“Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice called from the other end of the vortex, “Time’s up.” Teronthan sighed as he closed the case that housed the Drathinian funnels. The Museum could not be too cautious these days with the recent spike in molecular restructuring. Too many artifacts from the ancient and preancient worlds had been lost due to the criminal process, and Teronthan had been working nights at The Museum to investigate the affected artifacts. “Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice called again.
“All right, Beth,” Teronthan called, switching off the prismatic light over the display case, “I’m coming.” Prismatic lights had sprung up out of an accident in Teronthan’s lab a few years ago. In an attempt to find a substitute for florescent lighting, Teronthan had mixed fluorine with keldonium, an element discovered during ancient times, and produced a new type of light that allowed him to see the individual molecules that made up a given item. Shortly after, Teronthan, through another accident, had discovered that molecules were indeed not fixed entities and could undergo damage or, with the proper manipulation, detailed change.
“Ten seconds,” Teronthan heard Bethonali’s voice come again when he realized he hadn’t moved.
Teronthan sighed, “I know. I’m really coming this time.” Turning his back on the display case, Teronthan faced the vortex, a stream of blue waves that rippled out from the surface they were attached to. With practiced ease, Teronthan stepped into the vortex, and, a moment later, he stood on the other side of the three-foot thick wall of transparent emblonium that stood between the observation deck and the artifacts. The vortex technology and emblonium security walls were new installations at The Museum, and Teronthan, given the lack of effectiveness they had had against the molecular restructuring crimes, resented the time limit the technology placed on his ability to examine the artifacts. The vortex technology had been designed to only stay open for seven minutes before closing and locking for the next twenty-four hours. A surface needed that much time to recover from the molecular strain the vortex put on it, which meant that if caught on the wrong side, Teronthan would have to spend a day on display in whatever section of The Museum he had been investigating.
“That was a close one,” Bethonali’s voice came, closer now that Teronthan was through the vortex. “I hope it was worth it. Did you find anything?”
“Someone has tampered with the finer molecular structure of those funnels,” Teronthan said, “The damage is minor in comparison to some other restructures, but,” Teronthan shrugged, “it was still easily identified.”
Teronthan watched as Bethonali tucked a strand of her violet hair behind her ear. She was beautiful. “That supports the pattern then?” she half asked, half stated.
“Yes,” Teronthan said nodding, his own golden curls bobbing, “The pieces from the ancient world seem to exhibit less overall molecular damage than the pieces from the preancient world. The most damaged piece was the Chinese vase from circa 2037, and there are several other objects from that time period that exhibit high levels of damage.”
Bethonali’s face contorted, “Why would anyone want to restructure the molecules in ancient and preancient artifacts? There’s no profit in it. Those pieces are treasured for their authenticity. Restructuring them ruins them.”
Teronthan shook his head, “I don’t know. I can’t think of a reason why someone would want to do this either. It really makes no sense.”
“What about a pattern in human versus narvan artifacts?” Bethonali asked. Narvans were a race invented by the humans during preancient times. In an attempt to genetically engineer humans with wings that would give them the ability of independent flight, the narvans had been created as a lab accident. Their emergence as a major race on Earth as the marker of the beginning of the ancient era, the narvans were identical to humans with the exception of the butterfly, a small, flying animal from the preancient world, wings that protruded from between their shoulder blades.
Teronthan shrugged, “Human artifacts seem to be more effected,” he said, scratching his head, “But that might just be because there are more human artifacts. There’s no way to tell for certain. The damage to both types of artifacts per individual piece is about even.”
“Hmm,” Bethonali hummed thoughtfully, “Interesting.”
Teronthan nodded, “It is.”
“Well,” Bethonali said, cutting the power to the vortexatrometer, the remote control sized machine that controlled the vortex, “My shift is just about up.”
Teronthan nodded, “There’s nothing more I can really do tonight. There is molecular damage. That’s all I know after tonight’s investigation.”
Bethonali nodded, “In that case, shall we depart?”
Teronthan suppressed a blush at Bethonali’s use of the word we. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll meet you in the lobby?”
Bethonali nodded, “I’ll be out as soon as I relieve my stand in at the West Wing desk.” Bethonali worked the six p.m. to midnight security shift at The Museum, and, as Teronthan had noted in his months working on commission, she took her job very seriously. He watched as she disappeared into a door marked “Personnel Only.” He knew that door would bring her around the inner workings of The Museum to the front of the West Wing. He also knew that his own journey back to the lobby was a short and simple one through the East Wing. He could not even come close to navigating The Museum as easily as Bethonali did, and she would only leave him to get back to the lobby if doing so was a matter of one or two turns.
Ten minutes later, Bethonali emerged into The Museum’s lobby. “All systems go,” she said, dropping her West Wing key into the fingerprint access box. Fingerprint identification had originated in the preancient world and, with some minor adjustments, had persisted to modern times. “Ready to go?” Teronthan nodded, and, together, Bethonali and Teronthan made their way to the front door of The Museum.
“Quiet night I take it,” Morlain said from his seat at The Museum’s front desk as Teronthan and Bethonali passed.
Bethonali nodded to her coworker, “Same as every other night. Things calm out here too?”
Blue, green, and pink wings bobbed with his shrug, “Nothing out of the ordinary.” Morlain was one of the few narvans who had chosen to apply for work at The Museum. An exhibition hall mainly of human history, narvans had not found the building of much interest, and Morlain’s choice to work there had generated a good amount of surprise on the part of the curators and most of the other Museum employees.
Bethonali nodded, “Good to here, night Morl.”
“He’s a decent guy,” Teronthan said when he and Bethonali had passed through the plasma door that was the main entrance to The Museum.
Bethonali nodded, “I have to admit, I was as surprised as the rest of my colleagues when he applied to work here, but Morlain’s turned out to be great at his job and a really interesting person. Teronthan felt a twinge of jealousy at Bethonali’s mention of how interesting Morlain was. It wasn’t that he really wanted her for himself. He just didn’t want to see her with anyone else while he was working in such close proximity with her. Teronthan contented himself with unassumingly watching Bethonali’s violet hair in the moonlight. It glowed silver, and Teronthan found it mesmerizing. “Same time tomorrow night?” Bethonali’s voice came, pulling Teronthan from his fantasies.
Somewhat reluctantly Teronthan drew his eyes from Bethonali’s hair and nodded. “Yes.”
Bethonali smiled, “See you then.” Teronthan watched as Bethonali started off in the opposite direction as he would go and disappeared around the corner of The Museum. He hated how much he hated that he had to wait another full day before seeing her.
The next morning, Teronthan found himself pouring over molecular formatting notes in his lab. Aside from his work at The Museum, Teronthan had dedicated his professional life for the last few years, since his discovery of molecular change and the invention of the molecular restructurer, to discovering if there was a way to rearrange matterless molecules and, more importantly, how to defend against such a restructuring. His research had led to more outstanding breakthroughs in the field when he, about two years ago, had discovered the ability, with a new machine he called the matter generator, to give substance to matterless molecules, effectively rendering them as easily manipulated as regular molecules. As it was, molecular restructuring was only possible with the aid of a molecular restructurer and the process of synchronizing a matter generator with a restructurer was one that required extensive knowledge of the machinery, but the field had been one to quickly grow after Teronthan’s breakthrough, and the process had grown simpler every day.
“Lunch time, Teronthan.” Teronthan looked up from his notes to see his research assistant, Albenon, standing in the doorway to the lab.
Teronthan closed his lab notebook. His stomach was growling, and a good meal would help his focus. “What’s for eating?” Teronthan asked his assistant.
Albenon shrugged, his purple and golden wings fluttering, “The menu says Narvan vegetable stew and burgers.” Unlike The Museum, Teronthan’s lab had attracted the attention of several narvans since its opening five years ago. Molecular structure had been an up and coming field of study at the time, and humans and narvans alike had jumped at the opportunity to fully understand the complex microscopic systems that dominated the items they used every day.
“Sounds positively ordinary,” Teronthan said, “Let’s lunch.” Albenon nodded, and Teronthan joined his assistant in the hallway, closing and locking the door to his lab behind him. As the two scientists made their way through the white washed halls of the laboratory, Teronthan could not help but admire the simple genius that was the building he worked in. The white washed walls was a design that had been one also instigated in the preancient world. In modern time, aside from giving the lab the crisp, clean look it warranted, the installation of prismatic lights allowed passersby to observe the molecular structure of the walls. Many experiments involving decoration, color, texture and other art forms had been run with the hallway walls as test subjects, and the tests had left the halls primed with interesting visual and tactile patterns.
“I finished running the tests with the matter generator,” Albenon said after a short silence.
Teronthan perked up at the mention of the research. “Oh?” he asked, “And?”
“The results were conclusive,” Albenon said smiling, “I was able to touch the molecules with ease. More detailed, I was able to change the color, texture, and density of the molecules. Furthermore, when I set the generator to view only, the effects I had set on them stayed in place.”
Teronthan felt his heart rate increase. “Brilliant,” he said, turning a corner in the hall and keeping Albenon at his side, “That means that the equipment is almost ready for a field test.”
“Almost?” Albenon asked.
Teronthan nodded, “I have one last set of tests that I need you to do after lunch, and, if they are successful, I will take the findings into the field tomorrow.”
“Ah,” Albenon said as the two scientists crossed the threshold into the building’s cafeteria, “What do you need me to do?”
Teronthan waved a hand, “After lunch. I want to recheck my list before I give it to you to make sure it is in order.”
Albenon nodded, “All right. By the way, how’s the work at The Museum going?”
Teronthan sighed. “It’s going. I guess. I’m not finding much in the way of conclusive evidence, only that artifacts have molecular damage, which doesn’t tell me a ton.”
Albenon nodded, “And, it’s not as if that fact alone is much of a lead. There are countless molecular research labs in our area alone.”
