Avalon County Entertainment System
Channel Select: Avalon Broadcasting System (Channel 17)
As she puttered around the kitchen, tidying up the last of the aftermath from dinner, Sakuya Izayoi reflected that this had always been her favorite part of the day. In all her long service here at Maison Écarlate, this time in the early morning, when the family and the night staff had gone to bed, but the day staff wasn't up yet, had been a time just for her. Secure in the knowledge that she was unlikely to be disturbed, she could slow down a little, take her time, and put the finishing touches on the night's work that were so important to set the next night up for smooth running.
Now, with the dishes done, the cooking utensils cleaned and put away, and the provisions for breakfast lined up and ready to go, Sakuya was engaged in the supremely meditative task of organizing the pantry, which was still swamped with seven decades' worth of the mistress of the house managing it any whichway that struck her fancy. Countess Remilia had many qualities that endeared her to her longest-serving lady's-maid, but her organizational skills had never been among them.
She was standing with a jar of chickpeas in hand, wondering what on Earth had possessed Remilia to put it with the B-positive blood preserves, when she heard quiet footsteps and turned to see Hong Meiling standing in the pantry doorway.
"Hey, uh... have you got a minute?" Meiling asked, a trifle awkwardly.
Ignoring the question, Sakuya asked in return, "Does Lady Flandre need anything before bed?"
Meiling shook her head. "She's already asleep. Two stories and out like a light."
"Ah, good. Well, then—" Sakuya began, a dismissive tone in her voice, but Meiling interrupted her:
"I need to talk to you."
"I'm very busy right now," Sakuya lied, brushing past the taller woman and into the kitchen.
"Alphabetizing beans? C'mon," Meiling replied, following her. "Sakuya, please."
Sakuya paused in the middle of the kitchen, then sighed, put the errant jar down on the worktable, turned around, and leaned back against the table, folding her arms.
"All right," she said. "Talk."
"What did I do?" Meiling asked without preamble. "You've been so cold to me ever since we got here. You pretty much outright denied that we're together, and based on how you've been acting since, I guess it's safe to assume that we're not any more. So... what did I do? I can try to make it up to you if I know what it was."
"Well, for one thing, you followed me here without asking."
"I thought you'd be happy!" Meiling protested. "You said you would miss me, and after I got done having a cry about it I thought, Well, who says she has to? So I ran like hell to catch up to you—and can I just point out that you're lucky I did!"
"M'lady would have caught me if you hadn't," Sakuya replied, although her expression suggested that even she wasn't entirely sure of that. "And anyway," she went on before Meiling could call her on it, "haven't you been claiming all along that you were the Doctor's bodyguard? And then you just abandon him to chase after your girlfriend?"
"Pff, he doesn't need a bodyguard," Meiling said dismissively. "That was just an inside joke with him and me. Don't pretend you're that dense. Besides, he's got Hattori now, and even if he didn't... I'd pick you over him any day."
When Sakuya didn't reply, Meiling took another step toward her, a pleading look coming onto her face. "Come on, give me something to work with. I can't read your face at all when you go all stony like that. You're killing me here." Tilting her head, she asked, "Are you ashamed of me? Is that what it is? Am I not refined enough for this place? I know I'm just a country dragon from the back of beyond, but I know which fork to use..." She hesitated, welling up slightly, and then went boldly on, "... and I love you like crazy, which should make up for the rest."
In the face of Meiling's misery, Sakuya's cold façade cracked. She reached out, but didn't quite dare to touch her, and said hastily,
"No, no! It's not that at all. Honestly. It isn't. It's just..." She paused, organizing her thoughts, and then went on, "It's just that m'lady comes from a very, very old and distinguished family. For her servant to be carrying on an affair under her roof, and with another woman, no less—"
"Technically I'm not a woman," Meiling put in.
"—shut up—it's just... it's not done in this sort of household. It wouldn't be proper. I'm sorry. I tried to explain it to you before I left the TARDIS, but I suppose I was too roundabout. I should have just told you point-blank to forget about me and get on with your life."
Meiling puzzled over that for a second, then said slowly, "O... K, so... you started out with 'no, no,' but the rest of that sounded an awful lot like 'yes, actually, I am ashamed.'" Again Sakuya seemed to be at a loss to reply. Meiling shook her head, sighing. "OK," she said. "I see how it is. Well, don't worry. I'm not gonna make a scene. I'll just... stay out of your way for the rest of the month, and next full moon, I'll hit the trail."
Sakuya took that on board almost expressionlessly, then closed her eyes and said with perfect composure, "I think that would be best."
Meiling nodded. "OK. Thanks."
So long, perfect composure. Starting away from the table, Sakuya asked with pained astonishment, "What in the world are you thanking me for?"
Meiling shrugged. "Everything before this," she said simply. "It's been amazing. That's not gonna change just because there's no place in your life for me now." She took a deep breath, let it slowly out, and nodded firmly, as if to herself. "Right. I'll get out of your way now. G'night, Sakuya. Or morning. Whatever."
