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PART EIGHT: THE COSTUME PARTY

CHAPTER 37

The day of Höltzbrïn’s gala arrived, and Dom made arrangements for a car to pick them up late afternoon. Elze banished him from the suite shortly after lunch, and he passed the early part of the afternoon, walking windershins around the block where the hotel was located. He knew he was doing something that proto-ancestors of his second father had done to ward off evil influences, but as he saw no birds of black feathers during his rotations, he allowed himself this luxury. 

The other luxury he allowed himself was the lie that he was prepared for the costume party. In fact, it wasn’t so much a lie as it was a necessary evil. If he dwelled too long on what he didn’t know, their whole plan would all come unraveled in his head. And it wasn’t really a plan, in fact. It was more like a vague notion, supported by some hand-waving around an explanation, and then wrapped in a foolish pile dream. Which was to say, not much different than many of his plans. 

However, in those situations, he had the benefit of several lifetimes spent masquerading as someone more important and more knowledgeable than he was. Part of the reason why he could, more often than not, perform that charade successfully was because there wasn’t anyone around who could call his bullshit with any accuracy. Here, in this skewed version of post-World War II Germany, his knowledge of history actively worked against him. 

I am walking a tightrope, he thought, while wearing a blindfold and juggling flaming sticks. 

And, somehow, in a way that, if pressed, Elze would admit was somewhat endearing about him, this awareness gave him confidence. Because, while everyone expected such an act to end in utter flaming ruin, they secretly hoped that it would be a success. It was that hope—that heart-stopping, chest-squeezing will he do it?—that kept a light burning in many an otherwise thoroughly despondent and despairing soul. 

It wasn’t like the integrity of the time wave was dependent upon the successful completion of their mirror or anything. He just had to think of it as a minor heist at a fairly inconsequential costume party. 

Tightrope, he thought, failing to avoid envisioning the bigger picture. Flaming pins. 

And so he kept walking counter-clockwise around the city center, as if he could somehow make time move backward. 

 

Time, however, was not moved by Dom’s desire, and eventually, a long black car arrived at the front of the hotel in Saarlauchen. Dom, now wearing the most elaborately ostentatious version of an eighteenth century garden party frock (complete with towering wig) that one could find on short notice, sent one of the hotel boys to fetch Elze. He smiled at their driver, a short man with the face and disposition of an elderly farmhouse hound. “Is the wig too much?” he asked, patting the powered headwear. 

“Depends on what you paid for it,” the driver noted. He struck a match with his thumb and used it to light a stubby cigarette. Dom got a whiff of the tobacco and silently prayed the man would keep the window down during the hour-long drive. The driver, perhaps reading that hope in the curl of Dom’s lips, sucked heavily at his noxious cigarette, as if he was going to exhale an immense plume of acrid smoke. 

However, he caught sight of something behind Dom and his face froze. Smoke leaked out of his nose for an instant, and then he started coughing like a batch of creosote blazing in an old brick chimney. Dom, marveling at the man’s unexpected distress, turned to see what had wrought such a change. 

Framed in the gold light spilling out of the hotel was a figure wearing a white robe. It wore a silver mask that covered its face from crown to chin. Its eyes were jeweled mosaics and its lips were sealed with a line of occult markings, as if the secrets known to this figure had been sealed away in a esoteric ritual. Its arms and hands were sheathed in silver gloves. 

Behind the figure was the young man from the hotel, burdened with several boxes and a long fabric bag. The driver, understanding the young man’s situation better than the radiant figure, rushed to help the bellboy put the boxes and bag into the trunk of the car. 

Dom, remembering his manners, opened the back door of the car. The wig slipped as he tried to bow, and his elegant courtesy almost turned into a clumsy pratfall. The robed and masked figure climbed into the car with much more grace, and after fussing with the wig for a moment, Dom ducked his head and crawled into the car as well. 

The car was not one of those impossible Rolls-Royces so beloved by European aristocracy (not for a lack of trying on Dom’s part, thank you very much), but it was longer than normal, which provided some additional legroom in the back. There was not enough additional headroom however for Dom to sit upright with his wig, and so, after failing to figure out how to slouch comfortably, Dom gave up and plucked the beastly thing off his head. He draped it over his knee, where it lay like—

“It looks like a dead cat,” Elze said. “One of those fancy white-haired ones.” 

Dom fussed with his hair for a moment before turning to her. “It is yak hair,” he said. “And it was hideously expensive.” 

Elze had taken off her mask. Beneath it, her makeup was much more restrained, though though her lips were several shades darker than was the current trend and her eyes were outlined and flourished in a style more in keeping with funeral rites of Middle Eastern civilizations than modern high society gatherings. 

Dom realized why her robe seemed familiar. “Is that—is that one of the hotel robes?” he asked. 

“It is,” she said. She ran a gloved hand over her tightly combed and bound hair. “What? Did you think I was going to wear my costume during the car ride?” 

Dom was suddenly very much aware of how tight his second waistcoat was about his middle. “I—I just—it won’t be . . .” He tried to adjust his coat and found he was sitting on most of it. His knee twitched and the dead cat jumped off. 

Elze laughed. “You look marvelous,” she said as he fumbled for the wig. “I’ve attended a few parties at Versailles, and you would fit right in.” 

Dom succeeded in retrieving his wig and he decided to hold it in his lap. “Whereas you look like . . . “ 

“Something from a futuristic Parisian fashion shoot?” Elze suggested. 

“Yes,” Dom said. “Exactly.” 

She nodded. “That’s because it is. Or could be, I suppose.” She smiled. “I was always partial to this designer’s work. I may have stalked them once or twice over the years (relatively speaking). For research, of course. For a night like this.” 

Dom laughed. “Of course.” 

Elze shifted in her seat, and the robe gapped slightly, affording him a quick glimpse of what lay underneath. Dom was intrigued, which was to be expected. It was a French fashion design, after all. 

 

We shall skip over the mundane aspects of how they got to the castle, because it strips away the artifice and mystery of their appearance. Elze asked the driver to stop a half kilometer from the castle, and hidden by the raised trunk, she slipped out of the comfortable embrace of the hotel’s cotton robe and into the sleek assembly of her Barbarella costume. 

This was how she thought of the outfit, and while the film might exist in this declination, her version of that film's iconic costume design was, in fact, revisited, refashioned, and reimagined through the lens of thirty more years of French fashion hijinks. The thigh-high boots were made from industrial plastics (which had been surprisingly easy to source in Saarlauchen, unlike, say, yak hair). The corset was made from more of the same plastic, which was used to hide a dozen forks swiped from the hotel restaurant that stood in for the traditional whalebone busks. The bodice had perplexed her for a bit, but she had spotted some conical lampshades in an antique shop during a late afternoon exploration of the city's commercial district. They were Venetian glass, and she had rigged a little circuit with a battery pack and some tiny lights, which made them glow. Her skirt was leather, of course, because she had some standards, though it rode higher on her thighs than she liked, which forced her to rethink where she was going to hide the lockpicks, the stilettos, and the glass cutter. 

In the end, she had to forgo the glass cutter, and she hoped she wouldn’t come to regret that decision. 

The pièce de résistance of the outfit, however, was the cape. Though, it was more of a cross between a peacock’s plumage and the frill of the chlamydosaurus kingii, more commonly known as, of course, the frill-necked lizard. Hers was attached at her waist, wrists, and neck, and it danced and fluttered around her—a hundred silver streamers that seemed to defy gravity in their splendor and gaiety. 

Thus adorned, Elze walked up the entire long driveway to the entrance of Höltzbrîn’s castle, and timed her arrival with the final crease of splintering sunlight, which made her look as if she was a star that had fallen from its celestial orbit. 

And so, when Herr Musbach, who was dressed in an entirely unimaginative Prussian officer’s uniform (complete with more medals than sense), greeted her at the castle’s gate and said, “You are a gift from from heaven,” she smiled behind her mask and said, “Of course I am.” 

Dom, on the other hand, did not trip or knock his wig askew as he followed the star-struck Musbach and the star, which meant that no one remembered his arrival. His tightrope act, complete with flaming pins and a wig that looked like a dead cat, had been eclipsed. 

For once, he was delighted to be upstaged. 

*

CHAPTER 38

Dom dawdled behind Elze and Her Musbach as the pair made their way up to the main castle. The ground floor, as it were, of the castle was, essentially, a dedicated valet area. The open ground behind the main gate was crammed with all manner of fine automobiles, and the original gatehouse had been transformed into a functional, but dull, lounge for the dozens of chauffeurs, assistants, and hangers-on who were not invited up to the main castle. Dom wandered into dark corridors and bumped into closed doors. He smiled politely at liveried staff, who were all dressed in dark blue uniforms with scarlet highlights. They tolerated his bumbling about as he ducked under velvet ropes and got tangled in heavy curtains. Eventually, a pair of stewards rescued him from a briar that he had somehow managed to get tangled in, even though it had been trimmed way back and was behind a wooden partition. They escorted him up the zwinger—the long open path between the first gate and the interior gate—known as the Eagle Gate—where archers atop the battlements could pincushion attacking troops at their leisure. At the heavy stone arch of the Eagle Gate, the staff handed Dom over the sternly-dressed security service who were managing the upper portion of the castle. 

Security always has less of a sense of humor about the world and its workings than the service industry, and the trio of hard-faced men who confronted Dom about his intent to enter the castle were firm adherents of the Humor is Vile and It Will Not Be Tolerated camp. Two of three men wore heavy leather belts, with black service pistols in black holsters, and the third man had a bulky transmitter clipped to his belt. A cord from the transmitter ran to a microphone attached to an epaulet on the guard’s jacket, and another cord ran to the earpiece covering one of his ears like a scarab beetle clinging to a rock. 