Teronthan nodded, “I know. But, I can’t dwell on it. Let’s get something to eat.” Albenon nodded, and the two scientists made their way through the crowded cafeteria to the lunch line. When it was their turn, they collected their food and made their way to an empty table.
“Oh,” Albenon said when the two were seated, “I assume you want a copy of the morning’s notes?” Albenon said when the two had taken their seats.
“Please,” Teronthan said, removing the onions from his burger with surgical proficiency, “I can use them to update my test list for the afternoon.”
Albenon nodded, “In that case, I think I’ll eat my lunch in the lab. I didn’t quite finish my notations, and I still need to recheck my figures.”
Teronthan nodded, “All right then,” he said stalling a bite of his burger. “I’ll see you back in the lab.” Albenon nodded and then picked up his tray and made his way to the door of the cafeteria and out of Teronthan’s line of sight.
“Hi Teronthan,” Teronthan pulled his eyes from the empty cafeteria doorway to see Belatrini, a brunette female human scientist who worked in one of the labs on his floor, making her way through the crowd toward him.
“Bel,” Teronthan said, pulling out the chair beside him for her to take a seat.
“Thank you, Teronthan,” Belatrini said, taking the chair, “How are you today?”
Teronthan smiled, “Excellent, my most recent theory involving the matter generator is almost ready for a field test.”
“Oh, really?” Belatrini asked, “You were able to reorganize and touch matterless molecules then?”
“More than that,” Teronthan said, “Albenon was able to change the color, texture, and density of the molecules and have it stay this morning.”
Belatrini clapped her hands, “Oh, how exciting.”
Teronthan nodded, “And you?” he asked, “How is your work in security system development coming?”
“Very well,” Belatrini said, “As a matter of fact, Delagri and I installed our new security chain at The Museum this morning.”
“What a coincidence,” Teronthan said, “If my tests go well this afternoon, I am planning to test my findings on The Museum’s security chain tomorrow.”
Belatrini clapped her hands again, “Splendid, Delagri will be so excited to hear that our technology will be tested so soon.”
“Speaking of Delagri,” Teronthan said, flashing his gaze to the cafeteria’s entrance and then back to Belatrini, “Where is your assistant?”
“Just finishing up in the lab,” Belatrini said, “I expect she’ll be along any moment. As a matter of fact, there she is now.” Teronthan followed Belatrini’s gaze to the cafeteria’s entrance to see Delagri, a tall redheaded narvan with black and yellow spotted wings. “Delagri!” Teronthan watched Delagri change her path to make her way to where he and Belatrini sat. “All finished up well then?” Belatrini asked when Delagri had taken a seat.
Delagri nodded, “All systems go,” she said. The words sparked a twinge of longing in Teronthan at the saying of the same words that Bethonali had said before departing the night before. Almost unconsciously, Teronthan checked the time. The lunch hour was already half over and after lunch there was only four hours left in the work day. After that, it would be a matter of dinner and a few hours before he met Bethonali at The Museum.
“Teronthan has just informed me that his newest findings involving the matter generator will most likely be ready for testing tomorrow and that he wants to test it on the new security chain we installed at The Museum this morning.” Belatrini’s words pulled Teronthan from his thoughts. Focusing on something other than the passage of time would help the day go by faster.
“Wonderful,” Delagri was saying as Teronthan refocused on the conversation. He wondered if it was just his leftover emotion at thinking about Bethonali, but Delagri’s reaction seemed even too excited for the good news.
“It is,” Belatrini said, clapping her hands again, “Actually, Teronthan,” she said, turning to him, “May we join you tomorrow for your test? I am dying to see how my work holds up against your technology.”
“As am I,” Delagri added, the overflowing excitement still plain in her voice.
Teronthan nodded, “I don’t see why not. It is your security system after all.”
“Excellent,” Belatrini said, “You will keep me posted about time or if it turns out not to be tomorrow?”
Teronthan nodded, “Of course,” he cracked a smile, “Aside from you having every right to witness the test, it is a scientist’s greatest desire to have an audience when his work gains practical application.” The three laughed, and Delagri excused herself to get something to eat. The remainder of the lunch hour passed in much the same fashion, with the three scientists engaging in less technical and more futuristic project discussion.
When the lunch hour was over, the three scientists left the cafeteria still deep in discussion about their future plans. “When will you know about tomorrow?” Belatrini asked when the three reached the corridor where they would part ways.
“I should know by closing today,” Teronthan said, “I will get a message to you by then.”
“Excellent,” Belatrini said, “Good luck this afternoon, Teronthan.”
“Same to you ladies,” Teronthan said. The three exchanged partings, and Teronthan continued down the hallway that led to his lab. “Albenon,” he called when he had closed the door of the lab behind him. A moment later, his lab assistant appeared from the data analysis room carrying a stack of papers. Computerized lab notes had been done away with as a mainstream method in ancient times. The hard copies left more room for editing and side calculations. Aside from that, the paper recycling problems that the preancient world had faced had been done away with, making the use of paper copies safer for the world’s forests.
“One copy of my lab notes,” Albenon said, dropping the pile on Teronthan’s table, “There are some scratch outs just so you know.”
“That’s fine,” Teronthan said, taking his seat at his lab table. He picked up the top sheet of the pile, labeled “summary” and skimmed the lists and diagrams. “All right,” he said after a moment. He opened the top right drawer of his lab table and produced another sheet, which contained lists and diagrams. “Here’s what needs to happen this afternoon for tomorrow’s field test to happen. We were able to feel the molecules as well as change their color, textile, and density. We also discovered that when their matter was removed, the molecules kept their attributes. This afternoon, I need you to test whether the molecules can be detected by an infrared laser while given matter and also see if they exhibit an infrared signature while visible but not tactile. I also need you to run the typical tests for dissemination of the molecules while given matter. Finally, I need to know what, if any, other light spectrums the molecules are detectable in both forms.”
Albenon took the sheet from Teronthan, “On it, boss,” he said, turning and making his way across the lab to the door marked “Test Room.”
“Thank you, Albenon,” Teronthan called, picking up the next sheet of the morning’s notes.
“No problem,” Albenon called followed by the sound of the Test Room door closing. Teronthan smiled to himself. He was lucky to have such a scientifically gifted lab assistant.
The afternoon passed in equal portions of lightning fast and sluggishly slow as Teronthan altered between concentrating on the notes and thinking about Bethonali. Without realizing it, he had talked himself into a successful afternoon so he could spend the following day at The Museum. Bethonali would no doubt want to be at the test. She took her job seriously and would want to witness the successes and failures of new security technology first hand.
Around quarter to five, Teronthan heard the door of the Test Room open. He looked up to see Albenon standing in the now open doorway, holding a stack of notes. “Tests successful,” Albenon said, making his way to Teronthan’s table, “I assume you want to see my notes?”
Teronthan put aside the sheet he had been looking at. He had gotten almost all the way through the notes from the morning, his progress slowed by his own speculations with various specs of the data. “I’ll have a look, sure,” Teronthan said, taking the pile from his assistant. He picked the summary sheet off the top of the pile and read it, making mental notes as he read. “Excellent,” he said, replacing the sheet on the pile, “Everything looks in order for us to have a trial tomorrow. Can you make a copy of these notes for me?”
Albenon nodded, “I’ve already started. I’m about three quarters of the way done, and should have them first thing in the morning. I’m planning on staying late to finish them.”
“Excellent,” Teronthan said standing, “In that case, I need to get a message to Belatrini and let her know tomorrow’s test is a go ahead.”
“I’m going to finish copying these notes and then run them through the analyzer,” Albenon said, turning and moving back toward the Test Room, “So, if I don’t see you before you leave, have a good evening, Teronthan.”
“You too, Albenon,” Teronthan called over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Teronthan heard Albenon call followed again by the Test Room door closing.
Teronthan made his way to the wall beside the main door of the lab. Telemeters had been invented during ancient times, an improvement to the preancient telephone. Rather than punching in a series of numbers, the telemeter allowed the caller to simply speak the name of the person they desired to reach. In one of her past experiments, Belatrini had invented the technology that made the telemeter the secure communication device that it was, a program that required the caller to know the full name of the person they desired to reach.
“Name,” the automated voice said when Teronthan picked up the telemeter.
“Teronthan Gray Wellsbender,” Teronthan said clearly.
“Name of party you wish to reach,” the voice said after a moment.
“Belatrini Armini Desacray, work, in building,” Teronthan said. The first time he had tried to contact a colleague at work, he had been unaware of the recent change to the technology and had been unintentionally connected to the person’s home line.
“Please wait,” the voice said again followed by a series of clicks.
“Teronthan,” Belatrini’s voice came over the line.
“Hello Bel,” Teronthan said.
“Have you news about the test run?”
“As a matter of fact,” Teronthan said, letting some of his excitement drip into his voice, “I do. All systems go for tomorrow.”
“Oh, excellent,” Belatrini said, “What time?”
“I’m going to have the notes from the afternoon’s tests to go over in the morning, so I’m thinking tomorrow afternoon. I need to call The Museum and confirm, but they told me whenever I wanted to come and do tests I could as long as I gave them at least twelve hours notice.”
“Excellent,” Belatrini said, her voice betraying her own excitement, “I will tell Delagri, and we will plan for after lunch tomorrow.”
“That should work,” Teronthan said, “I will see you at lunch tomorrow then?”
“Yes,” Belatrini said, “Till then, Teronthan.”
“Evening, Bel,” Teronthan said, hanging up the telemeter.
“Name,” the automated voice said when Teronthan picked up the receiver again.
“Teronthan Gray Wellsbender,” Teronthan said in the same tone he had for the first call.
“Name of party you wish to reach.”
“Goranv Potter Tesirman, work.”
“Please wait.” The line again changed to the familiar clicking noise that was the line connecting.
Teronthan waited impatiently as he listened to the click. Goranv was one of the curators of The Museum, and the one who had told Teronthan that he could do test runs of new technology during business hours with a twelve hour notification.
