Godrise: the Shiva Principle

Chapter 11: Objectives

….

Once again, I can't claim ownership of the SCP characters in this story. I understand there's a dude in Russia who's trying to. He can suck it, for all I care. This is a work of fiction, it's a free country (somewhere), and I can write whatever I damn well please. I receive no remuneration for this, so there. Upraised middle finger to you, asshole!

(Actually, we should all write SCP fanfiction, just something, anything, good, bad or indifferent, just for that reason alone. Let's see him sue 14 million people. That'd be fun.)

To the rest of you, I hope you enjoy this latest installment of the story. Reviews would really encourage me, but that's up to you.

.

Kyoto, Japan: IE Operative 87 sat on the side of the bed, staring at his phone, and the PDF file that had come to it. He shook his head, his thoughts, for once, not on Keteru in the shower. An atomic-level blast of that magnitude? A good distance from here, true, but...no effects at the epicenter? A blast that destroyed a good portion of the American fleet dispatched to that region—yet left the island where it apparently originated untouched?

And what was this about these superhumans? He'd been so focused on Ouroboros, that he hadn't even been paying much attention to the news feeds, not like he should…

...Two of them annihilated hundreds of monsters in less than an hour? How could he possibly have overlooked that?

A bathrobed Keteru came out of the shower, brushing her hair. She was prepared for some lecherous comment from that disgusting individual whom she couldn't ever seem to find the right moment to disengage from.

But said comment never came. He was staring intently at his phone. Does he have one of those virtual girlfriends on that thing? She wouldn't have put it past him. "Do I need to leave the two of you alone?"

He shook his head, completely missing the sarcasm in her voice. By now, he was so used to it, it scarcely registered. "No. Keteru, I know you're not officially allied with IE International, but this is something you need to see." And he showed her the file. And then he saw her do something she'd never done, something he hadn't thought physically possible for Keteru Yamiko to do: she turned pale.

For a moment, her mouth worked, as though there were words that couldn't seem to find their way out. Then she whispered: "So. It...is true."

"What's true, Keteru?" he asked softly. Whatever it was, it had to be big, to get Keteru Yamiko, of all people, this upset.

She turned her frightened expression on him, but he had a hunch she wasn't seeing him at all. "The Gods. They've come.

"And this entire universe is going to die."

"Alright," said Ben, as he sat at the table in the White House, facing the President and Joint Chiefs of Staffs. "Here's what I know, in plain English." And he related to them his experiences with the suicide-that-was-not-a-suicide, his conversation with Dr. Jeroux, and, most importantly of all, what his doppelganger had claimed to be. Lindsay, seated beside him, took his hand when he got to that part. {{Be strong, Ben.

{{Even if they are not with you, I am.

And will always be.}}

How had he gotten along without her for all this time!?

She made a show of clearing her throat. "Alright. I think we can agree on the...enormity, shall we say?...of the problem."

"Sancta Maria, we sure can," mumbled Alvarez, his brain still on overload from what he'd learned...well. He'd already made plans to be a much more frequent attendee at his church's services. It looked like it would be the only thing rock-solid in his life. His wife, his kids...they'd become a source of encouragement to him, an anchor in the storm. As would…

"Mr. President?" Alvarez snapped to attention. Ben was talking to him, so low that the others could hear. "Are you alright? You seem...odd, somehow."

A star god was telling him that he was "odd"? Well, it wasn't the strangest thing to have happened. Now to the mention of it, "To be honest, Ben, this feels...a bit off, to me, and I'll be damned if I can figure out why. I mean I get this, about this alternate version of you, etc. But this…." He stopped and rubbed the back of his neck.

{{Use the direct approach, Ben}}, advised Lindsay

"Mr. President, I want you to know you can tell me anything. In fact, I need you—and the others"—he turned and addressed them—"to tell me if you sense or feel anything strange. Lindsay and I can use our own senses, of course, but don't discount yours. You could be sensing something I'm not.

