Lyfrassir Edda, formerly Inspector 2nd class of the New Midgard Transport Police, made it barely 20 kiloparsecs from the Hoddmimis mining colony before the ship ran dry and dropped out of FTL speed. He hadn’t expected much more – even with all his savings, the ship he’d taken from Midgard was a bucket of rusted bolts held together with spit and prayers, the name Mimir painted on the side with a shaky hand. He hadn’t had the time to be choosy. They didn’t have anything better at the colony either. He’d tried to warn them as best he could, but the news was yet to spread to the periphery and they had thought him insane.
Still gave him fuel and supplies, though. Money is money, after all. Not that the miners would have long to gleefully rub their hands over the last of Lyf’s hard-earnt savings. It would come for them in the end.
So now Lyf and his expensive rust bucket could do nothing more than float in the empty black, looking back at the distant twinkling constellations of the Yggdrasil system. It looked so peaceful from all those megaparsecs away. The light from the monstrous rainbow being at the heart of the Bifrost, now no doubt arrived at Midgard if the radio silence was anything to go by, would not reach this particular part of space for over sixty-five thousand years. By that time, Lyf would certainly be dead. He had doubts he would even make it to twenty-four hours from now.
He wasn’t overly concerned about his inevitable death. Better to die in peace, slowly suffocating as the life support failed, rather than die at the sharp, cruel mercies of the screaming, squamous things he’d seen on the video from the Ratatosk’s black box. The black box itself was buried at the bottom of his bag – he’d left his own files on the fate of the Ratatosk express, but try as he might, he couldn’t force himself to leave the black box behind. He shivered, thinking back to the one image of Odin’s face, staring at the camera, as though she were looking at him. He blinked it away, and when the warning lights began to flash, poured himself a glass of whisky.
Just as he took the first sip, his ship’s computer pinged from an incoming signal.
The ship that picked him up just as his life support failed was unlike any he had ever seen. Large and circular, with a strange web-like structure and so many layers of paint on the metal walls that it bulged in uniquely strange ways, it was nevertheless a welcome sight. Lyf had thought he was, if not ready for death, then resigned to it, but the moment he had determined the source of the signal, hope and adrenaline had been coursing through his veins from relief.
Luckily, the unknown ship had a small hanger, and his unknown rescuers had pulled his lifeless hunk of junk into their grav field. When the hanger had re-pressurised and the light had turned from red to green, Lyf clambered cautiously out of the Mimir and taken his first look at where he would no doubt spend the rest of his life.
Then he saw who was approaching across the wide hanger and wished he could climb back into his bucket and jettison himself back out to empty space and inevitable death.
He groaned, long and heartfelt.
‘Come now, Inspector Lyf! Aren’t you happy to see me?’
Marius Von Raum, formerly a prisoner of the New Midgard police, currently wanted for escaping justice’s supposedly impenetrable cells, strode towards Lyf with his arms outstretched and his mouth stretched even wider.
‘He doesn’t look very happy to see you,’ Ivy commented from the door.
Marius stopped a few feet from Lyf, and put his hands on his hips, mouth still smiling.
‘See? We were right.’
‘Former Inspector,’ Lyf said.
‘So you made it out, then.’ Raphaella was standing by Ivy, hip resting on the flaking painted wall, wings folded tight.
‘I was lucky,’ Lyf said, shortly. ‘I had warning.’
‘Did you pass it on?’ Marius’s eyes were glinting. Lyf shifted uncomfortably.
‘There was no time. I left my tapes behind.‘
‘So you saved yourself, and left your kind to die.’
‘No! I had to go. Someone will have listened – someone will have…’
‘There’s no other signals coming from the Yggdrasil system,’ said Ivy, in that factual, monotonous voice Lyf hated so much. ‘None from the Hoddmimis colony now, either. The whole system is quiet. Well. Not quiet.’
‘Don’t.’ Lyf didn’t want to know what noises could be coming from the Yggdrasil system. He’d seen the tapes from the doomed Ratatosk express – he’d heard the screams from the passengers. He didn’t want to hear it again.