“Good evening, this is Goranv Tesirman, Senior Curator of The Museum.”
“Goranv,” Teronthan said.
“Teronthan,” Goranv said, recognition in his voice, “How are you?”
“I am well,” Teronthan said, “And yourself?”
“Very well,” Goranv said, “What can I do for you?”
Teronthan took a deep breath. “I have some new matterless molecule technology I need to test, and Belatrini Desacray tells me that she recently installed a new security chain at The Museum.”
“Yes,” Goranv said, “Today as a matter of fact. And you have new technology to test its effectiveness, wonderful. When would you like to come test it?”
“As soon as possible,” Teronthan said, “I was thinking tomorrow afternoon around two o’clock if that’s doable.”
“Absolutely,” Goranv said, “That will be fine, and thank you for keeping to the twelve hour notice agreement.”
“Not a problem,” Teronthan said, making a note on the pad he kept beside the telemeter for the appointment he had just made. “I’m going to need to use the molecular restructurer and matter generator that I left in The Museum’s possession. Mine are hooked up and carefully programmed, and I don’t dare risk moving them.”
“Of course,” Goranv said, “I will have them moved into your usual place in the front lobby. Is there anything else you need?”
Teronthan thought a moment, “Not that I can think of,” he said, “If that changes, I will get in touch with you.”
“Excellent,” Goranv’s voice came, “In that case, I shall see you tomorrow at two o’clock in the afternoon. Wonderful, thank you, Teronthan and have a good evening.”
“Same to you, sir.” Teronthan waited until after he heard the telltale click that meant the other party had disconnected the line before hanging up the telemeter. He had one more call to make.
“Name,” the automated voice said for a third time that evening.
“Teronthan Gray Wellsbender,” Teronthan repeated.
“Name of party you wish to reach.”
Teronthan felt himself blush as he recalled Bethonali’s full name. “Bethonali Fairfacts Dorasella, cellular.”
“Please wait.” The line took up its resident clicking, and Teronthan did all he could to keep from drumming his fingers on the table beside the telemeter. He could feel his palms beginning to sweat. ‘And,’ he thought a bit embarrassed at himself, ‘This is just a tel call.’
“Hello,” Bethonali’s voice came over the line.
Teronthan took a deep breath in an attempt to steel his nerves. “Bethonali?”
“Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice filled the line, surprised and pleased, “How are you? What’s going on?”
Teronthan felt his nerves dissipate slightly at her enthusiasm to hear from him. “I’m all right,” he said, his voice stronger, “You?”
“I’m good. What’s up?”
“Not much,” Teronthan said, “I’m just about to close up the lab for the night, but I had a question for you.”
Teronthan took another deep breath. “I’m testing some new technology against the new as of today security chain at The Museum tomorrow around two in the afternoon, and I thought you might want to be there.”
“Oh,” Bethonali’s voice came enthusiastically, “Sure, what are you testing?”
“Some new technology involving the molecular restructurer and the matter generator and matterless molecules.”
“Interesting,” Bethonali’s voice came, “I will definitely be there.”
“Excellent,” Teronthan said, his smile broadening, “In the meantime, we are still on to examine for tampered with artifacts tonight, yes?”
“Yes we are,” Bethonali said, “I will see you tonight then? I start my shift in an hour.”
“Perfect,” Teronthan said, “I’ll be there around seven.”
“Your usual,” Bethonali’s voice came teasing, “I’ll see you around seven then.” Enjoy your early evening.”
“Same to you, bye Beth.”
“Later, Teronthan.” Again, Teronthan waited for the click that meant the other party had disconnected the line before hanging up. He felt as if he had just walked on air. He would see her in a mere two hours, and he could not wait. He cast an eye to the clock. Five after five, time to close up. Teronthan made his way back to his lab table. He organized the morning notes into piles read and to read and then placed the read pile in the top left hand drawer and the two read pile in the drawer below. Once the rest of his notes were placed in their correct files, he locked the table and turned out all but the overhead lights and departed the lab.
Two hours later, Teronthan stood facing the front door of The Museum. He had eaten a quick dinner and showered before leaving his apartment. He knew it was an effort for pleasure rather than work, but that knowledge had not kept him from exercising more appearance management than was warranted. Taking his countless deep breath of the day, he told himself that he looked fine and stepped through the plasma door of The Museum.
“Evening, Teronthan.” Teronthan followed the sound of the voice to see Morlain sitting at the front desk.
“Evening, Morlain,” Teronthan said, “How are you?”
“Well,” Morlain said, “Yourself?”
“Fairly well,” Teronthan said, “I assume you want me to sign in?”
Morlain pushed the sign in book toward the front of the desk. “It’s not a question of what I want. It’s procedure.”
“Of course,” Teronthan said, picking up one of the gel pens from the holder on the desk. Ink had been done away with during ancient times and replaced with the gel pen, an invention that had been used but far from perfected during the preancient era. Modern gel pens took four times as long to run out of gel as ink pens had taken to run dry, and the invention had been a clear improvement. “There we are,” Teronthan said when he had finished signing in.
“Excellent,” Morlain said, “Bethonali is inside at her usual post.”
With some effort, Teronthan concealed the blush that threatened to fall onto his face. “Thank you, Morlain.”
“Not at all,” Morlain said, “See you later.” Teronthan nodded as he turned and made his way through the door to the West Wing.
“Teronthan,” Bethonali said when he was through the door.
“Evening, Beth,” Teronthan said, “What’s on the agenda for tonight?”
Bethonali stood from her seat behind the West Wing desk. “Reports from after we left last night point to some artifacts in the South Wing that appear to have been tampered with. I thought we’d start there. I’m just waiting for my — ” Bethonali was cut off by the front door to the West Wing opening to reveal a tall human male dressed in a Museum security uniform. “My stand in,” Bethonali finished, inclining her head to the newcomer. “Thank you for covering for me tonight, Jaelon.”
The man nodded, “Don’t mention it,” he said, walking to the desk. “Teronthan Wellsbender, is it?” Jaelon asked, moving his gaze to Teronthan.
Teronthan nodded, “In the flesh.”
Jaelon smiled, “Thank you for all your hard work at The Museum over the last few months. We really appreciate what you have been doing.”
Teronthan shrugged, “I haven’t really done much aside from look at artifacts.”
Jaelon nodded, “Maybe not, but you have taken time out of your life to investigate crimes to history, and The Museum thanks you.”
Teronthan smiled, “In that case,” he said, bowing his head, “You are welcome.”
“And, I’m off to take him artifact examining,” Bethonali said, moving to the front door of the West Wing, “Ready Teronthan?”
Teronthan nodded, “Lead the way.”
“Good hunting,” Jaelon said from his seat behind the West Wing desk. Teronthan nodded and then turned and followed Bethonali into the lobby. Once there, Bethonali led him diagonally across the way to another door that proclaimed “South Wing”
“Evening Paxy,” Bethonali said as she entered the South Wing.
“Evening, Beth,” Paxavi, the blonde-haired human female who worked the same shift as Bethonali in the South Wing, said.
Bethonali gestured to Teronthan. “You’ve heard of Teronthan Wellsbender?”
Paxavi nodded, “The famous scientist who discovered matterless molecules,” she said, turning to Teronthan, “Who hasn’t heard of you?”
Teronthan felt himself blush, “It’s nothing really,” he said.
“To you,” Paxavi said, “To the rest of the world, it’s rather amazing.”
“She’s right,” Bethonali said, giving Teronthan a pointed look, “We can’t all be brilliant molecular scientists.”
Teronthan felt his cheeks flush even redder, “If you insist,” he said, “Thank you then.”
“Don’t mention it,” Paxavi said, turning her gaze to Bethonali, “What brings you to the South Wing?”
The smile that had occupied Bethonali’s face a moment ago evaporated. “Reports from the early morning shift say there was some molecular restructuring in this wing between the hours of two and four.”
Paxavi’s expression hardened. “They attacked my wing, and I wasn’t informed?”
Bethonali shrugged. “They attacked my wing months ago, and no one bothered to inform me until Teronthan showed up asking to see some of the artifacts about molecular damage. Only after searching the reports with a fine toothed comb did I find anything.”
Paxavi nodded stiffly, “You know what I find odd,” she said conspiratorially, “All these restructures, and no one claims to have seen the perpetrators. You would think that someone along the line would ask what some strange people are doing in The Museum after hours.”
“That’s true,” Bethonali said thoughtfully.
“It is odd,” Teronthan said, “But, I guess The Museum is more concerned with maintaining the artifacts.”
Paxavi gave Teronthan a pointed look, “Always the artifacts,” she said, “They are of the upmost importance to our history.”
Bethonali nodded, “The Museum’s mantra. We pride ourselves on the preservation of the past.”
Teronthan nodded, “Still, it is odd that no one has been seen.”
“It is,” Paxavi said thoughtfully, “Oh well, what’s important is finding out the pattern in the tampered with artifacts. So, I won’t keep you any longer. Good luck.”
Teronthan smiled, “Thank you.”
“Later, Paxy,” Bethonali said as she passed by her colleague’s desk.
Once through the second door to the South Wing, Bethonali lead Teronthan through corridors and exhibits. Teronthan studied the landmarks around him, trying to memorize the way out. The Museum was huge, and one wrong turn could get even the most familiar visitor lost for weeks.
“Here we are,” Bethonali said, stopping in front of an exhibit.
“Preancient European artifacts,” Teronthan read on the exhibit details sign. “It looks as if my theory was correct. More preancient artifacts are being affected.”
“It certainly looks that way,” Bethonali said, moving to stand beside the exhibit’s vortexatrometer. “I assume you’d like a closer look.”
Teronthan nodded, “It’s the only way to assess the damage.”
Bethonali nodded, “One minute,” she said, expertly working the machine, coxing it to life. “All set,” she said after a few minutes, “Just say when.”
