DATE:8/1/2023 LOCATION: L-14 ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, Dr. Pepper EQUIPMENT: A desk, a rubberband collection, paperclips, and some pencils. A ton of paperwork. PURPOSE: Completion of paperwork.
It was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays were by default, boring. Tuesdays were paperwork days, where Pepper signed all of her documents and checked off the interns’ documents, and there were just so many documents. She looked at her pile of papers and sighed. This was honestly her least favorite part about working for the ACF. There was just so much paperwork involved in managing the chain of handling, experiment findings, and reports on interns' progress. Pepper wished for not the first time that she could have a personal Laine, someone who liked to do paperwork, to do all of this for her.
There was a general buzz about the facility, however, that did not match the energy of a Tuesday. People seemed to be running about with a bit more energy, some people actually running about. Pepper wanted to ask someone about it, but she couldn’t really be bothered to stop her paperwork. The sooner she finished, the sooner she could leave and go get an ice cream. Tuesdays were also ice cream days because Pepper had grown up with ice cream as a reward for hard work. It had stuck, and now even as a twenty-five-year-old, she still rewarded particularly hard work with a strawberry and cream ice cream from Naomi’s in San Diego. Maybe she’d even have time to go skating tonight.
Pepper leaned back in her chair, and her neck and back cracked sharply. She winced and rubbed her neck. Maybe a break was in order. The young woman stood, grabbed her thermos, and headed to the break room. Upon arriving there, she rinsed out the cup and put it in her lunch bag, removing a can of Dr. Pepper from within its depths. Mornings were for coffee, but after noon, all bets were off. She knew it was irony that she was called Dr. Pepper while being so enamored with the drink, but it was by far the best drink on the market, in her humble opinion. With that, she returned to her desk and sighed. Maybe something interesting would happen, and she’d be released from this boredom.
Level 2 locations just weren't very interesting most of the time. Cait Corby had been given very firm instructions not to change this, which she felt was incredibly unfair. All these people were missing out on so much.
She had the distinct suspicion that she was also missing out, and that the reason that Gail had sent her off to L-14 to collect information about the whole 1003 situation was because she was planning something and didn't want Cait inviting a bunch of elder gods over for tea while it happened. To be fair, she'd only done that once.
And maybe she had to admit a little that Gail had a point about the whole getting a human opinion thing and that reports really didn't cover most of the good parts. Of course, to really cover the good parts, you needed a firm grasp of Eldritch and memetics and were basically creating your own info-hazard, but that's why she and Brian put hex code in everything anyway.
At least she wasn't stuck with his job, which was monitoring the Monitor, so to speak. There was probably a way to say that in French that sounded neat, but Cait's knowledge of French was about ten words and three of them were [expletives].
She'd talked to a couple people and would talk to more people later, and had generally been wandering around not causing trouble, which was absolutely the worst thing she could have been doing - at least, in her opinion. Cait's pure existential ennui at this point could only be matched by...
...by the sigh coming from inside one of the offices. Oh, good - someone who was as bored as she was. Cait poked her head in the door, which proved to be that of a woman who was surrounded by paperwork, none of which seemed to be in Eldritch. No wonder she was bored.
Well, there was a problem she could help with.
"Hi! Can I borrow some paperclips? And a rubber band ball. And some plain white paper and two vials of squid ink - no, never mind, I've got those. And a pen. I think I left mine in a different reality."
Pepper looked up at the woman who had approached her, a little bit of shock in her eyes. She hadn’t heard her get close. Maybe she needed a real break, and not just a can of caffeine. She replayed the request in her head before smiling. “Yeah, I’ve got those things. Trust me, I know all about leaving things in another reality.”
She laughed a little as she handed over the materials that had been asked after. Of course, this woman didn’t look familiar, and Pepper knew everyone in the research department, and most of the rest of the staff at the facility. The woman doubtlessly didn’t know who Pepper was, and therefore likely wouldn’t get that Pepper was being serious. Then she remembered they worked with anomalies all the time, of course the woman would know she was serious.
God, she needed a real break.
“Can I get you anything else? You look new. Are you new? Or just visiting from another location?”