She made to walk past the maid and leave the kitchen, but Sakuya abruptly shot out an arm and barred her path. "Wait."
Meiling stopped and gave her a questioning look. Sakuya hesitated a moment, as if arguing with herself internally. Then, with a look of determination, she said, "This is for everything," placed her hands on either side of Meiling's face (she had to stand on tiptoes to do it), pulled it down to her own, and kissed her fiercely.
The kiss went on for some time, as Sakuya tried to put all that her naturally reserved character wouldn't permit her to say aloud, all the joy she'd taken in this relationship and all the sorrow that it had to end, into it. Meiling's arms tightened around her back, the taller woman's body pressing hers against the table, and she knew that if it went on much longer Meiling would hoist her up to sit there so that their faces would be on more of a level, and if she let things get that far they would almost certainly wind up making love right here in the—
The sound of clinking glass behind her startled her almost out of her skin. Heart pounding, she pulled her lips away from Meiling's and turned (as best she could, still being backed against the table).
To her horror, there stood Remilia, in nightdress and slippers, rummaging in the icebox.
Flying Yak Studios
Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
Avalon Broadcasting System
Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime
© 2020 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"M-m-m-m'lady!" Sakuya blurted, red-faced and hopelessly flustered. Meiling backed up a couple of steps to give her room to turn around, silently wondering whether she were about to be thrown out of the mansion and forced to rough it out in the grounds for the rest of the month.
Remilia closed the icebox and gave her a questioning look. "Mm?"
"W-what are you doing here?" asked Sakuya.
"Just grabbing a nightcap," Remilia replied, holding up the half-liter bottle of milk she'd retrieved.
Sakuya's normal air of composure defied retrieval. In a voice most unlike the one she usually used with her employer, she sputtered, "Why didn't you ring for me, m'lady? I, I, I'd have brought it to you—"
Remilia shrugged. "Force of habit. I've gotten used to doing for myself while you've been away." She took a long drink of milk, then added conversationally, "Tell you the truth, I kind of like it. You'll have to get used to that now that you're back."
"Are you feeling all right, Sakuya?" asked Remilia. "You're acting really weird. Anyway, don't mind me." She finished off the milk with a second long pull, worked the pump while she rinsed the bottle, put it in the sink, and turned to go. "G'morning."
Seeing that Sakuya wasn't going to regain her powers of speech anytime soon, Meiling felt honor-bound to speak up. "Countess Scarlet, please forgive Sakuya, it's my fault. I was just saying goodbye. I'll... I'll be leaving as soon as I'm able."
Remilia paused by the end of the table and tilted her head curiously. "Why? You're welcome to stay as long as you like, I told you that." She chuckled wryly. "It's not like we're short of space around here. Besides, my sister's already grown very fond of you. She'd be heartbroken if you just up and left."
"I... well..." Meiling looked at the floor, blushing hard. "I think it would be too painful for me and Sakuya if I were to stay on here, since we can't be... together any more."
Remilia looked even more puzzled. "Who says you can't be? You're adults, aren't you?"
Regaining at least partial use of her voice, Sakuya stammered, "M-m'lady, I would never... under your r-roof..."
Remilia smiled indulgently, then hopped up onto the counter facing the two, swinging her slippered feet like a child, and said,
"Listen, Sakuya. The reason for the old rule about senior servants not getting involved with people was to set an example for the rest of the staff. I mean, we were trying to run a household, not a matchmaking society, right? Well, I don't know if you've noticed, but there is no rest of the staff now. You're it. And you're not really a servant. You hadn't been for decades before you left."
"I'm... what?" Sakuya replied, looking utterly lost.
"You're my friend, Sakuya," said Remilia gently. "My very precious friend. You were the only friend I had for... what? Sixty years? And even now you're one of maybe three that I have in the whole world. I mean, you do work for me and you do get paid," she qualified, "but even so. This isn't a grand household like Maman and Papa ran. It's just..." She shrugged a very Gallic shrug, both with her shoulders and her wings, which even under the circumstances Meiling found oddly amusing. "... my family."
Warming to the topic, Remilia hopped down and paced that side of the kitchen, making dramatic gestures. "After all these years alone, I suddenly have a family again. Am I going to turn up my nose at that because my maid has a lover? Am I stupid? Am I cruel? Am I a tyrant? Non, non, encore une fois non, mille fois non!" Drawing herself to her full height, wings outspread, as imperial a figure as a tiny woman in nightdress and mob cap can be, she declared, "I am Remilia Scarlet, Countess of the House of Scarlet! In this house my word is law! And my word is..."
Dropping her regal stance, Remilia smiled warmly and said in a more normal voice, "You kids have fun, now." She turned to go, then turned back. "But keep the noise down, will you, and whatever you do, try not to wake Flan?" With a chuckle, she added, "There are things I don't want to have to explain to her just yet."
Sakuya was speechless again, but Meiling, despite feeling that the occasion had become deeply surreal, managed to say, "Uh... roger that, ma'am. We'll... we'll be discreet."