The man in charge—which this man assuredly had to be, because why else would you suffer a scarab clawing at your ear like this?—carried on a one-sided conversation. While he waited for someone to squawk back at him through the earpiece, he glared at Dom. Eventually, someone delivered a pronouncement, and the man with the earpiece nodded. “Very good, sir,” he said. He motioned to the pair flanking Dom. “This gentleman is a guest of Herr Musbach,” he said, echoing what Dom had been telling them for the past ten minutes. 

Dom pulled his arm free of one of the guard’s grip. He made a show of adjusting the jaunty angle of his powered dead cat, and with a slight list to port, staggered under the heavy portcullis of the Eagle Gate and entered the main courtyard of Gustav Froübel Höltzbrïn’s estate. 

The courtyard was lit by gas lamps atop wooden poles, and long drapes of dark blue and scarlet cloth were twisted together and hung between the poles. Carefully topiaried shrubbery in heavy clay pots were scattered throughout the courtyard, creating a zoo that doubled as a maze. Dom maintained the illusion that he had been drinking much longer than anyone else on the grounds of the castle as he wove his way through the confusion of sculpted creatures, but if anyone were to have paid close attention to his perambulations, they would have realized that he moved unerringly through the tangle of shrubbery. 

Once you get past the courtyard, you are faced with the main structures of the castle: a pair of chapels, a main residential hall that dominates the back half of the grounds, several ancillary towers, and another hall that had once been the guest house for visiting dignitaries and the like. This hall—known as the Count’s Hall—had been transformed sometime in the last thirty years. Inside, it had been thoroughly modernized (relatively speaking), and it was where Höltzbrïn kept all of his treasures. 

There were more guards at the broad doors of the Count’s Hall, and as Dom stumbled past, he noticed none of the guests approached the heavy doors. The guards were carrying rifles in addition to their service weapons. So much for strolling in and shoving a canvas inside my jacket, he thought. 

He hadn’t expected things to be that simple, but it was always best to check. He was a big proponent of not working harder than necessary. 

Strains of classical music drifted out of the main hall, and Dom allowed himself to be lured in that direction. He accepted a snifter of brandy from a waiter, tasted it, and then put it on the next tray that passed within reach. Too sweet, he thought, his tongue (and nerves) wanting something with a little more kick. Apparently Prussian appetites were consistent across waves. 

A thirty-six piece string orchestra was crammed into the corner of the immense foyer of the main hall, and they were sawing away at something Italian. The conductor pranced about in front of the orchestra. He was dressed in a costume that made Dom think of a neutered satyr, a thought which made him momentarily lament the repressive spread of authoritarian religious doctrine across the European landscape. 

The art on the walls of the foyer matched the sanitized costume of the orchestra conductor, which is to say late medieval Italian iconography and symbology. Lots of gold leafed cherubs, placid-looking madonnas, and apple-cheeked babies. Dom lamented giving up his snifter of sweet pear brandy so quickly, and he made his way across the foyer, hoping to find either a bar or a different era of art. 

Velvet ropes and unsmiling security guards curtailed exploration, and like a good sheep, he followed the ropes and found himself in the grand ballroom, where another orchestra was trying to transform Wagner into aural wallpaper by playing it lamentante and pianissimo.  The room was filled with costumed guests, and Dom quickly noticed a decided lack of imagination in the costumes of the men and a high degree of sexual frustration in the attire of the ladies. The rich brocade of his long jacket and the passive-aggressive distain of his powered dead cat marked him as quite possibly the sort of rebel and free-thinker who could readily find a woman’s hot flesh under sixteen thousand layers of lace, silk, and taffeta.  Out of the corner of his eye, he watched a narrow-faced woman with deeply roughed cheeks and eyes like a magpie size him up as he ambled toward the bar on the far side of room. She was wearing a high-waisted dress with a bodice of bows, ribbons, and lace doilies, and he could almost see her calculating how long it would take him to get her out of her outfit. 

He reached the bar and caught the eye of the man standing near the rows of bottles. The man nodded at Dom’s gesture and started to prepare him a drink. A woman spoke behind him, and he started. “Ah—oh, it’s you.” 

Elze stepped close to him, her hands pressing against his stomach. He hadn’t the chance to see her up close since she had gotten out of the car, and his heart lurched and his stomach tightened at her radiance. “You look—” he started. 

“Take these,” she whispered. 

“What?” He realized she was holding something in her hands. He put his hands over hers, and felt the touch of soft leather as he accepted what she was pressing on to him. 

“He keeps putting his hand on my leg,” Elze whispered. “If I brush him off again, he’s going to get annoyed. If I let him get too friendly, he’ll find these.” She looked him in the eye, gave him a smile that made the world go fuzzy around her, and then quickly leaned forward to brush her lips against his cheek. “There’s a medallion that allows access to the gallery,” she whispered in his ear. “Make a friend and get one.” 

She was gone in a flash of silver, returning to the side of Herr Musbach. Light reflecting off her cape made the German man’s heavy medal more impressive than it was. 

“Herr—?” 

Dom turned toward the bar. “Yes?” 

The bartender placed a narrow crystal glass with a silver rim on the bar. It was mostly filled with an amber fluid that he hoped was something stronger than pear brandy. “Your drink,” the bartender said. 

“Ah, yes. Thank you,” Dom said. His hands were full, and he looked down at what Elze had given him. They were a pair of leather sheaths that could readily be hidden under clothing. Each held a pair of narrow-handled stilettos. 

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and when he spun around again, he nearly lost his wig. The woman with the glittering eyes and the bloviation of bows was crowding him. Missing nothing, she spotted the items in his hands, and her smile was like watching the amusement of a hyena as it readies to pounce on a wounded mouse. “Of what possible use could those be, Herr . . . ?” 

Dom noticed a gold chain around the woman’s neck. It disappeared into the thicket of taffeta, and he glimpsed the edge of a heavy ornament. “Well, with ample time and ample dexterity, a charming ruffian can readily uncover a woman’s breast,” he said quickly. “But a true rogue knows a woman’s desire to be hastily disrobed is in inverse proportion to the amount of time she took to get dressed.” 

For a moment, he feared he had answered her question with too complex an equation (and he blamed the lack of alcohol on his tongue for such a convoluted expression), but he realized she had understood him quite plainly. She was merely toying with him. 

When she leaned around him, a spray of ribbons leaping out of her hair tickled his nose. She picked up the crystal glass on the bar, as Dom shifted to get clear of her costume. She raised the glass to her lips, and, maintaining eye contact the whole time, drank the contents of the glass. 

Dom nearly wept as the alcohol disappeared. 

She put the empty glass down on the bar and took his hand. “Come with me,” she said. 

“Of course,” Dom replied. He fell in beside her, his hands going to her waist, where he could hide the stilettos in the frilly explosion of bows and ribbons. 

 

“Are you working for the Russians?” Magpie asked. 

Dom, who had been silently cursing the sadistic ingenuity of the woman’s dressmaker, paused in his efforts. “Should I be?” he asked in reply. 

Her laugh belied her age. It was full-throated and mischievous, and it gave him a frisson of concern that he might not be able to confound her as readily as he had hoped. 

“They are going to cheat you,” she said. 

Dom thrashed his head out from under several of the layers of skirts. “I was paid in advance,” he said. 

“You are such a liar,” she said. “The Russians never pay in advance.” 

His dazzling smile was only undercut by the skew of his wig. “They do if they want my expertise.” 

She regarded him carefully. Her legs, which were scissoring his waist, tightened. He maintained his smile, knowing—as she did not—that he had carefully slit the straps on one her tall heels. If he had to wiggle free and scamper, she wouldn’t be able to pursue him. 

“What do they want?” she asked.

“Why do you want to know?” he parried. 

“Perhaps I have a burning curiosity as to why the Great Bear is sneaking ruffians into costume parties.” 

“It isn’t a real party until us ruffians arrive,” Dom pointed out. “Otherwise, it’s a committee meeting in drag, and no one has any fun at those.” 

“True,” she admitted. Her legs flexed around him again. “Do you intend to seduce me or are you going to drug me and ravish me when I am defenseless?” 

“Oh,” Dom said. “To be honest, I hadn’t fully thought through my plan.” 

“No?”

“No. I’m attempting to be flexible.” 

Her legs tightened again. “Yes, I’ve noticed that much.” 

They were in a room not far from the ballroom. Who knows what its original purpose was, but it had been transformed by heavy carpets, several leather couches, and an enormous globe on a heavy pedestal. Due to a complicated mechanism, the globe rotated quite easily when you touched it, which Dom had discovered—to his chagrin—when he had tried to strike a pose against the sphere. They had stumbled against one of the leather couches, where Dom had been instructed to do whatever it was that ruffians did when confronted with ribbons and straps and bows. 

“I think—given the complexity of the task before me—that you would enjoy the experience more if you were conscious,” Dom said. 

“Really? And was this a novel thought?” 

“No, not especially. It seemed . . . prudent?” 

“You don’t sound like you are confident with your answer.” 

“Ma’am,” Dom said, “Having spent some time with the devious contraption that is keeping you in this dress, I must confess my confidence is not as sterling as I would like.” 

She lowered herself, her many layers billowing around him like the surf coming in on a man who has been buried in the sand. “It will be disappointing to discover that your hands are not as clever as your tongue. What would the Great Bear think?” She moved her hips, and an ocean of silken fabric sluiced across his face. “Do you suppose they will ask for their money back?” 