"Don't discount your humanity. If there's one thing Lindsay and I have discovered over the years, it's that." He looked around. "Now, I know that Dr. Jeroux has taken over your government. We'll have to deal with him later. For now, I think this Destroyer version of me takes precedent.

"He told us he had been assembling your ships in the south Pacific in order to create a sensor web. Although the ships were destroyed, I'm sure they returned some data. So let's have it."

….

Hell, the city of Dys: Bradley Stevens was discovering that life as a soul belonging to a demon in Hell wasn't exactly like he'd thought it would be.

He could see everything, in all directions at once. Hell was overflowing with fire—Luan had explained that it wasn't fire as he understood it, of course—but everywhere he looked, there was what appeared to be fire of some sort. Hell seemed bordered by vast flames. As a soul in a force-globe, he couldn't feel the heat, but he could sense it. In a way, it was strangely beautiful.

"Bradley?" Luan's voice drew his attention. "I want you to meet my best friend, Jillian Adara. And that's her soul, Spencer," she said, indicating a floating sphere of force following the approaching demon.

The dark-haired demon girl, with her soul in tow, came up to them and smiled, nodding her head at him. Then she turned to Luan. "You've got good taste, Lu."

"Well, of course. Did you expect any less?" And they both laughed delightedly.

Now the demon known as "Jillian" turned to him. "I see now why Lu approached you. You're something else!"

"Hey!" said the force-globe following her. "What am I, chopped liver?"

She half-turned and nuzzled the sphere. "You're very special chopped liver, Spencie. Very precious chopped liver."

The force-globe that had been identified as "Spencer" floated towards Bradley. "How's it shakin, m'man? What do you think of all this?" And somehow, Bradley got the impression that he was referring, not just to the inferno around them, but also to his new situation.

"It's sure not what I expected. I was prepared to do anything to be with Luan. But this feels...kinda nice, actually."

"It's different, Brad—may I call you Brad?—but in a sense, you've brought some of your reality with you."

"God, I hope not. Before I met Luan, I was...in a bad way." How can I tell you I was on the verge of committing suicide? I don't even like to think about that now.

Now that I have something—make that someone—to live for.

"Part of that's the nature of this place. A lot of the bad stuff, the negative stuff, just gets, well, sorta burned away. Or else just leaving physical existence behind, or something, does it. Buuuut….it's also possible that Luan had something to do with that. Demons absorb emotions, you know. Wouldn't surprise me if she just absorbed all the bad stuff, or at least some of it."

"Now, Spencer. Don't go spilling company secrets."

"Oops. Sorry, Jills."

The soul that was Bradley spoke up. "Well, I don't care if she did. In fact, I'm grateful. It was...pretty bad stuff." He turned to Luan. "It didn't hurt you, did it, Luan?"

She smiled at him, a smile that lit her whole face up brighter than the fires of Hell. "Of course not, Bradley." Then she sobered. "But I must reinforce what I told you back on Earth: it won't always be sweetness and light. No soul could tolerate perpetual pleasure, any more than any soul could tolerate eternal pain. You'd go insane."

"I was on the verge of going worse than insane back on Earth. Believe me, this is a vast improvement."

She nuzzled the force-globe that was now him. "I'm glad. But now I have to bring you before the Black Throne, let them know what's happened. Uh," she hesitated, "Don't...don't be...put off by them, okay? It's just a formality."

"Where you go, I go. That was the deal, wasn't it?"

….

The Black Throne proved to be nothing like anything he'd ever seen or imagined. Three enormous black boxes, the one in the middle easily three stories tall. There was no one in sight, save the boxes, which reminded him of rock concert amplifiers back on Earth. Yet he could tell that they were living beings, or housed living beings. It was rather intimidating.

Luan approached the boxes, laying her trident on the ground in front of her as she bowed deeply. "Masters, I would like to introduce my soul, Bradley Stevens, of Earth."

There was a rumbling like a thunderstorm, a rumbling that strangely formed words. "So. This is your chosen soul mate. On the surface, you seem to have done well, Demon Luan."