"Good. Discreet is good. And if you could keep it from interfering with Sakuya's work too much, that'd be great too." Remilia shrugged again, less extravagantly this time. "I probably didn't need to point that part out, but just to have it on record."
"D'accord. Well, I've got things to do, and..." Remilia grinned slyly, making both of them blush deep red again. "... so do you." Once again she turned to go.
Taking a step after her, Sakuya suddenly found her voice and blurted, "M'lady!"
"Yes?" Remilia inquired, pausing in the doorway and looking back.
"I... thank you."
Remilia gave her the warm smile again. "You're welcome, Sakuya. I'm glad you found somebody to share the road with while you were out wandering the world." The smile becoming a wry grin, she added, "I had to sit around here waiting for mine to come to me. Oh, that reminds me. The bath was terrific. If you could please arrange another one for, say, half an hour after sundown? That would be super."
"I..." Sakuya searched for words, and then, as if someone had flipped a switch, her perfectly elegant composure returned. Squaring herself up, she gave her trademark bow-curtsey and replied, "It shall be done, m'lady."
"Lovely. Thanks. Carry on," said Remilia with a wink, and then she was gone.
In her wake, Sakuya and Meiling stood looking blankly at each other for nearly a minute. When at last someone broke the silence, they both did, each speaking the other's name. That brought them up short, as it occurred to them both that neither had any idea what she would have said next; and then, at last, they laughed and fell into each other's arms.
"I guess you're stuck with me," said Meiling, giving her a gentler kiss.
"I guess I am," Sakuya agreed, returning it.
Humming cheerfully to herself, Remilia climbed the south stairs without touching them. Her body as buoyant as her mood, she didn't actually put her feet back on the floor until just outside her bedchamber door.
Inside, she checked that the fire was banked and the windows properly draped against the oncoming day, then took off her cap, arranged pillows, and climbed into bed, still smiling to herself.
"What are you amused about?" Gryphon wondered.
Remilia told him about the scene she'd walked into in the kitchen, and what had transpired once the two lovers had noticed her.
"So I left them to get on with it," she concluded, a playfully wicked edge coming into her smile.
"That was very kind of you," said Gryphon.
"Well, what else was I going to do?" she asked rhetorically. "There's happiness in this house for the first time in decades. Am I going to throw that away for the sake of some dusty old propriety? Pah! Besides, I'd be a hypocrite if I did. My first love was a village girl from Bennwihr."
He arched an eyebrow, intrigued. "Really?"
"Mm. Her name was Marthe. She's actually the reason the farmhands around here started calling me 'the Scarlet Devil'. When she and I were both fifteen, I used to visit her every few days, and she would always beg me to drink from her. 'Mais je serais très honoré.' Eventually, I took her up on it. But, you know... when you're that age, you're not very good at certain things."
"Ah. You had a drinking problem."
Remilia chuckled. "You could say that. I think more of it ended up on our clothes than anywhere else. Eventually, her mother caught on to what we were doing and put a stop to it."
"What do you mean, how? She told Marthe not to see me any more, and me not to come around, and we were sad, but we minded her. Were you expecting garlic and mistletoe?"
"Does that work?"
"No, it's an old wives' tale, but that's not the point. I'm not a savage, I don't go where I'm not wanted." Remilia sighed wistfully. "Ah, Marthe. To be honest, I think she was tiring of my clumsiness by then anyway. But she was beautiful, and she tasted like springtime." She spent a few more moments in reverie, then returned to the present and said, "Anyway, we're not here to talk about my past. Time enough for that later. Shall we get started on yours now, or would you rather get some sleep and begin this evening?"
"I'm game to start now... I'm just not sure where," Gryphon admitted.
"One customarily starts a story at the beginning," Remilia said archly, taking his nearer hand and slipping her fingers between his.
"Hm. OK. First, some background. I'm not from this world."
Remilia gave him an intrigued look, though it didn't really work, since they were sitting side by side. "... You're from outer space?"
Gryphon shook his head. "No, I'm from Maine, I only work in outer space. We'll get to that part. What I mean is... without getting into the big math behind it, there's an infinite number of universes, all sort of... lying on top of each other, separated from each other in a fifth dimension outside the four we know."
"Four? Don't you mean three?"
"Time is number four."
"Ah! Interesting. I hadn't thought of that."
"Anyway, these different universes... each one is unique, but a lot of them are very similar. In the one I come from, the nations of Earth are all basically the same as the ones you know, but most of the names are different, and history took a different course. There's no magic in the world I grew up in, for instance, and creatures like... well, like you are just... myths. Folklore and literature."
"Sounds boring," Remilia opined.
"It was a bit," Gryphon agreed, chuckling. "Anyway, in that world, the country you call the United States of Liberion is called the United States of America, and the Liberion state of Dawnland is the American state of Maine. I was born there, in the year 1973."
"So you're from another world and the future," said Remilia. "How convoluted."
"Oh, I haven't even started."
"I can't wait for this now."
"Then stop interrupting."
"How rude you are, sir."
"Says the one who keeps interrupting."
"Touché. Go on."
"Thank you. Now I've lost my place."
"Maine. Nineteen seventy-three."