Teronthan sighed, “No time like now,” he said, “Go for it.”
Bethonali smiled, “On it, boss.” She worked the controls of the machine and a moment later a vortex stood open in the emblonium wall around the exhibit.
Teronthan stepped in front of the vortex, “Let me know when I need to get out,” he said.
“Will do,” Bethonali said. Teronthan nodded and then stepped into the vortex, emerging on the other side of the emblonium wall a moment later. Not wasting any time, he switched on the prismatic light over the display case and opened the case. Without blocking the light, he bent over the artifacts and studied them. The case held five vases, identified by the tag on the case as dating from circa 2015. The first was from the preancient country of Italy, and its description labeled it as the work of an unknown pottery company. Carefully, Teronthan lifted the vase from its position in the case and held it up to the light. Sure enough, the vase exhibited signs of recent molecular tampering. He turned the vase and stopped. The picture on both sides of the artifact contained an image of a painting of a young narvan female with long black hair and a smile to rival time itself. Teronthan cast his eyes to the vase’s description.
‘Italy, circa 2015, vase depicting a copy of the famous painting the Mona Lisa, painted by the preancient artist Leonardo Di Vinci.’ Teronthan moved his eyes back to the vase. He had taken a class in preancient artists in college, and one of the class’s focuses had been the work of Leonardo Di Vinci. The man had lived long before the creation of narvans, and he had painted the Mona Lisa as a human female. Teronthan checked the date on the vase again. ‘Circa 2015,’ he read. Narvans were not even created until at least fifty years after the date of the vase’s creation. Aside from that, even if the circa in this case was a matter of fifty years, the painting the vase displayed had been of a human, not a narvan woman.
Teronthan checked his watch. He only had another five minutes and forty-five seconds before the vortex would close. Carefully, he replaced the Italian vase and moved to the next item in the display case, a vase from preancient England, dated circa 2020. With the same care he had used on the Italian vase, Teronthan removed the English vase from its position in the case and rotated it beneath the prismatic light. It too exhibited signs of molecular restructuring. Teronthan rotated the vase until one of the pictures faced him. This vase held a picture of a young narvan man who looked to be holding a feather and to be seated at a preancient writing desk.
‘England,’ the vase’s description read, ‘circa 2020, William Shakespeare at his desk, penning one of his most famous works, “Romeo and Juliet.”‘ Teronthan felt his insides go cold. William Shakespeare was still a prominent figure in literature, thousands of years after his time. The man had lived in the late fifteen and early sixteen hundreds. There was no way the man had been a narvan. Humans had been the only intelligent race on the planet at the time.
Checking his watch again, Teronthan noted, to his dismay, that he had only three minutes remaining before the vortex would close. Quickly but gently, he replaced the English vase in its position in the case and turned his attention to making a hasty examination of the three remaining vases. The three were dated at circa 2030 and had been made in France, Spain, and Greece and bore pictures of the preancient emperor of the nation Napoleon Bonaparte, the preancient explorer Christopher Columbus, and an impression picture of the preancient philosopher Socrates respectively. All the images showed depictions of narvans, despite the fact that the people said to be pictured had lived centuries before narvans had existed.
“Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice came through the vortex, “Thirty seconds.”
“Drat,” Teronthan whispered. He needed more time. He needed to examine exactly what had been done to the vases. He could not fathom a single reason why the vases’ images had been changed.
“Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice came again.
Teronthan swore under his breath. His investigation would have to wait. “I’m coming, Beth,” he called back. In one motion, Teronthan closed the display case and switched off the overhead prismatic light and then turned and stepped into the vortex.
“Whoa,” Teronthan,” Bethonali’s voice came when Teronthan stepped out of the vortex, “You’re pale as a ghost.” Teronthan felt a hand on his arm and turned to see Bethonali at his side, “Come sit down.” Teronthan let Bethonali guide him to the seat behind the vortexatrometer. “Wait here.” Teronthan watched as Bethonali disappeared around one of the displays to reemerge a few moments later holding a Styrofoam cup. “Drink,” Bethonali’s voice instructed as Teronthan felt the cup touch his lips. Mindlessly, Teronthan did as he was told and the moment he took in the contents of the cup, he felt his mind jolt.
“Whoa,” Teronthan said, taking the cup from Bethonali and downing the remainder of its contents. “Sorry about that,” he said, placing the cup on the table beside the vortexatrometer, “I think I was in some kind of shock.”
“You were,” Bethonali said, pulling up a chair from a nearby table and taking a seat, “What happened in there?”
Teronthan shook his head in an attempt to order his thoughts. “The vases, all of them, were tampered with,” he said, his voice distant.
Bethonali’s face hardened, “Tampered with how?”
Teronthan shook his head again, finally able to clear his mind. “They all bare pictures of preancient geniuses of one type or other, only someone tampered with their molecular structure to make the human people appear as narvans in the pictures.”
“Someone gave the pictures wings?” Bethonali asked.
“In a nut shell, yes,” Teronthan said, “I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would do that. I just got a really bad feeling as I was looking at the pictures, which was why I was stunned to a stupor like that I guess.”
Bethonali nodded, “That’s not uncommon. You were so surprised, your body just shut down.”
Teronthan nodded, “Something like that.”
“In any event,” Bethonali said, “There are some other sections of preancient artifacts that were tampered with. Are you up for more investigating?”
Teronthan stood, “Yes,” he said, “I’m fine now. Lead on.”
Bethonali stood and dragged her chair back to the table she had taken it from. “This way,” she said, returning to Teronthan’s side.
The next four hours passed much the same as the first, Teronthan examining preancient artifacts and Bethonali operating the vortexatrometers. As he had expected, Teronthan discovered that all of the recently tampered with artifacts contained some kind of reference to humans in the preancient world that had been changed to a reference to narvans. With each damaged exhibit, Teronthan became wearier. Despite the number of artifacts changed to reflect narvan life, he could not think of a single reason why anyone would tamper with molecules in that way.
“Same as all the others,” Teronthan confirmed as he stepped out of the vortex to an exhibit of preancient South American pottery. “All the pieces date back to a time before the existence of narvans, yet they all bare pictures of famous narvans.”
“Famous narvans that should be famous humans,” Bethonali observed as she cut the power to the vortexatrometer.
Teronthan nodded, “I know. That’s what worries me. I still can’t think of a reason why anyone would do that.”
“Just a guess,” Bethonali said, stepping out from behind the vortexatrometer, “But, it seems with the function of The Museum to preserve history, these changes seem aimed at changing history.”
Teronthan shook his head, “It’s not possible. Whoever is doing this would have to do so much more than change artifacts to alter the past. There are written records, video archives, and audio chronicles that would need to be changed without error. On top of that, there are the memories and learned information of everyone on the planet to adjust.”
Bethonali shrugged, “I know,” she said, “It doesn’t really make sense. I just thought it was a good thing to throw out there.”
“Oh, it was,” Teronthan said, taking a step toward Bethonali, “There is just no way that it is the case here. There are too many variables to account for.”
“True,” Bethonali said thoughtfully, “I just can’t think of a better explanation.”
Teronthan sighed, “Me neither.”
“Oh well,” Bethonali said, “I’m sure a more likely scenario will present itself. In the meantime,” she said, trying and failing to suppress a yawn, “I am exhausted.”
Teronthan took Bethonali’s arm, “Let’s get out of here,” he said, “Your shift is about over, and there’s really nothing more we can learn here.”
Bethonali yawned again, this time openly. “Good idea, let’s go.” Teronthan followed Bethonali as she wove through the twists and turns that was The Museum. After about ten minutes, they emerged into the front room of the South Wing.
“Find anything?” Paxavi asked.
Bethonali stole a glance at Teronthan. Teronthan shook his head once and cast his eyes to the floor. Bethonali nodded slightly and turned to Paxavi, whose face, to Bethonali’s relief, showed no sign of noticing the silent conversation. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” Bethonali said, her voice serious, “Much of the same. Tampered with artifacts with little reason or pattern.”
Paxavi’s face hardened and for a moment Bethonali worried that Paxavi suspected that she had not been completely honest. “I hate that this is happening,” Paxavi said, allowing Bethonali to release her tension, “It sickens me.”
“That makes two of us,” Teronthan said, carefully averting his eyes. He was a bad liar, and his eyes would give away his story in an instant.
“Three,” Bethonali said, “But, until we get something more solid, there is very little we can do.”
Paxavi nodded, “Oh well,” she said, her face relaxing, “Shift is over anyway, and I for one could use some sleep.”
“Ditto,” Bethonali said, yawning again, “Shall we?” Paxavi and Teronthan nodded, and the three made their way through the front door of the wing and into the lobby.
“Another quiet night,” Morlain said from his place behind The Museum’s front desk.
“Yes,” Teronthan said, picking up one of the gel pens and signing himself out of The Museum, “The usual.”
Morlain nodded, “Unfortunate, but good to hear that all went smoothly.”
Teronthan nodded, “Yes,” he said, replacing the pen, “I will most likely be back tomorrow night.”
Morlain smiled, “I will see you then then,” he said, “Night to you three.” The four exchanged partings, and Teronthan, Bethonali, and Paxavi turned and stepped through the plasma front door of The Museum.
“I don’t trust him,” Paxavi said when the three were outside.
“Who?” Bethonali asked.
Paxavi gestured back toward The Museum, “Morlain. The fact that he works here as a narvan puts me off. Plus, he seems generally unconcerned with the crimes going on within the building he protects.”
“Paxy,” Bethonali began, her voice questioning.
“I don’t care that his background check was clear,” Paxavi said, her face hardening, “I don’t trust that narvan.” Teronthan watched as Paxavi’s face hardened more and then, gradually, released its tension. “Oh well,” she said after a few minutes, “I suppose there is no use in dwelling on him. Ready to go, Beth?”
Bethonali nodded, “If we wait much longer we will miss our huverbus.”