"Thank you, Masters. It was no snap decision."

"There is, however, a problem."

Demons don't need to breathe, but Luan's breath hitched anyway. "A, a problem, my Lords?"

"Yes. We have deep scanned him, and note that he has acquired demonic attributes. A few we could overlook, but he has acquired many."

"A, a demon, my Lords? But how can that be? He was fully human—*"

"That we do not know. Yet. Study is called for. But, Demon Luan, it is forbidden for a demon to own another demon."

Tears found their way down Luan's face. "No…" she sobbed. The force-globe that was Bradley Stevens floated over to her, to comfort her.

"Bradley Stevens. We must return you to your physical state." And with that, the force-globe that was Bradley Stevens collapsed, returning him to his humanoid state. He found himself on his hands and knees, naked, before the Throne. "But we will grant you a boon. You were nearly a demon before; now you are full-fledged. And you must be attired appropriately." Immediately, a red outfit such as Luan wore formed around him. "And, until we can determine the cause of your transformation, you will be given a job. Your job will be to guard the pits of the Uncollected." Something formed in the air in front of him: a completely black trident, so black it almost glittered. "Accept this trident, a sign of the Obsidian Order, to which you now belong. Use it well. We will assign you a training regimen at a later time.

"For, you see, our purpose, the purpose of all shadonai, what you of Earth humanity call demons, is to one day storm Heaven itself, and rescue those souls such as we can.

"Such as still exist."

...

Luan was nearly inconsolable. The Black Throne had assigned Bradley quarters near hers, but he practically lived in hers. He was worried about her.

"Bradley…" They were currently seated on a couch in her living room. She always seemed on the verge of tears lately, and on more than one occasion, he'd arrived either immediately after a bout of crying or actually during one. "I...I'm s-sorry…"

"Sh," he'd tried to soothe her. "I-it's alright, Luan. I, I mean, we're still together an' all…" Truth was, he missed his old condition, with its accompanying emotional entanglement, too. They could still be together, sharing their emotions, but somehow it wasn't the same.

She sniffled, trying to dry her eyes. "You, you don't understand. Lava pit guard duty is the lowest of the low. It's practically an insult job: guard a hole in the ground to make sure nobody steals it." She started quietly weeping again. "It's a shit job, Brad. I, I'm sorry I dragged you into this."

He held her all the tighter. Funny, he thought, how everything seemed so clear, perception-wise. Luan wasn't crying real tears, but her emotions, particularly those of love, sadness, guilt, and loss, were "leaking" and he was seeing, or rather perceiving them as human-type tears. So this was how demons saw the world. Wow. "Luan," he said, with a firmness that surprised them both, "I don't care if it's a shit job. I'm here, with you. To me, that's a huge upgrade from my Earthly life. We're together, and no matter what, I'm not leaving. I'm a whole lot happier now than I was then. And the guarding the hole thing, that doesn't bother me at all. I'm not from around these parts, remember? So the, the status of the job doesn't really mean anything to me. All I care about is, we're together. Maybe not like we were, but, but maybe that'll change. I mean, who knows? It could happen.

"But." He curled a finger under her chin and raised her face up to hers. "But in the meantime," and here his other-than-physical "voice" took on a crafty sound, "It occurs to me, that back on Earth, there was one thing we never did together, that we can, just maybe can, do now.

"How do these uniforms come off, anyway?"

…..

Perched on the edge of the artificial moonlet they'd come to call "Olympus," Ben looked out over the nightside of the Earth.

Himself. Four thousand years in the future. A destroyer of, not just worlds, but evidently universes as well.

A monster.

Perhaps...perhaps it would be better if he could somehow contrive to end his own life. Would that undo the evil that his future self had done, and was planning on adding to? But no; he wasn't suicidal.