‘Well, regardless,’ Von Raum said, hands in his pockets, bouncing lightly on his toes, ‘welcome to the rest of your life, Inspector.’
Lyf wondered whether being torn to pieces by the rainbow teeth of the daemon sultan at the centre of reality would really have been that bad after all.
Jonny was cleaning his gun in the mess, unamused.
‘We don’t get involved, Marius,’ he said, jaw tensing oddly. ‘We watch, and then we leave.’
‘We did leave,’ Marius said. ‘Lyf, technically, found us.’
Jonny raised an eyebrow.
‘You asked Ivy to scan for ships from the moment we picked you up at Midgard.’
‘Look,’ he said, sitting down, face unusually serious. ‘It’s over. The Yggdrasil system is cosmic chaos and death and rainbow terror. We have our story, and we left. Lyf escaped. He was out of the system. He finished his story. Can’t we just… keep him?’
‘First rule of being immortal,’ Jonny said, standing abruptly and tucking his gun carefully back into his holster. ‘No pets.’
He grabbed a nearby bottle of whisky and took a swig, before using it to point at Marius in his usual threatening manner.
‘He’s from Midgard. He’s got what, forty years left? If that?’
‘He would have had around ten more minutes if we hadn’t picked him up.’
‘We’ve let other people die before. What makes this Inspector any different? Other than the fact that you apparently loved winding him up…’
‘Wait – this is unusually emotionally charged for you, Jonny. What’s got your back up?’
‘No Pets,’ Jonny ground out.
‘Wait.’ Marius clicked his fingers, comprehension dawning. ‘Wait… you’re not still annoyed about leaving that kid from the rebellion? That was practically millennia ago!’
‘This is not about Jack,’ Jonny growled.
‘Jack! That’s it!’
‘I hate you, Von Raum.’
‘Was it hard to leave him to his glorious last stand?’
Marius had been shot enough times to know when to duck, and the bullet ricocheted off the metal ceiling next to his ear. Jonny stormed out of the mess, gun still smoking. He pushed right past Inspector Lyf, who was standing in the doorway with wide eyes.
‘I bet you thought you hated me the most,’ he said. ‘That guy’s been hating me for thousands of years – he’s got you beat.’
Back on Midgard, Lyf had known the Mechanisms – three of them, anyway – to be bandits who thrived off conflict and turmoil. They had appeared just in time to revel in the chaos following practically the entire ruling class of the system vanishing into a wormhole and not coming out the other side. They had cavorted around quite happily for over two decades before three of them were finally brought to justice.
After knowing them a little better, Lyf was starting to think that the only reason they were caught was because they wanted to be. They had, after all, vanished from their cell with ease once the long-lost train had arrived at its destination eighty years late.
Marius Von Raum, Ivy, and Raphaella la Cognizi, the three Mechanisms he had already met, had spent sixty years in prison, steadfastly refusing to age. This had always bothered Lyf, though he had never worked up the courage to ask about it. He had in fact gone out of his way to avoid the Mechanisms as much as physically possible during his time in the force. But relatively soon into his cohabitation with them, Lyf got an answer. Jonny, while caustic and too quick with his pistol, seemed to like having a fresh person to con at cards, and Lyf had nothing better to do.
‘So what are you all, really?’ Lyf asked, after Jonny won again. Jonny collected the cards and shrugged.
‘But – none of you age, right?’
Jonny grunted. Lyf took it to be a grunt of agreement.
‘So… you’re all immortal?’
‘Pretty much,’ Jonny said. ‘I’ve given it a good go over the years, but nothing’s done me in for good yet. Got my head cut off once.’
‘What – fully off?’
‘Completely severed.’ Jonny grinned, and it was all teeth. ‘I bit the guy who did it on the nose.’
His grin turned fond in reminiscence.
Lyf decided not to ask him anything else.
Marius later told Lyf about Dr Carmilla, and her laboratory. Each of the Mechanisms had their particular part the Doc had added or changed, some more extensively than others.
‘So yours is your arm,’ Lyf said. ‘That’s obvious. Tim and his eyes-‘
‘He burnt them out himself – though I think it was an accident. He said he was blowing up a moon at the time.’