Dom sputtered and tried to push some of her skirts away from his face, but his efforts were as pointless as attempting to push the tide back when the moon waxed full overhead. Her legs tightened around his hips once more, and he found himself immobilized. His left arm was still attached to his body, but he had lost track of it in the swamp of silk. 

Magpie laughed again, and there was a cruel lilt to it this time. “I feel you struggling, Herr  Sevästerr. Are you trying to excite me?” 

“I’m trying—” He sputtered and spit out a ribbon that was trying to snake its way down his throat. “I believe this—” 

Her legs stiffened, squeezing him suddenly, and then they relaxed. She tottered, her foot slipping out of the one shoe which he had sabotaged, and then, with a rushing sound like a great flood of water rushing through a narrow canyon, she collapsed. Rather, he thought she might have collapsed. Her legs were no longer firm around him, and there was a flounce to her skirts that suggested they were floating aimlessly. 

Dom thrashed his way free of the woman’s inordinately voluminous skirts, his chest heaving with a mild panic attack. He was a strong swimmer, and other than one incident in the Bosphorous during the seventeenth century, he had never been in danger of drowning. Now, however, as he lay supine on the heavy carpet in the geography room of Höltzbrïn’s estate, his only thought was how he never wanted to go near a lake again. 

A leather boot encroached on his field of vision, and still gasping for air, he rolled onto his back and looked up. 

“Are you looking up my skirt?” Elze asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Dom said truthfully. “You’re blocking the light.” 

Elze stepped over him and circled the exploded jellyfish of taffeta and ribbons. “It’s a good thing I came looking for you,” she said. 

“I had this under control.” 

She pawed around Magpie’s dress and found the gold chain around the older woman’s neck. She pulled at the chain, and the woman lifted off the cushion of her dress. “Explain to me how being under this woman’s gown was getting you closer to this?” She showed Dom the medallion. 

“It’s a complicated matter of geometry,” Dom said. “And quite possibly some advanced algebra. You wouldn’t understand.” 

“I’m from a time period several hundred years more advanced than this,” Elze said. “I think it’s safe to assume I know more about algebra than you.” 

She shook the woman several times, and finally, the chain snapped, and Magpie slumped back into the billowing embrace of her attire. 

Dom got to his feet. “Where’s our friend, Musbach?” he asked. 

“Nursing a sore wrist and a bruised ego,” Elze said. 

“So we’re on a tight schedule is what you’re saying.” 

Elze held up the medallion. “We are.” 

Dom glanced over at the unconscious woman. 

“What?” Elze asked. 

“I think your knives are under her skirts somewhere.”

Elze sighed. “I’m not even sure why I bothered to bring them.” 

“If you hadn’t, I would have had to work harder to lure this woman in here for you.” 

“Oh, well, thank God I brought them.” Elze shook her head. “I should have waited another ten minutes before I smacked her,” she said. 

“Voyeur,” Dom said. 

Elze laughed. “Said like a fellow who knows what he likes.”

Dom considered several replies and decided to keep them all to himself. He and Elze were developing an easy rapport, which he liked, but the suffocating darkness beneath Magpie’s skirts was still fresh in his mind, as were her queries about Russian interests. He gestured for Elze to give him the medallion. “I would like to not get trapped again,” he said. 

Elze tried to read his expression as she handed over the medallion. Dom kept his gaze averted, focusing instead on the heavy disc. It wasn’t ostentatious—by Prussian standards, anyway—and it had the heft and shine of silver. The Höltzbrïn crest was stamped on one side, and on the reverse, a gothic-looking face glared at them. The portrait was wreathed by tiny print. Dom wandered over to one of the wall lamps to get a better look at the lettering, and realized that his initial confusion had been correct. The script wasn’t an alphabet he recognized. “Wonderful,” he groaned. “The instructions are in some arcane script.” 

“Can you decipher it?” Elze asked. She came over and peered at the medallion. 

“Maybe,” Dom said. “If I had a larger sample and a year or two.” 

“I think you have about twenty minutes,” she pointed. 

Dom fumbled with the medallion. It was larger than a Spanish doubloon and it resisted being casually manipulated. “I guess we’ll have to bluff our way through this, then.” 

“Oh, thank goodness,” Elze said. “For a moment, I thought we were in trouble.” 

The coin tipped into his palm, the grim visage on the back staring up at them. Dom was about to close his hand over the image, but Elze stopped him. “Look at the face,” she whispered. 

Dom peered more closely at the stamp. It was heavily stylized, like much art in the High Gothic era, and he had assumed it was the face of some historic ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. But he realized it wasn’t one face, but two. There was a faint break between the left and right sides of the face, and the curl of the lips on either side was different. 

“Janus,” Elze whispered. “The two-faced god.” 

“Oh, shit,” Dom breathed. Janus was an old Roman god who ruled over dualities—beginnings and endings—as well as doors, thresholds, transitions, and time. 

“The twins,” Elze said. “I take it back; we’re definitely in trouble.” 

*

CHAPTER 39

Dom wrapped the broken necklace around his wrist, letting the medallion dangle. “We can’t walk away now,” he said. “This is the only path we’ve got.”

“No, no, I agree,” Elze said. “It’s just—”

“What?”

“How much . . . how much do we trust Weston?”

Dom stared at her. “The guy who lied to you six different ways, across multiple time waves? That guy?”

Elze nodded.

“Not at all,” Dom said. “He was manipulating me too. He was playing all of us.”

“What if—what if he still is?”

“He’s dead. I’m not sure you’ve got the verb tense right there.”

“Eventually, sure. But what if he isn’t dead now.”

Dom took off his wig (which was looking rather bedraggled anyway). He ran his hand through his hair (which wasn’t looking much better than the wig). “Look, if we start thinking about the whens and the whats and the why-did-it-happen-in-this-orders (relatively speaking), we’re going to lose our minds. If Weston—as we knew him in the future—is here, then he has no idea what we are planning. Weston-in-the-future told us to come back and fix this—”

“But we’re not in Wave 1. We’re in a declination. This isn’t the history you and I know.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. This declination is gaining power. It is creating interference with W-1. You told me about this, back at the farmhouse. Other waves are supposed to decay and disappear, but when they don’t, they create interference. Your organization is trying to stop crazed time-traveling lunatics from making strong waves that could collapse W-1. Something like this—whatever this is—is one of those waves.”

“Theoretically . . .” Elze raised her hands. “What? I’m a field agent. I’m not an architect.”

“That wasn’t the impression you gave me that night.

“Was there wine involved?”

“Probably?”

“I may have been making things up.” Elze winced slightly.

“Well, I may be making things up now, so I guess that makes us even.” Dom glanced around the room. “I’m seeing things that don’t exist. I’m having conversations with a ghost who might be my father, but probably isn’t. We’ve been led around by a guy who is either the evil mastermind behind this whole problem or the secret double double agent who is playing the longest game in all of history.” Dom held up the medallion and spun it. “What happens if we doubt ourselves and give up?”

“Maybe nothing,” Elze said. “Or maybe . . .”

“Yeah.” Dom nodded. “Maybe everything. But we don’t know, do we?” He smiled at Elze.

She wrinkled her nose at his expression.

“You don’t like this, do you?” Dom asked.

“No,” she said. “I don’t like not knowing.”

“Because you always haven’t, haven’t you? That’s the magical joy of being from the future. You always know how things are supposed to turn out.”

She nodded.

“Sucks to be like the rest of us, doesn’t it?”

Her eyes narrowed.

He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. Before he could overthink what he was doing, he kissed her. She didn’t pull away.

“What was that?” she asked when he was done.

“That was a kiss,” he said. “Surely you’ve been kissed before.”

“I have. More than once.”

“All right. Well, I felt like doing it.”

“Did you now?”

“I did.” Dom was still holding her. She wasn’t pulling away.

“Do you feel better about things now?”

“A little,” he said. “I was exercising Free Will, by the way.”

“Oh? Is that what that was?”

He nodded. “It’s the longest running philosophical argument,” he said. “Free Will versus Determinism. The question of whether everything predetermined by Fate, the Universe, God—whatever. If everything—all of time and existence—is known to some entity, then nothing happens outside of the scripted order that has been created. We’re just poor players, you know, strutting our hour on the stage, as it were. We don’t know the grand design. We can never know the grand design. We just do our parts, happily and ignorantly.”

“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” Elze said. Idly, her fingers strayed to her lips.

“It isn’t,” Dom said. “But it’s what you believe.”

“It is?”

“You come from the future. You think you know what happens.”

Elze nodded slowly. “Because we do know what happens.”

“Except when you don’t. And that’s what makes your bosses nervous. They send field agents like you out to ‘fix’ things, but that only means you’re making changes that . . .”

“That force the wave to be what they think it should be.”

“Exactly. What they think it should be. They don’t know. Not absolutely. They only know what they know. They don’t know everything. Not in that Universal Deterministic way. They can’t. If they did—”

“They would know they were playing a role.” Elze covered her face with her hands. “My god. It makes everything—”

“Pointless?”

She shook her head. “No, it makes everything a lie.”

Dom didn’t quite see how she came to that conclusion, but he wasn’t going to talk her out of it. “Free Will, on the other hand, says nothing is set. It’s all a grand experiment, and we make every moment. Time is fluid. Reality is a subjective construct. This”—he indicated the room around them—“is an illusion.”

Elze groaned. “You aren’t helping.”