Paxavi nodded, “In that case,” she said, turning to Teronthan, “Have a good night, Teronthan.”
“Yes,” Bethonali said, turning to Teronthan, “Get some sleep, and I will see you at the test tomorrow.”
“Test?” Paxavi asked.
“I am running some tests with The Museum’s molecular restructurer and matter generator tomorrow at two in the afternoon on the new security chain,” Teronthan explained, “Would you like to come watch?”
“If I may,” Paxavi said.
Teronthan nodded, “Of course.”
Bethonali yawned again. “Well, if that’s all settled, I’d like to get home.”
“Yes,” Paxavi said, taking Bethonali’s arm, “Let’s be on our way.” The three said their goodnights, and then parted ways for the evening, the ladies going one way and Teronthan the other.
The following morning, Teronthan entered his lab to find a pile of papers on his table. ‘Hi Teronthan,’ a note atop the pile read, ‘Here are the notes from yesterday afternoon. If you remember, I have an assistants meeting this morning but wanted to make sure you got these. I should be back around eleven. Albenon. Teronthan moved the note aside to reveal the summary page of the previous afternoon’s findings. Reluctantly, he pushed the pile aside, unlocked his lab table, and opened the second drawer down on the left, revealing the notes he had not read from the previous morning. He pulled the notes from the drawer and sat down. No speculating, he told himself as he began to read. He needed to get through the remaining morning notes and the entirety of the afternoon notes by lunch.
The morning passed at various speeds as Teronthan worked diligently to get through the two piles of notes in front of him. Around eleven o’clock, Albenon entered the lab, which Teronthan greeted with a wave and a gesture indicating he would be available in an hour. Eleven to noon passed quickly, and Teronthan turned over the last page of notes at eleven fifty.
“Sorry about that Albenon,” Teronthan called, stretching, “I needed to finish those and couldn’t afford distractions.”
“Not a problem,” Albenon’s voice came. “Lunch in ten?”
Teronthan consulted the digital wall clock, “Yes. I just need to make a tel call first.”
“All right,” Albenon called.
Teronthan stood and made his way to the telemeter. He wanted to call and confirm that Belatrini would be accompanying him to The Museum just in case he did not see her at lunch.
“Name,” the automated voice said when Teronthan picked up the receiver.
“Teronthan Gray Wellsbender.”
“Name of party you wish to reach.”
“Belatrini Armini Desacray, work, in building.”
“Please wait.” Teronthan listened as the telemeter began its ritual ticking sound.
“Teronthan,” Belatrini’s voice filled the line, “I was just on my way to lunch. What can I do for you?”
“Oh,” Teronthan said, “If you were on your way to lunch, then I guess I didn’t need to call. I just wanted to confirm about the afternoon just in case I didn’t see you in the cafeteria.”
“Oh,” Belatrini said, “Of course I am still planning on going.”
“Excellent,” Teronthan said, “In that case, I will see you in the cafeteria in a few minutes.”
“Yes,” Belatrini said, “See you soon.” Teronthan waited until he heard the click from the other line before hanging up.
“All set?” Albenon’s voice came from behind Teronthan.
Teronthan nodded, “Let’s roll.” The two scientists left the lab and made their way to the cafeteria. Once there, they got in line, retrieved their food and made their way through the crowds to join Belatrini and Delagri at a table. The four spent the lunch hour engaged in conversation about the afternoon, and at five minutes to one, they left the cafeteria and made their way back to Teronthan’s lab.
“How are we getting to The Museum?” Belatrini asked as she entered the lab.
“I secured one of the building’s huvervans,” Teronthan said, “We don’t need to transport any equipment, so we can take one of the smaller cars.”
“Excellent,” Belatrini said, “And, we are leaving when?”
“It takes about forty-five minutes to get to The Museum,” Teronthan said thoughtfully, so we will need to leave in about fifteen minutes.”
“Are we bringing any notes?” Albenon asked.
Teronthan shook his head, “No need, but thank you for reminding me. I need to lock my table before we go.” Teronthan moved to his lab table and began organizing the papers atop it.
“Oh,” Belatrini said, “Teronthan, may I borrow your telemeter? I can’t remember if I told my lab mate if I would be gone the afternoon.”
“Go right ahead,” Teronthan said, placing a pile of papers into one of the drawers of his table.
“Thank you,” Belatrini said.
“No problem,” Teronthan said, opening the bottom right drawer of his table and filing away a stack of papers.
“All done,” Belatrini’s voice came a few moments later. “I had mentioned it, and all is in order.”
Teronthan cast an eye to the wall clock. “In that case,” he said, “Shall we depart?” The others nodded their agreement, and the four left the lab, closing and locking the door behind them. They made their way through the hallways with fresh discussion of the afternoon. When they got to the cafeteria, rather than enter the dining room, they kept straight and wound through more hallways until they came to a door marked “Transportation Office.” Albenon opened the door and held it for the others, and the four entered into a small room with another door, identical to the first, on the opposite wall and a desk at which sat an older male human.
“Afternoon Boliven,” Teronthan addressed the man at the desk.
“Afternoon Teronthan,” Boliven said from his seat, “Taking out a car?”
Teronthan nodded, “I called down this morning.”
“That you did,” Boliven said, checking a list on his desk, “Teronthan and three passengers, one fifteen,” he said after a moment, “Car number 205, mini huvervan.”
“That’s the one,” Teronthan said.
“Mmhmm,” Boliven hummed as he opened one of his desk drawers and produced a triangular piece of metal on a ring. “Your key,” he said, handing the triangle to Teronthan, “The car is out and to the left.”
Teronthan nodded as he took the key, “Thank you, Boliven.”
Boliven smiled, “Just doing my job. Enjoy your afternoon.”
“Thank you,” the four said in unison and then, with Teronthan in the lead, turned and walked through the second door and out into the building’s parking garage. Once out, they took the left aisle and walked until they came to vehicle number 205. As Teronthan had ordered, the car was a mini huvervan, red with silver trim.
“Here we are,” Teronthan said, stopping beside the car. He pressed the triangle into the identically shaped indentation on the driver’s door of the car, and, with a click, the doors unlocked and opened, revealing a tan interior.
“Beautiful car,” Delagri breathed as she climbed into the back seat.
“I didn’t know they were going to give me a sports model,” Teronthan said smiling. The four laughed as they climbed into the car, men in the front and ladies in the back. “All set?” Teronthan asked from the driver’s seat.
“All systems go,” Delagri said. Albenon and Belatrini nodded their affirmation.
“Excellent,” Teronthan said, “We’re off.” Teronthan put the key to another triangular indentation, this one beside the steering wheel, and the car hummed to life. Keeping the van on the ground, Teronthan navigated his way out of the garage. Once outside, the increased the speed and altitude of the van until the car was moving at the speed and height limits for the rode.
The ride to The Museum passed much as lunch had, full of talk about the afternoon and the new technology. Teronthan found himself well engaged in the conversation despite having to drive, and the forty-five minute ride to The Museum seemed to pass in half the time.
“Teronthan Wellsbender,” Goranv Tesirman’s smile greeted the four as they entered The Museum. “Belatrini Desacray, Delagri Kanaphar and Albenon Baranotre, how good to see you this afternoon.”
“Good to see you as well, Goranv,” Teronthan said, grasping the curator’s hand.
“Stimulating afternoon ahead of us,” Belatrini said, shaking hands with the curator, “I am excited to see how this works out.”
“As am I,” Goranv said, shaking hands with Delagri and Albenon in turn, “Let us get on with it then.”
“Is the equipment ready?” Teronthan asked.
Goranv nodded, “It is in your usual place.” The five walked across the lobby to an area labeled “Testing Only. “Here we are,” Goranv said, indicating the technology. Teronthan stepped forward. The molecular restructure was a device about the size of a remote control and contained about twice as many buttons, each controlling a different effect the machine could have on molecules. The matter generator was similar but larger, containing about the same amount of buttons and a viewing screen that, when in use, would display unseen molecules in a visible pattern.
“Excellent,” Teronthan said, stepping beside the table atop which the devices sat, “I’ll just get them up and running, and we should be ready to go in a minute.”
“Well, I’m glad we didn’t miss it then.”
“Bethonali and Paxavi,” Goranv said, stepping aside to let the two evening shift security guards through, “So glad you could make it.”
“Hi ladies,” Teronthan said, smiling at each newcomer in turn, “I was just about to fire up the equipment.”
Bethonali met Teronthan’s gaze, and Teronthan felt his stomach flip over. “I love watching a genius at work,” she said teasingly.
With considerable difficulty, Teronthan kept the blush off his face. “It’s nothing really,” he said, turning back to the table. With practiced ease, he switched on and configured both devices, synchronizing them to one another in the process. “That should do it,” he said after a few minutes, “Now to test them.” Teronthan picked up the matter generator and tilted it until a series of molecules appeared on the screen. “I take it that’s the security chain?”
“Looks about right,” Belatrini said, “The chain usually hangs about where you have the camera aimed.”
Teronthan nodded, “All right then, hold on.” Teronthan pressed a few buttons on the generator, making notes as he did so, and a moment later, the air that Belatrini had identified as the security chain came into view, a match for the pattern on the screen.
“Oh my,” Belatrini gasped, putting her hand to her mouth.
“Amazing,” Goranv whispered.
“Just like in trial,” Albenon said, stepping beside Teronthan, “Shall I operate the restructurer?”
“One second,” Teronthan said, “I just want to check something first.” Teronthan pushed a few more buttons, once again taking notes. The molecules in the air disappeared and the representation on the screen dimmed. “Brilliant,” Teronthan said, pushing a few more buttons and returning the screen and air to their previous state, “I just wanted to make sure the molecules would show up in infrared. You can go ahead with the restructurer now.” Albenon nodded, stepping up beside Teronthan and picking up the molecular restructurer.