‘Raphaella’s got her wings, and Ivy’s… well, Ivy… Jonny?’
‘The heart,’ Marius snorted. ‘And Drumbot Brian’s everything but the heart. Ashes got their lungs – fits with the pyromania, of course.’
‘And you’re all immortal?’
‘What happened to Dr Carmilla?’
Marius, for the first time Lyf had known him, looked shifty and not a little uncomfortable.
‘We don’t talk about what happened to Dr Carmilla,’ he said, eyes wild.
Lyf changed the subject.
Lyf very quickly learnt to steer clear of the Mechanisms – while not all of them were trigger happy (Jonny) or incredibly frustrating (Von Raum), they were all decidedly… odd. He also learnt to avoid the engineering decks after a particularly harrowing encounter with what the Quartermaster later called ‘the Octokittens.’
Ashes O’Reilly, the Quartermaster of the Aurora, cut quite an imposing figure. When Ashes scared off the octokittens, Lyf didn’t mention the fact that the so-called kittens had eight tentacles and glowed gently green.
‘Best to stay away from engineering,’ Ashes had said. Lyf didn’t disagree.
It was starting to sink in that he would spend the rest of his life on this strange ship, being pulled gently through space by the web skeins of the spiders. Maybe it was better than the hell wrought on Midgard from Yog-Sothoth and the screaming, squamous things from the spaces between realities. But probably not by much.
To everyone’s surprise, particularly Lyf’s, he ended up spending most of his time with Marius. There was only so much time he could spend by himself, watching the constellations as they passed. And Marius wasn’t bad company, once he’d stopped psychoanalysing.
Better the devil you know than the unknowable technicolour demon from the Bifrost, after all.
‘Wish we hadn’t picked you up?’ Marius asked, a few weeks into Lyf’s new life.
‘Sometimes,’ he admitted. ‘But then I remember those tapes…’ he shuddered. Out of all the horror he had seen from the Ratatosk’s black box, the one image he couldn’t seem to shake was that of Odin, staring straight into camera. He’d never worked out whether that had been a frozen image or not.
As ridiculous as it sounded, it still felt like the Allmother had been looking at him.
He began to have nightmares consisting just of Odin’s staring face, that archaic smile deeply unsettling in a way he found hard to describe. As he stared back into the single eye of the Allmother, the air around him rang with the hum of a far-off chant.
On the second month of his time on the Aurora, as Lyf sat in the mess, watching Jonny and Ashes and Tim argue with the usual violent vehemence, he heard that hum again. For the first time since watching the black box footage, he could hear it outside of his dreams.
When the sound finally faded and he focused back on the rest of the room, the argument had apparently been interrupted and everyone was staring at him in silence.
It was eventually broken, of course, by expletives from Jonny.
‘For fuck’s sake, Marius, he’s been fucking marked!’
‘What?’ Lyf asked. He was ignored.
‘How was I supposed to know?’ Marius yelped, hands up.
‘Did you not watch his tapes?’
‘You have my recordings?’
‘Well, yes, but I didn’t think-‘
‘Well, hopefully it will leave us be when it comes for him,’ Ashes said. ‘We’re simply bystanders.’
‘We were – until Marius made us pick up the Inspector,’ Jonny snarled.
‘That’s probably not enough to involve us,’ Marius said.
‘You’d better fucking hope so, Von Raum.’
‘What?’ Lyf said again, quietly. But the image of Odin was in his mind’s eye again, with that godsdamned smile, and he knew it was coming for him. The chant was back, resonating in the air, making the hairs on his arms stand on end. Somehow, deep inside, he’d known that escape had been a fool’s dream. But dreams are hard to let go of, whether they are foolish or not.
Some of the Mechanisms found him later, sitting on the floor on one of the observation decks, small bag of possessions strapped across his chest, staring out at the constellations of the Yggdrasil system. The stars looked as peaceful as ever. Around him the chant hung like a mist.
‘Thank you for picking me up,’ Lyf said, turning to look at them. ‘I’m sorry if it brings it down on you too.’