"Ah yes, thank you. For the first 18 years, there's nothing much to report. My life was totally ordinary until I went away to college in Worcester."
"The one in Britannia? Sorry."
"No, in America. Massachusetts, which in your world is... Algonquia? Anyway. I was 300 miles from home, on my own for the first time. Making new friends, having good times, not doing very well at the actual school part. In other words, still perfectly ordinary... until one afternoon after class, I opened the wrong door, and everything changed."
The thing about Gryphon's life story from that point onward, he decided, was that if he described it out loud, it was so absurd in spots that even he began to doubt whether most of it was true. The HoloDECstation, the Wedge War, the escape into space... had any of that really happened? It must have, he was who he was now, and none of that would have been possible without Starship Wedge and the flight to Zeta Cygni, the mad Prussian with his visions of a space defense force, the man from the 413,000th millennium and his retrovirus... but all the same, at several centuries' remove, it all seemed vaguely... preposterous.
Remilia certainly seemed to think so. "They made you immortal with a disease?" she asked, incredulous.
"Not really a disease, as such. I mean, it was a virus, but its job was just to use a trick some viruses do to get the important part where it needed to be." He searched his mind for a way of conveying this point to someone who lived in an era when genetics wasn't really a thing yet, then snapped his fingers and said, "In a way, it's not too unlike when one of you turns a human. You're introducing an outside factor that triggers a wholesale body change. For you, it's your blood and the magic properties it has. In my world we'd call that your paragenetics."
Remilia frowned. "I thought that was a geological thing."
"Oh. Sorry, you were saying."
"Right, yeah. For vampires, the paragenetic trigger is blood. For us, it was the virus. It remade those of us who were treated with it into... well, what I am now. Still essentially human, but..." Gryphon chuckled. "A lot harder to kill."
"And you did this... why?"
"We did it to Zoner because if we hadn't, he'd have died, and we weren't prepared to accept that."
"That sounds familiar," said Remilia, her tone a little subdued.
"I know," Gryphon said, squeezing her hand. "In our case it didn't go wrong, but... it could have. We were taking risks we didn't fully understand, just like you—but for the best of reasons, just like you."
"What about the rest of you, though? You weren't dying. At least, no faster than any human does," Remilia qualified.
"Well..." Gryphon shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. What do you want, we were 18, 19, 20 years old. We were still half-convinced we'd live forever anyway. You were born a vampire, so you might not understand this part. When you're born human, you don't grasp right away that you won't live forever. 'When we are young, wandering the face of the Earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth, learning that we're only immortal for a limited time.'"
"Is that from a poem?"
"Mm. A song, really, but its author was one of the great poets of rock 'n roll."
"Rock 'n what?"
Gryphon chuckled again. "A style of popular music. It won't be along for another 10 years or so, although you can hear the roots of it today in bands like the Ink Spots. That's by the way, though. The important thing is, one day we did this thing, and suddenly we had the wherwithal to live our dream—Lord F had already handed us that—and the leeway to get away with it. Mostly. Some of us didn't make it, but... I came here from the year 2411, and a lot of us from the original gang are still kicking."
"Twenty-four eleven! So that would make you..." Remilia paused to calculate in her head. "Four hundred thirty-eight." She laughed. "That's the same age as Flan! Which means you're still younger than I am, but... not by as much as I thought. Or," she added with an upraised finger, "you're out of your mind."
"After all I've been through, sometimes I wonder why I'm not," Gryphon replied honestly. "I guess the thing that keeps my body going does the same for my mind."
He told her what he'd spent those 420 years since his immortalization doing—the centuries of battle with the original Wedge Defense Force, the shattering blow of Operation Götterdämmerung, the near-century of wandering hunted in the wilderness, his vindication, the Corporate War.
As it unfolded, Remilia stopped interjecting and just lay there, taking it all in, with only occasional "mm-hmm"s and "OK"s to indicate that she was still listening. By this stage, she had passed the point of trying to decide as she heard it whether any of this could be true. She'd realized there was too much of it to judge as it came in. Now she was simply taking it all on board for later digestion.
He had just described the final resolution of the Corporate War, his final showdown with Largo and its aftermath, when she spoke up for the first time in a while.
"Wait. Your first lover spent 90 years trying to kill you for something you didn't even do, then ignored you for eight more, and the first chance you got, you took her back?"
"It was a little more complicated than that," Gryphon replied, "but... basically yes."
Remilia snorted. "No wonder you were so good with Flan. You like suffering."
"That was mean and frankly uncalled-for."
"Sorry. I'm sure there were plenty of extenuating circumstances," she said, her tone making it clear that she was sure of no such thing. "What became of her, then?"
Gryphon sighed. "Well... now we've gotten to the hard part. Right after the war, we finally, after almost four centuries of on-and-occasionally-really-off romance, got married. Started a family. That's where the kids I told you about earlier came from. Our eldest, Kaitlyn, is 22, teaching music at the school she graduated from. The others are scattered here and there, doing what calls to them. They're all amazing."