“Okay, how about this. Don’t think of the Twins as people. Think of them as contrasting ideas. Free Will versus Determinism, for instance. Good versus Evil. Martinis at lunch versus a small digestif after dinner. Your job was to validate one over the other. That’s what your job has always been. Pushing your organization’s agenda over . . .”

Elze lowered her hands. “Over . . . a future determined by . . . what? Chance?”

Dom shook his head. “No, a future determined by those who are living it.”

“Lapis Twelve,” Elze said quietly.

“What?”

“My handler—the one who told me to go to your apartment—her name is Lapis Twelve.”

Dom frowned. “How—why—who . . . who is this person?”

“It’s me,” Elze said. “It’s my next iteration. Weston told me.”

“Wait—so . . . ?”

Elze nodded. “At some point, I am going to die.” She put a hand on his cheek when she saw the expression he tried to hide. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve done it before. It only hurts for a minute. When I wake up, I’m in a different body.” She touched her breast. “There’s a chip or something. They retrieve it in the future, and I get Decanted into—”

“‘Decanted’?”

“It’s a technical term.”

“Sure,” Dom said. “Must be nice.”

“It’s—it’s part of the job, I guess.”

“It’s not a perk anyone else gets,” Dom pointed out.

“I know,” Elze said. “Look, don’t get hung up on that. The important thing is that I think you’re right.”

“I am?”

Elze nodded. “Weston was playing the long game. He knew it would erase him—that’s what happened to him in the future. We saw the wave reject him because he couldn’t be reconciled. His waveform was incompatible. But that meant he was successful. That his grand plan worked.” She gave Dom a smile tinged with admiration and sadness. “He escaped.”

“Escaped?”

“The architects. My bosses. They can’t bring him back. He ceased to exist.”

Dom was still trying to follow her thinking when she grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him. Her kiss was fiercer than his. Not that it was a competition, mind you. It was more of an escalation of attention. Regardless, it left Dom a little breathless.

“What—what was that for?” he asked.

“You started it,” she said.

“I did,” he admitted. “But . . .”

“Thank you,” Elze said.

“For what?”

She gave him a look. “Don’t make me regret it.”

“You should never regret doing anything,” he said.

She smiled. “Exactly. Isn’t that what you were talking about with all this nonsense about free will?”

“I suppose—I suppose I was.”

“Come on, then,” she said. With a skillful movement, she stripped the necklace and medallion from his arm. “Let’s go wreck the future.”

“Wait. How did we—”

But Elze was already heading for the door. Dom spent a moment casting about for a clue as to what had just happened, and he gave up before she left him entirely. He already felt like he was falling farther behind . . .

 

She had a purity of focus, and it was unlike anything she had ever experienced. All she had known was the OTP, ever since they had plucked her from— She shook her head. She couldn’t even remember now. Her prior life seemed like a barely remembered dream. And some of her previous Iterations—Cobalt Six, Sapphire Seven—felt as if they had happened to someone else. All she had were scattered strings of images, like pieces of a forgotten movie.

And Dom’s fervent philosophical discussion had been adorable, but her realization wasn’t about that. It was simply that the OTP hadn’t given her a choice. She had been a tool, blindly working for an organization which she had been indoctrinated to trust. We saved you. We gave you a future. You don’t need to ask any questions. Her whole life was Operational Security Protocol Nine. You don’t have clearance for that information.

She didn’t fully understand what Weston had done, but she understood what he had accomplished. He got away, she thought. He figured out how to go somewhere they couldn’t find him. But I have to finish it, she thought. I have to close the loop.

She strode out of main hall, and the night had cooled enough that a shiver ran along her bare arms. Costumed guests swarmed the topiary maze, and the courtyard was buzzing with conversations and laughter. She heard her name, and she ignored the caller, assuming it was Herr Musbach. Either he had gotten over her stern dismissal of his overly friendly gestures or he intended to press himself more firmly upon her person. In other circumstances, she might have welcomed such an attempt, only for the opportunity to make her displeasure exceptionally clear, but right now, she had a more pressing matter to attend to.

The guards at the entrance to the Count’s Hall moved to intercept her as she approached the closed doors. She held up the medallion. “I’m going in,” she said tersely, the tone of her voice daring them to challenge her.

The guards, responding to either the sight of the medallion or her mood, parted before her. One of them hurried to open the door for her. She swept through, and as the doors started to swing shut behind her, she heard her name again. This time, however, there was no hard ‘k’ sound. It was the softer ‘z’—the slow slur of a tongue held in check against the roof of a mouth.

For a moment, her heart seized in her chest. You can’t do this alone! She started to turn, but the doors shut, cutting off the voice.

She was in complete darkness. Her breath was loud in her ears. The medallion clanked against the necklace as she took a tentative step forward, her hand stretched out before her.

“Hello?”

The voices that replied were hers. Some of them sounded very close. Others sounded like they were calling from far away. Some of them were angry. Some of them were frightened. Some of them were laughing. Were they laughing at her? She couldn’t tell.

Something sparked nearby. A tiny flame guttered and danced. It crawled onto a wick and eagerly grew. Light bloomed, and as it touched a reflective surface, it multiplied. The process exponentiated, and within moments, the entire room was filled with light.

Elze stared at a thousand versions of herself. The immense hall was filled with mirrors.

*

CHAPTER 40

The guards attending to the Count’s Hall moved to intercept Dom as he chased after Elze. He tried to sidestep them, but they were well-practiced at the wily slipperiness of drunken party guests. One guard put a heavy hand on Dom’s shoulder, and a second planted himself squarely in front of Dom.

“Your medallion?” The guard asked.

Dom made a show of trying to remember where, in the numerous pockets of his coat, he had stashed the all-important Janus-faced medallion that would grant him access. As he searched, Elze passed through the heavy doors. In another second, she was going to be beyond his reach. “Elze,” he shouted.

The guard beside Dom tightened his grip on Dom’s shoulder. The other guard shook his head.

Dom slipped out of the guard’s grip. He feinted to his left, then darted to his right. The guard between him and the door was neither amused nor confused by Dom’s bob and weave. He brought up his assault rifle and popped Dom in the face with the butt of the weapon.

Dom recalled a burst of light, and then, as darkness swarmed in from his periphery, he watched Elze vanish. For a brief instant, his vision fractured into an infinite versions of Elze: some stood with her back to him; some were half-turned in profile; only one turned all the way around. As he reached for this version of Elze, he realized she wasn’t like the others. Her hair was different. It was a column of fire—

The guard struck him a second time, and all the Elzes shattered.

The heavy door of the Count’s Hall closed with an ominous thud, and Dom’s legs gave out. He tasted dirt. Part of him was clucking their tongue and shaking their head, amused and embarrassed by the way he was bonelessly sprawled on the ground. He put an arm out to steady himself—or had he rolled over?—and his vision steadied on a pair of black boots. He traced the boots to a pair of dark blue jodhpurs, a dark coat that was cut in a military style, and, finally, a heavy torc encrusted with hammered brass ornamentation.

“Herr Sevästerr,” Musbach said. “You appear to have fallen down.”

“I have,” Dom said. He meant to raise a hand so that Musbach could help him up, but the arm he moved was apparently the one holding him upright, and he flopped back to the ground. “Twice,” he gurgled, letting Musbach know that this display was entirely of his own volition.

“Too much too drink, perhaps?”

“Never,” Dom snorted. It felt like someone had taken a hammer to his left ear. He covered the side of his head with his hand, and the roaring noise in his head intensified. “I am not used to the elevation,” he said.

Musbach lowered himself so that he was closer to Dom. “Yes, I see how you are attempting to rectify that problem.”

Dom tapped the ground. “Maybe a few more minutes?”

Musbach looked up at the guards. “Perhaps you could assist this guest to one of the benches in the garden?”

The guard who had struck Dom shook his head.

Musbach pursed his lips. “That’s disappointing,” he said. He looked back at Dom. “I’m afraid you are going to have to transport yourself. The help is somewhat stubborn.”

“I can manage,” Dom said.

It took a moment, but he managed to convince his legs that he was in charge. Unsteadily, like a newborn foal who has just found itself thrust out into the world, Dom climbed to his feet. He swayed, but didn’t fall down. He glared at the guard. “You hit me,” he said petulantly.

He noticed that someone had left a dead animal on the ground nearby and he shook a finger at the matted patch of white hair. “And you killed a cat,” he slurred. “What kind of monsters are you?”

Musbach picked up the white shape and held it out to Dom. “It’s yours,” he said.

“I do not own a cat,” Dom said, puffing out his chest in outrage.

“It’s your wig,” Musbach said, a touch of annoyance in his voice.

“Oh. My wig.” Dom took the bedraggled hairpiece from the German. “Thank you.” He clapped it on his head, sputtered as dust fell on his face, and then attempted to turn away with an imperious air. He nearly fell over as his spin was accelerated with a wave of vertigo, and he felt Musbach grab his elbow.

“Let’s not be too hasty,” Musbach said, his voice as tight as his grip.

“I’m fine,” Dom said, though he was pretty sure he wasn’t. His wig was a disaster. There was probably blood on his face, and he felt like there was a worm crawling around in his ear canal. Judging by Musbach’s expression, he wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Just walk,” the German said. He directed Dom with his fingers, and the two men made a somewhat dignified retreat from the guarded doors of the Count’s Hall.

They had nearly reached the verge of the topiaries when a voice cut through the ambient chatter of the courtyard. “There he is.”

Dom recognized the voice, and he was inclined to keep walking, but Musbach stopped. With a sigh, Dom stopped as well.