‘We should be fine,’ Marius said. ‘We’ve been through worse. Brian spent years in the centre of a star and he’s perfectly well – although he does constantly complain about that.’
‘We knew the risks when we picked up your signal,’ Ivy said, matter-of-factly.
‘Wait,’ Raphaella said, turning to Ivy, ‘we did?’
‘Well, I did.’
Lyf wasn’t surprised to see Marius, Ivy, and Rapahella there – they’d been the ones the Midgard police had managed to catch and contain for sixty years, after all. He was, however, surprised to see that Jonny had slunk in behind them. The gunslinger was standing by the door, hip against the metal frame, looking at Lyf with an impenetrable expression.
The chant that hung around Lyf had thickened to a fog of noise, ringing in his ears and making his eyes water.
‘You’re probably the last people in the world I’d want to be with when I die,’ Lyf said, hysteria catching in his throat, ‘but I guess you guys really are the last people in the world. And at least I’m not alone.’
Lyf turned back to the observation window, in time to see a crack appear – not in the glass, but in the reality of it. As it widened to reveal undulating rainbow hues in the depths of the Bifrost, Lyf shut his eyes.
There was a blinding flash of light, and then the Mechanisms were alone. Lyf had gone, and the wormhole and the chanting had gone with him.
Raphaella and Marius let out twin sighs of relief.
‘Looks like his story wasn’t over yet, Marius,’ Jonny said.
‘More’s the pity,’ Marius sighed. ‘I think he was finally starting to warm up to me.’
The three of them filed out, leaving Jonny still slouched against the doorframe. He stared out at the empty black, dispersed with faint, sparkling lights.
There had been something about Inspector Lyfrassir Edda that had resonated with Jonny D’Ville. He had recognised in the Midgardian something of a kindred spirit. Usually he met heroes, like the poor doomed Mad Jack who went down in a blaze of glory. Heroes often ended with their stories. The ones that persisted were the ones who lived to tell the tale, and it was not often the Mechanisms met those kinds of people.
Something in Jonny’s gut told him that Lyfrassir Edda would be the one telling his own story.
Phosphenes danced on a light fantastic toe behind his eyelids as he fell. He had been falling forever through that technicolour wormhole. He had been falling for an instant. An instant stretched to infinity. Infinity in a microsecond.
The chant surrounded him, ringing in his bones. It sung to him as he fell – he had been the first to behold the wonders of the Bifrost, and he had also been the last. Forever running, the chanting crooned, pulsing through his veins. Forever falling.
Then the falling ended, and he opened his eyes to darkness. Lyfrassir was wrapped in the embrace of curled and knotted wood, and for a while he stayed there. Then, with a sudden surge of strength he should not have thought possible, he tore himself from the wood and fell to the ground.
He looked back to see he had emerged from a tree. The ground was hard beneath his feet, and damp. Rain fell softly around him, this place grey and dark after the endlessly shifting chromatic character of the Bifrost. The last thing Lyf remembered clearly was standing on an observation deck on the Aurora, looking into the swirling lights of the rip in reality. The fall itself felt vague and distant, like a dream, slipping away even as he tried to remember. It was like trying to grasp sand in his fists – the tighter he held, the more he lost, until it all trickled away.
He didn’t know where he was, but the air was fresh and the ground was solid, so he believed himself planetside. He knew only two things for certain. Within him something had quickened, born of the Bifrost. And he had a job to do.
He walked until he came to a building – hideously old-fashioned, large, and stately – and went straight inside. Ignoring any attempts to stop him, he walked with a single-minded determination, the chant still chiming in his head.
He walked into an office, and the woman at the desk looked up in confusion and no little irritation.
‘Yes?’ the woman snapped. ‘What is it?’ In an almost unconscious motion, the woman reached out to turn on a tape recorder with a click, the frown never leaving her forehead.
‘Lyfrassir Edda, formerly Inspector 2nd class of the New Midgard Transport Police. I have a statement to give.’
Multicolour lights still swirling behind his closed eyelids, Lyf began to talk.
‘Are you here to give a statement?’ Martin asked, hands full of steaming cups of tea.