Her hand had gone still in his, ceasing the little movements and small caresses it had been doing this whole time, and her voice was millpond flat as she said slowly,
"So... you're... married already."
"Yes. Maybe. Before you draw any conclusions, let me finish. OK?"
Remilia considered in silence for a few moments, then nodded. "OK. Go on. I'm listening."
"Not long after we finally got married, when Kaitlyn was still just a baby, Kei and I got caught up in... something extraordinary, even by our standards. A friend of ours who happened to be a Norse goddess called on us to help her avert the end of the universe."
"Ragnarök," Remilia murmured.
"The old gods are dead in this world," said Remilia. "Some say they died off because people stopped believing in them, others that they were killed by the kind of monsters my parents used to fight. But either way, they're gone now. All that's left is a few relics, like my Gungnir. I sometimes wonder whether Ragnarök happened, and we in the mortal world just... didn't notice." She shook her head. "Sorry, that's not really relevant, but... Papa taught me those legends when I was just a little girl. It's the only reason I know what you're talking about." She turned her head to look at him. "What happened?"
"We won," Gryphon said simply. "It was tough. The hairiest situation I've ever been in. Imagine a hundred thousand nights like the one we had on the last full moon, all happening at once on the same frozen field, and you have a feel for it. But we won. Surtr's armies were defeated. He withdrew. The universe kept turning. But... it was another of those points where everything changed.
"Especially for Kei. Something about the experience seemed to... settle her. She'd already slowed down a little from her wildest days, I mean, we were married and had Kate by that point, but... after the Ragnarök, it was like we both grew the rest of the way up, all at once. We'd stayed teenagers for centuries, because we could. We even went through the Exile that way. Heavily armed masses of impetuous drama looking for somewhere to break out. But then we witnessed the gods at war... and when we got home from Asgard, we finally got into our twenties."
Remilia made a thoughtful humming sound, and he noticed that her hand had come back to life in his; now it squeezed gently as she said, "The same happened for me the night my parents died. I stayed their little girl for almost the first three centuries of my life, happy with the routine, content to play the same part day after day, decade after decade.
"And then, all at once, I was mistress of the house. I still had Sakuya and a few other members of the staff, but... suddenly everything depended on me. I was the only one who knew how Papa's siege store worked. The only one who could even come close to controlling Flan. I had to grow up, right then, take responsibility, or more people would die." She drew a shivery breath and sighed. "It concentrates the mind."
"That it does," Gryphon agreed. "After that, we took our life together in a new direction. We were involved in setting up a new organization, smaller and more streamlined than what the WDF had become, to meet the new threats we could see coming after the Ragnarök, and raising our family. We were closer than ever, but part of that new closeness was recognizing a need to give each other some room, if that makes any sense. We had our life together, but we also each had a separate life of our own, and our own separate things to do.
"And one day, five years ago by my personal timeline, Kei went off to do one of those things, and... never came back."
Remilia blinked, her hand tightening on his, and said in a quiet voice, "... She died?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I want to believe the answer is no, but... she went on a mission to a remote planet out beyond the Rim, a place the agency she worked for in the old days wanted checked out after some strange reports came back from the area. She went along as a favor to her old boss, and because we wanted someone from our new agency there, and..." He paused, then sighed. "Probably just because she was having a slow day and it sounded interesting."
When he didn't go on for a few seconds, Remilia prompted him softly, "What happened?"
"We don't really know," Gryphon answered. "The ship landed, we know that much, and then... it was destroyed. We never got a distress call, no communications of any kind. Kei and I are both part of a corps of special operatives we call Lensmen. 'The galaxy's best and brightest, standing up in line against the darkness.' We're called Lensmen because we each have one of these." He manifested his Lens, which he'd kept hidden the whole time he'd been in this century, and showed it to her.
"Ohh," Remilia said softly, reaching up to touch its glowing face with a fingertip. "This is a god-relic. I'd know that signature anywhere."
Gryphon nodded. "Well, not so much a relic, they're newly made, but they are crafted by one of the gods. They're made for us by our friend I mentioned earlier. She's the Norse goddess of the future."
"Skuld of the Norns?"
"That's the one." He smiled a little nostalgically. "Also the mother of my firstborn son, as it happens." To her raised eyebrows, he explained, "Things got a little... weird... the night before the end of the world."
"I suppose I can see that," Remilia allowed. "But what did your wife think?"
"She's the one who sent me to Skuld's tent that night, to... uh... comfort her," Gryphon said. "I think she knew what would happen. See, Kei was... is... mildly psychic. She sees the future sometimes. Little flashes, she usually can't tell what they even mean. That night, with the edges of time itself starting to fray... I think she got a better look than usual at my fate."
"Your fate, hm?" Remilia murmured, almost inaudibly. Then she went on aloud, "Well, go on. You were saying something about these Lens things."
"Right," Gryphon said, picking up the thread. "One of the main things they do is allow us to stay in contact. Any Lens on the network can make a mental connection to any other Lens, and their owners can communicate telepathically, across any distance, instantly.
"Only... Kei never tried to reach me. Whatever happened to her... happened so fast she never got the chance. And there's been no sign of her on the network since."