The two scientists spent the next hour testing the security chain under various conditions produced by the molecular restructurer and matter generator. As Teronthan had predicted and hoped, the security chain proved stronger than the last and all of the experiments were successful.
“Splendid,” Goranv said when the experiments were done, “That is amazing, and I am happy to see that your security chain is so strong, Belatrini.”
Belatrini smiled, “It is indeed what I do.”
“I’m glad to see it too,” Bethonali said, her eyes portraying that she was both awed and satisfied by the show, “I like knowing that I am working in a secure building.”
“Ditto,” Paxavi said nodding, “That will make me feel better on shift tonight.”
“I think it is safe to say,” Goranv said, “That Dr. Wellsbender has done it again.” Teronthan blushed as the gathered applauded him.
“It is nothing really,” Teronthan said when the applause ended, “All in a days work.”
“Regardless,” Goranv said, “The artifacts and the staff appreciate your work.”
“Artifacts,” Teronthan whispered as the word brought back the memories of what he had found the night before. He needed to talk to Goranv before he left.
“Are we done, boss?” Albenon’s question pulled Teronthan from his thoughts.
Teronthan shook his head, clearing his mind. “Yes,” he said, turning to his assistant, “You can power down the equipment. I need to have a word with Goranv.”
“On it,” Albenon’s voice came as Teronthan turned and started toward the curator, who was deep in conversation with Belatrini.
“Goranv,” Teronthan said when he was almost beside the curator.
Goranv turned, “Ah, Teronthan, we were just discussing the benefits of what today’s experiment showed.”
Teronthan nodded, “May I have a word with you, sir? It’s about the artifacts.”
“Of course,” Goranv said.
“Do you want me to double check the security chain, boss?” Teronthan turned to see Delagri standing beside Belatrini.
“Oh,” Belatrini said, “Actually, I will accompany you, Delagri.”
“That’s all right,” Delagri said, her voice, Teronthan thought, slightly worried, “If you’re busy — “
Belatrini flashed Teronthan a smile. “No, these two gentlemen need to talk anyway. Come, Delagri.” Teronthan watched Delagri nod once before slowly turning and following Belatrini over to and through the door marked “Security Only.”
“Wonderful ladies,” Goranv said, pulling Teronthan’s attention back to the conversation, “Now, what did you want to tell me?”
Teronthan cleared his throat. “I was here last night with Bethonali looking at the artifacts reported to have been damaged the night before,” he began.
Goranv’s face changed from interested to sad, “Yes, I am very upset about the damage befalling the artifacts.”
Teronthan nodded, “In any event, I was looking at some preancient vases that depicted very prominent preancient people. I’m talking people who lived far back in preancient times as in before the year 1900.”
“Mmhmm,” Goranv hummed, nodding.
Teronthan took another deep breath. “Here’s the odd part. The people were all pictured as narvans. Narvans would not have even been a thought when these people lived.”
“Did you check the date on the making of the vases?” Goranv asked, “Perhaps they were narvan interpretations?”
Teronthan shook his head, “The vases are reported to have been made at least fifty years before the first narvan’s creation and, thus, over a hundred years before narvans became widespread.”
Goranv’s expression hardened, “Odd,” he said after a long pause. “Teronthan, I think it may be time to do some molecular restructuring of your own.”
“Oh, sir?” Teronthan asked.
“Yes,” Goranv said, “Tonight, rather than just examine damage, I’d like you and Bethonali to begin repairing the tampered with artifacts. I know it is possible due to the tests we’ve run, and too many artifacts have been tampered with in major ways to think this some kind of accident.”
Teronthan nodded, “If that’s what you want, sir, consider it done.”
“Excellent,” Goranv said, clapping his hands, “I really do appreciate what you have done for The Museum over the last few months, Teronthan. The artifacts preserved here are too valuable and important to our history to let them be destroyed.”
Teronthan nodded, “I do what I can.”
“That went well.” Teronthan turned to see Bethonali moving toward where he and Goranv were conversing.
“It did,” Teronthan said, giving the security guard a smile.
“Bethonali,” Goranv said, motioning her closer, “I’d like to fill you in on details for tonight.”
“Oh?” Bethonali asked, moving to stand beside the curator.
Goranv nodded, “Teronthan has just finished describing the nature of the damage from the vases you inspected last night.”
Bethonali’s face hardened, “The ones that depicted narvans rather than humans as they were supposed to,” she said, her voice a match for her face, “Yes.”
Goranv nodded again, “I am also disturbed by this, and, thus, I am changing your objective for the evening. Rather than simply look at and catalogue damage, I’d like you two to fix the damage using Teronthan’s technology.”
“All right,” Bethonali said nodding, “Will do.”
“Excellent,” Goranv said, “I believe that will both save the artifacts and give our criminals a deterrent. Some people find it difficult to commit a crime that they know is not accomplishing anything. If we are lucky, this change in our activity will, in time, completely solve our problem.”
Teronthan nodded. He was not sure how much he believed the curators words, but he also saw no reason to doubt them. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps simply undoing the molecular damage would be enough of a deterrent to stop the attacks, and The Museum could resume its previous level of functioning.
“All set, boss.” Teronthan turned to see Albenon walking out of the door to the South Wing. The curators and Teronthan had agreed to store his equipment in the South Wing storage closet because it was the only wing that had had twenty-four hour coverage at the time. This had changed, but the curators had seen no reason to move the technology. Teronthan had agreed with them. The equipment would really not be any safer anywhere else. The storage closets boasted finger print locks, which only worked for a certain group of people.
“All right, Albenon,” Teronthan called to his assistant, “Let’s round up the ladies and get going. We need to get back to the lab before closing.”
As if saying it had called them, Belatrini and Delagri emerged from the security room. “All systems go,” Belatrini said, closing the door to the security room.
“Excellent,” Teronthan said smiling, “Shall we depart then?”
Belatrini nodded, “Yes, let’s. I need to be back before closing.”
Teronthan nodded, “Same here.”
“Same time tonight?” Teronthan heard Bethonali ask.
“Yes,” Teronthan said, turning to the security guard. He noted that her violet hair was braided and slung over her shoulder so that it hung down the front of her body. He stopped his eyes from wandering too much and contented with giving Bethonali a genuine smile.
“Awesome,” Bethonali said, giving Teronthan a smile that made his stomach flip, “See you then.” Teronthan watched as Bethonali turned and walked toward the front desk, where she fell into conversation with Paxavi and the desk attendant, whose name Teronthan did not know. She really was beautiful.
“Coming Teronthan?” Teronthan turned to see Belatrini standing at the plasma front door of The Museum.
Teronthan gave his work area one last look, carefully disguising another look in Bethonali’s direction and then turned back to Belatrini. “Yes,” he said, “Let’s go.” The ride back to the lab seemed to drag in comparison to the ride earlier that afternoon. Teronthan was deep in thought about Goranv’s new instructions. The chatter from the other three in the car did not help, and he was forced to add to the conversation every so often.
“All in all,” Belatrini said as Teronthan parked the huvervan back in the lab’s garage, “I’d say it was a productive afternoon.”
“Agreed,” Delagri said, opening her door and extracting herself from the car.
“And only a half hour till closing,” Albenon said, getting out of the car and closing his door, “Not bad.” Teronthan nodded as he pressed the triangle to the identically shaped indentation on the door of the car, locking the vehicle. He still was not in much of a mood to talk and when he returned the key to Boliven in the room adjoining the garage, he spoke only briefly.
The walk back through the halls of the lab were filled with more chatter that Teronthan did his best to ignore. Unintentionally, he heaved a huge sigh of relief when the group arrived at the hall where they divided ways. He spoke brief partings to the ladies and then continued down the hall with Albenon. He stole a glance at his assistant and saw that the narvan wore a look mixed of concern and knowing. Teronthan smiled inwardly. One of the things he loved about Albenon was that his assistant was a man of few words.” The silence lasted until the two men had entered the lab. Teronthan half listened as Albenon described some closing notes he wanted to make and was relieved again when his assistant closed the door to the Data Analysis room.”
“What am I getting myself into?” Teronthan muttered, unlocking his table and extracting some notes from one of the drawers, “Fixing this damage is going to be ridiculous with all the artifacts that have been damaged. There is no way I will be able to keep up with the criminals with this late of a start.” Teronthan let his eyes fall on the notes he had left on his table before lunch. Try as he might, he could not make sense of the scribbles he recognized as his handwriting and chocked it up to his concentration being absent. Instead, he contented himself with staring at the wall clock, which, despite the fact that there were only fifteen more minutes in his work day, moved like a sloth.
After five minutes, Teronthan gave up, pulling his eyes away from the clock. Carelessly, he opened a drawer in his table and tossed the notes he had left out in it before locking the table. A quick glance around the lab told him that Albenon was still in the Data Analysis room, and he moved to the room’s door, knocking once when he got there.
“I’m going to head out a little early,” Teronthan said when Albenon opened the door.
Albenon nodded, “You all right, boss?”
Teronthan shrugged, “A lot on my mind, plus I need to do some stuff before heading over to The Museum.”
Albenon nodded again, “How is that going?”
Teronthan spread his hands, “It’s going. Goranv wants me to start fixing the damage to the artifacts tonight, and that has me overwhelmed. There are so many.”
“Oh?” Albenon asked, his voice concerned, “What brought this on?”
“Damage to a set of preancient vases in the South Wing,” Teronthan said, “They depict narvans when they should show humans. I can’t see the profit in making that particular change, but someone did.”
“Interesting,” Albenon said, his voice thoughtful, “Well, good luck then, boss.”
Teronthan nodded, “I’ll need it. Evening, Albenon.”
“Night, Teronthan.” Teronthan eased the door to the Data Analysis room closed. He must be out of his mind. He walked back to his table, retrieved his things from under it and, then turned and left the lab, closing the door behind him.