"Just visiting," Cait answered cheerfully. "I am collecting personal reports. Necessary and helpful, but I'm not allowed to turn anyone into a newt, and what is the point of talking to people if you can't turn them into newts? Not even the interns. How are you going to get people to learn not to agree to things without thinking about them if you don't turn them into newts as a learning experience? I suggested it be a requirement for Class C, but four-fifths of the security council voted against it. Still can't believe Butterfly didn't go for it. Did you know he used to be fun?"
She sighed, dramatically, because how else? It lasted only a moment, then she quickly shook her head and extended a hand. "Oh! Sorry, I forget that this isn't one of those places where things run off with your Names. Cait Corby, Hocus Locusts."
She pulled up a chair. Literally, in fact: it came out of the ground, where there was a suspicious looking hole in the fabric of space, time, and for some reason corduroy, which was also what the chair was upholstered with. "Mind if I use a little corner of your desk? It won't take long."
Pepper took the offered hand and shook it. Her bracelet jingled a little as she shook it, the little bell on it ringing delicately. “Nice to meet you Cait, I’m Pepper Krasniqi, researcher. Obviously, I’m a researcher, that’s obvious to anyone with eyes. Sorry, I’m a little out of it. I'm not the best with paperwork, and that's all I've been doing all day.”
Then the chair came. Pepper stood and leaned over to look at the hole in the floor and smiled. Now that was interesting. That wasn’t boring paperwork, that was an anomaly. And Pepper loved nothing more than a good anomaly. “Take a seat, I have plenty of desk to spare.”
And it was true. Her desk was clear of clutter except for a row of colorful beads that lay right above her computer’s keyboard. Aside from that and the very considerate pile of papers, the desk was clear and free. She carefully swept up the signed documents and placed them in a tray on the shelf next to the desk. Then she placed the rest over her keyboard and smiled. They could wait. “So tell me, Cait, how and where did that chair come from?”
"Oh, the chair has always been here, I just had to convince the location that this was where here was," Cait answered, as if this made perfect sense. She did not say has always been here with the same intonation as, say, the Lepidopterists - this wasn't a bending of reality, merely a bending of conventional physics.
Cait set her array of borrowed office supplies on a part of the desk, laying out a crisp white sheet of paper in front of her. Since Pepper was a researcher, Cait didn't feel bad about continuing - researchers always wanted to know more. "You really just need to think really hard about the whole fabric of space-time thing and realize that if you just fold the fabric it's pretty easy to stick a needle through it and pull up a thread. Or a chair. It's just a teleportation, really. Now, if you want to do a really fun one, you start matching together different fabrics, so you get time-reality or space-corduroy." Space was a fabric, time was a fabric, reality was a fabric, corduroy was a fabric. It made perfect sense - at least, it did to Cait. Of course, most of the things that made perfect sense to Cait got other people to look at her funny.
"Anyway, corduroy's easy to work with because it already has an extra dimension." The pen - which was a standard ACF ballpoint - dipped into a little vial she'd pulled out of a pocket, coming away with a slight schlorp and with a tiny tentacle hanging onto it and trying to pull it back into the inky depths. Cait poked the tentacle back, where it explored the top of the vial and the air around it in a somehow pathetic manner. Cait didn't see any need to comment on that, applying the pen to the paper and starting in on a shape of squiggly little symbols. The shape might have been a circle, or it might have been a pentagram, or it might actually have had more dimensions than the paper, or perhaps the symbols she was drawing only existed somewhere else and-
It was best not to look at them too long. People started getting cross-eyed, in the sense of having additional eyes to come across. Usually they dried up after a week, like unwanted Eldritch pustules.
"So what do you research? Besides paperwork, I mean."
To say the Pepper was fascinated would be an understatement. She watched the ink, and the pen, and tried to not look too hard at the doodles. It was hard because she wanted to examine them closely and pick them apart until they stopped moving. She had already forgotten the stack of papers behind her and was leaning forward on one hand. “That all kind of makes sense. It sounds a lot like how I go about opening my doorway. Instead of folding the fabric, I take a knife and cut it open. As for what I work on, well, at this point it’s easier to ask what I don’t work on.”
She brought one leg up to her chest and started swinging the other one like a child on a swing. There weren’t many perks to being as short as Pepper was, but being able to swing your legs while sitting in an adult-sized office chair was one of them.