Besides, if the "many worlds" hypothesis was correct, this future version of him needn't come from this timeline. He might come from another. But if so, why come back to this timeline, to this previous Earth? If he did somehow end his life, that was no guarantee this Earthor any Earthwould necessarily survive. And he, the he-that-he-was, wouldn't be around to do anything about it.

"Don't even think it," said Lindsey's voice, from behind him.

He half-turned. "Am I that obvious?"

"Only to someone who knows you. And I do."

He completed his turn, feeling his face burn with embarrassment. "I, I just don't want to, to be the one to cause all this, this destruction, Lindsey."

She came up and touched his elbow, a supportive gesture. "Ben...you are not. Not you as you are. And the best way to ensure you don't cause such pain, such anguish, is to remain here and fight it, fight it with everything you've got. Jeroux was right about that: if your...transformation was inevitable, why would this creature bother coming back in time? It makes no logical sense."

He sighed, glancing over his shoulder at the seemingly peaceful planet below. Down there, people were living their lives, completely ignorant of the forces at work. "Lindsey...in all our battles with Jeroux, I never once doubted myself. Now...now I'm finding that I do." He looked up at her, unabashed fear in his eyes. "What if I'm the reason Tori can't remember? And her and Ashley...they both had friends, family back in that other universe. A universe that appears to be...gone.

"What if I killed them? How could I live with myself?"

Her voice took on a hint of steel. "You live with yourself to prevent such a thing, Ben. The Ben Sinclair I know would never run from a fight, would never fail to protect, with his own life, the lives of those he loves.

"And if you..." she hesitated, "...if you...run, from this battle...you will not be the Ben Sinclair I know." And love, she thought, behind her own telepathic screens. She smiled. "Now come on. Jan has prepared a superb dinner for us, and if we wait much longer, Tori will eat every last bite, and probably start gnawing on the dishes."

Kyoto, Japan: "C'mon, Keteru. Talk to me. What's this all about? What's got you so upset?"

For a long moment, she was silent. Then, in a very small voice: "In, in the place where I was raised...we all had our talents. One of the girls hadso it was said, at leastthe talent of precognition. And...what she foresaw invariably came true.

"I remember talking with her, one night after lights out. She was...extremely distraught, not about a vision she'd had, but by the fact that, beyond a certain point, she could see nothing. No future. No planet Earth. No cosmos, either.

"She was convinced it foreshadowed the end of all things. Worse, she somehow saw, through all that, that nothingness, beings like us but who were nothing like us. Beings so far beyond us that they may as well have been gods, or at least, the closest anyone could imagine.

"But one thing she worried the most about...was whether what she saw was unfolding, or would unfold normally...or whether or not she was making it happen, by perceiving it.

"She felt she could not live with herself if that were the case. She…

"...took her own life, one night, in a desperate attempt to not perceive that future into existence. That was how strongly she believed it."

87 listened intently throughout the whole of her description. His mind flashed back to the time he'd first met her, on the overhead monorail that he had taken to get to Horizon City, and his new life with IE International. He'd been briefed on her, at some point in the past, but it was still a surprise to see her there.

One thing his superiors had emphasized most strongly was that Keteru Yamiko never spoke about her past, ever. She operated as a freelance assassin, with no ties to anyone or anything. Her origin, of how she came to be who and what she was, was simply off-limits. She never spoke of it.

Yet here she was, freely telling him more than anyone else seemed to know, a little about her younger years, before she'd come onto the organization's and his personal radar. It said something about how strongly this incident had impacted her, that she'd be as freely spoken about it, even to the limited degree that she was.

When he first met her—completely by accident—he'd struck up a conversation, or tried to. At that time, she was about as forthcoming as a clam, but he'd persevered, getting her to grudgingly (very grudgingly) give him her name. At that time, she'd gone by the name, "Janice Austin," in spite of her clearly Japanese features. She wished nothing to do with anybody. And anybody else would have taken the hint.

But not him. Somehow he'd known, upon first meeting her, that she could be a great asset to IEI, and to him, personally. If he could just win her over...somehow it just wasn't right that she should spend her days and nights alone. She needed him.