Approaching from the main hall was the Magpie. Accompanying her were a squad of guards and a man dressed in black. He wore a gold mask that was the same face as the one on the medallion.

“He’s the thief,” Magpie said. She clutched at the bare flesh around her throat. “He took my medallion.”

Dom struck an outraged pose. “Madam—“ he started.

The man in the gold mask spoke, and his soft voice had a strange buzz to it. “Why have you insulted me?” The mask moved slightly to look at Musbach. “Do you know this man?”

Musbach, who had been holding on to Dom’s arm, hastily let go. “Herr Höltzbrïn. I was merely providing some assistance to this unfortunate gentleman, who has, I believe, imbibed a great quantity of drink.”

“Ah, a drunkard,” the man in the mask said.

“It’s a facade meant to charm the ladies,” Dom said.

Magpie gave him a withering stare.

“Oh? Merely a charlatan, masquerading as a pitiful slave to his baser desires?”

Dom frowned. “Well, I wouldn’t put it that way,” he said.

“Do you gamble as well, sir?”

Dom hesitated, sensing a trap. “Perhaps,” he said, deciding to hedge his bet. Which, in itself, was a gamble, thereby answering the man’s question without meaning to.

The man in the gold mask nodded, as if he had expected Dom to out-clever himself in his response. “Take them to the dungeon,” he said to the guards. He waved a hand. “Both of them.”

“Excuse me?” Musbach took a step away from Dom.

“You’re all lying,” Höltzbrïn said. “I don’t like liars.”

Magpie had a smug grin on her face. It vanished when Höltzbrïn waved a hand at her as well. “This one as well,” he said. “She’s a spy too.”

Musbach and Magpie sputtered and protested as the guards surrounded them. Only Dom was unfazed. He had been in this sort of situation before. He stared at Höltzbrïn. “You’ve been waiting for us,” he said.

“Of course,” said the host. “There’s no better way to flush out the enemies of the state than to invite them all to a fancy dress party.”

Dom inclined his head. “Well, I’m glad we could show up and amuse you, Herr Höltzbrïn.”

“Oh, the fun hasn’t started yet,” the man in the gold mask said. He clapped his hands. “Take them away, please.”

 

It felt like she had been wandering in the hall of mirrors for hours, but Elze knew it had only been a few minutes. At first, all of the reflections had seemed identical—a hollow-eyed, long-legged ghost wreathed in silver light—but she started to see minor differences: her face got older; her eyes got harder; in several reflections, there was blood on her costume. As if each version of herself was fractionally different than the one she had looked an instant before.

It wasn’t just her image. The backgrounds were changing too. The farther Elze went into the maze of mirrors, the farther she got from where she started. I’m looking at all the waves, she realized. Each was an alternate time, an alternate reality from the one she thought she was in.

Then, she found the mirror that wasn’t a mirror, but a window. She looked through the glass and saw a burning farmhouse. Men on horseback moved around the scene. They were wearing uniforms that she had not seen in many years (relatively speaking). Two men in pale robes were standing near a body that lay on the ground. The riders appeared to take no notice of the men in the field.

One of the men knelt in the ash-streaked grass. He gathered up a limp body, and when he turned away from the burning building, she caught sight of the figure in his arms. It was a young woman, her face and clothing mottled with ash and dirt.

Elze gasped. It had been a long time since she had seen that face.

The scene sped up, as if she wasn’t looking through a mirror but was watching a film that was playing back at twice or three times the normal speed. The flames burned hotter and faster. The horses began galloping. The clouds darted and flickered across the sky.

The pair of men and the young woman were frozen. Slowly, they became insubstantial, and by the time the fire had finished devouring the farmhouse and the sky had bled black, they had vanished entirely.

Elze reached out to touch the glass in front of her. When her fingers brushed the glass, a ripple ran through it like she had touched the still surface of a pond, and in the wake of the disturbance caused by the ripple, the mirror had become a mirror again.

The vision of the Taking of Elzebet Crescendo Montifaire by OTP Reavers was gone.

She moved more quickly through the hall after this, seeking other visions of her past selves. She could remember six Decantings, but her inspection of the mirrors turned up several more. There was Sapphire Nine, who had been sent to Constantinople in the first few years of the thirteenth century, tasked with retrieving documents from the University there before the city was sacked by Christian Crusaders. There was Cobalt Seven, who had been in Roanoke in the waning years of the sixteenth century. She watched—both horrified and mesmerized—as a version she didn’t remember was burned at the stake.

And there—yes, finally—she found Sky Ten, who was stealthily looting a handful of paintings from the walls of an enormous gallery that seemed to extend forever. The painting she was removing from its frame depicted a woman in a dark dress who was standing in front of a wide mirror. It was an image that, had it been a photograph, would have surely shown a reflection of the photographer, but in the painting, the artist had skillfully neglected to show himself in the reflection.

Elze bit her lip, wishing she could pause what she was seeing. Or rewind it a few seconds. She wanted a better glimpse at the painting. There was something strange about it. It was very much in the style of Manet, and when she tried to remember the painting she had taken from Höltzbrïn’s collection, it was maddeningly vague in her head. As if being in this nexus of waves was creating ripples and reverberations in her memory. As if her own history was in flux.

Elze moved closer to the glass. Yes, leave it, she mentally commanded Sky Ten as the prior version of herself put the canvas down. For a moment, as Sky Ten walked over to rehang the empty frame, Elze could study the painting.

The woman in the painting was wearing a yellow dress, and it was a style that was completely wrong for the time period when Manet had been painting. It looked like something from an era more like the one she had modeled her costume on, which is to say a hundred years later than Manet. There was something else as well: in the painted reflection, there was a smear of oil. At first, she had thought the painting was unfinished or damaged, but she realized what she was looking at was a time portal.

 

The guards had led Dom and the others to a staircase in the chapel next to the main hall, which led to a gloomy basement room. There were no instruments of torture, and the metal rings mounted in the old stone walls lacked chains and cuffs. There were several wooden crates, marked with cryptic notations, as well a raised platform on which sat a cabinet with slim drawers and an unusual chair. The chair looked like it could be collapsed or extended into a full-length divan. Beside the chair was a curved metal pole that ended in a flared head. The light coming from the bulb in the pole was extremely bright.

Having deposited them in the room, the guards retreated up the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs closed with a thud that echoed briefly in the underground room. After that, the room was quiet.

“It’s not a very convincing dungeon,” Dom pointed out.

Magpie came at him with a hissing rustle of skirts. “You—” she started.

Dom put up his hands. “Now is not the time for more of that, Madam,” he said. “I have a bit of a headache.”

Her face darkened with fury. “How dare you presume that—”

“Maybe Herr Musbach could be of service,” Dom suggested, ignoring her growing apoplexy.

“How could your—” She whirled on Musbach. “And you—” She levered a long finger at him. “You wear the uniform of a great Prussian family. How dare you besmirch the legacy of the Empire.”

“I’ll have you know this crest belonged to my grandfather,” Musbach snapped.

Dom ignored them both. He wondered over to the platform, and since he was a creature of perpetual curiosity, he pulled open one of the drawers.

“Oh dear,” he said when he saw the contents.

Musbach and Magpie broke off from their argument as to which of them was a more devoted servant of the Volksreich. They came over to see what Dom had found.

Of their reactions, Dom found himself not terribly surprised that Musbach was the one who paled at the sight of the blades and saws in the drawer. Magpie looked like she had prior experience with these sorts of implements.

“Maybe I should reconsider my assessment of this dungeon,” Dom said.

“Maybe you should,” Magpie said.

*

CHAPTER 41

Herr Musbach leaned against one of the wooden crates as he dug out a pack of cigarettes from his pockets. He offered one to Dom, who passed, and after a moment’s hesitation, he offered one to Magpie. She accepted it, and when he produced a silver lighter, she leaned forward to suck some of flame into the tobacco. Musbach lit his own cigarette, and the pair stood and wreathed themselves in plumes of smoke, communicating silently and obscurely, as spies were wont to do.

Dom coughed delicately a few times, and then gave up when neither showed any indication of caring about his acting. He examined the other drawers in the cabinet, discovering more implements for extracting information and prolonging agony. It was, all in all, a rather comprehensive selection of tools of a trade, albeit one that Dom had little use for.

He did, however, find a small hammer and a metal shaft in a drawer. Trying not to think about how they might be used on human anatomy, he worked the flattened tip of the shaft into the seam of one of the crates. Using the hammer, he managed to pry off the top of the crate, whereupon he discovered a great deal of shredded husks, which were used quite frequently to ship antiquities from less industrialized locations.

Musbach and Magpie drifted over as Dom rooted around in the crate. His hand encountered a hard edge, and he let his fingers explore. They traced whorls and ornaments before discovering a flat back. “It’s a frame,” he said. He nodded at Musbach as he brushed aside more huskss. “Grab that edge.”

With the German’s assistance, he pulled a heavy frame out of the crate. A piece of flimsy wood was held in place against the frame by two lengths of twine, and Dom fumbled at the knots. He heard a swish of fabric, and then Magpie artfully cut the twine with a scalpel she had grabbed from the cabinet.

Dom and Musbach stared apprehensively at the blade in her hand. She glanced at both men, shrugged, and then cut the second length. “You were taking too long,” she said.

Dom set aside the covering and leaned the frame against the crate. He joined Musbach and Magpie by the platform, and the three of them regarded the painting critically.

“What is it?” Magpie finally asked.

“A Pollock, perhaps,” Dom said.

“A bird? I do not see a bird in that—whatever that is.” Musbach’s tone was not very conciliatory.