He lay his head back against the pillows behind him, staring at the underside of the canopy over the bed, his eyes seeing something altogether different. "Dozens of us have tried, singly and in concert, to reach her, but... nothing. She's just... gone. But she's never turned up in Valhalla either. Which means she's either alive, but somehow silenced, or..." He paused, considering his phrasing. "Or she's dead, and whatever killed her is more powerful than the natural order of death." Turning his head, he met Remilia's faintly glowing eyes in the dark and finished, "We just... don't know."
Remilia looked back at him for long seconds, searching his face for she knew not what. Apart from being in black and white, his face was as plain to her in the blackout-curtained darkness as it would have been with all the candles burning, and the look in his eyes was one of almost bottomless sadness, mixed with a trace of fear—that she wouldn't believe him—and hope that she would.
When she said nothing, Gryphon went on, "So... that's my story. Naturally I left out a lot of the details. But that's all the important parts. All the things that... that make me the person you know. I don't claim to be perfect by any stretch. Far from it. But... I do the best I can."
"Would you go back, if you could?" asked Remilia. "To your own timeline? To the 25th century?"
"I probably could already, with a little work, but..." He shook his head. "I'm not ready to leave. I'm involved here now. If nothing else, I have to see the war through. I owe it to my comrades and friends in the 501st."
"Which means you can't stay here forever, either," said Remilia sadly.
"No, but one bridge at a time. Besides, getting back and forth between here and Ribeauvillé is a lot simpler, even with the house's odd habits," he said with a little smile. Then, becoming serious again, he went on, "If we both really want to... we can make it work." He raised their linked hands and kissed the back of hers. "And I know I want to."
She hitched herself up on an elbow to look more directly into his face for a few seconds... and then abruptly flopped down on her back, staring blankly at the canopy, as he had done before.
"Ah, it's no good," she said, hopelessness in her voice. "I'm not so cold or selfish as to wish that your wife never finds her way back to you, and... well, sending you on an errand of mercy on the night before the world's ending is one thing, but remarrying in her absence is quite another."
"I thought you might feel that way," Gryphon said quietly. "And it's a noble sentiment. It does you credit." He squeezed her hand.
Remilia chuckled bleakly. "Thanks."
"But... before you make your decision, there's one more thing you ought to hear. Not from me. I've said my piece. From her."
Remilia frowned at the underside of the canopy, then sat up and faced him again. "What?"
"Just before her ship landed on that planet and... whatever happened happened... she recorded a message for me," Gryphon explained, his face grave. "She timed it so I wouldn't see it until the next day. Remember I told you she's psychic? Well... I think it's best that you hear the rest in her own words."
Gently disengaging his hand from hers, he held it out palm-up before her, and a moment later his omni-tool's holographic interface rezzed up, casting an orange glow across the white silk bedspread.
"What... is that?" Remilia asked, tentatively reaching toward the glowing light-construct. The field fizzed visually when she touched it, but she felt nothing.
"It's a gadget from my own time," he explained. "It's called an omni-tool. Twenty-fifth-century technology. It can do a lot of things, including send and receive messages." He worked the fingers of his right hand within the holographic ring of the omni-tool's palm interface, calling up the record storage function with the ease of long practice, and cued up the well-worn datatrack in question. "Are you ready?"
Remilia gazed in wonder at the device for a few more seconds, then collected herself and nodded. "Show me."
Without further comment, Gryphon triggered the recording. A moment later, a three-dimensional monochrome image of a person's head and shoulders, scaled down to about a third of lifesize, appeared in the emission cone above his palm. The image was that of an attractive young woman, about the same apparent age as he was, with her hair cut short and swept back, her bangs tied out of her eyes with a cloth band.
"Hey, babe, it's me," said Kei. Her voice was mellow, pleasant, with just a hint of a rasp in it, and she sounded... not tired, exactly, but the kind of melancholy that often comes with tiredness.
"We just dropped out of hyperspace," Kei went on. "Morden says we're just a few minutes out of ZHD. Figured I'd take the time to drop you a note." She paused, her expression pensive, then said, "I've got a bad feeling about this job. Maybe it's nothing. If it is, you'll never know about this message, because I'm setting it to unlock in 24 hours and I'll cancel it if everything goes right.
"But if it isn't... if this thing goes sideways... there's a couple of things I want you to know."
She paused, looking off to one side, lost in a few seconds' thought, then faced whatever was making the recording and said, "First, I love you and the kids. Never forget that, and never let them forget it. I didn't come to this place because I wanted to risk never seeing you all again. I came because it's my job.
"Second, if I don't come back from here... you are absolutely not allowed to try and go it alone. I know what that does to you. I won't have that on my conscience again."
Gryphon made a sound that Remilia was certain was a muffled sob; she glanced at him, concerned, but he shook his head and nodded toward the playback, his face a mask of self-control.
