Nyx Nightingale patted her daughter on the head, passed the baby to Dassie, and took the torch. "There are many secrets in the dark places of the Multiverse," she declared, "and they are zealously guarded. Sometimes, though, one escapes.
"Once, while we were on the run, Dassie and I left Tia-"
"That's me!" the little girl called excitedly. The agents around her gave her looks ranging from adoration to utter hatred, but Nyx just smiled.
"That's you, Tia. We left you with your Uncle Treak and went hunting..."
"Here's another one!" Dassie called, holding up the scrap of silver cloth. Even from across the room I could see the badge of the stalking cat. I grimaced. Sure, the Black Cats were cruel, ruthless killers (to say the least), but even they usually left bodies. This was the ninth abandoned sash we'd found in the flying city.
Oh, yeah, did I mention? We were in an empty city, flying through space at the edge of the Star Wars galaxy. No, we didn't know who put it there yet. Stop asking questions.
I kept searching the edges of the room. Just because nine Cats had vanished without a trace didn't mean the tenth wasn't waiting in ambush. A dark space resolved itself into passageway, and at the far end - beyond the reach of my torch - I caught a glimpse of movement. I didn't stop to think.
The light fell strangely on the figure of a young man as I approached. He seemed to be peering down a side passage, and didn't notice me until I was nearly at his side. Then he turned towards me. I recognised him instantly.
The PPC's head Technician smiled at me. "You shouldn't be here," he said. "There's been a... oh, let's say a radiological disaster. You should have evacuated." His expression flickered. "But you're not one of... I suppose this means the cloaking shield is down?"
"We didn't see any sign of one," I told him, too shocked to argue. "Or any radiation."
"Oh, no, that was a lie," Makes-Things said. "You need to get out. Now, before he notices you."
I frowned. "Who?"
Makes-Things shook his head. "Just go. Dann's holding him back, but he's- oh. Never mind. Sector breached. Core processes under viral attack. Preparing to restore from backup." He nodded at me. "Good luck. Watch out for the ghost." Then he vanished. I mean, literally vanished.
I reentered the first room at a run. "Time to go!" I yelled to Dassie, heading for the door that led to our docked Y-Wing. Dassie stood up, frowning.
"We can't just leave, Nyx," he said. "We don't know what happened here - at the very least we need to make sure this isn't a Black Cat facility."
"No, at the very least we need to run like very scared people," I retorted. "Come on, Das-love."
He shook his head firmly. "We're not going to- ... uh, is that a scream?"
The sound grew and grew, until at last from the direction of the dock came a young Silurian in a silver sash. Number ten - but this didn't look like an ambush. Dassie and I drew our blasters - mine a split-second ahead of his - and were completely ignored. The Black Cat veered through the other door, heading for the now-vanished Makes-Things. There was a low noise, like a machine laughing, and the door snapped shut. When it opened again, less than a second later, the Cat had vanished. Dassie swallowed.
"Consider my mind changed," he said. "Let's get out of here."
Our flashlights died. There was a scream - it may have been mine. We ran.
The next time I was able to see, several harrowing minutes later, I was alone. I didn't know how long ago I'd lost Dassie, or where I was, or much of anything. I looked around. I was in some sort of computer room, filled with consoles - not PPC consoles, but terminals with headsets attached, futuristic tech in a '60s package. I took a hesitant step forward, and the nearest screen flickered to life. A string of letters in some unknown alphabet appeared, one by one, and then shifted and changed into legible Latin characters.
"What?" I said involuntarily. The screen blanked, and a new sentence appeared.
records indicate possible affiliation with invading forces confirm deny
"Deny!" I snapped. "The only good Cat is a dead Cat!" Meanwhile my mind was racing - mostly with the sentence I'm talking to a computer...
excellent you are free to depart your colleague is confirmed as an enemy of the invading forces you may meet him at the docking bay
"No, hang on!" I exclaimed. "You can't just dismiss me like that! Who are you? How do you know me? And what have you done to Makes-Things?"
actually i can but i will not in order i am called the ghost i have records of you makes-things is protected until the invasion is past
I blinked. "He told me to beware of the ghost," I recalled.
it is regrettable but immediate action was required to contain the threat i hope to regain their trust
"Who's 'they'?" I demanded. "All your answers just lead to more questions!"
that was not my intent perhaps as a substitute you might view our history files
I hesitated a moment. That 'history' seemed to have an unspoken 'future' in front of it. Finally, I nodded. "Show me."
sit in the chair and put on the helmet be warned the experience is quite uncomfortable at first
I sat down. You have to remember, Dassie and I were on the run, in fear of our lives, with a very young daughter to take care of. I wasn't even sure I had a future, and the chance to find out was... irresistable. I pulled the helmet onto my head and looked at the screen. "All right," I said, "I'm ready."
goodbye nyx nightingale i hope i see you again
"Wait, what do you-?"
"I woke up back in the hanger," Nyx said. "Dassie was very worried - said he'd found me lying on the deck by our Y-Wing. I explained it all to him as we flew away, but-" she shot Dassie a wry look, "-I'm not sure he ever believed me. And we never went back to check." She shrugged and went to hand the torch on.
"Wait!" called several agents at once, and one continued, "What was in the history?"
Nyx grinned. "I'm glad you asked me that. I didn't see the whole thing before I blacked out - 'uncomfortable' wasn't the half of it - but I saw some of our history. The Crashing Down attack - I watched India die. The Mary-Sue Invasion - I saw Makes-Things' escape from death. And - oh, yeah - I saw a bunch of agents listening to me talk. It looked like I was saying something really interesting." Her grin widened as she tossed the torch from hand to hand and looked up, over the heads of the crowd. "I wonder what it was?"
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