“So I’m kind of in between big projects at the moment, so I’m doing anything they pass my way. Cody has something planned for me coming up, but until then I’m just working on households again with some of the interns and junior researchers. We actually just worked on a polygraph that compels the user to tell the truth no matter what they actually want to say. I think that’s pretty neat, although it was an embarrassing experience for me because I allowed someone else to head the testing for their own experience.”
She abruptly stopped and smiled, realizing she had rambled just a bit. The rambling was likely from how turned off her brain was after all that paperwork. She dropped her eyes once more to the scribbles before raising them to look at Cait. “So you said you’re here collecting personal reports? What about?”
Cait nodded along with Pepper's explanation - apparently not everyone at L-14 was completely hopeless after all. "Sounds neat. Cutting's good if you want a hole to go through, but if you can fine tune it you can just bring stuff through without hopping in. You know, if you wanted to do that. Which, why wouldn't you? But then again I guess if you didn't have reservations you'd be at Nine with us." Cait pulled things out of dimensions all the time. Sometimes she put them back very quickly and then pretended that she hadn't, or sometimes she just threw them as far as she could or sometimes she stuck them in the pipes of the sink on the eighth floor. All viable disposal methods!
"Let me know if you want to give it a try sometime!" This offer was, of course, a terrible idea. The twinkle in Cait's eyes warned that it was a terrible idea, and also suggested that she would be quite happy to do it anyway, or perhaps even especially happy to do it anyway.
She finished her inscriptions, using her finger to poke the floundering tentacle back into the depths of the bottle - it made a disappointed squeak, but didn't otherwise protest too much. Her hands were always busy, now twisting the paperclips together - one for a tiny body, two arms, two legs, one sideways for a head. She hummed a little song and dropped it on the paper, or in the paper, and perhaps it came out the other end or perhaps the paper had just inverted itself through a series of dimensions that shouldn't have existed, before catching on fire.
It blew over very quickly and only left a few scorch marks. The little paperclip man remained, now standing on its own. Cait offered it the rubber band ball with a cheerful "Here you go, little guy!"
The little paper clip princeling seemed quite content to push the rubber band ball around the desk, which seemed to adhere to anything smaller than a paperclip, picking it up and continuing to roll it around. Cait giggled, because there was no way that wasn't going to cause someone to have a little more fun than they were expecting.
Oh, right, reports. "Oh - I was interviewing people about thousand-three. I resurrected a dead god and now they're making me do paperwork. Paperwork! Ugh! Resurrections always go wrong!"
“It’s less that I have reservations, and more that, well, I belong here. Fourteen has been my home since I was five years old. It would take a lot to get me to leave here.” Pepper smiled at the glint in Cait’s eye. Something told her it would be a bad idea to take the woman up on the offer. That wasn’t really Pepper’s department.
Then Cait did her trick with the paperclips and the paper, and Pepper’s eyes couldn't quite process what she saw. All she knew was one moment, there had been squiggly lines on a sheet of paper, and the next there was fire. But now, where both things had been, was a small paperclip man. Cait gave him a ball and he happily rolled away with it. Pepper immediately dropped down to be eye level with the table, watching the paperclip man move. Now that wasn’t something you saw every day.
“Oh, you mean Ira. I was wondering where she had gone. I saw some commotion about her leaving her unit, but I was far too busy with Dahlia at the time to pay much attention to it. What exactly happened out there?”
Pepper picked up a few pens and some rubberbands and set to work making herself a little slingshot. She wrapped the rubberbands around the joined pens until it was stable, then used the pen caps to anchor the third band. She picked up a balled-up sheet of paper and lined up her shot. She lined up a shot and sent it flying, straight at the door. At the last moment, she opened up her portal, and the ball went sailing through to the inky blackness. She closed it up immediately after.
Isaac could move very quietly when he wanted to. He was combat security, and observation security. Sitting still and moving quiet was his specialty.