And, yes, he needed her, and not just for her tactical value. One look at her...yeah, the term, "head over heels" pretty well fit the occasion.

He'd tried, intermittently, to get her to open up, and had finally gotten her to reveal her true name, which he'd already known, of course. Upon learning that she had no place to go in Horizon City, he'd suggested, as tactfully as he could, that he needed someone to do some house-sitting while he was away on his assignments. Of course, she'd immediately rejected the idea, but, once again, he persisted, telling her he needed someone, someone he could trust, but without revealing his occupation, at least, not in full. "And how do you know you can trust me?" she'd asked.

He'd leaned back. The fish had taken the bait. "I can tell. You have that kind of face."

Still, she'd dithered, convinced that he had ulterior motives (such as keeping his bed warm at night. Such was her beauty, he was fairly certain this wasn't the first time someone had made such an "offer." He didn't like to think what had happened to them.

Or maybe he did. Anyone who'd take such advantage of her…) but he'd finally won her trust, at least to a small degree. Professional assassins don't live very long if they are too trusting, and she had "suspicious" down to an art form.

But, no matter how carefully he'd broached the subject, he'd never been able to glean even the tiniest bit of her life story from her. But during their association, he'd noticed something: Keteru Yamiko almost never ate anything she couldn't pick up and hold between her hands, such as hamburgers, of which she was extremely fond. And she never put it back down on her plate, but always wolfed it down practically whole.

Once, as a tease, and knowing her weakness for hamburgers, he ordered her two hamburgers, simultaneously. After giving him a glare that would have stunned a lesser mortal (and to which he merely smiled, a perfect picture of innocence), she picked up the first one and began to eat...but with her elbow firmly atop the second one, clearly guarding it from theft. She'd then finished the first one, and immediately turned her attention to the second…

Oh, Keteru. What horrible place did you grow up in?

But this was the first time she'd ever opened up, even as much as she did, to him or anyone else. He wanted so badly to sit beside her, hold her, comfort her...but he also didn't wish for his head to leave his shoulders.

Perhaps there'd be other times.

Greatly daring, he reached across the aisle between their beds and took her hand. Such was her distress that she seemed to barely notice. "Keteru, listen to me. Just listen, Okay?" She looked at him, or rather, in his general direction, her mind still on the horrors she'd endured. "There are precogs, people with 'second sight,' who work for us, at IEI. And one thing we've learned: the future is not graven in stone. And while it's true, the visions they had have often been fairly accurate, they aren't always. Precognition doesn't always happen exactly as it seems, during the vision. Sometimes, it comes across as more figurative than literal.

"And the future, any future, can be changed. I should know; I've changed a few myself. Nor am I the only one.

"Without a malleable future, there'd be no point in having such visions in the first place.

"So it's quite possible what your friend saw, or foresaw, might not have been the absolute literal, immutable history of the future. It could easily have meant other things. It might even have been a forewarning of her own death: that, after a certain time, she'd be unable to see the future, because she wouldn't be in it."

She was silent for a minute, looking down at her feet. Then, she withdrew her hand from his, but completely without the accompanying violence he'd halfway expected.

"Perhaps," was all she said.

Hm. I don't think I convinced either one of us.

Oh well. I tried.

The entity known to the worlds of men as "682" was swimming through the vast Pacific Ocean, headed back to the SCP Foundation from which he'd been so recently liberated. He had a definite plan in mind, but he would need more information before he could put it into practice. And the only being he regarded as trustworthy, as a friend, was currently housed in that site.

If he could just free 079, the intelligent AI known colloquially as "the Professor," then he'd have the intel he needed…

...And Earth would be doomed.

But suddenly, he sensed a presence over his head, in the atmosphere. It had to be fairly unusual, not to mention potent, to register on his senses the way it did. Curious, he surfaced and looked around.