The next few hours passed unbearably slowly. Teronthan had appointed his starting time at The Museum seven in the evening so that he would have time after work to run errands, eat, or do any other outstanding chores he had to do. Tonight; however, despite his efforts, he could find nothing to do save eat dinner, and he found himself, at quarter of six, taking the long route from his apartment to The Museum. The walk did more than kill time; though. Teronthan let his thoughts simmer as he walked, finding the weak points where things seemed to overwhelm him. The walk gave him the extra time he needed, and when he rounded the corner and saw The Museum’s spirals looming only a few doors away, the project Goranv had outlined seemed more manageable. In addition, he had discovered, he was looking more forward to seeing Bethonali than usual. It was this last thought, after walking back and forth in front of the door to The Museum five times, that convinced him to enter.
“Good evening, Teronthan,” Morlain’s familiar voice greeted Teronthan as he emerged into the lobby.
Teronthan moved his gaze to the front desk to see Morlain in his usual spot. “Evening, Morlain,” he said, moving toward where the narvan sat. Almost unconsciously, he plucked a gel pen from the holder on the desk and wrote his name and time of arrival into the log book.
“Bethonali is in the South Wing waiting for you,” Morlain said as Teronthan replaced the pen, “Her stand in arrived early tonight, and she figured she would wait for you in the wing you’d be working in.”
Teronthan paused. How would Morlain know what wing he and Bethonali would be working in? The answer hit him, and Teronthan silently chastised himself for even posing the question. Bethonali had probably told him. That resolved, Teronthan sighed and discovered that he had another, more pressing problem. The thought of seeing Bethonali had jarred his nerves again. “Thank you, Morlain,” he managed to call as he moved toward the door to the South Wing.
“Not at all,” he heard Morlain call back, “Good luck.” Teronthan nodded to himself. He would need it.
“There you are,” Bethonali’s voice came when Teronthan opened the door to the South Wing, “Was wondering when you’d get here. Ready?” Teronthan avoided staring at Bethonali’s hair, which he noticed was still in the braid from earlier, and contented himself with watching the wall behind her.
“Impressive display this afternoon,” Paxavi’s voice came, pulling Teronthan’s gaze from the wall. The blonde sat behind the South Wing desk, also looking the same as she had earlier in the day.
Teronthan let himself smile. “Thanks,” he said, “I was just glad all the tests worked and to see how strong the security chain is.”
“So were we,” Bethonali said smiling, “If we’re lucky, that will put a damper in the attacks.”
“If we’re lucky,” Paxavi said seriously, “Let’s not get too smug. I am not going to let my guard down.”
Bethonali looked taken aback, “Oh,” she said, her voice, Teronthan noticed, considerably quieter, “I wasn’t saying I would. Just wishful thinking I guess.”
Paxavi’s face softened, “OH, I wasn’t saying you would. I was just saying I won’t.”
Bethonali’s face brightened, “Oh, okay then. In that case,” she said, turning to Teronthan, “ready?”
Teronthan sighed, trying to let his tension at the upcoming assignment go. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s go.”
Bethonali walked to the storage closet and used her finger print identification to gain access. Once the door was open, Teronthan entered and retrieved The Museum’s matter generator and molecular restructurer and then walked back into the anteroom, closing the door behind him.
“Good luck,” Paxavi said from her seat behind the desk. The three exchanged partings, and Teronthan and Bethonali turned and entered the South Wing.
As she had the night before, Bethonali led Teronthan through the maze that was the South Wing. Also as the night before, Teronthan gaped at the crooked, nearly invisible routes that Bethonali seemed to pick out with no effort. ‘One day,’ he vowed silently, as he followed Bethonali around yet another turn, ‘I will learn this building as well as she knows it.’ After a few more twists and turns, Teronthan finally saw the exhibit from the night before come into view.
“Here we are,” Bethonali said, stopping in front of the preancient vases. “Let me just fire up the vortexatrometer, and we’ll — ” Teronthan barely had time to react as Bethonali came face to face with an invisible wall that sent her flying backwards. Just in time, Teronthan managed to drop the equipment he was carrying and catch Bethonali before she hit the floor.
“Beth?” he asked, his voice more nervous than he would have liked.
“I’m all right,” Bethonali said, regaining her feet.
“What happened?” Teronthan asked.
Bethonali shook her head, “I don’t know. I was walking along and then it was like the air condensed and I just hit it as if it were a wall.”
“Actually,” a voice came from somewhere close by, a voice that Teronthan recognized, “Exactly like a wall.”
Teronthan turned and, to his surprise and growing horror, discovered he had been right about the voice. “Albenon?” His voice sounded even higher pitch than it had moments ago, “What are you doing here?”
“Fulfilling the brotherhood’s mission,” Teronthan’s assistant said with the fanatical tone to his voice that Teronthan had never heard before.
“The brotherhood?” Teronthan heard himself stammer, “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t,” Albenon said, his voice only a shell of the one Teronthan had listened to every day at work for the last few years, “I do not expect a human to understand the greater workings of the brotherhood.” Movement at his side caught Teronthan’s attention, and he stole a glance sideways to see Bethonali reaching out in all directions. “That will do you no good, female,” Albenon’s voice came again, “You are very cleverly held captive in a prison of air molecules, constructed rather ingeniously by yours truly.” Teronthan turned back to see Albenon holding in one hand a matter generator and in the other a molecular restructurer. A flood of relief washing over him, Teronthan suddenly remembered his own discarded technology. He bent and retrieved the two devices from where he had dropped them and stood to face his assistant.
“Easily fixed,” Teronthan said, “flipping the on switch for his matter generator.
“Fool,” Albenon said, gesturing to the equipment Teronthan held, “Look at your technology.” Teronthan looked down at the matter generator but rather than seeing the lit keyboard and monitor, was met only with no sign of power. Placing the molecular restructurer on the floor, he turned the matter generator over in his hands and felt for the compartment that would house the power supply.
“Where’s the power supply?” Teronthan heard himself ask.
“Fool,” Teronthan said again, “You have been tricked. You possess nothing more than imitations that I placed in the closet this afternoon after our demonstration.” Teronthan bent and retrieved the molecular restructurer only to discover that it too was a fake. His panic rising again, Teronthan dropped both devices and turned to again face his assistant.
“All right,” Teronthan said, trying to fill his voice with the authority he did not feel, “This has been a wonderful charade, Albenon, but drop the act.”
Teronthan felt his insides go cold as his assistant cackled. “This is no game, Teronthan, this is the work of the Brotherhood of Narvell.”
Teronthan froze as the name registered in his mind. He had read an article some years back about the Brotherhood of Narvell and their almost fanatical devotion to securing narvans a nobler place in history. At the time, he had disregarded the article, thinking it a line of nonsense. He had thought nothing of it when narvans had begun filling places in molecular research labs across the world in the coming years. Now, staring into his apparently fanatical assistant’s eyes, he realized he had underestimated the reality that article had described. “So,” Teronthan said, his voice quieter than he had intended, “It is real.”
“Oh yes,” Albenon said, “Quite real. The brotherhood is active and working around the clock to change history’s portrayal of narvans. You understand that when you told me this afternoon that your assignment this evening was to reverse the changes to the artifacts that I could not let you undo my work like that. I knew that you started your work at The Museum around seven o’clock, and I have been here since I left work waiting for you.” Teronthan felt his jaw drop and suddenly regretted ever telling his assistant anything about his work at The Museum. He had been reluctant to tell anyone out of a desire to keep what was happening to the artifacts a secret, but, he had reasoned, if Albenon were to come across anything in his research that would help restore the artifacts, Teronthan needed to know. “Of course,” Teronthan heard Albenon continue, “This is not a project simply for this Museum. The work of the brotherhood persists around the world, slowly but surely changing history to reflect humans being a creation rather than narvans being the second intelligent race on the planet.”
“Why?” Teronthan heard Bethonali ask. He was both shocked and impressed by the force in her voice. “Why is your famous brotherhood doing this?”
Albenon’s lips contorted into a smile that was not in any way happy. “Why, recognition of course. Respect, fear. There are too many places in this world where narvans are considered second class citizens because we were a creation of the humans. The brotherhood had a vision many years ago that if we could change history by making it appear that the humans were the creation, that we could exact our revenge on the humans that treat us as nothing more than animals or slaves.”
“Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme?” Bethonali continued, still angry, “Surely if this brotherhood is so intelligent, they would have come up with a better way — ” Bethonali abruptly fell silent, and Teronthan looked down to see her lips being held in place by visible air molecules.
“Beth,” Teronthan said, reaching toward her only to have his way blocked by more molecules.
“Save it, Teronthan,” Albenon’s voice came, “The female will see the error of her ways in time.”
Teronthan felt his panic dissolve, replaced by red hot anger. This thing, this monster who dared to pass himself off as equally civilized to humans stood less than three feet away, doing exactly what he claimed the humans did to narvans to a human. “All right,” Teronthan said, turning back to Albenon. If he could buy enough time to think of a plan, maybe he could get himself and Bethonali out of there safely, he reasoned. “How did you get passed the security chains, especially tonight? Granted you could just move aside the molecules and pass through, but someone would have seen you. There are guards in every wing.” Teronthan watched as Albenon jerked his head once and then felt his jaw drop again as Delagri stepped out from behind a nearby exhibit. “You,” Teronthan said, his voice full of shock.
Delagri nodded, the mirthless smile occupying her face as well. “Every night, I would deactivate the security system from the Security Room, which would allow Albenon,” she gestured to the narvan,” to focus on using the molecular restructurer to disperse our molecules enough to pass unnoticed through doors, walls, hallways, exhibits, whatever you see around you.”