The young woman in front of him had a Scandinavian look about her, tall and blonde – not to mention she’d introduced herself as Snorri Lifsdottir. Martin wasn’t sure how she’d managed to get past Rosie at the front desk, but there she was, standing in the middle of his office – yet another problem for him to deal with.
‘Not exactly,’ she said. ‘I’d like to organise a meeting with the Head Archivist, if it’s a good time?’
‘It’s never a good time,’ Tim snorted, from behind his computer screen. Martin shot him a sharp look. Tim ignored him.
‘It’s fine,’ Martin said, turning back to Snorri with a slightly forced smile. ‘You want to talk to Jon?’
‘Jon? Is he the Head Archivist?’
Snorri looked disappointed.
‘Jonathan Sims, our delightful boss,’ Tim said, in a sing-sing voice dripping with bitterness. ‘Why do you want to talk to him?’
‘My father – I thought the Head Archivist was a woman? Has Gertrude retired?’
Tim laughed darkly.
‘Retired from this mortal plane, if that’s what you mean.’
‘Tim!’ Martin hissed. Tim had a right to be mad at Jon, god knows Martin knew that, but that didn’t mean he could be unprofessional. ‘Sorry,’ he said, turning back to Snorri, ‘Gertrude, um, sadly passed away over a year ago. Do you still want to…’ he tailed off, not entirely sure what Snorri had said she wanted in the first place. ‘Tea?’ he offered, holding out a mug.
‘No, thanks,’ she said. ‘The current Head Archivist is better than nothing, I guess. Is he around?’
Tim snorted again, but Martin jumped in before he could say anything else disparaging about their boss.
‘He’s in his office,’ he said, hurriedly depositing the mugs on Tim’s desk, ignoring his weak protests. ‘I’ll go and see if he’s busy.’
Martin didn’t wait for a response to his knock before he pushed his way into Jon’s office. He was, quite frankly, sick and tired of Jon’s sneaking around, and while he would never voice it as boldly as Tim, he was quite happy to display his irritation through a series of microaggressions in the workplace. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like Jon had even noticed Martin’s brave new stance.
‘There’s a Snorri Lifsdottir to see you,’ Martin said. Jon blinked up at him from a large pile of statements.
‘She wants to talk to the Head Archivist. We had to break it to her that Gertrude has since been replaced.’
‘She knew Gertrude?’
That had caught Jon’s attention – he sat up a little more in his chair, eyes fixed sharply on Martin. Martin shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. He hadn’t felt Jon’s entire attention on him since Jon had accused him of keeping secrets. It was like being a butterfly pinned to a board.
‘She knew of her,’ Martin said. ‘I don’t know whether she knew her personally or anything.’
‘Send her in,’ Jon said, hurriedly shuffling papers off his desk.
Martin paused momentarily, wondering whether he should push for a ‘please’, but decided to save that battle for another day, and retreated without a word.
‘He said he can see you now,’ Martin told Snorri, who had sat down awkwardly at Martin’s desk to wait while Tim stubbornly ignored her.
‘Great, thanks,’ she said in relief.
‘Down the corridor, second door on the left,’ he said.
Martin sat down at his desk once Snorri had gone, and sulked.
It wasn’t like he’d expected them all to be best friends after the ‘Prentiss incident’, but he’d been hoping it would be a bonding experience, a shared trauma to bring them all closer together. If anything, it had done the opposite; Sasha was never around when she wasn’t working, Jon was having a paranoid breakdown, and Tim… well.
It was a sign of just how far Tim had sunk into whatever funk he was in, that he hadn’t even engaged Snorri in conversation. Martin was used to any visitors to the archives quickly falling to Tim’s charms, and Tim had never lost an opportunity to flirt. Men, women, young or old, Tim was usually all over them. It had annoyed Martin to no end, but now he would have given anything for things to be back to normal. Snorri had even been exactly Tim’s type, inasmuch as he had one. Mid to late twenties, tall, attractive, cheekbones that could cut glass and stunning eyes, the fact that Tim hadn’t even shot Snorri a second glance was really a worrying sign. What was it they said? When dogs don’t eat…
Martin felt sick with worrying; worrying about Tim, worrying about Jon. He even worried about Sasha and her new boyfriend she spent so much time with.