“No, Jackson Pollock is—well, was, I suppose—an American painter,” Dom said. “He did a lot of his work after the First—“ Dom stopped himself before he wandered into history that might be fantasy to these two. “He was part of the abstract expressionist movement,” he concluded, sticking to safer ground.

“The what?” Musbach’s upper lip was starting to curl.

Dom waved a hand at the canvas. “It’s a movement where the artists were more concerned about capturing an emotional state than they were in capturing—or recreating, as it were—an image of the natural world. We, as viewers, are meant to interpret what we see on a more visceral level.” He clenched his fist and tapped it against his chest. “You feel it here,” he said.

“I don’t like it,” Musbach said.

“Well, it’s not for everyone,” Dom said.

Magpie had a shiny gleam in her eyes, and Dom suffered a brief pang of regret. Oh, to be standing in a bohemian gallery somewhere instead of this dreary dungeon, he thought. I could take all of her money right now. He glanced at the painting again. And for something that probably isn’t a real Pollock.

Not that it mattered. When a person resonated with a piece of art, objectivity was politely escorted out of the room. The subjective reaction of the viewer became the only reality that mattered. For a brief moment, Dom considered how . . . how to describe this idea. Awareness? Causality? Some fancy German philosophical term that Musbach would probably know?

His extemporaneous contemplation of the universe was interrupted by the sound of a door opening. Light spilled down the rough-hewn stairs, painting the wall with a yellow splash. The color flickered as objects interposed themselves in the light. Dom blinked, feeling the edge of an elusive notion that was important. Something to do with time. Everything has something to do with time, a portion of his brain cynically pointed out. He brushed the world-weary voice aside, trying to grab the notion before it escaped. Subjectivity . . . Interference patterns . . . The waves . . .

Figures in black body armor came down the stairs, and Dom blinked again. The notion fled once more, and he was left, standing and gaping as a half-dozen armed and armored men filed into the dungeon.

“Oh, great,” he sighed.

They were beetle-men.

 

Elze heard voices, and around her, the light in the reflections started changing. Gleamings and refractions disturbed the mirrors. In several mirrors, her reflection disappeared, as if she had stepped out of the frame. In other mirrors, she saw men with guns. They were looking for her.

A guard spotted her, or—more likely—one of her reflections, and he shouted to his companions. He tried to threaten her, but all he did was run into a mirror. More guards—their images multiplying exponentially—swarmed around the disoriented guard.

Elze move through the maze of mirrors, and the light reflecting off the silver streamers of her costume sparked in a thousand mirrors. The guards tried to figure out which image was the true version, and one of them raised his weapon. Another shoved the barrel of the gun down. “You mustn’t break any glass,” the guard shouted.

Well now, Elze thought. That’s useful to know.

She passed one of the guards, and it was only after her streamers had whispered and slithered past his ear that he realized she was flesh and not refraction. He yelled at her to stop, and she cut around a mirror, disappearing from every glass for an instant.

The guard came around the mirror, leading with his weapon, and Elze delivered a savage chop to his throat with the hard edge of her hand. While he gargled and gurgled, she stripped his weapon from his hands. A swift blow with the butt end dropped the guard to his knees, and a second blow flattened him entirely.

Elze spun off behind another mirror. She familiarized herself with the weapon: full magazine, semi-automatic fire, iron sights. Standard military issue. When a second guard suddenly appeared in the mirrors around her, she brought the weapon up into a firing position.

“No,” he shouted. “Not the mirrors.”

Elze narrowed her eyes. She didn’t fire. “Why not?” she said. She kept moving as she spoke. She had realized she was looking at a reflection.

“Because they aren’t mirrors,” someone replied.

She whirled, tracking the new voice, and she found herself surrounded by images of a man dressed in a black robe. He wore a gold mask, and the visage was twisted down the middle. It was the same face as the medallion: Janus, the god of thresholds and time.

“What are they?” Elze asked.

The man in black indicated the mirror next to him, and in all of his reflections, it seemed like he was reaching for the hand of a twin. “Not all of them are the same,” he said. “You’ve seen that, haven’t you?”

“What are they?” Elze repeated.

“They are possibilities,” he said. “What might have been. What could be. What may yet be.”

“Declinations,” Elze said. “Different waves.”

His mask dipped in acknowledgement of her words.

“Why here?” she asked. “Why this wave?” Her voice grew angry. “Why didn’t I see any of these mirrors when I was here—”

“When you were . . . ?” The man didn’t seem to understand her reticence.

Elze looked around, trying to find the mirror where she had seen Sky Ten. All she saw were versions of herself, the man in black, and more guards stealthily trying to figure out which version of her was the real one. “I saw—” she started.

“You are frustrated by all this, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Elze snapped.

“It’s okay,” the man said. “You don’t have the clearance for it.”

“The what?”

“Operational Security Protocol Ultra,” he said.

“Ultra? I thought it only went to ‘9.’

He shook his head. “OSP isn’t numbered,” he said. “It’s code-worded.” He raised a finger to his frozen lips. “Ah, you aren’t from this one, are you? You’re from the other wave. The rogue one.”

“No,” she said, her hands tightening on the rifle in her hands. “You’re the rogue wave. I’m from W-1. The prime wave.”

“They said you would argue that point,” the man said. “That you were part of an organization dedicated to maintaining the sanctity of the true waveform. That was why you are here, isn’t it? To destabilize this wave so that yours will not suffer catastrophic aberrations.”

“That’s not—wait, who said this?”

“The men who warned me you were coming.”

“Which men?”

He waved a hand as if indicating another room—another place—and all of his reflections waved in a different direction, thoroughly confusing Elze. “The men who were very interested in interrogating your companion,” he said.

“Which companion?” Elze asked.

The man pantomimed mock surprise. “More than one? How fascinating. I knew the dichotomy was in play. There is a divergence coming.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Elze demanded.

The man shook his head. “Operational Security Protocol Ultra,” he said. He held out his hand, and Elze saw some of his reflections were reaching more greedily than others. “Give me the gun, my dear,” the man in the gold mask said. “It is time for you to set this foolish charade aside.”

Elze gave him a wolfish smile. “No,” she said. She racked the slide on her weapon. “I got all dressed up for this fancy dress party. I’m not giving up anything.”

 

The man who came down the stairs was not who Dom expected. He wore layers of white, and it was an arrangement somewhere between a funerary shroud and the multi-layered courtly garb as worn in Eastern cultures. He wore a cap that fit his shaven skull, and it had flaps that covered his ears and the back of his neck. His hands were covered in white gloves that went far up his arms, and he carried a grey briefcase.

“Ah, yes, here we are,” the man said as he reached the bottom of the stairs. His eyes changed color as he stepped into the light. He put his case down on the top of the cabinet beside the chair on the platform. “Shall we begin?”

Dom glanced at Musbach and Magpie and saw that both were staring at him as if he was supposed to know what was going on. “Begin what?” Dom asked. He feigned a confidence and insouciance he did not have, but the facade otherwise was familiar enough.

The man winked at him, letting Dom know he was in on the subterfuge. He opened his case, revealing a grey insert that padded a rectangular object. He picked up the object, and in his hands, the surface swarmed to life. It became a colorful display that moved and changed, like a miniature television screen. With a click, a probe popped out of the top of the rectangle, and the man plucked it free. It had a light at the end, and when he swung it toward the three of them, Dom tried hard not to flinch.

The man raised the probe toward Musbach’s face. “Now,” he said. “Let get a sample.”

Musbach frowned and took a step back.

“Oh, come now,” the man said. “Don’t make this difficult. The procedure isn’t painful. You won’t feel a thing.”

Musbach took another step back. The man’s gaze flicked to the beetle-men standing by the stairs, and he nodded. A pair of beetle-men stepped forward, and one of them put his hands on Musbach. Musbach tried to pull away, but the beetle-man’s grip was tight.

“There,” the man said. “Just open your mouth. Don’t make me have them open it for you.” He brought the probe up to Musbach’s lips. Musbach stiffened as he thought about resisting, but the beetle-man’s grip was insistent, and he finally relented. The man in white inserted the lit end of the probe into Musbach’s mouth. Musbach flinched briefly, and the man withdrew the probe. The glow from the end was darker, and as the man stared at the whirling images and glyphs on the data screen of his device, the glow brightened back to its original purity.

“How disappointing,” the man said. The data models had stopped changing on his device. “You are from this wave.” He looked at Musbach. “I was almost certain when I saw that ridiculous medal. So much in keeping with the garish ornamentation of the—what is it?—ah, yes, the People’s Empire.” He shook his head.

Dom glanced at Magpie. Her breathing had slowed, and there was a cunning gleam in her eyes. She was holding her right hand against the frillery of her gown, almost as if she was hiding something. She caught Dom looking, and the gleam in her gaze brightened.

“You’re not from around here,” Dom said as the man turned toward him.

The probe paused. “And what, pray tell, leads you to that conclusion?” the man asked.

“You work for the OTP,” Dom said. He was rewarded by a slight tightening of skin around the man’s eyes.

“Who?” the man asked, a querulous look his face. He was, however, not as adept at Dom at pretending to be uninformed and vacuous, and Dom saw that the man understood exactly what Dom was referring to.

Dom glanced at Magpie, and then brought his gaze back to the man in white. She doesn’t, though, he thought. She had no idea who this man is. And that was exactly what he needed.

“The Russians,” Dom said. “You work for Russian intelligence. You’re here to steal our secrets.”

The man in white started to laugh, but the rustling sound of Magpie’s skirts interrupted him.