“Anything but this blasted emblonium,” Albenon added, his voice disgusted, “Thankfully though, Delagri here learned from your pal Morlain out front how to use the vortexatrometer, and that solved the emblonium problem.” Teronthan felt another wave of shock hit him. Morlain, the decent evening front desk attendant had been conspiring with his lab assistant and Belatrini’s assistant for months or even years to put their operation into action, and Teronthan, for his part, had hired and taught Albenon everything he knew about molecules and their structure. He could only imagine how Belatrini would feel when she found out that her assistant too was involved in the plot. “What’s the matter?” Teronthan heard Albenon ask, his tone mocking, “You look surprised. Well, no matter.” Teronthan watched as Delagri pulled a lazar gun out from behind her back, and he again felt his blood go cold. “Delagri here is an expert shot, so you won’t have to be surprised much longer. I’m very sorry for this, but you understand. We can’t have two humans with an upstanding reputation in the community and world run off and inform the human authorities about the brotherhood’s activity. That would put a damper on our plans to alter history.”
Teronthan watched as Delagri brought the lazar up and pointed it at him. There were so many things he wanted to say at that moment. He wanted to play the hero and tell Albenon and Delagri that they would never succeed. He wanted to taunt the narvans and tell them that changed artifacts would not rewrite history. Movement out of the corner of his eye made him look down to see Bethonali’s face twisted into a mask of horror. He looked up again to see Delagri move the lazar so that it pointed at Bethonali. “No,” Teronthan tried to say but felt invisible molecules hold his lips in place.
“Good bye, Teronthan,” Albenon said casually, “And, you can even watch your girlfriend here go first.” Teronthan tried to move only to find his way again blocked by molecules. Bethonali was going to die, and it was all his fault.
A grunt from the direction of the narvans caught Teronthan’s attention. He turned to see Delagri topple over, her lazar clattering to the floor beside her. Teronthan only had time to see the smug expression on Albenon’s face turn to shock before Albenon too grunted and fell, limp, to the floor, the equipment he had been holding crashing to the ground. Teronthan heard the tell-tale crack that was the equipment breaking, but, at that moment, he did not care.
“Teronthan. Bethonali, are you all right.”
Freed from his molecular prison by the breaking of the restructurer, Teronthan turned to see Paxavi holding a stun gun. He felt his eyes go wide as he took in her uniform and her badge, “Police,” it read, “Under cover unit officer, first class.”
“You’re a cop?” Teronthan heard himself splutter.
Paxavi nodded, “When the police got wind that the brotherhood could be in town, I was stationed here to try and at least get a lead if molecular damage popped up here too. When it did, I called it in, and they told me that they would have an appropriate person assigned to investigate.” She paused, pointing at Teronthan, “You can imagine my surprise when you walked in here a few months ago and announced yourself as here to investigate the molecular restructuring of the artifacts. I had been expecting someone from the force.”
Teronthan moved his gaze to Bethonali, who looked as surprised as he felt. “Did you know?”
Bethonali shook her head, “I had no idea.”
Paxavi smiled, “You don’t get to first class under cover agent lightly. Goranv placed me on duty in the South Wing during the shift that he thought crime was most likely to hit. When it turned out that they hit the shift after mine, the curators and I agreed that it would be suspicious if I, so new to the job, suddenly had my shift changed. So, I stayed on the evening shift, which worked just as well. The brotherhood would have to catch onto the famous molecular scientist Teronthan Wellsbender’s presence in The Museum eventually. It was a waiting game.”
“How did you know we were in trouble?” Bethonali asked.
“You’re not the only one with a stand in, Beth,” Paxavi said smiling, “Mine would come in a few minutes after seven, another member of the under cover first class, and I would follow you two at a distance through whatever wing you were in. Your stand in, Jaelon,” she said, pointing to Bethonali, “is also under cover first class. The police were not interested in playing games here. It didn’t matter that the front desk log would show a high number of evening shift workers. We had extras come in for the early morning shift to not cause suspicion.”
“Oh, no, Morlain,” Bethonali said, “Paxavi, the front desk narvan, he’s one of them. You’ve got to — “
Paxavi held up a hand, silencing Bethonali. “Way ahead of you,” she said, “As soon as I heard our friends over here,” she indicated the two unconscious narvans, “incriminate him, I got a message to my fellows out front. Morlain has been detained.”
Bethonali heaved a sigh of relief, “Oh good.”
“Was he the only brotherhood member working in The Museum?” Teronthan asked.
Paxavi shook her head, “I’m not sure, but I doubt it. We will question Morlain and then apprehend any others that may exist. But, that will require keeping this entire operation a secret. So, let’s get you two and your friends out of here and convene in the lobby. Goranv and the other curators are on their way here, and I’m sure they’ll want to talk to you.”
Fifteen minutes later, Teronthan found himself in the lobby of The Museum, staring at the approaching curators. “Teronthan,” Goranv said, taking Teronthan’s hand in both of his, “Paxavi filled me in on the details of the evening. I’m glad to see that you got out unscathed.”
Teronthan nodded, “Thank you, sir,” he said nodding.
Goranv let go of Teronthan’s hand and gestured to the two men on either side of him. “I’m not sure if you’ve met the other curators, so these are my fellows Burgalon Gazar and Orgrin Fitzmalo. Teronthan did his best to smile as he greeted the other two curators. His nerves were still high from the entire incident.
“A disgusting display of fanaticism,” Fitzmalo said when the greetings were done, “I don’t think The Museum will be hiring any narvans for quite some time.”
“Rather unfortunately,” Goranv said, “The brotherhood really is made up of such a small amount of the world’s narvan population. It does not take much for an entire race’s credibility to be destroyed.”
“Indeed, “Fitzmalo said, “Ah well. In any case, it looks as if the police are ready to hear our statements about the incident. Shall we?” Teronthan followed the curators, still in a half daze. When it came his turn, he relayed the events of the ambush as best he could, trying not to let his own fear and anger at what had happened show. He was furious with himself for letting Albenon get so close to his work. He felt his head start to spin. To add to it all, Belatrini needed to be informed about Delagri.
“Officer,” Teronthan said, intending to point out Delagri’s relationship to his coworker, “The female narvan worked as a research assistant for one of the other human scientists in my building, Belatrini Desacray. Should I tell her what went on?”
The officer, a tall human male with dark hair and a clean complexion, shook his head. “Thank you for your concern, Teronthan, but the police will handle informing those who need to know details.” Teronthan nodded, relieved that he would not have to tell Belatrini about Delagri. He had not been relishing the thought.
The rest of the evening seemed to pass in slow motion as Teronthan watched the three narvans who had been at The Museum be placed in the back of one of the police huvervans. Though he had discovered who was behind the crimes to The Museum, Teronthan did not feel any better really. He was going to have to find a new lab assistant, and there was still the matter of fixing all of the tampered with artifacts. He felt his head begin to spin again as he watched the police vehicles move away. He was still in over his head.
“Teronthan?” Teronthan turned to see Bethonali standing beside him. A quick glance around told him that the curators were finishing up a conversation with Paxavi, and he watched as the cop and three curators, one by one, got into their cars and disappeared into the rapidly falling night.
“What a night,” Teronthan heard himself say.
“You’re telling me,” Bethonali’s voice came, startling him. He had forgotten she was standing beside him. “And, it’s only nine o’clock.”
Teronthan felt himself grimace. “It feels like it’s midnight.”
“I know the feeling,” Bethonali said sighing. The night fell silent, and Teronthan found his mind bombarded with thoughts about Bethonali. He could practically feel her presence in the empty night, and that thought kept him distracted.
“I spoke with the police force’s molecular specialist,” Bethonali’s voice came, pulling Teronthan from his thoughts.
“Oh?” Teronthan asked, not sure what else to say.
Bethonali nodded, “They’re going to tell you tomorrow because they thought you looked a bit crazed tonight, so pretend you don’t know, but they found a microchip inside the molecular restructurer that Albenon had saved all of the data from the artifacts he had tampered with on.”
Teronthan knew Bethonali’s words were significant, but his overtired brain could not make them make sense. “And?” he asked after a moment. He was not going to figure it out in his present state.
“Slow tonight, are we?” Bethonali’s voice asked, teasingly, “Anyway, they’re not sure, but they believe that if they put the chip in a working molecular restructurer and then have you hit the right assortment of buttons, the data will reverse itself and fix the artifacts without you having to fix each one individually.”
Teronthan nodded, his brain finally getting into gear. “If that’s really what they found,” he said, feeling his exhaustion ebb slightly, “I should be able to do exactly what they predict. That would save me weeks of work.”
“I guess so,” Bethonali said. The night fell silent again, and Teronthan, not wanting to stare, stole a glance at Bethonali out of the corner of his eye. Her face looked pensive as if she was considering whether she should speak. Her look sparked Teronthan’s own curiosity, and he suddenly found himself having to beat back the impulse to ask Bethonali out.
“So,” Bethonali’s voice came after a long silence, “I guess your time at The Museum is about over, what with this new discovery?”
Teronthan thought a moment and realized Bethonali was right. The thought struck a nerve. He had really come to enjoy spending time with her every night. “I guess so,” Teronthan finally said, his voice quieter than he had intended. The night fell silent again, and Teronthan’s impulses once again bombarded. He stole another side glance at Bethonali, hoping she had not noticed.
“So,” Bethonali’s voice came again, “If you’re not going to be around at The Museum every night, would you want to grab dinner tomorrow around five before I go to work?” Teronthan felt himself blink. Bethonali had just asked him out. He had been standing there like an idiot wondering if he should, and then she did. “If you’re busy, we could take a rain check,” /Bethonali’s voice came hurriedly, “Or otherwise — “
“No, I’m not busy,” Teronthan said, cutting Bethonali off, “As a matter of fact, I’d love to.”
Teronthan watched Bethonali’s face light up. “Awesome,” she said, “In that case, I’ll call you tomorrow. I really need to go home and decompress after what happened tonight.”
Teronthan let himself smile, “I know the feeling. Night Beth. I’ll talk to you tomorrow”
Teronthan watched the first genuine smile he had seen in the last few months spread across Bethonali’s face, “Night Teronthan.”