There was what, to anyone else would appear as a man standing on thin air high overhead. He was wearing a red jumpsuit, arms crossed in front of him, smiling bemusedly down at the hard-to-destroy reptile. Yet 682 could tell, with the aid of his senses, that this was no mere mortal man. "Yes?" he spoke up, addressing the being floating overhead. "I take it you've sought me out?"

"How insightful you are. Yes, I have sought you out, 682. I understand you wish to destroy this world?"

"Not merely this world, whoever you are. All life is my enemy."

The floating being seemed to consider this for a fraction of a second. Then, he slapped his knee. "Well, then! I suppose that makes us enemies, as well!"

….

Half a world away, Dr. Miller's watch-alarm rang, waking him out of the first sound sleep he'd had since the "liberation" (though just who had done the liberating was not at all clear) of several keter class, as well as a few Euclids. He scarcely needed it; all throughout the SCP complex, alarms were going off. He dressed swiftly, and hurried into the Center's Ops Command HQ. He rushed up to the officer hunched over the main console. "What've we got?"

"Unsure, sir. Some sort of major disturbance in the Pacific." He took out his earpiece, shook it. "All our sensors are down in that region. Even satellites-we can't seem to get any clear picture!"

"What can you get?"

"Seismological data puts this at the same level of the incident in the South Pacific, sir!"

….

682 was finding this no easy battle.

Whoever his opponent was, he was skillfully countering 682's every attack, while minimizing attacks of his own. It was almost condescending, thought the dragon. As though he were holding back.

"Don't tell me that's all you've got," mocked his adversary, during a brief lull in the fighting.

"Alright, I won't," replied the hard-to-destroy reptile, now striking back with new powers it hadn't had before. Even so, the enemy countered them easily. "It that all you've got?"

His adversary shrugged. "It's usually sufficient. But tell me something, 682. Suppose you succeed? Suppose you are successful in eliminating all life from the entire universe? What then?

"Who will there be, to witness your victory?"

682 lashed out with what had once been its tail, and still served that function, as well as a few others. A powerful stream of antiprotons lashed out at the floating humanoid figure. As all the other attacks, they simply had no effect. "I need no one to witness any 'victory,' as you call it." Truth was, 682 was becoming exhausted. The other had not actually attacked, at least not to the degree 682 sensed he was capable of. It had been more in the order of provocation than an actual assault. "This world needs no humans upon it. I will succeed in implementing that."

"Why?" 682 looked up in bewilderment. The being saw this and corrected himself. "Why must you do this thing? You know what people call 'humanity' is but a fleeting episode in the lifecycle of this planet. Why not let the humans do all the dirty work for you?"

"Because I am part of that lifecycle, as you put it. I am death. Death to...all humans."

"Hesitated there a minute, I notice. You do realize that, if you are successful, she will also die, don't you?"

Another antigraviton blast, this from an organ 682 hadn't possessed a moment ago. "I'm sure I don't know who you are talking about."

The Other sloughed off the blast as though it were nothing. "Wellllll, since you obviously don't know and don't care….guess I'll attend to that little detail myself. That'll still leave you plenty to kill." And he vanished in a golden flash.

Something seized up in 682's non-existent heart. He knew exactly who the being had been talking about. Completely ignoring any attempts at stealth, he turned and raced for SCP Foundation Site 19, smashing completely through a small atoll in his path. He found himself wishing he had some means of contacting that insufferable agent, 87.

….

HQ had sent a private jet to Japan to retrieve its two operatives (even though Keteru was not officially on the team, 87 had pulled a few strings…). The in-flight briefing was….most informative.

Keteru Yamiko had seemed somewhat subdued, ever since her revelation to Clifford Boltzmann, aka Special Agent 87. It seemed, to him, as though she was exhausted from being as open as she was.

All he could do was sit by her, not saying anything, just being there. If she wanted to talk (doubtful), he'd listen.

Then the reports started coming through relating to 682's encounter with the being in red. It seems the hard-to-destroy (make that impossible-to-destroy, he thought, wryly) had encountered something worthy of his full attention.