"I know," Kei went on, "that we've had rules about this stuff since Asgard. And you've always followed them. You're an honorable man. It's one of the things I've always loved about you. Even when I was trying to kill you, it was because I thought you'd lost that honor, not because I stopped believing in it. But... I may not always be around to check in with. So I have to trust in your judgment. Trust that you wouldn't get involved with anyone I wouldn't be OK with in the first place."
Her image leaned forward slightly, and she looked straight into the camera, as if trying to make eye contact with the viewer across whatever distance and time were involved. Even though she knew it was a recorded playback of a years-old message, Remilia found the effect slightly intimidating.
"If that happens—if I don't come back from this deal—you do what you have to do to be happy. Period. The end. If it's with someone I already know, great. If not, if you get serious with somebody new, and you tell 'em about me, and it's a problem, then tell 'em I said so. Hell, show 'em this message." Kei cracked a wry grin and waved at the camera. "Hiya! You've hit the jackpot here, tiger. Don't be a dope."
Somewhere in the background, there was a mechanical noise Remilia couldn't identify. Sobering, Kei sat back from the camera and said, "I dunno if the mic picked it up, but that was the landing gear going down. We'll be landing in a minute. I'd say wish me luck, but if you even see this, that means I didn't have any, so..." She shrugged. "Ben... one more thing. If this really is it for me? I wouldn't have missed us for the galaxy." She grinned again, and it seemed genuine, though the melancholy never left her eyes. "I love you, you big dumb bastard. Be happy. Or else! Morgan out."
Then she leaned forward, her hand reaching for something underneath the camera, and her image fuzzed and was gone. A moment later, the whole omni-tool interface winked out as Gryphon put it back to sleep...
... and he slumped back against his pile of pillows, his body shaking with near-silent sobs.
Without a word, Remilia crawled onto him, curling up against his chest, like she had in the armchair on the night when she'd tasted his blood, and pulled his arms around her. They stayed that way for a long time, until the tears ran out, before she finally spoke.
"It must have been hell to watch that again. I'm sorry."
"I watched it a hundred times the day I got it," Gryphon replied, his voice hushed and hoarse. "I was still on the scene when it came, kicking through the dust and finding nothing. An old friend of ours had come to help me look, and we were getting nowhere, when, ding! 'You've got mail!' I locked myself in my quarters and just... watched it again and again. Like salting a wound. I couldn't stop myself. And then I archived it and never played it again, until now."
Remilia was silent for a few moments, then said, "I take back what I implied before. It would be an honor to meet her someday."
"I think she'd like that," he said, just short of a whisper.
Another silence, at the end of which Remilia said, as if apropos of nothing, "It must be nearly midday by now."
Gryphon could have powered on his omni-tool again and checked, but he couldn't be bothered. Instead he nodded and agreed, "Must be."
"So... let's go to sleep."
"Sleep sounds good."
"Should I move?"
"Nah. You're not heavy."
"All right." A pause. "Benjamin?"
"Love you." Remilia leaned up and kissed him gently. "Good day."
Despite his wrung-out emotional state, Gryphon had to suppress an inappropriate giggle at that. He knew she meant it, with a vampire's inverted sense of the daily order, as the equivalent of "goodnight," but he couldn't escape the automatic mental image of her shouting angrily, "Good day, sir! I said good day!"
"Love you too. Sleep well," he replied, but, with that off-switch suddenness she had such a knack for, she was already asleep.
Gryphon smiled faintly, pulled her just a little bit closer, and finally drifted off himself.
He woke to someone gently shaking his shoulder and softly speaking his name.
"Benjamin. Wake up. Sakuya's drawn the evening bath."
"I don't have to take a bath today, there's no school," Gryphon mumbled, rolling away from the shaking hand.
The shaking resumed. Grumbling, he shooed away the hand. There was a momentary pause, and then a slight weight shifting the mattress behind him, and the same voice, now murmuring directly into his ear:
"If you loaf about in bed all night, you'll miss Sakuya's crêpes for breakfast."
Gryphon peeled an eye reluctantly open and trained it blurrily on Remilia's smiling face.
"Did you say crêpes?" he repeated.
"She's famous for them," Remilia insisted.
He frowned as if considering this, then stealthily shifted his weight, slipped an arm around her, and rolled away, dragging her with a charming little squeak back into bed.
"How can she be famous for anything," he inquired playfully of her reddened face, "when she's been missing since 1870?"
"Poetic license," Remilia replied, trying and failing to look haughty. "Philistine."
"You're adorable when you try to be snooty," said Gryphon.
She turned her face ostentatiously away, closing her eyes. "Tch. Liberion barbarian. I don't see why I—" Then, turning back with a grin, she said, "Ha! That rhymes." She gave his shoulder a shove, flopping him over onto his back. "Now get up!"
Gryphon sighed as if unfairly harassed. "Oh, very well."
Bath time was as it always was. They spoke of nothing of consequence, but the silences weren't awkward. It was as if they had reached a kind of silent consensus that, although there would be a moment for serious discussion, it had not arrived, and there would be no purpose in trying to force it.