Normally he was in his armor, but today was a papers kind of day, and Smith had wanted to try out something new with his usual set anyway. He’d spent most of the morning preoccupied with his own paperwork, but when he’d stepped out of the office, he heard a familiar and unfamiliar voice from down where he knew Pepper spent her Tuesdays filling out her week’s paperwork. Which was a shame, because Tuesday was the day Cody did inspections down on levels 5-6 in risky class containment, so they wouldn’t be crossing paths.
Naturally, he came to investigate. He’d done so through a side door on silent cat feet, and discovered that the Locusts seemed to have left someone behind. He stayed just out of Cait’s periphery, making no sudden moves to indicate to the L-9 agent that something was amiss. Technically Pepper could have seen him, but Pepper was busy watching Cait do something probably weird on the desk. He waited until Peppers actually went through with the slingshot – a really good rig, actually, especially for a few minutes’ work – before he finally stepped into the light.
“Speaking of one-thousand-three,” Isaac finally said, just loud enough to be alarming. He knew from experience that even if he didn’t get Cait, he’d get Pepper, at least, but he waited to actually follow through with the remark as he turned his faded green eyes to the visitor. “Always a surprise to see you left unattended, Corby, you’d better not be breaking my researchers’ brains. They still need those here.”
He didn’t look impressed, but he didn’t look upset, either. Unlike Codes, Isaac could actually hide what he was thinking. The hooded eyes swiveled back to Pepper.
“How’s your interaction with Ira coming along? I was hoping to get that report to Jupiter tonight, Krasniqi.”
This was not surprising to Cait. This was, in fact, completely normal to Cait. Having a location manager walk out of a wall when you were trying to get a fiddly bit figured out and ask you what you were doing and whether it was a good idea and if you needed any pointers or wanted to figure it out on your own - that was the default state of things, at least as far as Cait was concerned.
So she wasn't at all surprised to have a location manager here pop up out of nowhere. She was, however, maybe just a little bit sad. He wasn't her location manager, after all. Her location manager was still... well.
It was complicated.
People had always said no one could ever miss the old bastard, but people had been underestimating Cait for a long time.
She just wanted things to get back to abnormal.
Of course, she wasn't going to say any of that. Instead she just fed half an eraser to the growing ball, and put on an impudent smile, just like always. "If their brains weren't already broken, they wouldn't be researchers." Duh.
"Standard field stuff," she answered the earlier conversation, turning back to Pepper. "Anomalous death zone, little birdies going sploit, fought off a horrifying monstrosity, Annihilation, resurrected a dead tree into a not-so-dead-maybe-god, talked to thousand-three about why we don't do cows, you know, typical Tuesday. Or at least it was typical Tuesday, except today is atypical Tuesday and I am here doing boring interviews. Do you do a lot of research work with the godbait, then?"
The moment she heard Isaac’s voice, Pepper jumped up from her chair and turned around, a panicked look on her face. The moment she saw it was just Isaac, however, she relaxed back into her chair. There was a look of almost relief on her face, but also disappointment. “[EXPLETIVE], Isaac. You scared the living daylight out of me. Ira went… as well as could be hoped for. The uh, report is…” She looked at the pile of papers waiting to be completed. She knew damn well that the report on Ira was the last document in there, as it had been, well, an embarrassing report to have to write. “The report is coming along. Just translating it from shorthand to full text. I’ll have it sent in by the end of the day for Jupiter.”
She carefully hid her slingshot, under her desk, clearing her throat a bit before answering Cait’s question. “I’ve only recently been assigned to– did you just call Ira godbait? Never mind that I was saying I’ve only recently been assigned to visit Ira. There’s something about her that’s really familiar that I can’t quite put my finger on.”
And there really had been. It was in the way she spoke, the words she chose, and the cadence of her voice. It was oddly familiar. Pepper had been trying to place it since her visit, and she just couldn’t figure it out.
That was a problem for another day, perhaps.
She pivoted her head back in Isaac’s direction. “So, Isaac, was there anything else you needed? Maybe you’d like to stay and talk for a bit? I have another chair. And she did, in fact, have another chair. It was a blue leather office chair, the kind of baby blue that went well with her own baby pink. Normally the only person who used it was Cody, whenever he swung by to chat with her, but she was perfectly fine with it being used by someone else. It was just tucked into the corner of the room, where it wouldn't obstruct anyone from walking in. Pepper was honestly surprised Cait hadn’t just pulled that chair up, but her trick had been entertaining anyway.