The beetle-man standing beside Musbach never saw the scalpel in Magpie’s hand, but he certainly felt it as she shoved the blade into the side of his neck.

*

CHAPTER 42

In the dungeon beneath the chapel, a beetle-man gurgled.

In the Count’s Hall of mirrors, an automatic rifle chattered.

Someone shouted in alarm. It might have been the man in white. It might have been the man in black. It might have been both of them.

Dom’s vision split: in one eye, he watched Magpie stab the beetle-man a second time; in his other eye, the beetle-man grappled with the woman in the fancy ball grown. The two images drifted farther apart, and Dom felt like he was being torn in two as his brain tried to decide which was actually happening. They’re both happening, he thought. The wave is diverging.

Else raked her rifle across the mirrors, shattering impossible futures and possible pasts. In many of the mirrors, the man in black screamed and vibrated. He tore at himself as if his left side was at war with his right. Höltzbrïn’s security guards scrambled to avoid her wide fire, and she saw one man spin and go down from her rounds.

“Shoot them,” the man in white shouted. “Stop the divergence!” The beetle-men raised their weapons, and both Dom and Musbach dove for cover as weapons roared in the dungeon beneath the chapel. Dom fumbled for the edge of a crate, trying to navigate the splitting reality.

The man in black put his hands on his mask and tore it in half. With a sickening noise, the rending continued, and he collapsed in two pieces. Elze dropped a guard with the last three rounds in the magazine of her rifle. She cast the weapon aside and scooped up the dead guard’s rifle. There was an extra magazine in a pouch on his belt, and she retrieved it.

Dom vision darkened, and he clutched his head. Something was tearing, and he feared it was his sanity. He whimpered and pressed his face against the wooden crate, desperately trying to ground himself. Give me something real, he begged. He screwed his eyes shut.

Elze turned slowly. The guards weren’t shooting at her. The floor was strewn with broken glass. Many of the mirrors had gone dark. They weren’t reflecting the hall. Nor were they showing an alternate wave.

Tacky-ticky-tack-tack.

“No, no, no,” Dom moaned.

The two halves of the man in black were still moving.

Tack-tack-tack-tack.

“They can’t get out of here,” the man in white said from somewhen else. “Get them. One of them is responsible for this.”

Elze stared in horror.

Tack-tack-tack-tack.

Dom’s stomach lurched. Gasping, he opened his eyes. The doubling of his vision was gone. Close by, Musbach was slumped against the crate—his eyes unfocused, his mouth hanging open. There was blood on his fancy uniform.

Tack-tack-ticky-tacky.

One half of the man in black grew a new arm, and when they fumbled with half of the torn mask, Elze saw the face had elongated. The mouth moved with a sinister sibilance. “Sssskin-sssissster . . .”

Hands grabbed Dom and roughly hauled him to his feet. He struggled feebly as a beetle-man dragged him out from behind the crate. A second beetle-man came to help, and thoroughly restrained, Dom was brought over to the platform and chair. He fell onto the chair when shoved, and a third beetle-man grabbed his legs before he could slither off the chair.

The masked figure rose from the floor. Beside it, the other heap quivered as if it was about to undergo a similar transformation. Elze’s finger was tight against the trigger of her weapon, but she didn’t fire. She had recognized the masked figure, and she knew shooting them wasn’t going to solve anything.

The man in white retrieved his medical device and probe. “Now,” he said. “Let’s just get this over with.” He raised the probe to Dom’s mouth and wiggled it. “Open up,” he said. “Or I’ll have them open your mouth for you.”

The second heap fixed their mask. “Group hug,” they said as they got to their feet. They held out their arms. The first figure shook their head and hissed. “Don’t be like that,” the second figure said. They swung their mask toward Elze. “Did you miss us?”

Dom flinched as the probe lanced a bit of flesh from the inside of his mouth. The man in white absently withdrew the probe, his attention focused on the whirling display of his device. Dom shifted on the chair, testing the grip of the beetle-men. He glanced toward the stairs. Only one beetle-man stood at the bottom of the stairs. If he could . . .

Elze’s gaze flicked across several of the remaining mirrors. She saw other versions of the Manifest Invocator and the Absolute Egregore in several of them. One looked like it was actually mirroring the Count’s Hall, but she thought she could see the edge of a picture frame in it. Another mirror looked into a fancy restaurant. She caught sight of a yellow dress . . .

The device in the man in white’s hands beeped, and the whirling display collapsed on itself and reformed. Like an apple turning itself inside out. “What’s this?” The man in white frowned.

“How can I miss you if I don’t know who you are,” Elze said to the Twins. The Absolute Egregore hissed at her, as if they knew she was lying. The Manifest Invocator waved its hands.

The man in white looked at Dom. “Who are you?” he asked. “Your signature isn’t . . .” He fiddled with his device, and the display shifted and contorted. Looping . . .

Elze’s grip tightened on her weapon. If I shoot them both—here and now—will it kill them? she wondered. Is that the only way? Her gaze strayed to the flicking candlelight of the mirror behind the Twins.

Dom let his gaze linger the two bodies on the floor—Magpie and the beetle-man she had stabbed. Both had been shot multiple times. He noticed she was still holding on to the scalpel she had filched from the cabinet earlier.

Elze saw the Absolute Egregore flicker out of existence in one of the mirrors behind them, and she moved in this wave before the ripple reached her. This Egregore—ticky-tacky-tack-tack—shifted, and when they rematerialized, she was not where they expected her to be. “I lied about not knowing you,” she said as she pulled the trigger.

“Yes, yes,” the man in white said, seeing nothing but the whirling display on his device. “Oh, very clever. Very clever. So many reverberations. So many echoes. But not you. No, you are the stone which remains constant. You are—” The display twisted and froze. Dom thought it looked like a snake devouring its own tail . . .

The Manifest Invocator howled. Two mirrors shattered. One of them was the mirror into the Count’s Hall where a different version of Elze was stealing paintings. She felt a stab of pain—more imagined than real—as that version winked out of existence.

The man in white gasped. “The Ourborean Paradox!”

As the Absolute Egregore stumbled and collapsed, Elze turned her rifle on the Manifest Invocator.

“Stop her!” the man in white shrieked. He dropped his device in his panic. “She’s in the Prism. She’s creating a new wave. Stop her!” The beetle-men holding Dom released him, and in a rush, the armored men swarmed up the stairs. The door at the top banged open, and in a clatter of booted feet, they were gone.

Elze shot the Manifest Invocator. They cried out, and when they flung up their arms, she shot them again, putting holes in their mask.

Muttering to himself, the man in white fumbled about for his device. Dom rolled off the chair and stumbled off the platform. He fell to his knees, and as the man in white realized what he was doing, he lunged for Magpie’s half-closed hand. “No, no,” the man in white said.

Else turned, and shot the Absolute Egregore a second time. Just for good measure.

Dom felt the cold handle of the scalpel, and as the man in white grabbed him, he closed his hand about the surgical instrument. He twisted around, the blade in his fist. The man in white made a funny noise and his furious expression softened.

Gunfire ripped through the Count’s Hall. At first, Elze thought the guards were shooting at her, but then she spotted other figures in the large room. They wore black armor and their heads were encased in black helmets.

A red line opened, and the man no longer in white coughed as blood poured out of his throat. He grabbed at Dom’s costume, but his grip wasn’t very strong. “You’re—” He coughed.

More mirrors shattered around Elze. As versions of the Twins vanished, the bodies in the hall with her writhed. Bits of black flew off, taking wing as screaming ravens.

“I know,” Dom said. The man no longer in white gasped. His grip failed, and he fell to his knees. Dom took a step back.

Elze sprinted toward the mirror filled with flickering light.

“She’s going to ruin everything,” the man from the future wheezed.

The beetle-men pursued Elze.

“I trust her,” Dom said. He smiled at the dying man’s expression. “That’s going to—”

Elze didn’t hesitate. The mirror was either a portal or it wasn’t. She didn’t have time to check. She simply had to believe it was going to let her through. Otherwise . . .

The man collapsed. Dom frowned at the body. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter any more, does it?” he said.

The silver streamers of her costume glittered and twisted, and Elze felt like every inch of her skin was on fire. She cried out, but her cry wasn’t heard. Everything became too bright, and then her vision failed. A roaring noise filled her head until she thought it was going to rupture her skull, and then . . .

Dom looked around the dungeon. He was the only one still alive in the room.

. . . Elze catapulted through and collided with a man in a white shirt. He was carrying a tray of glassware, which went flying. She caught a momentary glimpse of a room filled with soft light, white linens, and people in suits and dresses. She was in a restaurant somewhen, and as she spun around, she saw a shimmering breach in time and space. Beetle-men were coming through the breach, and she distantly heard the chattering noise of their rifles. People started screaming in shock and pain. She returned fire, dropping one of her pursuers, and then she scrambled for a pair of glass-filled doors. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a woman in a yellow dress . . .

Dom scratched behind his right ear. Something wasn’t right—hang on, none of this was right, he thought. Or maybe it’s all correct now . . . He shook his head. He could think about this later. Right now, he had to find Elze and get out of the castle. This mission had gone horribly wrong.

Elze burst out of the restaurant and found herself on the sidewalk of a metropolitan city. She looked around frantically, trying to figure out where and when she might be. Bright lights on her right caught her attention and she focused on the massive stone monument at the end of the block. The Arc de Triomphe, she realized. I’m in Paris.

Dom went up the stairs. The chapel was empty, and congratulating himself on his luck, he started toward the stone door that led out to the courtyard of the castle. He took one step and stopped. He turned toward the other end of the chapel, toward the altar . . .