Satellite cams showed the monster as changing course, heading for SCP Foundation Site 19. But limited to water travel as it was, it would be a while before it made landfall. But it was sure sparing nothing to get there. It almost looked like it was frantic to get there. Frantic? 682?

He was afraid he knew why.

IE Headquarters: The two were rushed into a chamber where Miss IE herself, the top kick, was interrogating what looked to be, for all the world, a small cat. "So, Lucy. I've some questions for you."

To Keteru's surprise, the kitten replied, "I'll bet you do." Its voice was so low the assembled humans had a hard time hearing it.

"You betrayed the Foundation. You were in their keeping for twenty-two years, yet you betrayed them to the Chaos Insurgency. Why?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"You might be surprised."

The kitten looked up. "Why should I answer you?"

"Why should you not?"

Silence. Then, "Alright. I guess I may as well. Yes, the Foundation took care of me for twenty years. Yes, I betrayed them. And, I guess, I got what I gave: the Chaos Insurgency 'forgot' to extract me from their care." She looked down at her paws. "What goes around, comes around, I guess." She looked up at the blue-haired woman behind the desk. "I could say that they showed me pictures, videos, of what you call 'SCPs,' cryptids kept in confinement, in horrible conditions. I could say I saw videos of cryptids being tortured, not for any experimental reasons, but just...because. Because humans are what they are. But what reason would you have to believe me?"

The blue haired woman motioned for the two new arrivals to take seats beside her. "I am not human, as I'm sure your own senses have informed you already. I have a knack for discerning truth from lies. So. This inclined you to betray those who'd kept you in relative luxury? All those years?"

"What, you want me to say I'm sorry? Well, I am, but not for the reasons you suppose. I," and here Lucy again paused, looking down at her feet, "I guess I wanted to go...back."

"Back where?"

A long silence. "My first memory….was of an old woman. I can see her as clearly as I see you. She...she picked me up, brought me indoors, fed me. She...she loved me." Another look up. "That was one thing the Foundation never offered. I was tolerated as a 'specimen,' but...with very few exceptions, never really loved." The cat shrugged slightly. "I...kept hoping, hoping that someone would come along who….but it never happened. It was too formal a setting for anything like that. Yes, I was tolerated, but not, not really, y'know, loved." She sighed, a tiniest whisper of a sigh. "I guess...I wanted to be free, to find someone who would love me. Maybe a house with some little girls. Little girls would be great. Boys can be so mean." The kitten's face scrunched up noticeably. "So mean."

"Indeed they can. Well, I have no further questions. All that remains to be determined is what to do with you."

The little cat sighed. "Either kill me or let me go. I'm...tired."

"We'll deliberate on the matter. For now…" A curtain closed between the humanoids and the cat. She turned to the newcomers. "What have you learned?"

87 leaned back in his chair. He noticed Keteru was tense; about what? "Not a great deal more than what you sent me. Oh, you won't have to worry about Ouroboros for a while, at least not that node of it." He picked up the hardcopy reports on the desk to the side. "I gather this...is a game changer. And I saw where 682 is making a beeline for Site 19. That's the very site we broke him out of; why is he going back? And what was all the fuss about, there in the Pacific?"

"We think it's all related. First, we have these beings, these star gods, show up and at first, no bad thing they did. But then, from what we've been able to glean, they were apparently attacked by a being of equal or greater power. Strong rumor has it that it claims to be the man, from far in the future, come back to ensure his own existence-and perhaps erase ours. He certainly seems non-discriminatory in his depredations, at the very least." She leaned back and sighed, crossing her arms. "An equal-opportunity destroyer. He's politically correct, at least." She chewed on a knuckle, a habit she'd picked up from the humans she associated with. "But why attack 682? It makes no sense."

"Unless…" began 87, "it does. It just occurred to me: you know who else is contained at Site 19?"

"Enlighten me. Also, why should any….detainee...be of such interest to a being like 682?"

He did.

Now Miss IE looked really worried.

To be continued…