Cait seemed more than unimpressed with his appearance, although Pepper had reacted exactly as expected. He had a good eye for people, and he knew he’d hit one of Cait’s nerves, even if it wasn’t the one he’d intended or even one he could recognize before she covered it up the exact same way someone else he knew would’ve covered it up. But she wasn’t his agent. By line of command, they didn’t even share a Councilman. So he let it be.
Pepper, on the other hand, gave him the actual answer he’d been looking for, and offered him a seat. Isaac’s eyes moved to the chair in the corner, then up to the clock on the wall. Because he was responsible about paperwork, he actually had a little bit of time to kill before he got back to the grind.
“Sure, why not.” He stepped toward the corner while the two women tied up the loose ends, and rolled the chair back. He waited for the conversation to go quiet again before he spoke up again.
“Cody managed to get some info about the thing that came out of the tree. I’m sure he got the report patched through to your Location, Cait, but if they’ve been keeping you busy elsewhere I can fill in if you haven’t heard.”
He might have been testing something, or he might have just been offering information. His calm expression certainly didn’t indicate which it was.
Pepper had quickly hidden away her little slingshot, which was a bummer. Cait had thought it was pretty good, for quickly improvised office weaponry. Apparently Pepper wasn't the shooting things with rubber bands in front of management type, though, which wasn't nearly as fun.
She objected to godbait, which got a rather extreme eyeroll from Cait as Location Manager pulled up a chair in a completely mundane way. "You call it Ira." Cait felt this was a very pointed point that was, perhaps, lost in translation, or the lack thereof. "Seriously, do all y'all not know your Latin? Ira, anger, wrath, dies irae, end of the world, apocalypse, whole shebang."
Latin was not, strictly speaking, one of Cait's languages, though she did alright with translation software. Gail could Latin it up with the best of them, though, although it was generally court-based: Habeas corpus, deus ex rectum - I have the body of the god I pulled out of my [expletive]? Was that right? Cait wasn't a hundred percent sure but that was probably close enough for Foundation work. She was probably missing a declension. Or a clension, given the, er, locative.
"Anyway. I'd actually love to hear it directly from you, if you don't mind," she stated, turning to Isaac after he'd gotten his chair situation situated. "Gail's got this whole thing about how reports tell you the information someone wants to tell you, not the information you might actually need, and you should never ever confuse the two." Gail had also been known to write up completely accurate reports that led very naturally to entirely the wrong conclusions, and drop them off with personnel who were new to L-9 as part of the check-in process. "So, anything you can tell me would be great."
There was a little bit of judgment in Cait’s eyes as Pepper hid her slingshot, but she didn’t have time to explain the reason why, nor was it part of the current conversation. The truth was, Pepper really respected Isaac and his opinion, so she tried her hardest to put on a serious face when he was present. And a slingshot she had crafted out of pens and rubberbands was decidedly not serious. She watched the little paperclip man roll his ball by before looking up at the others.
While she was sure she would have gotten her hands on the report eventually, Pepper was never one to turn down free information. She wondered if Cait had listened to the audio logs regarding Ira, as the paperwork was seemingly never complete or right. The name Ira had another meaning, and Pepper thought that meaning far more fitting than any of the ones that Cait had just listed.
“I’m also very curious to hear about this. What’s this you’re saying about a tree, Isaac?”
“You’re technically right, but that’s not where the name comes from. Dr. Holtzheim gave her the name Ira – in the L-9 Naming sense – because it was his daughter’s name. In Hebrew, it means watchful.” He wondered why Weber had kept the audio file from her team before their interaction with Ira. She was hardly one to get caught up on irrelevance, in his limited experience with her.
He set that mystery aside, for right now, because it was itself irrelevant. He looked at Pepper when she expressed interest in the tree.