He sipped his tea – it had gone cold.
‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ he asked Tim, mechanically gathering up the other mugs. Tim didn’t respond. Martin filled the kettle up for four anyway.
‘Snorri Lifsdottir?’ Jon said. ‘Icelandic?’
‘Of a sort,’ Snorri said. She sat gingerly in the other chair, shooting dubious looks at the mess in the office. Empty CO2 canisters still lay littered about, between boxes of tapes and files. Jon had been too busy researching to worry too much about cleanliness.
‘Martin – my assistant – said you knew Gertrude?’
Jon leant forward, eyes shining almost hungrily. Snorri leant back slightly.
‘No,’ she said, not missing Jon’s disappointed sigh. ‘My, um, parents did. Or, at least, they met a couple of times.’
Snorri fidgeted for a few seconds, clearly wrestling with something.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘you guys deal with weird stuff all the time, right? You’re not going to think I’m crazy, or anything?’
Jon, without realising, had already clicked on a tape recorder.
‘Trust me,’ he said, ‘we’re used to weird.’
‘Ok, so… I might as well just get straight into it.’ Snorri took a deep breath, as though about to dive. ‘My parents were one person. My mum was also my dad – Lif and Lyfrassir Edda, it says on my birth certificate. But I only ever had one parent.’
‘Right,’ Jon said, slowly.
‘You don’t believe me,’ Snorri said, upset. ‘I knew this was a bad idea.’
‘No, no – I believe you. But what has Gertrude got to do with this?’
‘My dad – Lyf – he died recently. In his will, he told me he left something with the Head Archivist at the Magnus Institute in London. So I came here. In his diaries, it mentions several times that he came here, before I was born and when I was just a baby.’
‘Did he mention much about Gertrude?’ Jon was leaning forward again, the hungry look back in his eyes, desperate for any details. Snorri looked even more uncomfortable.
‘Not much,’ she admitted. ‘There was a letter for her, that I was supposed to deliver, but I don’t know whether I should really give it to anyone but Gertrude…’
‘I need to read that letter,’ Jon said, sharply. Snorri flinched back from his vehemence.
‘Sorry,’ Jon said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. ‘Sorry, I just… Gertrude was murdered, in the archives. I’m trying to understand why. If this letter could help me…’
‘I see,’ Snorri said, still looking distinctly uncomfortable. She pulled the letter out of her bag, holding it but making no move to offer it over.
‘Since you obviously don’t know anything about my father,’ she said, ‘could I look in your artefact storage? My father left something there for safe-keeping, and I wanted to get it back. There’s still so much about his life I don’t know or understand.’
‘I’ll take you there, if you let me have that letter,’ Jon said.
‘Deal. But the artefact storage first,’ Snorri said.
Jon had forgotten how much he hated it in artefact storage. Sonya had given him a strange look when he arrived at her desk with Snorri in tow, but thankfully she hadn’t argued when he’d asked for access to the storage and their records from around twenty-six years ago.
‘The records say that you want artefact 038C,’ he said, looking down the list for one marked as being brought in by a Mr Lyfrassir Edda.
But Snorri was already deep into the room, peering at the shelves.
‘I can hear it,’ she said, and Jon could have sworn her voice rang with a strange timbre – one that definitely hadn’t been there before. The air rang with the faint sound of chanting.
Snorri reached into a cloth bag and pulled out a small orange cylinder, with strange script printed in black along its side.
‘What does it say?’ Jon asked, limping over to Snorri. She was staring down at the cylinder in her hands.
‘Flight recorder, Ratatosk Express,’ she said, dreamily. ‘Do not open.’
She looked up at Jon, and he suddenly noticed that her eyes were very striking – a kaleidoscope of colours.
‘Here’s your letter,’ she said, holding it out. ‘I hope it helps, Archivist.’
Jon snatched the letter and ripped it open immediately, not even bothering to head back to his office first. His leg had been bothering him more since autumn had turned more towards winter and the temperature had noticeably dropped, and he couldn’t wait the time it would take to struggle back to his office.