Gryphon was still a bit tired, despite the relative shortness of his previous night—so much so that he nearly dozed off in the tub again, which was prevented only when Remilia suddenly observed,
"I just realized... I never saw Wolfgang again after dinner yesternight. Where could he have gone?"
"He's with Flandre," Gryphon replied.
"How do you know?"
Raising his arm out of the water, he toggled his Lens to visibility again. "Remember I told you Lensmen can communicate telepathically?"
Remilia tilted her head incredulously. "Your dog is a Lensman?"
"He is indeed. At first I thought it was Skuld's idea of a joke, but..." Gryphon shook his head. "He really is one of our best and brightest." He chuckled. "He just happens to be a dog. Anyway, as it happens, he and I are the only Lensmen in this reality, so it's pretty easy to keep tabs on..." His voice trailed off suddenly. "That's strange." Then, a slow smile spreading onto his face, he said, "Oh. Oh. Hahaaaa. I get it now."
"Get what?" Remilia asked. "I don't understand."
"There are three Lenses on the network now. I hadn't checked recently."
"Mm-hmm. Mine, Wolfgang's... and Sakuya's."
"Sakuya is—how? You said you'd never met her. Although she does seem to know you..." she reminded herself pensively.
"Exactly. We're both time travelers. We must be out of sync. She knows me from a time I haven't gotten to yet. Someday I'll meet the her from before, who won't know me, but I'll know her from now."
"Tell me about it. Or actually, don't tell me about it." At her questioning look, he explained, "She probably knows things about my future that I shouldn't know. Not that I expect that will be a problem. She strikes me as the very soul of discretion... occasional makeout sessions in the kitchen notwithstanding."
Remilia giggled. "That was... special. And wonderful. She's always been a passionate woman, my Sakuya. She's also always been terrible at showing it. This morning I got a glimpse of that side of her, and I got to see her completely lose her composure, which is incredibly rare. They're memories I'll treasure." She slid over next to him, burrowing in under his arm, and remarked, "I've made a lot of memories to treasure over the last few weeks. More than I made in the century and a half before them. Whatever happens, I'll always be grateful for that."
Gryphon smiled. "I'm glad."
Dried off and dressed, on their way down to breakfast, Remilia suddenly stopped him at the top of the stairs and said,
"I know this is unfair, but... I can't give you an answer right away."
"Not unfair at all," Gryphon replied. "It's a lot to take on board. I wouldn't want a snap judgment anyway. Take as much time as you need."
"Thank you. In the meantime... can we go on as we have been?"
"Good. Let's do that, then. And... once I've had a chance to think over everything I've just learned, we can visit the matter again." She took both his hands, looking him square in the face. "This isn't a rejection. Understand? I'm not saying 'no'. I'm just saying 'not now'."
"I get it." He squeezed her hands gently. "Like I said, take as much time as you need. I'll be here."
Remilia gave him a grateful smile, then reached up and pulled him down for a kiss.
"Let's get going, then," she said, with something more like her usual grin. "I haven't had Sakuya's crêpes in 76 years!" And with that, she hopped up and slid down the banister, as, Gryphon had no doubt, she had as a child.
Good thing I fixed that one already, he remarked to himself, and then followed her down at a more normal pace.
"Good evening, everyone," Remilia declared as she entered the great room. "Sakuya, Meiling, you're looking... surprisingly well-rested," she added with an arch little grin.
"Thank you, m'lady," replied Sakuya, her bearing and voice perfectly correct, but her cheeks going pink all the same, while Meiling blushed almost to a match for her chestnut hair and looked down at her place setting, mumbling something inaudible. Remilia laughed and went to her seat, pausing to muss the top of her little sister's head along the way.
"Huh? Did I miss something?" said Flandre, straightening her rumpled cap.
"When you're older, young mistress," said Sakuya, shooting her employer a You're not helping! sort of look.
"I'm four hundred 'n thirty-eight," Flandre pouted. Then, brightening, she called to Gryphon as he entered in Remilia's wake, "Evening, big bro!"
"Hey, here comes trouble," Meiling chimed in, her embarrassment already dissipating.
"Bon soir, ma chouchoutte," he replied to Flandre, taking his turn to rearrange her hat.
"Jeeeez," Flandre grumbled, fixing it again.
"Hi, Wolfgang, remember me? The human you used to hang out with before you met Flan?" said Gryphon, crouching behind Flandre's chair to scruffle the Lensbeagle in his self-appointed station underneath it.
"Don't worry, big bro, he still loves you. He told me so," Flandre assured him. Rising, he gave her a skeptical look and booped her nose, drawing a giggle, then took his seat.
Go on as we have been? Gryphon thought as Sakuya dished him up a couple of crêpes, rolled up around what looked to be chocolate crème and topped with whipped cream. Looking around at the cheerful breakfast in progress, hearing but not really listening to the chatter and banter, he caught Remilia's eye and gave her a smiling wink that was immediately returned.
Yeah, he thought with some satisfaction, that'll do, and then started working on his first crêpe.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Flying Yak Studios
and Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
and Avalon Broadcasting System
Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime
written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Usual Suspects
Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice
Bacon Comics chief
E P U (colour) 2020