabouts were unknown.
Algernon returned to the Aleph Component and the new recursion. With his ability to adapt to his surroundings, he didn’t feel the heat of the cavern as badly as other researchers and spent long hours exploring the Aleph Component alone. He initially set up a base outside the portal in the new recursion where he could enjoy the best of both worlds. Eventually, Algernon received the resources to set up a base inside the Aleph Component, a comfortable space to do his work and translate to and from safely. He shared his research with Peggy, who made an effort to build a relationship with him, and together they…edited his research notes for submission to The Estate. If the Estate’s scientists and leadership ever discovered they were not getting the whole story about the Aleph Component, it was never mentioned.
Bruce and Tobias tried to keep the group together, occasionally persuading Peggy to leave her lab or Algernon to return from the cavern. But, mostly, it was just the two of them aided by a group of junior agents. Eventually, Bruce accepted the permanent role as supervisor of the junior agents, and Tobias spent more time with Ni’Challan and his own plans outside the watching eyes of the Estate.