He didn’t notice Snorri leave.
Since I left the black box with you, the dreams have faded, and I feel I am finally free of His grasp. Perhaps He is done with me – perhaps He is merely biding his time. Either way, I can enjoy my time with my lovely Snorri, something I would never have dreamt possible.
I apologise if the box brings you strife. As long as you do not watch the contents, there should be no need for alarm. I am no expert in these matters, however, so I cannot be sure.
When I die, I want Snorri to be able to choose whether or not to learn of her origins. So I will send her to you, and the Ratatosk’s black box. She is of the Bifrost, after all. I do not think that it will destroy her like it did the Asgardians, and the rest of my people.
I have long since felt we are kindred spirits, both with immense powers hovering over us like Damocles’ sword. I have moved out from under my sword – I wish you luck with yours.
Detective Inspector Lyfrassir Edda, New Scotland Yard.’
The letter was next to useless – the ramblings of a strange man, with no information of use about Gertrude. Jon swore in annoyance.
As he was about to leave, he noticed a playing card on the floor. Realising it must have fallen from the cloth bag that had held the black box, Jon leant painfully down to pick it up.
It was a joker. There were words scrawled across it, but they were barely legible.
‘Enjoy telling your own story, Lyf.’
There was a signature too, but that wasn’t much more than a scribble, and Jon’s brain picked out his own name before he told himself not to be an idiot.
‘You went down to artefact storage?’ Martin asked, incredulous, as he waylaid Jon in the corridor on his way back to his office. Jon had the letter and card crushed in his hand and was in a sour mood.
‘Her father left something here for her to collect. Speaking of Lifsdottir – has she gone already?’
‘Gone?’ Martin looked confused. ‘You’re the only one who’s come up from storage. I would have seen her go past.’
‘She’s not down there anymore,’ Jon said, irritated. ‘Took off with one of the artefacts, too.’
‘Well, if it was her father’s…’
‘No more visitors,’ Jon said, pushing past Martin and slamming his office door.
A card fluttered in the air from the force of the slam, and Martin rolled his eyes as he picked it up. Someone had scrawled a message across the joker’s face. It looked a little like Jon’s handwriting, although if possible it was even more illegible – and since when did he call himself Jonny?
‘That should be in artefact storage,’ Elias said from directly in front of Martin. Martin leapt practically a foot in the air.
‘Elias! I didn’t see you there,’ Martin gasped, clutching his chest. Elias plucked the card from his limp fingers.
‘This shouldn’t be here,’ Elias said, inspecting it, holding it delicately in his fingertips as though it were something foul.
‘I’ll take it back down,’ Martin offered.
‘No; I’ll take it,’ Elias said, walking off without another word. Martin watched him go, confused.
Elias nodded to Sonya as he passed into the storage room, since she looked distinctly disgruntled.
‘People have been in and out like Piccadilly circus today,’ she grumbled. ‘And I think Sims left a visitor in there – on their own!’
‘Our visitor has left us,’ Elias said, ‘don’t worry about her.’
‘She didn’t go past me,’ Sonya said, stubbornly, as Elias went into the storage room.
The cloth bag from the Ratatosk’s black box lay empty on the floor. Truth be told, Elias was rather relieved to have it out of the Institute. There were some things nobody should know.
Elias scooped up the bag, before inspecting the card closer. A red joker, scribbled on apparently without care. It was slightly thicker than the average card, though, and it didn’t take him long to find the small switch. It was a tiny button that could only be pressed by the very tips of his fingernails. Elias used his little fingernail to press it.
In the silence of artefact storage a voice rang out, speaking from millions of light years away and millennia ago.
‘The Bifrost Incident.’
Elias listened until the strains of a mech song started up, and then he pressed the button again. Silence fell once more.
He put the playing card in the bag and placed it back on its designated shelf. It was only a gift left for one who was now dead, but even the slimmest chance of the Mechanisms getting involved sent dread shivering down his spine.
He wanted to keep those worlds as far apart as possible.