“Cait was there, and can probably describe it better for you, but when IX-S took Ira on that field trip, the living – mm, what does Cody call it? That-Which-Binds, that’s it. It’s an effigy made of biological remains. Usually 1003-A, but we called this one 1003-D, since it behaved differently. And by behaved differently, I mean it became a living entity that loosely resembled a tree.” He then looked to Cait. “On Jupiter’s request, Cody went in last month to have a conversation with Ira, and we’re pretty sure that he’s accidentally developed what A.B.C. called ‘synergy.’ Ira displays new behaviors when he’s around, and he given he’s spending time with her outside of research hours they’re getting close. Anyway, two days after you took the entity, he took the time to stop in and talk to Ira. She called the corpse a ‘Husk.’ Apparently it’s unfeeling, but capable of thinking, and it’s essentially an undead assassin Frankensteined from the bodies of sapient entities.”
He sat back in his chair. That felt like a lot, so he let it settle before adding the last part.
“It also apparently looks the way Ira does, in her world. Cody included that she wanted it destroyed in his report, but he’s already told her that’s unlikely.”
"Hebrew, huh? That's neat." Cait didn't mind the correction. She didn't have clearance for the files the information was in, anyway. Maybe some day she would, but any time the idea of Cait getting promoted to Class D got brought up, the person it was brought up to tended to get one of those thousand yard stares, and quickly find something else they needed to do for a while. Her smile was easy and affable, until suddenly it sharpened.
Strings did it better, of course - she couldn't quite manage the deranged split grin the way he could. On Cait it just looked... well, kind of cute. Cute in the way of a kid who might be getting away with something, sure, but cute nonetheless. It didn't really strike fear into the hearts and minds and various other organs of her audience.
"Sooo... you guys don't think the other meaning matters?" There was an answer embedded in that question, the sort of answer that suggested maybe some of the answers were very, very wrong, and maybe it would be a good idea to look over your work before handing it in, just in case the test exploded or turned into beetles. "Hmm."
There was a lot of Strings in that hmm, the sort of sound that implied that Cait might be very interested in watching whatever it was that was about to blow up. She let it go, though, because whatever implosion might or might never have been imminent wasn't going to have happened right now, and that probably meant she might as well focus on what was happening right now.
"It looked a lot like a tree, really - as much as any anomaly can, anyway. We hexed it up pretty good, and then a couple of the Assistant Annies deboned themselves and stabbed it to redeath and then it split open and the bonus godbody hopped out and pulled the bone spears out and stabbed Annie. Gail's still got one of the bone spears too, if that matters. She won't let me have it." Cait was pretty disappointed by that, because there were all sorts of things that you could do with a bone that had been used to stab a semidead semidivine. She had so many ideas.
"Pretty sure she's read all Dr. Redd's reports. And no, we don't have any plans to destroy it, at least not without Council insistence. Might be hard to destroy anyway, especially since we're throwing Nimsy at it to see where that goes."
Pepper sat up straight at this. The tree caught her attention. She quickly pulled a sheet of paper from the printer and a pen. While Cait and Isaac talked, she quickly drew. She wasn’t the best artist, but after spending some time with Kim from the Lepidopterists, she’d sharpened up her skills enough to draw recognizable things. So she drew a tree, one made of bones. Their structure was broken, deformed bones held together with very little remaining flesh. In some of them were skulls of creatures she had never seen or had only briefly seen from a distance. She had never seen one close enough to determine if they were constructed, or if they were grown, as the planet itself was made of flesh and bone as well.
She didn’t conceal what she was doing as they talked. She was sure there was no way that the “trees” of the Dark Dimension had anything to do with Ira’s “tree”. Surely trees made of bones were a common enough thing in anomalies for it to not mean much. But still, she drew it, listening while the other two talked. Finally, she peaked her hea dup and asked, “That sounds like it was intense. You basically resurrected it and then killed it again, right? I look forward to reading the report in the future if they keep me working with Ira.”
She sat back again, pulling her leg up, the drawing left forgotten on the table as she fiddled with her pen. She pulled her slingshot back out and started fiddling with the design. She hooked the bars on the ends of the pens together to stabilize it better, then set it down next to the drawing, before pulling out a chain of paperclips. She started to twist them in her hands as she thought.
So Ira had a body double hanging out over at Nine? One that she referred to as a Husk. Husk. That word meant something to Pepper too, but she couldn’t quite remember why. Mikulass had called something a Husk before, hadn’t he? Was that the time he had referred to himself as a Thinker? “Thinker, Feeler, Husks alike, they worship HER.” Something to that effect.