Bullets whizzed past Elze, and she shook herself out of her reverie. She darted toward the tall monument, the silver streamers of her costume flickering and coursing behind her. A distant observer might mistake them for disturbances in the atmosphere, or ripples across time . . .

Arranged in the altar of the chapel was a half-circle of bookshelves. They were somewhat translucent, and when Dom tried to touch one of the books, his hand passed through it. Still, he could read the spines. De retardations senectutis et senii. Next to Bacon’s book was Arzachel’s tablae astronomicae, followed by several folios by St. Isidore of Seville. Dom moved to the center of the half-formed circle. He closed his eyes.

Elze darted behind a dark sedan, ignoring the angry horn of the motorist who nearly clipped her. A car in the next lane of the roundabout screeched to a halt and it was faster to slide across its hood than to dart around the front of the car. The windshield shattered behind her. The beetle-men were still chasing her. Come on, she thought. Don’t give up.

Dom put aside all of his racing thoughts. He went into this memory palace, that place where he stored all the books in the library in his apartment in Paris. This was how he found his way back from whenever he went. He summoned each of the titles and put them on the shelf. Ordering a time and place where he wanted to be. When the shelves were all correctly arranged, the door would open.

Elze vaulted over the metal railing that separated the road from the base of the Arc. This spot in Paris was the intersection of twelve roads. All roads lead here, Elze thought, as she ran toward the spot beneath the massive arch. A flame flickered there, as if it was waving at her. It was the eternal flame that burned over a memorial to the Unknown Soldier—nameless men and women who gave their lives for their countries.

Dom hesitated as he finished the last shelf. The last time he had tried to do this, he and Elze had been in a far-future declination. Even though he had managed to open the door in that future version of his apartment, it hadn’t led him where he had hoped to go. Was his memory palace still corrupt?

Elze tossed aside her rifle. She wasn’t going to need it. She was almost at the memorial.

Dom opened his eyes. The ghostly shelves were gone. There was a door now. A door that hadn’t been there a few moments before.

She felt the bullets as they tore through her body. Her legs got tangled and she went down hard, banging her hands and shoulder against the pavement.

Dom reached for the heavy doorknob.

Elze cried out as she tried to get up. There was blood on her silver streamers. Her right leg was twisted.

Dom turned the knob.

Elze grabbed the heavy chain around the memorial of the Unknown Soldier. Beyond the chain was a broad slab. At the far end of the slab was a circular memorial. In the center of the circle, the eternal flame flickered and danced. Elze crawled over the chain, gritting her teeth against the pain from her wounds.

The door started to open.

Elze heard people shouting and the noisy bleating of car horns. She had almost reached the circular memorial. Just a little farther, she thought. She focused on the bright flame. Everything else went dark.

Dom let out the breath he had been holding.

Elze cried out as she was shot again.

Dom stepped through the portal.

Elze strained for the flame, a fierce grimace locked on her face. Her fingers were hot.

I’m home, Dom thought as the door swung shut behind him.

And he was. In his heart—in that special place deep inside where he always knew—it was early on a Saturday evening. The year was 1958. Two days (objectively speaking) had passed since he had been accosted by a ruffian working for Belette. The man had reminded him of a debt that was due that Friday. Don’t be late, the man had said.

I’m never late, Dom had replied, and yet . . .

It doesn’t matter, Dom thought as he wandered into his kitchen. There was an empty bottle of GlenLootcherbrae on the counter. There is no Belette, he thought. It’s all— He shook his head. It’s a new wave now. Wasn’t that what the man had tried to warn him about? An Architect, Dom realized. That’s who the man had been. One of those from Elze’s future who been in charge of manipulating the past.

Dom opened the cupboard. It was empty. He had forgotten the bottle had been his last. He frowned. It wasn’t like him to forget, but he suspected there was going to be more that he was going to forget.

Not her, he thought. Don’t forget about her . . .

He stared at the empty bottle. There was something else, something he couldn’t forget . . .

*

EPILOGUE

“Excuse me, monsieur. Have you lost your party this evening?”

Dom looked over at the young man in the dark jacket who had approached the bar. The crest of the Hôtel Napoleon adorned the right pocket of the jacket. “Excuse me?”

The young man—who wasn’t Security, by the way; hotels like the Napoleon weren’t that gauche—gestured at Dom’s attire. “You appear to be dressed in a historic costume,” he said.

Dom glanced down, and dimly realized he hadn’t bothered to change after coming through the door in his apartment. There was also a dark stain on his jacket that, if one were to be gracious, might be construed as wine, but was most likely something worse. “I am,” Dom said. “Louis XIV. Maybe Louis XV.” He let his hand flop on the bar. “I wasn’t really paying attention when I put it on.”

The concierge (let’s be polite about his designation, shall we?) nodded like he had this same problem himself on occasion. “Did you have a reservation for dinner?” he asked.

Dom glanced around the half-empty dining area of Le Bivouac. Nothing was out of place. “No,” he admitted. “I thought—perhaps—that I might meet someone, but . . .”

The concierge’s expression didn’t change. “Another night, perhaps,” he suggested.

“Perhaps,” Dom said.

The concierge gave a slight nod to the bartender, and before Dom could grab his glass, the bartender made it disappear off the counter. Dom glared at the man as he moved off to attend to guests who weren’t about to be thrown out of the restaurant.

The concierge cleared his throat. “Monsieur,” he said.

“All right,” Dom said. He shoved himself upright. He swayed a little (he may have had a drink or two before he got to Le Bivouac), and under the stern gaze of the concierge, he stumbled toward the doors that led out to the street.

He was a little disappointed (but not entirely surprised) that the restaurant was unmarked in any way. Whatever had happened here hadn’t happened, objectively speaking. The only evidence that a time portal had opened inside was a fading memory in his head. A memory that was becoming elusive. As the doors to Le Bivouac shut behind him, Dom worried—for the eightieth or maybe the hundredth time—that if he turned around, he wouldn’t remember why the restaurant was important. He wouldn’t remember what had (or hadn’t) happened here.

He stood on the street, and the night air cooled his face. The jacket (modeled in the fashion of courtly attire of Louis XIV, in fact) was too heavy for this time of year, and he would have preferred something lighter, but, much like the restaurant, he was worried that if he took it off, he would forget.

The concierge watched him from inside Le Bivouac, letting Dom know that he wasn’t welcome back inside the restaurant or hotel. Dom couldn’t blame the hotel’s management, actually. This was the third—or was it the fourth?—night he had stood at the bar, drinking and brooding.

It’s all fading, he thought, tilting his head back and looking up at the night sky. That’s what happens to waves that decay. Everyone forgets.

He didn’t want to forget her, but he didn’t know how to remember a woman who didn’t exist. All he had was the bottle of scotch they had shared and this place, where she had come through the time portal and—no, wait, it hadn’t been her. She had said it had been someone else. Someone who—

He shook his head. His memory was getting muddled. Someone had come through a portal here. Even if it hadn’t happened in this wave. Someone had come through a portal here in some other wave. A wave that existed in his head. He was going to remember it. He was going to keep it alive. He had to.

His gaze roamed across the front of the hotel, seeing but not seeing the lit windows. Hadn’t he thought about jumping out one of those windows? He tried to figure out which window it had been. Second floor, he thought. Three in from the end . . .

And then he remembered what he had forgotten . . .

He didn’t go back in though the restaurant. No, not with the concierge standing there, glaring at him. He went in through the front doors, and he made it to the stairs before he heard someone shouting behind him. Taking the stairs as quickly as he could, he raced up to the fourth floor. He ran down the hall, his eyes tracking the numbers of the rooms. Sixteen, eighteen, twenty . . .

“Monsieur!” The concierge was in the hall behind him, and he wasn’t alone. This time, there was no question of the job description of the pair who were following the agitated hotel employee.

Dom stopped in front of the door marked “24.” Four-two-four, he thought. He banged on the door, and then turned toward the concierge and security men.

“You are trespassing on hotel property,” the concierge said. “Come with us now, and we will not call the police.”

Dom held up his hands and made no move to run.

The concierge nodded at his muscle and they approached Dom.

The lock on the door to room 24 clicked and the door swung open. The concierge looked. The goons looked. Dom looked.

The woman standing in the doorway was not wearing lemon-colored silk and her hair was not coiled like frozen flame on her head, but Dom recognized her nonetheless. It more than her eyes (green, but not quite as verdant as his) and her mouth (the color of summer roses); it was the familiar way she put her hands on her hips and looked at the four men standing in the hall.

“Hello Dominion,” she said.

“Hello Chaumonieux,” he said.

She cocked her head to the side, and his heart leapt in his chest. How many times had she looked at him like that? “Sorry,” he said after clearing the obstruction in his throat. “Hello Elzebet.”

The concierge wore a confused look. “Ah, pardon me, mademoiselle. Do you—is this man . . .”

“Do I know this man? Of course I do.” She smiled at Dom. “And he knows me.”

“You changed your hair,” Dom said.

“It’s an unfortunate side effect of Decanting,” she said. “Along with everything else.”

“Not everything,” he said. 

She smiled at him. “I’m glad you remembered.” 

“Me too,” Dom said. 

She waved a hand at the concierge and his men. “There is nothing to be alarmed about here. I’ve been waiting for this man,” she said. She looked at Dom again. “You’re late.” 

Dom plucked at his stained Louis XIV jacket. “I had a little trouble getting away from the last party,” he said. 

“Typical,” she said. 

THE END
(relatively speaking)

RETURN