“What’s this thing you’re calling Annie? Was there a person involved like the ones from that one incident where a bunch of people built a shrine to Ira?” She vaguely remembered that in one of the audio logs about Ira. But then, she’d only been allowed a single listen to the logs and no further access. They had wanted her prepared, wanted her to understand the girl’s history, but she was not really authorized to research her yet.
Isaac knew that hmm, and he didn’t like it, because it meant that Cait knew something she wasn’t quite telling him. She had the answer, but she was going to try to make him work for it. He hadn’t played that game in over six years and he wasn’t going to start again now.
“I never said that,” he answered her instead, patiently, “but I think that if it is relevant, it’s by coincidence, not intention.”
He was about to ask about what a Nimsy was, but two things stopped him. One, he felt like Cait wanted him to ask, and it was probably something L-9 had done that couldn’t be undone. If he really wanted to know, he could ask Dr. Hobbes, who had clearance to know those kinds of things and wouldn’t make him walk in circles for it.
But two, he saw what Pepper had drawn.
He didn’t say anything at first, just glimpsed at it in passing. His eyes only rested there for a second, while Pepper was distracted with the slingshot. He had seen something like it before, very recently, in a photograph. Pieces were coming together. And he didn’t like the picture they were making.
He let his gaze carry to the slingshot, and he just watched Pepper make it. Whether Cait noticed his hesitation wasn’t his problem, but he spoke up to keep her from interrupting the train of thought before the time was right.
“Annie, as the Locusts called him in the audio logs of the retrieval mission, was an entity that called itself Annihilation.” Isaac shook his head. “It wasn’t one of Ira’s cultists. She seemed to hate it, and it hated her. She told Codes that it’s made wrong, somehow. In her world, Thinkers can’t kill each other without basically experiencing getting killed. That’s what Husks are for. But Annihilation is an entity that doesn’t seem mind that part. The ultimate sadomasochist.”
He looked at Cait, now, searching for something she wouldn’t be able to recognize. “I do say ‘is’ intentionally, because if it’s true that that’s its existence, it might have multiple instances, as Ira seems to. Another one could come through. I’ll have to mention that in the report for Jupiter.”
And then he could glance fully at the paper, and frown as if he just saw it for the first time. There was a time and a place for everything, after all, and he was still trying to avoid interruption from Cait.
“Krasniqi, is that something you’ve seen in the Dark Dimension?”
His timing was deliberate. He would leave the report to Jupiter, but if Pepper hadn’t made her report yet, this was going to be something he’d have to make her add. They hadn’t gotten a good look at anything on that side, ever, after all. But if there was a connection between 1003 and 7823… that was researcher business, but it took a location manager to get a researcher on that.
Pepper set aside the paperclips as Isaac talked, then froze halfway through his speech. Did he say Thinkers and Husks? Before she had time to really put it together in her head, though she was well on the way there, he asked about her drawing. She looked at it for a moment and a slightly sickening feeling rose in her throat. The kind of feeling that a researcher got when they realized they’d overlooked a big part of their project, and were just now realizing how much more massive the scope of their research actually was.
“Yeah, yeah it is… Mikulass took me to it during one of my explorations of the zone outside the path. I’m sure I put it in the report, about the shrine to the Goddess they refuse to worship? It’s supposedly covered in living flesh from the Denizens and the flesh helps to support the structure to keep it from collapsing. I’m sorry, did you say Thinkers and Husks? I don't suppose the trinity includes Feelers, does it?”
She felt a bit like she was about to put two things together that really shouldn’t go together. Like the pieces matched up, but they really shouldn’t, because they came from two separate puzzle packs. Still, the question rang in her head, unwanted. She didn't want to answer it, because it meant bad things for her if it was true. Still, she couldn’t help but think: was the Dark Dimension Ira’s world?
She looked up at Isaac and examined his face. He was hard to read on a good day. She never really knew what he was thinking, but she was nowhere near as close to him as she was to Cody. She desperately wanted Isaac to say no to her. She wanted him to say there were no Feelers, that there was no connection between the shrine and the tree they found the Husk in. Deep down, she feared she knew what the answer was going to be, and that her paperwork was about to get much longer.